1902 Encyclopedia > Henry IV, King of England

Henry IV, King of England
(1366-1413)




HENRY IV. (1366-1413), king of England, only son of John of Gaunt and Blanche, daughter of Henry, duke of Lancaster, was born in 1366. At the age of fifteen he married Mary Bohun, and in 1385 was made earl of Derby. Two years later he was one of the five lords appellant who impeached the earl of Suffolk and others, and took part in the proceedings of the Merciless Parliament. He acquiesced, however, in Bichard's return to power, supported the king in his coup d'etat of 1397, and became duke of Hereford. His quarrel with the duke of Norfolk led to his banishment shortly afterwards, and on his father's death Bichard denied him the succession to his title and inheritance (1398). Next year he took advantage of Bichard's absence in Ireland to reassert his rights. He landed in Yorkshire, took Bristol, and seized Richard (August 19) near Conway Castle. At a parliament which met on September 30th, he claimed the throne on the ground of his descent from Henry III., the right of conquest, and the necessity of reform. He was accepted by the parliament; Richard was forced to abdicate; and Henry was crowned (October 13, 1399). The last of his three claims gives the explanation of his policy. He had won the favour of the church by pledges in favour of orthodoxy; the circumstances of his accession and the difficulties of his government forced him to make concessions to the House of Commons, which raised that body to a position it did not again attain for more than two centuries. The first part of his reign was occu-pied with the suppression of the revolts, not only of the defeated party, but also of his own discontented adherents. These troubles were complicated by hostile relations with France, Scotland, and Wales. Charles VI. was inclined to take up the cause of his daughter Isabella, wife of Richard II., and on the death of the latter (February 1400) demanded her and her dowry back. The duke of Albany in Scotland was hostile to Henry, and Owen Glendower raised a national revolt in Wales. The first attempt at insurrection was made by the earls of Richard's party early in 1400, but their plans were discovered, and their forces crushed piecemeal. Most of the leaders fell victims to popular vengeance. A more serious rebellion was that of the Percies (1403), hitherto Henry's staunchest supporters. Hotspur and his father thought themselves ill requited for their services, and made common cause with Glendower and other malcontents. A junction of the northern army with the Welsh was prevented by the battle of Shrewsbury (July 21, 1403), in which Hotspur was killed. Northumberland submitted and was pardoned. But the danger was not over. The north was still in a state of ferment, the war in Wales went on, and a French fleet ravaged the southern coast with impunity. Henry's vigilance and activity were, however, equal to the task. A plot to carry off the young earl of March (January 1405) was foiled, and a fresh outbreak in the north was crushed. Scrope, archbishop of York, and Mowbray, earl marshal, who led the rebels, were taken and executed. The king had already got into his power the son of the duke of Albany ; he now captured James, the heir-apparent to the Scotch crown, as he was on his way to France ; and the murder of the duke of Orleans removed his chief enemy in that country. Thus secured from danger abroad, he put down a final rebellion in the north, drove Glendower back into his mountains, and henceforward had no trouble at home (1408). The late crisis had, however, compelled him to make important concessions to the House of Commons. He promised (1407) to act solely by the advice of a council nominated with their approval, and submitted to the appropriation of his revenue and to other limitations. Throughout his reign he was hampered by want of money, and the regular exercise by parliament of the right to withhold supplies gave that body great control over his actions. He had seized the crown as the champion of orthodoxy. He had therefore to pay for ecclesiastical support by persecuting Lollards against his will, while he did not dare to act upon the suggestion of the Commons that church property should be converted to purposes of state. Thus limited, his foreign policy was not energetic. He had enough to do at first to defend his coasts, and though he afterwards seized the opportunity afforded by civil war to invade France (1411), his efforts were in general confined to strengthening his dynasty by foreign marriages. In his later years he was a confirmed invalid, and had to entrust much power to his eldest son, with whom he was not always on the best of terms. He died on March 20, 1413, and was buried at Canterbury. A cautious, crafty, resolute man, naturally inclined to fair dealing and clemency, but on occasion unscrupulous and cruel, he was successful in the great enterprise of his life, and had the credit of see-ing that the power he had usurped could only maintain itself by resting on a constitutional basis.







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