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«Henry V Henry V is about one of the most heroic incidents in English history: a war with France in which the English gained an unlikely victory, led ...»

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Henry V

Henry V is about one of the most heroic incidents in English history:

a war with France in which the English gained an unlikely victory, led

by a great king who had changed out of all recognition from being a

wild and reckless youth.

The play starts with the bishops of Canterbury and Ely expressing

their concerns about a proposed bill, which, if passed, would strip the

Church of more than half its possessions. Canterbury hopes to

pe5rsuade the King to oppose the new law by providing money in support of a possible war with France. The king has claimed his right to the French throne, a right he has in the line of succession. The bishops also comment on the way that King Henry has changed. When he was younger he had a reputation for wild and debauched behaviour, mixing with disreputable friends in taverns in London. Now, he has become a model king with profound religious principles.

There is an ancient French law, the Salic law, which would appear to stand in Henry’s way and prevent his claim to become king of France. However, Canterbury successfully argues that the law does not apply and so a war with France would be just a one. A French ambassador arrives with the reply of the Dauphin (the eldest son of the present king of France, Charles VI), and brings with him a joke gift of tennis balls fro Henry. This is taken as a personal insult by the king, who warns the French what they will suffer at war. Before setting off to France, two other things happen: three traitors are uncovered and sentenced to death, and Falstaff, the king’s old friend from his wild young days, dies. A sort of sub-plot is established as three old friends of Falstaff (and of the king), Pistol, Bardolph and Nym, are also setting off for war.

When the action switches to France, there is considerable disagreement about the threat of the English. The French king wants his defences to be reinforced, knowing that the English are a threat, from the defeats they have inflicted in the past. The Dauphin underestimates the English, still believing Henry to be the same wild character as he was in his youth. The Duke of Exeter arrives to present King Henry’s claim. In a scroll that he gives the French, he presents the evidence that Henry is a descendant of Edward III, who was the grandson of a French king. Exeter also tells the French that Henry holds Dauphin in contempt, and that he wants a speedy answer or war will follow. At the start of Act three, Chorus tells us that all that the French king has offered is his daughter Katherine in marriage, with a dowry insignificant dukedoms. The offer is rejected by the English and war commences.

At the siege of Harfleur, Henry spurs his men on to fight, recalling their ancestry as English warriors, although he does not succeed in motivating the likes of his old friends from the tavern. Pistol, Bardolph and Nym show that they are cowards, and they have to be driven on to fight by Captain Llewellyn, a Welshman who is a loyal servant and champion of the king’s cause. There is another incident which calls into question the supposed national unity in the war: Llewellyn has a fierce argument with an Irish soldier called MacMorris, accusing him of being incompetent in the way he has set the mines at Harfleur.

Once Harfleur has been captured, Henry demands that the governor surrender or the consequences will be severe. He presents a terrifying account of what will happen if there is no surrender: he says that his soldiers will be uncontrollable. The Governor of Harfleur has received no support from the Dauphin, and so he must give in. The king intends to stop at Harfleur for one night and then to march on to Calais.

The action reverts briefly to the French king’s palace at Rouen, where Princess Katherine is practising her English. The French lords describe how their nation is being mocked for the way it is having to give ground to the English Army. The French king orders all his lords to defeat the English and bring Henry captive to Rouen.

Meanwhile in the English camp, Llewellyn is fooled into believing that Pistol has been a brave soldier whilst defending a bridge with Exeter, but then comes to realise his mistake. Pistol tries to intervene on behalf of his friend Bardolph, who is condemned to be hung for pilfering a cross from a church.

Pistol is described by Gower as a false soldier; like many other rogues at the time, he knows how to sounds brave, but is really a coward. The king confirms that Bardolph will be shown no leniency, and he is hung. Montjoy arrives, issues some threats and insults on behalf of the French, and tells Henry to name his ransom. Henry replies that, even though his army is weak, he intends to march on to Calais, and that the only ransom will be his own body.

The climax of the war takes place at Agincourt. The French nervously wait for the battle, bickering with each other, but are highly confident of victory as their army has such superiority of numbers. But King Henry is also nervous on the eve of the battle, and does the rounds of the camp in disguise, wearing the cloak of one of his lords, Sir Thomas Erpingham. First he meets Pistol, who praises the king and insult Llewellyn, and then he comes across three other soldiers, Bates, Court and Williams.

Court says little bu the other two strike up a conversation about the way that the king is really responsible for the salvation or damnation of soldiers who go to their deaths in war. This leads to an argument and they end up exchanging gloves in order to recognise each other for a future challenge.





Following this, in a soliloquy, Henry reflects on what it is to be a king.

Before the battle commences, there is a complacent mood of mockery in the French camp. The English are heavily outnumbered and their morale is low. The English feel the hopelessness of the situation, until a stirring speech from Henry in which he leads them confidently into battle. There is one more attempt by the French to get the English to name their ransom, in order to spare the deaths of so many soldiers, but Henry will not do this. He is ready for battle.

Incredibly, against all odds, the French are defeated and the English suffer very few losses. The story or Agincourt is an epic “David and Goliath” struggle, and victory is snatched largely thanks to King Henry’s heroic leadership and powerful language, which inspires the men to bravery in battle.

Somewhat predictably, however, Pistol does not behave heroically. He takes a French lord prisoner and threatens to cut his throat unless he is given a generous ransom. The French disgrace themselves by committing a war crime: they murder the English luggage boys. This enrages both Llewellyn and the king, who retaliates by ordering the execution of the French prisoners. War is seen to be a terrible business.

Following his noble victory, the king plays a rather mean practical joke which leads Williams to challenge Llewellyn to a fight. Williams has been placed in a position in which he may have offended Henry, but the king gives him some money and the matter is smoothed over. Psalms and hymns of praise are sung to give thanks for the victory, and there is a jubilant return to England. Before the troops return, Llewellyn has one bit of unfinished business. Pistol has insulted his Welshness, so Llewellyn gets his own back by making Pistol eat raw leek! Pistol has not changed, and, dishonest to the last, he says that he will return to England wearing bandages on false wounds, swearing that he sustained the injuries at war.

–  –  –

Ambassadors to the King of England, Lords, Ladies, Officers, Citizens, Messengers and Attendants History Henry V of England (16 September 1387 - 31 August 1422) was one of the great warrior kings of the Middle Ages. He was born at Monmouth, Wales, 16 September 1387, and he reigned as King of England from 1413 to 1422.

Henry was son of Henry of Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, and Mary de Bohun, who died before Bolingbroke became king.

At the time of his birth during the reign of Richard II, Henry was fairly far removed from the throne, preceded by the King and another preceding collateral line of heirs. The precise date and even year of his birth are therefore not definitely recorded. By the time Henry died, he had not only consolidated power as the King of England but had also effectively

accomplished what generations of his ancestors had failed to achieve through decades of war:

unification of the crowns of England and France in a single person. In 2002 he was ranked 72nd in the 100 Greatest Britons poll.

Upon the exile of Henry’s father 1398, Richard II took the boy into his own charge and treated him kindly. In 1399 the Lancastrian usurpation brought Henry's father to the throne and Henry into prominence as heir to the Kingdom of England. He was created Duke of Lancaster on 10 November, 1399, the third person to hold the title that year.

From October 1400 the administration was conducted in his name; less than three years later Henry was in actual command of the English forces and fought against Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. It was there, in 1403, that the sixteen-year-old prince was almost killed by an arrow which became lodged in his face. An ordinary soldier would have been left to die from such a wound, but Henry had the benefit of the best possible care, and, over a period of several days after the incident, the royal physician crafted a special tool to extract the tip of the arrow without doing further damage. The operation was successful, and probably gave the prince permanent scars which would have served as a testimony to his experience in battle.

Role in government and conflict with Henry IV The Welsh revolt of Owain Glyndwr absorbed Henry's energies until 1408. Then, as a result of the King's ill-health, Henry began to take a wider share in politics. From January 1410, helped by his uncles Henry and Thomas Beaufort — legitimised sons of John of Gaunt — he had practical control of the government.

Both in foreign and domestic policy he differed from the King, who in November 1411 discharged the Prince from the council. The quarrel of father and son was political only, though it is probable that the Beauforts had discussed the abdication of Henry IV, and their opponents certainly endeavoured to defame the prince. It may be to that political enmity that the tradition of Henry's riotous youth, immortalised by Shakespeare, is partly due. Henry's record of involvement in war and politics, even in his youth, disproves this tradition. The most famous incident, his quarrel with the chief justice, has no contemporary authority and was first related by Sir Thomas Elyot in 1531.

The story of Falstaff originated partly in Henry's early friendship with Sir John Oldcastle. That friendship, and the prince's political opposition to Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury perhaps encouraged Lollard hopes. If so, their disappointment may account for the statements of ecclesiastical writers, like Thomas Walsingham, that Henry on becoming king was changed suddenly into a new man.

Henry’s Campaigns in France Henry may have regarded the assertion of his own claims as part of his Kingly duty, but in any case a permanent settlement of the national debate was essential to the success of his world policy.

1415 campaign Henry sailed for France on 11th August 1415 where his forces besieged the fortress at Harfleur, capturing it on 22nd September. Afterwards, Henry was obliged to march with his army across the French countryside with the intention to reach Calais. On the plains near the village of Agincourt, he turned to give battle to a pursuing French army. Despite his men-at-arms being exhausted and outnumbered, Henry led his men into battle, miraculously defeating the French. With its brilliant conclusion at Agincourt on the 25th October 1415, this was only the first step.

Diplomacy and command of the sea The command of the sea was secured by driving the Genoese allies of the French out of the Channel. A successful diplomacy detached the emperor Sigismund from France, and by the Treaty of Canterbury paved the way to end the schism in the Church.

1417 campaign So, with these two allies gone, and after two years of patient preparation since Agincourt, in 1417 the war was renewed on a larger scale. Lower Normandy was quickly conquered, Rouen cut off from Paris and besieged. The French were paralysed by the disputes of Burgundians and Armagnacs.

Henry skilfully played them off one against the other, without relaxing his warlike energy. In January 1419 Rouen fell. By August the English were outside the walls of Paris. The intrigues of the French parties culminated in the assassination of John the Fearless by the Dauphin’s partisans at Montreau (10th September 1419). Philip, the new duke, and the French court threw themselves into Henry's arms. After six months' negotiation Henry was by the Treaty of Troyes recognised as heir and regent of France, and on 2nd June 1420 married Catherine of Valois the king's daughter. From June to July his army besieged and took the castle at Montereau, and from that same month to November, he besieged and captured Melun, returning to England shortly thereafter.

1421 campaign On 10th June 1421, Henry sailed back to France for what would now have been his last military campaign. From July to August, Henry's forces besieged and captured Dreux, thus relieving allied forces at Chartres. That October, his forces lay siege to Meaux, capturing it on 2nd May 1422. Henry V died suddenly on 31st August 1422 at Bois de Vincennes near Paris, apparently from dysentery which he contracted during the siege of Meaux. He was 34 years old. Before his death, Henry V named his brother John, Duke of Bedord regent of France in the name of his son Henry VI, then only a few months old. Henry V did not live to be crowned King of France himself, as he might confidently have expected after the Treaty of Troyes, as ironically the sickly Charles VI, to whom he had been named heir, survived him by two months. Catherine took Henry's body to London and he was buried in Westminster Abbey on 7th November 1422.

Following his death, Catherine would secretly marry or have an affair with a Welsh courtier, Owen Tudor, and they would be the grandmother and grandfather of King Henry VII of England.

The Play’s Attitudes to Warfare The play's attitude to warfare has been interpreted in very different ways by readers and audiences.



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