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Henry IV - 1399-1413

Key Facts about Henry IV

The unpopularity of Richard II at the end of his reign made Henry an acceptable substitute as far as the barons were concerned. The barons were indifferent to the fate of their former King who was on a hunger strike in Pontefract Castle, where he had been imprisoned.

In his youth Henry had travelled to Jerusalem and was a crusader renowned for his military prowess. He was also educated and sincerely pious, but his life as sovereign was not to be an easy one.

First he had to deal with rebellions from dismayed supporters of Richard II, then Henry had to face a revolt from his former allies, the Percys of Northumbria. Their growing power drove them to challenge the King's authority over a matter of ransom for Scottish prisoners taken in battle.

Harry Hotspur, son of the head of the Percy family, now attempted to join Glendower in Wales, but was intercepted and defeated in battle at Shrewsbury by his former close friend Henry, second son of Henry IV, who would become Henry V.

In 1404 the northern Welsh rebelled against the allegiance to England exacted by Edward I. Owain Glendower, the Welsh leader, succeeded in forcing Henry to accept a Welsh freedom from allegiance to England which lasted for eleven years.

Henry was a hard worker but poor at financial management and this often brought him to quarrel with his parliaments. They accused him of prodigal generosity to his friends and supporters.

Though his reign began well, the latter part faded as Henry dealt with challenges by his rivals. Even his son, Henry of Monmouth, set up a court in competition with his father. By 1410, Henry was incapacitated by ill health. His power at court was diminished as his sons gathered supporters. They did not wish to challenge his authority, however, for they still admired his youthful energy and intelligence.

In stature, Henry IV was short and stocky with red hair. Henry was brave, energetic and in good health until his last years. He enjoyed sports and excelled in martial arts. He was also well read, an accomplished musician and encouraged the arts. In fact one of his first acts as King was to increase the pension of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Henry was a very keen correspondent and kept in touch with many heads of state, including the emperors of Byzantium and Abyssinia. When he was young he travelled widely, fighting with the Teutonic Knights in Lithuania. He also made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, visiting Prague, Cyprus, Rhodes and Venice.

Key Events during the Reign of Henry IV

1399 - Henry returns from exile in France to reclaim his estates seized by Richard II. He claims the throne and is crowned. Richard is deposed and imprisoned in Pontefract Castle.

1400 - Richard dies, possibly, from self-inflicted starvation, possibly murdered, in Pontefract. Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, dies.

1401 - Persecution of the Lollards. A new act permitting the burning of heretics is passed.

1401-15 - Owain Glyndwr leads revolt in Wales.

1402 - Manuel II, the Byzantine emperor, makes a state visit to England.

1403 - First rebellion by the Percy family is defeated at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

1404 - William of Wykeham dies. The French form an alliance with Wales.

1405 - The second Percy rebellion.

1406 - Henry contracts leprosy-like illness.

1407 - Plague strikes England for the fifth time.

1408 - Third Percy rebellion.

1413 - Henry dies at Westminster.

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