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Reign of Henry V. Part 1

Reign of Henry the Fifth - Youthful Follies of the King - Sudden Reformation - The Lollard Insurrection - Escape of Lord Cobham - Henry claims the Crown of France - Invasion of France - Siege of Harfleur - March from Harfleur to Azincourt - The Great Victory of Azincourt - Henry's Enthusiastic Reception in England - League with the Duke of Burgundy - Arrival of the Emperor Sigismund in England - Distracted State of France - Second Invasion of France aided by Burgundy - Rapid Progress of the English - Massacre in Paris by the French Factions - Henry's Truce with the Armagnacs - Siege and Surrender of Rouen.
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The short reign of Henry V. is like a chapter of romance. It is the history of the life of a prince who was especially a hero. Young, handsome, accomplished, not only in arms but in learning, skilled in and fond of music, valorous, chivalrous, generous, and successful to the very height of human glory in arms, he lived beloved and died young, the pride of his native country, whose martial fame he raised above that of all others, and the wonder of the world at large. He is one of those rare sovereigns who have run a brief but brilliant career, which seems rather to belong to the realm of imagination and poetry, than that of common-place realities of life. Amongst the numerous tribe of heroes, the class is small, and while we involuntarily place in it Achilles, Alexander the Great, Coeur de Lion of England, Henry IV. of France, and Charles XII. of Sweden, we look almost in vain to others to add to the group. We exclude from it the adventurers inspired, by the lust of universal conquest, the Genghis Khans and Napoleons; and not less so the Tells and Hofers, the champions of oppressed liberty, a very different and far nobler genus. The small section of the warrior class to which Henry of Monmouth belonged are kings of acknowledged thrones, growing up in the aspirations of heroic fame, and surrounded by all the splendour and prestige of their station, doing valorous deeds in a few years of youth and early manhood, which astonish their age, and remain the fixed stars of martial fame for ever. Henry of Monmouth is one of the fairest and noblest of the tribe; for, with all the passion for military glory and the power to achieve it, he was in a great measure free from the violent passions and savage excesses of some of them. He is a prince of whom England, regarding him. as belonging to its feudal period, may be justly and greatly proud, and that without a blush and almost without a regret.

Henry Y. was born at Monmouth Castle, belonging to the great estates of his mother, Mary de Bohun, daughter and co-heiress of the Earl of Hereford. He was born in or about the year 1388, and, therefore, was about twenty-five on ascending the throne. Various particulars of the early life of this popular prince have been carefully preserved; as that he was a sickly child, was nursed at the village of Courtfield, about six miles from his native castle, and that his nurse's "name was Joan Waring, for whom he showed so much regard that he settled a pension of twenty pounds a year upon her. Even his cradle is said to be still preserved at Bristol. His mother was a lady of finished education, and is declared by Froissart to have been skilled in Latin and school divinity. Probably owing to her influence,-he received a superior education also to the princes of his time. His mother died when he was but a child", but his grandmother, the old Countess of Hereford, saw that it was continued, and she had the satisfaction of living to see him the conqueror of Azincourt. He early displayed a taste for music, and was particularly fond of the harp. He was afterwards sent to Oxford, and a room is pointed out in Queen's College as that which he occupied as a student. A portrait of Henry was painted on the glass of the window, no doubt after he had become famous, with this inscription beneath it ia Latin verse: - "To record the fact for ever that the Emperor of Britain, the triumphant lord of France, the conqueror of his enemies in himself, Henry V., was once the great inhabitant of this chamber." Henry was there under the tutorship of his half-uncle, Henry Beaufort, a son of John of Gaunt, by Catherine Sweynford, and afterwards Cardinal Beaufort.

When Richard II. banished his father he took charge of Henry; and Henry Y., on coming to the throne, took the earliest opportunity of testifying his regard for Richard's memory. Richard continued the education of Henry in his own palace; he took him along with him on his last expedition to Ireland, and there dubbed him a knight-banneret for his bravery in a dangerous skirmish with the natives. When he was suddenly "recalled to England by the return of Henry's father from his banishment, he left Henry with his cousin, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in the castle of Trim, in Westmeath. Henry of Lancaster soon sent for his son. and he joined him at Chester on his march to London.

On his father's coronation he was made heir presumptive and created Prince of Wales; and when only fifteen he fought his first great battle at Shrewsbury, and there won his spurs. Though we have seen him valiantly fighting for five or six years against 'Owen Glendower, yet his father's jealousy of him had kept him so completely out of both the council and all state affairs, that he was obliged to amuse his active mind by those youthful dissipations and escapades "which have gained him a merry immortality from the pen of Shakespeare. In those narratives of Prince Hal's wild life the dramatic poet, however, appears to have invented little; though, for obvious reasons, he has given other names and characteristics to some of the prince's companions. Even where he is made to assist in a robbery at Gadshill, there appears to have been nothing introduced but what was perfectly historical. Henry IV. was not only so constantly on the stretch for money himself to defray the costs of his civil contentions, but the young Prince of Wales was left so destitute of funds by the rebellion of his Welsh tenants, by the consumption of his English rents to subdue them, and by his father's parsimony, that Stowe in his Annals says: - "The prince used to disguise himself and lie in wait for the receivers of the crown lands, or of his father's patrimony, and, in the disguise of a highwayman, set upon them and rob them. In such encounters he sometimes got soundly beaten; but he always rewarded such of his father's officers who made the stoutest resistance." He is said to have found all that amusement in the terrors and regrets of the people robbed by him and his companions, which the poet has so livingly described.

It is a curious fact that, in the place of the fictitious Sir John Falstaff, the afterwards celebrated Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, is said to have been the chief companion of the prince on these occasions; but as Sir John became the leader of the Lollards, and as in Shakespeare's time Protestantism was in the ascendant under Queen Elizabeth, a new character was substituted, and adorned with the name, slightly changed, of Sir John Falstaff, a knight of the same period.

The fears which Prince Henry's wildness had created in the mind of his father, who seemed to anticipate in his son another Richard II., do not appear to have been at all participated in by the people. They saw in the prince too many proofs of a clear, strong, and generous spirit to doubt of his ultimate conduct. The cold and ungenerous nature of his father, his continual demands on their purses, to put down the enemies which his criminal ambition had raised around him; his murder of Richard II., and his many executions of his opponents, members of the noblest families of the realm, had completely weaned their affections from him, and they looked with the most lenient eyes on the jollities and practical jokes of his more warm-hearted son.

The manner in which Henry justified these expectations immediately on the death of his father must have been particularly nattering to the sagacious foresight of the public, and is a circumstance which a poet might conceive as a fine act of an intrinsically great mind temporarily occupied by the levities of youth, rather than one which is of frequent occurrence. On the contrary, it is of a nature as rare as it is beautiful.

We are told that the prince held his merry and even riotous court at Cheylesmore, near Coventry, an estate belonging to his duchy of Cornwall; and thither flocked the young, and, indeed, the more mature nobility, to such a degree, that that of his father was almost wholly deserted; and that Henry IV. regarded this circumstance with peculiar jealousy. Not only had the chief justice Gascoigne, as we have seen, committed the prince to confinement, but John Hornsby, the Mayor of Coventry, had done the same for some violation of the law's decorum while residing at Cheylesmore. But no sooner was his father dead than he withdrew to his closet, and spent the remainder of the day in private devotion, in reviewing his past life, and taking resolves for the future. The consequence was that in the evening he hastened to his confessor, a recluse in the church at Westminster, to whom he confided his views, and who confirmed him joyfully in his noble determination.

The world, therefore, saw him at once break like a sun from obscuring clouds, and. casting off all one habits as well as the costume of wild gaiety, stand before it a grave and wise king, "severe in youthful beauty." He summoned before him the whole troop of his dissolute companions, announced to them that the days of the jovial prince were for ever past, and those of the serious and moral king were come. He bade them take, if they could, the new pattern of his life; but, till that was strictly done, to appear no more in his presence. Saying this, he dismissed them with liberal proofs of his bounty; and Henry Y. had as completely put off the jovial Prince of Wales as if he had never been. This was great, and novel in its greatness; but it was only the lowest step of this remarkable reform. He not only banished from him the associates of his past follies, but he called forward and distinguished by his favour and approbation all those who had discharged their duty to the state faithfully, chough in doing it they had dared to disapprove of his own conduct, and even to lay him under unceremonious restraint. The base and obsequious found to their astonishment that they had lost instead of won his favour. Those who apprehended his wrath by the fulfilment of stern duties, were agreeably cheered to find themselves appreciated and advanced. The upright chief justice Gascoigne stood first and foremost in the full sunshine of his favour.

This was the second step in the scale of his wisdom and magnanimity. There was a far higher and more difficult one; but even that he ascended with the same imperial ease. He remembered with gratitude the kindness which the unfortunate Richard II. had shown him when he was a boy, the son of a banished man, at his court; and though to recognise the deposed sovereign and do justice to his memory at once condemned the usurpation of his father, and reminded the world of the flaw in his own title, such considerations did not delay his proceedings for a moment. He hastened to Langley, whither his father had had the body of Richard conveyed, and having brought it from its tomb, and laid it on a rich car of state, he conducted it with royal pomp to Westminster, where it was laid in the tomb which Richard had built for his beloved wife, "the good Queen Anne," of Bohemia, and where he had intimated his own desire to lie. Not only did Henry pay this affectionate mark of regard to the wishes of the unfortunate monarch, but he attended as chief mourner, and, says Fabyan, "After a solemn terment there holden, he provided that iiii tapers shuld brenne daye and nyght about his grave whyle the world endureth;" with a dole to the poor of eleven and eightpence weekly, and twenty pounds a year on the anniversary of his death.

This proceeding has been attributed to policy rather than generosity in Henry, as trusting to convince the public by it, that Richard was actually dead; but the whole of Henry's character shows that he was far above any such miserable policy; that he was as open and straightforward in following his honest convictions as he was intrepid in despising mere state tricks; and the very next fact that we have to record proves this strikingly. Henry could afford to pay respect to a dead monarch, but a living claimant to the throne was a more formidable thing. The Earl of Marche, the true heir to the throne, was not only living, but still a young man, and had been brought up much in Henry's society. So far, however, from entertaining any jealous fear of him, like his father, he at once received him with the utmost courtesy and kindness, gave him the most unlimited freedom, and full enjoyment of all his honours and estates. He displayed the same generous disposition in reversing the attainder of the Percies, and in recalling the young Lord Percy from Scotland to the fall restoration of all his titles and demesnes. Still further; all those who during his father's time had sought to recommend themselves by a ruthless zeal for the Lancastrian interests, he removed from their offices, and supplied their places by men of more honourable and independent minds, without regard to party. No conduct could have been more just and noble, and, therefore, more wise, than that of the young king; and the consequence was, that he won all hearts to him, and fixed himself as firmly on the throne as if he had been descended in the strictest course from its true kings. Amongst the very first to support him in his royal position was the Earl of Marche himself, who continued to the last his most faithful subject and attached friend.

But no mortal character is without its defective side, and that in Henry showed itself in regard to ecclesiastical reform. The followers of Wycliffe had now increased into a numerous body, under the name of Lollards. These followers, however, appear to have consisted chiefly of the commonalty, and to include few of the upper ranks. But amongst them was Sir John Old-castle, as we have mentioned, a bold and able man, Sir Thomas Talbot, Sir Roger Acton, and others. Sir John Oldcastle was more commonly known as Lord Cobham, having married the heiress of that nobleman, and being called to the House of Lords in right of his wife. Lord Cobham, it appears, had, while the companion of Henry, as Prince of Wales, been so distinguished for his gaiety and giving in to all the prince's whims and wildnesses, that his enemies called him "the ruffian knight, commonly brought in by the commediants on their stage." For a century after his time he is represented as walking the boards of the theatre in the character which Shakespeare has now transferred, for the reasons we have mentioned, to Sir John Falstaff. Nay, even Shakespeare himself calls him Sir John Oldcastle in his first edition. But as the prince had reformed, so it appears had Lord Cobham also. He had embraced the principles of the Lollards, and the ability and high character of the man inspired the Church with the greatest alarm.

The Church had for ages enjoyed a profound and unquestioned sway over men's minds. Since it had established its own supremacy through much persecution and many horrors under the great pagan nations of Greece and Rome, it had held on its way with a wonderful tranquillity. But this tranquillity was based on the absence of all religious inquiry and speculation. Occasionally there had been a burst of fanaticism, as that of the Pastoureaux of Flanders, that of the Flagellants and the Bianchi of Italy; but no steady attempt to introduce the religion of the Bible. So long as the great body of the people was satisfied to leave the teaching of Christian doctrine entirely in the hands of the clergy, and to bow implicitly to the dictum of the Church, all was peace. But as the Church had, unhappily, deemed it best to retain the Bible in its own hands, and to keep the multitude practically ignorant of its contents, it was clear that whenever the time arrived, as arrive it must, that education issued from the cloister, and entered into the secular dwelling, there would arise a war of opinion which would shake the very foundations of society, and never cease till freedom of opinion had triumphed, or till mind had sunk for ever beneath the sway of ceremony and despotism. That war had now commenced. The publication of the Bible in the vernacular tongue by Wycliffe, the preaching of his doctrines by his numerous bands of poor priests, and the reflections of the people on these doctrines and their sequences, had done their work. There was a fermentation of opinion in the public mind which never could cease, if the idea of a universal and impartial Providence, the Author of all knowledge, as of all worlds, was true, till the whole mass was leavened by the exciting principle.

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