The Lancasters

When Henry Bolingbroke deposed Richard II, he declared himself king of England as Henry IV on a very tenuous claim to the throne. This was a radical departure in English history that would determine historical practices for the next hundred years and beyond. Because Henry had provided the precedent for deposing a king, it soon became evident that the monarchy could be claimed through any vague connection if the claimant had sufficient arms to enforce the claim. The history of the fifteenth century is one long, dismal history of the problems created by Henry's usurpation.

The problems began immediately. Henry spent most of his reign putting down a rebellion first by a Welsh nobleman, Owen Glyndwr, and then later by powerful English magnates.

His son, however, who reigned as Henry V (1413 1422), was determined to regain English rights of the French areas of Normandy and Gascon. To this end, he launched an invasion of France which soon gained him all the territory the English had lost in these areas. He was helped by two major accidents. The first was an all out schism in French government between the Duke of Burgundy and son of the King, Charles VI. Both claimed the throne and Henry took advantage of this division. The second accident was the use of longbow archers against the French forces that were primarily cavalry and infantry. Because the longbow archers could fire from a distance And Rearm themselves quickly after releasing a volley, the French forces fell quickly.

At the end of his conquests, Henry extorted two things from Charles VI: he was married to Charles' daughter Catherine and the French king ceded the throne upon his death to the child of Henry and Catherine. When Henry V died of an illness in 1322 at the age of 35, their nine month old child, Henry VI, became the first and only king of both England and France.

The invasions of Henry and the steady loss of French territories under Henry VI comprise what historians call the Hundred Years War. The English held on to their possessions until 1429 when, under the inspired leadership of a teenage girl, Joan of Arc, the French rallied against the English and their Burgundian allies. When the Duke of Burgund reallied himself with the French, the tide of battle turned distinctively against the English. Henry V had the benefit of a politically divided France; the English now faced a rival, French claimant to the throne—the Dauphin, the son of Charles VI—backed by a unified France. By 1453, the English were permanently kicked out of France except for the town of Calais.

Henry VI was the youngest man to become king of England and reigned an immensely long time. His reign, however, was generally marked by his non presence as a king since he despised warfare and had no interest in government. The government instead fell to his magnates and to his wife, Margaret of Anjou. This began a period of severe rivalries between magnates that would eventually erupt into the Wars of the Roses.

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Mann Erudite – Essays on Literary Works