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Henry IV

(1366—1413) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine

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king of England (1399–1413). The eldest son and heir of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, he was born at Bolingbroke (Lincs.) in the same year as his cousin Richard II, whom he deposed in 1399. Returning from exile with the declared intent only to recover his inheritance, within three months he usurped the throne. Although descended from Edward III, his claim to the throne was weak.

The first seven years of Henry's reign were years of crisis. He faced his first rebellion in January 1400 from a group of Richard II's excluded courtiers. Its principal victim was Richard himself, who died in custody at Pontefract shortly afterwards. Other baronial rebellions followed, especially those of the Percys who had been Henry's principal supporters in 1399. In 1403 Hotspur, heir to the earl of Northumberland, was killed at Shrewsbury. In 1405 the earl himself fled to Scotland after a failed rising; he was finally killed in an invasion in 1408. More serious to king and kingdom was the rebellion of the Welsh under Owain Glyndŵr in 1400, which, despite annual English campaigns, led to the complete liberation of Wales by 1405. In addition war with Scotland, a running war at sea and constant threats to the remaining English possessions in France left Henry beleaguered. The cost of defending the throne led to frequent parliaments, frequent requests for taxation, and a hostile Commons, especially in 1401, 1404, and 1406.

That Henry survived these torrid years was due to several factors; his own determination and energy; the strength of his supporters; and his own pragmatism. He was also helped by the divisions in the ranks of his enemies, especially the development of civil war in France. As a result, by the end of 1406 the worst of his difficulties were over. But the strain ruined his health. In the spring of 1406 Henry had the first of a series of strokes, which by 1410 left him incapacitated. Yet at no time was Henry's throne threatened, and when he died in 1413 there was no challenge to the succession of his charismatic son.

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