The Death of Henry V

Most people know a least a little bit about the time God saved France from being owned by the English when He sent a French peasant girl named Joan of Arc to lead the Gallic troops and repel the Anglo aggressors. Fewer people know He had saved France from the English not long before, when He smote Henry V with dysentery and killed the king on 31 August 1422.

King_Henry_V_from_NPG

Dorky bowl haircut or not, Henry was a formidable warrior and an enviable commander. He was also merciless, and didn’t mid the slaughter of noncombatants, like women and children, if that got him closer to his goal. Good rulers are seldom also good people; complete asshats do much better at conquering territory. If the king had not died, the odds are that France would, like Scotland and Wales, be part of the United Kingdoms.

That isn’t an exaggeration. Henry invaded France in mid-August f 1415 and by the August of 1420 he and his troops were parked outside Paris.  His army had mowed down the French armed forces (most famously at Agincourt) thanks to the terrifyingly effective English longbow (which is actually Welsh). King Charles VI of France wasn’t a very capable sovereign even when he wasn’t cognitively impaired, so France was in big trouble. Charles, knowing that the unstoppable Henry was on his way to Paris, had no choice but to sign the Treaty of Troyes in May of 1420. The treaty made Henry V the de facto king of France and promised him the French throne in reality once Charles snuffed it. To seal the deal Henry was married to Charles’s daughter, Catherine of Valois.

Marriage_of_henry VI and_Catherine of Valois

I’ve always wondered how Catherine felt about this. She was basically being forced to wed a barbarian invader. The French considered England a savage backwater at the best of times and now she was going to have to go live there and bear the children of a man famous for his cruelties against the French.

Fun times, no?

Although Catherine did marry Henry and speedily give him a son (he even invaded French uteruses well), the Treaty of Troyes wasn’t worth the paper it was written on once Henry V died. As a six month old infant, Henry VI didn’t present the immediate threat his father had been and when the King of France died in 1422 the disinherited Dauphin decided to try to regain his rightful place as the next King of France. With Joan of Arc and God’s help, the Dauphin was indeed crowned King Charles VII. Poor Henry VI inherited is French grandfather’s mental illness and would eventually be overthrown and murdered by the House of York in his own country. The young widow Catherine would fall in love with a Welshman, and their heirs – in the form of the Tudors – would retake England for the Lancastrians.

None of that would have happened if Henry V hadn’t died so young. Weird how history works, isn’t it?

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