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Authors: Ian Mortimer

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The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King

BOOK: The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King
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About the Book

About the Author


List of Illustrations

Genealogical Tables

  1. The English Royal Family before 1399
  2. The Lancastrian family network
  3. The English Royal Family after 1399
  4. The French Royal Family

Author’s Note


Title Page


  1. The Hatch and Brood of Time
  2. All Courtesy from Heaven
  3. The Summons of the Appellant’s Trumpet
  4. Iron Wars
  5. As Far as to the Sepulchre of Christ
  6. Curst Melancholy
  7. By Envy’s Hand and Murder’s Bloody Axe
  8. The Breath of Kings
  9. The Virtue of Necessity
  10. High Sparks of Honour
  11. A Deed Chronicled in Hell
  12. The Great Magician
  13. Uneasy Lies the Head
  14. A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury
  15. Treason’s True Bed
  16. Smooth Comforts False
  17. Golden Care
  18. In That Jerusalem
  19. That I and Greatness were Compelled to Kiss

Picture Section



  1. Henry’s Date of Birth and the Royal Maundy
  2. The Succession to the Crown, 1386–99
  3. Henry’s Children
  4. Casualties at the Battle of Shrewsbury
  5. Henry’s Speed of Travel in 1406 and 1407
  6. Henry’s Physicians and Surgeons
  7. The Lancastrian Esses Collar


Select Bibliography and List of Abbreviations






In June 1405, King Henry IV stopped at a small Yorkshire manor house to shelter from a storm. That night he awoke screaming that traitors were burning his skin. His instinctive belief that he was being poisoned was understandable; he had already survived at least eight plots to dethrone or kill him in the first six years of his reign

Henry had not always been so unpopular – in 1399, at the age of thirty-two, he was greeted as the saviour of his realm after ousting the insecure and tyrannical Richard II. But, surrounded by men who supported him only as long as they could control him, he was soon transformed from a hero into a duplicitious murderer; a king prepared to go to any lengths to save his family and his throne.




Ian Mortimer has BA and PhD degrees in history from Exeter University and an MA in archive studies from University College London. From 1991 to 2003 he worked for Devon Record Office, Reading University, the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, and Exeter University. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1998, and was awarded the Alexander Prize (2004) by the Royal Historical Society for his work on the social history of medicine. He is the author of two other medieval biographies,
The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer
The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III,
published in 2003 and 2006 respectively by Jonathan Cape. He lives with his wife and three children on the edge of Dartmoor.

‘Mortimer has amply demonstrated his ambition as a historian. His book offers a wealth of challenging new insights into this fascinating but enigmatic ruler’

The Times Higher Education Supplement

‘Conventional wisdom claims that a ‘proper’ biography of someone from the medieval era is an impossibility. Too little evidence survives of the kind required to reconstruct a personality. In his remarkable life of England’s first Lancastrian King, Mortimer proves that wisdom wrong. Through subtle and imaginative use of primary sources … he has created not only a compelling narrative of a significant period in English history but also a convincing portrait of a complex and contradictory man’

Sunday Times

‘Mortimer argues effectively for an appreciation of a complex man … He writes with considerable verve and skill, unlocking numerous fascinating historical details from a thorough study of Henry’s surviving account books … The historian will welcome Mortimer’s trilogy of biographies, the general reader will appreciate this one in particular, as will any student of Shakespeare’

The Book Magazine


‘A full and richly detailed life … a fine biography’


‘He has made fuller and more effective use than any other historian of the unpublished material in the records of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has an instinctive sympathy for the men about whom he writes, a real understanding of the mentalities of late medieval England, and a vivid historical imagination which lends colour and excitement to his pages … McFarlane observed in his lectures that if Shakespeare had focused on the personality of Henry IV, he would have come up with a more complex Macbeth. Mortimer has avowedly set out to write about the more complex Macbeth that Shakespeare never gave us’

Jonathan Sumption,

Literary Review



  1. Henry, first duke of Lancaster
    (The British Library, Stowe $94, fol. 8).
  2. Edward III with the Black Prince
    (The British Library, Cotton Nero D.
    fol 31).
  3. The lost tomb of John of Gaunt and Blanche
    (author’s collection).
  4. Bolingbroke Castle
    (author’s collection).
  5. The Black Prince
    (Canterbury Cathedral).
  6. Mary Bohun and her mother, the countess of Hereford
    (The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS Auct. D. 4. 4. fol. 181v).
  7. Sixteenth-century portrait of Henry IV, now discredited
    (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4980(9)).
  8. Henry IV,
    (The National Archives, Great Cowcher of the duchy of Lancaster, DL 42/1–2).
  9. Richard II
    (The Dean and Chapter, Westminster Abbey).
  10. Edmund, duke of York
    (The Dean and Chapter, Westminster Abbey).
  11. Henry presenting Richard II to the citizens of London
    (The British Library, Harley 1319, fol. 53v).
  12. Pontefract Castle
    (Bridgeman Art Gallery).
  13. Conway Castle
    (author’s collection).
  14. Henry and his eldest son beside the empty throne
    (The British Library, Harley 1319, fol 57).
  15. Henry IV and Prince Henry,
    (The National Archives, Great Cowcher of the duchy of Lancaster, DL 42/1–2).
  16. Thomas, duke of Clarence
    (Canterbury Cathedral).
  17. Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, and his second wife, Joan Beaufort
    (Dr John Banham).
  18. John Beaufort, earl of Somerset
    (Canterbury Cathedral).
  19. Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester
    (author’s collection).
  20. Henry’s seal as duke of Lancaster in 1399
    (author’s collection).
  21. The Black Prince’s seal in 1362
    (author’s collection).
  22. Henry’s second great seal
    (author’s collection).
  23. The Dunstable Swan Jewel
    (The Trustees of the British Museum).
  24. Blanche’s crown
    (Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen, Munich).
  25. The coronation of Queen Joan
    (The British Library, Cotton Julius E.
    art. 6 fol. 2v).
  26. Henry IV and Queen Joan
    [Adrian Fletcher,
  27. Archbishop Thomas Arundel
    The British Library, Harley 1319, fol. 12r).
  28. Battlefield Church, Shrewsbury
    (author’s collection).
  29. Lancaster Castle gate
    (Lancashire County Museums).







Although most members of the English royal family were given their place of birth as a surname by chroniclers wishing to distinguish one Henry or one Edward from others of the same name, it was rare for a member of the royal family to adopt his place of birth as a part of his official identity. The earliest references to Henry being referred to as ‘Henry of Bolingbroke’ are historical: namely, the sections of the fifteenth-century continuation of the Brut chronicle (written about 1430) and his entry in John Capgrave’s book
The Illustrious Henrys
which was written a little later. In all official documents for the period 1377–97 he is ‘Henry of Lancaster, earl of Derby’ or ‘the earl of Derby, son of the duke of Lancaster’, or a variation on one of these. His own household account books bear the name ‘Henry of Lancaster, earl of Derby’. This is also the name by which his father addressed him in official letters and the way his father’s treasurer described him in his accounts. The contemporary chroniclers Henry Knighton, Thomas Walsingham and the Westminster chronicler all consistently refer to him as ‘Henry of Lancaster’, and in claiming the throne he referred to himself as ‘I, Henry of Lancaster …’. Although the indexes to the Oxford University Press editions of the contemporary chronicles all say ‘Henry earl of Derby: see Bolingbroke’ this style of nomenclature is anachronistic. It is also impersonal, comparable to describing Prince Henry as ‘Monmouth’ or Duke Henry of Lancaster as ‘Grosmont’. As a result of this, the name ‘Henry of Lancaster’ has been used throughout this book. Where appropriate, the same format has been followed with regard to his father’s name, although ‘John of Gaunt/Ghent’ was an occasional contemporary appellation in his case.

BOOK: The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King
8.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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