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Authors: Ian Mortimer

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We do not know for certain how long Henry remained in this situation, living in the royal household, training to be a war leader while the real king shifted uneasily beneath the weight of expectations he could not meet. Henry was still with the king in December 1377, when he, Richard and Robert de Vere visited St Albans Abbey together.
From this we may tentatively postulate that he was still in the royal household. But after 1377 there is little trace of him in the royal records. He was present with his father at Windsor in March 1380 for the wedding of the king’s half-sister, Maud Holland, to the count of St Pol, but this may well be because he had entered his father’s household by then.
One would have expected the name of a royal cousin to crop up occasionally if he was continually with the king, even if such references amounted to nothing more than requests by Henry on behalf of his many kinsfolk or servants. But there is only one such reference in the whole period 1377–81, and this was on a day when his father was also present, as parliament was in session.
It is possible that Henry remained with Richard from 1377 right up until the Peasants’ Revolt, but judging from the lack of evidence it is more likely that he joined his (by now doting) father in 1378.
Either way, at Michaelmas 1381 he was no longer in the royal household. By then, whatever advantages John hoped his son would gain from being with Richard were outweighed by the disadvantages and dangers. The direct cause of his removal is very unlikely to have been a breakdown in relations between John of Gaunt and the king, for John remained a trusted adviser. It seems more likely that there was some animosity between Richard and Henry. They were not friends. There were still tokens of respect for each other’s rank: Richard lent John the use of ten royal minstrels for use at Henry’s wedding in 1381, for example, and Henry always politely included the king in his annual New Year presents, but that was about all.
They were chalk and cheese, radically different in outlook, friends, maternal ancestry, personal identity and martial prowess.

As a result of all this, we may say with some confidence that when the fourteen-year-old king left Henry at the Tower on that fateful day in the second week of June 1381, it
have been with the best intentions, to protect the life of his cousin and one of the great heirs of the realm. But if so, it was a mark of respect accorded to Henry’s rank, not to him personally. It is far more likely that Henry simply did not appear on Richard’s list of priorities. To have his cousin and rival there at that time, when his own position was in crisis, was an unwelcome distraction for Richard. As
Henry watched London burn, and heard the gunpowder kegs in the Savoy explode, he may well have wondered whether a Gascon-born boy who showed no aptitude for military leadership and who took the privileges of monarchy without taking the responsibilities, was the right person to be king of England. If so, when the hordes rushed towards the Tower, murdered the archbishop of Canterbury and threatened to kill Henry himself, he had his answer.


All Courtesy from Heaven

And then I stole all courtesy from Heaven
And dress’d myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crown’d king.

Henry IV Part One,
Act 3, Scene 2

On or about 5 February 1381 Henry married Mary Bohun at Rochford Hall, in Essex. Mary was one of the two daughters of the late earl of Hereford and his wife Joan, a cousin of Henry’s mother.
It was an arranged marriage; almost all aristocratic marriages in the fourteenth century were organised to benefit both families’ economic and political interests. In this case, Henry’s father purchased the right for him to marry his youthful second cousin in July 1380 for five thousand marks (£3,333) which the king owed him for his service overseas.

All this appears wholly regular until one realises that John arranged everything despite opposition from his brother, Thomas of Woodstock. Thomas was the guardian of Mary’s inheritance, and benefited from her income during her minority. According to Froissart, Thomas had been hoping that he could place Mary in a nunnery, so that the whole of the Hereford inheritance would pass to her sister, Eleanor, and thus to Thomas himself (as Eleanor’s husband).
John’s action prevented this; in fact he purchased the right of Mary’s marriage hurriedly, while Thomas was out of the country. Even if Froissart was exaggerating the drama for the sake of a good story, Mary was not the only available bride, and her marriage to Henry was bound to give rise to conflict with Thomas over the Hereford estates.
This requires us to pause for a moment and consider why John was so determined that Mary should become Henry’s bride.

Mary was about eleven years old: too young to live as Henry’s wife but not as young as some of the girls who might have been betrothed to him instead.
Her late father had been the earl of Essex and Northampton as well as Hereford, and so there was a sound financial reason for John’s investment. But that does not mean that finance was the sole motive for
the marriage, especially since the inheritance was certain to be split between her and her sister, and there were substantial proportions of the estate in the hands of their mother, the dowager countess. These encumbrances, combined with Thomas’s interest in the estate, suggests that there was another reason. It is perhaps relevant that John’s own first marriage had been a deeply loving one. Similarly John’s mother and father – Queen Philippa and Edward III – had also been devoted to each other. Thus, despite his affairs, John was no stranger to marital devotion, which makes it more likely that this was a factor borne in mind when considering his son’s future wife. Lastly, Henry and Mary had known each other since infancy. So it is reasonable to suppose that Mary was chosen because she was close to Henry. It was a potential love match.

Looking for evidence to support this, we cannot help but note the regularity with which Henry and Mary produced children. Successful aristocratic marriages tended to produce large numbers of offspring, as the mothers did not have to breastfeed (this duty being passed to a wet nurse, allowing wives to conceive again more rapidly). But to have a large number of children very close in age required the parents to be together, and this meant travelling as a couple for a significant proportion of the time. Noblemen who did not particularly enjoy the company of their wives tended not to do this, but happy marriages often resulted in very large numbers of children. Twelve of Roger Mortimer’s children by his wife Joan lived to adulthood. Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and his wife had seventeen children. Edward III himself sired eleven within the first twenty years of his marriage with Philippa, and then one more a few years later. John of Gaunt and his beloved Blanche had five children in nine years. So it is a very positive indicator that Henry kept Mary pregnant almost continually after they started living together, which was probably in late 1385, when he was eighteen and she was about sixteen. Mary gave birth to six children in eight years and at one point (the summer of 1392) had five children under the age of six. Also Henry sired no illegitimate children during her lifetime: as far as we can tell he remained faithful. Later evidence of presents between them supports this picture of marital bliss. So we may be confident that Henry’s closeness to Mary, or potential closeness, was what made John sure she was the right choice for his son.

Henry was fond of books and Mary’s family were the foremost patrons of book production in fourteenth-century England.
The extant volumes which they commissioned are outstanding examples of English artistry. Two of the most lavishly illuminated books to come from the family workshop were commissioned for Henry’s and Mary’s marriage. These were
both psalters, one for Henry and one for Mary. Both Mary and her sister continued to commission such items, actively involving themselves in the creation of illuminated manuscripts. Henry too gathered valuable books, as revealed by a list of those stolen after his death.
That list included two psalters, valued together at twenty marks (£13 6s 8d), one of which may have been his wedding present from the Bohun family.

We know little about the wedding itself. Even the exact date is uncertain. The place – Rochford Hall – was a house of the earls of Hereford. John gave the bride several presents, including a diamond in a clasp (£2 3s 4d), and a great ruby worth eight marks (£5 6s 8d) for which he had a ring made, the fashioning of which – together with the cost of a diamond ring – amounted to a further £1 6s 8d.
John also paid for presents from his daughter Philippa to the bride, including a two-handled hanaper and a silver ewer at a cost of £10 8s. Minstrels came from the king and John’s brother, Edmund of Langley, earl of Cambridge. Following the wedding, Mary was looked after by her mother. Not long afterwards, Katherine Swynford also joined her household, to assist in the education of the young countess of Derby.
Henry himself departed to take his father’s place as nominal head of the Lancaster council at the Savoy. Four months later, with his father far away in the north, he found himself facing the smoke of the Peasants’ Revolt in London, as the rebels destroyed his father’s palace.


It is in the year after the Peasants’ Revolt that we first get some good evidence about the fourteen-year-old Henry. Most of the documents concerning his life prior to June 1381 were burned in the flames which engulfed the Savoy, but for the year from Michaelmas (29 September) 1381 his account book survives, written up by his treasurer, Hugh Waterton.

Accounts can be awkward documents to use historically. It is important to remember that they only show what was paid for, not those things which were obtained for free. Nevertheless, they are enormously revealing, especially when combined with other evidence; a good set of accounts is often more useful to a historical biographer than a similar bulk of letters. This is because medieval account books do not simply quantify income and expenditure, they seek to justify them too, and therefore normally describe transactions in some detail. Thus we know that Henry’s income of £426 9s in the year 1381–2 came predominantly from three manors which John had allocated him: Passenham, Soham and Daventry, plus an allowance from his father’s Norfolk estates. His wardrobe expenditure included sections on cloth, furs and skins, mercers’ ware, jewellery and goldsmiths’ work,
leatherwork, shoes, alms-giving, personal gifts, ‘necessaries’, stipends paid to retainers, stabling of horses, rent, and weapons and arms. The individual entries tell us a great deal about the young Henry, but they also include detailed payments which allow us to establish where he was on a particular day and sometimes whom he was with, what he chose to spend his money on, and to whom he gave presents and from whom he received them. In this way we may build up a picture of his likes and dislikes, his friends, and his patterns of behaviour. Fortunately, we have eight such sets of accounts for Henry prior to his accession: two from the 1380s and six from the 1390s, in addition to two ‘day-books’. Using these in conjunction with other evidence we may begin to discover elements of his daily life and character.

The first thing to note is that Henry spent most of the year 1381–2 with his father. In marked contrast to those years of infancy, when John was usually away, father and son were now practically inseparable. Henry travelled with his father, was financially dependent on him, and was educated in courtesy by him. Even where not directly instructed by his father, he learnt from him through example. The accounts note religious oblations and personal gifts made by Henry at his father’s direction. When Eleanor, Thomas of Woodstock’s wife, gave birth to a son, Humphrey, in April 1382, it was at John’s direction that Henry rewarded the messenger and gave presents to the master and nurse of the young infant.
Similarly John chose Henry’s clothes, directed his own furriers to provide furs for his gowns, and gave special garments to him, whether these be his own cast-offs or newly made gifts.

From these accounts we learn that Henry took part in the January 1382 tournament at Smithfield, held to celebrate the coronation of Anne of Bohemia, Richard’s new queen. Henry appeared dazzling: his tournament armour was decorated with silver spangles in the form of roses. Shortly afterwards he appeared jousting in armour covered with golden spangles.
Nor was this a one-off. On May Day 1382 Henry (just turned fifteen) entered the lists at Hertford, lance in hand, and rode to the delight of the crowds. He was taking part in the greatest peacetime test of martial skill, drawing attention to himself as a prospective future military leader, and emulating his grandfather, the great Duke Henry, who had been a magnificent tournament fighter. John of Gaunt, who had never won much fame in the lists himself, must have watched his son and heir with great pride.

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