19. Henry IV, A.D. 1399—1413
The English people had often chosen their king out of the royal family in old times, but from John to Richard II., he had always been the son and heir of the last king. Now, though poor Richard had no child, Henry of Lancaster was not the next of kin to him, for Lionel, Duke of Clarence, had come between the Black Prince and John of Gaunt; and his great grandson, Edmund Mortimer, was thought by many to have a better right to be king than Henry. Besides, people did not know whether Richard was alive, and they thought him hardly used, and wanted to set him free. So Henry had a very uneasy time. Everyone had been fond of him when he was a bright, friendly, free-spoken noble, and he thought that he would be a good king and much loved; but he had gained the crown in an evil way, and it never gave him any peace or joy. The Welsh, who always had loved Richard, took up arms for him, and the Earl of Northumberland, who had betrayed Richard, expected a great deal too much from Henry. The earl had a brave son—Henry Percy—who was so fiery and eager that he was commonly called Hotspur. He was sent to fight with the Welsh: and with the king's son, Henry, Prince of Wales—a brave boy of fifteen or sixteen—under his charge, to teach him the art of war; and they used to climb the mountains and sleep in tents together as good friends.
But the Scots made an attack on England. Henry Percy went north to fight with them, and beat them in a great battle, making many prisoners. The King sent to ask to have the prisoners sent to London, and this made the proud Percy so angry that he gave up the cause of King Henry, and went off to Wales, taking his prisoners with him; and there—being by this time nearly sure that poor Richard must be dead —he joined the Welsh in choosing, as the only right king of England, young Edmund Mortimer. Henry IV. and his sons gathered an army easily —for the Welsh were so savage and cruel, that the English were sure to fight against them if they broke into England. The battle was fought near Shrewsbury. It was a very fierce one, and in it Hotspur was killed, the Welsh put to flight, and the Prince of Wales fought so well that everyone saw he was likely to be a brave, warlike king, like Edward I. or Edward III.
The troubles were not over, however, for the Earl of Northumberland himself, and Archbishop Scrope of York, took up arms against the king; but they were put down without a battle. The Earl fled and hid himself, but the archbishop was taken and beheaded—the first bishop whom a king of England had ever put to death. The Welsh went on plundering and doing harm, and Prince Henry had to be constantly on the watch against them; and, in fact, there never was a reign so full of plots and conspiracies. The king never knew whom to trust: one friend after another turned against him, and he became soured and wretched: he was worn out with disappointment and guarding against everyone, and at last he grew even suspicious of his brave son Henry, because he was so bright and bold, and was so much loved. The prince was ordered home from Wales, and obliged to live at Windsor, with nothing to do, while his youngest brothers were put before him and trusted by their father—one of them even sent to command the army in France. But happily the four brothers—Henry, Thomas, John and Humfrey—all loved each other so well that nothing could make them jealous or at enmity with one another. At Windsor, too, the king kept young Edmund Mortimer—whom the Welsh had tried to make king,— and also the young English princes, and they all led a happy life together.
There are stories told of Henry—Prince Hal, as he was called—leading a wild, merry life, as a sort of madcap; playing at being a robber, and breaking into the wagons that were bringing treasure for his father, and then giving the money back again. Also there is a story that, when one of his friends was taken before the Lord Chief Justice, he went and ordered him to be released and that when the justice refused he drew his sword, upon which the justice sent him to prison; and he went quietly, knowing it was right. The king is said to have declared himself happy to have a judge who maintained the law so well, and a son who would submit to it; but there does not seem to be good reason for believing the story; and it seems clear that young Henry, if he was full of fun and frolic, took care never to do anything really wrong.
The king was an old man before his time. He was always ill, and often had fits, and one of these came on when he was in Westminster Abbey. He was taken to the room called the Jerusalem chamber, and Henry watched him there. Another of the stories is that the king lay as if he were dead, and the prince took the crown that was by his side and carried it away. When the king revived, Henry brought it back, with many excuses. "Ah, fair son," said the king, "what right have you to the crown? you know your father had none."
"Sir," said Henry, "with your sword you took it, and with my sword I will keep it."
"May God have mercy on my soul," said the king.
Another story tells show the prince, feeling that his father doubted his loyalty, presented himself one day in disordered attire before the king, and kneeling, offered him a dagger, and begged his father to take his life, if he could no longer trust and love him.
We cannot be quite certain about the truth of these conversations, for many people will write down stories they have heard, without making sure of them. One thing we are certain of which Henry told his son, which seems less like repentance. It was that, unless he made war in France, his lords would never let him be quiet on his throne in England; and this young Henry was quite ready to believe. There had never been a real peace between France and England since Edward III. had begun the war—only truces, which are short rests in the middle of a great war—and the English were eager to begin again; for people seldom thought then of the misery that comes of a great war, but only of the honor and glory that were to be gained, of making prisoners and getting ransoms from them.
So Henry IV. died, after having made his own life miserable by taking the crown unjustly, and, as you will see, leaving a great deal or harm still to come to the whole country, as well as to France.
He died in the year 1399. His family is called the House of Lancaster, because his father had been Duke of Lancaster. You will be amused to hear that Richard Whittington really lived in his time. I cannot answer for his cat, but he was really Lord Mayor of London, and supplied the wardrobe of King Henry's daughter, when she married the King of Denmark.