By Lauren Tiedemann
Sententiae: The Harvard Undergraduate Journal of Medieval Studies (2011)
Introduction: In September of 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke stood before Parliament in Westminster and was proclaimed king, becoming Henry IV of England (r. 1399-1413). Henry had recently staged a rebellion and forced his cousin, King Richard II (r. 1377-99), to abdicate the throne. As Richard had no children, Henry needed only to wait for his cousin’s death to become king. But Richard had not been living up to the traditional image of a powerful king; he preferred peace to war and had formed unpopular ideas about the absolute authority of the monarchy. When Henry took the crown for himself, he derived his new authority not solely through might of arms but with the legal backing of Parliament. Over the course of the fourteenth century, a new image of kingship emerged; a strong king was one who led his subjects on and off the battlefield, and balanced royal authority with guidance from Parliament.
Kings did not always manage to live up to this lofty goal, however, and coups were not uncommon in Plantagenet England. Seventy years earlier, in 1327, Richard and Henry’s great-grandfather, Edward II (r. 1307-27), was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Edward III (r. 1327-77). During the fifteenth century, England was led by six kings and experienced four coups, culminating in the series of conflicts known as the War of the Roses (1455-1485), before Edward III’s many descendents finally came to an accord. The marriage of Henry VII (r. 1485-1509), the Lancastrian claimant, to Elizabeth of York reunited the two opposing branches of the royal family in 1485, after thirty years of civil war.