Jon-Mark Grussenmeyer (Rowan University, English, Adjunct)
Published Online, May (2012)
Henry IV—though two of Shakespeare’s histories bear his name, Henry Bolingbroke remains one of England’s perhaps less known, certainly less popular, kings. If anything, people often regard him as a cold, calculating usurper, whose unremarkable reign trudged through fourteen dull years until it was finally replaced by the glorious age of Henry V, the great king and victor of Agincourt. However, this is not at all a fair assessment, neither to the man nor to the legacy of his rule. The circumstances that surrounded his accession to the throne were truly extraordinary, and they necessarily shaped the way in which he ruled through the first decade of the fifteenth century. Due to these events, he was labeled a perjurer, a murderer, a man cursed by God, even during his lifetime, yet Henry IV overcame his enemies and critics to establish a dynasty and successfully, peacefully hand the kingdom to his son upon his death.
However, there is no doubt that the events which led to his coronation greatly impacted and sometimes even compromised his authority as king, though the extent to which he was compromised or controlled is a matter for careful thought and consideration. I, for one, hold that his reign, though limited to some inevitable extent, nevertheless maintained the traditional prestige, rights, and privileges of the English monarchy. History, I find, bears this assessment out in full.