Henry IV of England Biography

King Henry IV of England, the first monarch of the House of Lancaster, ruled as the King of England and Lord of Ireland from 1399 to 1413. He ascended to the throne by overthrowing his childhood playmate and cousin, King Richard II of England. Despite being distantly related to the reigning king, Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, held significant influence in the English court and amassed great wealth. Raised alongside Prince Richard, Henry developed a desire for power and authority. However, his journey to the throne was fraught with challenges, including exile and the loss of his inheritance. Nevertheless, he successfully deposed Richard II and claimed the title of king. Upon his death, his son Henry V took over the throne.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In April
  • Died At Age: 45
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Joan of Navarre, Mary de Bohun, Queen of England
    • Father: John of Gaunt
    • Mother: Blanche of Lancaster
    • Siblings: Countess of Westmorland, Duchess of Exeter, Elizabeth of Lancaster, Joan Beaufort, Philippa of Lancaster
    • Children: 1st Duke of Bedford, 1st Duke of Clarence, Blanche of England, Duke of Gloucester, Edward, Henry V of England, Humphrey of Lancaster, John of Lancaster, Philippa of England, Thomas of Lancaster
  • Emperors & Kings
  • British Men
  • Died on: March 20, 1413
  • Place of death: Westminster

Childhood & Early Life

King Henry IV of England was born on April 15, 1367 at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, England, to John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancashire. The couple had six children, out of which Henry was born fifth. He was also their only surviving son.

Other than his own siblings, Henry had few more half brothers and sisters from his father’s subsequent marriages and also from his father’s liaison with other women. He had more or less good relation with them.

Because he was born at Bolingbroke, Henry was initially known as Henry the Bolingbroke. As a child, he was the playmate of his first cousin Richard Bordeaux, who upon the death of their grandfather became King Richard II of England.

In 1377, both the princes were admitted to the Order of the Garter. On 16 July 1377, ten year old Richard was crowned king. On succeeding the throne, the king made his playmate the Earl of Derby. Like the king, Henry was also aged ten and so he lived in his father’s shadow. John of Gaunt also played an important part in the governance of the country.

In 1386, Gaunt left for an expedition to Spain. In 1387, Henry joined the rebellion by the Lord of Appellants and forced the king to accept their dominance in the council. When the king regained his power, he punished other rebellious barons, but spared Henry. That he did not actually forgive Henry was proven later.

In 1390, Henry went on a crusade to Lithuania with three hundred fellow knights and had limited success. Again in 1392, he went on another crusade to Prussia. Next in 1392-1393, he went to Jerusalem. Although he vowed to free the city from the infidel he was unable to keep it.

In 1397, Henry was made Duke of Hereford. However, the very next year in 1398, Henry was exiled by the king because of his quarrel with Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk. Mowbray was also exiled for life. Henry went to Paris and stayed there until his return to England in June 1399.

Return From Exile

John of Gaunt died unexpectedly on February 3, 1399. King Richard II immediately cancelled the grants that would have allowed Henry to inherit his vast property. After some contemplation, Henry contacted Thomas Arundel, former Archbishop of Canterbury. He too had lost his position because he had sided with the Lords of Appellants.

With the guidance from Arundel, Henry returned to England when King Richard II was away on a campaign in Ireland. The king had taken most of his loyal knights with him. Therefore, when Henry landed at Ravenspurn towards the end of June 1399 there was no resistance from any side.

Very soon the Duke of York garnered support of other nobilities, who had misgiving about the king. Duke of York, who in the absence of the King, was acting as the Keeper of the Realm, also sided with him. Soon, Henry was powerful enough to declare himself king.

On August 12, 1399, Earl of Northumberland met King Richard II at Conway and negotiated on behalf of Henry. The king agreed to abdicate if his life was spared. He was then brought back to London and imprisoned at the Tower of London, where he died under mysterious circumstances.

The Reign

With the abdication of King Richard II on September 30, 1399, Henry Bolingbroke was coronated as King Henry IV of England. However, the major part of his reign was spent in consolidating his position, and quelling rebellions.

In December 1399, there was an attempt to capture the new king at Windsor during the feast of Epiphany and restore Richard II to the throne. However, it failed because the King was forewarned and he never turned up at the venue. Instead, he had an army raised in London. By January 1400, all the ringleaders were captured and executed.

The Glyndŵr Rising in Wales was another rebellion that plagued his rule. It started in 1400 in protest against the oppressive English rule. Up to 1405 King Henry IV of England led a number of unsuccessful campaigns into Wales, but could not quell it. It subsided in 1415 when his son King Henry V of England adopted a more pacifying approach to its people.

However, the gravest challenge came from Henry Percy, the 1st Earl of Northumberland and his family. They made three attempts to overthrow King, but were defeated each time.

The Battle of Shrewsbury fought in 1403 was the most severe of them. The rebellion was led by Henry Percy’s son Henry Hotspur Percy. The king’s army killed Hotspur and captured other leaders. They were later publicly hanged and their heads were put on display. The Earl of Northumberland fled to Scotland.

In 1405, Archbishop of York Richard le Scrope led another failed rebellion against the King. While Scorpe was killed, the Earl fled to Scotland once again. The third and final battle took place at Bramham Moor near Wetherby in 1408. The Earl of Northumberland was killed and with that the uprising ended.

However, to fund such expeditions, King Henry IV of England had to rely on parliamentary grants. From 1401 to 1406 the parliament accused the king of fiscal mismanagement time after time. Ultimately, it acquired supervisory power over royal expenditures as well as appointments.

Very soon, the king’s health began to deteriorate and with that began power struggle within the court. While Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury dominated the court proceedings in the beginning, by 1410, he was ousted by the opposing group led by Prince Henry.

The relation between the king and his son Prince Henry began to deteriorate over France, where a rebellion had erupted. While the king wanted to ally with the ruling faction, the prince preferred to wage war against them in alliance with his Burgundy friends.

In 1412, King Henry IV became totally incapacitated and Prince Henry took over the administration. However, the relation between the father and the son remained tense until the king’s death in 1413.

Personal Life

King Henry IV of England married Mary the Bohun in June 1380. The couple had six children among which Prince Henry, who later became King Henry V of England, was the eldest surviving son. Mary died in 1394, much before Henry IV came to the throne. Therefore, she was never the queen.

The King Henry IV of England next married Joanna of Navarre, the daughter of Charles d’Évreux, King of Navarre, on February 1403. This marriage remained issueless though Joanna had four daughters from her previous marriage to John V of Brittany.

At the end of his life, King Henry IV began to suffer from some ‘grave’ illness. He had a disfiguring skin disease, which might have been leprosy or psoriasis. Besides from 1405 onwards, he began to suffer from ‘acute attacks’, which might have been epilepsy or some kind of cardio vascular disease.

King Henry IV of England died on March 20, 1413. In accordance of his wish, the king was buried at Canterbury Cathedral adjacent to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket. His eldest son Prince Henry succeeded him as King Henry V of England.


It was prophesied that the King Henry IV would pass away at Jerusalem. Everybody, including the king, thought that he would die during the crusade. However, he breathed his last in Jerusalem Chamber, built in previous century as the abbot’s house, inside the Westminster Abbey in London.

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