By Craig Taylor
Henry V: New Interpretations, ed. by Gwilym Dodd (York Medieval Press, 2013)
Introduction: On 6 November 1422, the coffin of Henry V was carried to a funeral carriage by eight chamber knights, with four earls holding each of he corners of a cloth of gold on top of it, and four knights supporting a canopy above the coffin. Two of the houses that drew the carriage were decorated with the arms of England, and the other three horses wore the arms of St Edmund, St Edward and St George. As the procession moved towards Westminster, the coffin was followed by knights and pages on horseback, carrying the king’s helmet and the shields of England and France. After the Requiem Mass at Westminster Abbey the following day, three rode their horses up to the high altar where they removed their armour, symbolically representing Henry V’s laying down of his knightly responsibilities in death.
As these elaborate rituals demonstrated, Henry V was celebrated not merely as a monarch but also as a great knight. Kingship and chivalry were not separate constructs in late medieval didactic works, chronicles and biographies which praised ideal qualities like loyalty largesse, honour and above all prudence that were essential for both kings and knights. Both were founded upon the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, prudence and fortitude that were so important not just for kings and knights but for all Christians. Contemporary authors constantly emphasized the obligations of a king to fight, but also of a knight to be wise and prudent, especially when serving as a lord or a military commander.
Before the king’s death, John page had written an eyewitness account of the siege of Rouen during the winter of 1418, in which the French negotiators declared that Henry V was the foremost prince on earth, praising his discretion, manhood and mercifulness, and identifying him above all as a “conquerowre”. After the king had died, Michael Pintouin, chronicler of Saint-Denis, was almost as effusive, declaring that Henry had demonstrated a range of qualities including magnaminity, prudence and wisdom, and as a result had been more equipped to conquer a region of country than any other prince of the age. In 1420, John Lydgate had concluded the Troy Book by declaring that Henry V ought to be “registered worthi as of name / In the highest place of the hous of fame.”