Henry IV. of Bolingbroke—The Story of the Battle of Shrewsbury
HENRY IV. knew quite well that he was not the real heir to the throne, although he tried to make people believe that he was. The real heir was Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March.
Richard II. was the son of Edward the Black Prince, who was the eldest son of Edward III. Edmund Mortimer was descended from Lionel of Clarence, who was the third son of Edward III. Henry Bolingbroke was descended from John of Gaunt, who was the fourth son of Edward III. So, of course, Edmund Mortimer had a better right to the throne than Henry Bolingbroke had. But Edmund Mortimer was only a little boy, and, like so many other little princes, he was passed over and forgotten. The people chose rather to have a strong man who could really rule, than a little boy who could rule only in name. But Henry was afraid of Edmund, and kept him a prisoner in Windsor Castle, although he was not otherwise unkind to him.
Henry had seized the throne in an unlawful manner, and he found that it was no easy matter to keep it. No sooner was he crowned than plots thickened around him, and people who had hated Richard were now sorry that they had put Henry on the throne.
The Welsh, who had been conquered by Edward I., had never been content to live under the rule of English kings, and Owen Glendower, a Welsh nobleman, now rebelled against Henry. He called himself the Prince of Wales, claiming to be descended from Llewellyn, that Welsh prince whom Edward I. had defeated and killed.
Nearly all Wales joined Owen Glendower, and although Henry went against them with a large army, he was not able to subdue them. The Welsh took several of Henry's nobles prisoner, among them Sir Edmund Mortimer. This Sir Edmund was an uncle of the young Earl of March, whom Henry kept in prison at Windsor. Henry was quite pleased that Sir Edmund should be a captive, because he was afraid that he might at some time try to put his nephew on the throne.
The Scots had meanwhile also been fighting with the English, and had been defeated by the Earl of Northumberland and his young son, who was called Harry Hotspur. He was called Hotspur because he was so quick and brave in battle.
Harry Hotspur and his father had taken the Scottish leader, Douglas, prisoner. They expected to get a large ransom from the Scots for him. But Henry said the Douglas must be given up to him. This made the Percies, as Harry Hotspur and his father were called, very angry. They thought that, as they had taken the Douglas prisoner, they had a right to the money which would be paid for his release.
The Percies then asked Henry to send money to Owen Glendower to ransom Edmund Mortimer, for Edmund was Harry Hotspur's dear friend. But Henry refused. He did not wish Edmund to be free, because he was afraid of him. This refusal made the Percies still more angry.
The Percies had helped to put Henry on the throne, but now they became so angry with him that they were sorry that they had done so, and they turned against him.
Instead of giving up the Douglas to Henry, the Percies set him free, on condition that he should help them to fight against the King. They made friends with Owen Glendower, who set Edmund Mortimer free, and persuaded him also to join them against Henry.
When the King heard of this great rebellion, he marched with a large army to Shrewsbury, and there he defeated the Percies before Owen Glendower could come with his soldiers to their help.
King Henry had been told that some of the rebel nobles had sworn to kill him, so he went into battle in plain armour, while four or five knights went dressed like the King. These knights were all killed, Douglas himself killing three of them. "I marvel to see so many kings rise thus one after the other," he said. "I have this day slain three."
But the real king was not among them, although he was in the battle fighting bravely.
The Prince of Wales, or Prince Hal, as he was often called, was only a boy, but he did great deeds at this battle, and even when he had been badly wounded, he would not leave the field until victory for his father was sure.
Harry Hotspur was killed, the Douglas taken prisoner, and so with this one battle the rebellion was almost at an end.
Henry next marched against Owen Glendower, but still he could not subdue him. Owen fought against Henry all his life, and at last died among the lonely mountains of Wales, still free and still unconquered.
Henry IV. had a very unquiet reign; he was in constant fear of rebellion in England, and besides the Welsh, the Scots and the French were always fighting with him. But a great misfortune fell upon the Scottish king, which forced him to make peace with Henry.
The Scots and the French had always been good friends, and now King Robert III. sent his little son, James, to France to learn French. But while on his way there his ship was captured by the English, and Prince James, who was only nine years old, was taken a prisoner to London.
Henry was very glad to have Prince James in his power, for the Scots were now afraid to fight against him in case he should do some harm to their little Prince.
"If the Scots had been kind," said Henry, "they would have sent their Prince to me. I could teach him the French language as well as any Frenchman."
When the King of Scotland heard that his son had fallen into the hands of his enemy, he was so sad and afraid that he died of a broken heart.
The King's brother, the Duke of Albany, wanted to rule Scotland himself, so he was pleased that James was a prisoner, and did not try to make Henry set him free.
Although King Henry kept Prince James in prison, he allowed him to have books and teachers, who taught him many things which were afterwards useful to him, and helped him to become a good king. He also wrote some very beautiful poetry while he was in prison, so those years were not altogether lost.