Contrary to Shakespeare's take, Henry V had already distinguished himself as a soldier in his teenage years – a trait that would define the entirety of his life. At the age of 16 during the Battle of Shrewsbury he was shot in the face with an arrow. It stuck and the extraction left him with a significant scar. Henry ascended to the throne upon his father’s death in 1413. History seems to portray Henry as a strong but politically balanced sovereign, who demonstrated an ability to decisively put down potential rebellions while building a stable and prosperous regime.
|Ian McKellan as Henry V|
|Henry V praying at Agincourt|
|Christopher Plummer as |
|Richard Burton as |
|Kenneth Branagh as |
Eventually Henry was able to use Agincourt and other victories to establish his claim as regent of France. His legitimacy was cemented with his marriage to Katherine of Valois, the French King’s daughter. However, even with titular rule over France, Henry never stopped trying to extend his actual power on the continent. On a campaign in 1422 Henry became ill and died at the age of 35. He was brought back to London and buried in Westminster Abbey. The next in line for the throne was his infant son Henry VI. But the regency in place during Henry VI 's youthful reign largely squandered Henry V’s conquests and the monarchy stayed in decline until the reign of Henry VIII.
|Michael Sheen as Henry V from the playbill|
for the Fall 1997 RSC production
|Your blogger at the |
We bought two back row tickets by phone, then realized that we needed to get to the other side of the Thames, which meant crossing the Tower Bridge. Leaving the theatre we were confronted by a mob of people – it was the night that the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned and sailed for the last time out of the city. After fighting through the crowds we crossed the Bridge and made it to the Barbican Theatre where the performance was to take place.
We went up to get our tickets and were told that there were two second row seats we could have instead of our last row seats. Snagging them, we sat down in our seats and proceeded to be blown away by an a amazing performance featuring Michael Sheen (who later played Tony Blair in ‘The Queen’ and David Frost in “Frost/Nixon”) in the title role.
|Ticket from the play|
It was the first time I'd seen the play and it has been my favorite Shakespeare ever since. Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film version is a must see. His St Crispin's Day (Band of Brothers) speech is one of the most stirring rallying cries you'll ever see on film.
|''We few, we happy few, we band of brothers'|
|Henry V tomb in Westminster Abbey|
|The tomb of Henry V is prominently located|
behind the royal Coronation Chair