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The Baby King - Harper's


"I, Henry, born at Monmouth,
Shall small time reign and much get.
But Henry of Windsor shall long reign and lose all,
But as God will, so be it."

This strange bit of doggerel is said to have been composed and repeated by King Henry V. of England on the birth of his only child Henry. The baby first saw the light of day in Windsor's royal palace, where he was born on the 6th of December, 1421, and was welcomed with delight by the English nation as the son and heir of their idolized King.

Before little Henry was more than nine months old, the King his father was dead. The poor little baby was already King of England, and within another month his grandfather, Charles VI. of France, was also dead, and another heavy crown was burdening the infant's brow.

No sooner had Queen Katherine, the mother of the little King, fulfilled her duty of seeing the funeral rites belonging to her husband properly accomplished, than she hastened to Windsor to embrace her child, and pass in solitude the early months of her widowhood. She was only in her twenty-first year, and had many arduous duties before her. The first of these was to see her baby King properly received and acknowledged as their sovereign by the nation. The sanction of Parliament was required, and accordingly the Queen removed from Windsor to London, passing through the city on a moving throne drawn by white horses, and surrounded by all the princes and nobles of England. In her lap was seated the infant King, and "those infant hands," says one of the chroniclers, "which could not yet feed himself, were made capable of wielding a sceptre, and he who was beholden to nurses for milk, did distribute support to the law and justice of the realm!" "The Queen, still holding her baby on her knee, was enthroned among the lords, whom, by the chancellor, the little King saluted, and spake to them his mind at large by means of another's tongue." It was declared that during this scene in Parliament the baby King conducted himself with marvellous quietness and gravity. Henry VI. had been already proclaimed King of France, at Paris, before even he thus held his first Parliament on his mother's lap. For as soon as the last service had been performed over the dead body of Charles VI., and the body lowered into the vault belonging to the royal Kings of France, the impressive ceremony followed of the ushers belonging to the late King breaking their staves of office, throwing them into the grave, and reversing their maces, whilst the king-at-arms, or principal herald, attended by many heralds, cried in a loud, solemn voice over the tomb, "May God show mercy and pity to the soul of the late most penitent and most excellent Charles VI., King of France, our natural and sovereign lord!"

Hardly had these solemn words rolled echoing through the vaulted roof, striking the hearts of the 26,000 spectators with mournful awe, than the herald raised his voice again, and twice demanded their prayers, for the living this time, and not the dead. And thus he cried, "May God grant long life to Henry, by the grace of God King of France and of England, our sovereign lord!"


Then, when an infant ten months old had been proclaimed King over two of the greatest kingdoms in Europe, the sergeants-at-arms and ushers turned their maces, and shouted together, "Long live the King! long live the King!"

The Duke of Bedford was now sole Regent of France, whilst a council of prelates and peers, with the Duke of Gloucester at its head, governed England in the baby King's name, making use of the amusing fiction of issuing all their decrees and mandates as though they were dictated by the mouth of an infant still in arms.

Sometimes Henry misbehaved, or rather showed the natural temper of a baby. In 1423, when his Majesty was nearly two years old, he was taken by his mother to London to hold another Parliament. It was Saturday when they left Windsor, and at night the Queen and her baby King slept at Staines instead of going on. On the Sunday the Queen wished to proceed, and had her son carried to her car, when, instead of comporting himself with his usual dignity, "he skreeked" (says the quaint chronicler), "he cried, he sprang, and would be carried no further; wherefore they bore him into the inn, and there he abode the Sunday all day. But on the Monday he was borne to his mother's car, he being then merry and full of cheer, and so they came to Kingston, and rested that night. On Tuesday, Queen Katherine brought him to Kennington, on Wednesday to London, and with glad semblance and merry cheer, on his mother's barm [lap] in the car, rode through London to Westminster, and on the morrow was so brought into Parliament." The old historian would make us believe that Henry refused to travel on Sunday, even at two years old.

The guardianship of the baby King had been intrusted to the Earl of Warwick, and in the pictorial history of this Earl he is represented as holding the King, a lovely baby of fourteen months old, in his arms, while he is showing him to the lords around him in Parliament. The Earl, however, only held his sovereign lord on public and state occasions, leaving the young King in his private walks and hours of retirement to the care of a certain Dame Alice Boteler, his governess, and his nurse Joan Astley. "We request," says his infant Majesty, in a quaintly worded document proceeding from his council, but as usual written in his name, and in regal form, "Dame Alice from time to time reasonably to chastise us as the case may require, without being held accountable or molested for the same at another time. The well-beloved Dame Alice, being a very wise and expert person, is to teach us courtesy and nurture, and many things convenient for our royal person to know."

It was whilst Dame Alice was still in power as the King's chastiser that we again find the royal child noticed as holding the opening of Parliament in 1425. Katherine entered the city in a chair of state, with her child sitting on her knee as before. But Henry was now four years old, and no longer needed to be held on Warwick's arm or placed upon his mother's lap. As soon then as he reached the west door of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Protector lifted the child King from his mother's chair, and set him on his feet, whilst the Duke of Exeter, on the other side, conducted him between them to the high altar up the stairs which led to the choir. At the altar the royal boy knelt for a time upon a low bench prepared for him, and was seen to look gravely and sadly on all around him. He was then led into the church-yard, placed upon a fair courser, to the people's great delight, and so conveyed through Cheapside to his residence at Kennington. There he staid with his mother until the 30th of April, when he returned through the city to Westminster in a grand state procession. The little King was again held on his great white horse, and when he arrived at his palace, the Queen seated herself upon the throne of the White Hall where the House of Lords was held, with her child placed upon her knee. This procession drew the people in crowds to see and bless their infant sovereign, whose features they declared were the image of his father.

His tutor, the Earl, was now always with him, whilst his young friends had distinct and separate instructors, for whom reception and entertainment were carefully provided by the Privy Council. Henry's governor, Warwick, was ordered by the King's guardians (speaking, as usual, in the King's person) "to teach us nurture, literature, and languages, and to chastise us from time to time according to his discretion." Unfortunate little Henry! we find more said about his being chastised than about his being rewarded, as if he were of a rebellious and obstinate temper. On the contrary, he was remarkable for his mildness and the meek submission of his character, and we fear the blows which he had to endure only saddened and subdued him, and rendered him unfit to cope with the ambitious and high-spirited nobles who surrounded him.

Little Henry was no sooner eight years old than it was determined by his uncles and his council that he should be crowned King of England in London, and afterward King of France at Paris. So, after much delay, the royal child was taken to Westminster on the 6th of November, 1429, and there crowned with much pomp and state, amongst the acclamations of the people. As soon as the ceremony was over, the little King, in his robes and crown, created, under the direction of his governor, thirty-six Knights of the Bath. Then followed a sumptuous feast in the great Hall of Westminster, where a noble company were assembled, and nobody of note allowed to be absent. Immediately after this, Henry and a great escort of nobles went to Paris, where he was crowned King of France.

His journey to France, his coronation there, the homage and presents he received from French subjects as their King, must often in his after-life have appeared like a dream.

When Henry VI. returned to England he was eleven years old, having been allowed the pleasure of having far more of his own way than he could have obtained in England. Perhaps the ceremony of his coronations, the homage, smiles, and deference shown him, the young companions whose acquaintance could not then be refused, had some exciting influence on his naturally meek and quiet temper. Certain, however, it is that he began at this time to rebel, and demanded from his Privy Council freedom from personal chastisement, which appears to have tried him sorely. The poor boy, however, gained little by his petition, for the Earl addressed the council, and complained that certain officious persons "had stirred up the King against his learning, and spoken to him of divers matters not behoveful," and he begs that he may "have power over any or all of those belonging to his household, and to exchange them for others if he should find it necessary. Also that none be admitted to have speech with the King, except he or some persons appointed be present." He besides besought them to stand by him when the King begins "to grudge and loathe his chastising him for his faults, and to impress their young King with their assent that he be chastised for his defaults or trespasses, and that for awe thereof he forbear to do amiss, and entered the more busily to virtue and to learning."

So Henry, like any other school-boy, submitted, and said no more until he entered on his sixteenth year, when he demanded to be admitted into the council, and to be made acquainted with the affairs of his kingdom. This was granted, and he was after this allowed to conduct his own affairs.