Henry was born on 3rd April 1367, the son of John of Gaunt , Duke of Lancaster, (3rd surviving son of Edward III) and Blanche of Lancaster at Bolingbroke castle. He was styled Henry of Bolingbroke. He was about the same age as his cousin, Richard, son of Edward, the Black Prince. Richard was second in line to the throne after his father. The two boys spent much time playing together and knew each other well. In 1377 both boys were created Knights of the Order of the Garter. On 21st June Richard became King Richard II, his father having pre-deceased him.
On 27th July 1380 Henry married Mary de Bohun at Arundel Castle. However, because of the couples young age they initially lived apart. Nevertheless their first son was born in 1382 but he only lived for 4 days. In 1386 a healthy son, Henry, was born. The couple went on to have a further five children. Mary died giving birth to their sixth child.
Henry gave Richard his full support but in 1387 joined the Lords Appellant, a group of nobles who sought to curb the King’s increasingly tyrannical and pro France rule. Henry led an army that defeated the King at the Battle of Radcot Bridge. This defeat allowed the Lords Appellant to form a ‘Mericless Parliament’ and rid the King’s household of pro-French hangers-on and retainers. The Merciless Parliament was disbanded in the summer of 1388 and Richard returned to rule albeit as a puppet of the Lords Appellant.
As soon as he was able Richard started plotting revenge on the Lords Appellant and most of them were executed during the 1390s. In order to avoid Richard’s anger, Henry left the country on crusades to Lithuania and the Holy Land. He returned in the mid 1390s but at some point in 1398 he made a chance remark regarding Richard’s rule. Richard used this as an opportunity to take revenge on Henry and banished him for a period of one year. When Henry’s father died on 3rd February 1399 Richard seized the lands for himself and extended Henry’s exile for life. Henry was not happy and began to raise an army.
Henry invaded England in July 1399 and took the throne on 30th September 1399. He managed to survive the Epiphany Rising – a plot to replace him with Richard II – when he was alerted by one of the conspirators. The following month the death of Richard was announced. It is believed that Richard either starved himself to death, was starved to death or was murdered. In 1400 he faced a new challenge from Wales when Owain Glyn Dwr was pronounced rightful Prince of Wales. Although the initial rebellion was put down Glyn Dwr avoided capture and the following year was supported by members of the Mortimer family who believed that Edmund Mortimer was the rightful King. In 1403 Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland also joined Owain Glyn Dwr and the Mortimer family in opposition to Henry. Henry reacted quickly, marched north and secured a decisive victory against Percy at the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21st July. Percy was captured and executed but his father was allowed to survive. In 1405 the Archbishop of York, Richard Scrope, supported by the Earl of Northumberland led a rebellion against Henry but it failed and he was executed. Northumberland fled to Scotland but returned in 1408 at the head of an army intent on removing Henry and replacing him with Edmund Mortimer. Henry met him at Bramham Moor and scored a decisive victory. Northumberland died in the battle.
After 1408 Henry’s reign was more secure but the years of stress had taken its toll and his health was failing. In 1409 Henry’s son and heir to the throne was made Chancellor and given more responsibility.