Who was Henry V? What was his role in Agincourt?

A portrait of Henry V of England
A portrait of Henry V of England Credit: World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Henry V secured victory at the Battle of Agincourt and helped cement English as Britain’s national language. He reigned from 1413-1422

Born in Monmouth Castle in 1386, Henry became Prince of Wales aged 13, following the coronation of his father, King Henry IV. The prince was soon plunged into military action, leading an army at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he was 16 years old. Although struck in the face by an arrow during that 1403 conflict, he remained undeterred. This disciplined beginning stood him in good stead for his decade on the throne. 

During his reign, he laid claim to the French throne, eventually setting sail for – and capturing – Harfleur. He then secured victory at the Battle of Agincourt. Further campaigns followed, before the 1420 Treaty of Troyes acknowledged him as France’s rightful heir. 

Despite much of his reign being focused on the other side of the English Channel, one seemingly insignificant yet influential event came on 12 August 1417 when Henry wrote a letter home from France to his chancellor. 

By opting to write in English for the first time, Henry marked a sea change in the national language. French had been the dominant dialect since the time of the Norman Conquest, yet publishers and guilds soon adopted English following this important royal missive.

Key dates 

  • 1413 – Scotland’s oldest university, St Andrews, is formally constituted by Pope Benedict XIII
  • 1417 – The first official street lights appear as the Mayor of London decrees citizens must hang lanterns outside their homes on winter nights