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Henry V and His Crazy Reasonable Idea

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The idea of divine monarchy and rightful succession has a long history as noted in Shakespeare’s Henry V. Historically laws of Primogeniture caused problems for heirless kings and dying family lines as at the end of their rule there was no clear successor to call on. The conflict in Henry revolves around whether Henry or the Dauphin has the right to inherit the French crown upon the King’s death. In modern democracies, such as ours here in America revolve around a limited term system and public votes on who has the people’s blessing to govern our nation. Similarly, our presidency tends to run in families, for example, the two Roosevelts, or the two successful Bushes. We follow this trend subconsciously to follow the line of succession. The differences between Henry V’s French and our American succession is that America has no laws requiring bloodline succession. Canterbury tells us that the French have been allowing their crown to be passed down through women despite the Salic Law as an excuse to keep the rightful English successors from ruling. ‘During the 14th and 15th centuries, attempts were made to provide juridical grounds for the exclusion of women from the royal succession.

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The Salic Law was first mentioned in 1410 in a treatise against the claims to the French throne by Henry IV of England’. But as Catherine herself tells us, ‘O bon Dieu! Les langues des hommes sont pleines de tromperies’. Canterbury’s assertion that Henry V can rightfully take the throne follows the same logic as the French drawing Henry’s claim through his Great-Great-Grandmother Isabel. This position caused reasonable doubt in Henry’s mind and reminded him of his father’s difficulties with succession.Henry IV was Henry V’s father. Records show he wasn’t a bad king but was always fighting a bad public opinion that he wasn’t the rightful king. A similar sort of doubt is currently fostered by more than half of our country. Despite succeeding Barack Obama as president Donald Trump didn’t secure the popular vote.

For many Americans this succession of our nation’s power holds the same sentiments people held for Henry V’s father. This is seen when Henry asks that God remembers at Agincourt, ‘the fault/My father made in compassing the crown’. As Ralph E. Giesey notes’…one might argue that the claim to France is English, not simply Henry V’s, the king’s own prayer clearly mimics Augustine’. This is a reference to St. Augustine’s writing on a ‘just’ war. ‘These ideas emphasize his fear that God will grant victory to the French as retribution for the sinful acts that established his father’s unlawful hold on the monarchy’. This theme of a righteous war, or a ‘just’ war stem from the idea that Kings have a divine right to rule. This is often a modern excuse for powerful people to go to war or invade nations that are under suspicion. In fact, often we Americans vote not based on policies but on what we perceive to be a candidate’s ‘divine right’ or worthiness to hold office. Just as ‘The main reason adduced in each case was custom, though Roman law and the priestly character of kingship were also used as justifications’.

For Henry, the Dauphin was childish, uncouth, and immature. Thusly he didn’t deserve or hold the right to succeed his father’s throne, even if he had been the legitimate heir. If this past election has taught me anything I shouldn’t bet on anyone at this point because ‘good will win’ isn’t always true. Legitimate claims and positions don’t matter in politics, there are only those who win and those that shouldn’t have lost. The problem of morality, and legitimate claims to succession are the focal point of Henry’s struggles with his war. Unfortunately, that point is rather lost in our modern society. Very little people care about the ethics of power, and don’t take time to scrutinize who has the legitimate claim to rule/govern.

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