King Henry IV: what kind of king can’t rule his own son?

At the end of Richard II we saw Henry stealthily obtain the kingship from Richard. The ease at which he accomplished this left the reader imagining Henry as a smart, powerful king who is loved by much of he kingdom.


In 1 Henry IV, on the other hand, we are presented with a man who is barely hanging on. His son is a drunken commoner who hangs out with thieves and liars. King Henry’s kingdom is overrun with fighting.


Do these two instances reflect each other? If King Henry can’t rule his own son without issues, how is he supposed to run an entire country?


So far, through all the fighting, Prince Hal has been drunk and not in any way useful. In act 2.5 Henry has sent the Sheriff to tell Harry to come home. Is this a step in the right direction? Must Henry tend his own family before his country?


In act 3.2, Henry tears into Harry for slacking off and Harry gives a strong speech as to why he has been a goof off (to make himself look better when straightened out). Is this debate enough to correct the long acquired poor habits of the prince?


3.2.132 Prince Hal proclaims “I will redeem all this on Percy’s head and in the closing of some glorious day be bold to tell you that I am your son.” Harry seems committed to righting himself.


But in act 3.3, Harry asks Falstaff to gather troops. Harry knows the kind of person Falstaff is yet he relies on this unworthy drunken liar. Can Harry really change? This action seems like he cannot.


Falstaff shows up with his pitiful army. Luckily Northumberland is ill and cannot fight so will not be sending his troops and Glyndwr cannot send troops. This leaves the king with a larger army (potentially a benefit).


Does Henry solve his issues with Harry? If so does this help win the battles? Perhaps the relationship between Henry and Harry foreshadow the relationship between Henry and the kingdom.





4 thoughts on “King Henry IV: what kind of king can’t rule his own son?

  1. Michelle D.

    I understand the point you’re making here and have questioned that myself. Yet, while there is a clear disobedience on the prince’s part, he does possess his own plans to raise his honor. But that would fall under part of the point you’re making – just because Henry has a plan to raise his honor in the eyes of the kingdom and his father, to be seen as worthy and a great heir to the throne, it doesn’t mean it’s a good way to go about it. It’s as though the prince’s plan is reason enough to disinherit him, at least in my opinion. It seems to me that his opinion of lowering everyone’s expectations of what he can offer is a sickening lazy and terrible way to go about his future role as king, let alone his life. Perhaps part of the problem is that Henry never made a point to instill in his son the realization that his title as prince has set the bar for him. It’s as though Harry sees that but doesn’t grasp the concept that it should be a challenge, an honor, risen to – not something to squish under the boot of his foot just so that he can seem mighty at some point down the line. Henry’s parenting skills in this aspect faltered, but maybe that’s part of why his work to rule the kingdom is escaping him – maybe he is actually capable of it but seeing the outcome of his son has disappointed him and led him into his own doubts of ruling.

  2. coleenhiggins

    Your last sentence reminded me of the prophecy made by the bishop in Richard II, saying that it was a terrible thing to make a traitor a king, and that future generations would suffer the consequences. Are we already seeing the beginnings of this with Harry, a prince who doesn’t seem fit to inherit the throne? It seems like a recipe for turmoil and destruction, but I guess we’ll have to wait for the next part of the tetralogy to find out.

  3. alexatirapelli

    It’s important that we acknowledge Richard II and the way it ends, because it is part of the tetralogy along with Henry IV, so I like that you introduced your post with this thought (also a big fan of your title)! I’d like to talk a little about Falstaff – who honestly irks me while I read. He’s sort of comical because he’s a pathological liar, but that also makes him one of the most irritating characters in the play. The fact that the Prince thinks he can trust him to form reliable army makes me question his ability to rule after his father. It adds mysterious and comedic aspects to the plot of this history play. Nice questions in your post! They reflected a lot of what I thought while reading.

  4. victoriamackey

    I think that you make some really effective points here. I believe however, that ruling a kingdom and taking control of your son are two separate things. Although a King shows leadership qualities and can take control over large groups, controlling your child is a separate battle all together. In addition, Henry was not always aware that he would have been king; we do see that their were other people (including Mortimer) who would have been in line before him. Training his son to be king in this case, would not have been the first on his list. Perhaps if he knew from the get go that he would be the new monarch, he would have taken more time to train his so to be the warrior and ruler that he so craves.


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