Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I

If memory serves, I did Henry IV part I for O level and part II for A level, but that was many years ago. Despite the passage of time I can still remember Miss Williamson and Mr Roberts, two of my English teachers. I think it was her first job out of College, while he had been teaching for many years. I remember writing essays on “Honour”, “Hal’s relationship with Falstaff”, and various other topics – indeed I was pleasantly surprised how much of the play I remembered. Julie doesn’t think we’ve ever seen it on stage.

Henry IV had deposed Richard II in 1399 – then Richard died in Pontefract the following year. Richard was only 33 – the same age as Henry. This play covers less than a year – it starts with Hotspur’s battle at Homildon in Northumberland against Douglas late in 1402 and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury in the middle of 1403. Despite living in Northumberland for seven years, I had to look Homildon up – it is just north of Wooler on the A697, so I have driven past it. I have also driven past the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury on several occasions – but have never stopped and visited the Battlefield Church (Churches Conservation Trust). The battle took place in June, but this version of the play set it in the depths of winter – all snow and mud, very atmospheric, beautifully filmed, and a reminder (if one were needed) that medieval warfare was extremely brutal.

We watched the BBC “Hollow Crown” 2012 version again, with Jeremy Irons playing Henry. In 2012 he was 20 years old than the real Henry, and comes across as the old king with a rebellious youth as a son. Prince Hal is played by Tom Hiddlestone, and he is as confident in the taverns and bawdy houses as he is in the court itself.

Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters, l.), Doll Tearsheet (Maxine Peake)

He shares one life with Sir John Falstaff (played superbly by Simon Russell Beale), with Maxine Peake as Doll Tearsheet and Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly. The “I know you all” soliloquy is spoken in voiceover as he walks through the tavern away from Falstaff, nodding and smiling at the patrons and people in the street while the sadness in his eyes reflect his thoughts (I’m sure I had to write an essay on that).

Life in court is more formal. There is an excellent blog on the play at, and I rather hope that would tell me where it was filmed. Henry tears a strip off his son at the beginning, and the two have a fascinating relationship. Henry Percy, Hotspur, is played by Joe Armstrong – I had to look him up, and then realised how much he’s been in. His father Northumberland is played by Alun Armstrong (“Prime Suspect”). A bit more research needs doing on these various Dukes of Northumberland and their castles – I have never visited Alnwick and it is many years since I’ve been to Wirksworth.

Hotspur’s wife, Kate Percy, is played by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary of Downton Abbey). The Nottingham blog writer is disturbed by the power-play and violence in their relationship – my only comment is that if I were sharing my bed with Lady Kate, I would not be in a hurry to leave it and go to war. Alex Clatworthy plays Lady Mortimer (I can’t find a photo of her in this production) and sings quite beautifully in Welsh – she is a native of Llandaff, studied in Cambridge and then at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Doing a bit of research I find that Catrin, Lady Mortimer, was one of the children of Owain Glyndŵr. In November 1402 she married Edmund Mortimer. He died in the siege of Harlech Castle in 1409 and his wife and daughters were taken to the Tower of London. After her death shortly afterwards she was buried at St Swithin’s church which stood on the north side of Cannon Street, and there is a memorial to her there. Going back to Lady Kate Percy, she was also called Elizabeth Mortimer. Hotspur was her first husband. After his death in battle she had to cope with being the wife of a rebel – later she married Thomas de Camoys, 1st Baron Camoys, and had ten years with him. He commanded one of the wings of the English army at Agincourt (but we’ve got Henry IV part II to get through before we get to Henry V). I am going to suggest someone could write a mini-series called “Wives of the Hollow Crown” – I’d watch it (especially if Michelle Dockery and Alex Clatworthy were in it).

These lives are fascinating, and Shakespeare weaves them all together. Part II is still to come!

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