If it is ever possible for a war to be just and proper, then one example of such can be found in the story of King Henry the Fifth, as portrayed by Shakespeare. Whether or not such a thing as a war can ever be just or proper is a debate much larger than the scope of this paper. If, however, it is conceded that there may be instances that warrant battle, then this is one instance. First, the propriety of Henry's actions will be examined, to see if he did indeed have a cause to go to war. After it has been established that there was cause, the justice in which the war was executed will be demonstrated by looking at Henry's actions.
Many who oppose Henry's decision to go to war will attribute his motives to either greed because of the role the bishops played or injured pride because of the Dauphin's rudeness. The motive of the bishops is clearly their own greed, as in the opening scene they make an account of all the worldly wealth they stand to lose if a certain law is passed. By their own admission, they decide that it would be to their benefit to have a war so that foreign affairs would take precedence. As such, they conspire to encourage the King in this direction. Our first introduction to King Henry, however, does not show him listening to the words of Bishop Canterbury and then deciding that it would be advantageous to fight in France. Instead, Henry is already strongly considering the prospect and seeks out Canterbury to discuss the legality of it.
As for Henry's injured pride, the insulting tennis balls may have made him even more resolute in his decision to attack, and obviously did not help the relation between Henry and the Dauphin. However, the insult could not influence the actual decision, because war had already been decided. As the attendants leave to fetch the messenger, Henry states that he is resolved to rule over France. Perhaps the reason why Henry had delayed listening to the messenger was because he anticipated that hearing from the Dauphin would put him in a foul mood and wished to be more objective when making such a crucial judgement. Even if this was not the case, the Dauphin's insult did not factor into the decision, simply because of the chronology of the events.
While the influence of the bishops may have encouraged the final decision, or the Dauphin may have hardened the resolve, the root of Henry's intent was planted in whether or not France rightfully belonged to him. He believed that it did, and the King of France apparently did not wish to cede the power. Some claim that war must only be fought when life or liberty are directly at stake. However, at what point should a person abandon their claim to property and allow someone to take it simply because they give a false claim for it? If a thief comes into a house after the owner dies and declares it to be his own, should the true heir simply move to a new location to avoid the conflict?
The first example of Henry's justice lies in how he treats victory in battle. The obvious example is his show of humility when his armies overcame such great odds and delivered such a decisive victory in Agincourt. If he had incited a war in France simply to prove to the world that he was not a weak king, he certainly would not have demanded that all glory of victory be given to God. Earlier in Harfleur, he declared many great threatenings of what would happen if the town continued to hold out in battle. However, when the Governor declares the town indefensible and leaves it to Henry's mercy, Henry decrees that mercy be shown by all his army. These are not reactions of a war-monger or a bloodthirsty king.
Despite his decree that all mercy should be shown to the conquered French, it is not surprising that some of the rougher element in the English army would set about trying to make a profit of the war. Henry sent a keen warning to his men when Bardolph was caught stealing from a church. Henry had been quick to show mercy earlier when his own life had been threatened in England, but when the defeated French are threatened he shows no mercy. It seems that he views France not only as a prize of war, but as a responsibility that he must take care of. He is not trying to rob France of anything of value; he wishes to rule over France in justice like he rules over England. This desire is clearly expressed when Katherine calls him the enemy of France. His quick response is that he loves France so much that he would not give up a single village. Again, these are not actions of a king set only on the glory and gore of war.
If it is true that war is always inherently evil, as some would claim, then obviously King Henry was wrong to go to war and one need not examine his actions any further than this. However, if it ever is possible to wage a just and proper war, then King Henry did so.
uploaded Fri January 27 2006 at 8:07 PM
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