Fact checking The King movie about Henry V
January 23, 2021 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I just watched The King on Netflix, a movie about King Henry V, and have a question about Henry's younger brother Thomas. I don't normally fact check historical dramas but I was curious about one point, Googled it, and found a discrepancy that is driving me crazy to the point I can't let go. Question inside in case it might be spoilery.

Early on in the film, King Henry IV is close to death and announces that the oldest son Hal (Henry) will not inherit the throne and instead it will be his younger brother Thomas. Which apparently is fine with Hal who has no interest in being King.

When Henry IV dies (in 1413), Hal (Henry) is told he will become King after all because Thomas recently died in battle.

Here's my confusion: Everything I could find online says that Thomas died years later, in 1421.

Did the movie create a fictional announcement by Henry IV followed by a fictional death of Thomas, or am I looking at the wrong internet sources? I know nothing about 15th century English history and perhaps my Google skills have failed me. Help, please!
posted by daikon to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It might be referring to this incident (text from the Wikipedia page on Thomas):
After Thomas's father [Henry IV] became ill in 1411, his older brother became head of the royal council. Conflicts arose between the young Henry and his father when the prince gathered a group of supporters favouring his policy of declaring war on France. The prince was removed from the council by his father after he had defied the king's wishes by persuading it to declare war. Thomas was given his brother's seat, and fell in line with his father's peace policy.
If that's the seed of it, then it could be that the writers got this seat on the royal council confused with the line of succession. Or it could be that they were exaggerating the real history for dramatic effect. Or the writers could have known the difference but just not conveyed it very well.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:43 AM on January 23, 2021

Also, the idea that Henry V was particularly libertine youth goes back to Shakespeare, who was drawing on stories that were already in popular circulation, but which may have been exaggerations.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2021

Best answer: Oh hey, the Wikipedia article on the movie has a section on historical inaccuracies. In particular, it points out that "Henry V never gave up his responsibilities as Prince of Wales, and it was not the death of his brother that pushed him to accept the crown. Furthermore, his brother Prince Thomas did not die in Wales, but during the Battle of Baugé in Anjou, France, and eight years after Henry V's coronation."
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:54 AM on January 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

if you don't get all the facts you're after here, try /r/AskHistorians/ ??

posted by runincircles at 11:55 AM on January 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Assume it's completely made up. Most certainly the death date is wrong--The Battle of Bauge (where Thomas died) is clearly 1421 and plenty of online sources attest to that beyond wikipedia.

The whole thing, as Johnny Assay says, sounds like Shakespeare's Prince Hal dramatized in a slightly different way. Best to view this as someone retconning a classic fictional origin story to relaunch a franchise.

Broadly speaking, English kings couldn't just pick a successor. They could try to influence it in various ways but it was a real challenge to make it stick. Henry I triggered a civil war trying to get his daughter (Matilda) on the throne. It definitely wasn't done on a whim.

And radically shifting timelines (and other facts) is common in these period dramas. It's less common now than it used to be, but actually *more* frustrating as many are quite accurate on the basic facts these days so it's tough to know what you're actually watching.

I remember getting annoyed trying to figure out the actual basis for the Gabrielle Anwar sub plot in The Tudors--it was inspired by some actual gossipy bits in the sources but dates and even kings were swapped willy nilly so it could happen simultaneously with other events in the series.
posted by mark k at 11:56 AM on January 23, 2021

Best answer: So I watched this film on Netflix, was similarly made suspicious by subtle discrepancies between the film and bits of history I knew, and read the Wikipedia article Johnny Assay links to and some other stuff and reached the conclusion that basically the whole story was fabricated apart from the general setting and the historical existence of the characters.

It's still an enjoyable film, though, and I found the real historical details even more fascinating once my interest was piqued by it.
posted by XMLicious at 1:29 PM on January 23, 2021

Best answer: There's an episode of the BBC History Extra podcast on this film. (It's in my bottomless podcast queue and I haven't listened to it yet, so I don't know if it addresses your specific question. Just suggesting in case you'd like to know more generally.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:15 PM on January 23, 2021

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