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Henry V and the City of London

J.L. Kirby describes the reign of a sovereign with a ‘genius for popular kingship’; Henry V was probably the first English ruler to address his subjects in their native language.

‘Trusty and welbeloved, we grete yow often tymes wel, doyng yow to understande for your comfort that, by the grace of God, we ben savely arryved into oure lond of Normandy .’

With these words King Henry V began a letter from Touques castle on August 9th, 1417 to ‘his dear and loyal mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and good people of the city of London’. Ten days earlier, on July 30th, he had sailed from Portsmouth on his second expedition to France. Now he told them that all his army had landed safely, and that about midday on that same August 9th the castle of Touques (which was close to the modern beaches of Trouville and Deauville) had been surrendered to him without resistance or the shedding of Christian blood. In conclusion he asked the Londoners to thank God for his success and to send him news of themselves from time to time.

The most remarkable facts about this letter were, firstly, that it was written in English and, secondly, that it was sent to the citizens of London. It was, so far as is known, the first letter from a King of England to be written in English. Hitherto, while more formal documents had been drawn up in Latin, the King’s own letters were almost always in French; and this despite the fact that both Henry V and his father normally spoke English, and, when called upon to write postscripts to letters in their own hands, wrote in English.

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