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The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  509 ratings  ·  61 reviews
An author with a strong track record now tackles the turbulent reign of Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king.

By 1405, King Henry IV had already survived at least eight plots to dethrone or kill him in the first six years of his reign. Henry had not always been so unpopular. The son of John of Gaunt, he was courteous, confident, well-educated, musical and spiritually ferven
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published August 7th 2007 by Jonathan Cape
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4.19  · 
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Karen Brooks
Dec 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When is a non-fiction book completely fabulous and unputdownable? Ironically, when it reads like a work of fiction. So it is with Ian Mortimer’s engaging and exciting biographical work on Henry Bolingbroke, The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King who was a son of John of Gaunt, cousin to Richard II, and who was mostly known as a usurper and murderer. He’s also, it turns out, one of the most under-rated kings in British history.
Mortimer begins by informing the reader that goo
DNF. There's a story here, but Mortimer is so intent on having Henry be an ideal specimen of medieval kingly manhood that it gets a bit disingenuous at times. Mortimer isn't averse to speculating on Richard II's possibly murderous motives, even when a 14 year old boy-king, but when Henry is given a bear, elk and other wildlife as gifts from a Russian during a crusade in Lithuania, he won't venture a guess as to what Henry might have done with them. Say it, Ian....your idol probably has their blo ...more
Elia Princess of Starfall
May 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of serious history
Recommended to Elia Princess of Starfall by: Chapters
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Henry IV is a curious figure in English history - a man whose reign is so utterly intertwined with the stories of those other much better known kings, his grandfather Edward III, his cousin Richard II and his son Henry V, that his own story tends to get lost. Henry's role in history sometimes seems often to serve little more purpose than to pave the way for the glories of his son Henry V. And yet what would the path of history have been without him? Henry V's glories must to a certain extent be ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is the biography of Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king and the man responsible for deposing the 'rightful' king, Richard II.

Ian Mortimer introduces this book as the first definitive biography of Henry IV that delves into the character and motivations of the king. After reading this book perhaps there is a reason why Henry IV remains the least biographied king of England - he tells a dull story. All the making for an interesting read are here: a warrior-priest heir to the throne deposes on
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
If you are even vaguely interested in Henry IV you should read this book. This is because it is by far the best factual book written about Henry since the 19th Century. (If you want the full SP read History of England Under Henry the Fourth by J.H. Wylie, but be aware that Wylie apparently did not know what an editor looked like.) There are some lesser works from the 20th Century but none put in the detail or the thought that Mortimer does.

The only snag is it borders on a hagiography. One wonder
Mercedes Rochelle
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Henry IV is one of those kings best remembered because of Shakespeare, and even there he was overshadowed by more colorful characters. But in reality, he played a pivotal role in English history; without Henry of Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses would probably never have taken place. Ian Mortimer gives us a thorough and sympathetic biography of this unfortunate man, who started out so magnificently and ended up so pathetically. It seems that the antagonism between Richard II and Henry of Bolingb ...more
Jeremy Perron
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Ian Mortimer tells the tale of a tragic prince who lead an incredible life but has been unappreciated throughout history. Some of the lack of appreciation is understandable because his warrior son had left such an incredible legacy that his own suffers from want. The rest of it is due to an unsuccessful reign and the judgments of his time period. It is a great book filled with excitement but told with historical professionalism.

Henry is born the son of the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, his p
Mortimer's excellent biography of Henry IV not only chronicles the monarch's life, but also offers deep analysis of some of the open questions from this period. However, just as Henry's life bogs down after he seizes the crown, so too does the narrative.
Pete daPixie
Sep 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm not reviewing a single book here, but a most powerful chronological trilogy of works by one of the foremost modern writers of English history. Ian Mortimer's 'The Fears of Henry IV-The Life of England's Self-Made King' completes the authors publications to date. * It is highly recommended that the reader follows Mortimer's biographies in their published order, namely 'The Greatest Traitor-The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer' and 'The Perfect King-The Life of Edward III', published in 2003 and 200 ...more
Most people know little of Henry IV beyond his character in Shakespeare's history plays. He no doubt suffers in comparison to his far more glorious son, Henry V, but to compare the two is to do Henry IV a real injustice. There could never have been an Agincourt had it not been for Henry IV.

Consider that Henry was born the son of a duke, was disregarded and victimized by his cousin Richard II, and finally exiled through no fault of his own. In less than a year he returned to England from exile, a
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Yikes! This was billed as being written by a man who writes "Historical fiction" - - -so I was hoping for a bit more of a story. And actually, the story of Henry IV is quite interesting as it has been so unfairly represented in Shakespeare's plays. Mortimer does get that particular point across. However, the rest of the book is a collection of grocery lists - - things Henry bought, notes he wrote, places he went - - -along with Mortimer's interpretation of those grocery lists as crucial to under ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Dec 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
This book gave me a wealth of information about Henry IV but didn't entirely succeed in bringing him out of the shadows. For me, what was missing was the perspective of those around him which would have added that extra dimension.

Ian Mortimer has written three medieval 'lives'. I've read two and will read the book about Edward III shortly. His scholarship and energy make each of his books worth reading even if they sometimes raise more questions than answers.

For those interested, here is a link
Apr 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing

By the time Henry had returned from exile to depose his cousin and establish a dynasty, I was in love with him. The pace of this narrative, for all of its precision, is thrilling. Mortimer is a tremendous story-teller and I'd like to read more by him. And Henry IV? Read it for yourself, but I came away knowing more about a monarch who was courageous, intelligent, pragmatic (as Mortimer emphasizes ), witty, charming, bold, religious and deeply human.
Sep 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I admit, I am one of those people that remembers Henry IV for primarily two things - one being that he is the father of Henry V and second, that he was the one removed Richard II from the throne. After reading this book, he seemed like someone with talents that were never utilized by the king (Richard II) and that he lived that part of his life searching for ways to fufill his potential. One thing that I admire about Henry IV was that he was very loyal - to his father, his wives, his country.
Johnny Malloy
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Ian Mortimer states early on in this book that Henry IV is perhaps the least written-about English monarch. And he repeatedly emphasizes that Shakespeare and others have contributed to large misunderstandings about him. Mortimer is attempting to rehabilitate Henry from a usurper to a great man who solidified the kingdom and established the Lancastrian regime, and he makes a strong case for it. He makes the distinction between great king and great man. A man who accomplished a tremendous amount o ...more
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
While reading this book I came to the conclusion that I did not learn enough about the Lancaster side (besides Henry VI) of the English crown. I won't lie, this book is biased in favor of Henry IV but considering he was replacing Richard II can anyone really say he was a bad king? It's an unfortunate side effect of Shakespeare, but you can clearly see how the poet in the Elizabethan era was not historically correct in... well anything with Henry IV. He was writing for a time when the mention of ...more
Erin Britton
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
With The Fears of Henry IV, as well as his two previous books, Ian Mortimer has firmly established himself as one of the most gifted scholars of medieval history and characters. Although it is often increasingly difficult to source biographical information the further back through history one goes, Mortimer has researched and uncovered a vast number of primary and secondary sources that illuminate the life of Henry IV and also the perception of him that existed during his lifetime. While Mortime ...more
Jamie Collins
3.5 stars. A good book about this king who was ill-portrayed by Shakespeare in the Tudor era; not that this stops the author from quoting from the plays at the beginning of each chapter.

Henry IV is most well known for usurping Richard II and for fathering Henry V. Here the rest of his life is fleshed out and the author focuses on defining Henry’s character, as far as can be determined or supposed from surviving letters, financial records and contemporary accounts.

Mortimer begins by noting the co
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Great biography from one of my favorite periods in history and of a character not often profiled. A warning to readers that it is a very academic rendering. Great research and very well foot noted but could prove a difficult read for those not used to this level of detail or not familiar with this period. I especially liked the format of starting each chapter with the quote from the Shakespeare play and the comparisons the author made to the play most people are familiar with and the historical ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Mortimer does justice to a King who never really had a chance to be what he was supposed to be. Henry had all the potential in the world, and the good character to execute it, yet spent most of his life fighting against those who would condemn his family and freedom. His legacy had a dramatic impact upon the direction of the English monarchy, and Mortimer does an excellent job unpacking the complexity behind this short and sad story.
Robin Case
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a small undertaking, the audio version exceeds 22 hours, this is a well done and engaging work. A very detailed, possibly overly detailed, account of the age. The story covers more than politics, but includes life style description.
Glady Christenson
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author researched extensively and provided reasonable assumptions to round out the type and ruler Kimg Henry IV probably was, based on that research. It must have been a daunting g task. This is a great read for history buffs.
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first book by this author, and I enjoyed it.
Dan Oates
In the Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self Made King, the bestselling historian Ian Mortimer has decided to tackle the challenge of writing a biography of a character who has left little physical impact on the landscape of Britain, in the fact that he did not construct a large number of castles or churches but had a massive impact on the constitutional history of England, as this was due to the fact that Henry was not born to rule, he did not inherit the throne, Henry usurped his Monar ...more
Ian Mortimer begins his biography of Henry IV by talking about how little understood this medieval king is. William Shakespeare created the most enduring portraits of him in Richard II and Henry IV, Parts One and Two, but in all three of these plays, he is overshadowed and his status as an usurper of the throne too politically uncomfortable for Shakespeare to thoroughly come to grips with. Strip away the Shakespeare and Henry IV is still overshadowed, this time by his more successful son, Henry ...more

Other than the fact that Henry IV became king after Richard II, I knew nothing about this oldest son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The author has chosen to call him the righteous King, but I suggest he also might be called the invisible king overshadowed by his cousin King Richard II and his illustrious father, John. Henry and Richard were not only close in age, they were cousins, both grandsons of Edward III and neither were expected to be king, at least not in the way that it event
Nola Redd
For the most part, I enjoy Mortimer's biographies, but Fears of Henry IV suffers the same problem as his others. The most glaring deficiency is the assumption that the reader will already have a strong base in British and European history. The language itself is also dense, and the assumptions result in page turning and information seeking outside of the book. With all that said, one cannot fault Mortimer for his thoroughness and his presentation of opposition.

The book is clearly written by an a
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I purchased The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King, I knew little of Henry of Bolingbroke beyond being the grandson of a much-beloved Edward III (and long-lived too - fifty years ruling England) and the Shakespearean sometimes hero who "gave mad ol' Richard the boot."

Well, I must say that author Ian Mortimer did a stunning job with this one. Not only did he present TONS of historical material in an engaging, easy to digest fashion, he brought to light Bolingbroke's ong
It is a dangerous man who dethrones a God-anointed tyrant.
In a way, Richard II won in the end because there isn't much in our memories of King Henry IV, the first of the Lancasters on the English throne. If anything, we remember him as a usurper and the father of the great Henry V. But, as Mortimer shows us, Henry of Lancaster was a deeper man than popular history credits him. The young Henry is a study in chivalry: a champion jouster, a wealthy scholar, a devout man, a faithful husband, a flirt
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AKA James Forrester.

Dr Ian Mortimer is a historian and novelist, best known for his Time Traveller's Guides series. He has BA, MA, PhD and DLitt degrees from the University of Exeter and UCL. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was awarded the Alexander Prize by the Royal Historical Society in 2004. Home for him and his family is the small
“So much dung, filth, and entrails of dead beasts and other corruptions is cast into ditches, rivers and other waterways, and many other places, within about and near to the cities, boroughs and towns of the realm… that the air is greatly corrupted and infected and many maladies and other intolerable diseases do daily happen…’64 They ordered fines of £20 to be levied on all those who had not remedied the situation within a year, and passed the responsibility for keeping the streets clean to local officers.” 1 likes
“the commons put forward an exceedingly detailed and comprehensive petition regarding the labour system. It resulted in the statute which made communities responsible for providing for poor people and itinerant labour-seekers, and so established the precedent which remained the basis for the poor law until the nineteenth century.” 0 likes
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