Warning: Spoilers for Netflix's The King ahead.
King Henry V, who ruled England from 1413 until his death in 1422, tops most unofficial English monarch popularity contests. Over the course of his short, nine-year rule, the accomplished warrior and statesman united the nobles and the public behind him. According to a 16th century treatise, King Henry V was the ideal role model. “This king was a prince who[m] all men / loved and of no man disdained,” it reads.
Henry V was already an admired king. But Shakespeare made him a legend with his 1599 play, Henry V.. Shakespeare’s Prince Hal transforms from a roguish, prodigal son to a capable leader during the play. His longtime friends and drinking buddies become his brothers in battle. Together, they overcome tremendous odds and defeat the French at the Battle of Agincourt.
The new movie, The King, premiering October 11 in theaters and November 1 on Netflix, adapts Shakespeare’s play into an epic film. Timothée Chalamet plays a brooding boy-turned-king with a bowl cut.
But don’t mistake the plot of The King as fact. The movie relies on Shakespeare’s mythology far more than actual events. Take the character of Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) as a prime example. In The King, the soldier is Hal’s closest friend and wartime strategist. In history, he never existed. How’s that for a bamboozle?
So, lest we be fooled by Shakespeare and Netflix again, here are the basics of what happened.
Was Hal really such a wild child?
When The King starts, Hal has been banished from the court of his father, Henry VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Now, he’s partying with the peasants. Think of it as a gap year among the lower classes.
Conversely, the real Hal’s teen years were spent literally fighting his father’s battles. There were a lot. Why the drama?
It’s complicated, but know that King Henry VI seized the throne from the rightful king, Richard II, so things were never quite stable. Henry was born in 1386. As a child, Henry V spent two years as a “guest” (read: hostage) in Richard II’s court while his father, Henry Bolingbroke, was exiled for a fight with a duke.
In 1399, two years into his ten-year exile, Henry Bolingbroke returned to England and seized the throne from the unpopular Richard II. Bolingbroke became king on October 13, setting young Henry — who was never meant to be king — on a path toward the throne.
Before he became king, Henry became a warrior. In 1402, when Henry was 14, he fought alongside his father at the Battle of Shrewsbury. He then embarked to Wales, where he fought Welsh rebels for five years (in The King, Henry’s younger brother goes to Wales).
Given this timeline, historians do not believe he was the wild child Shakespeare made him out to be.
Did Henry go head-to-head with Henry Percy?
The King’s opening shot of Henry (Tom Glynn-Carney), staring at yet another conquered battlefield. Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the eldest son of the future Earl of Northumberland, had a reputation for being a brave and ruthless warrior.
But the Percys had major beef with King Henry IV, mostly about money. So, Henry Percy led an ill-fated rebellion against the king, resulting in his death at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
In the play, Hotspur dies in a one-on-one duel. An arrow actually killed Hotspur – and Henry almost was, too, during the same battle. Henry, then about 16, was hit in the face by an arrow. The injury would have killed him, had it not been for the interventions of a genius doctor.
By winning this battle, Henry IV’s place on the throne was stabilized.
Did Henry look anything like Timothée Chalamet?
What happened to Henry’s little brother?
As in The King, Henry had a younger brother named Thomas. But he was no teenager, sacrificed for a father’s bidding. Thomas fought alongside his brother in France. He was killed at the age of 34 in battle.
Did Henry and his father get along?
In the movie, King Henry IV and Hal are practically sworn enemies. The real Henry and his father did fight, but mostly about France — not life decisions. Henry was all for invasion; his father was all for peace. In 1411, after lots of fighting, King Henry IV banished his son from the King’s Council. He later accused his son of plotting a coup. Henry was found innocent.
What about Sir John Falstaff?
Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and memorable characters. In The King, he’s a gritty ex-soldier who’s seen things, and thus accrued wisdom. He’s quiet, but when he speaks, Henry listens.
But Falstaff didn’t exist — sorry! Shakespeare based John Falstaff off Henry’s old friend, Sir John Oldcastle. Originally, Shakespeare called the character Oldcastle, too, until his relatives campaigned to have the name changed — which is understandable, considering what happened to him.
In 1417, 27-year-old Henry sentenced John Oldcastle to death for heresy. Oldcastle was burned at the stake. That means Henry, the guy who is known for his decades-long friendships, should probably be better known for killing his friends. Remember, he also turned on his old friend, Henry Percy.
Was the dauphin really such a trickster?
The King is worth watching for Robert Pattinson’s truly unhinged performance as Louis, the French king’s son and heir. In Shakespeare’s play and in The King, the conflict with France starts because Louis sends Henry tennis balls as a coronation gift, mocking his wayward youth.
Chances are, this didn’t happen. According to Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama, the story does not appear in chronicles of French history.
Also, Louis was not at the Battle of Agincourt. He died of dysentery or pneumonia, not in battle, like in The King.
Did Henry win the Battle of Agincourt?
Yes, indeed. On October 25, 1415, the English won a battle no one thought they would. King Henry’s army had 5,000 knights. The French army had anywhere between 30,000 to 100,000. But did Henry win, or did the soggy ground that trapped the calvary? French soldiers, slowed down by the, were either killed in point-blank range or were suffocated by their heavy armor.
Did Henry speak French?
Henry spoke English, French, and Latin. So did everyone else in his court. Henry was the first king since the Norman Conquest to make English the official language of the state. In The King, Henry makes a big point of forcing Catherine of Valois (Lily Rose Depp in the movie), the queen consort of England, to speak English.
Both Depp and Chalamet speak French fluently, too.
Did Henry marry a French princess?
The marriage between Henry and Catherine of Valois, the tenth child of King Charles VI of France, had been in the works since 1413. King Henry IV died before negotiations could begin. King Henry V wanted to marry Catherine, then 12 (!), but also demanded 2 million crowns and control over France. Many manipulations later, Henry V and Catherine were married in May of 1420.
After Charles VI died, Henry, Catherine, and their heirs would get the French crown.
How did Henry die?
The King cuts off abruptly at the height of Henry’s glory. He’s successfully won the adoration of noblemen and the public alike.
It’s good that The King ended when it did. Who would want to see a movie in which Henry, two years later, dies of dysentery?
Henry’s one-year-old son, Henry VI, was crowned king of England and France. But Henry VI’s father’s legend burned so brightly that he never had a chance to outshine him. More on that in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Parts One and Two. Someone call Netflix.