Henry V from Shakespeare’s play of the same name was a disappointment as a monarch. Although he was an intelligent man, he failed his people and himself by choosing to be unsuccessful as a true head of state. As the guardian of the people, the promotion of righteousness should be have been the first priority of Henry V. But what is righteousness, and how does it apply to a king?
The main priority of a king, throughout his entire rule, should be to promote virtue to the people through way of his own example, especially in considering laws and other affairs of the state. Henry V, however, did not promote virtue during his reign, and was, in fact, very prideful and self-centered, as shown by his message to the French prince, in which he boasted that he would “shine so brightly that even the Dauphin will be struck blind.”1 At the Siege of Harfleur, Henry V struck fear into the hearts of the French people by threatening violence if they did not surrender immediately.2 Henry V could have walked away from the battle and prevented the ensuing crimes, but because he valued what he perceived as honor and valor more than he valued the lives of the people, he chose to scare the governor of Harfleur into surrendering. He did this by announcing loudly the evils he planned to inflict on the people. Henry V even went so far as to say that the promised harm would be solely the fault of the governor of Harfleur.3
Without a strong sense of morality, a kingdom will fall into anarchy because when everyone is searching for personal gain, even at the cost of others, trust will dissolve and the people will destroy each other rather than risk being destroyed themselves. There would be a contempt for the law because no one would feel morally obligated to follow it. And if the king himself was wicked, then the people would have further reason to dismiss his decrees and turn on him. Henry V failed to be a good king by putting himself before the promotion of integrity.
In order to live a virtuous life, a king should follow the primary obligations of a ruler: obedience to God's will, constant improvement of one's virtue, and the promotion of peace. Throughout Shakespeare's play, it becomes clear Henry V is not fulfilling these obligations. First, he does not follow the will of God, preferring instead to create his own perception of God that better supports his own petty desires. Using his ‘God’, Henry V commits his atrocities under God’s name. Although Henry V claimed that it was God's will for France to be ruled by the English, a young 16 year old girl by the name of Joan was told by God 14 years later to make possible the crowning of Charles VII.4 Why would God tell Henry V to do one thing and then tell a young peasant girl to do the complete opposite, unless it was not truly God commanding Henry V, but Henry V's own ego? Obedience to God's will is required to live a life of morality.
Secondly, there was little to no effort on Henry's part to grow in virtue. At the...