Henry V was homosexual?

This snippet of information comes from  an interview with the Earl of Devon, (Charlie) that I read in today’s Times magazine.

He was visiting Westminister Abbey with his children looking for the grave of his a family member, Richard Courtenay, Bishop of Norwich, who had died in the siege of a Harfleur in 1415. They located the grave in the crypt, close to the shrine of Edward the Confessor. In the guidebook  it stated that Richard was buried under the step of the Henry V’s tomb, reading further he noted that kings jostled to be as close to Edward’s tomb as possible, which made the Earl wonder why his ancestor was so close to this esteemed king?

Later he had dinner with Jonathan Sumption, who is a Justice of the Supreme Court and a leading historian of 100 year war.  He decided to ask  if it was true that Richard was buried under the step of Henry’s tomb? The reply was no, followed by the revelation that he was actually buried in the tomb with Henry V. Henry and Richard had met at Oxford and become best friends. When Richard died of dysentery, in Henry’s presence, his body was sent back to be buried in Henry’s tomb to await the arrival of his friend. Seven years later, when Henry was buried, according to Sumption, they had to cut off Richard’s feet and shove him them under his armpits in order to fit Henry on top of Richard.

Taken from interview with Charlotte Edwards printed in The Times Magazine 9.04.2016

Wow! I did not expect the strong negative reactions I received from publishing above via fb group. I wrote above from article in The Times Magazine as I thought it was interesting and husband has habit of throwing papers/magazines away before I’ve finished with them. I should have made it clear that the link to homosexuality was made by the Earl of Devon, not me.

Henry V article

From The Time Magazine, published 9/4/2016, The earl, his castle and the Baywatch babe. Interview by Charlotte Edwardes

Here is photo of page from The Times Magazine. The comment was made in an interview which the Earl and his wife gave to promote the family home, Powderham Castle. The source of story is Jonathan Sumption,  who gave the information verbally  to Earl at dinner. Jonathan is one of Britain’s top barristers, He has a degree in History, obtained at Oxford, and is recognised as an expert on The Hundred Year War,  I can not comment on his sources,  as the story was informally given to a descendant of Richard’s, although I doubt if he felt the need to justify his claim at the time. However, I see no reason for him to have made up such a claim.

The Westminister Abbey  guidebook the Earl quotes states that body was under step. In October 1953 an excavation is said to have discovered the body in a tunnel.


In 1953 homosexuality was still illegal and the image of the Royal Family was protected. I doubt that if Jonathan’s version is true it would have been made public knowledge during this era.

A brief investigation into Richard Courtney confirms he was a close friend of Henry V, meeting before he became king. He was made Treasurer of the Royal household when Henry ascended the throne. He was also sent on diplomatic business to France. He also rose within the church and University of Oxford.  In such a patriarchal society close male friendships were common and should not be automatically linked to homosexuality.  Historians, and writers, studying this period are aware of the problems of identify such relationships when mindset, beliefs and social behaviour all differed from contemporary viewpoint.  However, whilst a shared bed may have been common practise a shared tomb wasn’t.

Whilst the Earl is convinced the story demonstrates the king’s sexual preference others are less sure. As someone pointed out Jonathan’s reply to the assertion is not known. The Times distances itself from the claim by stating, in subheading, the theory that Henry V was gay. In retrospect I would have been wise to do similar.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s