Historical Inaccuracies

Unlike the Henry VI plays, Richard the Second is not littered with historical inaccuracies. Most are minor accelerations of events, but as the entirety of the play covers only a little over a year, even those are not big.

There is one inaccuracy, however, that needs to be discussed. It doesn’t play a big role in this play, but Shakespeare is setting up the dominoes for the next play, The First Part of Henry the Fourth.

One of Henry Bolingbroke’s major supporters is the Earl of Northumberland, and in Act Two, Scene Two, Bolingbroke references “The Lord Northumberland, (and) his son, young Henry Percy” (II.ii.53). For those of you who have read ahead (or know The First Part of Henry the Fourth), this Henry Percy is Hotspur, the major foil for Bolingbroke’s son Prince Hal in the next play. Where Hal is a profligate, Hotspur is a warrior, one whom Henry IV will wish had been swapped with his own son at birth.

At this point in history (1399), Prince Hal is but twelve years old, so of course anyone with whom he might be switched at birth would be “young.”

There’s only one problem.

Henry “Hotspur” Percy wasn’t young. Hotspur was born in 1364, making him 35 at the time of the events of Act Two, Scene Two, a full two decades and change OLDER than Prince Hal.

By the way, Bolingbroke, in Act Two, Scene Two, was only 32 years old… he was three years YOUNGER than “young Henry Percy.”

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