-In 1399, at about the age of thirty-three, Henry of Lancaster usurped the crown of his first cousin Richard II and retained power until his death in 1413.

-Henry of Lancaster, born Henry of Bolingbroke, became Henry IV through some lucky odds and foolish mistakes made by Richard II. Richard II banished Bolingbroke from the country of England and proceeded to take control of much of his lands while he was away. This was a dishonorable act in many of England's noblemen's eyes (who didn't think too highly of Richard II anyway). When Bolingbroke came back to reclaim his land he had supporters. A campaign to regain lost land became a usurpation of the crown (though Henry IV did have a relation to Edward III, and thus an arguable claim to kingship).

-Henry IV spent most of his reign fighting small uprisings attempting both to keep the crown and prove his legitimacy by brute force. The nagging guilt of his actions are said to have haunted him until his death.

-The crown passed on to Prince Hal (Shakespeare's nickname), Henry V. He was immensely experienced in war and managing people because of the number of battles he fought during his father's reign. A legend has sprung up around him, however, which claims he was a prodigal son whose relationship with his father was tenuous at best. Shakespeare capitalizes on this myth to heighten the drama in his histories.

-Henry IV, parts I and II dramatize much of Hal's carousing and his close relationship with the fat, jolly drunkard, Falstaff. Falstaff is much older than Hal and takes to Hal as a bit of a father, perhaps to replace the anxious king who did not understand his son's traits or friends. As a prince, Hal plays the role of a common thief much better than that of a king's heir. This dramatically changes once Henry IV dies. Henry V claims that "Hal" was just an act, a time to enjoy himself and get to know the people, and that he will be a truly just and godly king.