This is simply a strategic and crafty way of ensuring that none of the solider back down from the task at home, since there's a very strong and very implied message at stake. This message is that if any of the soldiers back down, they'll have God to answer to, for what they refused to engage in was in fact a holy mission. The young king is simply being crafty and strategic. It would be a mistake to interpret these actions as a sign that he's more religious and devout than other kings. However, some scholars do make this mistake a repeatedly. "In addition to being Godlike, like Moses or Joshua or Saul, the King claims God's authorization and backing for what he does. The Archbishops assert that 'God and his angels guard your sacred throne.' As opposed to the French who only use God's name to swear, Henry continually invokes His help and blessing, and his war cry in battle is 'God for Harry, England and St. George' (3.1.34).
Specific Biblical references and proof texts are offered as justification for his decisions" (Marx). This is simply an incorrect and overly superficial reading of the text. Just because the young king invokes the help of God and uses the Bible as justification for his actions, does not mean that he's a religious and virtuous man -- not any more than George W. Bush. King Henry engages in these invocations of the God in a public way and performative way -- not from a genuine sense of want to communicate with God. As we've already discussed, the young king's speech before Harfleur which ends with 'God for Harry, England and St. George' is one of the most manipulative and cunning pieces of rhetoric in the entire play. The fact that he invokes these personages, does not make him a devout king, but a merely a strategic one, who clearly knows and adeptly understand how to sway his men into doing exactly what he wants them to do.
However, some scholars compare the duality and craftiness of the King's nature to that of a shady politician who is reluctant to take and responsibility for his actions. The young king knows that to invade France will come at an incredibly steep price: "Henry is therefore acutely aware that his victories must be bought at a terrible price, in bloodshed and human suffering; however, by employing a shrewd and persuasive rhetoric he covertly refuses to assume the burden of his acts and decisions, always shifting the responsibility for his actions onto the others" (Popescu, 132). Henry does more than simply invoke God and the saints; he's also able to craftily shift blame and responsibility onto others, absolving himself from any accountability the way a child would. Like a politician, Henry is able to accomplish that through a deft and strategic use of language.
For example, Henry insists that the Archbishop should tell the truth, fundamentally putting the blame for the war on the Archbishop's shoulders (Popescu, 132). At heart, Henry just wants to appear as though he's undecided and as if he is the one who is persuaded by the Archbishop to go to war -- when in reality the reader knows that it was the young king's idea the entire time (Popescu, 132). Thus, it's truly baffling when some scholars seem to overlook this extremely crafty use of the Archbishop and focus instead on the king's performative invocations of god. Instead, the following excerpt determines how Henry is adept at shifting blame:
Now are we well resolved, and by God's help
And yours, the noble sinews of our power,
France being ours, we'll bend it to our awe,
Or break it all to pieces (I. 2. 222-225).
This piece of rhetoric makes it seem like the young king has been persuaded by the Archbishop, when the reader knows the idea to invade France was his original one alone. In this case the king simply wants to appear as if he has been persuaded. This is a truly revealing notion as it opens the door to the idea that there are still other things/manners that the young king wants to appear as if he embodies, when really it is all just an appearance.
As this paper has already discussed, the young king is adept at using the notion of God and all things related to God as a way to spur his men into action and to further bind them to their commitment to fight. In this case, God is used as a tool: God is used to imprint a layer of holiness upon the war to allege his men to it even stronger. God is also used more subtly as a suggestion: if this is a holy war and the soldiers are manifesting and engaging in what is fundamentally God's work, then any hesitation or refusal on their part is akin to sacrilege. It's a serious act of deviance -- not simply to King Henry their immediate ruler, but to their divine ruler as well. However, this is not the only type of fear mongering that the young King engages in.
However, this is not the only time when the young king engages in fear-mongering in order to achieve a certain aim. When Henry is at the walls of Harfleur in Act 3, scene 3, and put the citizens there under siege, the town attempts to resist their efforts, ultimately asking for a parlay. King Henry's reaction to this is so odd, that it's almost pathological: "Henry, whose army is decimated, severely reprimands the citizens of Harfleur for defending their town for so long and for exposing their lives to such a risk" (Popescu, 132). This reprimand simply doesn't make any sense because resisting a siege is simply what people do when they're at war. It's simply not logical for an invading army to chide the town they're invading for trying to fend off the soldiers that are attacking them.
However, what's truly most revelatory about the speech that the young king makes here is that it demonstrates just how blood-thirsty he is. This is yet another aspect of the king's duality and overlap of extreme character traits.
For Henry makes it very clear, that if the town of Harfleur continues to resist, the following will occur:
Defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier,
A name that in my thoughts becomes me best,
If I begin the battery once again,
I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in her ashes she lie buried.
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh'd soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass 1285
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
(III. iii. 1276-1286)
What's just so revelatory about this is that King Henry is not talking about war anymore, nor battle. He's talking only about this desire to destroy this town in a way that not simply encapsulates pure destruction, but which revolves around the necessity of deeply and fully hurting all citizens in a concerted and profound manner. Ultimately, King Henry is threatening them with crimes of war in an unabashed and public manner. King Henry boldly threatens them with a nightmare beyond anything this town could have ever imagined, because the type of destruction that hangs in the balance here is no longer about war: it's about hurting and humiliating others beyond anything they could have ever comprehended.
King Henry continues by asking, What is it then to me? If this destruction occurs. The answer is clear: it means nothing to him how much this town suffers or if their infants or slaughtered. This is a side of the King that the reader has yet to see and it demonstrates his ability to disconnect from the human condition. The young king who granted mercy to a treasonous drunk is long gone. Instead, there is a king who claims,
What is't to me, when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
The king is demonstrating that he cares not if his soldiers rape their innocents and the entire town of Harfleur falls victim to the worst torture and punishment imaginable. Some might argue that this demonstrates Henry's "true character" which is that of a blood-sucking war-mongerer and one who is simply incapable of engaging in the humane treatment of others, according to the laws of war. Others will argue that this is just an example of Henry V being a strong and powerful leader, asserting that such leaders have to be merciless to their enemies. Fundamentally, this is just another example of the king's duality. He is both an inspiring protective leader, and a merciless general of war.
At the same time, other scholars argue that the young King is an…