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We thought ourself thy lawful king: The representation of royal legitimacy in Shakespeare's History plays


  • Viktor Wahlström

Summary, in Swedish

Legitimacy has been a key concept in political philosophy since Plato’s Republic. In this degree project I examine the way in which Shakespeare portrays royal legitimacy in seven of his History plays: Richard II, Henry IV parts I-II, Henry V and Henry VI parts I-III. The objective is to examine the representation of two aspects of royal legitimacy and how they relate to each other: the inheritance within the royal family and the question of political competence. Typically, in these plays a conflict arises between these two aspects. Richard II can be seen as legitimate in the sense that he has inherited the crown as the oldest living son of the Black Prince, the son of Edward III. However, he is defeated by the much more politically competent usurper Henry Bolingbroke who, as Henry IV, has to face the problem that he and his son are not regarded as the rightful heirs to the English throne. After the reign of Henry V, during which the question of legitimacy is settled through sheer success, this pattern repeats itself when the legitimacy of the highly incompetent Henry VI is challenged by Richard, Duke of York. After an introduction to the subject, some historical context as well as some basic ideas relevant to royal legitimacy are presented in the second chapter. This is followed by the analysis of the plays and, finally, by a conclusion in which Shakespeare’s remarkable ability to relate individual character traits to harsh political power struggles is emphasised and the claim that Shakespeare should be understood as an apologist for kings is put into question.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Shakespeare
  • History plays
  • legitimacy


  • Kiki Lindell