The courses of his youth promised it not.
The breath no sooner left his father’s body
But that his wildness, mortified in him,
Seemed to die too. Yea, at that very moment
Consideration like an angel came
And whipped th’ offending Adam out of him,
Leaving his body as a paradise
T’ envelop and contain celestial spirits.
Never was such a sudden scholar made,
Never came reformation in a flood
With such a heady currance scouring faults,
Nor never Hydra-headed willfulness
So soon did lose his seat, and all at once,
As in this king.
(Act 1, scene 1, lines 26–39)

In the play’s opening scene, the Bishop of Canterbury praises Henry for his miraculous metamorphosis into an ideal king. These lines serve a pragmatic purpose in the play, reminding the audience of a key plot arc that developed throughout Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. Those plays focused on how Henry—then known as Prince Harry—transformed himself from a rebellious youth into a respectable prince and, finally, into a worthy king. Canterbury alludes to this transformation as though Henry’s “reformation” was also something of a redemption—one that “whipped th’ offending Adam out of him, / Leaving his body as a paradise.” It is this personal redemption of a rebellious past that sets the stage for Henry’s heroic feats in the rest of the play.

                                Not today, O Lord,
O, not today, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown.
I Richard’s body have interrèd new
And on it have bestowed more contrite tears
Than from it issued forcèd drops of blood.
Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay
Who twice a day their withered hands hold up
Toward heaven to pardon blood. And I have built
Two chantries where the sad and solemn priests
Sing still for Richard’s soul. More will I do—
Though all that I can do is nothing worth,
Since that my penitence comes after all,
Imploring pardon.
(Act 4, scene 1, lines 303–316)

On the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, Henry calls on God for aid, but he worries that he hasn’t done enough to repent for his father’s villainous role in the murder of Richard II. Here, Henry reveals that he’s personally shed many tears for his deceased uncle. He’s also had two chantries erected, where he’s installed priests to pray for the salvation of Richard’s soul. But even with these actions, he fears that he hasn’t yet fully repented for the former king’s assassination. If that’s the case, and if God doesn’t grant Henry the “pardon” for which he “implore[es],” then England will surely be defeated.

Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England. Fortune made his sword,
By which the world’s best garden he achieved
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crowned King
Of France and England, did this king succeed,
Whose state so many had the managing
That they lost France and made his England bleed.
(Act 5, epilogue, lines 5–12)

When Henry defeats the French, he claims that the victory against such steep odds is a sign that God was on the side of the English. In this regard, he seems to have proof of God’s pardon for the sins of his father, King Henry IV. Furthermore, his war in France has managed to bring peace and unity to the British Isles. But as the Chorus reminds the audience in the play’s epilogue, none of these achievements last. Despite the heroic feats of “this star of England” who has managed to cultivate “the world’s best garden,” his accomplishments can’t secure lasting peace or stability. Although the Chorus attributes the collapse to the too-young Henry VI, whose advisors will lead him astray, it’s possible to interpret the end of the play as a sign that the ghosts of the past have not been fully laid to rest. In particular, the reference to the “world’s best garden” echoes a key symbol from Richard II, where England was figured as overrun with weeds and gluttonous caterpillars. No matter how well-tended a garden may be, it can always return to a state of nature.