Bullingbrook – or Henry of Derby, Duke of Hereford – is John of Gaunt’s son, Richard’s cousin, and later King Henry IV, once he has removed his cousin from the throne.
He is extremely popular with the common people, something which disquiets his cousin. He is much quieter than Richard, less given to rhetorical flights, and is often silent at major turning points in his life. He is an excellent fighter, willing to risk his life on his honor’s behalf. He adores his father. On the latter’s death, he returns from exile to claim the lands that Richard has stolen from him. At this stage, he may either be a cunning politician already planning to take the throne, or he may genuinely only intend to claim his inheritance, but in either case events move very quickly. Nevertheless, it is not until his uncle York has agreed not to fight him that he announces his plans to execute the King’s favorites, taking over a right that he does not technically have. He insists to Richard that he does not intend to depose him, but does not object when his cousin offers to abdicate. Once he is in power, he attempts to sort out the mystery of his uncle the Duke of Gloucester’s death, which was at the root of his banishment, but with no success. Often monosyllabic, he distinguishes himself from Richard by his general refusal to make great speeches or otherwise engage in wordplay. He leaves the dirtier duties of his usurpation to Northumberland, especially the many executions that accompany his takeover. He attempts to be merciful when he can. Though he does not show much evidence of emotion after his return to England, Henry IV is a worried father about his eldest son, who is a wastrel spending all of his time in bars (see later plays for details). He does not order Richard’s death, but does speak suggestively on the matter in the presence of a man who will take him seriously. Faced with Richard’s body, he insists he didn’t want this to happen, and swears to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to earn forgiveness for the crime. As will be seen in the later plays starring him (Henry IV Part One and Part Two), he never quite gets around to it.