In the French palace, Henry V has arrived to negotiate a peace treaty with King Charles and Queen Isabel, bringing along Exeter, Bedford, Warwick, Gloucester, Clarence, and Westmoreland. The Duke of Burgundy, Katherine, and Alice are also present. King Charles and Queen Isabel welcome Henry warmly and the Duke of Burgundy recounts France’s current state of chaos, conveying his hopes that peace can restore health and order. Henry announces that he’ll make peace if King Charles will accept his list of demands. King Charles exits to review the demands along with everyone except Henry, Katherine, and Alice. Katherine’s hand in marriage, Henry tells Katherine, is his primary demand.
Henry here wields tremendous kingly power: his negotiation consists entirely of his own demands. Marrying Katherine is important to Henry because the marriage would, by conjoining the French and English royal lines, solidify England’s claim to rule in France. The warmth with which Henry is greeted by the French may seem off after such vicious battles were fought between the two, but, first, what else are the French going to do, considering they were defeated? And, second, it highlights to an extent the difference between the nobles and common men, in that the nobles can meet peacefully after the war.
Henry V tries to woo Katherine and the two engage in a comical exchange in French and English, with Alice attempting to bridge misunderstandings. Henry presents himself to Katherine as a homely, humble soldier unschooled in fancy romantic rhetoric, describing his blunt simplicity in virtuosic, pun-rich language. Katherine is reluctant to indulge him and calls the language of men deceitful, repeatedly evading Henry’s proposals (in accented English) and reminding him that the choice is her father’s, not her own. When Henry insists the marriage will please her father, Katherine agrees to it. Henry violates her sense of propriety by kissing her on the hand then on the lips.
Henry and Katherine’s exchange elaborates the relationship between the themes of language and appearances. Henry claims to be humble and plain but the rich and elaborate rhetoric in which he makes those claims contradicts the claims themselves. Furthermore, his repeated pleas to the princess are made on false grounds, as Katherine herself points out: it’s not up to Katherine to accept Henry – the choice is Charles’. Katherine’s accented and broken English embodies the language barrier across which the war was fought.
King Charles, Queen Isabel, and the Duke of Burgundy return with Exeter, Bedford, Warwick, Gloucester, Clarence, and Westmoreland. The Duke of Burgundy asks Henry V about wooing Katherine and the two engage in an innuendo-laced exchange about courting tactics. King Charles announces that he has agreed to honor all of Henry’s demands and blesses Henry’s marriage to Katherine. He declares his hopes that the marriage will smooth out relations between England and France, bearing heirs to the French throne. Queen Isabel likewise blesses the marriage as a peacemaker. She calls on God to, “Combine your hearts in one, your realms in one!” Henry declares he’ll take the oath securing France and England’s alliance on his wedding day. All exit.
Henry and the Duke’s exchange abounds in puns which invest their words with sexual implications beyond the words’ surface appearances. King Charles and Queen Isabel’s blessings speak to their daughter’s wedding as a political agreement. This is no love marriage. Rather, marrying Katherine will seal Henry’s right over France and will (the French royalty hopes) prevent future struggles between England and France.