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henry of lancaster

Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster

Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster (c.1310 – 23 March, 1361), also Earl of Derby and Leicester, was a member of the English nobility in the 14th century, and a prominent English diplomat, politician, and soldier. The son and heir of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster and Maud Chaworth, he became one of Edward III’s most trusted Captains in the early phases of the Hundred Years' War, and distinguished himself with victory in the Battle of Auberoche. He was a founding member of the Order of the Garter, and in 1351 was promoted to the title of duke. Grosmont was also the author of the book Livre de seyntz medicines; a highly personal devotional treatise. He is remembered as one of the founders and early patrons of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which was established by two of the guilds of the town in 1352.

Family background and early life

Grosmont's uncle, Thomas of Lancaster, was the son and heir of Edward I’s brother Edmund Crouchback. Through his inheritance and a fortunate marriage, Thomas became the wealthiest peer in England, but constant quarrels with King Edward II led to his execution in 1322. Having no heir, Thomas’s possessions and titles went to his younger brother Henry – Grosmont’s father. Earl Henry of Lancaster assented to the deposition of Edward II in 1327, but did not long stay in favour with the regency of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. When Edward III took personal control of the government in 1330, relations with the Crown got better, but by this time the older Henry was already struggling with poor health and blindness.

Little is known of Grosmont’s early years, but is seems clear that he was born at the castle of Grosmont in Monmouthshire, and that he was born c.1310, not around the turn of the century as previously held. According to his own memoirs he was better at the martial arts than at academic subjects, and did not learn to read until later in life. In 1330 he was knighted, and represented his father in parliament. The next year he is recorded as participating in a Royal tournament, at Cheapside.

In 1333 he took part in Edward’s Scottish campaign, though it is unclear whether he was present at the great English victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill. After further service in the north, he was appointed the King's lieutenant in Scotland in 1336. The next year he was one of the six men Edward III promoted to the higher levels of the peerage. One of his father’s lesser titles, that of Earl of Derby, was bestowed upon Grosmont.

Service in France

With the outbreak of the Hundred Years' War in 1337, Grosmont's attention was turned towards France. He took part in several diplomatic missions and minor campaigns, and was present at the great English victory in the naval battle of Sluys in 1340. Later the same year, he was required to commit himself as hostage in the Low Countries for the king’s considerable debts. He remained hostage until the next year, and had to pay a large ransom for his own release. On his return he was made the king's lieutenant in the north, and stayed at Roxburgh until 1342. The next years he spent in diplomatic negotiations in the Low Countries, Castile and Avignon.

In 1345 Edward III was planning a major assault on France. A three-pronged attack would have the Earl of Northampton attacking from Brittany, the King himself from Flanders, while Grosmont was dispatched to Aquitaine to prepare a campaign in the south. Moving rapidly through the country he confronted the comte d’Isle at Auberoche on 21 October, and here achieved a victory described as 'the greatest single achievement of Lancaster's entire military career'. The ransom from the prisoners has been estimated at £50,000. The next year, while Edward was carrying out his Crécy campaign, Grosmont laid siege to, and captured, Poitiers, before returning home to England in 1347.

Duke of Lancaster

In 1345, while Grosmont was in France, his father died. The younger Henry was now Earl of Lancaster – the wealthiest and most powerful peer of the realm. After participating in the siege of Calais in 1347, the king honoured Lancaster by including him as a founding knight of the Order of the Garter in 1348. A few years later, in 1351, Edward bestowed an even greater honour on Lancaster, when he created him Duke of Lancaster. The title of duke was of relatively new origin in England; only one other ducal title existed prior. In addition to this, Lancaster was given palatinate status for the county of Lancashire, which entailed a separate administration independent of the crown. This grant was quite exceptional in English history; only two other counties palatine existed: Durham, which was an ancient ecclesiastical palatinate, and Chester, which was crown property. It is a sign of Edward’s high regard for Lancaster that he would bestow such extensive privileges on him. The two men were also second cousins, through their great-grandfather Henry III, and practically coeval (Edward was born in 1312), so it is natural to assume that a strong sense of camaraderie existed between them. Another factor that might have influenced the king’s decision was the fact that Henry had no male heir, so the grant was made for the Earl’s lifetime only, and not intended to be hereditary.

Further prestige

Lancaster spent the 1350s intermittently campaigning and negotiating peace treaties with the French. In 1350 he was present at the naval victory at Winchelsea, where he allegedly saved the lives of the Black Prince and John of Gaunt. The years 1351-2 he spent on crusade in Prussia. It was here that a quarrel with Otto, Duke of Brunswick, almost led to a duel between the two men, narrowly averted by the intervention of the French King, Jean II. In the later half of the decade campaigning in France resumed. After a chevauchée in Normandy in 1356 and the siege of Rennes in 1358, Lancaster participated in the last great offensive of the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War: the Rheims campaign of 1359-60. Then he was appointed principal negotiator for the treaty of Brétigny, where the English achieved very favourable terms.

Returning to England in November 1360 he fell ill early the next year, and died at Leicester Castle on 23 March. It is likely that the cause of death was the plague, which that year was making a second visitation of England.

Private life

Lancaster was married to Isabella, daughter of Henry, Lord Beaumont, in 1330. The two had no sons, but two daughters: Maude and Blanche. While Maude was married to the Duke of Bavaria, Blanche married Edward III’s younger son, John of Gaunt. Gaunt ended up inheriting Lancaster’s possessions and ducal title, but it was not until 1377, when the dying King Edward III was largely incapacitated, that he was able to restore the palatinate rights for the county of Lancaster. When Gaunt’s son Henry of Bolingbroke usurped the crown in 1399 and became Henry IV, the vast Lancaster inheritance was merged with the crown as the Duchy of Lancaster.

We know more of Lancaster's character than of most of his contemporaries, through his memoirs the Livre de seyntz medicines (Book of the Holy Doctors). This book is a highly personal treatise on matters of religion and piety, but it also contains details of historical interest. It is, among other things, revealed that Lancaster, at the age of 44 when he wrote the book in 1354, suffered from gout. The book is primarily a devotional work though; it is organized around seven wounds which Henry claims to have, representing the seven sins. Lancaster confesses to his sins, explains various real and mythical medical remedies in terms of their theological symbolism, and exhorts the reader to greater morality.

Notes

a. In his early years Henry was named, as was the custom of the age, after his birthplace, Grosmont. In 1336 he was invested with one of his father’s minor Earldoms – that of Derby, and became Henry, Earl of Derby. Then, with his father’s death in 1345, he finally became Henry of Lancaster – the main family name and title (Earl of Lancaster until 1351, Duke of Lancaster thenceforth). However, to avoid confusion with the father, it is customary to refer to the son as Henry of Grosmont throughout his career.
b. This was the Duke of Cornwall, a title created for Edward, the Black Prince in 1337.

Citations

References

  • Arnauld, E.J. (ed.) (1940). Le livre de seyntz medicines: The Unpublished Devotional Treatise of Henry of Lancaster. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • McKisack, M. (1959). The Fourteenth Century: 1307-1399. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-821712-9.
  • Fowler, Kenneth Alan (1969). The King's Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster, 1310-1361. London: ISBN 0236308122.
  • Prestwich, M.C. (2005). Plantagenet England: 1225-1360. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822844-9.
  • Ormrod, W. M. Henry of Lancaster, first Duke of Lancaster (c.1310–1361). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (2005). Retrieved on 2007-07-31..

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