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Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Henry of Grosmont
Portrait of Henry, Duke of Lancaster - William Bruges's Garter Book (c.1440-1450), f.8 - BL Stowe MS 594 (cropped).jpg
Duc de Lancaster, from the Bruges Garter Book (1430) by William Bruges. The arms on his tabard appear to be erroneous, being the arms first adopted by King Edward III and not his paternal arms of Plantagenet with a label of France for difference, being the arms of their common ancestor King Henry III.
Duke of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester
PredecessorHenry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster
SuccessorJohn of Gaunt
Bornc. 1310
Grosmont Castle, Grosmont, Monmouthshire
Died23 March 1361 (aged 50–51)
Leicester Castle, Leicester, Leicestershire
Burial14 April 1361
SpouseIsabel of Beaumont
FatherHenry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster
MotherMaud Chaworth
Military career
Royal Banner of England.svg
Kingdom of England
AwardsKnight of the Garter

Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, 4th Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, Earl of Derby KG (c. 1310 – 23 March 1361), of Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, was a member of the English royal family and a prominent English diplomat, politician, and soldier. He was the wealthiest and most powerful peer of the realm. The son and heir of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, and Maud Chaworth, he became one of King 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 and the second Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1348,[1] and in 1351 was created Duke of Lancaster. An intelligent and reflective man, Grosmont taught himself to write and was 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 guilds of the town in 1352.


He was the son of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1281–1345), younger brother and heir of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster (c. 1278–1322) ("Thomas of Lancaster"), both sons of Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster (1245–1296), second son of King Henry III (ruled 1216–1272), and younger brother of King Edward I (ruled 1272–1307). Henry of Grossmont[note 1] was thus a first cousin once removed of King Edward II and a second cousin of King Edward III (ruled 1327–1377). His mother was Maud de Chaworth (1282–1322).

Father's inheritance

Henry of Grosmont was the eventual heir of his wealthy uncle Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, who through his marriage to Alice de Lacy, daughter and heiress of Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, had become the wealthiest peer in England. However constant quarrels between Thomas and his first cousin King Edward II led to his execution in 1322. Having no progeny, Thomas's possessions and titles went to his younger brother Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, Grosmont's father. Henry of Lancaster assented to the deposition of Edward II in 1327, but did not long stay in favour with the regency of his widow Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. When Edward III (son of Edward II), took personal control of the government in 1330, relations with the Crown improved, but by this time Henry of Lancaster was struggling with poor health and blindness.[2]


Grosmont was born in about 1310 (and not around the turn of the century as previously held)[3] at Grosmont Castle in Grosmont, Monmouthshire, Wales. Little is known about his childhood, but according to his own memoirs he was better at martial arts than at academic subjects, and did not learn to read until later in life.[4]


In 1330 at the age of 20 he was knighted, and represented his father in Parliament. In 1331 he participated in a royal tournament at Cheapside[3] in the City of London. In 1333 he took part in Edward III's Scottish campaign, though it is unclear whether he was present at the great English victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill.[5] After further service in the Scottish Marches, he was appointed the King's lieutenant in Scotland in 1336.[3] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[3]


Edward III determined early in 1345 to attack France on three fronts. The Earl of Northampton would lead a small force to Brittany, a slightly larger force would proceed to Gascony under the command of Grosmont, and the main force would accompany Edward to either northern France or Flanders.[9][10][11] Grosmont was appointed the King's Lieutenant in Gascony on 13 March 1345[12] and received a contract to raise a force of 2,000 men in England, and further troops in Gascony itself.[13] The highly detailed contract of indenture had a term of six months from the opening of the campaign in Gascony, with an option for Edward to extend it for a further six months on the same terms.[14] Derby was given a high degree of autonomy, for example his strategic instructions were: "si guerre soit, et a faire le bien q'il poet" (... if there is war, do the best you can ...).[15]

On 9 August 1345 Grosmont arrived in Bordeaux with 500 men-at-arms, 1,500 English and Welsh archers, 500 of them mounted on ponies to increase their mobility,[16] and ancillary and support troops.[17] Rather than continue the cautious war of sieges he was determined to strike directly at the French before they could concentrate their forces.[18] The French forces in the region were under Bertrand de l'Isle-Jourdain.[19] Hearing of Derby's arrival, he decided to fall back to the communications centre and strategically important town of Bergerac, 60 miles (97 km) east of Bordeaux, where there was an important bridge over the Dordogne River. This was a convenient place to concentrate French forces and assimilate reinforcements.[20][21]

A map of south west France in 1345 showing the main movements of troops between August and November
August–November 1345 troop movements
  Derby's advance
  Derby's retreat
  Louis of Poitiers' advance
  Derby's advance to Auberoche
  Derby's return to La Réole

After a council of war Derby decided to strike at the French at Bergerac. The capture of the town, which had good river supply links to Bordeaux, would provide the Anglo-Gascon army with a base from which to carry the war to the French[22] and sever communications between French forces north and south of the Dordogne. After eight years of defensive warfare by the Anglo-Gascons, there was no expectation among the French that they might make any offensive moves.[16] Grosmont moved rapidly and took the French army at Bergerac by surprise on 26 August, decisively beating them in a running battle.[23] French casualties were heavy, many being killed or captured. Prisoners included Henri de Montigny, Seneschal of Périgord, ten other senior noblemen and many lesser nobles.[24] Derby's share of the ransoms and the loot was estimated at £34,000 (£32,000,000 in 2020 terms[note 2]), approximately four times the annual income from his lands.[note 3][26] The survivors of the French field army rallied around de l'Isle and retreated north to Périgueux.[27] Within days of the battle, Bergerac fell to an Anglo-Gascon assault and was subsequently sacked.[28]

Grosmont left a large garrison in the town and moved north with 6,000–8,000 men[29] to Périgueux, the provincial capital of Périgord,[30] taking several strongpoints on the way.[31] Périgueux's defences were antiquated and derelict, but the size of the French force defending it prohibited an assault. Derby blockaded Périgueux and captured strongholds blocking the main routes into the city. John, Duke of Normandy, the son and heir of Philip VI, gathered an army reportedly numbering over 20,000 and manoeuvred in the area. In early October a very large detachment relieved the city and drove off Grosmont's force, which withdrew towards Bordeaux. Further reinforced, the French started besieging the English-held strongpoints.[32] A French force of 7,000, commanded by Louis of Poitiers, besieged the castle of Auberoche, 9 miles (14 km) east of Périgueux. Auberoche perches on a rocky promontory completely commanding the River Auvézère.[33] A messenger got through to Derby, who was already returning to the area with a scratch force of 1,200 English and Gascon soldiers: 400 men-at-arms and 800 mounted archers.[34]

After a night march Grosmont attacked the French camp on 21 October while they were at dinner, taking them by surprise and causing heavy initial casualties. The French rallied and there was a protracted hand-to-hand struggle, which ended when the commander of the small English garrison in the castle sortied and fell upon the rear of the French. They broke and fled. Derby's mounted men-at-arms pursued them relentlessly. French casualties are uncertain, but were heavy. They are described by modern historians as "appalling",[35] "extremely high",[30] "staggering",[36] and "heavy".[33] Many French nobles were taken prisoner; lower ranking men were, as was customary,[37] put to the sword. The French commander, Louis of Poitiers, died of his wounds. Surviving prisoners included the second in command, Bertrand de l'Isle-Jourdain, two counts, seven viscounts, three barons, the seneschals of Clermont and Toulouse, a nephew of the Pope and so many knights that they were not counted.[35] The ransoms alone made a fortune for many of the soldiers in Grosmont's army, as well as Grosmont himself, who was said to have made at least £50,000 (£48,000,000 in 2020 terms) from the day's captives.[38] During the 1345 campaign he was known as the Earl of Derby, but his father died in September 1345 and he became the Earl of Lancaster. [39]


A map of Lancaster's route in 1346
Map of route of Lancaster's chevauchée of 1346

John, Duke of Normandy, the son and heir of Philip VI, was placed in charge of all French forces in southwest France, as he had been the previous autumn. In March 1346 a French army under Duke John, numbering between 15,000 and 20,000,[40] enormously superior to any force the Anglo-Gascons could field,[41] marched on the town of Aiguillon, which commanded the junction of the Rivers Garonne and Lot, making it important both for trade and for military communications,[40] and besieged it on 1 April.[40] On 2 April an arrière-ban, a formal call to arms for all able-bodied males, was announced for southern France.[40][42]

Duke of Lancaster

Coats of Arms of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, and his successors
Coats of Arms of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, and his successors

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.[43] In the same year Alice de Lacy died and her life holdings (which she had retained after Thomas of Lancaster was executed), including the Honour of Bolingbroke and Bolingbroke Castle, passed to Grosmont. 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 English ducal title existed previously.[note 4]

In addition to this, the dukedom was given palatinate powers over the county of Lancashire, which entitled him to administer it virtually independently of the crown.[44] This grant was quite exceptional in English history; only two other counties palatine existed: Durham, which was an ancient episcopal palatinate, and Chester, which was held by the crown.

It is a sign of Edward's high regard for Lancaster that he bestowed such extensive privileges on him. The two men were second cousins through their great-grandfather King 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.[3]

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 Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer (Winchelsea), where he allegedly saved the lives of the Black Prince and John of Gaunt,[45] sons of Edward III. The years 1351–1352 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 King John II of France.[46] 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 1359–1360. Then he was appointed principal negotiator for the Treaty of Brétigny, where the English achieved very favourable terms.[3]

Death and burial

After returning to England in November 1360, he fell ill early the next year, and died at Leicester Castle on 23 March 1361. It is possible that the cause of death was the plague, which that year was making a second visitation to England.[47][note 5] He was buried in the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady of the Newarke, Leicester, which he had built within the religious and charitable institution founded by his father next to Leicester Castle, and where he had reburied his father some years previously.[48]

Marriage and progeny

In 1330 Lancaster married Isabella de Beaumont, a daughter of Henry de Beaumont, 1st Baron Beaumont, by whom he had no son, only two daughters:


More is known about Lancaster's character than that of most of his contemporaries through his memoirs, the Livre de seyntz medicines ("Book of the Holy Doctors"), a highly personal treatise on matters of religion and piety, also containing details of historical interest. It reveals that Lancaster, at the age of 44 when he wrote the book in 1354, suffered from gout.[3] The book is primarily a devotional work, organised around seven wounds which Henry claimed to have received, representing the seven deadly 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.[50]


Notes, citations and sources


  1. ^ 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. At his father's death in 1345, he became Henry of Lancaster, the main family name and title (Earl of Lancaster until 1351, and then Duke of Lancaster). However, to avoid confusion with the father, it is usual to refer to the son as Henry of Grosmont throughout his career.
  2. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  3. ^ For comparison, Edward III's annual income was often less than £50,000.[25]
  4. ^ This was the Duke of Cornwall, a title created for Edward, the Black Prince in 1337. Before that, early Norman kings of England had been Duke of Normandy, but this had been a French title.
  5. ^ Mortimer argues against plague being the cause of death, as
    • Henry made his will ten days before his death, a space of time inconsistent with the usual swift progress of the plague;
    • his illness and death in early 1361 is inconsistent with the spread of plague in England being reported from about May 1361
    [This is dependent on the date of death in March 1361 being a
    New Style date. This needs clarification.


  1. ^ Beltz 1841, p. cxlix.
  2. ^ Waugh 2004
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Ormrod 2005.
  4. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 26.
  5. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 30.
  6. ^ McFarlane 1973, pp. 158–159.
  7. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 34.
  8. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 35–37.
  9. ^ Guizot 1870s.
  10. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 453.
  11. ^ Prestwich 2007, p. 314.
  12. ^ Gribit 2016, p. 63.
  13. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 455.
  14. ^ Gribit 2016, pp. 37–38.
  15. ^ Gribit 2016, pp. 113, 251.
  16. ^ a b Rogers 2004, p. 95.
  17. ^ Fowler 1961, p. 178.
  18. ^ Rogers 2004, p. 97.
  19. ^ Rogers 2004, p. 89.
  20. ^ Rogers 2004, p. 96.
  21. ^ Burne 1999, p. 102.
  22. ^ Vale 1999, p. 77.
  23. ^ Rogers 2004, pp. 90–94, 98–104.
  24. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 465.
  25. ^ Rogers 2004, p. 90, n. 7.
  26. ^ Rogers 2004, p. 105.
  27. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 466.
  28. ^ Burne 1999, pp. 104–105.
  29. ^ Sumption 1990, pp. 465–467.
  30. ^ a b DeVries 1996, p. 189.
  31. ^ Fowler 1961, p. 196.
  32. ^ Sumption 1990, pp. 467–468.
  33. ^ a b Wagner 2006.
  34. ^ Burne 1999, p. 107.
  35. ^ a b Sumption 1990, p. 469.
  36. ^ Burne 1999, p. 112.
  37. ^ King 2002, pp. 269–270.
  38. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 470.
  39. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 476.
  40. ^ a b c d Wagner 2006, p. 3.
  41. ^ Sumption 1990, pp. 485–486.
  42. ^ Sumption 1990, p. 485.
  43. ^ McKisack 1959, p. 252.
  44. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 173–174.
  45. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 93–95.
  46. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 106–109.
  47. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 217–218.
  48. ^ Charles James Billson, Mediaeval Leicester, (Leicester, 1920)
  49. ^ Brown & Summerson 2006.
  50. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 193–196.


McFarlane, K. B. (1973). The Nobility of Later Medieval England. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 158–159. ISBN 0-19-822362-5.

Further reading

Maddicott, J. R. (1970). Thomas of Lancaster, 1307–1322: A study in the reign of Edward II. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-821837-0.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Earl of Lancaster
Lord High Steward
Succeeded by
Duke of Lancaster
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Lancaster
First creation
Earl of Lincoln
Fifth Creation
Earl of Derby
Succeeded by
John of Gaunt
Preceded by
Henry of Lancaster
Earl of Leicester
Earl of Lancaster


This page was last edited on 12 January 2020, at 22:34
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