I don’t often write about individuals on this blog, but I’ve just started reading Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345 – 1346: Military Service and Professionalism n the Hundred Years War by Nicholas A. Gribit and Henry of Lancaster is really interesting. He has stuck in my mind over the years mostly because he wrote a book about his spiritual life.
Henry was a great-grandson of Henry III and second cousin to Edward III. He’s known as Henry Grosmont (probably the place of his birth in (possibly) 1310) to differentiate him from his father, also Henry. I feel the Percy family could have learned a lesson here. He was a grandfather of Henry IV.
His family (in the form of his uncle Thomas and his father) had opposed Edward II in the 1320s and Thomas was executed after a failed rebellion in 1322. It was Henry’s father, who had succeeded his brother as earl of Lancaster, who captured Edward II in 1326. He handed him over to Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer who had invaded England that year in the name of Edward III. The earl was loyal to the young king, though and, in 1330, he helped Edward stage a coup against Isabella and Mortimer.
Henry Grosmont followed his father’s lead in supporting Edward III and became very close to the king. At some point before the middle of 1330 he married Isabella, the daughter of a close friend of his father. They had two daughters: Maud and Blanche. Blanche later married John of Gaunt, one of Edward III’s sons, and became the mother of Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. Chaucer wrote his Book of the Duchess about her after her death.
Henry was knighted in 1330. He was close in age to Edward III. They had similar tastes, enjoying tournaments and romance literature, particularly the stories about King Arthur and the Round Table. It seems that Henry inherited the Plantagenet good looks. Like Edward III, he was tall and blonde.
In 1337 Henry was made earl of Derby. He is one of those annoying historical figures who had so many titles that it’s hard to remember that it’s him that people are writing about. At various times he was the earl of Derby, Lincoln, Leicester and Lancaster and then the duke of Lancaster. His father died while he was on campaign in Aquitaine and in Jonathan’s Sumption’s book Trial by Battle he’s referred to as Derby for several pages and then he’s Lancaster. When I was reading it I had to keep reminding myself that they were the same man.
In 1340 Henry allowed himself to be held as one of the hostages for the king’s debts in Brussels. He must have known how unlikely it was that the king would be able to redeem his debts and in the end he had to pay his own ransom.
Edward III trusted him and twice made him his lieutenant in Scotland. In 1344 he was made co-lieutenant in Aquitaine, the part of France that Edward III held as duke. Henry was an experienced soldier, by then having fought against the Scots and the French in various important battles and sieges. He had even fought in the naval battle at Sluys in 1340. Not only was he a soldier, but he was also a diplomat. He negotiated at least one peace tray and one marriage alliance, a further example of the king’s trust in him.
In 1345 he led the successful campaign in Aquitaine that had the French armies in chaos, which proved to be a sign of how things were going to go for the next few years in the Hundred Years War. During the campaign Henry, and many of his men, became very wealthy from the ransoms they received for captured Frenchmen. He’s said to have made £50,000 from men captured in one day when the English army took a French camp at Auberoche by surprise. To put this in context, Edward III’s annual income didn’t always reach £50,000. For more context, it would be worth several tens of millions today.
Henry became earl of Lancaster in 1345. When Henry’s uncle was executed much of the family’s lands were forfeit, but Henry managed to recover most of them over the years. By the time he died he was the king’s second wealthiest subject. The wealthiest was Edward of Woodstock, the king’s heir.
He was the second knight admitted to the Order of the Garter by Edward III in 1348. The first was Edward of Woodstock.
In 1351 he was made duke of Lancaster, become the second English duke. I’m sure you can guess by now who the first one was. It was indeed Edward of Woodstock who was made Duke of Cornwall in 1337. Henry was also given the power to run the county of Lancashire with little reference to the crown, another sign of Edward III’s trust, since this power and wealth would have made the duke a formidable enemy. Had Edward been able to foresee the future in which his grandson, Richard II, was deposed by Henry’s grandson, Henry Bolingbroke, he would undoubtedly have made a different decision.
Henry wrote Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines (The Book of Holy Medicines) in 1354. It’s both a memoir and a devotional book. In it he writes about his sins and his penances. One of his sins was lack of chastity and it’s interesting that a fourteenth-century man of his rank acknowledged that it was a sin. I wonder what his wife made of his confessions. Even in an age of general belief Henry was remarkable for his piety and his devotion to the Virgin Mary.
He said that he didn’t learn to write until quite late in his life. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t receive an education or wasn’t able to read, it just means that had a scrivener to write for him. It wasn’t unusual for a man of his class not to be able to write. Training to be a knight didn’t include writing lessons.
His final campaign (the one in which Chaucer was taken prisoner) was the siege of Rheims in 1359 and he was one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Brétigny, which brought the first part of the Hundred Years War to an end. He died the following year, possibly from plague.
Trial by Battle by Jonathan Sumption
Henry Of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345 – 1346 by Nicholas A. Gribit