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Seal of Henry of Lancaster, from the Barons' Letter to Pope Boniface VIII in 1301

Henry of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster (1281?-1345)

HENRY OF LANCASTER, Earl of Lancaster (1281?-1345), second son of Edmund, earl of Lancaster, called Crouchback, the second son of Henry III, was born about 1281, his mother being Edmund's second wife, Blanche of Artois, queen-dowager of Navarre. In the winter of 1292-3 he and his elder brother, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, were the constant companions of John of Brabant (afterwards duke), who was then residing in England. On the death of his father in 1296 he inherited the castles and lordships of Monmouth, Kidwelly, and Carwathlan, together with all that his father held on the Welsh side of the Severn.

He served with Edward I in Flanders in 1297 and 1298, and was a captain in the third division of the army which invaded Scotland in the summer of 1298, being then a knight. At Falkirk he rode a horse given him by the king. On his return from the expedition he married Maud, daughter and heiress of Sir Patrick Chaworth. He was summoned to parliament as baron in February 1299, and in that year, in 1300, 1303, and 1305 served in Scotland. In the letter of the barons to Boniface VIII in 1301 he is described as Lord of Monmouth. At the coronation of Edward II on 25 Feb. 1328 he carried the rod with the dove.

In 1315 he, in common with the other lords of the Welsh marches, joined the Earl of Hereford [Humphrey de Bohun, 4th earl] in putting down the rebellion of Llewelyn Bren, and in 1318 was ordered to bring his Welsh retainers to Newcastle to serve against the Scots. He was opposed to the Despensers, for the greediness of the younger threatened the lords marchers generally; but he does not seem to have had any violent feelings against the king, and was not involved in his brother's treason [see Thomas, earl of Lancaster]. In 1324 he was created Earl of Lancaster, Earl of Leicester, and steward of England, dignities which had been held by his brother.

It is evident that he was indignant at his brother's fate, and was resolved to avenge it, and was not appeased by these honours. He assumed the arms of his brother instead of his own, as though, so the king's friends said, he denied that they were condemned by the late earl's attainder. Moreover, he built a cross for his brother's soul outside the town of Leicester. The Bishop of Hereford [Adam of Orlton] wrote to ask him to plead for him with the king, and he replied in a letter full of sympathy and encouragement. This became known to the king, who, in May 1324, was anxious to convict him of treason, and called on him to answer for these offences. He defended himself successfully, and the matter was dropped, for he was regarded as the foremost man in the kingdom.

When the queen (Isabella) landed with an armed force in September 1326 he at once joined her, marched with her to Bristol, took part in declaring the king's son [future Edward III] guardian of the kingdom, and on the next day (27 Oct.) sat in judgment on and condemned the elder Despenser. He was then sent into Wales to pursue the king, and took him and the younger Despenser. He assisted at the trial of Despenser at Hereford on 24 Nov., and, having been charged with the custody of the king, took him to Kenilworth, for he was appointed constable of the castle on 27 Nov. Other castles and honours, formerly held by Earl Thomas, were put in his charge before the end of the year. He was one of the commissioners sent to inform the king of his deposition. Edward remained in his keeping until 5 April 1327, and found him a humane gaoler.

Lancaster knighted the young king [Edward III] at his coronation [January 29, 1327], was his nominal guardian, and the chief member of the council of government. On 23 April he obtained a writ acknowledging that the king had received his homage for all the lands held by the late earl, and ordering the payment to him of certain back rents.1 In the Scottish war of this year Lancaster was sent with the Earl of Kent and other lords to Newcastle to strengthen the border. They were unable to check the ravages of Douglas, and were forced to remain inactive while he wasted the country almost to the walls of the town.

Lancaster attended the parliament held at Leicester in November, and prevailed on the clergy in convocation to make a grant. In spite of the high place which he held in the council and as guardian of the king, he found himself without power, and was denied access to the king by the queen-dowager and Mortimer. The latter's conduct was bringing disgrace on the country, and Lancaster was soon in active opposition. When the parliament was held at Salisbury in October 1328, he and some other lords met in arms at Winchester and refused to attend. He then retired to Waltham. At this crisis Robert Holland, a favourite with the queen-dowager and Mortimer, who had betrayed Earl Thomas, and had done much damage to Earl Henry's lands, fell into the hands of his enemies, and was beheaded by his captor. His head was sent to Lancaster.

Many lords approved of Lancaster's attempt to overthrow Mortimer, and chief among them were the king's uncles, the Earl of Kent and Thomas, earl of Norfolk, the marshal. A meeting of bishops and barons was held in St. Paul's on 19 Dec. At the time the king and Mortimer were ravaging the lands of Lancaster and his party, and were on the point of declaring war against them. A message was therefore sent to the king, praying him to desist.

Lancaster remained at Waltham until 1 Jan. 1329, when he went up to London, held a parley with the discontented bishops and barons at St. Paul's, and met the marshal, who was lodging at Blackfriars, and was reconciled to him, for there had been enmity between them on account of Holland's death and other matters. The next day Lancaster formed a confederacy of magnates and of some of the chief citizens at St. Paul's, and a schedule of complaints and demands was drawn up.

On the 4th, however, the royal army entered Leicester, which belonged to the earl, and laid waste the surrounding country. Lancaster and some of his party, including six hundred Londoners, marched to meet it, and advanced as far as Bedford. There he found, however, that the Earls of Kent and Norfolk had made their peace with Mortimer, and as his troops were disorderly he could not venture to meet the king's army. Archbishop Mepeham interceded for him, and on the llth or 12th the king accepted his submission, inflicting on him a fine of £11,000, which was never paid. In the following December he was sent on an embassy to France in company with the Bishop of Norwich [William Ayermin], and was there until after 5 Feb. 1330.2

About this time a failure in his sight, which had been troublesome in 1329, ended in blindness, and probably on account of this infirmity he is described as already an old man.3 Nevertheless he attended the parliament held at Nottingham on 19 Oct.; he bad brought Edward to see the necessity of ridding himself of the insolence of Mortimer: blind as he was he evidently took part in devising the means by which Mortimer was to be seized, and the next morning when he heard that his enemy was taken shouted for joy. Mortimer's overthrow was followed on 12 Dec. by the grant of a full pardon to Lancaster and his companions for their expedition to Bedford.4

The earl's blindness, which he bore with patience, forced him to retire from active life; he gave himself wholly to devotion, and in 1330 began to build a hospital near the castle at Leicester, in honour of the annunciation, for fifty infirm old men, a master, chaplains, and clerks. His foundation was completed on a grand scale by his son [see Henry, Duke of Lancaster]. He also gave an angel of the salutation to Walsingham, which was said to be of the value of four hundred marks. His name occurs in some public documents of a later date, for he still held the office of steward of England. But it is unlikely that he took any personal part in affairs.5 He died on 22 Sept. 1345 and was buried on the north side of the high altar of the church of his hospital; the effigy on his tomb had no coronet. Lancaster was courteous and kindhearted, of sound judgment, religious, and apparently of high principle.

By his wife Maud he had a son, Henry of Lancaster, who succeeded him, and apparently two other sons who died in childhood, and six daughters: Maud, who married first William de Burgh, earl of Ulster (d. 1332), and secondly, Ralph de Ufford, heir of Robert, earl of Suffolk (d. 1345), whom she survived; Blanche, married Thomas, lord Wake of Lydell; Jane, married John, lord Mowbray; Isabel, prioress of Amesbury; Eleanor, married first John, lord Beaumont (d. 1342), and secondly, in 1346, Richard, earl of Arundel; Mary, married Henry, lord Percy.

1. Fœdera, ii. 704.
2. ib. pp. 775, 779.
3. G. Le Baker, Chron., ed. Maunde Thompson, pp. 43, 46.
4. Fœdera, ii. 802.
5. ib. 1083, 1084; Froissart, i. 347, 350, evidently confuses him with his son.

      Excerpted from:

      Hunt, Rev. William. "Henry of Lancaster."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XXVI. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds.
      New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891. 100-1.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Rogers, Clifford J. The Wars of Edward III: Sources and Interpretations.
            Boydell Press, 2000.

Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years War: The English in France 1337-1453.
           Penguin, 1999.

Waugh, Scott L. England in the Reign of Edward III.
            Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Henry of Lancaster on the Web:

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This page was created on October 15, 2017. Last updated March 25, 2023.

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Isabella of France, Queen of England
Piers Gaveston
Thomas of Brotherton, E. of Norfolk
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Thomas, Earl of Lancaster
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