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Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster

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.

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
Allegiance Kingdom of England
AwardsKnight of the Garter


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[a] 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 inheritanceEdit

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.[2] 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.[3]


Grosmont was born in about 1310[4][5] 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.[6]


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[5] 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.[7] After further service in the Scottish Marches, he was appointed the King's lieutenant in Scotland in 1336.[5] 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.[8]

Service in FranceEdit

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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[5]

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 as the king's lieutenant to Aquitaine to prepare a campaign in the south west.[5] Moving rapidly through the country, he confronted Louis I de Poitiers, Count of Valentinois and Bertrand I of L'Isle-Jourdain at Auberoche on 21 October and there achieved a victory described as "the greatest single achievement of Lancaster's entire military career."[11] The ransom from the prisoners has been estimated at £50,000.[12] 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.[5]

Duke of LancasterEdit

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.[13] 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.[b]

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.[14] 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.[5]

Further prestigeEdit

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,[15] 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.[16] 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.[5]

Death and burialEdit

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.[17][c] 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.[18]

Marriage and progenyEdit

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:

  • Maud of Lancaster (4 April 1340 – 10 April 1362), eldest daughter, who married William I, Duke of Bavaria
  • Blanche of Lancaster (25 March 1345/1347 – 12 September 1368), 2nd daughter, who married her third cousin John of Gaunt (1340–1399), the third of five surviving sons of King Edward III. Gaunt inherited Lancaster's possessions, and he was granted the ducal title the following year, but it was not until 1377, when the dying King Edward III was largely incapacitated, that he was able to recover the palatinate rights for the county of Lancaster. When Gaunt's son by Blanche, Henry of Bolingbroke, usurped the crown in 1399 and became King Henry IV, the vast Lancaster inheritance, including the Honour of Bolingbroke and the Lordship of Bowland, was merged with the crown as the Duchy of Lancaster.[19] The administrative seat of the Duchy remained at Bolingbroke Castle, Henry IV's birthplace.


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.[5] The book is primarily a devotional work, organised around seven wounds which Henry claimed 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.[20]



  1. ^ Beltz 1841, p. cxlix.
  2. ^ For a comprehensive biography of Thomas of Lancaster, see *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.
  3. ^ Waugh 2004
  4. ^ not around the turn of the century as previously held (Ormrod 2005)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ormrod 2005
  6. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 26.
  7. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 30.
  8. ^ McFarlane, K. B. (1973). The Nobility of Later Medieval England. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 158–159. ISBN 0-19-822362-5.
  9. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 34.
  10. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 35–37.
  11. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 58–59.
  12. ^ Fowler 1969, p. 61.
  13. ^ McKisack 1959, p. 252.
  14. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 173–174.
  15. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 93–95.
  16. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 106–109.
  17. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 217–218.
  18. ^ Charles James Billson, Mediaeval Leicester, (Leicester, 1920)
  19. ^ Brown & Summerson 2006
  20. ^ Fowler 1969, pp. 193–196.


  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. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.


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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