22 September, 2017

22 September 1345: Death of Henry, Earl of Lancaster

Today marks the 672nd anniversary of the death of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester and steward of England, on 22 September 1345. Via his father Edmund of Lancaster, Henry was a grandson of Henry III and thus the nephew of Edward I and first cousin of Edward II, and via his mother Blanche of Artois he was the great-nephew of Louis IX of France,  half-brother of Joan I, queen of Navarre, brother-in-law of Philip IV of France, and uncle of Louis X, Philip V, Charles IV and Edward II's queen Isabella. Henry's date of birth is not known but is usually estimated around 1280 or 1281, following his elder brother Thomas's birth in c. 1278. A younger brother, John, followed, sometime before May 1286 when the three Lancaster brothers first appear on record. (John of Lancaster spent almost all his life in France and very rarely appears in English sources. He died in 1317, and Henry was his heir to the lordships he held in France.)

Henry was restored to (most of) the inheritance of his executed and childless brother Thomas after Edward II's deposition in 1327; Edward had allowed him the earldom of Leicester in 1324, but not Lancaster. Henry is the forgotten member of the Lancaster dynasty in many ways - I've even seen a few people confusing him with his son and heir Henry of Grosmont, the first duke of Lancaster - but it was he who restored the prestige and reputation of the Lancasters after Thomas's execution, and who fought for his and his family's rightful inheritance. In the 1320s Henry was mostly ignored by his cousin Edward II and brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger, and therefore joined his niece Queen Isabella in the autumn of 1326. As Isabella also shunted him out of power and his rightful position during Edward III's minority, Henry led a brief rebellion against the regime in late 1328 and early 1329, which failed when (according to the later Leicester chronicler Henry Knighton) Roger Mortimer sacked his main power base of Leicester in early 1329. Yet Henry survived Edward II's turbulent reign and its aftermath and died peacefully in his bed, aged about 65, as many other earls including his own brother Thomas and cousin Edmund, earl of Kent did not.

Henry of Lancaster married the heiress Maud Chaworth on or before 2 March 1297 when she was fifteen and he probably sixteen, and their marriage produced one son, Henry of Grosmont, and six daughters, Blanche, Isabella, Maud, Joan, Eleanor and Mary. Five of Henry's children had children of their own - the exceptions were his two eldest daughters Blanche, Lady Wake and Isabella, prioress of Amesbury - and Henry was the ancestor of much of the English nobility of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His grandchildren included Henry Percy, the first earl of Northumberland, who died in rebellion against Henry IV (Henry of Lancaster's great-grandson) in 1408; Richard Fitzalan, the earl of Arundel executed by Richard II in 1397; Elizabeth de Burgh, duchess of Clarence, who married Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp; and Joan de Bohun, countess of Hereford, Henry V's grandmother. Maud Chaworth died in 1322, and Henry never remarried; a previous generation of historians believed erroneously that he married the French noblewoman Alix Joinville, but she was in fact the widow of his brother John.

Henry's Wikipedia page claims that he spent the last fifteen years of his life at his castle of Leicester. From my own research I know this is not the case: he travelled extensively around his estates in the 1330s and 1340s, even in 1345, the year he died. One of his favourite residences was Kempsford in Gloucestershire, part of his late wife Maud Chaworth's inheritance. He was at Kenilworth in Warwickshire in the summer of 1345, and wrote his will at Leicester on 8 September. Two weeks later, he died there, and was buried four months later in the church of the hospital he had founded in Leicester in 1330. His son Henry of Grosmont, earl of Derby, was in Gascony at the time leading a brilliantly successful military campaign and so could not attend the funeral, but Edward III, his wife Queen Philippa and his mother Queen Isabella, Henry of Lancaster's niece, were all present at the interment of one of the greatest of medieval English noblemen.

1 comment:

sami parkkonen said...

Henry must have been very clever and astute politician and rather brave man as he survived those years before Edward III's reign. People were getting disposed of and killed all around him and he not only survived but reclaimed and re-built the fortunes of his family. Very well done under those circumstances.