02 November, 2009

A Verray Parfit Gentil Knyght: Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster (2)

At long last, here's the second part of my article about the really very excellent and remarkably attractive Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, Edward II's kinsman. The first part is here. Just a quick recap of who Henry was, as it's been so long since I wrote the first post: he was born in about 1310, only son and heir of Henry, earl of Lancaster - first cousin of Edward II and uncle of Isabella of France - and Maud Chaworth, was the first duke of Lancaster and only the second duke (after Edward III's eldest son) in English history, died in 1361, and was the grandfather of King Henry IV and Philippa, queen of Portugal. Much is known of his personality, thanks to a devotional treatise he wrote in 1354, the Livre de Seyntz Medicines.

It was in the 1340s that Henry of Grosmont's brilliant career really took off, though he may not have guessed it at the beginning of the decade, when he was imprisoned as a hostage in the Low Countries - twice! - for Edward III. Not that Henry's imprisonment was particularly onerous, of course; he received five marks a day for his expenses and was allowed to attend a joust in early December 1340. Henry was back again in England by early October 1341, and a few weeks later celebrated Christmas by leading a joust in Scotland where the participants agreed not to wear protective clothing, which is frankly insane. Hardly surprisingly, two English knights were killed, and Henry himself badly wounded William Douglas, lord of Liddesdale. Unlike his cousin Edward II, but very much like his cousin Edward III, Henry was a highly enthusiastic jouster. He attended, among many others, the tournament of Northampton in 1342 where his brother-in-law John, Lord Beaumont, was killed, the great tournament of Windsor in 1344, and arranged his own later in 1344 to celebrate the wedding of his little daughter Maud to Ralph Stafford, young son of Ralph Stafford and Margaret Audley and grandson of Hugh Audley and Margaret de Clare; young Ralph left Maud a tiny widow in 1348. At the tournament of Eltham in 1348, Edward III gave Henry "a hood of white cloth embroidered with men dancing in blue habits, buttoned in the front with large pearls." [1]

Henry went to Spain in 1343 with William Montacute, earl of Salisbury and another close friend of Edward III, to negotiate a marriage alliance with one of Edward's daughters to the son of Alfonso XI of Castile (he of whom Edward II in 1325 made the excellent description quoted on the sidebar on the left). Needless to say, Henry took the opportunity for a little light crusading, and rode off to Algeciras, then in the hands of the Moors, at such a gallop that only four of his attendants were able to keep up with him. The Castilians greeted him enthusiastically, and evidently he made an excellent impression on them - as he was to do to just about everyone. In 1345, Henry was appointed lieutenant of Gascony, a position he held for eighteen months, with the wide-ranging powers of a vice-regent, and won stunning victories over the French at Bergerac and Auberoche; he received something like 50,000 pounds in ransoms from captured knights and noblemen, a staggeringly enormous sum and five or sx times Henry's own annual income - and he was one of the richest men in England. The fortune enabled him to rebuild the Savoy Palace in London into one of the most luxurious residences in England (it passed to his son-in-law John of Gaunt and was destroyed in the uprising of 1381).

Between Henry's victories of Bergerac and Auberoche, on 22 September 1345, his father Earl Henry of Lancaster died at the age of about sixty-four, and Henry succeeded to the inheritance: the earldoms of Lancaster and Leicester in addition to the earldom of Derby he already held, and much else besides. Edward III also granted Henry the French lordship of Bergerac with the unprecedented right to mint coins in his own name. From his many lands and lordships in England, Wales and France, plus the spoils of his incredibly successful military career, Henry enjoyed almost unlimited wealth. Evidently, though, his wealth and fame didn't go too much to his head; chronicler Jean Froissart comments on Henry's kindness and courtesy, especially towards women, and he had excellent relations with the town of Leicester, which appears to have been the favourite of his countless castles and residences. The townspeople of Leicester brought him, on one of the occasions when he returned from military success in France, salmon and lampreys from Gloucester.

Henry's castle at Leicester contained a daunsyngchambre, and by his own account in his Livre de Seyntz Medicines, he enjoyed dancing and thought he was pretty good at it. He had the fourteenth-century nobleman's conventional love of hunting and the joust, and being English, he liked getting drunk: he drank wine "to put myself and my friends out of our senses, for it is a good feeling to be merry" and over-indulged at feasts so that his legs were "neither so good nor so ready to bring me away as they were to get me there." A sensual man, he admitted how much he enjoyed the rings on his fingers, his shoes and his armour, and liked rich food, well-spiced with strong spices, salmon being his particular favourite. All that good living had its inevitable effect: Henry was suffering from gout by the 1350s. He also wrote in the Livre that he liked the sound of barking hounds and the song of the nightingale, explained why he loved expensive scarlet cloth* - "I have coveted the cloth more for its scent than for other reasons" - and loved the smell of roses, violets, musk and lily of the valley. In a pleasantly erotic passage, he admitted that he took "great delight" in the fragrance of "certain women" - the high-born ones, that is, though he thought the low-born ones were more sexually responsive. He did not mention his wife Isabella Beaumont even once in the text.

* in the fourteenth century, a fine and expensive woollen cloth, not the colour.

Henry was also capable of recognising and admitting to his less admirable qualities, such as recoiling from the smell of poor and sick people; grudging that leftovers from his feasts should be given to the poor; listening to trivial gossip and reading trivial books (livres de nient); bragging about his relationships and being lecherous, though he didn't reproach himself for committing adultery; being vainglorious and just plain vain; and - this is my favourite one - finding it hard to get up in the morning when he should have been enthusiastic to rise and serve God.

In 1348, Henry was appointed as the second Knight of the Garter behind Edward III's eldest son Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales (the Black Prince). Already one of the king's most able and successful military commanders during the Hundred Years War, Henry fought in the naval battle of Winchelsea - also called the battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer, 'The Spanish on the Sea' - against Castile on 29 August 1350, and saved the lives of Edward of Woodstock and his future son-in-law, ten-year-old John of Gaunt, when their ship was rammed. On 6 March 1351, Edward III created Henry the first duke of Lancaster, and "granted to the duke that for his life he shall have within the same county his chancery and writs under a seal to be deputed for the office of chancellor, his justices for pleas of the crown and pleas of common law, and cognisance of the same, and execution of such writs by his ministers and all other liberties and royal rights pertaining to an earl palatine." [2] Until Richard II's reign, the only other English dukes were Edward III's sons, an indication of the extremely high regard in which Edward held his kinsman.

That'll have to do for today - I'll post the third and final part of the article soon!


1) Kenneth Fowler, The King's Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster 1310-1361, p. 104.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1350-1354, p. 60.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Like the duke, I'm having a hard time getting out of bed myself this morning! I've probably asked this before, but has the Livre been translated?

Kathryn Warner said...

Me too!

Catherine Batt of the University of Liverpool is translating the Livre, so I read a while ago - hope it's out soon.

Jules Frusher said...

Wow, those intimate details of his virtues and vices, likes and dislikes really brings him across as an actual human being rather than a mere name in a history book. I almost feel that I know him!

If he were alive today I could imagine him writing a book on how to win friends, influence people - and have a great love life!

Great man - and great post!

Clement Glen said...

'"He drank wine "to put myself and my friends out of our senses, for it is a good feeling to be merry" and over-indulged at feasts so that his legs were "neither so good nor so ready to bring me away as they were to get me there."'

Once again Fantastic detail Alianore, he sounds like he wouldn't be out of place in a modern British city centre on a Saturday night!

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: it's so great that we still have his own words and that he included so many personal details - I really wish we had something similar for other 14c people.

Thanks, Clement! I wonder if Henry would be drunk and disorderly every Saturday night if he lived nowadays. :)

Carla said...

How amazing that he can talk to us across the centuries like this :-) Who needs time travel?

Kate Plantagenet said...

No wonder he was popular!

What a charmer - even if his legs didn't work after a drinking bout!

Thanks Alianore, what a great post. I especially loved the bit that Clement quoted about his legs. Henry was both eloquent and funny (and no doubt handsome too). *winks*

Jules Frusher said...

I also forgot to add that I was astounded that they jousted without armour or protective clothing!!! It would be like Moto GP without helmets and protective leathers! No wonder they got killed/hurt! I bet all the wives and mothers weren't too happy about it!

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: it's wonderful to have such intimate thoughts of a man who lived nearly 700 years ago, isn't it? Wish we had something similar by Edward II...

Kate: thanks! And yes, I'm absolutely sure that Henry was handsome as well as courteous, chivalrous and an all-round great guy, and therefore completely fanciable. :)

Lady D: crazy, wasn't it? There's a bit more about it in Ian's Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, p. 256.

Gabriele Campbell said...

He sounds like a sport star who doesn't have a coach telling him he can't get drunk and have sex, lol. But I'm sure he'd have been fun to hang out with.:)

Kathryn Warner said...

LOL, Gabriele! He really does seem like he'd have been great fun to hang out with, doesn't he?