09 November, 2009

A Verray Parfit Gentil Knyght: Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster (3)

The third and final part of my biography of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster. Part one is here, and part two here. Oh, and you can see a manuscript illustration of Henry here.

In December 1351, Henry requested permission from Edward III to go on crusade to Prussia, saying that he and his men were to go "mainly at their own expense, against the Prussians, enemies of the Christian faith." [Calendar of Patent Rolls] Little is known of Henry's crusade, unfortunately, except that he reached Stettin (Szczecin), on the Baltic Sea in modern Poland. When in Cologne on his way back, Henry challenged Otto, duke of Brunswick to a duel, claiming that the duke had intended to ambush him during the crusade, and received permission from Edward III to travel to Paris "to excuse himself in respect of things wickedly laid to his charge by the duke of Brunswyk." King Jean II of France, however, stopped the duel at the last moment, insisting that the reasons for the quarrel were insufficient to justify fighting between two such great men. Jean offered Henry any such gift as he might desire; Henry, in an act typical of the man he was, selected a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, one of the French king's collection of precious relics. (Edward III, I assume, already had one of these, as Edward II certainly did.)

Henry somehow found the time from his successful military and diplomatic career in 1354 to compose the Livre de Seyntz Medicines or Book of Holy Medicines, a religious treatise in French which takes as its central metaphor the image of Christ the divine physician and his assistant the Douce Dame treating Henry, the wounded penitent; the seven deadly sins have breached seven wounds in his ears, eyes, nose, mouth, feet, hands and heart. Henry compares his heart to a foxes' hole where sins hide and come out by night, and also compares it to a market, with the devil as the lord of the market collecting his dues, prises and customs. His mouth festers where his sins issue forth; confession cleanses it. And so on. Much of Henry's character is revealed in the treatise, as I've written in the previous posts about him, and he had a considerable amount of literary skill, using examples from his own life to demonstrate his points: comparing sins entering his body and soul to a castle's walls being breached, for example.

Henry wrote near the end of his treatise "if the French is not good, I must be excused, because I am English and not much accustomed to French" (si le franceis ne soit pas bon, jeo doie estre escusee, pur ceo qe jeo sui engleis et n’ai pas moelt hauntee le franceis). Obviously this was a literary device to demonstrate Henry's modesty, as his French was completely fluent, even cultured. He also wrote - accurately or not - that he taught himself to write later in life, and described himself at the end of the Livre as "a poor foolish sinner who calls himself Ertsacnal Edcud Irneh," that is, Henri duc de Lancastre written backwards. Here's an article about the Livre, which, I'm delighted to see, Dr Catherine Batt is currently translating into English.

His military and diplomatic career continued throughout the 1350s, and according to the Scalacronica chronicle of Sir Thomas Gray, he was wounded at a great jousting tournament in 1358: "While he was jousting with one knight, another one crossed and wounded him with his lance very dangerously in the side, from which he recovered." In November 1360, Edward III spoke of "his very great affection for the duke." [Cal Pat Rolls]

In June 1359, the pope granted Henry, regarding the indult previously granted that his chaplains should give him and his wife Isabella Beaumont plenary remission at the time of their death, an extension "to another wife, if he takes one after the death of Isabella." [Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-1362]. This sounds as though Isabella was then dying; although it was once believed that she outlived him, this was based on a misreading of Henry's will, where the reference to ma dame dame Isabell, 'my lady, Lady Isabella', almost certainly means Edward III's eldest daughter Isabella of Woodstock, who may have been Henry's goddaughter, not his wife Duchess Isabella. (Men in the fourteenth century referred to their wives as ma compaigne, not ma dame.) Brad Verity, in an article for the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, believes that Duchess Isabella died in 1359 or 1360, a year or two before her husband, a theory considerably strengthened by the facts that she was not appointed one of the executors of his will and that there is no record of her being granted her widow's dower.

The pope's reference to another wife also perhaps indicates that Henry, who in 1359 was close to fifty and whose daughter Blanche had just married Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, still hadn't given up hope of fathering a son and heir by another woman. The statutes of the collegiate church Henry founded in Leicester in the mid-1350s also indicate that he still hoped to have a son: "...after the duke's death to his heir, if he be a male; otherwise, if the heritage of the said duke happens to be divided among females..." ['Mercy Gramercy' thesis]

Henry of Grosmont died at Leicester Castle on 23 March 1361, in his early fifties. Contemporary chroniclers stated that he died of the plague, which returned to England that year, but as Henry wrote his will eight days before his death, this seems unlikely, and he had in fact been ill at least since the New Year and acutely ill since early March. He was buried in the Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Newarke at Leicester, which he had founded; his father Henry, earl of Lancaster had previously founded the hospital to which Henry attached his foundation, and was also buried there. (Sadly, the Newarke was demolished in the sixteenth century.) Henry's sisters Blanche, Maud, Eleanor and Mary outlived him, and Henry appointed the eldest, Blanche, Lady Wake, as one of the executors of his will.

Henry of Grosmont enjoyed a stellar career, and perhaps it was only within his family that he was not entirely successful. As I wrote in the first post, his relationship with his wife seems not to have been particularly successful, happy or fulfilling, and his failure to father a son must have distressed him. He left two daughters, who both died in their twenties: Maud, married firstly to little Ralph Stafford and secondly to William von Wittelsbach, count of Hainault and Holland and duke of Bavaria-Straubing, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig IV and nephew of Edward III's queen, Philippa; and Blanche, who married Edward III's son John of Gaunt in May 1359. The unfortunate Maud died childless in April 1362, having endured a hopelessly awful marriage - her husband went insane in 1357 and had to be confined for the remaining thirty-plus years of his life - with the result that Blanche, who only lived until 1368 herself, carried the entire Lancastrian inheritance to John of Gaunt. Genealogist Douglas Richardson demonstrated recently that Henry also left an illegitimate daughter, Juliane, who married William Dannet of Leicester sometime before 1380, had two sons, and was still alive in 1407. For a man who by his own admission in the Livre made love with numerous women, the wonder is that Henry didn't father more out-of-wedlock children, though perhaps he did and their existence has never been discovered.

Henry was already a grandfather when he died, Blanche and John of Gaunt's eldest child Philippa, future queen of Portugal, having been born in March 1360. Henry was also the grandfather of King Henry IV, who was named after him, and of Elizabeth, duchess of Exeter and countess of Huntingdon, who married Richard II's half-brother. His great-grandchildren included the kings of Portugal and England, the queen of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the duchess of Burgundy, the dukes of Coimbra, Clarence, Bedford and Gloucester, the great explorer Henry the Navigator, duke of Viseu, and the Saint Prince Fernando.

The title of my posts about Henry comes from Geoffrey Chaucer's description of the knight in his Canterbury Tales, and although there's no way to prove that Henry was the role model for Chaucer's knight, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he was and if Chaucer had read and thoroughly appreciated Henry's Livre. I love this man so much I'm thinking of starting a Henry of Grosmont Appreciation Society.


Kenneth Fowler, The King's Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster 1310-1361 (1969)

W. M. Ormrod, 'Henry of Lancaster [Henry of Grosmont], first duke of Lancaster (c. 1310-1361)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III (2006); The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King (2007); The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (2008)

Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines

Patrick Ball, ''Mercy Gramercy': A Study of Henry of Grosmont' (BA thesis, University of Tasmania, 2007) (available online as PDF file)

Calendar of Patent Rolls 1330-1364

A Collection of all the wills, now known to be extant, of the kings and queens of England, vol. 1

Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-1362

Brad Verity, 'The First English Duchess: Isabel de Beaumont, c. 1318- c. 1359', Foundation for Medieval Genealogy Michael Prestwich, Plantagenet England 1225-1360 (2005)


Brian Wainwright said...

Great post! And very interesting.

Someone once told me of some mysterious tombs that still survive in cellars below a technical college in Leicester. I wonder if his is one of them? Or whether the tombs described to me actually exist?

Clement Glen said...

"Henry, in an act typical of the man he was, selected a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, one of the French king's collection of precious relics."

It always amazes me how many holy relics there were around at this time!

Thank you Alianore, a very interesting life-story.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great post! Looking forward to the translation of the Livre (and to the Henry of Grosmont Appreciation Society).

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol yes, he needs an appreciation society.

But duelling with one of my Braunschweig dukes ... tsk, tsk. :)

Jules Frusher said...

What's not to like about this man? The verry modele of a medieaval supere-hero - or something like that! He certainly packed alot into his life - it's such a shame that he never had the family he wanted - though I'm sure there must have been some more illegit children somewhere (oooh, feeling of deja-vu with this!)

Fascinating series of posts. I'm really looking forward to reading the translation of the Livre - and count me in for the appreciation society!!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Brian! Hmm, that's interesting about the Leicester tombs - I hadn't heard about them, so must get googling. I'd love to think that Henry's still exists!

Thanks, Clement! Yes, the number of relics (or 'relics') in the Middle Ages is astonishing, isn't it, and weren't there 3 heads of John the Baptist on display, or something?? ;)

I'm really looking forward to the translation too, Susan - I can read it in the original, but of course it would be miles easier (and more enjoyable) in English.

I wondered if you'd be familiar with that particular duke of Brunswick, Gabriele - I don't know anything about him except his name, unfortunately.

Lady D: Yay, Henry the super-hero! I do wonder if there was anything the man couldn't do (OK, except father a son). What a guy. Hmmm, maybe I really do need to set up a society for him on Facebook, or on the website!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I vote for the website since I don't touch Facebook with a pole. ;)

Alianore, I don't know much about that particular duke since I'm specialising more on the 10-12th centuries, but I'll keep an eye open for info about him.

Minnie said...

Wonderful series of posts, Alianore - thank you. Always intrigued by Henry, not least because my last home was near Grosmont.
Best wishes from the Cote d'Azur (we don't seem to do mediaeval heroes around here, more's the pity - just the double-dealing Grimaldi usurping by trickery on the coast, and a number of thoroughly reprehensible Savoyards/Piemontese inland!).

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: aha, good to know you're not a Facebook fan. ;) Thanks - I'd really appreciate any info you can find on Otto.

Minnie: thanks for dropping by, and the kind comments! Good to know you like Henry - he's wonderful, isn't he?

The Cote d'Azur, wow, how lovely. Best wishes to you, too!

Peter said...

Very interesting....please explain how we know about Juliane who was Henry's illegitimate daughter. What source this information and who was her Mother?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Peter! I believe Douglas Richardson, a well-known genealogist, first brought Juliane to my attention and who knows a lot more about her.