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Henry of Grosmont
(1300-1361)

Earl of Derby
Earl of Lancaster
Earl of Leicester
Earl of Lincoln
Duke of Lancaster
Born: 1300 at Grosmont Castle, Monmouthshire
Died 24th March 1361 at Leicester Castle, Leicestershire

 

This heroic prince, called "of Grosmont" after the castle in Monmouthshire where he was born in the early fourteenth century, was the only son of Henry, Earl of Lancaster & Leicester, and great-grandson of King Henry III. His mother was Maud Chaworth; and his grandmother, Blanche D'Artois, grandaughter of King Louis VIII of France and relict of Henry of Champagne, King of Navarre. In 1329, we find him in the magnificent train of King Edward Ill, when that monarch, after a previous formal demand for the Crown of France as his right of maternal inheritance, deemed it politically expedient to do homage to King Philip VI at Amiens, for the Duchy of Guienne and County of Ponthieu. Henry's first military essay appears to have been in the Scottish expedition in 1336, in which he manifested proofs of valour and martial skill, which obtained for him in the following year, as "Henry de Lancaster, Banneret," the appointment of Captain-General of the King's forces in Scotland, with extra-ordinary powers. His father having been blind since 1330, Henry took his place at the Royal Court and, on 16th March 1337, he was created Earl of Derby. The attempt of the Conquest of France having been resolved upon by the English cabinet, and D'Artevelle's insurrection having suggested the attack from the side of Flanders, the Earl and Sir Walter Manny received, in May 1337, orders from the King to proceed to the Flemish coast. They arrived with 500 men-at-arms and 2,000 archers, and disembarked near Cadsand on the eve of St. Martin's Day. The town was taken, more than 3,000 Flemings being slain and the victors returned with their prisoners (amongst whom was the celebrated Guy, illegitimate brother of Louis, Count of Flanders) to England. Froissart relates that the Earl of Derby, being amongst the first assailants, pressed onwards to make good his landing and was struck to the ground, but was rescued from his perilous situation by the promptitude and bravery of Manny.

In July 1338, the Earl attended the King on his first military expedition into France; and, in October of the following year, held a principal command in the King's own division of the army, which was drawn up in battle array, but without any other result, near Vironfosse. The affairs of the King requiring, soon afterwards, his presence in England, Edward left, with the Duke of Brabant, as hostages for his return, the Earls of Derby and Salisbury. As, however, the Earls of Northampton and Suffolk were afterwards sent over to join the hostages, it is probable that Derby was relieved from that service. He was mentioned at the head of all the noble persons in the memorable naval battle off Sluys, directed by the King in person, on Midsummer Day 1340, the day on which the King had covenanted to return to Flanders. Upon the truce concluded with the French in the same year, the Earl was nominated one of the commissioners. In October 1341, he was appointed the King's Lieutenant in the Northern parts of England and in Scotland and, spending Christmas at Roxburgh (the King keeping that feast at Melrose), he is said to have jousted with and wounded Sir William Douglas. In 1342, Henry accompanied Edward on his expedition into Brittany, having in his retinue five bannerets, fifty knights, with a proportional number of esquires and archers; and, during the Siege of Vannes, was constituted one of the commissioners to conclude a truce for three years. In 1343, he marched into Scotland, in order to raise the Siege of Lochmaben; and, in the same year, was joined in embassy with the Earl of Salisbury to adjust certain differences between the King's subjects at Bayonne and those of Alphonso, King of Castile. The Earl of Derby was also, in that year, one of the commissioners sent to Rome to treat, in the presence of the Pope, for a peace with Philip of Valois concerning the King's claim to the French Crown. In 1344, when thoughts of the foundation of the Order of the Garter were first put in place at the Windsor Jousts, he was chosen as one of the first members. It is recorded, to his honour, by Froissart, that, shortly before the same feast, when the King had received intelligence of the execution of Clisson and other adherents of the English party by order of King Philip, and would have retaliated, in his anger, on his prisoner, Sire Hervé de Leon, the monarch was dissuaded from so ungenerous an act by the remonstrance of the Earl of Derby, and even induced to release Leon for a ransom adequate to his rank. In June following, the Earl was despatched with a considerable army into Aquitaine and then commenced a series of exploits and victories which have more particularly contributed to immortalise his name, and are narrated in detail by contemporary historians.

His father dying at Leicester in 1345 (where his funeral obsequies were attended by the King and Queen in person), during the absence of our hero from England, he succeeded to the Earldom of Lancaster & Leicester, and very ample possessions; but that event did not suspend his gallant exertions on behalf of his sovereign. The King, however, being desirous that so distinguished and prudent a chief should be more immediately near to his own person for the direction of his martial and other affairs, he was recalled for this purpose, and returned into England in January 1347. 

The Earl of Lancaster was directed, on 14th May 1347, to join the King, with the forces under his command, before Calais. Upon the arrival of King Philip before that place with the design of raising the siege, Edward directed the Earl to maintain possession of the bridge of Nieulay; and, that passage being secured with singular judgment and valour, the enemy was prevented by the interjacent marshes from approaching the town.

A remarkable trait of the chivalrous customs of the times occurred during this siege. A dispute having arisen between John, son and heir of Sir John De Warblington, and Theobald, the son of Sir Theobald Russell (whose family had assumed the surname of Gorges), concerning the right to the arms "Lozenge or and azure," the King, amidst the more pressing matters which then engaged his attention, referred the case for decision to the Earl of Lancaster, Derby & Leicester, Steward of England; William De Clinton, Earl of Huntingdon; Reginald De Cobham; Walter De Manny; William Lovel; and Stephen De Cosinton, by whom an award was made in favour of Warblington, for reasons stated in an instrument under their hands and seals, dated in camp before Calais on the eve of St. Margaret's Day, 19th July 1347.

The Earl was subsequently joined in several commissions to treat with France; and, on the 25th September 1348, was constituted the King's Lieutenant as well in the parts of Flanders and Calais, as elsewhere in France. On 20th August 1349, the dignity of the Earl of Lincoln was added to his other honours; and, about the same time, his commission was renewed as Captain-General and King's Lieutenant in Aquitaine.

By patent dated 6th March 1351-2, Henry was further created Duke of Lancaster; and he, soon afterwards, obtained a licence to join the expedition against the Lithuanian pagans. Previous to his departure for Prussia, William of Bavaria, called the Duke of Zealand & Holland, came into England, and was married to Maud, Duke's eldest daughter, with great pomp, in the presence of the King and Queen, in the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Westminster. Duke Henry probably accompanied the princely pair to the continent. For it is related by Knyghton, that the Duke of Lancaster was, on reaching Cologne, apprised by a certain knight that Otto, Duke of Brunswick, had been directed, by the King of France, to arrest him on his journey. He, however, was not deterred, by this information, from pursuing his course. However, learning, with concern, before his arrival in Prussia, that a truce for several years had been concluded between the Christians and the infidels, he returned to Cologne and there, on the Friday after Easter 1352, in the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, and in presence of the Margrave of Juliers and many other knights and esquires, he complained of the conduct of the Duke of Brunswick towards him, a stranger knight, engaged on so sacred a peregrination. He added that, if the Duke had any desire to meddle with him, he should find him ready to perform a soldier's part. The narrative then recites the letter of challenge which the Duke of Brunswick, in consequence, addressed to him on his return into England. In this document the accusation of Duke Henry is declared to be false, and he is invited to prove it, corps-ŕ-corps, in the castle of Guisnes, at St. Omer, or wherever else the King of France should think fit to appoint.

It appears that King Edward, by patent dated at Westminster 23rd August 1352, alluding to the cause of quarrel, granted licence to the Duke of Lancaster, although inconveniently to the Royal interests, to accept the challenge and to pass for that purpose beyond sea, with one Earl and sixty knights and esquires, their horses and accoutrements. The Duke, accordingly, landing at Calais, proceeding with his suite towards Guisnes. On approaching that place, he was met by the Marshal of France, John De Clermont, with a large train, on the quindena of the Nativity, and conducted with great honour to Hesdin. From here, the Lord James De Bourbon attended him to Paris, where he was most nobly received by John, King of France, and the Duke's kinsman, the King of Navarre. After many previous ineffectual endeavours to reconcile the parties, a day was fixed for the duel. On entering the lists, the countenance of the Duke of Brunswick is said to have suddenly become pallid and his arm so enfeebled that he could not wield his sword; and, upon a renewed interposition, he apologised for his letter and submitted himself to the arbitration of the King of France. At a grand banquet, the latter terminated the difference between the Dukes and entertained the Duke of Lancaster most courteously, showing and offering him many rich presents, amongst which, however, he would only accept a thorn out of the Saviour's crown. This, he deposited, as a most precious relic, in the Collegiate Church of Our Lady in Leicester. He then repaired to King Edward, who was celebrating Christmas at St. Alban's.

The Duke was subsequently engaged in numerous brilliant enterprises in the Wars in France; and, lastly, attended the King into that Kingdom in 1360. As he had proved, throughout his long career, his wisdom and valour as a great commander, so did he also manifest his desire for peace whenever it could be accomplished upon terms honourable to his sovereign and country. This disposition was particularly evinced at the conclusion of the Treaty of Bretigny, when, though the King was very unwilling to accept the terms offered by the French, he was finally moved so to do by the persuasive arguments of the Duke. It was also upon his motion that the truce, made at Relines between Charles of Blois and the Count of Montfort which was to expire on 1st May, was extended to Midsummer following, in the hope of a final peace.

Henry, Duke of Lancaster, married Isabel, daughter of Henry, Lord Beaumont, by whom he had two daughters, his heiresses: Maud (aged 22 at the time of his death) who had been, first, the betrothed wife of Ralph, son of Ralph, Earl of Stafford, and, at the age of six years, his widow, marrying, secondly, in 1352, as above stated, William V, Duke of Bavaria, Count of Holland & Zealand, though she died soon after her marriage, without issue. The second and only surviving daughter and heir of the Duke was, therefore, Blanche (aged 14 at the death of her father) who became the consort of Prince John of Gaunt, Earl of Richmond (afterwards Duke of Lancaster).

The Duke made his will in his castle at Leicester on 15th March 1361; and, dying of the pestilence on 24th of the same month, was interred in the Collegiate Church in Newark (Notts), on the north side of the high altar, in pursuance of the directions of his will. 

Edited from George Frederick Beltz's
"Memorials of the Most Noble Order of the Garter" (1861).

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