Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Last updated

Humphrey of Lancaster
Duke of Gloucester
Fifteenth-century drawing
Born3 October 1390
Died23 February 1447 (aged 56)
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Burial4 March 1447
Spouse Jacqueline of Hainaut
(m. 1422, ann.1428)
Eleanor Cobham
(m. 1428–1431, ann. c. 1441)
IssueArthur of Gloucester (died 1447) (illegitimate);
Antigone, Countess of Tankerville (illegitimate)
House Lancaster
Father Henry IV of England
Mother Mary de Bohun
Arms of Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester: Arms of King Henry IV differenced by a bordure argent Arms of Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester.svg
Arms of Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester: Arms of King Henry IV differenced by a bordure argent

Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester (3 October 1390 23 February 1447) was an English prince, soldier, and literary patron. [1] He was (as he styled himself) "son, brother and uncle of kings", being the fourth and youngest son of Henry IV of England, the brother of Henry V, and the uncle of Henry VI. Gloucester fought in the Hundred Years' War and acted as Lord Protector of England during the minority of his nephew. A controversial figure, he has been characterised as reckless, unprincipled, and fractious, but is also noted for his intellectual activity and for being the first significant English patron of humanism, [2] in the context of the Renaissance.


Unlike his brothers, Humphrey was given no major military command by his father, instead receiving an intellectual upbringing. Created Duke of Gloucester in 1414, he participated in Henry V's campaigns during the Hundred Years' War in France: he fought at Agincourt in 1415 and at the conquest of Normandy in 1417–9. Following the king's death in 1422, Gloucester became one of the leading figures in the regency government of the infant Henry VI. He proved a rash, impulsive, unscrupulous, and troublesome figure: he quarreled constantly with his brother, John, Duke of Bedford, and uncle, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, and went so far as to violently prosecute a dispute with the Duke of Burgundy, a key English ally in France, over conflicting claims to lands in the Low Countries. At home, Gloucester never fully achieved his desired dominance, while his attempts to gain a foreign principality for himself were fruitless. [3]

A staunch opponent of concessions in the French conflict, and a proponent of offensive warfare, Gloucester increasingly lost favour among the political community, and King Henry VI himself after the end of his minority, following a series of setbacks on the war in France. The trial in 1441 of Eleanor Cobham, his second wife, under charges of witchcraft, destroyed Gloucester's political influence. In 1447, he himself was accused, probably falsely, of treason, and died a few days later while under arrest. [4]

Humphrey was the exemplar of the romantic chivalric persona. Mettled and courageous, [5] he was a foil for the princess Jacqueline of Hainaut, his first wife. His learned, widely read, scholarly approach to the early renaissance cultural expansion demonstrated the quintessential well-rounded princely character. He was a paragon for Eton College and an exemplar for the University of Oxford, accomplished, diplomatic, with political cunning. Unlike his brothers, he was not naturally brave, but opinionated, fervent and judgmental. He exaggerated his own achievements, but idolized his brother Henry V.[ citation needed ] Despite the errors in both his public and private life, and the mischief he caused in politics, Gloucester is also at times praised as a patron of learning and a benefactor to the University of Oxford. He was popular among the literary figures of his age for his scholarly activity, and with the common people for his advocacy of a spirited foreign policy. For these causes he was known as the "good Duke Humphrey". [4]

Diplomatic and military career

Gloucester in the frontispiece of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, 1445 Gloucester-Talbot-Shrewsbury-Book.jpeg
Gloucester in the frontispiece of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, 1445

The place of his birth is unknown, but he was named after his maternal grandfather, Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford. He was the youngest in a powerful quadrumvirate of brothers, who were very close companions; on 20 March 1413, Henry and Humphrey had been at their dying father's bedside. [6] Thomas, John and Humphrey had all been knighted in 1399. They joined the Order of the Garter together in 1400.

During the reign of Henry IV, Humphrey received a scholar's education, while his elder brothers fought on the Welsh and Scottish borders. Following his father's death he was created Duke of Gloucester in 1414, and Chamberlain of England, and he took his seat in Parliament. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1415. Before embarking for France, the army camped at Southampton, where the Earl of Cambridge failed in an assassination plot to kill the king. Humphrey and his brother, the Duke of Clarence, led an Inquiry of Lords to try Cambridge and Scrope for high treason on 5 August.

During Henry V's campaigns in France, Humphrey gained a reputation as a successful commander. His knowledge of siege warfare, gained from his classical studies, contributed to the fall of Honfleur. [6] During the Battle of Agincourt Humphrey was wounded; as he fell, the king sheltered him, and withstood a determined assault from French knights. [7] For his services, Humphrey was granted offices including Constable of Dover, Warden of the Cinque Ports on 27 November, and King's Lieutenant. His tenure in government was peaceful and successful. This period commenced with Emperor Sigismund's peace mission, the only visit of a medieval emperor to England. According to "Holinshed's Chronicles", Humphrey was the principal actor of a symbolic ceremony. He welcomed the emperor on the shoreline with a sword in his hand, "extorting" from Sigismund the renunciation of his prerogatives of dominion over the king of England before allowing him to land on the evening of May 1, 1416. [8]

The Treaty of "eternal friendship" signed at Canterbury on 15 August served only to anticipate renewed hostility from France. [9]

Upon the death of his brother in 1422, Humphrey became Lord Protector to his young nephew Henry VI. He also claimed the right to the regency of England following the death of his elder brother, John, Duke of Bedford, in 1435. Humphrey's claims were strongly contested by the lords of the king's council, and in particular his half-uncle, Cardinal Henry Beaufort. Henry V's will, rediscovered at Eton College in 1978, actually supported Humphrey's claims. In 1436 Philip, Duke of Burgundy, attacked Calais. Duke Humphrey was appointed garrison commander. The Flemings assaulted from the landward but the English resistance was stubborn. Humphrey marched the army to Baillieul, taking the English to safety; he threatened St. Omer before sailing home.

Humphrey was consistently popular with the citizens of London and the Commons. He also had a widespread reputation as a patron of learning and the arts. His popularity with the people and his ability to keep the peace earned him the appointment of Chief Justice of South Wales. However, his unpopular marriage to Eleanor Cobham became ammunition for his enemies. Eleanor was arrested and tried for sorcery and heresy in 1441, and Humphrey retired from public life. He himself was arrested on a charge of treason on 20 February 1447. He died at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk three days later, and was buried at St Albans Abbey, adjacent to St Alban's shrine. At the time, some suspected that he had been poisoned, though it is more probable that he died of a stroke. [10] [11]


Illuminated miniature of Humphrey and his second wife Eleanor from Thomas Walsingham's Book of Benefactors to St Albans, 1431. Cotton MS Nero D VII, British Library Humphrey & Eleanor.jpg
Illuminated miniature of Humphrey and his second wife Eleanor from Thomas Walsingham's Book of Benefactors to St Albans, 1431. Cotton MS Nero D VII, British Library

He married twice but left no surviving legitimate progeny.

First marriage: Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut and Holland

In about 1423 he married Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut and Holland (died 1436), daughter of William VI, Count of Hainaut. Through this marriage Gloucester assumed the title "Count of Holland, Zeeland and Hainault", and briefly fought to retain these titles when they were contested by Jacqueline's cousin Philip the Good (see: War of Succession in Holland). They had a stillborn child in 1424. [12] The marriage was annulled in 1428, and Jacqueline died (disinherited) in 1436.

Second marriage: Eleanor Cobham

In 1428 Humphrey remarried to Eleanor Cobham, his mistress, who in 1441 was tried and convicted of practising witchcraft against the king in an attempt to retain power for her husband. She was condemned to public penance followed by exile and life imprisonment. The marriage was without progeny.


By mistresses unknown Humphrey had two illegitimate children. [13] [14] Eleanor Cobham was possibly the mother of one or both, [15] before her marriage. Due to their illegitimacy they were unable to succeed to their father's titles. The illegitimate children were:


The first page of the First Folio, illustrating Henry VI, Part 2, with a subtitle emphasising Humphrey's death First-page-first-folio-2henry6.jpg
The first page of the First Folio, illustrating Henry VI, Part 2, with a subtitle emphasising Humphrey's death

After inheriting the manor of Greenwich, Gloucester enclosed Greenwich Park and from 1428 had a palace built there on the banks of the Thames, known as Bella Court and later as the Palace of Placentia. The Duke Humphrey Tower surmounting Greenwich Park was demolished in the 1660s and the site was chosen for building the Royal Observatory. [16] His name lives on in Duke Humfrey's Library, part of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and in Duke Humphrey Road on Blackheath, south of Greenwich. Duke Humphrey was a patron and protector of Oxford, donating more than 280 manuscripts to the University. The possession of such a library did much to stimulate new learning.

Duke Humphrey was also a patron of literature, notably of the poet John Lydgate and of John Capgrave. He corresponded with many leading Italian humanists and commissioned translations of Greek classics into Latin. His friendship with Zano Castiglione, Bishop of Bayeux, led to many further connections on the Continent, including Leonardo Bruni, Pietro Candido Decembrio and Tito Livio Frulovisi. Duke Humphrey also patronised the Abbey of St Albans.

Duke Humphrey's Walk was the name of an aisle in Old St Paul's Cathedral near to what was popularly believed to be Duke Humphrey's tomb, though, according to W. Carew Hazlitt, it was in reality a monument to John Lord Beauchamp de Warwick (died 1360). This was an area frequented by thieves and beggars. [17] The phrase "to dine with Duke Humphrey" was used of poor people who had no money for a meal, in reference to this. [18] Saki updates the phrase by referring to a "Duke Humphrey picnic", one without food, in his short story "The Feast of Nemesis". In fact, Humphrey's tomb is in St Alban's Abbey. It was restored by Hertfordshire Freemasons in 2000 to celebrate the millennium. [19]

Historiated initial from John Capgrave's Commentary on Exodus (c. 1440) showing Capgrave presenting his book to Gloucester. One of three remaining volumes of Gloucester's original bequest to the Bodleian Library in Oxford University. Capgrave-duke-humfrey-bodleian.png
Historiated initial from John Capgrave's Commentary on Exodus (c. 1440) showing Capgrave presenting his book to Gloucester. One of three remaining volumes of Gloucester's original bequest to the Bodleian Library in Oxford University.

Duke Humphrey is a major character in two William Shakespeare plays. His conflict with Cardinal Beaufort is portrayed in Henry VI, Part 1 and his disgrace and death following his wife's alleged sorcery is depicted in Henry VI, Part 2 . The portrayal of Humphrey is notable for being one of the most unambiguously sympathetic in the History plays; in Shakespeare's War of the Roses Tetralogy, he is one of only a handful of historical personages to be portrayed in a uniformly positive light. Shakespeare portrays Humphrey's death as a murder, ordered by William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and Queen Margaret of Anjou. He also appears as a minor character in Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V .

The 1723 play Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester by Ambrose Philips revolves around the life of Gloucester. In the original Drury Lane production he was played by Barton Booth.

He is the subject of two novels, Brenda Honeyman's Good Duke Humphrey and Juliet Dymoke's The Lord of Greenwich and his death is the subject of a 2003 mystery novel The Bastard's Tale, by Margaret Frazer.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

This historiated initial from an illuminated manuscript commissioned by Humphrey shows his arms, the arms of the kingdom, differenced by a bordure argent. MS Humfrey d2, c. 1442, Bodleian Library Historiated-initial-coat-of-arms-humphrey-duke-of-gloucester.png
This historiated initial from an illuminated manuscript commissioned by Humphrey shows his arms, the arms of the kingdom, differenced by a bordure argent. MS Humfrey d2, c. 1442, Bodleian Library


Related Research Articles

Henry Beaufort 14th and 15th-century English prince, Bishop of Lincoln, then Winchester, Lord Chancellor of England, and cardinal

Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, was an English prelate and statesman who held the offices of Bishop of Lincoln (1398) then Bishop of Winchester (1404) and was from 1426 a Cardinal of the Church of Rome. He served three times as Lord Chancellor and played an important role in English politics.

Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York 15th-century English noble

Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York, also named Richard Plantagenet, was a leading English magnate, a great-grandson of King Edward III through his father, and a great-great-great-grandson of the same king through his mother. He inherited vast estates and served in various offices of state in Ireland, France, and England, a country he ultimately governed as Lord Protector during the madness of King Henry VI.

John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford 15th-century English prince and nobleman

John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford KG was a medieval English prince, general and statesman who commanded England's armies in France during a critical phase of the Hundred Years' War. Bedford was the third son of King Henry IV of England, brother to Henry V, and acted as regent of France for his nephew Henry VI. Despite his military and administrative talent, the situation in France had severely deteriorated by the time of his death.

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk 15th-century English noble

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk,, nicknamed Jackanapes, was an English magnate, statesman, and military commander during the Hundred Years' War. He became a favourite of the weak king Henry VI of England, and consequently a leading figure in the English government where he became associated with many of the royal government's failures of the time, particularly on the war in France. Suffolk also appears prominently in Shakespeare's Henry VI, parts 1 and 2.

John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset

John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset was an English nobleman and military commander during the Hundred Years' War.

Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, 6th Earl of Stafford, of Stafford Castle in Staffordshire, was an English nobleman and a military commander in the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses. Through his mother he had royal descent from King Edward III, his great-grandfather, and from his father, he inherited, at an early age, the earldom of Stafford. By his marriage to a daughter of Ralph, Earl of Westmorland, Humphrey was related to the powerful Neville family and to many of the leading aristocratic houses of the time. He joined the English campaign in France with King Henry V in 1420 and following Henry V's death two years later he became a councillor for the new king, the nine-month-old Henry VI. Stafford acted as a peacemaker during the partisan, factional politics of the 1430s, when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, vied with Cardinal Beaufort for political supremacy. Stafford also took part in the eventual arrest of Gloucester in 1447.

Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut Countess of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland

Jacqueline, of the House of Wittelsbach, was a noblewoman who ruled the counties of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut in the Low Countries from 1417 to 1433. She was also Dauphine of France for a short time between 1415 and 1417 and Duchess of Gloucester in the 1420s, if her marriage to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, is accepted as valid.

Anne of Gloucester Countess of Stafford

Anne of Gloucester, Countess of Stafford was the eldest daughter and eventually sole heiress of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, by his wife Eleanor de Bohun, one of the two daughters and co-heiresses of Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford, 6th Earl of Essex (1341–1373) of Pleshy Castle in Essex.

The Battle of Brouwershaven was fought on 13 January 1426 in Brouwershaven, Zeeland. The battle was part of the Hook and Cod wars waged over control of the Low Countries and resulted in a significant victory for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.

John III, Duke of Bavaria

John III the Pitiless (1374–1425), of the House of Wittelsbach, was first bishop of Liège 1389–1418 and then duke of Bavaria-Straubing and count of Holland and Hainaut 1418–1425.

Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester 15th-century English noble

Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, was a mistress and the second wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. A convicted sorceress, her imprisonment for treasonable necromancy in 1441 was a cause célèbre.

William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu English knight, 1st Count of Eu

William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu, was an English knight created by King Henry V 1st Count of Eu, in Normandy.

Sir Gruffudd Vychan was a Welsh knight who supported the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr against the English, captured the Lollard John Oldcastle and was finally executed after the murder of Sir Christopher Talbot.

Events from the 1440s in England.

Events from the year 1447 in England.

Antigone of Gloucester was an English noblewoman and the illegitimate daughter of Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester (1390–1447). She was the granddaughter of King Henry IV. She has been thought to have been born between 1425 and 1428 but as her first child, Richard Grey, 3rd Earl of Tankerville, was born in November 1436 it is likely that she was born by 1424 at the very latest and possibly earlier. Her date of death is not known, but it was later than 1450.

Thomas Cobham, de jure 5th Baron Cobham of Sterborough Castle, and from 1460 de jure 5th Baron Cobham, was an English nobleman.

Margery Jourdemayne, "the Witch of Eye Next Westminster" was an English woman who was accused of treasonable witchcraft and subsequently burned at the stake.

Roger Bolingbroke was a 15th-century English cleric, astronomer, astrologer, magister and alleged necromancer. He flourished in the first half of the 15th century. He was tried, convicted and executed for treasonable witchcraft on the person of Henry VI of England.


  1. Harriss, G.L. (19 May 2011). "Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390–1447)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online) (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14155.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. Britannica, eds. (20 July 1998). "Humphrey Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester". Encyclopædia Britannica .CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. Low, S.; Pulling, F., eds. (1910). "Gloucester, Humphrey, Duke of". The Dictionary of English History. Cassell. p. 506
  4. 1 2 Low & Pulling 1910, p. 506.
  5. Burne, A. (31 January 2002). The Hundred Years' War. Classic Military History. Penguin Books. ISBN   978-0-14-139115-1. Burne's view has more recently been challenged in Mortimer 2009 , pp. 31–33.
  6. 1 2 Mortimer, I. (2009). 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory. Bodley Head. ISBN   978-1-4481-0377-5.[ page needed ]
  7. Burne 2002, p. 284.
  8. Even if the story was apocryphal, it is still almost certain that there were negotiations preceding the landing, which did not happen immediately, see [N.Simms - The Visit of King Sigismund to England, 1416]
  9. Burne 2002, p. 287.
  10. 1 2 Vickers, K. (1907). Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: A Biography. London: Archibald Constable. LCCN   09008417. OCLC   1211527.[ page needed ]
  11. Burne 2002, p. 439.
  12. Weir, A. (2008). Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. Random House. ISBN   978-0-09-953973-5. p. 128
  13. Richardson, D. (2005). Magna Carta Ancestry. Genealogical Publishing. ISBN   978-0-8063-1759-5. pp. 492–3
  14. Burke, B. (1866). A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire (new ed.). London: Harrison. p. 250
  15. Weir, A. (1999). Britain's Royal Family: A Complete Genealogy. The Bodley Head. p. 125
  16. Jennings, Charles (2001). Greenwich . Abacus. ISBN   978-0-349-11230-5. pp. 8–9, 171
  17. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gloucester, Humphrey, Duke of (1391-1447)"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 129.
  18. Hazlitt, W. (1905). Faiths and Folklores. 1. Reeves and Turner ; Scribner. p. 196
  19. Freemasonry Today, Issue 43, Winter 2007/8

Further reading

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
Cadet branch of the House of Plantagenet
Born: 3 October 1390 Died: 23 February 1447
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Gloucester
16 May 1414 23 February 1447
New creation Earl of Pembroke
16 May 1414 23 February 1447
Succeeded by
William de la Pole
Legal offices
Preceded by
The 2nd Duke of York
Justice in eyre south of the Trent
27 January 1416 23 February 1447
Succeeded by
The 3rd Duke of York
Vacant Lord Protector of England for Henry VI
5 December 1422 6 November 1429
With: John, Duke of Bedford
Title next held by
The Duke of York
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl of Arundel and Surrey
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
27 November 1415 23 February 1447
Succeeded by
The Lord Saye and Sele