Tag Archives: Edmund Crouchback

The House of Lancaster- the basics part ii



Constance of Castile.jpgJohn of Gaunt was married three times.

His first marriage was to Blanche of Lancaster.  She had a sister but ultimately she was the sole heiress of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster.   She was descended from Henry III on both sides of her family but the huge wealth associated with the dukedom came Edmund Crouchback who was the second surviving son of Henry III.  Henry of Grosmont wasn’t Edmund Crouchback’s eldest son but his big brother Thomas who initially inherited the titles and estate died without heirs so Henry became the third earl of Lancaster. This title and all the land  was inherited in turn by Blanche who also brought the Earldom of Derby into John of Gaunt’s family.

In addition to Henry of Bolingbroke who became Henry IV, there was Philippa who married King John I of Portugal. Henry the Navigator is her son. Another daughter Elizabeth married into the Holland family and her descendants, the dukes of Exeter and Oxford, were involved in the Wars of the Roses.

Blanche of Lancaster died September 1369.  Traditionally she is thought to have died from bubonic plague but historians increasingly think that she died from complications associated with childbirth.  In any event soon after her death John became romantically attached to a young woman in his household, the widowed wife of one of his knights – a certain Katherine Swynford.   Katherine may or may not have been related to the royal family of Hainhault but the fact is that the widow of a Lincolnshire knight was not a suitable match for a royal duke with aspirations.

On the 21 September 1371 John of Gaunt married for a second time to Constance of Castile.  Constance was the daughter of the rather descriptively named Pedro the Cruel of Castile who had been deposed by his half-brother Henry. Whilst Constance was the Queen of Castile in name following her father’s death she never actually ruled there and part of the reason for her marriage to John of Gaunt was that she wanted someone with a bit of clout and a large army to retrieve her kingdom for her. Equally John rather fancied being a king and Richard II’s advisers thought that it was a good idea as they didn’t totally trust John of Gaunt not to snaffle his nephew’s kingdom. The marriage was a political one but it produced two children – a short-lived son called John and a daughter called Catherine of Lancaster who married back into the royal house of Castile when she married Henry III of Castile who was her half-cousin.   It is Catherine of Lancaster’s descendants who can be seen on today’s Lancaster family tree at the start of this post linking back in to the English royal family when her great granddaughter, Katherine of Aragon, married Henry VIII.

Tomorrow – wife number three and the Beauforts. I have my fingers very firmly crossed that I have managed to spell Castile correctly throughout the whole post – just let’s say that I had a problem with the number of “l”s involved, in much the same way that when I wrote a university essay about private journals I somehow ended up writing about milking parlours despite rewriting the essay three times and reading it very carefully on each occasion!


Filed under Fourteenth Century, Queens of England, The Plantagenets

Henry Bolingbroke

Henry IVYoung Henry Bolingbroke was just eleven years old when he carried the ceremonial sword at his cousin Richard II’s coronation. The king was a year younger than Henry.

Henry, named after one of his father’s (John of Gaunt) Lincolnshire castles was also known as Henry of Lancaster. His mother was Blanche of Lancaster and as his father’s heir the title is one that makes sense. However, just to confused things he was also created the Earl of Derby and upon his marriage to Mary Bohun he was created Earl of Hereford – oh yes, then he deposed his cousin and became known as King Henry IV.


Henry’s variety of names is confusing enough but his familial relations look like spaghetti rather than a tree. Henry’s grandfather was King Edward III, his father John of Gaunt and his mother Blanche of Lancaster. So, far so good. However, when Henry married Mary Bohun, who was just eleven at the time and remained at home with her widowed mother after the wedding, Henry’s aunt became his sister-in-law! Edward III’s youngest son Thomas of Woodstock was already married to Mary’s older sister Eleanor. They were the co-heiresses of the Earl of Hereford. Henry’s mother-in-law was the widow of the earl and the daughter of Richard FitzAlan third Earl of Arundel.


As Richard II grew to manhood he became convinced about the authority of kings. It was this king who introduced the terms ‘Majesty’ and ‘Highness’. It was this king who demanded that anyone entering his presence should bow three times before they approached him. This high handed attitude, not to mention failure to go to war with France, didn’t win him friends within his family. Nor did his preference for ‘new men’ such as his chancellor Michael de La Pole help matters very much.


Inevitably there were plots. Eventually in 1387 the Lords Appellant, as they became known, forced Richard to tow the line. He spent some time in the Tower – possibly on the naughty step. Amongst the Lords Appellant were Thomas of Woodstock (Henry’s uncle and brother-in-law) and Richard Fitzalan, the fourth Earl of Arundel (Henry’s uncle-in-law), Thomas Beauchamp (Earl of Warwick), Thomas Mowbray (Earl of Nottingham) and Henry himself.


Of course, Richard didn’t take kindly to being told what to do by the nobility even if he was related to most of them. Eventually he regained his power and had Thomas of Woodstock sent to Calais where he ordered his royal uncle to be murdered. The man who organized this was another of Thomas’s nephews ….it’s always nice to see a happy extended family, isn’t it?

Henry’s uncle-in-law, Arundel, was given a show trial and executed. The Earl of Warwick must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when he found himself on a slow boat to the Isle of Man with instructions not to come back. The king seized the estates of all three of these Lords Appellent. Henry and Mowbray seemed, at least for the time being, to have escaped Richard’s wrath.


However, Mowbray suggested that the king would do to him and Henry what he’d done to the other three lords. The conversation was not a particularly private one and inevitably word got back to the king that Mowbray was plotting again. Henry denounced Mowbray before he could be accused of being involved.  He went on to challenge Mowbray to trial by combat. The two men were to have met at Coventry on the 16th September 1398. They were just about to attack one another when Richard banned the combat and exiled its combatants: Mowbray for life, Henry for ten years – demonstrating that Mowbray had been right all along.


Then John of Gaunt died. Richard changed Henry’s exile to life and claimed Lancaster’s estates as his own.


Henry landed at Ravenspur in July 1399. Men flocked to his banner. Richard, who was in Ireland at the time, hurried to meet his cousin but by the time he reached Conway Castle it was evident that Richard had lost his kingdom to his cousin.


Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV by popular acclaim. If Richard’s abdication was real rather than forced – and the deposed king was to die very soon afterwards in Pontefract Castle.  The next rightful heir was eight-year-old Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March- and no one wanted another child on the throne.   Henry however, did not claim his right to rule exclusively from his grandfather. He claimed his right to rule through his mother Blanche of Lancaster. Blanche was descended from Edmund Crouchback, the second surviving son of Henry III. Henry IV allowed it to be known that rather than being the second born, Edmund Crouchback was actually the first born child but had been set aside in favour of his brother Edward (King Edward I) on account of his ‘crouchback’.   Given that crouchback meant cross-back it was probably a reference to his crusading zeal rather than any physical deformity.


Henry did not have a peaceful reign. Owen Glendower rose with the Welsh in rebellion and the Earl of Northumberland joined in with his son ‘Hotspur’. Hotspur was the husband of Ann Mortimer and therefore uncle to Edmund Mortimer (the child with a better claim to the throne than Henry). It would be nice to think that he was outraged that his nephews Edmund and Roger Mortimer were being imprisoned simply because of their ancestry but it is much more likely that he, together with his father Northumberland, was furious that they hadn’t received what they perceived to be their dues for supporting Henry when he arrived at Ravenspur. They were also expected to guard the border with Scotland more efficiently now that Henry was on the throne.


In any event, Henry had to quell rebellions, assassination attempts, deal with financial difficulties, his own heir’s apparent waywardness and his poor health. It was widely reported that he became a leper- he certainly suffered from an unpleasant skin disease of some description. He had difficulty walking and had a fit whilst praying in Westminster Abbey before dying on the 20 March 1413.


He left a warrior son to become King Henry V. Unfortunately for England, King Henry died when his own son by Katherine of Valois was an infant.

The Mortimers had not forgotten their claim to the throne (though Edmund and Roger died without children- their sister Ann had married and had children).  Their claim to the throne was  better than baby Henry VI’s. The stage was set for The Cousins War or as we know it, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, the Wars of the Roses – which strange though it may seem given that I’ve cantered through the reigns of both Richard II and his cousin Henry IV,  is what I’m warming up for with this post.




Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Thomas of Lancaster, Second Earl of Lancaster


Thomas_Earl_of_Lancaster_kneels_before_the_executioner_who_has_his_sword_raisedThomas of Lancaster was the son of Edmund Crouchback who was the second surviving son of King  Henry III.  Crouchback refers to the fact that he fought in the ninth crusade so was entitled to wear a cross stitched onto the back of his clothes – no Richard III tendencies.  But I digress, Thomas of Lancaster is the grandson of Henry III, just as Edward II is the grandson of Henry III – making them cousins; though they clearly weren’t the kissing variety by the end of Thomas’s life as this rather graphic image from the Luttrell Psalter demonstrates.


He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the country.  He held five earldoms, was the Sheriff of Lancashire, the Steward of England and held several key strategic castles in the North including Pontefract. He fought in Scotland during Edward I’s wars and when Edward II was crowned he carried Edward the Confessor’s sword during the coronation ceremony.


The main problem was that Thomas and Piers Gaveston, the king’s favourite could not stand one another.  It didn’t help that the upstart Gaveston was given a more important role during the coronation or that he referred to Thomas as ‘the churl’ or ‘the fiddler’. Despite this Thomas was initially loyal to his cousin. But as time went by it became apparent that Edward was blind where his favourite was concerned.  Thomas was part of the group of barons who saw Gaveston banished- for the third time it might be added- but when the royal favourite returned to England in 1311 to spend Christmas at court despite Edward II agreeing to his banishment hostility was almost bound to break out into violence.

In Spring 1312 Edward and Piers were forced to flee York when they heard that Thomas of Lancaster was leading an army in their direction.  They fled to Newcastle, leaving the pregnant Queen Isabella to deal with the irate earl as best she could.  Unfortunately for the king and his friend, Thomas of Lancaster swiftly changed direction and surprised the monarch in Newcastle.  Apparently the king and Piers fled with little more than they wore.  It took Lancaster four days to catalogue everything that had been left behind while the king and his crony found a ship to take them south to Scarborough.



Edward demanded his fortress of Scarborough back from the control of the Percy family which they obligingly handed over and Edward left Piers Gaveston in charge.  Once Thomas ascertained that the king wasn’t in residence, he besieged the castle and Piers surrendered being more of a courtier than a warrior.  Thomas took Piers south for trial but the Earl of Warwick – nicknamed the ‘Black dog of Arden’ by Gaveston  (and who definitely wasn’t one of Gaveston’s admirers) took the royal favourite out of Thomas’s hands, tried and executed him.



Following the disaster of Bannockburn in 1314 Edward was forced to submit to his cousin and it was Thomas who tried to rule for the next four years.   It would have to be said that Thomas was a bit of a thorn in Edward’s flesh prior to this period.  He refused to attend parliament and there is some evidence that he didn’t send enough men to aid his cousin against the Scots.  It was during this time that Scottish raiding along the borders became prevalent and in 1318 Thomas fell from power.  In 1321 Thomas was at the head of a rebellion once more.  He met with forces loyal to the king at the Battle of Boroughbridge where he was taken prisoner, tried and finally executed at Pontefract Castle – for treason and rudeness towards Edward…which certainly puts a whole new meaning on the naughty step…oh yes, and for plotting with Scotland.




He was buried in Pontefract Priory (a Cluniac monastery).  All that remains of the Priory is the name Monk Hill.




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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Fourteenth Century, The Plantagenets