Wednesday, February 06, 2013

“Good Duke Humphrey”
A Note

Humphrey: Duke of Gloucester

Little known today Humphrey of Lancaster, (1390-1447 C.E.), was a younger brother of Henry V of England.1 His father was Henry IV of England and he had three brothers, Henry V of England, Thomas of Lancaster the Duke of Clarence, and John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford. Humphrey outlived all of his brothers.

Humphrey had during his lifetime a good reputation and one that improved after his death in English memory before it faded out centuries later.

One of the most important characteristics of the 4 brothers was their relative failure to provide, with one exception clearly legitimate issue. Thomas got himself killed in the war in France in 1421 at the battle of Bauge.2 Henry V died in France in 1422 while on campaign in France and John died in 1435 in France.3 The failure to provide legitimate issue was one of the factors that made Henry VI’s, (Henry V’s son), position on the throne precarious and helped to cause the War of the Roses.

Humphrey was married twice; more about the first marriage later. He had two children. Arthur of Gloucester birth date unknown, who died in 1447 and Antigone Plantagenet of Gloucester who was born between 1425-1428 and died sometime after 1450. She was married twice and had children.4

The mother(s) of the two children is unknown. It has been speculated that the mother was Humphrey’s mistress Eleanor Cobham, who had been a lady in waiting to Humphrey’s first wife Jacqueline of Hainault.5 Considering that Humphrey by marrying their mother would have been fully legitimized the two children and therefore made them contenders later on during the War of the Roses for the Lancastrian claim to the English throne; it is doubtful in fact that Eleanor Cobham was in fact the mother. Certainly no contemporary source says in fact that Eleanor Cobham was in fact the mother.

For reasons that are perhaps more than a little obscure Humphrey got the reputation of being a good guy, hence the nick-name the “Good Duke”.6 This reputation seems to be based on the fact that for much of his active political life he was in opposition to Henry VI’s chief ministers who were blamed for the defeat in France and for general corruption and disorder at home.

Humphrey had served in France under Henry V with some sort of distinction, successfully leading a small army during the conquest of Normandy.7

In fact it seems to be precisely the bad reputation of Henry VI’s ministers that is responsible for Humphrey’s reputation. Humphrey’s own abilities seem to play little part in it.8

The fact that Humphrey also fell victim to what can only be described has sleazy political intrigues and eventually died after being arrested for supposedly plotting to overthrow and kill Henry VI, in a plot so absurdly a tissue of lies, undoubtedly played a powerful role in heightening his reputation. I will get to the plot to get rid of Humphrey later.

Also the fact that his marriage to Eleanor Cobham, which seems to have been a love-match, was destroyed in another very dubious series of intrigues involving accusations of witchcraft and plotting to kill the King Henry VI by black magic and to make Humphrey King and Eleanor Queen further created sympathy for Humphrey.9

But for now I will concentrate on two areas where Humphrey’s influence on affairs, while popular with large sections of political opinion in England was disastrous in the extreme.

When Henry V died he left as his successor the infant Henry VI (1421-1471).10 Henry V left his brother Humphrey in charge of England as regent until Henry VI came of age, for France, which Henry V claimed by reason of the Treaty of Troyes as the designated successor of Charles VI of France. Henry V had appointed his brother John as regent of France.11

On a whole Humphrey successfully carried out his duty as regent until Henry VI came of age in 1436.12 However that was his activities in England not his activities abroad. Abroad Humphrey was the champion of two disastrous policies one a short term disaster the other a long term disaster.

The short term disaster was his involvement with the claims of Jacqueline of Hainault. Jacqueline was in an unsatisfactory marriage and had fled to exile in England. There she met Humphrey in 1423. Humphrey fell in love with her or more likely saw a way to further his own ambitions and the two of them became an item. Humphrey and Jacqueline got Jacqueline’s previous marriage annulled in a dubious manner and then got married. In furtherance to Jacqueline’s rights in Hainault, Zeeland and Holland Humphrey raised an army of 5,000 men and invaded Hainault in 1424. The whole enterprise was a costly fiasco failure. It was also a near fatal diplomatic disaster.

Why? because the person with whom Jacqueline was disputing control of Hainault et al with was Philip of Burgundy, England’s absolutely essential French ally. The whole Episode infuriated Philip to no end. Also at the time Humphrey was regent of England his absence while gallivanting abroad to satisfy his personal ambitions in Flanders was keenly felt in England.13

There can be no doubt that this display of sheer political blindness sorely strained the alliance with Burgundy. What is often forgotten is that it came close to destroying it entirely. As Philip came close to abandoning the English alliance. What is remarkable is Humphrey’s willingness to sacrifice English interests and the interests of Henry VI’s French kingdom to his own dynastic ambitions. What is truly awe inspiring for the amount of sheer bloody minded obtuseness it indicates is that a great many of the English political classes were willing to go along with Humphrey’s suicidal policy.14

It wasn’t until 1428 that Humphrey abandoned Jacqueline’s claims and in that year he obtained a Papal Bull annulling his own marriage with Jacqueline so he could marry Eleanor Cobham.15

John Duke of Bedford and regent for Henry VI in France was able to smooth things over with Burgundy.  Despite this I suspect that most historians have seriously underestimated just how much damage that this whole adventure had done to the alliance with Burgundy. Certainly Philip Duke of Burgundy had found out that he could not really trust the English and the depth of support in England for Humphrey’s little adventure including votes of money by Parliament must have dismayed him. Henceforth the alliance was living on borrowed time. It ended in 1435 when Philip of Burgundy recognized Charles VII has King of France and ended his alliance with England.16

The second bit of folly was Gloucester’s absolute opposition to anything but all of England’s claims in France in particular Henry VI’s claim to the French throne.

Humphrey was right from the start opposed to any concessions to the French. In effect he wanted England’s full “rights” in France as outlined by the Treaty of Troyes (1420). That by 1435 those claims were impossible he ignored. Always Humphrey thought that a greater war effort would secure those aims and that the bad trend in the war could in the future be reversed. It was all pie in the sky nonsense.17

There can little doubt that Humphrey’s intransigent opposition to peace negotiations involving any sort of concessions was responsible for his rapidly waning influence after Henry VI attained his majority in 1436.

A classic example is Humphrey’s opposition to the release of Charles Duke of Orleans, (1394-1465 C.E.). The Duke had been captured at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and Henry V had stated that he should not be released until a final peace was made in France. In other words until France accepted Henry VI has king of France. Beginning in 1438 it was thought that the release of Orleans would help the cause of peace. Also Orleans would fetch a huge ransom. Further Charles had promised to work for peace. The negotiations were long and fairly convoluted and Charles was released in 1440. Although he did work for peace it turned out that he had little political influence in France and Charles largely retired from politics. He became a noted patron of the arts and a first class poet.18

In the end England got little in terms of serious peace negotiations from releasing Charles Duke of Orleans, however, the truly huge and enormous ransom that was paid for Charles release was a most welcome addition to the English government’s revenue and probably alone justified releasing Charles. Certainly Humphrey’s hysterical predictions of gloom and doom from releasing Charles did not play out, and it was obvious by 1435 at the latest that holding on to Charles indefinitely no longer made any sense.19  

In the negotiations involving the Truce of Tours Humphrey again played an obstructing role. His proposals showed only that his refusal to see that things had fundamentally changed made his opposition purely destructive.20

In 1441 in retaliation for Humphrey’s obstruction of attempts to make peace it was decided to destroy Humphrey by proceeding against his wife Eleanor Cobham. Eleanor made it easy because apparently she was involved with Astrologers trying to figure out when or if the king would die and thus when Humphrey would become King and she Queen. Humphrey was Henry VI's nearest relative and in the absence of Henry VI having children the heir to the throne. In a realm in which conspiracy against the King was always a real threat that was all Humphrey’s enemies needed as an opening. They accused Eleanor of practicing witchcraft to kill the King by black magic along with trying to predict when the King would die. The trial was a show trial farce. Eleanor was convicted and then her marriage annulled by compliant prelates. Humphrey was not only divorced against his will but his political influence largely destroyed. Eleanor died in captivity in 1452.21

The whole episode is frankly rather shabby and disgusting. The cruelty of destroying Humphrey’s marriage which was apparently a  happy one in order to discredit and destroy him is indeed loathsome, however much his opposition to serious peace negotiations was wrong headed.

After that Humphrey was largely finished as a political force in England. However his opposition to serious negotiations continued to vex and very likely his opposition now became very personal related to his quite likely hatred of those that had destroyed his marriage and imprisoned his wife Eleanor. Those that so personally wounded Humphrey no doubt felt that they were now in perpetual danger of Humphrey getting back influence and revenging himself on them all.

Humphrey rather ineffectually opposed the negotiations that led to the Truce of Tours and to the negotiations that led to the marriage of Henry VI with Margaret of Anjou, a French Princess. When Margaret finally arrived in France she quickly found out about Humphrey’s opposition and therefore became one of his enemies.

At the same time the English negotiators had brought themselves more truce time by agreeing to the cessation of Maine, just south of Normandy, to Rene of Anjou, Margaret of Anjou’s father. All in the interests of peace and opposed by Humphrey as the giving up of territory which Henry VI, by rights King of France should not do. Instead Henry should force France to submit to his rule. This was of course totally unrealistic on Humphrey’s part.22

Because of Humphrey’s opposition to the cessation of Maine he was arrested in early 1447 in a well-planned coup along with his chief supporters and accused of plotting to kill and overthrow the king so that he could become King. The whole thing was a tissue of lies and a frame up. Humphrey died 3 days later, probably of a stroke brought on by fury and despair. Stories that he was murdered by Margaret of Anjou and Humphrey’s then principal political enemy Lord Suffolk are nonsense. The kangaroo nature of the whole thing is confirmed when after a show trial in which 8 of Humphrey’s associates were convicted of treason; they were pardoned and given their lands back. The rest were quietly released. Thus indicating that the organizers of this charade knew it was a charade. The injustice and absurdity of this whole proceeding are manifest.23

Now it is important to note that this does not mean the peace policy was carried out very well. In fact it was to a large extent carried out ham-fistedly and ineptly. The continual refusal of the English to relinquish Henry VI’s claim on the French throne despite its manifestly weak legal basis and in the teeth of the obvious military situation, indicated a serious lack of realism even among the members of the English peace party. Perhaps at a later time I will outline English peace efforts during the later part of the Hundred Years War.

Now it wasn’t the incompetence of the peace party that bothered Humphrey what bothered him was that it was being done at all. It bothered him that concessions of any type were being discussed. Thus Humphrey by ignoring reality and being intransigent had nothing to contribute except blockage to any realistic English policy. Thus instead of being a constructive critic Humphrey became a destructive critic. Hardly helpful and largely useless. Not surprisingly Humphrey fell from influence.

Thus through his dalliance with Jacqueline of Hainault, which undermined dangerously the alliance with Burgundy and later with his intransigent opposition to serious peace negotiations Humphrey seriously damaged English national interests. In the first case through selfish dynastic interests and in the second because of a refusal to face reality. So it appears the “Good Duke” was at best something of a mixed blessing for England.

Despite that it is also clear that his destruction through the two above mentioned intrigues and judicial farces are outstanding examples of judicial corruption and frankly cruelty. As the quite correctly perceived victim of these injustices it is not surprising that a lot of the English regarded Humphrey as the “Good Duke”, victimized by the evil advisers around the King.

1. Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, Wikipedia Here.

2. Thomas of Lancaster, the Duke of Clarence, Wikipedia Here, Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War, Atheneum, New York, 1978, pp. 185-186.

3. Seward, pp. 187-188, 230-231.

4. Humphrey of Lancaster….

5. IBID, Seward, p. 207.

6. Vickers, K. H., Humphrey Duke of Gloucester: A Biography, Archibald Constable and Company Ltd., London, 1907, p. xvii.

7.  IBID, pp.33-80.

8. IBID, pp. 295-339.

9. Griffiths, R. A., The Reign of King Henry VI, Second Edition, Sutton Pub., Stroud Gloucestershire, 1998, pp. 356-360.

10. Henry VI of England, Wikipedia Here.

11. IBID, pp. 17-18, Seward, p. 188.

12. IBID, pp. 231-234.

13. Seward, pp. 202-203, Griffiths, pp. 70-71, Vickers, pp. 125-161.

14. IBID.

15. Vickers, pp. 201-204, Seward, p. 207.

16. Seward, p. 230-231.

17. Griffiths, pp. 449-454, Vickers, pp. 255-275.

18. Charles, Duke of Orleans Wikipedia Here, Seward, pp. 238-239, Griffiths, pp. 449-461, Vickers, pp. 260-268.

19. IBID.

20. Griffiths, pp. 482-490, Seward, pp. 244-245, Vickers, 276-294.

21, Griffiths, pp. 356-360, Vickers, pp. 269-280.

22. Griffiths 482-490, Vickers, pp. 282-305, Seward, pp. 245-246.

23. Griffiths, pp. 496-499, Seward, pp. 245-246, Vickers, pp. 290-294. Vickers accepts the idea that Humphrey was killed and Margaret of Anjou and Suffolk were behind it. See Vickers pp. 295-305. The evidence Vickers presents is far from convincing and little more than idle speculation. Also a lot of it is nothing more than traditional historical animosity against Margaret of Anjou.

Pierre Cloutier

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