Duke of Gloucester

The English statesman Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1391-1447), was a leader of the strong expansionist policy against France. His lasting importance, however, lay in his patronage of learning and his benefactions to Oxford University.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, whose other titles were Earl of Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland, and Pembroke; Lord of Fresia; Great Chamberlain of England; and Defender of the Realm, was popularly known as the "Good Duke." He was the fourth and youngest son of Henry IV. Possibly educated at Balliol College, Oxford, he was made a knight of the Garter at the age of 9 and was created Great Chamberlain of England in 1413 and Duke of Gloucester the following year. During the French campaign he served on the War Council, supervised the plundering of Harfleur, and was wounded in the stomach by a dagger while fighting beside his brother Henry V at Agincourt (1415).

While recovering, Humphrey was made constable of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports. He returned to military service in the second campaign of Henry V, where he led the forces that entered Bayeux without opposition and took Lisieux in 1417 and Cherbourg the next year. Made governor of Rouen, he also acted as regent in 1420-1421, when Henry was on his last French campaign; and, though named sole regent by Henry V on his deathbed, Humphrey was given the title of Protector with power to act only as the deputy of John, Duke of Bedford, his older brother.

In 1422 Humphrey recklessly married Jacqueline of Hainaut and reconquered her lands only to lose them to Philip of Burgundy in 1425 and to alienate Burgundy from the English cause. In spite of interfamily feuds with his uncle, Henry Beaufort, a cardinal and the bishop of Winchester, he was reconciled through the efforts of his brother and became Protector again in 1427-1429 and Lieutenant of the Kingdom in 1430-1432. After his first marriage was annulled, he married his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, who was convicted of witchcraft in 1441, sending his influence into decline.

Serving as captain of Calais and lieutenant of the army in the 1430s, Humphrey became the champion of the English claims against France, where he tried to arrange an Armagnac marriage for Henry VI, and in 1445 he argued for a violation of the truce. When the King came of age in 1442, the protectorate ended, and Humphrey was replaced as the chief adviser to the Crown by William Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk. Suspected of planning to kill the King and seize the throne for himself, Humphrey was arrested on Feb. 18, 1447, soon after Parliament met at Bury St. Edmunds. He was found dead in his bed 5 days later. Foul play has never been proved, but popular belief claimed that the Duke of Suffolk was responsible. There are, however, strong reasons to believe Humphrey's death was natural.

Humphrey's influence on English politics was limited and of passing importance as he won support from the masses for his nationalistic antipapal policies. The epithet "Good" derives from this and from his support of literature and men of letters, and his protégés included John Lydgate, John Capgrave, and Titus Livius of Ferrara, the historian, who wrote A Life of Henry V. As a strong churchman, he endowed monasteries, including St. Albans. Humphrey had a reading knowledge of Latin and Italian literature as a result of a visit to Italy, and he made large gifts of books (his own library had over 600 works) and money to augment the small university library at Oxford, as well as founding temporary lectureships that terminated at his death. His donations remained at Oxford until the Reformation, when, in 1550, the commissioners under Edward VI ordered them removed. The room where the library was kept, known as "Duke Humfrey's Room," was restored by Sir Thomas Bodley and in 1602 again became the public library of the university.

Though he was buried at St. Alban's, a tradition developed that Humphrey was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, where the poor would gather to solicit food, giving rise to the expression "to dine with Duke Humphrey."

Further Reading on Duke of Gloucester

The standard biography is Kenneth Hothman Vicker, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1907), which, though dated, is still valuable. A recent, general work on the period is Ernest Fraser Jacob, The Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (1961), in the "Oxford History of England" series. The best work on the wars is Édouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War (1945; trans. 1951). For Humphrey's patronage of literature see the essay by Roberto Weiss in Donald James Gordon, ed., Fritz Saxl, 1890-1948: A Volume of Memorial Essays from His Friends in England (1957).