Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was the fourth and youngest son of King Henry IV. As such he styled himself as being the son, brother and uncle of Kings. Having held few positions or military commands in his early life the Duke of Gloucester rose to hold positions as Protector of England, was appointed (though never took up) to the Lieutenancy of France and was heir to the English throne. Despite his position as a senior royal, Humphrey proved to be a colourful and controversial figure. His clashes with Cardinal Beaufort and determination to pursue an aggressive policy in Normandy, in particular, marked him out as a formidable, if occasionally out of touch, politician. Humphrey’s latter days were largely isolated. Nonetheless, he was considered a threat to the ambitions of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and arrested, possibly with charges of treason in mind. Humphrey died soon after his arrest. He was buried at St. Albans and his reputation somewhat rehabilitated by Parliament during the ascendancy of Richard, Duke of York. 

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Contemporary drawing by J Le Boucq
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Contemporary drawing by J Le Boucq

Early Life

Humphrey was born in 1390. He was the fourth son of Henry, Earl of Derby (later King Henry IV) and Mary de Bohn. His early years were marked by two significant events. First, in 1394 his mother passed away. Then, in 1399, his father seized the throne from King Richard II. His status suddenly changed quite dramatically. His father knighted him in October of 1399 and even though in his minority, he was appointed to the Order of the Garter the following year.

By the time of his father’s death in 1413, Humphrey had held no military, administrative or ecclesiastical posts. This was quite unusual for any Prince of Royal Blood and has been subject to debate about the reasons behind it.

Early titles and roles under Henry V

Under his brothers rule, Humphrey soon began to have titles and roles. On 7th May 1413, he was appointed Chamberlain of England. He had the titles of Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke conferred upon him on the 16th May 1413. On the 20th of the same month, the lordship of Pembroke was granted along with its Castle. These gave Humphrey his title, Duke of Gloucester, but also the means to provide for himself.

Agincourt Campaign and its aftermath

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was among those who sailed with Henry V to Normandy in 1415. After landing at Harfleur the English expedition marched in some poor weather conditions through Normandy. The standout moment of this campaign was the Battle of Agincourt. The battle is remembered for the use of Archers to devastate the larger French army, in particular, her knights. It is sometimes forgotten that hand to hand fighting also took place. During this melee, Humphrey was caught in a life-threatening situation. His life was saved only by the intervention personally of his brother, the king. The Duke of Gloucester survived but wounded. He had though, proven himself in battle.

Tito Livio, Vita Henrici quinti:

‘During this great assault the most serene brother of the king, Humphrey duke of Gloucester fought bravely and without caution. Having been pierced by the point of a sword, he was thrown to the ground half dead. His brother the king himself put his feet astride the legs of Humphrey. For the renowned duke fell with his head against the king’s feet but with his feet to the enemy. In this position the king fought most courageously for a long time so that his brother might be carried safely away from the enemy to his own men.’ (Professor Curry, 2009, p. 69)

Once the English expedition returned to England, Humphrey was rewarded for his efforts in the Normandy campaign with a more significant role in public life. Henry appointed him the Constable of Dover, Warden of the Cinque Ports and granted him Barton in Bristol, The Isle of Wight and Llansteffan. This placed Humphrey in overall control of the defence of the South Coast, a hugely important position at the time.

In his role as Chamberlain of England, it was Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester who welcomed the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to England for negotiations in early 1416. He then acted as a high-status hostage for the security of John of Burgundy at the same negotiations.


In 1417, Henry V once again led an expedition into Normandy. Again, Humphrey accompanied his brother. The objective was the reconquest of the Duchy. As the campaign progressed, Humphrey was appointed as Lieutenant and Captain of the Marches in Normandy. His men stormed and captured St. Lo, Carentan and Valognes. From here he joined the siege of Cherbourg before joining the King at the siege of Rouen. His command captured Ivry and the important bridge at Ivry during the English advance on Paris before he was sent back to England in 1419 to take up the position of Keeper of England.

Keeper of England

As Keeper of England Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester oversaw the 1420 Parliament. This was a particularly significant period in diplomatic affairs and the Parliament included the debate over and then ratification of the Treaty of Troyes. This treaty was a peace agreement between the belligerent warring parties on the continent. Henry V and his heirs were to inherit the French throne upon the death of King Charles VI. In doing so, it disinherited the Dauphin (later Charles VII). The treaty also included the agreement for King Henry V to marry Catherine of Valois, a suitable diplomatic match that was designed to bring about a lasting peace. Humphrey, as Chamberlain of England, was overseer of the Queens Coronation following this marriage.

In June of 1421, Humphrey returned to France. The English were triumphant. Humphrey was appointed as second in command of the English territories on the continent.

The death of King Henry V

In 1422 King Henry had resumed campaigning in France following the death of his brother, Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence. Whilst laying siege to the town of Meaux, he fell ill. On 31st August he died, aged 35. This placed his 9-month-old son onto the throne. The will and codicil of Henry V named Humphrey in relation to the young Kings care. It was a statement that was interpreted in rather different ways by Humphrey and other members of the Kings Council.

Tutelam et defensionem nostri filii carissimi principales

Principal tutelage and protection for our dearest son

To Humphrey, this was a statement that the government was to be accountable to the infant King with him acting as his guardian and de facto regent.  The Council, led by his elder brother the Duke of Bedford and Bishop Beaufort, took a different view. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was given titles of protector and defender. He remained however below his brother in terms of seniority. The machinery of government was based on the principles of collective responsibility, majority decisions, the declarations of interest and no one person was to be allowed to dominate.

Initially, Humphrey did hold some prominence at Council. Over time this influence was to wane as Bishop Beaufort built a strong base of support for his own views.

Jacqueline of Hainaut

In this period of political uncertainty, Humphrey married his first wife, Jaqueline of Hainaut. It was a marriage that further strained his relationship with his brother, the Duke of Bedford and Bishop Beaufort. Jaqueline had been married to John of Brabant and the end of this union was hotly disputed on the continent. Humphrey was eager to secure what he felt was rightfully his as a result of his marriage: Holland and Zeeland. Such a land grab would also frustrate John of Bavaria and would be likely to infuriate Philip of Burgundy. As Burgundy was party to the Treaty of Troyes, Humphrey was playing a dangerous game. Peace and the English claim to the throne of France relied on the Treaty of Troyes. Bedford and Beaufort tried, to no avail, to prevent Humphrey from launching a campaign.

Ignoring the wishes of Council, Humphrey landed at Calais with a small private army on 18th October 1423. He headed north into the Low Countries and engaged with forces in Holland and Zeeland. Philip of Burgundy then challenged Humphrey to a dual to settle the matter. On the pretence of preparing for this dual, Humphrey returned to England, leaving Jaqueline in the Low Countries. He didn’t return and the forces of Philip of Burgundy soon forced Jaqueline to surrender. The grievance of her first husband was referred to Rome for a verdict from the Pope. Before any decision was reached, Jaqueline managed to escape and made her way back to England.

A second expedition was then sent to claim the lands in 1426. This campaign soon petered to a halt and was forced to concede defeat as it received no support from Humphrey, who had not returned to the Low Countries since receiving the challenge from Philip of Burgundy.

Clash with Bishop Beaufort

Humphrey was something of a rabble-rouser in this period and set about stirring up anti-Flemish sentiment in London. He received a good deal of support from Mercantile classes as their trade into Europe was threatened by Flemish merchants. However, Beaufort had remained on good terms with Burgundy throughout. It led to clashes between the two over policy. Matters came to a head when Humphrey decided that it was best for the infant King to move away from Eltham. As the King was being moved, men from Beauforts guard blocked their passage over London Bridge.

The Duke of Bedford was called upon to resolve the standoff between two of the most powerful men in the country. In January 1426 he suspended Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester’s authority and summoned him before Parliament.

The settlement agreed with Parliament was a victory for Humphrey. Beaufort resigned his position as Chancellor in return for the goodwill of Humprey. Humphrey never dropped his complaints, though, and for now, Beaufort was gone. Humphrey returned to the issue of his personal authority to which the Parliament referred him to the Privy Council decisions of 1422-24 regarding the agreed method of governance and limits of any one person’s power.

Annulment and remarriage

Jaqueline remained eager to regain lands that she and Humphrey lay claim to on the continent. With Beaufort on the Continent and off Council, it was initially agreed upon. A sum of 5000 marks was agreed for Humphrey to use on a campaign in the Low Countries. Two obstacles stood in the way of a campaign being launched: first, the Duke of Bedford was negotiating with Burgundy; second, the Pope delivered his verdict on Jaqueline’s first marriage. He decreed that she was still lawfully married to John of Brabant and therefore her marriages were annulled. Humphrey could have simply remarried Jaqueline to make it legal in the eyes of the church, he doesn’t, instead, he quickly marries Eleanor Cobham, his mistress.

The return of Beaufort

In late 1428 Beaufort, now a Cardinal returned to England. He came with a commission to raise funds for a crusade against the Hussites. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester sets about challenging his political foe from the off. He openly questioned whether it was legal for a Cardinal to also hold the bishopric of Winchester and asks whether Beaufort can be prosecuted for acting without a license from the Council. It was politicking on a grand scale but it makes the frailties of Cardinal Beaufort’s position quite clear.

Following the return of King Henry VI from his coronation in France the assault on Beaufort continues. In November 1431 he renews his earlier charges against the Cardinal. On this occasion, Council issue a writ against Beaufort. This resulted, in February 1432 in the impounding of the Cardinals treasury. The charges against Cardinal Beaufort never materialised in full. Humphrey wanted him to be charged with treason for having illegally moved funds overseas. Two issues stopped Humphrey: Beaufort loans had been funding the ongoing conflict with the French and; there was no appetite among members of Council for a widening of divisions.

Exasperated by his brother’s actions and the unrest it was causing, the Duke of Bedford stepped in. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was replaced as head of the Council and Lord Cromwell, dismissed by Humphrey, was brought back into the fold.

Keeper of England

Henry VI’s coronation changed the role of Humphrey. He now became Keeper of England, a position that required him to received the assent of the Council for any actions. He was though able to act in order to maintain law and order. In this area, he was well regarded. He had already, in 1427, overseen the dismantling of a gang led by William Wawe that had caused much disruption. In 1431 the threat of Lollard inspired unrest reappeared. Humphrey was decisive. Countermeasures were quickly put in place, the leaders of the Lollards identified, hunted down, arrested and executed. It gained Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester much praise.

France, Burgundy and the death of the Duke of Bedford

In 1434 Humphrey returned to the issue of France. He proposed a large scale campaign designed to crush all French resistance once and for all. The cost would be a staggering £50000, a huge sum of money in the 15th century. He argued that this one large piece of expenditure would be less than the multiple smaller expenses incurred by ongoing, smaller campaigns. Nonetheless, the knights and esquires of Parliament wanted to know how he proposed to raise the required funds for such a large campaign. Humprey, Duke of Gloucester had a simple solution to this problem. Confiscate Cardinal Beaufort’s wealth.

The political ramifications of this suggestion were large. Humphrey himself moved to gain the support of King Henry VI. The Duke of Bedford aligned himself with Cardinal Beaufort. On 12th November 1434, the entire Council except Humphrey attended to the king to warn him against ‘motions and sturinges’ or in simple terms, against Humphrey’s meddling.

Early 1435 saw no easing of the political and diplomatic turmoil. Burgundy repudiated the Treaty of Troyes. Soon afterwards the Duke of Bedford died, leaving Humphrey as heir apparent should the young King die. With Burgundy preparing for war, Humphrey is appointed to the position of Captain of Calais. A Royal summons to arms is called and some 7500 men gather at Dover by July. Before that army, or Humphrey can arrive at Calais, the Burgundians attack, in the summer of 1436. Calais was saved by a sortie that landed a devastating blow on a section of the besieging forces.

Henry VI reaches his majority and the removal of Cardinal Beaufort

As Henry VI came of age, Cardinal Beaufort was negotiating a peace settlement with Burgundy. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester opposed the talks being held at Gravelines. Beaufort returned with terms, that were subsequently rejected by the Council. Humphrey again attacked Beaufort, pressing for him to be impeached on multiple charges dating back into the reign of King Henry V. Though Humphrey’s accusations were not taken up in court, they damaged the Cardinal. He was soon supplanted by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, within Council.


The deliberations about peace on the continent had raised some serious concerns. One of which surrounded the Duke of Orleans. It was now proposed that he be released from custody. Humphrey was firmly against this, reminding Council that Henry V had made it clear that he should never be granted his freedom. The fear was that he would form a formidable partnership with Charles VII. It signalled a resumption of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester’s calls for a more aggressive policy in Normandy and against the French in general.

On this occasion, the Council paid heed to Humphrey. He was appointed Lieutenant of France with the young nephew of Cardinal Beaufort sent to act as a temporary Lieutenant whilst Humphrey made his own arrangements. Humphrey subsequently declined the offer of this role. The Beaufort’s must have sensed that the families political fortunes were about to gain a boost as the Lieutenancy seemed to be theirs for the taking, they were to be disappointed, it was given instead to Richard, Duke of York to ensure that a senior Royal was seen to be in command on the continent.

Eleanor Cobham’s Necromancy Trial

Humphrey’s political and public life suffered an irreversible blow through his wife’s actions. In 1441 she was found guilty of treasonable necromancy. Elizabeth had made use of astrologers to predict the likelihood of Henry VI falling ill or dying at a young age. She was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, a public penance and the marriage was forcibly annulled. Humphrey himself was never implicated but the young King no longer trusted his uncle. Humphrey withdrew and from 1442 to 1447 was an infrequent visitor to Council meetings, so much so that the Duke of Suffolk was confident enough to tell the French in 1445 that the Duke of Gloucester was of no significance: even though he was technically Henry’s heir at this time.

Arrest and death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

In 1446 the English suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the French near Le Mans. For many, it vindicated Humphrey’s earlier calls to crush the French once and for all in earlier years. The Duke of Suffolk now found his position somewhat undermined by such talk. When Parliament was called in February of 1447, Suffolk made his move. Parliament was to be held in the heart of lands loyal to Suffolk. When Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester arrived, he was commanded to stay at St Saviours Hospital.

Here he was arrested on Suffolk’s orders. The charges that were to be brought against Humphrey are presumed to have been those of treason. Whatever Suffolk’s intentions, his problem with Humphrey was soon over. Humphrey died on 23rd February. It is believed to be have been a stroke and it has been suggested that he was left unattended for 3 days following it.

Humphrey’s lands and titles had already been allocated to courtiers following the trial of Eleanor Cobham. Now he was deceased they were divided up. Humphrey was buried in St. Albans, where he had been a generous patron over the course of his life.

1955 Parliament rehabilitates Humphrey’s reputation

Though deceased a petition was raised at the 1455 Parliament about Humphrey. It called Humphrey a loyal servant to the King, leading to him becoming known as the ‘Good Duke’.

Humphrey and the causes of the Wars of the Roses

Though Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester died several years before the first blows of the Wars of the Roses were shared, he played a part in the build-up to the outbreak of the conflict. The divisions within the Council that emerged between himself and Beaufort marked the origins of the factions that eventually waged war. He successfully displaced Beaufort, who was in turn replaced by Suffolk. Suffolk, like both Humphrey and Beaufort, wielded a large amount of power and was close to Margaret of Anjou. Suffolk was not popular, there were divisions about policy in France and the views of Humphrey were shared after his death. Those views turned to animosity in some quarters following the Battle of Castillon and the English defeat in the Hundred Years War. Thus his policies and disagreements contributed to ongoing disputes that continued to rumble on. His mantle as heir presumptive and loyal opponent to the crown was taken up by Richard of York.

Wars of the Roses Section

The Wars of the Roses 

Causes of the Wars of the Roses – Course of the War of the Roses – Events of the War of the Roses

Battles in the Wars of the Roses

First Battle of St. Albans  – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field

Documents, Maps and Evidence

The Rous Rolls – Paston Letters – Edward IV RollRichard III’s letter to the people of York, 1483Historiography, Professor Carpenter on Edward IV

People and periods

British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of AnjouRichard, Duke of YorkRichard Neville, Warwick the KingmakerJack CadeHumphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Schoolshistory – teaching resources for Key Stage 3, GCSE and A Level history

Love Learning?

Subscribe to our Free Newsletter, Complete with Exclusive History Content