House of Lancaster

House of Lancaster
Arms of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Leicester and Lancaster.svg
As descendants of the sovereign in the male line, the Earls of Lancaster bore the arms of the kingdom differenced by a label azure of three points each charged with three fleurs de lys Or. The last male of this family was granted a dukedom, which was then re-created for the second house.
Parent houseHouse of Plantagenet
CountryKingdom of England
Founded1267
FounderEdmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster and Leicester
Current headExtinct in the male line
Final rulerHenry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster
TitlesEarl of Lancaster
Earl of Leicester
Count of Champagne and Brie
Lord of Beaufort and Nogent[1]
Earl of Moray
Earl Ferrers
Earl of Derby
Earl of Salisbury
Earl of Lincoln
Duke of Lancaster
Estate(s)England
Dissolution1361
House of Lancaster
Arms of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster.svg
Arms of John of Gaunt, the arms of the kingdom differenced by a label ermine. His royal descendants bore the arms undifferenced.
Parent houseHouse of Plantagenet
CountryRoyal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg Kingdom of England
France moderne.svg Kingdom of France
Royal Coat of Arms of the Crown of Castile (1284-1390).svg Kingdom of Castille
PortugueseFlag1385.svg Kingdom of Portugal
Founded1362
FounderJohn of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Current headExtinct in the male line
Final rulerHenry VI of England
TitlesDuke of Lancaster
King of England
King of France
Estate(s)England
Dissolution1471
Cadet branches

The House of Lancaster was the name of two cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. The first house was created when Henry III of England created the Earldom of Lancaster—from which the house was named—for his second son Edmund Crouchback in 1267. Edmund had already been created Earl of Leicester in 1265 and was granted the lands and privileges of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, after de Montfort's death and attainder at the end of the Second Barons' War.[2] When Edmund's son Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, inherited his father-in-law's estates and title of Earl of Lincoln he became at a stroke the most powerful nobleman in England, with lands throughout the kingdom and the ability to raise vast private armies to wield power at national and local levels.[3] This brought him—and Henry, his younger brother—into conflict with their cousin Edward II of England, leading to Thomas's execution. Henry inherited Thomas's titles and he and his son, who was also called Henry, gave loyal service to Edward's son—Edward III of England.

The second house of Lancaster was descended from John of Gaunt, who married the heiress of the first house, Blanche of Lancaster. Edward III married all his sons to wealthy English heiresses rather than following his predecessors' practice of finding continental political marriages for royal princes. Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, had no male heir so Edward married his son John to Henry's heiress daughter and John's third cousin Blanche of Lancaster. This gave John the vast wealth of the House of Lancaster. Their son Henry usurped the throne in 1399, creating one of the factions in the Wars of the Roses. There was an intermittent dynastic struggle between the descendants of Edward III. In these wars, the term Lancastrian became a reference to members of the family and their supporters. The family provided England with three kings: Henry IV, who ruled from 1399 to 1413, Henry V (1413–1422), and Henry VI (1422–1461 and 1470–1471).

The House became extinct in the male line upon the murder in the Tower of London of Henry VI, following the battlefield execution of his son Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, by supporters of the House of York in 1471. Lancastrian cognatic descent—from John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster's daughter Phillipa—continued in the royal houses of Spain and Portugal while the Lancastrian political cause was maintained by Henry Tudor—a relatively unknown scion of the Beauforts—eventually leading to the establishment of the House of Tudor. The Lancastrians left a legacy through the patronage of the arts—most notably in founding Eton College and King's College, Cambridge—but to historians' chagrin their propaganda, and that of their Tudor successors, means that it is Shakespeare's partly fictionalized history plays rather than medievalist scholarly research that has the greater influence on modern perceptions of the dynasty.[4]

Origin of the Earls of Lancaster

After the supporters of Henry III of England suppressed opposition from the English nobility in the Second Barons' War, Henry granted to his second son Edmund Crouchback the titles and possessions forfeited by attainder of the barons' leader, Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, including the Earldom of Leicester, on 26 October 1265. Later grants included the first Earldom of Lancaster on 30 June 1267 and that of Earl Ferrers in 1301. Edmund was also Count of Champagne and Brie from 1276 by right of his wife.[2] Henry IV of England would later use his descent from Edmund to legitimise his claim to the throne, even making the spurious claim that Edmund was the elder son of Henry but had been passed over as king because of his deformity.[5]

Seal of Edmund Crouchback

Edmund's second marriage to Blanche of Artois, the widow of the King of Navarre, placed him at the centre of the European aristocracy. Blanche's daughter Joan I of Navarre was queen regnant of Navarre and through her marriage to Philip IV of France was queen consort of France. Edmund's son Thomas became the most powerful nobleman in England, gaining the Earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury through marriage to the heiress of Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln. His income was £11,000 per annum—double that of the next wealthiest earl.[3]

Thomas and his younger brother Henry served in the coronation of their cousin King Edward II of England on 25 February 1308; Thomas carried Curtana, the Sword of Mercy, and Henry carried the royal sceptre.[6] After initially supporting Edward, Thomas became one of the Lords Ordainers, who demanded the banishment of Piers Gaveston and the governance of the realm by a baronial council. After Gaveston was captured, Thomas took the lead in his trial and execution at Warwick in 1312.[7] Edward's authority was weakened by poor governance and defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn. This allowed Thomas to restrain Edward's power by republishing the Ordinances of 1311. Following this achievement Thomas took little part in the governance of the realm and instead retreated to Pontefract Castle.[8] This allowed Edward to regroup and re-arm, leading to a fragile peace in August 1318 with the Treaty of Leake. In 1321 Edward's rule again collapsed into civil war. Thomas raised a northern army but was defeated and captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered but because he was Edward's cousin he was given a quicker death by beheading.[9]

Henry joined the revolt of Edward's wife Isabella of France and Mortimer in 1326, pursuing and capturing Edward at Neath in South Wales.[9] Following Edward's deposition at the Parliament of Kenilworth in 1326 and reputed murder at Berkeley Castle,[10] Thomas's conviction was posthumously reversed and Henry regained possession of the Earldoms of Lancaster, Derby, Salisbury and Lincoln that had been forfeit for Thomas's treason. His restored prestige led to him knighting the young King Edward III of England before his coronation.[11] Mortimer lost support over the Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton that formalised Scotland's independence, and his developing power in the Welsh Marches provoked jealousy from the barons. When Mortimer called a parliament to make his new powers and estates permanent with the title of Earl of March in 1328, Henry led the opposition and held a counter-meeting. In response, Mortimer ravaged the lands of Lancaster and checked the revolt. Edward III was able to assume control in 1330 but Henry's further influence was restricted by poor health and blindness for the last fifteen years of his life.[12][13]