Gloucester, Humphrey, duke of

Gloucester, Humphrey, duke of, 1391–1447, English nobleman; youngest son of Henry IV and Mary de Bohun. He was well educated and had a great interest in humanist scholarship. After the accession of his eldest brother as Henry V, Humphrey was created (1414) duke of Gloucester and earl of Cambridge. He served in Henry's French campaigns and was wounded at the battle of Agincourt (1415). In 1420–21 he remained in England as regent during Henry's absence.

In 1422, when Henry was succeeded by his infant son, Henry VI, Gloucester claimed the regency. However, Parliament disregarded this claim, which was based on Henry V's will, and made Gloucester's older brother, John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, protector of the realm. Since Bedford was occupied in France, Gloucester was given the title of protector during his absences, but he had to share his authority with a council of magnates. Gloucester's ensuing struggle for power against his uncle, Henry Beaufort, forced Bedford to return from France several times to reconcile them.

Gloucester married (c.1422) Jacqueline of Hainaut but abandoned (1425) her after their disastrous military expedition to Hainaut. A papal decree of 1428 invalidated that marriage and permitted him to marry his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, but he was severely criticized.

Henry was crowned king of England in 1429 and king of France in 1431, and Beaufort's ascendancy henceforth increased. After the death of Bedford in 1435, Gloucester became heir presumptive, but his influence with the young king waned as he advocated continuing the unsuccessful war in France. When Eleanor, Gloucester's wife, was imprisoned in 1441 for sorcery against the king, Gloucester's political importance was practically ended. In 1447, William de la Pole, 4th earl of Suffolk (see under Pole, family), who had succeeded Beaufort as the king's chief adviser, had Gloucester arrested for treason. The duke fell sick and died in custody.

Gloucester was known as “Good Duke Humphrey,” probably because of his patronage of scholars and men of letters. He corresponded with the leaders of the new Italian humanism, had translations made from the Greek classics, and collected a considerable library. His gift of books to the Univ. of Oxford formed the nucleus later restored and developed by Sir Thomas Bodley into the Bodleian Library. However, in matters of state he lacked determination, flitting from one project to another and following through with none. Unable to appear decisive, he thus antagonized all by his assertions of power.

See biography by E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies