Blanche Parry

Recalling our days

as a Dukedom

This month our local historian Ruth E. Richardson looks back to the days when we had our very own Duke

Hereford had a Duke for exactly two years. Of the thirty Dukes now in the UK, six are royal, such as Prince William Duke of Cambridge. Hereford's dukedom existed from 29th September 1397 to 30th September 1399, but Hereford never had a Duchess for Mary died in 1394.

Hereford's Duke was Henry (of Bolingbroke). His parents were John of Gaunt, a son of King Edward III, and Blanche, heiress of her father Henry (born at Grosmont Castle) 1st Duke of Lancaster. Geoffrey Chaucer dedicated a book to the lovely Blanche. Through his wife John became the 2nd Duke of Lancaster and immensely rich. Young Henry not only had renowned parents and grandparents, he was also heir to enormous estates. Such wealth and privilege could have turned him into a spendthrift but Henry was a son to be proud of.

He dressed plainly but knew instinctively when to make an impact with prestigious clothes and jewels. He had a pleasant, confident personality, with a logical mind and could read and write in English, Latin and French. He sang, played the cither (a sort of harp) and listened to minstrels. He was well trained in military combat and a successful jouster. His skill won him huge respect from his contemporaries. For relaxation, he liked usual knightly pastimes of hunting, falconry and games.

On 27th July 1380, Henry, aged 13, married Mary de Bohun. Her father Humphrey de Bohun 7th Earl of Hereford had died in 1373 leaving two young daughters, Eleanor and Mary, as his co–heiresses. Being girls, their marriages would be arranged by purchase, or gift, from the King. Soon, Eleanor married Thomas of Woodstock, brother of John of Gaunt. Thomas was so eager to acquire both halves of the valuable de Bohun estates that he tried hard to persuade Mary to enter a convent and forego her half. However, John bought Mary's marriage while Thomas was abroad! Henry and Mary knew each other well, had shared interests in music and books, and actually wanted to marry.

Mary was about 11 years old and so it was thought the couple should not have regular sex until she was older. However, they loved each other. Their first baby, Edward, born 1382, lived four days and was buried in Monmouth Castle's chapel. Henry was now more careful and their next child (the future King Henry V) was born in 1387, also in Monmouth Castle. They had five more living children: Thomas in 1388, John in 1389, Humphrey in 1390, Blanche in 1392 and Philippa in 1394. Sadly, Mary herself died giving birth to Philippa. It would be many years before Henry re–married.

Three years later King Richard II created Henry Duke of Hereford for his support against their uncle Thomas of Woodstock. In 1399 Henry became Duke of Lancaster when John died. King Richard's attempts to prevent him inheriting, so well described in Shakespeare's plays, finally led to Richard's abdication. When Henry became King Henry IV the Hereford title merged with the Crown.

©Ruth E. Richardson 2014

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