15th and 16th Centuries
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Duchy of Lancaster went from strength to strength.
Wealth and warfare
Henry IV left the direction of Duchy policy and administration mostly in the hands of Duchy officers, but it remained an important asset.
Henry IV often used the private Duchy revenues for military purposes and to reward his followers. The Duchy castles around the country provided security and strengthend his precarious position.
The inheritance descended to his son, Henry V. Duchy tenants served as men-at-arms and archers in Henry V’s famous French campaign, ending with the victory at Agincourt in 1415.
Henry V’s son, Henry VI, became King in 1422. During his reign, a number of grants were made using Duchy revenues, including Eton College (founded 1440) and King’s College, Cambridge (founded 1441).
Lancaster vs. York
Towards the end of his reign, fighting erupted between Yorkists and Lancastrians. In 1461 after many years of war Edward IV of York became King. Although he had no Lancastrian blood, it was reasoned that Henry VI’s possessions, including the Duchy, were forfeited and legally held in the hands of the new King.
Edward IV retained the arrangement by which the Duchy was kept separately from other Crown possessions. By Act of Parliament, he incorporated the Duchy possessions under the title “The Duchy of Lancaster” to be held “for ever to us and our heirs, Kings of England, separate from all other Royal possessions.”
“The Queen’s ancient inheritance”
The accession of Henry VII united the houses of Lancaster and York.
A charter of 1485 confirmed the Duchy as a distinct entity to be enjoyed by subsequent Sovereigns, separate from other Crown lands, and under its own management. There has been no fresh settlement since.
A number of foundations were endowed through the proceeds from the Duchy during Henry VII’s reign. Henry built a hospital for “pouer, nedie, people” on the ruins of John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace. The only part which survives today is thought to be incorporated within The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy.
Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries left the Duchy of Lancaster with obligations to meet certain stipends, including those of the guides over the Kent and Leven sands in northern Lancashire.
By the reign of Elizabeth I Duchy revenues were greater than ever and the post of Chancellor was occupied by important figures such as Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Walsingham. In 1556 the Duchy was described as “one of the most famous, princeliest and stateliest pieces of the Queen’s ancient inheritance”.