Duke and Monarch
Dramatic events at the end of the fourteenth century brought a Duke of Lancaster to the throne of England.
When Edward III died in 1377, his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II came to the throne. The young King was heavily influenced by his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, who acted effectively in the role of regent. John of Gaunt was so powerful that he became a key target for the rebels who, during the Peasants’ Revolt, destroyed his Palace of the Savoy.
But John of Gaunt’s fortunes changed. His son, Henry Bolingbroke, made an enemy of King Richard II and was banished in 1398 from the kingdom for six years. When John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard II confiscated the enormous Lancaster inheritance and extended Henry’s banishment to a life sentence.
Bolingbroke exacted a swift revenge. In 1399, whilst Richard II was campaigning in Ireland, Henry returned to England to claim his inheritance. Supported by leading families, he regained control of Lancastrian strongholds and captured Richard II. The king abdicated and was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle.
Duke and King
Henry Bolingbroke was crowned Henry IV on 13 October 1399. His first act was to stipulate the conditions under which the Lancaster inheritance should be held.
The regulating charter was known to contemporaries as the Charter of Duchy Liberties. Later the Great Charter of the Duchy specified that the inheritance should be held separately from all other Crown possessions, and should descend to Henry’s male heirs.
Henry was anxious that the Lancaster possessions should not merge with other Crown interests, and be lost to his family should he lose the throne. Keeping the inheritance separate was a shrewd move to protect his descendants’ inheritance.