3rd Earl of Leicester 1324-1345
3rd Earl of Lancaster 1327-1345
Born c1281 Died 1345
Henry was the second son of Edmund Crouchback, the 1st Earl of Lancaster and spent most of his early adult life engaged in various military campaigns in Flanders and Scotland on behalf of Edward I during the years 1297 to 1305.
Although Henry was one of the Lord Ordainers in 1310 and supported his brother's killing of Piers de Gaveston in 1312, he was rather overshadowed by his elder brother Thomas Plantagenet, the 2nd Earl of Lancaster who very much took the leading role in the opposition to Edward II's rule. He was perhaps fortunate that he was in France at the time of his brother's rebellion in 1321 and therefore did not share in Thomas' fate of being condemned as a traitor by Edward II and executed in 1322.
Although this placed Henry in the position of heir to his brother's titles and lands (Thomas had no sons), king Edward II was reluctant to permit Henry to inherit owing to his obvious sympathies with his dead brother. (He rather ostentatiously paid for a cross to be erected outside Leicester in honour of his brother.) Henry therefore had to be satisfied with being made Earl of Leicester in 1324 by Edward II.
Given the situation it was no surprise therefore to find that Henry eagerly supported Edward's wife and queen Isabella when she, together with her paramour Roger Mortimer, set out to remove Edward II from power in 1326. Henry was keen to see the end of the Despensers (so instrumental in the defeat and condemnation of his brother in 1321) and acted as Edward II's gaoler at Kenilworth castle.
Once Edward II had been removed from the scene and replaced by his son Edward III, Henry was rewarded in 1327 with the reversal of his brother's attainder and the restoration of the earldom of Lancaster and the office of Steward of England. He was named as Guardian of the young Edward and took a leading role in the government, but soon became disenchanted as it became clear when Roger Mortimer made himself Earl of March in 1328 that he intended to be the power behind by the throne.
Together with the king's uncles, the respective Earls of Kent and Norfolk, Henry led a deputation to protest against Mortimer's presumption but Roger, having secured the person of the king, attacked Henry's estates and seized control of Leicester. With no organised opposition from amongst the remaining nobles, Henry withdrew his objections and came to terms with Mortimer and Isabella and was effectively deprived of his authority thereafter.
Almost two years later Roger Mortimer made the mistake of executing the Earl of Kent for treason. Since this created the fear amongst the nobility that they might well be next on Mortimer's hit list it prompted many to action. As it happens, Edward himself was eager to free from his mother's grasp as well and happily accepted Henry's advice when the opportunity was taken at Nottingham in 1330 to arrest and execute Roger Mortimer and lock up Isabella out of harm's way.
Unfortunately not long after this Henry became blind and retired to his estates. He took no further part in public life from then until his death on the 22nd September 1345.
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entries for
LANCASTER, HENRY, EARL OF
Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
House of Lancaster