Duke of Bedford (1414-1435)
Born 1389 Died 1435
John Plantagenet, third son of Henry IV, king of England, was born on the 20th of June 1389. He received various dignities after his father became king in 1399, and gained his early experiences in warfare when he undertook the office of warden of the east marches of Scotland in 1404; he was fairly successful in this command, which he held until September 1414. In the previous May his brother, the new king Henry V, had created him Duke of Bedford, and after resigning the wardenship he began to take a leading part in the royal councils. He acted as lieutenant of the kingdom during Henry's expedition to France in 1415, and in August 1416 commanded the ships which defeated the French fleet at the mouth of the Seine, and was instrumental in relieving Harfleur. Again appointed lieutenant in July 1417, he marched against the Scots, who abandoned the siege of Berwick at his approach; and on his return to London. he brought Sir John Oldcastle to trial and was present at his execution.
He appears to have governed the country with considerable success until December 1419, when he resigned his office as lieutenant and joined the king in France. Returning to England, he undertook the lieutenancy for the third time in June 1421, and in the following May conducted the queen to join Henry in Normandy. He then took his brother's place and led the English troops to the relief of Cosne, but on hearing of the kings serious illness he left the army and hurried to his side. Henry's last wish was that Bedford should be guardian of the kingdom and of the young king, and that Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, should act as regent in France. But when Philip declined to undertake this office, it too was assumed by Bedford, who, after the death of the French king Charles VI in October 1422, presided at a session of the parlement of Paris, and compelled all present to take an oath of fidelity to King Henry VI. Meanwhile the English parliament had decided that Bedford should be protector and defender of the kingdom, and that in his absence the office should devolve upon his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.
Confining himself to the conduct of affairs in France the protector took up Henry V's work of conquest, captured Meulan and other places, and sought to strengthen his position by an alliance with Philip of Burgundy. This task was rendered more difficult as Gloucester had just married Jacqueline, countess of Holland and Hainaut, a union which gave the English duke a claim on lands which Philip hoped to secure for himself. Bedford, however, having allayed Philip's irritation, formed an alliance with him and with John VI, Duke of Brittany, at Amiens in April 1423, and himself arranged to marry Anne, a sister of the Burgundian duke. This marriage was celebrated at Troyes in the following June, and the war against Charles, the dauphin of France, was prosecuted with vigour and success. Bedford sought to restore prosperity to the districts under his rule by reforming the debased coinage, granting privileges to merchants and manufacturers, and removing various abuses. He then granted some counties to Philip to check the growing hostility between him and Gloucester, and on the j7th of August 1424 gained a great victory over a combined army of French and Scots at Verneuil.
But in spite of the efforts of the protector the good understanding between England and Burgundy was partially destroyed when Gloucester invaded Hainaut in October 1424. The ambition of his brother gave Bedford trouble in another direction also; for on his return from Hainaut Gloucester quarrelled with the chancellor, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, and the council implored Bedford to come to England to settle this dispute. He reached London in January 1426, and after concluding a bond of alliance with Gloucester effected a reconciliation between the duke and the chancellor; and knighted the young king, Henry VI. Bedford then promised to act in accordance with the will of the council, and in harmony with the decision of this body raised a body of troops and returned to France in March 1427. Having ordered Gloucester to desist from a further attack on Hainaut, he threatened Brittany and compelled Duke John to return to the English alliance; and the success of his troops continued until the siege of Orleans, to which he consented with reluctance, was undertaken in October 1428.
Having assured himself that Philip was prepared to desert him, Bedford sent orders to his army to raise the siege in April 1429. He then acted with great energy and judgment in attempting to stem the tide of disasters which followed this failure, strengthened his hold upon Paris, and sent to England for reinforcements; but before any engagement took place he visited Rouen, where he sought to bind the Normans closer to England, and after his return to Paris resigned the French regency to Philip of Burgundy in accordance with the wish of the Parisians. Retaining the government of Normandy Bedford established himself at Rouen and directed the movements of the English forces with some success. He did not interfere to save the life of Joan of Arc. He was joined by Henry VI in April 1430, when the regency was temporarily suspended, and he secured Henry's coronation at Paris in December 1431. In November 1432 his wife Anne died, and in April 1433 he was married at Therouanne to Jacqueline, daughter of Pierre I, Count of St Pol.
But notwithstanding Bedford's vigour the English lost ground steadily; and the death of Anne and this marriage destroyed the friendly relations between England and Burgundy. Negotiations for peace had no result, and when the duke returned to England in June 1433 he told parliament that he had come home to defend himself against the charge that the losses in France were caused by his neglect, and demanded that his detractors should make their accusations public. The chancellor replied that no such charges were known to the king or the council, and the duke was thanked for his great services. His next act was to secure an inquiry into the national finances; and when asked by the parliament to stay in England he declared that his services were at the kings disposal. As chief councillor he offered to take a smaller salary than had been previously paid to Gloucester, and undertook this office in December 1433, when his demands with regard to a continual council were conceded. Bedford, who was anxious to prosecute the war in France, left England again in 1434, but early in 1435 was obliged to consent to the attendance of English representatives at a congress held to arrange terms of peace at Arras. Unable to consent to the French terms the English envoys left Arras in September, and Philip of Burgundy made a separate treaty with France. Bedford only lived to see the ruin of the cause for which he struggled so loyally. He died at Rouen on the 14th of September 1435, and was buried in the cathedral of that city. He left a natural son, Richard, but no legitimate issue.
Bedford was a man of considerable administrative ability, brave and humane in war, wise and unselfish in peace. He was not responsible for the misfortunes of the English in France, and his courage in the face of failure was as admirable as his continued endeavour to make the people under his rule contented and prosperous.
The chief contemporary authorities for Bedford's life are: Vita et gesta Henrici Quinti
, edited by T. Hearne (Oxford, 1727); E. de Monstrelet, Chronique
, edited by L. D. d'Arcq. (Paris, 1857-1862); William of Worcester, Annales rerum Anglicarum
, edited by J. Stevenson (London, 1864). See also Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England
, edited by J. R. Dasent (London, 1890 1899); W. Stubbs, Constitutional History
, vol. iii. (Oxford, 1895); P. A. Barante, Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne
Extracted from the entry for BEDFORD, EARLS AND DUKES OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.