Gloucester is one of Henry V’s brothers, and is elected Lord Protector of England after Henry V’s death. Unfortunately his uncle Winchester, a bastard of John of Gaunt, covets Gloucester’s power. Winchester does what he can to block Gloucester’s access to the king. The Good Duke cannot hold back his temper against Winchester, who he feels desires the throne. Gloucester is a noble man, who is truly working to better England, and to keep the country running until Henry VI is ready to assume power. He loves his wife, and his country. Gloucester advises Henry VI on many things, but when Henry ops to marry Margaret, though upset, he concedes to the young King’s desire.
The following information is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by G. L. Harriss
Humphrey [Humfrey or Humphrey of Lancaster], duke of Gloucester [called Good Duke Humphrey] (1390–1447), prince, soldier, and literary patron, was the youngest son of Henry, earl of Derby, later Henry IV, and his first wife, Mary de Bohun (d. 1394). He was protector of England during Henry VI's minority and the first English patron of Italian humanism.
Humphrey was born in the autumn of 1390 while his father was on crusade in Prussia and was raised, along with his elder brothers, in noble households; there is no evidence that he attended Oxford University. His father's seizure of the throne in 1399 determined his early career: he was knighted on 11 October and made a knight of the Garter in 1400. But whereas over the next twelve years his three elder brothers were given important military commands, he had no public employment and remained with his father. Not until Henry V's accession did he receive title or endowment, being appointed chamberlain of England (7 May 1413), duke of Gloucester and earl of Pembroke for life (16 May 1414), with the castle and lordship of Pembroke in tail (20 July 1413).
Gloucester served with a large contingent on the expedition to Harfleur in 1415, and later fought at Agincourt where he was wounded; his life was saved by Henry V in person. On his return he took a steadily more prominent role in affairs of state, being appointed constable of Dover and warden of the Cinque Ports, and chief justice of the forest south of Trent; he also received grants of the Barton in Bristol, the Isle of Wight, and the lordship of Llansteffan. In April 1416 he met and welcomed the emperor Sigismund on his visit to England and at the conference of Henry V, Sigismund, and John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, at Calais in September and October he became hostage for Duke John's safety. He participated in the conquest of Normandy in 1417 and 1418, and at the age of twenty-seven received his first independent command when, following the surrender of Falaise in February 1418, he was appointed lieutenant and captain-general in the marches of Normandy for the reduction of the Cotentin. He took the surrender of St Lô, Carentan, and Valognes prior to a five-month siege of Cherbourg of which he provided a long description, emphasizing his own resourcefulness and resilience, for the Vita Henrici quinti by Tito Livio dei Frulovisi, which he later commissioned. He rejoined Henry V for the siege of Rouen, positioning himself at the Porte St Hilaire. He remained in France during most of 1419: he captured Ivry in May, was present at the Meulan negotiations, and joined the advance towards Paris on the south bank of the Seine, where in November he captured the bridge at Poissy. By the end of the year he had returned to England to replace Bedford as keeper of the realm. As such he held the parliament in December 1420 which ratified the treaty of Troyes while expressing its desire for the king's return. During Henry's presence in England from February to June 1421 Gloucester acted as overseer at the queen's coronation; he returned with the king to France as second in command. He later complained that, since his retinue of 400 men was slightly under strength on sailing, he was not paid wages until it had been mustered in full at the siege of Dreux in July and August. It is not clear whether he accompanied Henry V in the Loire campaign, but in October he was sent to assist Suffolk to repel a dauphinist attack in the Cotentin and recover Avranches. He is not recorded as present at the siege of Meaux and by 22 March 1422 he had returned to England to enable Bedford to accompany Queen Catherine to France in May.
Although Gloucester had held important commands and offices, the limits of his initiative had been closely circumscribed. Only in 1418 was he given an independent command, and his military reputation never attained that of either Clarence or Exeter. Nor, despite almost three years in France, had he been granted any fief there. At home his responsibilities as custos (keeper of the realm) were restricted by a flow of orders from the king and the presence of experienced councillors. How Henry V envisaged Gloucester's future role is unclear, although he certainly considered marrying him to Jacqueline of Hainault who had sought asylum in England after her flight from her husband, John (IV), duke of Brabant, early in 1421.
Henry V's death in August 1422 gave Gloucester the opportunity to shape his own destiny in at least two spheres. In a codicil to his will Henry had bestowed on him the tutelam et defensionem nostri filii carissimi principales (‘principal tutelage and protection of our dearest son’; Strong and Strong, 99) . Initially the council may have accepted this, but when Gloucester interpreted tutela as conferring under Roman law the governance of the kingdom accountable solely to the child monarch, he faced determined opposition from both Bedford and the council, and had to accept merely a pre-eminence in council with the title of protector and defender. Despite being accorded a salary of 8000 marks, Gloucester understandably resented being denied the regency which he believed his brother had intended for him. Gloucester did not withdraw from the council; on the contrary, he is recorded at more sessions in the first two years of the reign than anyone except the officers of state. Yet as the council defined its working procedures—requiring majority decisions, corporate responsibility, and the declaration of vested interests—and as the older and abler Bishop Beaufort built up a following among the regular councillors, Gloucester saw his influence diminish and his natural leadership increasingly usurped.
Gloucester also began to cast his sights wider. By the end of January 1423 he had married Jacqueline, preparing to help her recover Holland and Zeeland from her uncle John of Bavaria, and Hainault from her estranged husband, John of Brabant. Both these could count on support from Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, who aimed to incorporate these territories into a wider Low Countries state and resisted the intrusion of English interests. Gloucester's plans thus jeopardized the Anglo-Burgundian alliance on which the treaty of Troyes and the English rule in Paris rested, and alarmed both Bedford and Beaufort. None the less Duke Humphrey and Jacqueline landed with a small army at Calais on 18 October 1424; by mid-December much of Hainault was in their hands and they set up their government at Mons. Philip now prepared to support John of Brabant, and by March 1425 he had advanced far into Hainault and challenged Gloucester to single combat. On the grounds of preparing for this duel Gloucester withdrew to England, leaving Jacqueline in Mons. Unable to resist the Burgundian advance she surrendered to Philip and a decision on her marital status was referred to the pope. In September she escaped and briefly revived her cause in Holland, to which an English expedition under Lord Fitzwalter was sent in January 1426. This was repulsed and, without further assistance from Gloucester, Jacqueline was forced to concede defeat.
On his return to England in March 1425 Gloucester played on popular anti-Flemish feeling in London and won support from mercantile interests concerned to protect the market for English cloth in Holland and Zeeland. The council agreed to lend him 20,000 marks over four years to renew his venture though parliament refused taxation. Throughout the summer there was a mounting confrontation with Bishop Beaufort, as chancellor, who had always cultivated friendship with Burgundy. Gloucester construed this as a challenge to his authority as protector, and on 30 October 1425 his attempt to remove the infant Henry VI from Eltham was barred by Beaufort's soldiers on London Bridge. A stand-off was agreed but Beaufort appealed to Bedford to return and take control. Bedford's arrival in January 1426 suspended Gloucester's authority as protector and Gloucester, having declined to accept Bedford's mediation at a council at Northampton, was ordered to attend parliament at Leicester on 18 February. The settlement imposed by Bedford and the lords involved Beaufort's resignation as chancellor and his formal readmission to Gloucester's goodwill, though Gloucester retracted none of his complaints. Although he had successfully removed Beaufort from the council, he was still subordinate to Bedford while the latter remained in England. Moreover the regulations of 1422–4, which underpinned the council's corporate authority, were now re-enacted and the council's members, hearing that Gloucester had declared ‘lat my brother governe as hym lust whiles he is in this land, for after his going overe into France I wol governe as me semeth good’, required first Bedford and then Gloucester to acknowledge that the execution of royal authority ‘stondeth in his lordes assembled in parliament … and in especiale in the lordes of his conseil and resteth not in oon singular persone but in all my said lordes togider’ (Proceedings … of the Privy Council, 3.231–42). Even so, Gloucester sought to reopen the question of his power as protector in the parliament of 1427–8, refusing to attend until this had been defined. The council, unwilling to be intimidated, recalled him to the settlement of 1422–3 and declined to extend his authority. Concurrently a last appeal from Jacqueline, now widowed by the death of John of Brabant, led the council to offer Gloucester 5000 marks for her assistance, but Bedford swiftly countered this by negotiations with Philip of Burgundy, and on 9 January 1428 a papal verdict affirmed the validity of Jacqueline's earlier marriage to John of Brabant. To pursue his claims Gloucester would have had to remarry her; instead he used his freedom to marry his mistress, Eleanor Cobham [see Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester].
Gloucester's projects in these years had been largely peripheral to the council's preoccupation with financing the war in France. But he was at one with the council in resisting the papal pressure on Archbishop Chichele for the repeal of the Statute of Provisors, and was equally lukewarm about the commission to his rival, Cardinal Beaufort, to raise men and money for a crusade against the Hussites. He did not welcome Beaufort's return to England late in 1428 for this purpose, and in April 1429 raised the question of whether, as cardinal, Beaufort could legally retain the see of Winchester and whether he could be prosecuted under the Statute of Praemunire for obtaining privileges from the Holy See without licence. Although the council deferred any judgment on this, the vulnerability of Beaufort's position had been exposed.
Campaign against Beaufort
For the moment the gravity of the military situation in France concentrated the council's efforts on sending a relief expedition and planning a larger force to accompany the king to his coronation in Paris. In the organization of this Beaufort played a prominent and essential role, which increased his influence with the young king during the two years he remained in France. Henry VI's coronation at Westminster in November 1429 had formally terminated Gloucester's status as protector and he was appointed the king's lieutenant and keeper of England when Henry VI departed in April 1430. However his authority was exercised subject to the assent of the council, the members of which he could not remove. These constraints limited his functions as lieutenant to the suppression of disorders. As protector he had brought to an end the depredations of a notorious gang in Hampshire led by William Wawe in May 1427, and had followed this with sessions held at Norwich in June 1427 and at Chester in September. When, as lieutenant in April 1431, Gloucester was faced with the widespread if poorly organized conspiracy of artisan Lollards intent on an ambitious programme of social and political revolution, commencing with an attack on the abbey of Abingdon, he reacted swiftly. The conspirators, headed by William Perkins under the pseudonym of Jack Sharpe, were hunted down and executed, and widespread commissions of investigation were issued. Gloucester received much credit for his actions. He had also secured some valuable grants. Following the death of Exeter in 1427 he acquired the manor of Greenwich and finally secured custody of the earl of March's lands. Nevertheless the king's absence abroad had marginalized rather than extended his influence and he seized on Henry VI's return to stage a coup against Beaufort and his followers designed to maintain his position. In November 1431 he revived the charges against the cardinal raised in 1429 and persuaded the council to issue writs of praemunire following the king's return on 9 February 1432. Already on 6 February Gloucester had impounded the cardinal's treasure, which was being shipped secretly to the continent, and on 25 February Beaufort's supporters were removed from the principal offices of state and household. Beaufort thus faced political and financial ruin. But in his determination to remove his rival Gloucester had overplayed his hand. If the cardinal had been planning to develop his career abroad, he was now forced to return and defend his position, along with his supporters on the council.
Gloucester planned to charge Beaufort with treason, though on what grounds is not clear. He represented himself as the upholder of conciliar authority and defender of the law and the state, and he initiated proceedings in the exchequer against Beaufort's illegal attempt to export his treasure. In the event, after prolonged deliberations, the charges of treason and praemunire were dropped and Beaufort's treasure was restored under bond. These decisions reflected the unwillingness of the Lords and Commons to exacerbate divisions and their dependence on Beaufort's loans to finance the war. Although Gloucester had failed to ruin his rival and drive him into exile, the cardinal and his followers for the moment lost their position at the political centre. For the following year, until the middle of 1433, Gloucester and his supporters controlled policy and patronage. In the end their inability to finance the reinforcements needed in France provoked Bedford's return to England with Beaufort in his train.
As in 1426–7, so in 1433–4, Bedford displaced Gloucester as head of the council, and was accorded authority as viceregent to appoint and dismiss councillors and officers of state. He brought back Lord Cromwell, removed by Gloucester in 1432, as treasurer, to revitalize royal finance in preparation for a new offensive in France. Gloucester now turned his resentment against Bedford. At a meeting of the great council in April and May 1434 before Bedford's departure for France he submitted a memorandum highly critical of Bedford's conduct of the war which Bedford took to impugn his honour. Bedford's response deepened the quarrel which the king took into his own hand and suppressed. Gloucester had offered to lead a large army to France, claiming that a bold offensive and decisive victory would eliminate the need for continual taxation for the piecemeal defence of Normandy. In an effort to widen his support Gloucester seems to have publicized this proposal, which had a specious attraction for an impoverished country; for the knights and esquires on the council declared that they had challenged Gloucester to say how the cost of this army, some £50,000, could be met, but had had no answer (Proceedings … of the Privy Council, 4.210–16). A later statement by the duke indicates that he had in mind the confiscation of Beaufort's wealth, half of which the crown held on loan and under bond, while the verdict on his smuggling in 1432 remained in suspense. Gloucester's plan to confiscate Beaufort's treasure to finance his own military venture stood little chance of acceptance, and its only result was to alienate Bedford and strengthen his support for Beaufort in the remaining year of his life. With his rival reinstated in the council Gloucester seems to have withdrawn, and it is possible that instead he sought to influence the young king. For on 12 November 1434 the whole council apart from Gloucester took the extraordinary step of riding to Cirencester and solemnly admonishing Henry VI to listen to no ‘motions and sturinges’ such as had recently been made to him by other parties in matters touching his noble person or estate and the rule and governance of the council (Proceedings … of the Privy Council, 4.287–9).
In 1435 the last heroic effort of Bedford to give credibility to Lancastrian rule in France collapsed. At the Congress of Arras (August–September 1435) Burgundy repudiated the treaty of Troyes, in September Bedford died, and there were risings in the Pays de Caux. Gloucester was now heir apparent to Henry VI and his claims to leadership in war and council could not be gainsaid. His long-standing distrust of Burgundy had been vindicated and his advocacy of offensive warfare was winning acceptance. For the moment however his attention was focused on Calais and Flanders rather than Normandy. In November 1435 Gloucester had succeeded Bedford as captain of Calais and in July 1436 Henry VI conferred on him the title of count of Flanders. By March 1436 Duke Philip was known to be preparing to besiege Calais and a general summons to arms was issued to mount what was advertised as a royal expedition under Gloucester's command for its relief. By the end of July a force of some 7500 men had assembled at Dover. But on 28 July a foray by the garrison of Calais under Edmund Beaufort had seized a bastille held by the men of Ghent, throwing the besieging army into confusion and forcing a Burgundian withdrawal. Gloucester arrived on 2 August to find the siege lifted. He conducted a chevauchée into Flanders for three weeks which, though destructive, had little military value and never encountered Duke Philip's army. On his return to England his ‘triumph’ over the Flemings was celebrated in popular verses, perhaps commissioned from Lydgate, and by the production of a poem in Latin hexameters by his secretary Tito Livio, which portrayed Gloucester as the worthy successor to Henry V.
The ending of Henry VI's minority in 1436–7 did nothing to strengthen Gloucester's position. Although he occasionally attended council and received some small grants of land, he exercised little influence over policy. Cardinal Beaufort's pursuit of a negotiated peace with Charles VII was more congenial to Henry VI than Gloucester's advocacy of war. But by 1439 Gloucester had become the avowed opponent of the negotiations being conducted at Gravelines by Beaufort and the duchess of Burgundy, and of the proposal to release the duke of Orléans to act as mediator with Charles VII in the peace process. The final terms for a perpetual truce transmitted by Beaufort to the English council in August 1439 were opposed by Gloucester and proved unacceptable to the council. Their rejection marked the failure of the cardinal's diplomacy and vindicated Gloucester's opposition. It provided the opportunity for his most comprehensive indictment of his rival's career and policy. Gloucester's charges were probably presented in the parliament at Reading early in 1440 (Stevenson, 2.440–51). Their avowed purpose was to remove Beaufort and Kemp from the council and perhaps allow an impeachment of Beaufort to be framed. But no action was taken on them and there is no evidence that the cardinal was asked or permitted to make a response. Gloucester's attack was stifled; nor did it prevent the release of Orléans. Though treated as a tiresome irrelevance, his criticism was sufficiently damaging to assist the displacement of Beaufort's influence by that of Wiliam de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, as the king attained his majority. Gloucester's accusations stretched back to the time of Henry V and encompassed all his old quarrels and charges, being intended to reveal Beaufort as having undermined rather than upheld the royal estate, and to have been moved not by patriotism but by pride, nepotism, and greed. He accused Beaufort of embezzlement and fraud, of usury and profiteering, of ambition and presumption, of estranging himself and others from the king and diminishing the rights of the crown. He had watched the cardinal carefully and forgotten nothing, but there were no fresh grounds on which a criminal charge or judgment could be made and the cardinal, if not his reputation, emerged unscathed.
These personal accusations were part of a wider challenge to the cardinal's policy. First Gloucester placed on record his objections to the release of the duke of Orléans in June 1440 as a means of furthering peace negotiations with Charles VII by either persuasion or pressure. Gloucester argued that the reverse was likelier: once released Orléans would join with Charles to expel the English. He recalled that Henry V had forbidden the release of Orléans, now proposed without compensation or exchange. In the event Orléans proved to have little influence over Charles VII and his release had little consequence. Second Gloucester, still holding to an aggressive policy in Normandy, proposed himself for the post of lieutenant-general in France in succession to Warwick. In January 1440 Cardinal Beaufort's nephew, John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, was given a short-term appointment pending Gloucester's arrival. In fact Gloucester withdrew, but it was York, not Somerset, who was appointed in June, frustrating the Beauforts' expectations.
Retirement and death
The last of Gloucester's attacks on his rival, though it helped to push Beaufort into retirement, had brought no advantage to himself. The beneficiary was the earl of Suffolk whose influence at court and over the king enabled him to direct policy for the rest of the decade. Yet Gloucester remained heir presumptive to a pliable and unmarried king and the possibility of his succession could never be neglected. It was present in the mind of his ambitious and masterful wife, Eleanor Cobham, whom he had married around 1428. From April 1440, if not before, she had consulted astrologers on the likelihood of the king's demise and these had predicted his severe illness in the summer or autumn of 1441. Her arrest in 1441 and trial for treasonable necromancy resulted in a public penance, her compulsory divorce, and perpetual imprisonment. Although Gloucester was not himself implicated, he was now discredited and distrusted by the king, and his position as heir apparent was fatally prejudiced. His vulnerability had been publicly demonstrated and from 1442 the lands and offices he held from the crown began to be granted in reversion after his death to courtiers with their eyes on his wealth.
Gloucester had been effectively forced into retirement and, though he appeared occasionally in council, took no part in the debates on Somerset's expedition of 1443 or in the discussion of Suffolk's mission to France in 1444 to negotiate a peace and royal marriage. He lent support to the commendation of Suffolk by the Commons in the parliament of June 1445, but his opposition to the peace negotiations in August 1445 was known well enough for Suffolk to assure the French ambassadors that he counted for nothing and to humiliate him publicly in the king's presence. It was only as the prospect of a final peace evaporated and the fateful undertaking to surrender Le Mans became known towards the end of 1446 that his time-honoured opposition to the French seemed once again to be vindicated. The possibility that he might become the figurehead for the embittered war veterans and for the increasing number of Suffolk's enemies proved his eventual undoing. A parliament summoned to meet at Bury St Edmunds in February 1447, in Suffolk's heartland, provided the occasion to silence him. Arriving on 18 February with a strong contingent of Welsh retainers, he was commanded to proceed to lodgings in St Saviour's Hospital. There, after dinner, he was arrested. If it was proposed to charge him with treason, his death on 23 February made this unnecessary. Probably this followed a stroke, for he was said to have lain unconscious for three days; but the circumstances of his death provided the basis for accusations of murder which by 1450 were openly voiced by Cade's rebels and in popular verse. In 1455 a petition formally declaring him to have been a loyal subject was presented by the Commons in the parliament which followed the duke of York's victory at St Albans. The epithet of the ‘Good Duke’ became attached to his name in recognition of his fidelity to the memory of Henry V and as a victim of Suffolk's regime. His body was taken to St Albans, to which he had been a frequent visitor and a special benefactor and where his tomb had already been constructed near the shrine of the saint; he was buried there on 4 March. Many of his retinue were arrested and convicted of treasonable conspiracy, including his illegitimate son Arthur. Though condemned they were spared execution at the last moment. His wife died in imprisonment at Beaumaris in 1452. Gloucester was stated to have died intestate and his goods were dispersed, but there is evidence that his will was being administered by 1449, though its terms remain unknown. His titles were extinguished and his lands reverted to the crown. The only authentic likeness of Gloucester is in an Arras manuscript.
Gloucester was a complex personality whom neither his own nor subsequent generations have found easy to assess. Judged by the dominant military and political standards of his age his failure was the more humiliating because he himself subscribed to them. He wanted others to acknowledge the military genius and boldness that he claimed for himself in his accounts of the Cotentin campaign and the ravaging of Flanders. Yet he lacked not only the incisive mind and steely determination of his hero, Henry V, but the bravado of Clarence and the cautious competence of Bedford. Their different qualities drew men to their service, but Gloucester never commanded a personal following among the professional captains who sustained Lancastrian Normandy. Both his advocacy of a major expedition to Normandy and his offer to lead it commanded little enthusiasm. His arguments might convince but his personality did not. Likewise his chivalric pretensions, though accepted by Waurin, proved hollow. Farce attended his duel with Philip of Burgundy, ignominy his abandonment of Jacqueline, and futility his relief of Calais. The verdict of Pius II, that he was more given to pleasure and letters than to arms, and valued his life more than his honour, was not unwarranted.
Nor did Gloucester win greater recognition as a political leader. Though entitled to pre-eminence in council, his leadership was confined to periods when his rivals were outside England. Within the council he attracted support only from those like Berkeley, Huntingdon, Norfolk, Scrope, and perhaps York, who were excluded from the Beaufort connection. Against Beaufort his enmity was too openly displayed and pursued with insufficient patience and guile. By his personal attacks he convicted himself as factious. As in military strategy, he argued for alternative policies articulately and with plausibility. In claiming the regency in 1422 and 1428, in prosecuting Beaufort between 1429 and 1432, in arguing against the peace terms and the release of Orléans from 1438 to 1440 and in denouncing Beaufort's record in 1440 he often had the better—and the better argued—case. Moreover there are indications that he was able and prepared to appeal to an audience beyond the council: to the Commons in parliament in 1422–3, to Londoners in 1425, to the soldiers and taxpayers in 1434, to the wider political nation over the release of Orléans. It was his ability to create a favourable public image—as the upholder of law and order, the hammer of heretics, the heir of Henry V, the enemy of Burgundy, the protector of St Albans, the patron of Oxford—that provided his most potent weapon. Even his wife's disgrace did not destroy that; in 1447 Suffolk had good reason to fear him as the excluded counsellor, critic, and heir. This ability to win—if also at times to alienate—public support distinguishes Gloucester from other peers, and may have contributed to their distrust of him, though the means by which he sustained his image are not wholly discernible.
Lydgate's pen served Duke Humphrey at a number of levels: in occasional verses to celebrate his marriage in 1423 and perhaps his victory over the Flemings in 1436; in the sustained didactic moralizing of The Fall of Princes, and perhaps in promoting the far livelier polemic of The Libel of English Policy. His chivalric reputation brought him the dedication of Nicholas Upton's De studio militari, and his defence of the church that of Capgrave's Commentary on Genesis. It is clear that Duke Humphrey's patronage served to promote his military and political image, but, as Lydgate attests, he was genuinely attracted to the company of clerks and men of letters, eager to read, discuss, and encourage their writings. The miniature court which he and Eleanor held at their Greenwich manor, La Plesaunce, numbered poets, astrologers, physicians, musicians, and men of learning. Nor were these merely accoutrements of his princely state. Gloucester was an intrusive, demanding, and opinionated patron, his personal involvement surpassing his princely munificence. All this—the military and political pretensions, the public image, the personal input—is relevant in assessing his most distinctive achievement, the fostering of Italian humanism in England.
Duke Humphrey's interest in Italian humanism derived largely from his friendship with the papal collectors in England, Simone da Teramo and Piero da Monte, and from his friendship with Zanone di Castiglione, bishop of Bayeux. This was expressed in broadly three ways: the employment of humanists as secretaries, the commissioning and patronage of literary works, and the collection of a library of classical texts. Following Thomas Beckington (d. 1465), who revolutionized the style of English diplomatic writing, Gloucester's first Italian secretary was Tito Livio dei Frulovisi who was in his service as ‘poet and orator’ from 1436 to 1438 and was followed by Antonio Beccaria from 1439 to 1446. Gloucester commissioned Livio to write a Vita Henrici quinti which ‘inaugurated an approach to historical writing hitherto unknown in this country’ (Weiss, ‘Humphrey … and Tito Livio Frulovisi’), and followed this by a much less successful poem in Latin hexameters, the Humfroidos, which celebrated the duke's expedition to Calais and Flanders and presented him as his brother's successor in defending England against its French and Burgundian enemies. For both works Duke Humphrey supplied much information. Over the more distant humanists to whom he extended his patronage he had less influence. Attracted by Leonardo Bruni's translation, Ethics, from Aristotle, Gloucester in 1433–4 invited him to England and asked him to undertake further translation. Bruni declined the journey but had completed and dispatched Politics three years later. It was through Castiglione that Pier Candido Decembrio came to Gloucester's notice, dedicating to the duke his translation, the Republic, in 1438, and eventually following this in 1443 with a sumptuous copy in an Italian hand furnished with a dedication of lavish praise for his learning. Decembrio became Duke Humphrey's principal agent for collecting classical texts; he responded to the duke's requests and pointed out the gaps in his library. Nevertheless both Bruni and Decembrio were disappointed in the meagreness of the rewards they received; the duke displayed even less liberality to his Italian than to his native authors, but he remained in their eyes an important patron. There is no doubt that Humphrey delighted in the acquisition of classical texts: his library contained the newly discovered Epistolae familiares of Cicero, all the works of Livy, books of Caesar, Suetonius, and Pliny, and translations of Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch. It also contained numerous writings of the humanists themselves: of Bruni, Boccaccio, Decembrio, Petrarch, Poggio, and Salutati along with works on medicine and astrology. Gloucester's intellectual bent was essentially lay: towards political philosophy, war, history, and the sciences, rather than theological and devotional works. His importance lies in being the first to patronize the Italian humanists and consciously to collect a library of classical texts. His reputation was underpinned by his gift of the major part of his library to the University of Oxford in two instalments, the first of 129 books in 1439, the second of 134 books in 1444. The university was promised that the residue was to come to it on his death, but, like his other effects, his books were seized by the crown and given to the king's new foundation in Cambridge. Nevertheless the collection was not merely—as the university said—the largest benefaction of its kind but provided the basis for the development of classical studies in the following century. The oldest part of the Bodleian Library is still called Duke Humfrey's Library (preserving the older spelling of his name).
The authenticity of Gloucester's ‘humanism’ has often been questioned. He certainly knew no Greek and could not write the Latin of the humanists. It is not even known how easily he read it, for he preferred his Latin classics in French translations and all his annotations of his own books are in French. There is little to indicate how far he even understood the aims and outlook of the humanists. Their praise of his learning and discernment, like his own declarations of enthusiasm for their work, were designed to foster the humanists' self-proclaimed ‘belief that their art and it alone could confer honour and immortality’ on their patrons (Weiss, Humanism, 40). Gloucester's ardent desire for both, unsatisfied in war and politics, found a measure of fulfilment here. Yet whatever the limitations of his learning and his concern to enhance his reputation, the catholicity of his reading indicates a measure of intellectual curiosity beyond that of his contemporaries.