John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford or John of Lancaster (20 June 1389 – 14 September 1435) was an English nobleman of the House of Lancaster, third son of Henry IV of England and Mary of Beauchamp, brother of Henry V of England and uncle of Henry VI of England. Bedford was guardian of Henry VI”s minor nephew, an able military leader of the Hundred Years” War but his reputation had fallen considerably by the time of his death.
Bedford, like his older brother, was an excellent soldier in battle and in command which brought England to maximum power during the lifetime of Henry V. After his death the emergence of Joan of Arc and civil strife in the English camp gradually brought about the decline and loss of all English continental possessions in France. Bedford in the 1430s lost all his power because he did not have the necessary resources to continue the conflict. Bedford died during the Council of Arras at the time when Burgundy, England”s main ally, was trying to sign a separate treaty with Charles VII. He worked hard to create a dual monarchy in England and France but his sudden death interrupted his plans.
After his father”s accession to the throne (1399), John of Lancaster quickly gained titles and offices, being crowned a knight on 12 October 1399 and a member of the Order of the Pericnemis (1402). In the period 1403-1405 he was granted the lands seized from the Percy family and the monasteries of Ogburn and Wilshire, the lands brought significant increases in his income. He was appointed Constable of England (1403) and Keeper of the West Marsh (1403 – 1414). His brother Henry V created on his behalf the county of Kendall, the county of Richmond and the duchy of Bedford (1414).
When Henry V died (1422) he and his younger brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, took over the government of the kingdom with priority in the war with France.Lancaster was Lord Protector of England in Gloucester”s absence. Bedford defeated the French many times, his most notable success being his victory at the Battle of Versailles, but the arrival of Joan of Arc reversed the situation. Bedford handed Joan over to a council that tried and executed her in Rouen (1431) while he did not participate in the proceedings, then arranged the coronation of his young nephew Henry VI in Paris. In 1422-1432 he was appointed governor of Normandy and founded the University of Caen; he sent four documents from Paris and England. Bedford”s most important documents were “The Hours of Bedford”, “The Bible of Salisbury” published in Paris, “The Psalter of Bedford” and “The Hours” in the period 1420 – 1423 in England, all decorated in the fashion of the time.
John of Lancaster married Anne of Valois, daughter of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, on 13 May 1423 at his first marriage in Troyes. The marriage remained childless and Anne died of a plague epidemic in Paris (1432).
He married in a second marriage on 22 April 1433 at Terrouan to Jacqueline of the House of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter I, Count of Saint-Paul. This marriage also remained childless; Jacqueline later married and had 14 children with her second husband.
John of Lancaster had a bastard daughter, John:
John died during a convocation of the Congress of Arras (1435) in Rouen and was buried in Rouen Cathedral with his ancestor Henry the Younger, but the tomb was destroyed by the Calvinists (1562). Today a plaque shows the exact location of his tomb.
John of Lancaster is portrayed in William Shakespeare”s plays “Henry IV, Part A” and “Henry IV, Part B” as John of Lancaster and “Henry V and Henry VI, Part A” as the Duke of Bedford. The author Georgette Heyer (1902 – 1974) in her play ”My Lord John” tells of his life from the age of 4 to 20. Philippa Gregory”s (b. 1954) novel “The Lady of the Rivers” (2011) presents John as the first husband of the protagonist Jacquetta of Luxembourg.
As the son of a king, John of Lancaster used his father”s royal symbols with the only difference being a five-pointed sign at the top. In The Hours of Bedford the symbols in one scene are supported by an eagle surrounded by a crown in a sandy field with many golden branches of felled trees, a hierarchical symbol of Edward III at Woodstock Palace. The emblem is surrounded by a rotating sign that appears four times around the symbol with the same inscription, the inscription relates to the order of succession to the throne, he was third successor to his father and then a legitimate viceroy. The Hours very likely created this emblem to dedicate it to his wife Anna daughter of John the Strong.
The Queen”s symbols in her Birmingham home were reversed by her supporters, the royal symbols of England were placed on the left and the royal symbols of Lorraine were placed on the right with six subdivisions. John of Lancaster”s second wife Jacquetta of Luxembourg by her subsequent marriage became the mother of Elizabeth Woodville wife of Edward IV. Elizabeth”s rights to inherit the symbols of her mother”s first husband seem unlikely but she may have used them for flattering reasons.