John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford

John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford KG (20 June 1389  14 September 1435) was a medieval English prince, general and statesman who commanded England's armies in France during a critical phase of the Hundred Years' War. Bedford was the third son of King Henry IV of England, brother to Henry V, and acted as regent of France for his nephew Henry VI. Despite his military and administrative talent, the situation in France had severely deteriorated by the time of his death.[1]

John of Lancaster
Duke of Bedford
Regent of France
The Duke of Bedford with his heraldic badges of wood stocks and his motto A Vous Entier
(miniature from Bedford Hours)
Born20 June 1389
Died14 September 1435 (aged 46)
Castle of Joyeux Repos, Rouen
Burial30 September 1435
Anne of Burgundy
(m. 1423; died 1432)

HouseHouse of Lancaster
FatherHenry IV of England
MotherMary de Bohun
Military service
AllegianceKingdom of England
ConflictsAnglo-Scottish border wars
Hundred Years' War

Bedford was a capable administrator and soldier, and his effective management of the war brought the English to the height of their power in France. However, difficulties mounted after the arrival of Joan of Arc, and his efforts were further thwarted by political divisions at home and the waverings of England's key ally, the duchy of Burgundy. In the last years of Bedford's life, the conflict devolved into a war of attrition, and he became increasingly unable to gather the necessary funds to prosecute the conflict.

Bedford died during the congress of Arras in 1435, just as Burgundy was preparing to abandon the English cause and conclude a separate peace with Charles VII of France.


After his father's accession to the throne of England as Henry IV in 1399, John of Lancaster began to accumulate lands and lucrative offices. He was knighted on 12 October 1399 at his father's coronation and made a Knight of the Garter by 1402. Between 1403 and 1405 grants of the forfeited lands from the House of Percy and of the alien priory of Ogbourne, Wiltshire, considerably increased his income. He was appointed master of the mews and falcons in 1402, Constable of England in 1403 and Warden of the East March from 1403 to 1414.[2] He was created Earl of Kendal, Earl of Richmond and Duke of Bedford in 1414 by his brother, King Henry V.[3][4]

When Henry V died in 1422, Bedford vied with his younger brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, for control of the Kingdom. Bedford was declared regent but focused on the ongoing war in France, while during his absence Gloucester acted as Lord Protector of England. Bedford defeated the French several times, most notably at the Battle of Verneuil, until the arrival of Joan of Arc rallied the opposition. Bedford handed Joan to an ecclesiastical court, which had her tried and executed at Rouen in 1431, though Bedford himself took no part in the trial. He then arranged a coronation for the young Henry VI at Paris.

Bedford had been Governor in Normandy between 1422–1432 where the University of Caen was founded under his auspices. He was an extremely important commissioner of illuminated manuscripts, both from Paris (from the Bedford Master and his workshop) and England. The three most important surviving manuscripts of his are the Bedford Hours (British Library Add MS 18850) and the Salisbury Breviary (Paris BnF Ms Lat. 17294), which were both made in Paris, and the Bedford Psalter and Hours of about 1420–23, which is English (British Library Add MS 42131). This last is signed in two places by Herman Scheere. All are lavishly decorated and famous examples of the style of the period.


John's first marriage was to Anne of Burgundy (d.1432), daughter of John the Fearless on 13 May 1423 in Troyes,[5][lower-alpha 1] The couple were happily married, despite being childless. Anne died of the plague in Paris in 1432.[6]

John's second marriage was to Jacquetta of Luxembourg, on 22 April 1433 at Thérouanne in northern France. This marriage was also childless, though Jacquetta went on to have more than a dozen children in her second marriage to Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers.


John died in 1435 during the Congress of Arras at his Castle of Joyeux Repos in Rouen, and was buried at Rouen Cathedral near Henry the Young King, but his grave was destroyed by the Calvinists in 1562. Today a plaque marks the former location of his grave. He had no legitimate surviving issue.

In literature

He appears in William Shakespeare's plays Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2 as John of Lancaster, and in Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1 as Duke of Bedford.

Georgette Heyer's novel My Lord John deals with his life from when he was four to about twenty.

In the 2011 Philippa Gregory novel, The Lady of the Rivers, John features as the first husband of main character, Jacquetta of Luxembourg.


As a son of the sovereign, John bore the Royal arms of his father King Henry IV, differenced by a label of five points per pale ermine and France.[7]

In the Bedford Book of Hours[8] these arms are shown supported by an eagle collared with a crown and a sable yale all on a gold field sewn with gold "wood stocks" (cut tree stumps with roots), a heraldic badge of King Edward III, referring to Woodstock Palace. It is possible that the yale was painted in silver which has tarnished black. The shield is surrounded with a pair of banners gules which reverse in argent with the motto repeated four times: A vous entier (To you / yours entire[ly]). This may be a pun on the German Tier, i.e., beast, or on (English) tears —or 'tiers' of meaning, including tierce, referring to himself as third in line to his father's throne and by now rightful king but for the baby Henry VI. The Hours were supposedly produced as a courtship present from John to his wife, Anne, daughter of John the Fearless of Burgundy.

There is a Queen's Arms public house sign from Birmingham[9] which uses these supporters reversed and with an argent yale uncollared on a shield showing the English royal arms at left and to the right six divisions representing Lorraine. John's second wife, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, cousin to the Emperor (the King of Hungary), was mother to Elizabeth Woodville who may be this queen. Elizabeth Woodville's right to inherit these armorial supporters would seem dubious if they belong to her mother's first husband or to his first wife. Alternatively, though equally incorrect, the arms may be her mother's used in a flattering conceit.



  1. Several authoritative sources are cited by the Library of Congress Name Authority File. Chevalier (1877–1903) states the marriage took place on 13 April 1423, but more recent sources agree on 13 May 1423 and one of those states Troyes (Library of Congress staff 2014).

Further reading

John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford
Cadet branch of the House of Plantagenet
Born: 20 June 1389 Died: 14 September 1435
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Bedford
16 May 1414 – 14 September 1435
Title next held by
George Neville
Earl of Kendal
16 May 1414 – 14 September 1435
Title next held by
John Beaufort
Earl of Richmond
24 November 1414 – 14 September 1435
Title next held by
Edmund Tudor
Preceded by
Ralph Neville
Honour of Richmond
21 October 1425 – 14 September 1435
Political offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Exeter
Lord High Admiral
26 July 1426 – 14 September 1435
Succeeded by
The Earl of Huntingdon
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