For my FS 201, Reconstructing the Past, taught by Professor Lyons, I was asked to write a ten page paper on a figure who was involved in the Battle of Poitiers 1356. Without much thought, I chose to write my paper on Henry of Grosmont, the first Duke of Lancaster, 1320-1361, and so I proceeded to begin research. I began by going to The Complete Peerage of England Scotland and Ireland Great Britain and the United Kingdom, which is a reference series published by Alan Sutton Publishing that catalogs all notable actions done by nobles along with all titles given to them. The library staff was helpful in retrieving the source for me, as it was placed on reserve by our professor. I always begin research with reference material, as it offers a good overview on one’s life. The Complete Peerage did this, but also revealed to me that Henry had not been at the Battle of Poitiers, but despite this, was one of the most famous knights of his era who had an extensive career. This meant that I could not simply recount what he had done in Poitiers, but I would have to somehow compact his long life into a tight, thesis driven paper. I began looking at other resources to see if I could get a better grip on what specifically characterized his public career. He was a founding member of the Order of the Garter, England’s most prestigious knightly order. I therefore looked at the Order’s catalogue of each member; my professor helped me locate it online. This resource was similar to The Complete Peerage, but the important difference was that it was not simply an historical account of his life, but a more precise list of what his peers had valued as his most prestigious achievements, which helped me narrow down what was viewed as his most notable moments by his contemporaries. After reading this I felt as if I was zeroing in on what characterized Henry of Grosmont’s life. I next turned to The King’s Lieutenant, which is the authoritative, secondary source work done on Henry’s life, written by Kenneth Fowler. I found this resource through the library webpage and checked it out. While working my way through this long, in depth overview of his life, I discovered that Henry himself had in fact written a book entitled Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines. I immediately set out to obtain a copy, and was able to get a section of it translated and sent to me through Illiad. While reading this I discovered that a man who had been one of the most successful public figures in medieval England was, in fact, deeply troubled by guilt. He was ashamed he had lived a life of perceived sin, and in his book, pleaded for the Holy Mother to heal the wounds that were inflicted upon him because of the errors of his ways. This intrigued me greatly and seemed atypical, so I looked at English History, which is an encyclopedia of England’s past, published by McGraw Hill. I wanted to see if there was anything that happened to him or his family throughout his life that explained his profound piety, and I quickly found my answer. He was not in line to inherit the expansive Earldom of Lancaster and Leicester as he did, but in fact it fell to him when his uncle was executed by the king during Henry’s childhood. This meant that Henry didn’t grow up expecting a life of luxury, and didn’t receive the pampered upbringing that an heir to a large estate would receive, but in fact was extremely grateful for his fortune and luck, and never forgot his roots.
My research led me on a path that eventually revealed to me that Henry was one of the few figures of the Hundred Years War that I could truly admire. He was a superior warrior, devout and pious man, and one of the most chivalric figures of the medieval era. My interest in him has sustained, and I recently received a hardcover translation of his book through Illiad from Rutgers University and intend to continue my inquiry into his life.