The Loss of Blanche of England

Blanche of Lancaster
Blanche, her husband and her husband’s second wife

Henry IV’s daughters are completely overshadowed by their brothers and that’s mostly fair, for the Lancastrian men played a much more important role in shaping England’s trajectory. We have, however, covered Henry’s youngest daughter, Philippa, and the important role that she played in Scandinavia as the queen consort of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Today, we’re going to focus on the elder of the two, Blanche, who, like her brother, Thomas, also happened to be her father’s favorite.

An exact birth date for Blanche is unknown, but she was born in the spring of 1392, likely in Peterborough Castle in Northamptonshire. Her father was then only the Earl of Derby, while her mother was his first wife, Mary de Bohun. Even so, her family was plenty illustrious thanks to her paternal grandfather, the Duke of Lancaster, and their proximity to the throne, then held by Richard II. Blanche was named for her long-deceased paternal grandmother, Blanche of Lancaster, who remained a beloved figure to her surviving family.

When Blanche was two, her mother died after giving birth to her seventh child, another daughter who was christened Philippa. As such, she never knew her mother, though Mary’s legacy would hang over the young family for decades – particularly since Henry didn’t remarry until 1403. Psalters that had once belonged to the young Countess of Derby ended up in both Scandinavia and Germany, the regions in which her daughters would end up after their marriages. This, combined with her focus on education, faith and cultural patronage, helps to give us some insight into who this woman was and what her influence – even in absentia – was on her children.

In the short-term, however, Blanche grew up among the younger half of her siblings, while her elder brothers – Henry, Thomas and John – began their educations outside of the nursery. Eventually, Humphrey would also leave since, as a male child, his training required an altogether different set of skills. All of the children were separated from their father, who traveled frequently, though there are recorded times that he appears to have visited his daughters at Eaton where they often resided with their governess.

Life came to a crashing halt in 1398 when Richard II banished Henry, now Duke of Hereford, from England for 10 years. Protection of Blanche and her siblings was placed in the hands of her grandfather, John of Gaunt, while her eldest brother, Henry, was in the King’s custody. When Gaunt died in February 1399 and Richard II extended Henry’s banishment to a life sentence, while claiming the whole of the Lancastrian estate, Henry returned to England and toppled Richard from his throne. By the end of it, Blanche’s father was crowned king in October 1399, when she was just seven years old.

Blanche and her siblings moved to London, though it was only she and Philippa who remained under one roof. King Henry’s court was a mostly masculine environment due to there being no queen and the presence of his four growing sons and plethora of male relations. Still children, neither princess was called upon to be a presence at court outside of occasional ceremonial duties.

Even so, it was Blanche was first of her siblings to be called upon to marry. Her father’s choice was King Rupert of Germany’s son, Prince Louis. It was but one arm of a larger strategy to solidify the House of Lancaster through foreign alliances cemented by marriage. Early in 1402, shortly before her 10th birthday, Blanche departed her family and England for Germany.

As for Louis, he was 14 years older than his new bride and had most recently served his father as imperial vicar during Germany’s military campaign in Italy. Highly educated, religious and interested in the arts, it’s unknown what relationship he had with Blanche, but it’s possible that once she became of age, he found in her an intelligent, worthy ally. At the very least, there aren’t any rumors of domestic troubles from their marriage.

The wedding took place on July 6, 1402 in Cologne Cathedral, however given the bride’s age, the marriage wouldn’t have been immediately consummated. Indeed, the earliest date that it could have been is September 1405, when Blanche was 13, for it was in that month that she conceived her first child. She gave birth to a son, Rupert, on June 22, 1406 in Heidelberg.

Despite leaving home at a young age and the subsequent distance, Blanche retained close ties with her family back home, especially her father. In 1408 he honored her by naming her a Lady of the Garter, and within a year she was able to announce a second pregnancy, theoretically ensuring a safe line of succession. Tragically, she fell ill in Alsace in May 1409 and passed away at just 17. News of her death is reported to have been a particular blow to King Henry, who by some accounts never fully recovered from the news.

As for Louis, he didn’t remarry for another eight years, though he did succeed his father as Elector Palatine in 1410. On November 17, 1417, he took as his second wife Matilda of Savoy and together they had five more children. Unfortunately, Prince Rupert, his eldest son with Blanche, passed away at the age of 20 in 1426, pre-deceasing his father by 10 years.

Blanche is buried at what is now called the Church of St. Aegidius in Neustadt.

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