Post-classical history


As Far as to the Sepulchre of Christ

Therefore, friends,

As far as to the sepulchre of Christ –

whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross

we are impressed and engaged to fight –

forthwith a power of English we shall levy;

Henry IV Part One, Act 1, Scene 1

Henry spent Christmas 1391 at Hertford with his father, wife and children. He took part in a tournament, his fourth since returning to England. On Christmas Day a dolphin was seen in the Thames, which prompted one chronicler to write a short passage all about dolphins for those of his readers who had never seen these marvellous creatures which ‘generally, as they leap, fly across the sails of ships’. Notwithstanding this wonderful monastic exaggeration, from his reference to the dolphin’s appearance foretelling the bad storms the following week we may be sure that the season was stormy.1 Heralds arrived from France in the rain to invite Henry to take part in jousts with French knights the following year.2 In the fire-lit evenings, Henry’s and John’s musicians entertained the gathering, Henry further showing his appreciation of their contribution with large rewards.3

Then came the giving of traditional New Year presents.4 To the king Henry sent a gold brooch in the style of a panther with sapphires and pearls, costing £7. To his father he gave a golden swan with a ruby and pearls, costing £12 17s 4d. To Mary he gave a golden hind covered in white enamel with a golden collar around its neck, at a cost of £9.5 This reference in particular has interested art historians over the years, as white enamel is a rare refinement of the jeweller’s art and one exquisitely displayed in the famous Dunstable swan jewel: a tiny gold swan in white enamel which also has a golden collar around its neck. In fact, there is a reference in this same account to Henry paying Ludwig the Goldsmith for ‘mending and enamelling a golden swan’ of Henry’s own, which he had broken, which probably relates to something very similar to the Dunstable swan jewel.6 Other presents of jewels were given out to the duchess of Lancaster (Henry’s stepmother), the duchess of Gloucester (Mary’s sister), the countess of Huntingdon (Henry’s sister), Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, Katherine Swynford, Joan Beaufort (Henry’s half-sister), and the principal officers of his and his father’s households. One of the pagan boys he had brought back from his crusade also received a present of a golden brooch with a diamond, worth £1 10s. Henry received presents in return from the king and queen, his father, the duchess of Lancaster, the duke and duchess of Gloucester, the countess of Hereford, the countess of Huntingdon, Katherine Swynford and Thomas Mowbray.7

Apart from his uncle, the duke of York, with whom Henry never exchanged presents, two names are conspicuous by their absence from this list. Warwick and Arundel had been fellow Appellants, and in 1388 they had both been high on Henry’s New Year presents list. Yet now they had dropped off. The splits between the Lords Appellant had become so wide that the king could turn them against one another. He could also start to undo the work they had done. In presenting that petition on the last day of the last parliament, he had already secured his freedom from councils being brought against him. Now he sought to accomplish the final stage of his rehabilitation as king, the return of his banished friends.

At the beginning of February Henry and John were summoned to a royal council at Westminster to discuss the forthcoming negotiations for peace with France. Henry was present on the 12th when it was decided that the embassy should be led by John of Gaunt, and that John should be accompanied by the bishop of Durham, the earl of Huntingdon, Lord Cobham and Thomas Percy.8 Although Henry was planning to accompany his father, no mention was made of him having an official capacity, even though he was of considerably higher status than either Percy or Cobham. Henry did not attend the king for the following two days. Then on the 15th he took part in the discussions about the last two surviving men who had been sentenced to death for high treason in the Merciless Parliament. This was how Richard hoped finally to reverse the processes by which Henry and the other Appellants had sought to restrain his authority in 1388. Richard probably thought it not too much to ask; Tresilian and Brembre had been executed at the time, and de la Pole had died in exile in Paris the year after the trial, so he was only asking for two men to be restored to him (Archbishop Neville and de Vere). Four years had now passed since they had fled: might they now be allowed to return? With emphasis, the lords present, including Henry and John, rejected this supplication.9 They urged Richard to recognise that the banishment was permanent. Richard had no option but to accept this, at least for the time being.

Henry, his father and the other emissaries left London on 25 February. They travelled slowly down to Dover and sent their possessions ahead to Calais, following on afterwards and arriving on 11 March.10 When assembled, the retinue consisted of more than two hundred mounted men. The king of France had undertaken to pay the expenses of the ambassadors once they crossed the Channel, and sent four dukes to receive them. The royal uncles – the dukes of Berry and Burgundy – rode ceremonially on either side of John of Gaunt on the way to Amiens, exactly keeping pace with him. When they arrived, John repaid the courtesy by going directly to the bishop’s palace to pay his respects to King Charles, bowing three times before him. Everything was designed to make this a most impressive event, even down to the security arrangements. Frenchmen were warned that those involved in a fight with any member of the English party would be summarily executed. English arms and bows did not have to be deposited with innkeepers, and there were four thousand Frenchmen on guard at the corners of the town, as well as specially detailed brigades to cope with any fires which might break out.11

Negotiations went on for fifteen days. The English had the outline of a treaty, and so did the French. Unfortunately, these outlines had nothing in common. Each thought the other wanted a permanent peace far more desperately than the other, and that the other side was prepared to make significant compromises. The English wanted a return to the terms won by Edward III in 1360, with the payment of the rest of the ransom of the late King John, who had died in 1364: an unrealistic proposal. The French wanted the English to surrender Calais and recognise French sovereignty over the whole of Gascony, with Aquitaine being given to the duke of Berry for his lifetime and thereafter to John of Gaunt and his heirs: an equally unrealistic proposition. So no agreement was possible. All that this ostentatious meeting managed to secure was a truce for a further year, which was agreed on 8 April. Then, with as much ceremony as they had received on arrival, the English were escorted back to Calais. A few days later, Henry and his father were back in England and riding towards Eltham Palace, to report to the king.12

Richard was not happy. He gave the order that the peace was to be discussed at a forthcoming council at Stamford, in May.13 As everyone there heard, the French had wanted the English king to give up his claim to the throne of France and to drop the fleur-de-lys from his arms. Those demands were acceptable. But to allow Gascony to pass for his lifetime to the duke of Berry was not. For Gascony to become an inheritance of the house of Lancaster under French sovereignty was a nonstarter. To whom would the duke owe allegiance in a war? And for Richard, the idea of giving away a princedom which had been enjoyed by his own father – and which was his own birthplace – was unthinkable.

No sooner had it been decided to reject the French treaty proposals than Richard found another outlet for his royal frustrations: the mayor and aldermen of the city of London. According to one chronicler, the writ he sent against them on 29 May was ‘so fearsome and utterly hair-raising as to cause the ears of whosoever heard it to tingle’.14 This also had the potential to draw Henry into a dispute with the king. Both John and Henry were patrons of several of the implicated London merchants. In particular, Henry had close links with Richard Whittington – the famous lord mayor – and John Woodcock.15 This new dispute, together with the French demand that Henry should inherit Gascony, and the ever-present problem of the succession, probably made Henry wistful for the freedom of the Teutonic Knights, fighting their reyse in ‘the Wilderness’ of Lithuania.


On 27 June 1392, Henry received letters of protection for his second voyage to Prussia. Four days later his father granted him two thousand marks per year to supplement his income, and agreed to advance the whole first year’s allowance for his forthcoming voyage.16 Henry appointed Richard Kingston, archdeacon of Hereford, to be his war treasurer again, and immediately set about gathering in all the provisions he would need. The scale was even greater than before. He requisitioned three ships at Lynn, on the north coast of Norfolk, and over the month of July these were packed with such items as thirty-seven empty barrels to contain fresh water, two hundred and seven crabs and lobsters (presumably kept alive on board), three hundred stockfish, 20 lb. pears, 20 lb. ginger, 3 lb. saffron, 20 lb. cinnamon, 12 sugar loaves weighing a total of 36 lb., 6 lb. mace, 1 lb. galingale, 336 lb. almonds, 23 lb. soap, 8 lb. currants, 2 lb. cubebs, 3 lb. nutmeg, 6 lb. liquorice, 4 lb. caraway, 4 lb. aniseed, 6 lb. alkanet, one ream of paper, 3lb. red wax and 3lb. sunflower seeds. Henry took English brewed beer as well as ale, a banner bearing the arms of St George, six dozen plates and a newly painted tapestry. A vivid image of all this being loaded is provided by references to the barrels being carted to the crane on the dock at Lynn to winch them on board.17 When all was ready, the three vessels were towed the fourteen miles along the coast to Heacham by ten smaller ships. There Henry waited for a favourable wind, playing dice to while away the time.

Many of those travelling with Henry had been on his previous expedition. Hugh Waterton (his chamberlain) and Hugh Herle (chaplain) were nearly always with him, so their attendance is no surprise. Peter Bucton and Ralph Rochford were two knights who took advantage of this chance to return to Prussia. Eighty-seven men in all are named in his accounts, including ten knights and officers, fifteen esquires and forty-nine valets. The chroniclers estimated his total retinue at three hundred, as before, suggesting that there were many unnamed men besides these.

The vessels set sail on 24 July, and the wind remained in their favour all the way to Prussia. They landed at Putzig on 10 August, after only eighteen days at sea. But then their luck ran out. On reaching Danzig they learned that Vitold had made peace with Jagiello, and was now in effect his lieutenant in Lithuania. Vitold had no further need of the Teutonic Knights, nor of Henry or any other Christian warriors. Henry and his men had sailed more than a thousand miles, at great expense and some discomfort to themselves, prepared to fight to the death, only to find that their services were not wanted.

This was a curious situation: to be a crusader without a cause. What was Henry supposed to do? Having left in the usual blaze of promise and glory, with a military and jousting reputation to live up to, he could not return home straight away without losing face. He lingered at Danzig for two weeks, during which time his restless soldiers killed two men in a brawl. Henry quickly made reparations through the intercession of his chaplain, Hugh Herle, and paid for the burials. Then he set out to Königsberg where he met with Marshal Rabe, who seems to have been deeply apologetic about the lack of a reyse that year.18 Rabe explained the delicate situation to Henry and gave him the substantial sum of £400 towards his expenses. This still did not resolve Henry’s problem. Having set out to show himself a soldier of Christ, he needed to achieve something honourable before he could return to England.

Henry went back to Danzig and pondered his next move. He did not have many options. He could have travelled back to England by land, which would have taken time and been unexciting and expensive. He could in theory have pushed on eastwards, through Lithuania, to encounter the Tartars in Russia, but that would have been dangerous to the point of suicidal with only three hundred men. He could in theory have sailed around to the Mediterranean and fought against the Moors in Spain and northern Africa, but he had insufficient supplies for such a long voyage. Besides, the ships in which he had sailed were manned by men who knew the Baltic, not the Atlantic. Thus he decided to do what very few Englishmen had done before him: a pilgrimage though Poland, Bohemia, Austria and Italy, and then across the sea to the Holy Land. He would go to Jerusalem.


Even today people think twice before undertaking a journey of two thousand miles. In the fourteenth century it was a considerable psychological challenge. For a start, Henry knew he would be heading through Pomerania (the north of Poland), which was intermittently fighting the Teutonic Knights. Then there was the obvious vulnerability which any gold-laden traveller needs to consider, including pirates in the Mediterranean. On the other hand, Henry did have money, an armed retinue and the prestige of both his grandfathers’ names. Everywhere he went he would be seen by the leading families as a curiosity – the grandson of the great King Edward III and his most famous warrior, Lancaster – for although English people were not very familiar with Eastern Europe, the fame of the English warriors had spread across the whole of the Christian world. Moreover, Henry was King Richard’s cousin, and even though he and the king did not get on, the connection opened doors for him. Richard’s queen, for example, was the sister of both King Wenceslas of Bohemia and King Sigismund of Hungary. In addition, because Henry was descended from Edward II’s queen, Isabella of France, and Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence, he had distant cousins in many of the ruling houses of Europe. Wenceslas’s eldest half-sisters, for example, were his second cousins twice removed.19 As Henry sat in the hall of Klaus Gottesknight’s house in Danzig, the idea of the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem dawned on him. Once it had dawned, it rose like a fiery sun of ambition.

Henry sent a knight, Otto Grandison, to the duke of Stolp to obtain letters of safe-conduct under his seal. These arrived, and Henry set out on 22 September 1392. The following day, at Schonec, an old friend caught up with him: Sir Thomas Erpingham, who had travelled with Henry on his first expedition to Lithuania. Henry spent two days at Schonec celebrating with Erpingham before passing through the vineyards of the region and making his next stop at Hammerstein.

Each morning his valets and heralds rode ahead with banners of his arms to announce his approach and to arrange accommodation for him and his men in the most suitable house. In this fashion he entered Polschken, Schievelbein, Dramberg, Arneswald, Landsberg and Drossen (to use their German names; today these places lie in Poland). Twelve days and 250 miles after leaving Danzig he rode across the long wooden bridge over the River Oder and entered Frankfurt an der Oder, fifty miles to the east of Berlin. As soon as he entered the town his men set about obtaining quantities of wine, beer and good white bread. A cart which had been damaged on the way was mended. Henry had a good look at the prosperous town – a member of the Hanseatic League, whose trading boats sailed up and down the Oder, between Stettin and Breslau – and set off again the next day. A local guide was paid to show them the way, along the road by the wide, meadow-banked Oder, to the point at which it met its tributary, the Neisse.20

The next town on the Neisse was Gubin. Each day a separate guide was taken on to lead the party along the safest path beside the slow-flowing river. On 7 October they came to Görlitz, and entered the lands ruled by King Wenceslas of Bohemia. Like the other towns along the Neisse and the Oder rivers, Görlitz was a major trading town. Henry’s spicery clerks were able to buy ginger, pepper and wax candles. Henry gave alms to three lepers he met here; and some of his horses were reshod before the party continued on their way, following another guide down the river towards Zittau, and from there down to Prague, which Henry entered on 13 October.

Prague was already ancient. On the summit of the hill overlooking the city, the tenth-century castle had seen royal palaces and chapels come and go within the circuit of its walls. The basilica of St George stood there; so did the old convent associated with it, where the relics of St Ludmilla were revered. The new cathedral of St Vitus towered high above everything else, including the royal palace, its steeple dominating the skyline. It was the coronation place of the kings of Bohemia, their capital and their seat of power. It was also a thrusting and progressive modern city, boasting a new royal palace, an international market and a university, founded about forty-five years earlier.

Henry was greeted with honour by King Wenceslas. His fame had preceded him: in addition to his connection to the English royal family, several Bohemian knights who had been at St Inglevert were able to testify to his martial skill. The king treated Henry not as a mere earl but as a prince in his own right, and invited him to join him at his hunting lodge. For three days Henry feasted and hunted with Wenceslas. When he returned to the city he visited the shrines and churches within the precincts of the castle, giving alms and oblations at each one, honouring the Bohemian royal family and the queen of England’s ancestors.21

Elsewhere in the city, Henry’s men were preparing for the next stage of their journey. In the hall of Henry’s house his heralds were busy painting more coats of arms on paper and wood. Henry set great store by parading his coat of arms wherever he went. Here too his clerks were able to obtain for him local souvenirs of his trip – two painted altarpieces – as well as the more usual necessities of supply, including food, drink and provisions for the horses. On the 26th he set out on the next stage of his journey, 160 miles to Vienna, where he arrived on 4 November.

Henry’s expedition was beginning to acquire some of the characteristics of the Grand Tour of the eighteenth century, when young aristocratic men completed their education by visiting the great cities and ruling families of Europe. Henry crossed the River Danube and travelled to meet King Sigismund of Hungary, another of Queen Anne’s brothers.22 In Vienna, the capital of Austria, he met Duke Albert III, who welcomed him and paid his expenses while he stayed in the city. The duke was both a soldier and a man who could appreciate scholarship. He had taken part in the reyseof 1377 and had expanded the University of Vienna, which his late brother had founded in the 1360s. Henry could see for himself how the whole region was locked in a cultural battle, with the universities of Prague and Vienna vying for pre-eminence, and the Viennese planning to rebuild their cathedral even taller than that of St Vitus in Prague. Like the young lords on their European tours three or four hundred years later, simply visiting these places was an education. The key difference between Henry’s journey and the Grand Tour is that, in the eighteenth century, it was the educational value of the travelling and meeting people which was the main purpose. For Henry, these were just by-products of the ultimate aim: to pay homage to God in Jerusalem, at the Holy Sepulchre.

While he stayed in Vienna, Henry sent Sir Peter Bucton ahead to Venice with a small party of knights and heralds to make arrangements for a galley to take him across the Mediterranean. On 7 November he said his farewells to Duke Albert and took the road which followed the River Murz south from Vienna through Carinthia. The harsh winter was setting in; the uneven roads were rutted with frozen mud. Henry was riding towards the foothills of the Alps with his one remaining carriage. On 9 November he was at Neukirchen, on the 12th at Leoben. Somewhere on the road between the two, Henry met a dwarf and gave him alms. A week later he rode into Klagenfurt, which had supposedly been founded where once a dragon had lived and been slain by a brave St George-like warrior. Here he stayed the night before riding along the north side of the blue-green waters of the Wörthersee up the steep road towards Villach.

A lot of grease had to be used on the rough axles of his carriage, but even this was insufficient, for the paths were too narrow for such a large, heavy vehicle. Eventually he abandoned it altogether and bought two smaller carts. Whether he paid any attention to the blue-green waters of the lake as he struggled towards the snow-capped mountains in the distance is open to doubt. For men of his day, the beauties of nature were not a great attraction. Surrounded by unspoilt countryside and greenery all the time, it was great buildings which especially excited the fourteenth-century traveller. For Henry and his men, they had the towns and churches of Italy ahead of them, which they were looking forward to seeing far more than the steep slopes of the Alps in the bitter cold.

On 17 November Henry reached Arnoldstein, on the border between Austria and Italy. The following day he began the slow descent to San Daniele, Spilimberg and the ancient city of Treviso, where he arrived on the evening of the 22nd. A multitude of tall, thin towers bristled above the walls of the town, and the cathedral and churches sat hunched over their small piazzas. The Roman walls still stood, enclosing the many municipal buildings of the bustling old town. This was the first Mediterranean city Henry had seen, and here he must have felt that he was at last nearing his destination, for Treviso had recently come under the dominion of Venice itself, and the winged lion of St Mark was carved in several prominent places. Henry rested for several days. He sent his baggage carts out to the small city of Portogruaro on the coast of the Adriatic, where he established his winter quarters. From here he could be rowed down the coast to Venice and back in hired barges. The bitterly cold winter, however, meant that even the salt waters of the Adriatic impeded him. On one occasion nine men were paid for breaking the ice so that the barge could pass.23

At Venice Henry came face to face with a huge city, far larger than anything he had previously seen. At this time London probably had fewer than thirty thousand inhabitants. No other English cities were even half this size, and all but a handful had populations under five thousand. At Venice he found himself surrounded by about sixty or seventy thousand souls, all packed tightly into the overpopulated, overdeveloped islands. The display of wealth was astonishing, from the citizens’ dress and the palaces of the merchants to the relics in each of the churches. The goods in the markets were greater in range and variety than the produce available anywhere else in Europe. Indeed, many of the spices he bought in markets in London had come through Venice. From the Eastern-inspired quixotic architecture to the boats in the lagoon, from the exotica available in the markets to the three thousand sea-going ships that the Republic could boast, there was no doubt that Venice was the key to unlock the known world.

The senate of the Venetian Republic had, of course, heard of Henry’s arrival. Sir Peter Bucton had arrived two weeks earlier, and had brought letters from Henry and from the duke of Austria. It was rare for an important member of the English royal family to visit Venice, and accordingly the senate had voted by a margin of forty-two to four to grant him a galley to take him and his men to the Holy Land. They also declined any payment for this honour. On 30 November, hearing that he had settled his household at Portogruaro for the winter, they spent 360 ducats (about £60) on a reception in his honour.24 On 1 December he arrived at the house prepared for him on the Isle of St George, and the following day he met the doge and senate, and joined with them in a service at St Mark’s Cathedral.

The next three weeks must have been a constant delight to Henry, waking every morning to see the wide Mediterranean dawn, the ice on the frozen canals being broken by the boatmen, the colourful eastern cloths and the aromatic spices in the markets. He spent three weeks visiting the churches and listening to the music. He was shown around much of the city by the doge himself.25 Besides his donations at St Mark’s (which he visited more than once), he gave alms at the churches of St Lucy, St Nicholas, St Agnes, St Anthony, St George, the Innocents and St Christopher. These churches were filled with relics, many of them removed from Constantinople in 1204 by the mercenaries of the Fourth Crusade. Like everything else in Venice, these were not just buried in stone, they were dazzling: encased in gold and jewelled reliquaries.

In the markets Henry’s clerks were able to obtain whatever their lord desired. Fish of all sorts were bought in large quantities, including eel, pike, tench, crabs, plaice, trout, crayfish, barbutt, mullet, shrimps, oysters, cockles, greenback, perch, chub, pimpernel, carp and flounder. Pigs, hens, eggs, chickens and ducks were all laid on for the journey to the Holy Land, as well as all the saffron, mace, sugar candy, and other sweets which Henry liked to have on a long journey. Here he was able to obtain gingerbread andcitronade (probably a sort of lemon preserve). Huge amounts of food were provided. Two thousand dates were loaded on board, and 2,250 eggs. One thousand pounds of almonds were taken: that equates to a hundredweight for every week of the voyage (most to be used as almond milk in the cooking). And to pay for it all, Henry secured a money transfer from his father in England, through the services of the bankers, the Albertini. Medieval Venice was unrivalled for its financial facilities as well as its range of things to buy.


On 22 or 23 December 1392, Henry finally set sail. The route was a prescribed one, followed by Venetian ship captains for centuries as they plied the pilgrim trade. They followed the coast of Croatia and stopped at the Venetian city of Zara (now Zadar) on Christmas Day. Then they sailed down the Dalmatian coast to the island of Lissa (Vis), and southwards, to the island of Corfu, around the Peloponnese to Rhodes and possibly Cyprus. Excluding Zara, these stops seem to have been roughly at 250-mile intervals, and probably represent a full six days at sea.26 At each place the men disembarked and had the tablecloths and communal linen taken ashore and washed. At a port on the Peloponnese clerks were sent ashore to buy wine, lemons, fish, bread, herbs, olive oil, milk and oranges; on the island of Rhodes they obtained a thousand eggs, six partridges, oil, bread and herbs. By the time they reached the shore of the Holy Land, they had been at sea for about five weeks.

We know very little of what happened to Henry in the Holy Land. His accounts become minimal, recording only bare essentials, as if he walked around and bought nothing but just stood and gawped. In fact one of the most telling lines about his experience comes from a letter written many years later, when he was king, to the emperor of Abyssinia. In this letter he expresses his intention to revisit Jerusalem, but he stresses with great pride that he had already been to the Holy Sepulchre, in person.27 And he may well have been proud: the only other members of the English royal family who had set their eyes on the Holy Land were Richard I and Edward I, and neither of them had entered the Holy City itself. When he saw land that day in late January 1393 it must have seemed to Henry that he would soon tread in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

This is the important thing to understand about Henry’s voyage to the Holy Land. A cynic might say that he only went on his pilgrimage because he had nothing better to do, and his greatest hardship along the way was the chill as he rode through the Alps in winter. But such a judgement would be wrong, for it ignores the all-important element of motive. The reasons why medieval men travelled all the way to Jerusalem go far beyond cynicism. Henry certainly had a more luxurious time travelling than his non-royal contemporaries, but it cannot be denied that what had pushed him all that way was the zeal of the pilgrim. When Englishmen making the pilgrimage to Canterbury saw the cathedral before them, they started to run as fast as they could towards it, unable to stop themselves, so powerful was the grip of the impending spiritual fulfilment of their journey. For the few Englishmen who made the journey all the way to the Holy Land, how much greater their excitement must have been. For Henry, who had come via Poland, Prussia, Bohemia, Austria and Italy, travelling almost constantly for nearly seven months, the sight of the intended destination must have sent more than a slight shiver of excitement running down his spine.

Jaffa itself stirred deep feelings of pride, for this was where King Richard had fought his two battles with Saladin in the summer of 1192, two hundred years before. From the boat, Henry would have seen where King Richard had waded ashore with a handful of knights, his sword above his head, to inspire the garrison of the citadel to resume fighting. Outside the town itself he saw the place where Richard had fought a great pitched battle, commanding fifty-four knights and two thousand infantrymen against seven thousand Saracens. But then, turning his sight towards the east, he would have been aware that the real goal for which he had come was not this pleasant port, nor these historical distractions, but the shimmering city that lay just thirty miles away.

Henry hired one horse to carry the food supplies for him and his men and then started to walk towards Jerusalem.28 For the Christian pilgrim, every step of the way was imbued with symbolism and meaning. The landscape was one vast holy relic. Just to be at Jaffa, ‘where Peter was raised from death to life’, earned the pilgrim absolution from seven years’ worth of sins.29 Leaving the town they came to a stone: the very stone upon which Peter was standing when Jesus called to him to follow him.

From that stone to Jerusalem, the experience for the pilgrim grew more and more intense with every step. If Henry followed the usual pilgrim trail, he would have gone to Ramah and then Lydda, where St George was martyred. He would have seen the tomb of Samuel the prophet, and the house where the Last Supper was held. As he entered Jerusalem, the drama grew even greater as he saw the Roman gate where Pilate proclaimed ‘Ecce Homo’ (‘Behold the man’), and started to walk in the footsteps of Christ himself towards Calvary. His guide pointed out to him and his companions the stone where Christ rested with his cross, the chapel on the site where Christ appeared to his mother after the Crucifixion, the pillar to which Christ was bound and then beaten with scourges, and the place where Christ was crowned with thorns. Slowly, story by story, the pilgrim approached the culmination of the journey: the Holy Sepulchre itself, on the site of where the angels said to the three Marys, ‘whom do you seek?’ and in the choir of the same church the chamber where Christ was laid to rest, and where he rose again from the dead.

At the Holy Sepulchre Henry gave his six gold ducats (£1), the standard amount. The donation was less important than the spirit of the offering, and the being there, the believing. Henry had adopted the path of the crusader and pilgrim, and followed God. Everything we have been able to determine about his character to this point in his life – from his logical mind to his courage, his conventional attitude to religion, his self-confidence and his intellectual ability – leads us to believe that the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was the most intense confirmation of his spiritual belief. He may have travelled the long journey in comparative luxury, but having been in the Holy City he had achieved a status which could never be taken away from him. It made him more than just a prince among men.


Henry’s return from Jerusalem was a slow business. He had accomplished his journey’s great purpose; there was no rush to get home. Indeed, he preferred this independent life – travelling as a prince, meeting foreign potentates – to the undemanding role of an underemployed heir in England. When the ship docked at Cyprus, he was invited to Famagusta and entertained by the king, James I. Although the island was ravaged at that time by plague, Henry, in his spiritually touched state, did not worry about disease. The king gave him a present of a leopard, for which a cage had to be built on board the galley before he could set sail again. Later, in England, Henry took care of his leopard, purchasing medicines for it when it grew sick.30 Somewhere along his pilgrimage he was also given a parrot, which escaped on his return journey. At Rhodes Henry took under his wing a Saracen boy, whom he baptised with the name of Henry, perhaps as tangible proof of his visit to the Holy Land. Normally pilgrims purchased pilgrim badges to show they had visited a shrine. Henry went a step further, and bought captured infidel children.


Henry returned to Venice on 20 March 1393. The senate voted to spend one hundred ducats in honour of his return, ‘so he may return to his own country well pleased with us’.31 He had copies of his coat of arms and those of his knights painted and hung in St Mark’s Cathedral to remind the Venetians of the English pilgrims who had visited their city.32 After three more weeks in the trading capital of the Mediterranean, he set out for England.

Of all the places at which Henry stopped on his return journey, one in particular deserves mention. At Milan, Henry met Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the duke who had recently overthrown his uncle Bernabo and was now planning to conquer the whole of northern Italy. As in Poland-Lithuania, Henry was confronted with the example of a ruler being challenged – and, in Milan, overthrown – by a rival heir. Their relationship was helped by the fact that Gian Galeazzo was in a sense a kinsman. His sister, Violante, had married Henry’s uncle Lionel in 1368. Gian Galeazzo charmed Henry, and took him to see Lionel’s tomb as well as those of Boethius (author of The Consolation of Philosophy) and St Augustine. In later years Henry always referred to him by his most poetic title, ‘the count of Virtue’, and continued to write to him. The Milanese in turn were charmed by Henry, the archbishop being especially impressed by this crusading prince.33 The duke invited him to arbitrate in a dispute between himself and a house of friars. Someone in Milan – probably Gian Galeazzo himself – gave him a present of a set of cups made out of ostrich eggs. A Milanese esquire called Francis Court was so taken with Henry that he begged to be allowed to serve him, and thus entered Henry’s service. Another particularly smitten companion of these few days in Milan was Gian Galeazzo’s own twenty-one-year-old sister-in-law and cousin, Lucia Visconti. Seven years later, when asked whom she would like to marry, she replied that if she could be sure of marrying Henry, she would wait for him forever, even if she were to die three days after the wedding. This was solemnly recorded by the clerk for posterity in the same document in which she gave her assent to an alternative marriage proposal. Even a desirable and acceptable candidate was second best when compared with the twenty-six-year-old Henry.34

Henry proceeded through France at a stately pace, arriving in Paris on 22 June and landing at Dover on the 30th. He had been away from England for almost a year. In that time his experiences had tempered him: the passionate crusader had absorbed the responsibility of having been a pilgrim in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Many lessons remained to be learned: he had hardly come to terms with the financial implications of living such a lavish lifestyle. But at the end of the journey, as he rode into London, no one could say that he had not put his family advantage to good effect or his father’s wealth to good use. When people thought of Henry of Lancaster now, they did not just picture a rich heir but a conscientious and brave soldier, a pious and judicious man, who had looked into the eyes of the pagan warrior and braved the lance of Boucicaut. It is not surprising that Lucia Visconti fell for him. Considering his crusading, his pilgrimage and his jousting, it is not going too far to say that he had made himself into an exemplary knight, combining the spiritual and chivalric values of his age more completely perhaps than any other Englishman of the late fourteenth century.

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