An inquisition taken a few weeks after the death of Edmund de Lacy records that, ‘Henry, the first born son of Edmund de Lacy, is his next heir and was of the age of eight yeres on Christmas day 1257’. He may have been born on Christmas Day or it may have been a day used to reckon age because another enquiry made on 9th September before Sir Henry Wallace, seneschal of Pontefract states that ‘Henry de Lacy will be 14 years old on the day of Epiphany next.’ (6th January 1264-5). It would make his birthdate 1249, which was two years after his parents’ marriage.
Henry de Lacy was the third heir in a row who was a minor. His father and grandfather had both spent time as wards of the king until they came of age. But this time the de Lacy lands were not taken into the hands of the king and Henry de Lacy was not made a royal ward, although he may have spent some time at court.
Wardships were used by the king to reward powerful men and those men could gain good profits from controlling the lands until the heir came of age and often arranged a marriage with the heir for a member of their own family. To compensate for this loss, Henry’s mother, Alesia de Saluzzo, had to pay substantial sums of money to the exchequer to keep control of the de Lacy lands and the guardianship of her son. She was assisted financially by Henry’s grandmother Margaret de Quency, who had become a very wealthy widow on the death of her second husband, Walter Marshal. Not only did Margaret still hold the title of Countess of Lincoln and her dower lands from her first husband, John de Lacy, but she was also the dowager duchess of Pembroke and had inherited a third of the Marshal fortune. Because the payments that Alesia made to keep the wardship of Henry were such a drain on her finances, Margaret paid an annuity for Henry’s maintenance. It seems that, as Henry was the heir to both women, they worked together to keep the de Lacy lands under their control. It was an unusual arrangement for those times.
Before the death of his father, Edmund, Henry de Lacy had been married to Margaret Longspee, the daughter of William Longspee, Earl of Salisbury and descendant of Henry II through an illegitimate son and Idonea de Camville. This brought Henry de Lacy within the extended royal family.
Henry de Lacy appears to have taken control of the de Lacy lands around 1271 when he also inherited the title of Earl of Lincoln from his grandmother. In April 1272 he was appointed as keeper of Knaresborough Castle and he was knighted on the occasion of the wedding of Edmund, Earl of Cornwall. He became a close friend and advisor of King Edward I.
In 1276 and 1277 he served in the wars against the Welsh. In January 1278 he went to Brabant to arrange the marriage of the king’s daughter Margaret to the son and heir of the duke of Brabant and that same year was one of the escort appointed to attend Alexander III, king of Scots, on his visit to England. In 1282 and 1283 he was once again fighting in Wales. He was rewarded with the title Lord of Denbigh and took possession of the castle there that had been the residence of the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Gruffudd. Henry was responsible for the fortification of the town and later rebuilt and extended parts of the castle. The following year when Edward I celebrated his victory over the Welsh with a Round Table tournament Henry de Lacy was the captain of the victorious team.
Henry accompanied the king on his three year visit to Gascony between 1286 and 1289. In 1290 he was one of the commissioners appointed to discuss the inheritance of the Scottish crown with the guardians of Scotland and was present at Norham in 1291 and at Berwick in 1292 when John Balliol was chosen to be the Scottish king.
In 1292 he was one of the sureties for Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, in his dispute with the Earl of Hereford over territories in the Welsh marches. In May 1293 he went with Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, to discuss a truce with the French. The following year he was setting out for Gascony when war broke out again in Wales and having gone to relieve his castle at Denbigh was beaten by his own Welshman and although he escaped he remained in Wales until 1295.
It was around this time that tragedy came into the personal life of Henry and his wife, Margaret. Their son and heir Edmund died. Some sources say that he drowned in the well at Denbigh Castle, others that he fell from a turret at Pontefract Castle, and another source claims that he fell from a window at Ightenhill manor house. The death at Denbigh seems the most probable. There are claims that a second son, John, also died in a tragic accident, but I think that John was an illegitimate son who lived. It was the loss of his male heir that compelled Henry to make a settlement of his estates on the king in return for the marriage of his daughter, Alice, to Thomas, the king’s nephew and son of the Earl of Lancaster, reserving only a life interest for himself and his wife.
Henry gave permission for an abbey to be built at Whalley in 1283 after the monks at Stanlaw Abbey had suffered a number of floods. But there was no migration until after the death of Peter de Cestria in 1295. At first the monks lived in Peter de Cestria’s manor house and it was not until 1308 that Henry de Lacy laid the foundation stone for the new abbey church. Here is an image of Henry de Lacy which can be found on the stairs in the conference centre at Whalley Abbey.
In December 1295, Henry de Lacy was appointed the king’s lieutenant in Aquitaine. On the death of Edmund of Lancaster, Henry was chosen to succeed him as leader of the English army.
By Easter 1298 he had returned to England and in May 1298 he arranged the marriage of Edward, Prince of Wales, to Isabella of France. He was present at the battle of Falkirk on 22nd July that year and in September 1299 was at the marriage of the king to Margaret of France in Canterbury when Edward asked him to resolve a dispute about who should receive the cloths that had formed the royal canopy over the heads of the royal couple.
In 1300 he commanded the first division at the siege of Caerlaverock and in the roll of Caerlaeverock he is described:
Henry the good Earl of Lincoln,
Who embraces and loves valour,
And holds his sovereign in his heart,
Leading the first squadron,
Had a banner of yellow silk
With a purple lion rampant.
In May 1301 he attended Edward, the Prince of Wales, during his invasion of Scotland, the king having told his son to listen to what Henry told him. Over the next two years he was heavily involved in negotiations with the French, was an envoy to the pope and continued to support the king in his attempts to take Scotland by force.
Henry de Lacy was present at the death of Edward I at Burgh-on-Sands on 7th July 1307. He was the most senior of the English earls and remained influential during the early years of the reign of Edward II. At first he supported the new king’s friendship with Piers Gaveston and agreed to him being given the title of Earl of Cornwall. But as Gaveston’s influence over the king became more insidious, his concern grew and in 1308 he was influential in the drawing up of the ‘Boulogne declaration’ which drew a distinction between loyalty to the crown and personal loyalty to the person of the king.
Gaveston, who had nicknamed Henry de Lacy ‘Monsieur Boele-Crevee’ (Mr Burst Belly), was exiled and Henry joined his son-in-law, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, in calls for a reform of the royal household. And when the king threatened to remove the exchequer to York, Henry said he would resign as keeper of the realm.
Edward relented and was reconciled with Henry who spent Christmas 1310 at his house in Kingston in Dorset, now Kingston Lacy. His wife, Margaret, had died in 1309 and he had remarried to Joan, the daughter of William, Lord Martin, and his wife, Eleanor Fitzpiers. Joan was only young and it is possible that Henry hoped to father another son with her. But after his return to London, he died at his house in Holborn on the 5th February 1311. He was buried in St Dunstan’s chapel in the old St Paul’s Cathedral and his tomb along with the cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. An image of the tomb was drawn by Wenceslaus Hollar in 1656 before its destruction.