Duke Humphrey

William Shakespeare (attrib.) (unknown date)

Historical Records

Stationers' Register

29 June 1660 (SR2, 2.271, CLIO)

Hum. Moseley
Entred for his copies under the hand of MASTER THRALE warden, the severall plays following that is to say . . . . xiijs

. . .
The History of King Stephen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .}
Duke Humphrey, a Tragedy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . } by Will: Shakespeare.
Iphis & Iantha, or a marriage without a man, a comedy . }

Warburton's list

"Duke Humphery Will. Shakespear" appears as the 5th play noted by John Warburton (1682-1759) in his list of the unprinted MS plays allegedly in his collection until destroyed by Warburton’s cook:

Lansdowne ms 807 f001r.jpg

(British Library, Lansdowne MS 807, fo.1r. Reproduced by permission of the British Library. Click image to view full page; click here for more information on Warburton's list)

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown; presumably it would have been performed by the Lord Chamberlain's / King's men.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester

Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester (also known as Good Duke Humphrey) (1390-1447) was the youngest son of the future King Henry IV, brother to the future Henry V, and uncle to the future Henry VI. He fought at Harfleur and Agincourt (where Henry V saved his life), and although being denied the regency upon Henry V's death, was made protector to his nephew, Henry VI (ODNB).

His first marriage, to Jacqueline of Hainault (by 1423), saw him pursue Jacqueline's claims to Holland, Zeeland and Hainault (which then rested with her estranged first husband and her uncle). When he returned to England from the low countries in 1425 he received financial support from those keen to protect the market for English cloth in the Netherlands. Jacqueline's rivals to her claim to territory referred the matter of her marriage to the Pope, and in 1428 the Papal verdict determined that her earlier marriage to John of Brabant remained valid (he had, however, died by this time). To continue his claim to the territories in the low countries, Duke Humphrey would have to remarry Jacqueline, since their marriage had been annulled. Instead he married his sometime mistress, the notorious Eleanor Cobham (who was convicted of necromancy in 1441). G. L. Harriss explains the crux of the notoriety:

At court she exercised some influence over the young king and became obsessed with the possibility of her husband's succeeding the unmarried and inert Henry VI. It was in this context that she began—certainly by April 1440—to consult astrologers to cast the king's horoscope and to predict her personal fortunes. This of itself was neither suspicious nor unusual. Mathematical astrology had become socially and academically respectable and other great noblemen had astrologers in their employ. Those whom Eleanor consulted were Thomas Southwell, her physician, canon of St Stephen's, Westminster, and Roger Bolingbroke, principal of St Andrew's Hall, Oxford—both men of high reputation. Unwisely, if honestly, from their reading of Henry VI's horoscope they predicted that a serious illness would endanger his life in July or August 1441. Rumours of this spread in London and reached the court. The authorities thereupon commissioned an alternative horoscope to reassure the king and took steps—on 28 and 29 June 1441—to examine Southwell, Bolingbroke, and Eleanor's chaplain, John Home, canon of Hereford. Between 10 and 12 July they were arrested and charged with necromancy and heretical practices and Eleanor fled to sanctuary in Westminster. ... [After a series of examinations into her actions,] on her insistence it was again before an ecclesiastical tribunal that she was judged on 21 October; she denied most of the charges but admitted procuring potions from Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye (Ebury, near Westminster), in order to conceive and bear Duke Humphrey's child. On 27 July she abjured her errors and on 9 November penance was imposed on her to walk barefoot to three London churches on successive market days in November bearing a taper. She was forcibly divorced and condemned to perpetual imprisonment. Her associates suffered more harshly: Southwell died in the Tower of London, Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn, and quartered, and Margery was burnt.

Eleanor was imprisoned initially at Chester, then in 1443 moved to Kenilworth, in July 1446 to the Isle of Man, and finally in March 1449 to Beaumaris, where she died on 7 July 1452...


This latter aspect of Duke Humphrey's life would seem the most fitting subject matter for a tragedy; but why, then, would such a play not be named (at least in part) after Eleanor Cobham, whose tragedy it really is? (See Matthew Steggle's suggestion of Eleanor as subject of The White Witch of Westminster).

Drayton's England's Heroical Epistles (1603)

Michael Drayton's England's Heroical Epistles (1603) includes a letter from "Elinor Cobham to Duke Humfrey" (EEBO-TCP, open access) and the matching letter of "Duke Humfrey to Elinor Cobham" (EEBO-TCP, open access).

Elinor Cobham to Duke Humfrey: Eleanor's letter is written from her place of banishment, the Isle of Man. She begins with a humility topos, wondering whether Humphrey remembers her, and admits to dabbling in magic but claims she never used it to seduce him. She acknowledges Jacqueline's enviable bloodline and inheritance but draws attention to the fact that, unlike Jacqueline, she doesn't come with the baggage of a living first husband and his foreign army. She laments Humphrey's lack of support throughout her public humiliation, then lapses into a tirade in which she wishes she could avail herself of supernatural assistance to seek vengeance for the wrongs done to her, and bemoans her impoverished and dishevelled state.

Duke Humfrey to Elinor Cobham: In his response, Humphrey reassures Eleanor that he remembers her (sorrows proving more abiding than joys), and how his woes remain after her banishment. He defends his manner of grieving as being sufficient, but then gets distracted and starts meditating on his own military and political campaigns instead (his love for Eleanor and for England being equally divided). But after weighing up each cause, he concludes that England has been "ingratefull and Eleanor "kinde", and he consoles Eleanor by observing that they are united in woe in this life and will fare better in heaven, declaring his love, and wishing her more peace than he can give her himself.

Hall's The vnion of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre [and] Yorke (1548)

Some earlier chroniclers did detect tragedy specifically in Duke Humphrey's story, rather than anything to do with Eleanor. Edward Hall, for example, alleges that Humphrey was murdered:

The duke the night after his emprisonement, was found dedde in his bed, and his body shewed to the lordes and commons, as though he had died of a palsey or empostome: but all indifferent persons well knewe, that he died of no natural death, but of some violēt force: some iudged hym to be strangled: some affirme, that a hote spitte was put in at his foundement: other write, that he was stiffeled or smoldered betwene twoo fetherbeddes. (Hall sig.Bbiiiv)

Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1563)

There was also a (probably apocryphal) story in circulation in the 16th and 17th centuries, which seems to have originated with Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1563, book 4, p939; see Pearlman 311), in which Duke Humphrey correctly deduced that an allegedly blind man who miraculously regained his sight was in fact a trickster. Shakespeare dramatised the incident in 2 Henry VI. George Hakewill reports the incident as follows, in his The vanitie of the eye (Oxford, 1615):

In the yong daies of Henry the 6. being yet vnder the governance of Duke Humphry his Protectour, there came to S. Albones a certaine Beggar with his Wife ... saying that he was borne blind & never saw in his life, and was warned in his dreame, that hee shoulde come out of Barwike, where hee said he had ever dwelled to seeke S. Albon ... . [W]hen the King was commen, & the towne full, suddainly this blind man at S. Albones shryne had his sight again & a Miracle solemnly rong, & Te Deum song, so that nothing was talked of in all the towne, but the miracle. So hapened it then, that Duke Humfry of Glocester, a man no lesse wise, then also well learned, hauing great ioy to see such a Miracle, called the poore man vnto him[,] ... looked wel vpon his eyne, & asked whether he could see nothing at all, in all his life before. And when as well his Wife as himselfe affirmed fastly no, then he looked advisedly vpon his eyne againe & saide: I beleeue you very well, for me thinketh ye cannot see well yet. Yes sir, qutoh hee, I thinke God and his holy Martyr, I can see now as well as any man. Yea can? (quoth the Duke) what colour is my Gowne? Then anon the Beggar told him. What colour (quoth hee) is this mans Gowne? He told him also, & so forth without any sticking, hee told him the names of all the colours that could be shewed him. And when the Duke saw that, he bad him walke Traitour, & made him to be set openly in the stockes: for though hee could haue suddainly by miracle the the [sic] difference betweene divers colours, yet could hee not by the sight so suddainly tel the names of all these colours, except he had known them before no more then the Names of all the men that he should sodainely see. (148-151)

(The story is referenced, e.g., in Thomas Jackson, The third booke of commentaries vpon the Apostles Creede [1614], sig.T1v).

Christopher Middleton's The Legend of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (1600)

It may be of interest that Christopher Middleton, whose poem The famous historie of Chinon of England (1597) is generally thought to be a source or analogue to the lost Admiral's play, "Chinon of England", also wrote a lengthy poem on Duke Humphrey: The Legend of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (London: Printed by E[dward]. A[llde]. for Nicholas Ling, 1600) (EEBO-TCP open access). In his study of the Duke Humphrey as mythic figure in historical and literary accounts, Pratt describes Middleton's work as "pedestrian poetry" pursuing "the course long charted in the career of the Duke":

He develops the hero-villain pattern with the usual characters, the centers of opposition to Humphrey being first Cardinal Beaufort and then the Queen Margaret-Duke of Suffolk combination. He undertakes a tremendous buildup of Humphrey's character, citing his "holy life" and "vertuous deedes", and, all in all, he is not to be outdone in apotheosizing the Duke. Middleton is unsure about the cause of Humphrey's death. Perhaps it was murder. If so, his enemies succeeded in dispossessing "the world of her chiefe good". (214)

References to the Play

(Information welcome)

Critical Commentary

As Bentley notes (5.1323), "The occurrence of Moseley's title in Warburton's list of plays that were allegedly burnt by his cook is no evidence that Warburton ever owned the manuscript, or had even seen it." He adds: "It is quite unlikely that Shakespeare wrote the tragedy of Duke Humphrey, for no other reference to the title has been found. I know of no evidence as to the date or authorship of the manuscript Moseley had in 1660".

In his study of the "Shakespeare apocrypha", Brooke tentatively suggested that the "Duke Humphrey" play "may be a version of Henry VI, Part 2" (Brooke x).

Harbage too, thought "Duke Humphrey" may be a version of a known Shakespeare play, cautiously suggesting "one's first thought is that Duke Humphrey may have been a play in which the best parts of Henry VI, Parts I and II, had been salvaged" ("Palimpsest" 310), but subsequently qualifying this conjecture through the development of a suggestion that Davenport is the likely author of this play. Having argued that the lost "Henry II" may survive palimpsestually as Mountfort's Henry the Second, King of England; With The Death of Rosamond (1693), he raises the "interesting coincidence" of Drayton's Heroical Epistles containing the stories of Rosamond and Henry II, King John and Matilda, and Queen Isabella and Mortimer --- the subjects (respectively) of Henry the Second (1693), Davenport's King John and Matilda, and Edward the Third (1691). Harbage provocatively asks:

Does it not seem likely that Davenport, acting upon the suggestion of the volume of 1619 [of Drayton's poems], embarked upon the creation of a series of neo-chronicles--centring upon the loves of the English kings rather than upon their martial exploits...? ("Palimpsest" 317)

"Duke Humphrey", he notes (see above) "may treat the story of Humphrey and Elinor Cobham, which also figures in Englands Heroicall Epistles", the implication being that "Possibly Moseley attributed other Davenport plays to Shakespeare" ("Palimpsest" 317n).

Pratt does not mention the lost play but does focus on Shakespeare's particular contributions to the evolving mythos surrounding the figure of Duke Humphrey. He describes the "twofold image" of the Duke as follows:

On the one hand, his standing as moral being, political leader, and finally martyr has resulted, to a considerable extent, from myth-making. On the other hand, his standing as a humanist, particularly in his role of patron, rests on a firm foundation of historical fact. In the two centuries following his death writers were unaware of this difference, presenting the first image as unquestioningly as the second.

To Shakespeare must go the credit of developing the image of Humphrey in the greatest detail. Some of this credit is due to his use of dramatic form, which gave him a distinct advantage in characterization over Ferrers, using the complaint, and Drayton, using the epistle. In Henry VI the clash of character, together with the compression of time, develops Humphrey as the unselfish pillar of the law to a degree not approached by either Ferrers or Drayton, though these last two writers did much, surely, to keep the myth alive. (215)

The revisers of Erskine's Biographia Dramatica simply lamented, "Could we believe it to have been really written by him, what a subject of regret would its ill fate be to every admirer of our immortal poet!" (2.93)

For What It's Worth

As noted above, Duke Humphrey appears as a character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 1 and Henry VI, Part 2 (which advertises "the death of the good Duke Humphrey" prominently on its titlepage) and has minor parts in Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V. It is not impossible that "Duke Humphrey" may have become the subject of a "spin-off" play associated with the cluster of Wars of the Roses plays in vogue in the 1590s, much like the lost "Buckingham" play may have been (see Roslyn L. Knutson's suggestion that "Buckingham" was being performed by Sussex's men when Shakespeare's Richard III was new [Repertory 70]).

"Duke Humphrey's Walk" was an aisle in St. Paul's Cathedral (before the fire); it was so named in the belief that Humphrey was buried there, and it was frequented by thieves and the impoverished. To "dine with Duke Humphrey" meant to go hungry (i.e. as the beggars there did), e.g. in Robert Greene's Theeues falling out, true-men come by their good (1615): "Some threed-bare Citizens, that from Marchants, and other good Trades, grow to be base Informers and Knights of the Post, crye out when they dine with Duke Humphrey: O what wickednesse comes from Whoores" (sig.C3), or in William Haughton's Englishmen for my money (1616): "I haue been told, that Duke Humfrie dwelles here, and that he keeps open house, and that a braue sort of Cammileres dine with him euery day" (sig.D3).

Works Cited

Brooke, C. F. Tucker . The Shakespeare Apocrypha: Being a Collection of Fourteen Plays which have been Ascribed to Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1918. (Internet Archive)
Drayton, Michael. England's Heroical Epistles. 1603. EEBO-TCP (open access)
Baker, David Erskine. Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse. New edn. London, 1782. (Internet Archive)
Greene, Robert. Theeues falling out, true-men come by their goods: or, The belman wanted a clapper A peale of new villanies rung out; the sound being musicall to all gentlemen, lawyers, farmers, and all sorts of people that come vp to the tearme: shewing that the villanies of leawd women, excell those of men. Imprinted at London : [By W. White and another?] for T. G[ubbin] and are to be sould by R. [i.e. E.] Marchant at the crosse in Pauls Church-yard, 1615.
Hakewill, George. The vanitie of the eye. Oxford, 1615.
Hall, Edward. The vnion of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre [and] Yorke, beeyng long in continual discension for the croune of this noble realme with all the actes done in bothe the tymes of the princes, bothe of the one linage and of the other, beginnyng at the tyme of kyng Henry the fowerth, the first aucthor of this deuision, and so successiuely proceadyng to the reigne of the high and prudent prince kyng Henry the eight, the vndubitate flower and very heire of both the sayd linages. [Londini : In officina Richardi Graftoni typis impress.], 1548. (EEBO-TCP, open access)
Harbage, Alfred. "Elizabethan-Restoration Palimpsest". Modern Language Review 35 (1940): 287-319.
Harriss, G. L. "Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390–1447)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, May 2011
---. "Eleanor , duchess of Gloucester (c.1400–1452)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
Haughton, William. English-men for my money: or, A pleasant comedy, called, A woman will haue her will. Imprinted at London : By W. White, dwelling in Cow-lane, 1616.
Jackson, Thomas. The third booke of commentaries vpon the Apostles Creede. 1614.
Knutson, Roslyn L. The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613. Fayetteville, AR: The University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
Pearlman, E. "The Duke and the Beggar in Shakespeare's 2 Henry VI. Criticism 41.3 (1999): 309-21.
Pratt, Samuel M. "Shakespeare and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester: A Study in Myth". Shakespeare Quarterly 16.2 (1965): 201-16.
Shakespeare, William. The first part of the contention betwixt the two famous houses of Yorke and Lancaster with the death of the good Duke Humphrey: and the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the tragicall end of the proud Cardinall of VVinchester, vvith the notable rebellion of Iacke Cade: and the Duke of Yorkes first claime vnto the crowne. London: Printed by Thomas Creed, for Thomas Millington, and are to be sold at his shop vnder Saint Peters Church in Cornwall, 1594.
Shakespeare, William.2 Henry VI. Internet Shakespeare Editions.

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