Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford

Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford

Humphrey VIII de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford (1276 – March 16, 1321/1322) was a member of a powerful Anglo-Norman family of the Welsh Marches and was one of the Ordainers who opposed Edward II's excesses.

Family background

Humphrey de Bohun's birth year is uncertain although several contemporary sources indicate that it was 1276. His father was Humphrey de Bohun, 3rd Earl of Hereford and his mother was Maud de Fiennes, daughter of Enguerrand II de Fiennes and Isabelle de Conde. He was born at Pleshey Castle, Essex.

Humphrey de Bohun VIII succeeded his father as Earl of Hereford and Earl of Essex, and Constable of England (later called Lord High Constable). Humphrey held the title of Bearer of the Swan Badge, a heraldic device passed down in the Bohun family. This device did not appear on their coat of arms, (az, a bend ar cotised or, between 6 lioncels or) nor their crest (gu, doubled erm, a lion gardant crowned), but it does appear on Humphrey's personal seal ("illustration").


Humphrey was one of several earls and barons under Edward I who laid siege to Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland in 1300 and later took part in many campaigns in Scotland. He also loved tourneying and gained a reputation as an "elegant" fop. In one of the campaigns in Scotland Humphrey evidently grew bored and departed for England to take part in a tournament along with Piers Gaveston and other young barons and knights. On return all of them fell under Edward I's wrath for desertion, but were forgiven. It is probable that Gaveston's friend, Edward (the future Edward II) had given them permission to depart. Later Humphrey became one of Gaveston's and Edward II's bitterest opponents.

He would also have been associating with young Robert Bruce during the early campaigns in Scotland, since Bruce, like many other Scots and Border men, moved back and forth from English allegiance to Scottish. Robert Bruce, King Robert I of Scotland, is closely connected to the Bohuns. Between the time that he swore his last fealty to Edward I in 1302 and his defection four years later, Bruce stayed for the most part in Annandale, rebuilding his castle of Lochmaben in stone, making use of its natural moat. Rebelling and taking the crown of Scotland in February, 1306, Bruce was forced to fight a war against England which went poorly for him at first, while Edward I still lived. After nearly all his family were killed or captured he had to flee to the isle of Rathlin, Ireland. His properties in England and Scotland were confiscated.

Humphrey de Bohun received many of Robert Bruce's forfeited properties. It is unknown whether Humphrey was a long-time friend or enemy of Robert Bruce, but they were nearly the same age and the lands of the two families in Essex and Middlesex lay very close to each other. After Bruce's self-exile, Humphrey took Lochmaben, and Edward I awarded him Annandale and the castle. During this period of chaos, when Bruce's queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster, was captured by Edward I and taken prisoner, Hereford and his wife Elizabeth became her custodians. She was exchanged for Humphrey after Bannockburn in 1314. Lochmaben was from time to time retaken by the Scots but remained in the Bohun family for many years, in the hands of Humphrey's son William, Earl of Northampton, who held and defended it until his death in 1360.

Battle of Bannockburn

At the Battle of Bannockburn (June 23-24, 1314), Humphrey de Bohun should have been given command of the army because that was his responsibility as Constable of England. However, since the execution of Piers Gaveston in 1312 Humphrey had been out of favour with Edward II, who gave the Constableship for the 1314 campaign to the youthful and inexperienced Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare. Nevertheless, on the first day, de Bohun insisted on being one of the first to lead the cavalry charge. In the melee and cavalry rout between the Bannock Burn and the Scots' camp he was not injured although his rash young nephew Henry de Bohun, who could have been no older than about 22, charged alone at Robert Bruce and was killed by Bruce's axe.

On the second day Gloucester was killed at the start of battle. Hereford fought throughout the day, leading a large company of Welsh and English knights and archers. The archers had success at breaking up the Scots "schiltrons" until they were overrun by the Scots cavalry. When the battle was lost Bohun retreated with the Earl of Angus and several other barons, knights and men to Bothwell Castle, seeking a safe haven. However, all the refugees who entered the castle were taken prisoner by its formerly English governor who, like many Border knights, declared for Scotland as soon as word came of Bruce's victory. Humphrey de Bohun was ransomed by Edward II, his brother-in-law, on the pleading of his wife Elizabeth. This was one of the most interesting ransoms in English history. The Earl was traded for Bruce's queen and daughter, two bishops, Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, who for years had been locked in a cage outside a castle, and other important Scots captives in England.


Like his father, grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, this Humphrey de Bohun was careful to insist that the king obey Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, and the other baronially-established safeguards against monarchic tyranny. He was a leader of the reform movements that promulgated the Ordinances of 1311 and fought to insure their execution.

The subsequent revival of royal authority and the growing ascendancy of the Despensers (Hugh the elder and younger) led de Bohun and other barons to rebel against the king again in 1322. De Bohun had special reason for opposing the Despensers, for he had lost some of his estates in the Welsh Marches to their rapacity and he felt they had besmirched his honour. In 1316 De Bohun had been ordered to lead the suppression of the revolt of Llywelyn Bren in Glamorgan which he did successfully. When Llewelyn surrendered to him the Earl promised to intercede for him and fought to have him pardoned. Instead Hugh the younger Despenser had Llewelyn executed without a proper trial. Hereford and the other marcher lords used Llywelyn Bren's death as a symbol of Despenser tyranny.

Death at Boroughbridge

The rebel forces were halted by loyalist troops at the wooden bridge at Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, where Humphrey de Bohun, leading an attempt to storm the bridge, met his death on March 16, 1322.

Although the details have been called into question by a few historians, his death may have been particularly gory. As recounted by Ian Mortimer [Mortimer, "The Greatest Traitor", page 124.] ::" [The 4th Earl of] Hereford led the fight on the bridge, but he and his men were caught in the arrow fire. Then one of de Harclay's pikemen, concealed beneath the bridge, thrust upwards between the planks and skewered the Earl of Hereford through the anus, twisting the head of the iron pike into his intestines. His dying screams turned the advance into a panic."'

Humphrey de Bohun may have contributed to the failure of the reformers' aims. There is evidence that he suffered for some years, especially after his countess's death in 1316, from clinical depression. [See Conway-Davies, 115, footnote 2, from a contemporary chronicler's account of Humphrey de Bohun, Cotton MS. Nero C. iii, f. 181, "De ce qe vous auez entendu qe le counte de Hereford est moreis pensifs qil ne soleit." "There were some. . . [fine] qualities about the earl of Hereford, and he was certainly a bold and able warrior, though gloomy and thoughtful."]

Marriage and children

His marriage to Elizabeth of Rhuddlan (Elizabeth Plantagenet), daughter of King Edward I of England and his first Queen consort Eleanor of Castile, on November 14, 1302, at Westminster gained him the lands of Berkshire.

Elizabeth had an unknown number of children, probably ten, by Humphrey de Bohun. Until the earl's death the boys of the family, and possibly the girls, were given a classical education under the tutelage of a Sicilian Greek, Master "Digines" (Diogenes), who may have been Humphrey de Bohun's boyhood tutor. He was evidently well-educated, a book collector and scholar, interests his son Humphrey and daughter Margaret (Courtenay) inherited.

Mary or Margaret (the first-born Margaret) and the first-born Humphrey were lost in infancy and are buried in the same sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey. Since fraternal twins were known in the Castilian royal family of Elizabeth Bohun, who gave birth to a pair who lived to manhood, Mary (Margaret?) and Humphrey, see next names, may have been twins, but that is uncertain. The name of a possible lost third child, if any, is unknown--and unlikely.

# Hugh de Bohun? This name appears only in one medieval source, which gives Bohun names (see "Flores Historiarum") and was a probably a copyist's error for "Humphrey". "Hugh" was never used by the main branch of the Bohuns in England. [Le Melletier, q.v., 16-17, 38-45, 138, in his comprehensive research into this family, cites no one named Hugh Bohun.] Date unknown, but after 1302, since she and Humphrey did not marry until late in 1302.
# Humphrey de Bohun (birth and death dates unknown. Buried in Westminster Abbey with Mary or Margaret) Infant.
# Mary or Margaret de Bohun (birth and death dates unknown. Buried in Westminster Abbey with Humphrey) Infant.
# John de Bohun, 5th Earl of Hereford (About 1307 – 1336)
# Humphrey de Bohun, 6th Earl of Hereford (About 1309 to 1311 – 1361).
# Margaret de Bohun (3 April1311-16 December1391), married Hugh Courtenay, 2nd Earl of Devon Gave birth to about 16 to 18 children (including an Archbishop, a sea commander and pirate, and more than one Knight of the Garter) and died at the age of eighty.
# William de Bohun, 1st Earl of Northampton (About 1310-1312 –1360). Twin of Edward. Married Elizabeth de Badlesmere, daughter of Bartholomew de Badlesmere, 1st Baron Badlesmere and Margaret de Clare, by whom he had issue.
# Edward de Bohun (About 1310-1312 –1334). Twin of William. Married Margaret, daughter of William de Ros, 2nd Baron de Ros, but they had no children. He served in his ailing elder brother's stead as Constable of England. He was close friend of young Edward III, and died a heroic death attempting to rescue a drowning man-at-arms from a Scottish river while on campaign.
# Eleanor de Bohun (17 October1304 1363) [See Cokayne, "Complete Peerage", "s.v." "Dagworth" p. 28, footnote j.: "She was younger than her sister, Margaret, Countess of Devon ("Parl. Rolls". vol. iv., p. 268), not older, as stated by genealogists."] , married James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde and Thomas Dagworth, 1st Baron Dagworth.
# Eneas de Bohun, (Birth date unknown, died after 1322, when he's mentioned in his father's will). Nothing known of him. Name may reflect his father's classical education or the Earl's Welsh connections; could be either.
# Isabel de Bohun (b. May ?, 1316). Elizabeth died in childbirth, and this child died on that day or very soon after. Buried with her mother in Waltham Abbey, Essex.



Primary sources

*"Flores historiarum." H. R. Luard, ed. (vol. iii, 121) London: 1890.
*"Vita Edwardi Secundi." (117-119) N. Denholm-Young, Ed. and Tr.

econdary sources

*Altschul, Michael. "A Baronial Family in Medieval England: the Clares 1217-1314." (132-3, ) Baltimore:1965.
*Barron, Evan MacLeod. "The Scottish War of Independence." (443, 455) Edinburgh, London:1914, NY:1997 (reprint).
*Barrow, G. W. S. "Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland." (222, 290, 295-6, 343-4) Berkeley, Los Angeles:1965.
*Beltz, George Frederick. "Memorials of the Order of the Garter."(148-150) London:1841.
*Bigelow, M [elville] M. "The Bohun Wills" I. "American Historical Review" (v.I, 1896). 415-41.
*Cokayne, G. (ed. by V. Gibbs). "Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom." (Vols. II, IV, V, VI, IX: Bohun, Dagworth, Essex, Hereford, Earls of, Montague) London: 1887-1896.
*Conway-Davies, J. C. "The Baronial Opposition to Edward II: Its Character and Policy." (Many references, esp. 42 footnote 1, 114, 115 & footnote 2, 355-367, 426-9, 435-9, 473-525) Cambridge(ENG): 1918.
*"Dictionary of National Biography." [Vol II: Bohun; Vol. VI: Edward I, Edward II; Vol. XI: Lancaster] . London and Westminster. Various dates.
*Easles, Richard and Shaun Tyas, eds., "Family and Dynasty in Late Medieval England," Shaun Tyas, Donington:2003, p. 152.
*Fryde, E. B. and Edward Miller. "Historical Studies of the English Parliament" vol. 1, Origins to 1399, (10-13, 186, 285-90, 296) Cambridge (Eng.):1970.
*Hamilton, J. S. "Piers Gaveston Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II" (69, 72, 95-98, 104-5) Detroit:1988
*Hutchinson, Harold F. "Edward II." (64-86, 104-5, 112-3) London: 1971.
*Jenkins, Dafydd. "Law and Government in Wales Before the Act of Union". "Celtic Law Papers" (37-38) Aberystwyth:1971.
*Le Melletier, Jean, "Les Seigneurs de Bohun," 1978, p. 16, 39-40.
*McNamee, Colin. "The Wars of the Bruces." (51, 62-66) East Linton (Scotland):1997.
*Mortimer, Ian. "The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330". (100-9, 114, 122-6) London:2003
*Scott, Ronald McNair. "Robert the Bruce: King of Scots" (144-164) NY:1989
*Tout, T. F. and Hilda Johnstone. "The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History." (86, 105-6, 125 & footnote 3, 128-34) Manchester: 1936.

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