In the Middle Ages, the duchy of Lancaster was a major assemblage of lands, ranging across more than 20 English counties, and centred on the earldoms of Lancaster and Lincoln. The duchy itself originated from a grant made by King Henry III in 1265 to his younger son, Edmund, of the lands of the dead rebel, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester; it was Edmund who also later became earl of Lancaster. In 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke (King Henry IV), duke of Lancaster, seized the English throne from Richard II and just a few years later he commissioned a deluxe, illuminated register of his duchy’s title deeds, now known as the Great Cowcher Books (TNA, DL 41/1-2). In this talk, Louise Wilkinson introduces the Great Cowcher Books, which are second only to Domesday Book in their importance, and the fascinating insights their contents are yielding into the medieval lords and ladies of the duchy of Lancaster, thanks to a new project funded by the Friends of The National Archives.

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