Gloucester, Duchess of (Eleanor Cobham)
(d. ca. 1443)
Wife of Humphrey of Gloucester, who was uncle of Henry
VI and lord protector of England during the king’s minority.
Although Humphrey was very popular in England, he was not
without enemies, and one of the most bitter of these was Henry
Beaufort, cardinal of Winchester, great-uncle to the king.
Beaufort brought a charge of witchcraft against the duchess of
Gloucester, hoping thus to destroy her husband’s power as the
actual head of the realm and heir to the throne in the event of
the king’s death.
It was supposed that the duchess had first resorted to witchcraft
in order to gain the affections of Humphrey. When she became
his second wife and the death of the duke of Bedford had
removed all but one barrier between her and a crown, she set
about to secretly remove that barrier—the unfortunate king.
To assist in her plot, she was said to have sought the advice
of Margery Jourdain (the Witch of Eye), Roger Bolingbroke,
Thomas Southwell, and Fr. John Hun, a priest. All five were accused
of summoning evil spirits and plotting to destroy the
king. They were also suspected of making a waxen image,
which was slowly melted before a fire in the expectation that as
the image was consumed the king would also waste away.
The five were tried. Father Hun turned informer and was
pardoned. Bolingbroke was publicly humiliated, then hanged
and drawn and quartered. Southwell died in prison, Margery
Jourdain was burned as a witch, and in 1441 the duchess of
Gloucester was disgraced and sentenced to walk through the
streets of London on three separate occasions bearing a lighted
taper in her hand and attended by the lord mayor, sheriffs, and
She was imprisoned for life, first in Chester Castle, then
(from October 1443) in Kenilworth. She died around 1443.
Early in 1443 Humphrey had set out for parliament in the
hope of securing a pardon for the duchess, but he was arrested
on suspicion of treason and died in custody. Known as ‘‘Good
Duke Humphrey,’’ he is remembered chiefly for his love of
books; he made generous gifts to the library of Oxford University.