02 May, 2010

Thomas of Lancaster And His Relationship With Edward II (3)

The third and final part (part one, part two) of my post about Thomas, earl of Lancaster and his relationship with his first cousin Edward II. In late 1318, Thomas and Edward, to everyone's relief, finally came to terms with each other, and Thomas for once attended the parliament which opened in York on 6 May 1319. Later that year, he also co-operated with Edward during the siege of Berwick. Unfortunately, relations between the two most powerful men in the country deteriorated very quickly once more, and Edward II made it clear what was really on his mind by declaring "When this wretched business is over, we will turn our hands to other matters. For I have not forgotten the wrong that was done to my brother Piers." [1] He had never forgiven, and would never forgive, his cousin for Piers Gaveston's murder, and the king's new favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger, rightly or wrongly, blamed Thomas for the Scots' latest invasion of England: he told the sheriff of Glamorgan that "the Scots had entered his [Edward II's] land of England with the prompting and assistance of the earl of Lancaster. The earl acted in such a way that the king took himself off with all his army, to the great shame and damage of us all. Wherefore we very much doubt if matters will end so happily for our side as is necessary." [2] The Vita Edwardi Secundi says that Thomas blamed "Hugh [Despenser] for the disgrace which had attached to his name at Berwick, and this he wished to avenge as occasion offered," and the Bridlington chronicler claims that some people deliberately fostered dissent and conflict between Edward and Thomas at the time of the siege of Berwick, falsely reporting the king's words to the earl and vice versa. [3]

Thomas of Lancaster failed to attend the parliament of January 1320, which also took place in York. After parliament ended, Edward II and Isabella of France travelled through Pontefract on their way to London, and Thomas's retainers once again jeered at the king, and also the queen, from the safety of the castle. [4] Thomas also refused to attend the Westminster parliament of October 1320. The latest crisis of Edward's reign kicked off shortly after this parliament when the king seized the Gower peninsula and showed excessive favouritism towards Hugh Despenser. Edward seems to have been keen to mollify Thomas of Lancaster at this time, however, as he ordered that the Ordinances of 1311, to which Thomas was devoted, be carefully observed - but he also ordered Thomas to answer for the relief (inheritance tax, basically) on the lands he had inherited from his father-in-law the earl of Lincoln back in 1311, while pardoning Hugh Despenser from paying the relief on his wife Eleanor's inheritance. [5] A letter of 27 February 1321 told Edward II that the Marcher lords or at least some of them, furious with Despenser, had met Thomas of Lancaster five days earlier and decided to "raise disturbances and begin some mischief" in Wales, and that Edward should "command Despenser, the son, that he be prepared and arrayed in his lands that he may be able to counteract these evils." Thomas, always willing to support anyone against his detested cousin the king, was regarded by the Marchers as their leader, according to the Brut: they "came to the gentle earl of Lancaster, and asked him of counsel of the disease that was in the realm," meaning the Despensers. For obscure reasons, Thomas loathed Hugh Despenser the Elder, and wanted the Marchers to "not only rise against the son, but destroy the father along with him, because he had seen no opportunity for satisfying his longstanding hatred of the father." [6]

The Marchers began their attacks on the Despensers on 4 May 1321; according to the Flores Historiarum, the younger Despenser's men captured during the siege of Cardiff Castle were sent to Thomas of Lancaster. [7] On 28 June, Thomas met the Marchers, or some of them, at Sherburn near Pontefract, where an indenture was drawn up approving the actions against the Despensers. Thomas and his allies had hoped to attract the northern lords to their cause, but they were largely unsuccessful; the twenty-five men who put their seals to the document were mostly Thomas's own retainers. Subsequently, the Marchers, as per their name, marched towards London - helping themselves to food and provisions wherever they liked and generally creating havoc - to attend the parliament which was due to begin on 15 July and to demand the Despensers' exile. Thomas remained in the north at his favourite residence of Pontefract, as he usually did. [8]

Edward II's siege of Leeds Castle, which belonged to his turncoat steward Bartholomew Badlesmere, was a master-stroke in the king's campaign against his and the Despensers' enemies. Thomas of Lancaster played right into Edward's hands, as Edward and Hugh Despenser had no doubt predicted he would: he sent the Marchers a letter ordering them to not to aid Badlesmere, whom he detested [9], allowing Edward to pursue a policy of dividing and conquering his enemies. On 12 November 1321, Edward forbade Thomas, the earl of Hereford (Edward's brother-in-law and now his enemy) and more than 100 others from holding an assembly at Doncaster. Some of the men Edward ordered not to attend were his allies, such as his half-brother Norfolk, the earls of Arundel, Surrey, Atholl and Angus, his and Hugh Despenser's brother-in-law Ralph Monthermer, and Ralph Camoys, another of Despenser's brothers-in-law. [10] Thomas's attempts to win over men whose support he had no hope of gaining is a measure of the weakness of his position; the northern barons refused to aid him and go against the king. [11] Thomas and his Marcher allies, despite Edward’s prohibition, did meet on 29 November, though probably at Pontefract rather than Doncaster, where "they were sworn together a second time to maintain that which they had commenced." [12] The Anonimalle says that after the executions of the Leeds Castle garrison, the earl of Hereford and other barons saw that Edward was "a man without mercy," and suspected him – correctly, as it turned out – of wanting to destroy them as he had others. [13] Thomas of Lancaster and his allies drew up a petition (the famous Doncaster Petition) which accused Edward, among other things, of supporting Hugh Despenser in his piracy. They asked the king to respond by 20 December. Edward responded, surprisingly mildly, that imposing a deadline on him on to reform the affairs of his kingdom gave the impression that he was Thomas's subject, not vice versa. [14]

Edward II's campaign against the Marchers went well, and although the Marchers were desperately hoping for the earl of Lancaster's support, Thomas failed to come to their aid – although he had begun besieging the royal castle of Tickhill near Doncaster by 10 January 1322, presumably because its constable William Aune was Edward's spy in the north. [15] After the Mortimers, Lord Berkeley and Hugh Audley's father surrendered to the king, the remaining Contrariants fled to Yorkshire to seek refuge with Thomas, their last hope of defeating Edward. Thomas, using the conceited pseudonym 'King Arthur', wrote to Robert Bruce's adherent James Douglas to inform him that the earl of Hereford, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, Roger Clifford, Henry Tyes, Thomas Mauduit, John Wilington and even the hated Bartholomew Badlesmere had come to him at Pontefract. The men were, treasonably, prepared to treat with the Scots, as long as the Scots did what had previously been discussed: "to come to our aid, and to go with us in England and Wales" and "live and die with us in our quarrel." Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray and another close ally of Bruce, granted safe-conducts on 16 February 1322 for Roger Clifford, John Mowbray and forty horsemen to travel to Scotland. [16] Thomas of Lancaster had been suspected for some years of conspiring with the Scots; it was noticed that when their forces raided the north of England, they left his lands alone, and although Thomas had a great army at Pontefract, he did not attempt to pursue the Scottish raiders.

As yet unaware of these treacherous dealings, Edward II wrote to Thomas on 8 February 1322, stating that he "wished to continue and augment his affection to the earl" and ordering him not to adhere to the Contrariants, who "have publicly boasted that they were going to the earl, and that they would draw him to them in the aforesaid excesses, and that they were sure of this." Edward pointed out that joining the Contrariants would render Thomas guilty of treason. His cousin responded that he had drawn no rebels to himself, nor was he accustomed to nourish rebels, but if he knew where such were to be found, he would kill them or expel them from the country. Thomas's siege of Tickhill Castle gave Edward the excuse he needed to mount a campaign against his overbearing cousin, and on 13 February, he announced his intention of going to raise the siege. On 16 February, Edward asked his brother-in-law Charles IV of France - Thomas's uncle - to send men to help him fight Thomas and the Contrariants, and also asked his nephews the duke of Brabant and the count of Bar, his kinsmen the counts of Eu, St Pol, Aumale and Beaumont, Charles IV and Isabella's uncle the count of Valois, and the count of Hainault to send horsemen and footmen, and ordered Amaury de Craon, steward of Gascony, to come to him with armed men and advice. [17]

Edward captured Thomas's great Warwickshire stronghold of Kenilworth on 19 February. By 1 March, William Melton, archbishop of York, had discovered the treasonable correspondence between the earl of Lancaster and Scotland and sent it to Edward, who ordered him, the archbishop of Canterbury and all his sheriffs to make the letters public - a great public relations coup for the king. [18] Thomas and the earl of Hereford and their allies left Pontefract on 1 March, broke the siege of Tickhill, and took up position at Burton-on-Trent near Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, which belonged to Thomas. Edward seized his cousin's vast lands on 3 March.
Eight days later, on the advice of the earls of Kent, Pembroke, Arundel, Surrey, Richmond and Atholl, the king pronounced Thomas, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, Hereford, Lords Clifford and Mowbray and others to be traitors, and ordered all the sheriffs of England, the justice of Chester and the bishop of Durham to arrest them, saying that they "inflicted evil against the king’s servants, conducting war against the king with banners displayed." According to Edward, when Lancaster and the others saw that he was coming to Burton, "they turned their backs, set fire to the town, and fled." (The burning of the town is confirmed by the Flores and the Bridlington chronicler.) Edward appointed his half-brother the earl of Kent and nephew-in-law the earl of Surrey to arrest the main Contrariants and to besiege and take Thomas's castle of Pontefract. [19]

Some of the Contrariants decided that throwing themselves on Edward II's mercy would be a great idea. Thomas of Lancaster, however, believed that this was unnecessary and that his close kinship to the king would save him. After much debate, they decided to flee to Dunstanburgh, yet another of Thomas's great castles on the Northumbrian coast, where they could wait until the king’s anger against them had burnt itself out. Thomas at first refused, protesting that they would be seen as treacherously fleeing towards the Scots, but Lord Clifford's waving his sword in his face soon changed his mind, and they set off for the north. Queen Isabella, who remained in the south of England but loyally supported her husband, wrote to Andrew Harclay, sheriff of Cumberland and Simon Warde, sheriff of Yorkshire, ordering them to cut off the retreating rebels. [20] The Contrariants had only managed the thirty miles to Boroughbridge, where the Great North Road met the River Ure, when they found Harclay waiting for them, and were forced into battle on 16 March. (Boroughbridge had, perhaps ironically, once belonged to Piers Gaveston.) To cut a very long story short, the Contrariants lost the battle, the earl of Hereford died horribly and the great earl of Lancaster was taken by water via York to Pontefract Castle, his own favourite residence, whose constable had surrendered to Edward without a fight. Thomas was forced to wear garments of the striped cloth which the squires of his household wore, an intentional humiliation of a man of high birth and rank. On the way to York, a crowd of people threw snowballs at him, called him a traitor, and shouted "Now shall you have the reward that long time you have deserved!" [21]

Edward waited for his cousin at Pontefract, where rumour had it that the earl had built a tower in which to hold the king captive for the rest of his life; Thomas was imprisoned there instead. A triumphant Hugh Despenser the Younger, lately returned from exile and piracy, took the opportunity to hurl "malicious and contemptuous words" into Thomas's face on his arrival. [22] Thomas was put on trial in the great hall of his own castle, the justice Robert Malberthorpe, Edward, the Despensers, the earls of Kent, Pembroke, Richmond, Surrey, Arundel and the Scottish earls of Angus and Atholl sitting in judgement on him. Four of these men – Edward, Kent, Richmond and Pembroke – were Thomas's first cousins, while Surrey, Atholl and Angus had once served in his retinue. The result was a foregone conclusion, and Thomas was not allowed to speak in his own defence as his crimes were deemed 'notorious'. He exclaimed "This is a powerful court, and great in authority, where no answer is heard nor any excuse admitted," [23] but given that he had executed Piers Gaveston without a trial, he was hardly innocent on that score himself. The list of charges comprised the many grievances Edward managed to dredge up against his cousin, going back to Thomas's seizure of his possessions at Tynemouth in 1312 and including Thomas's jeering at him from the Pontefract battlements in 1317. Thomas was sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering, though Edward commuted the sentence to mere beheading.

Edward II arranged Thomas of Lancaster's execution as a parody of Piers' death. Rather than having him beheaded in the castle bailey, Edward had him taken outside to a small hill, mirroring Piers' 1312 death on Blacklow Hill. Thomas was forced to ride "some worthless mule" and "an old chaplet, rent and torn, that was not worth a half-penny," was set on his head. A crowd of spectators again threw snowballs at him. Presumably at the king's order, Thomas was forced to kneel facing towards Scotland, in a pointed reminder of his treasonous correspondence with Robert Bruce, and "beheaded like any thief or vilest rascal" with two or three strokes of the axe. (Actually, beheading was a nobleman's death, a privilege of high rank; common criminals were hanged.) The parallels between the deaths of Piers and Thomas did not unnoticed: "he was neither drawn nor hanged, only beheaded in like manner as this same Earl Thomas had caused Piers de Gaveston to be beheaded," says Lanercost, Anonimalle draws a similar comparison, and the Brut says "the cursed Gascon" had brought Thomas to this predicament. The Vita agrees, saying "the earl of Lancaster once cut off Piers Gaveston’s head, and now by the king’s command the earl himself has lost his head. Thus, perhaps not unjustly, the earl received measure for measure, as it is written in Holy Scripture." The Scalacronica also makes the connection between the deaths of Thomas and Piers, and says that Thomas was executed "for other offences which he had often and habitually committed against the king, and at the very place where he had once hooted, and made others hoot, at the king as he [Edward] was travelling to York." [24]

And so passed Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln and Salisbury, steward of England, grandson and nephew of kings of England, brother-in-law and uncles of kings of France. Not counting Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, Thomas was the first English earl executed since Waltheof in 1076, though Edward I in November 1306 had the Scottish earl of Atholl, his close kinsman (Atholl was a descendant of Edward's grandfather King John) hanged on a high gallows in London. Whatever some of Thomas's contemporaries may have thought of him - the extremely pro-Lancastrian Brut called him the 'gentle earl', for example - it's hard to find a modern historian with a good word to say about him, and hard, for me at least, to find much sympathy for a man who did his utmost to thwart his cousin Edward II at every turn.


1) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 104.
2) J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 249.
3) Vita, p. 109; Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, p. 57.
4) J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, p. 189.
5) Phillips, Valence, pp. 196-198.
6) Letter of 27 Feb 1321: J. Goronwy Edwards, ed., Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales, pp. 180-181. The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie, p. 213. Despenser quotation: Vita, p. 111.
7) Flores Historiarum, ed. H.T. Riley, vol. 3, p. 346.
8) Maddicott, Lancaster, pp. 273-274; Phillips, Valence, pp. 206-207; Bertie Wilkinson, 'The Sherburn Indenture and the Attack on the Despensers', English Historical Review, 63 (1948), pp. 4, 6; Flores, p. 197; Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley, pp. 107-108.
9) The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 102.
10) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 505-506.
11) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 300.
12) Le Livere de Reis de Britanie e le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover, p. 339.
13) Anonimalle, p. 104.
14) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 304.
15) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 47; Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 306.
16) Close Rolls 1318-1323, 525-526; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 474, and see also pp. 459, 463, 472.
17) Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 515-516, 521-522; Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 307.
18) Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 525-526.
19) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 100; Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 522; Gesta Edwardi, p. 75; Flores, p. 346; Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 81.
20) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 310; Brut, p. 217; Flores, p. 346.
21) Brut, pp. 216-221.
22) Vita, p. 125; Anonimalle, p. 106.
23) Vita, p. 126.
24) Brut, p. 222; The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 234; Vita, p.126; Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 67, etc.


Clement Glen said...

It makes you wonder why they bothered having a trial in situations like Lancaster's, Kathryn.

I think I'm right in saying Thomas of Lancaster was later treated like a saint by his followers in the north.

Do the lists of the 'contrariants' still survive? As I would be interested in researching particularly the Manor of Wakefield documents.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kathryn! A great post as usual. After Thomas' death he was regarded by some as a saint, though I can't imagine why.

I have a photo somewhere of the bridge at Boroughbridge. Not the same one obviously but a modern one in the same place.

Kathryn Warner said...

Clement, good point about trials - same with the Despensers in 1326 and Mortimer in 1330. A trial for the sake of public appearances, maybe? I do wonder if Edward II didn't allow Thomas to speak at his trial because Thomas didn't give Piers a trial, then the Despensers weren't allowed to speak at theirs because Thomas wasn't...

Thomas was indeed treated as a saint by many, bizarrely enough. Hmmm, I'll probably write a post about that sometime - thanks for the inspiration! ;)

There's a list on the Fine Roll of the men who had to pay a fine in exchange for a pardon, and various other records of men who were imprisoned.

Thanks, Elizabeth! Glad you liked the post, and hope it was helpful. I'd love to see your Boroughbridge pic sometime!

Susan Higginbotham said...

An interesting man, and a great post. It would be interesting to see a novel told from his point of view.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan! Yes, a novel from Thomas's perspective would be great, wouldn't it?

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, Lancy had it coming. ;) He's definitely a lot more guilty than Heinrich the Lion who never conspired with Barbarossa's hereditary enemies.

Lancy hated a lot of people, didn't he? Makes one wonder how many hated him back.

Louis X said...

Wonderful post, Kathryn! I agree with Gabriele; he did have it coming. One cannot commit treason against his king and expect to keep his neck intact. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele, he really did have it coming, didn't he? Treason was a capital offence and there's no doubt he committed it. I remember reading in a novel once that Edward 'slaughtered' his cousin, which is a bizarre thing to say, given that he gave Thomas an honourable, nobleman's death. (Which is more than Edward I gave his kinsman the earl of Atholl in 1306, but no-one wails about that.) Yes, Thomas seems to have hated lots of people - he strikes me as a very prickly personality.

Louis, thank you! I knew you of all people would understand the necessity of executing traitors! ;)

Undine said...

Quite a saga!

About Lancaster's posthumous "sainthood"--is it true that his tomb actually became a popular shrine?

I had always thought that was among the weirder developments of Edward's reign.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for all of these wonderful posts. Sometimes Wikipedia just falls flat, so these are nice to read ;) The point you made about him being the next Earl to have been executed after Waltheof is really interesting when you think of all the hatreds and violence perpetrated by King John and all the problems his son Henry had with his nobles.

I bet Edward II appreciated the sense of 'poetic' justice trying Lancaster in his favorite residence with so many of his relatives and former 'friends' sitting in judgement - must have been immensely satisfying.

And though I agree that it's hard to find much room for sympathy in Lancaster's final days and manner of death, his story and recorded personality certainly is very captivating and one (me) has to admire his sort of 'swash-buckling' attitude.

Thanks for all of these!

Anerje said...

Really enjoyed part 3! Lancaster got his just deserts. I'm amazed at how patient and clever Edward was with him. Obviously, as his kinsman, and such a powerful noble, Edward had to be, but he bided his time. He obviously never forgave him for Piers' murder, as the chronicles allude to this. Plus the parody was a master stroke. Edward must have watched with tremendous satisfaction!

As for Thomas being a saint - I presume as a prominent northerner with many followers, it was in their interest to try and get him recognised as such - and thus he'd still be a thorn in Edward's side. Plus, from a church point of view, he'd be a marvellous money-maker as a northern Saint:>

Louis X said...

Execution is a nasty business, non? But a traitor is a traitor, even if he is a kinsman. I would say treason is worse, when committed by a kinsman!

Kathryn Warner said...

Undine, it really is, isn't it?? I seem to remember the archbishop of York in the 1320s having to warn one of his clerics that Thomas's tomb was not a shrine and ordering him to send pilgrims away - must look into that more, for a future post.

Elizabeth, thank you! Really glad you like the posts. I bet Edward did feel a profound satisfaction at Thomas's execution, especially if the chronicler who says that Thomas was intending to imprison the king at Pontefract is correct.

Thanks, Anerje! I love too how Edward bided his time and waited for revenge. That's a great point about the northern element to Thomas's 'sainthood' - thanks!

Monsire Louis, I quite agree!

Kate Plantagenet said...

Well the third instalment was just as wonderful as the first two! Thanks.

Edward tried to make Lancaster do the right thing. He gave him chances to redeem himself. Poor guy, he must have had such a hatred for Edward that drove him to his traitorous behaviour.

He is a fascinating character who had a really interesting life.

Carla said...

Quite a saga! Is this the same Andrew Harclay who was later executed for negotiating a peace treaty with Robert Bruce? I always felt he got a raw deal.

Kathryn Warner said...

Kate, thank you! Really glad you enjoyed the posts, and you inspired them, so thanks for that too...;)

Carla, yes, that's the same Harclay whom Edward executed in 1323 - poor man.

Jayne Smith said...

It is a shame he never inherited the loyalty trait from his Father . Great post as usual

Unknown said...

I've just discovered this blong, and want to thank you for the fascinating information. In searching for "Lancaster" I've found posts about Thomas (fascinating man, though he also sounds like a real a-hole), Alice de Lacy (her inheritance was really nothing more than a target painted on her back), Maud de Chaworth, and of course Grosmont (what a character!).

However, I must admit my current fascination with this period of the middle ages (Edward II and Edward III) mostly stems from Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster and Leicester - Grosmont's father and Thomas Lancaster's younger brother. Not nearly as much seems to have been recorded about him, other than he had tortcullis (which earned him the somewhat derisive nickname "Wryneck") and for the most part tried to keep his nose out of the political drama until his brother was executed. He strikes me as a Ned Stark type of character, if Ned Stark had actually known how to play the Game - because Henry Lancaster won in the end. He triumphed even over Roger Mortimer in the end, and for some time was Edward III's chief advisor, until he went fully blind in 1330. After that he returned to Leicester and built a hospital.