08 September, 2017

The Murder of Sir Robert Holland, October 1328

Sir Robert Holland or de Holand was a knight of Upholland, Lancashire, born sometime around 1280. He was the steward of Edward II's first cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and his close ally and perhaps friend, for many years. Thomas gave Robert lands and arranged his marriage to Maud la Zouche, one of the two daughters and co-heirs of Alan la Zouche (d. 1314). Robert and Maud's eldest son Robert the younger was born around 1312, and their second son Thomas, who married Edward II's niece Joan of Kent, in about 1314. They had a third son, Sir Otto Holland, a Knight of the Garter, and several daughters including Isabella, mistress of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (d. 1347).

Robert Holland's long and close association with Thomas of Lancaster did not include following him into treason during the Contrariant rebellion in 1322, and instead he joined Edward II on or before 4 March, bringing men, horses and arms. To be fair to Robert, the king was holding one of his daughters - not named - at the Tower of London by 26 February 1322, almost certainly as a hostage. [CCR 1318-23, 525; CPR 1321-4, 75] By joining Edward before the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, Robert saved himself from execution, but was imprisoned at Dover Castle and "charged with diverse excesses." He remained in prison for most of the rest of Edward II's reign, though at some point escaped from Northampton. [CPR 1327-30, 17] Robert was pardoned in 1327 by the new regime and restored to his lands, despite protests by Thomas of Lancaster's brother and heir Henry, now earl of Lancaster.

On 15 October 1328, a group of Lancastrian knights and adherents including Sir Thomas Wyther, John Tebbe, John le Irissche, John le Walsshe, Thomas Polgrom and Thomas de la Panetrie encountered Sir Robert Holland at Borehamwood in Essex, quarrelled with him, and decapitated him.They sent the severed head to Henry, earl of Lancaster, at Waltham Abbey before fleeing to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. It is not impossible that Henry ordered Robert Holland's execution – he was only fifteen miles away at Waltham when it happened – though it is perhaps more probable that the death occurred during an angry and violent row with Lancastrians furious at Robert's betrayal of Earl Thomas and that they had not planned to kill him. Still, there seems little doubt that Henry protected and sheltered the killers, and the macabre gift of the head sent to him suggests his men knew he would be pleased at the death of the man who had abandoned and betrayed his brother. Jurors appointed to inquire into the murder claimed rather suspiciously and implausibly not to know anything whatsoever about the circumstances of it or who had promoted it ("We dunno nuffin, guv, honest"). Henry was surely an accessory after the fact if not before, and the jurors likely did not think it wise to point a finger at the wealthy, powerful and royal earl of Lancaster or to investigate too closely a murder he was apparently condoning. John Tebbe was imprisoned for Robert's murder, but escaped, and went on campaign to Gascony with Thomas of Lancaster's nephew and Henry of Lancaster's son Henry of Grosmont in 1345/6 before he had been pardoned for the murder and his escape. [CPR 1345-8, 87] I suppose that means that Henry of Grosmont didn't exactly shed a tear over the death of the man who had abandoned his uncle.

So that was the end of Sir Robert Holland, though his widow Maud née la Zouche outlived him for many years, and went through a legal battle with Henry of Lancaster over the manor of Melbourne in 1330 (a battle won, not surprisingly, by Henry). Robert and Maud's second son Sir Thomas Holland (c. 1314-1360) really raised the family to greatness via his marriage to Joan of Kent: his sons, Robert's grandsons Thomas, earl of Kent (1350/51-1397), and John, earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter (c. 1352/55-1400), were half-brothers of King Richard II. Thomas, earl of Kent, married Henry, earl of Lancaster's granddaughter Alice Fitzalan in about 1364 when they were both still very young, and they were the parents of the duke of Surrey, the duchess of York and the countesses of March, Somerset and Salisbury, among others, and the ancestors of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. When Henry of Lancaster received Robert Holland's severed head in October 1328, he can hardly have have imagined that one day his granddaughter would marry Robert's grandson, and Robert surely cannot have imagined that he would be the ancestor of kings.

Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, no. 1093
Annales Paulini, p. 342
Knighton's Chronicle 1337-1396, vol. 1, p. 449
The Brut, vol. 1, p. 257.

1 comment:

sami parkkonen said...

The reason why the murderers escaped from Essex to Buckinghamshire was significant in judicial sense. An outlaw or an criminal who had committed a crime punishable by death could avoid the sentence by feeling abroad, which in 1300's law meant leaving the home county or the shire. If and when the outlaw returned, he was captured and tried BUT by feeling "abroad"/"to foreign parts" the outlaw could post pone his death and try to get a royal pardon while being away.

This was a trick many times used by the well to do criminals who had connections outside their home counties and/or shires and could spent years away if need be. Knights were such people. It was only very exceptional commoner who could or did so. Some murderers were pardoned when they served the crown in the army or participated in military expeditions away from their home counties and shires.

It is known that in 1415 campaign Henry V pardoned several men accused of murder and employed them as archers who were at hand in Agincourt and no doubt were among the Englishmen who wiped out much bigger french army, that is; as part of the "few, we happy few, we band of brothers" at St. Crispin's Day. Edward III's great armies on Chevauchés in France also included some criminals who gained a royal pardon by military service.