About an execution, EXACTLY 700 YEARS AGO.....

Di 22 Maart 2022 23:49 | Astrid Essed | 134 keer bekeken | 0 reacties | 0 x aanbevolen | Artikel voorlezen

Today I want to travel with you to 14th century England again, for it's a
special Day!
Because it is exactly 700 years ago, that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, Leicester
and Derby, was executed for treason on the orders of his first cousin, king Edward II [the son of the better known Edward I ''Hammer of the Scots [1]
and the father of king Edward III, who started the Hundred Years War between
England and France, the war in which Jeanne d'Arc played her role as
heroine of freedom [2]
And painful for Thomas:
He was executed in his own castle of Pontefract [quite sadistic....] [3]
I think a role played too the fact, that Edward II wanted revenge all
those years for Earl Thomas summarily executing [with some other
comrades in evil] his favourite, Piers Gaveston [4]
Thomas of Lancaster was a very interesting man, whom I described before
in an extended article [nearly a book!] [5]
He was about the Power, fought against his cousin king Edward IV for years,
after an initial good and friendly contact [it is not known, why king Edward II
and his cousin Thomas fell out, but suddenly it happened, in november 1308 [6]
and then the things went worse and worse.
But although he did horrible things [like summarily executing Piers Gaveston,
a favourite and close friend of Edward II], he was interesting, not only
because he held power for years against his cousin the king [from 1314-1318,
when he signed a peace treaty with his cousin the King, the Treaty of Leake,
which did not last very long.....[7],.
No, he did more
With Simon de Montfort [8] he laid the groundwork for the later Parliament,
as driving power behind the Ordinances [9], which tried to limit the absolute Power
of the King.
And can you imagine:
This man, this warlord, who eventually rose in open rebellion against
his cousin and king [10]  and was all but a Saint, was venerated as Saint
after his death, first as an outlet for those who opposed the king and his
later favourites the Despensers [11], but later as a real Saint [12], although he was
never canonized. [13]
By the way, his brother, Earl Henry, who later inherited his titles [Thomas
of Lancaster had only two illegitimate sons, his marriage was childless and by
the way, unhappy], is a very interesting person too and one of my favourites!
For a nobleman, he was a real familyman, who rather stayed with his family
then playing powerpolitics.
He was clever too:
Because most of the the period that his brother Thomas and king Edward II had their fight for power, he stayed in France [where he had possessions] and when his brother Thomas openly rebelled against Edward II, he did not participate and rather stayed in France, as to prevent that he had to make the painful choice 
between joining his brother in rebellion and treason or to stay loyal to the king and abandon his brother. [14]
That must have been very painful for Earl Henry, but in the period after his brother Thomas' execution, when his cousin king Edward II ruled with his favourites 
the Despensers [who were the driving forces behind the execution
of Thomas of Lancaster, who rebelled against the king partly for lust of
power and partly to destroy the Despenser influence on the king] [15], Earl
Henry operated very carefully at Court and eventually played a major
role in the fall of the Despensers, which also resulted in the abdication
and death of Edward II [16]
Because his clever and careful manoevres during the Edward II/Despenser
reign I called him the ''Mystery Man'' [17]
By the way, by Earl Henry's granddaughter Blanche of Lancaster [the daughter
of his son Henry of Grosmont, later DUKE of Lancaster], he was
the greatgrandfather of the later king Henry IV [who, by what now
people would call a ''coup'' usurped the throne from the lawful king
Richard II, who was his first cousin, both grandsons of king Edward III]
And by Henry's daughter Maud of Lancaster [19] he was one of the ancestors
of the present British monarchy [his daughter Maud of Lancaster was
the mother in law of Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III and
the maternal  greatgreatgrandfather of Richard, Duke of York, who was
the paternal grandfather of Elisabeth of York, who was the wife of Henry VII, 
and mother of king Henry VIII and via one of her daughters, the
greatgrandmother of Maria Stuart, from who all subsequent British kings and
Queens descended] [20]
But it is about Earl Thomas of Lancaster today!
And because it is 700 years after his execution, hereby the Execution
And to honour a man, who, with all his faults and atrocities, was one
of the groundworkers for the later English parliament, although
he, of course, supported the Ordinances [21] in order to serve
the interest of the high nobility, and of course his own
NOTES 1 T/M 13
NOTES 14 T/M 21


The travel
Revenge of the King
The others
Last passage

””Now the king of Heaven give us mercy, for the earthly king has forsaken us!”

The long battle between Thomas and his cousin King Edward II
was over.
The way to the grisly end was about to begin:

An end, which was not about to bring the King and the
[in january returned] Despensers much joy, but
would cast a shadow on their lives and reign.

After the devastating end of the Battle of Boroughbridge,
resulting in the horrible death of the Earl of Hereford [452],
companion till the last of Thomas of Lancaster [and
by the way, the brother in law of Edward II] , Thomas
of Lancaster found himself prisoner of the King.

The humiliation could begin…….


Thomas was taken by water via York to Pontefract Castle.
That was an intent torment and humiliation, since
Pontefract Castle was his favourite residence.
[His constable had surrendered to the King without a fight]
That must have been very bitter for Thomas.

He 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. [453]

But that was not enough:

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!” [454]
Interesting though that there must have been among them people,
who later revered him……

At the meantime other adherents of Thomas of Lancaster were
taken prisoner, who would share his fate, as the story will show.


The King had tried to make it as humiliating as possible
for his cousin and long time adversary Thomas.
He ”received” his cousin at his own favourite Castle
of Pontefract,
accompanied by his favourites the Despensers, who
must have thought, that it was their moment of joy.
Quod non [Latin for: that is not the case] [455] as will
the story reveal later [See Chapter 10, Aftermath]

But although sad for Thomas, the satisfaction the King’
undoubtedly felt, now his powerful cousin was
at his mercy, is in a way understandable.

It was not only the 10 year long resistance of Thomas,
complete with jeering at the King [in 1317 and 1320],
and blocking his way with armed guards [456], probably
the King’s most important feeling was revenge for the death of
Piers Gaveston, since Thomas was one of the responsibles
for his [Gaveston’s] murder [457], a cruel and illegal act against a man,
who was vain, avaricious and insulting [to the Lords] [458],
but further didn’t do the Lords any wrong.

And Edward II had made no secret of his need for revenge!
During the siege of Berwick in 1319 [459] in which Thomas had
cooperated with Edward [460], he [Edward] made clear what was 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.” [461]
That threat was obviously aimed at Thomas, who
left Berwick later [and right he was!]. [462]

And as I have said before, when it came to revenge, Edward II
was true to his word.


On 21 march, Thomas of Lancaster arrived at his
Castle of Pontefract.
And what was to be expected, the Despensers couldn’t resist
to show their satisfaction in humiliating Lancaster.
Thomas was ”contemptuously insulted……to his face with
malicious and arrogant words” by the king and the recently returned Despensers” [463]
Nice reception in your own castle……


Now rumour had  it that Thomas of Lancaster had built a tower in which to hold the king captive for the rest of his life.
And, surprise, surprise……
In that very [supposed for imprisonment of the King] tower
Thomas was kept prisoner….. [464]
The day after Thomas’ arrival, 22 march 1322, his ”trial” took place.
I say ”trial” because it didn’t deserve the name at the least.

It was a mock trial, that took place in the hall of
Lancaster’s own castle [how bitter…..] and the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Thomas was not allowed to speak in his own defence as his crimes were deemed ‘notorious’ [465]

According to sources he was said to have exclaimed:
” “This is a powerful court, and great in authority, where no answer is heard nor any excuse admitted,” [466]
And right he was!
The fact that Thomas didn’t grant Piers Gaveston a fair trial too
[yet apart from the fact that he had no right to give him
a trial anyway], doesn’t excuse his ”judges” to do the same with him.

And there were ”judges”, who undoubtedly would later
regret their own injustice…………

See Chapter 10 ”Aftermath”


The composition of those  socalled ”judges” was a laughing
stock anyway, were it not so grave an affair, since they
consisted of either his enemies, or staunch adherents of
the King [or a combination of those two]

The ”judges” were:

Thomas’ first cousin, King Edward II

The Despensers [father and son]

The Earl of Pembroke  [Thomas’
first cousin once removed.
Originally one of the besiegers of Piers
Gaveston in 1312, now he was a staunch adherer of the King,
since he was against his will, forced to break his word
against Piers Gaveston, who was in his custody
and in Pembroke’s absence abducted by the 10th Earl
of Warwick, which lead to Gaveston’s execution.
His presence at this mock trial was a pity, I have mentioned
him several times as a man of honour, who repeatedly
tried to reconcile Edward II and Thomas of Lancaster,
but perhaps he
was forced to become part of this show trial] [467]

The Earl of Kent [halfbrother of King Edward II, and
first cousin to Thomas of Lancaster] [468]

The Earl of Richmond [first cousin to King Edward II
and Thomas of Lancaster] [469]

The Earl of Arundel [choose the King’s side
after the murder of Gaveston, whom he had executed
after a mock trial together with Thomas of Lancaster, the 10th Earl
of Warwick and the Earl of Hereford,
who died at the Battle of Boroughbridge] [470]

The Earl of Surrey , [originally one of
the besiegers of Piers Gaveston in 1312 and
later a mortal enemy of Thomas.
Under his responsibility Thomas’ estranged wife Alice de
Lacy was abducted, which lead to a private war between
Surrey and Thomas] [471]

The [Scottish] Earls of Atholl and Angus, who had once
served in the retinue of Thomas of Lancaster. [472]

The royal justice Robert Malberthorpe, who spoke out
the charges against him. [473]

Striking is, that three of the ”judges” [Edward II, the Earl of Kent,
the Earl of Richmond] were first cousins of Thomas of Lancaster
[474] and one, the Earl of Pembroke, his first cousin removed.



Thomas was charged [of course] for treason, as he and other Contrariants had invited several of Robert Bruce’s liegemen to England in 1322 to ride with them against their king. [476]

But that was not all:

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 [when Lancaster
and the other barons were pursuing the King and his favourite Piers Gaveston, after his return from permanent exile. The charge however was unjust, since Lancaster had given the
possessions back in 1313] [477] and including Thomas’s jeering at him from the Pontefract battlements in 1317, [478]
and Lancaster’s blocking of the roads in an attempt to prevent Edward’s travelling through Yorkshire. [479]

A fourtheenth century scandal

One need not to be surprised about the verdict:

Of course Thomas was found guilty, since this
was a show trial, containing ”judges”, who were
extremely hostile to him.

But to be fair:
Even if it WERE a fair trial, the exchanged letters and dealings with the Scots [480] were reason enough to condemn him.

Therefore it was not the CONDEMNATION  that was shocking, and caused a scandal, but the
fact, that Thomas was condemned to death, which was
a break with the convention of the time, not only because of his close
kinship to the King [first cousin, Lancaster’s father was the younger brother of King Edward I], but especially because since
Waltheof, the Earl of Northumbria was executed  in 1076 on the orders of William the Conqueror [481], no English Earl was ever executed. [482]
In cases, comparable with Lancaster, an Earl had to suffer
”only” life imprisonment or exile. [483]

I think, that the King perhaps had shown mercy [I mean, not
imposing the death penalty], were it not for Lancaster’s involvement
in the murder of King’s favourite Piers Gaveston[484],
which was not one of the charges, but the underlying reason
for the King’s need for revenge. [485]

But there was more:
Not only the death penalty was pronounced, Thomas was
condemned to the worst form, the traitor’s death:
In other words: to be hanged, drawn and quartered…..[486]

But the King was not totally crazy:
Executing a [royal] Earl was already a scandal,
but to be hanged, drawn and quartered……
Besides, whatever had happened between them, Thomas
was the King’s first cousin and of royal blood
Therefore the King commuted this verdict to ”merely”

However, some sources mention, that the King commuted
the ”hanged, drawn and quarted” verdict to beheading “for the love of Quene Isabell,”[488], which possibly means, that the King
commuted the verdict to beheading as a result of intercession
of Queen Isabella [489], who was with King Edward at
Pontefract [brrrrrr, horrifying, to accompany one’s husband
at the eve of an execution….yet when she really intervened,
it was a good thing that she came…..] [490]
Queen Isabella was, you remember still,,,, Thomas’ niece, since he was the halfbrother of her mother, Queen Joan I of Navarre]

Of course the phrase “for the love of Quene Isabell” can also

mean, that the beheading verdict was the King”s own decision,
but that he considered his and Queen Isabella’s relationship
with Thomas of Lancaster……


Before we follow Thomas on his last passage, there is
a lot to tell about his adherents, who were captured together
with him or on other locations around the same time:
I mention six knights, who were hanged at Pontefract around
or at the same time as Thomas were executed:
William Cheyne or Cheney, Warin Lisle, Henry Bradbourne, William Fitzwilliam, Thomas Mauduit and William Tuchet [492]

According to the Flores Historiarum [493], such a lack
of humanity was shown, that Thomas had to face their execution
before he himself was executed[494] [although the Flores Historiarum mentioned
nine of his knights, while other sources give six] [495]

Anyway, Edward II was not satisfied with seven executions
[Thomas and the six knights], as a whole at least between
19 and 22 lords and knights were executed and one, Lord
Badlesmere [from the Siege of Leeds, see Chapter 7] suffered
the traitor’s death. [496]
Many were imprisoned, even the wives and children of
the rebels [see also Chapter 10, Aftermath] [497]
A bloody project of a vengeful King, undoubtedly
stimulated by the [with right mentioned so by the rebels!] evil councillors, the Despensers. [498]


It was on the morning of 22 march, that Thomas of Lancaster
heard his verdict, condemned in the Hall of his own
Favourite Castle in Pontefract.
The same morning, on a cold, snowy day, Thomas was executed.
The King, apparently making a holiday of his cousin’s
trial and execution, had arrived there on 19 march, together
with Queen Isabella and spent there until 25 march…..[499]
[strong nerves they must have had…….]

However, rather than have him executed in the castle
bailey, Edward II had a painful ”surprise” for
Thomas of Lancaster, which showed his desire for
revenge on the execution of his favourite, Piers Gaveston:
In fact, he arranged a ”parody” on the execution of
Piers Gaveston [who was executed on a hill, called
”Blacklow Hill” and also beheaded] [500]

Thomas was taken  outside to a small hill,  outside of the walls of his favourite Castle Pontefract, mirroring Piers’ 1312 death on Blacklow Hill.
He 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.
Apparently at the king’s order, Thomas was forced to kneel facing towards Scotland, in a pointed reminder of his  correspondence with Robert Bruce [which of course had been treason] [501]

Then Thomas uttered the words:

“Now the king of Heaven give us mercy, for the earthly king has forsaken us!” [502]

Two or three strokes of the axe and he was beheaded.

Thomas of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster, Leicester, Derby,
Lincoln and Salisbury, long time adversary of his cousin
Edward II and the last to defend the Ordinances
[503] was no more………




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