Monday, September 1, 2008
The Murder of Thomas of Woodstock, 1397
Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester:
“Orgueilleux & presompteux de maniere” *
*Proud and presumptuous of manner [J. Froissart, Chronicles]
Thomas, 1st Duke of Gloucester, was born 7 Jan. 1354/5 at Woodstock Manor in Oxfordshire, seventh son (fifth surviving) of Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault. Sometime before 24 Aug. 1376, he married his child-bride, Eleanor de Bohun, elder daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton. Thomas de Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, was one of Thomas’ godfathers, as was John de la Moote, Abbot of St. Albans .
Typical of most offspring of the medieval royalty and nobility, little is known of the youth of Thomas. In his sixth year, he was deemed sufficiently important enough in his princely person to have marshals appointed for the management of his own household .
Though perhaps not as well-known to history as his older brothers, Edward the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, Thomas’ role in the governance of England had far-reaching effects on the life and reign of his nephew, Richard II. Political events first set in motion by Thomas, in fact, produced a chain reaction of regal depositions and fractious family in-fighting that culminated in the “Wars of the Roses:” that bloody family feud that leaves most historians, and family genealogists, slightly dazed from trying to follow the various thrashings the Yorkists and the Lancastrians meted out to each other.
Thomas’ first adult honor was his appointment as Constable of England in June 1376. He was knighted by his aged father on 23 Apr. 1377; among other gifts received on the day of his knighting, the old king presented Thomas with ten ells of scarlet cloth . As expected of a royal prince, Thomas suited up his armor and soon attempted a bit of military conquest. He captured eight Spanish ships off Brest in 1378, but beyond this act of military daring, Thomas’ military career could best be described as lackluster. In July 1380, assisting the Duke of Brittany, Thomas moved his forces across France but was unable to coax the French into fighting. The Duke of Brittany refusing to join in the action, Thomas led an unsuccessful siege against Nantes, returning home “in disgust” in April 1381 . Turning his attentions to home, Thomas dispersed the peasant insurgents in Essex later that year and led an English force of 1,000 lances and 2,000 arches against the Scots, who refused to do battle—surrendering instead .
An undated letter from Thomas, Duke of Gloucester to his nephew, Richard II, contains the text of a treatise written by Gloucester “On the manner of conducting judicial duels” . The letter sets out, in intimate detail, the rules of the duel and the role of the constable as overseer of these bloody conflicts. The king having picked the field, at the appointed time the monarch, constable and marshal are seated upon a scaffold, the king’s seat being raised. Both the appellant (accuser) and the defendant had their arms and weapons assigned to him by the court, “that is to say, a long sword, short sword, and dagger.” The parties to a duel swear on oath that they will not bring any “magical power” to the duel “by which thou trusteth the better to overcome thine adversary…Nor that thou trusteth in any other thing, but only in God and thy body and on thy rightfull quarrel, help thee God and these saints.” The aforementioned forbidden magical powers included so-called “stones of virtue” and “herbs of virtue” (e.g., charms) .
The chain of events that resulted in Thomas’ death and attainder commenced with the baron’s hatred of the King’s favorites. Thomas was possessed of a headstrong temper, demonstrated in his heated defense of his brother, the Duke of Lancaster, against charges of treason (“he burst into the King’s presence and challenged all who might venture to support the charge”) . Thomas led the opposition to Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, and was chiefly responsible for Suffolk’s condemnation and murder. Richard was furious, but he could do nothing to avenge his friend as the “Lords Appellant” (Thomas of Woodstock, Richard de Arundel, Thomas Beauchamp, Henry Bolingbroke, and Thomas Mowbray) had seized control of the government. At Radcot Bridge, near Oxford, the Lords Appellants won a civil war in December 1387 against an army led by the king’s favorite, Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland. These political and military actions resulted in the “Merciless Parliament” of 1388. At this parliament, the powers of the king were severely limited, reducing Richard to a figurehead. The king was humiliated, but would wait out his time...
Richard chose as his second wife a child bride princess of France, Isabel, whom he married in 1396 when Isabella was six years of age. A calculated political marriage, Richard nonetheless treated the tiny Isabella with respect. The advantages of this marriage allowed the king to build a continental power base and with French support he quickly regained full regal powers. Thomas, bold, emotive, and indiscrete, complained about this new order of things to one of his knights, John Lackinghay:
“I am the youngest of King Edward’s sons, but if I was listened to I would be the first to renew the wars [with France] and put a stop to the encroachments we have suffered and are still suffering every day, thanks to our simplicity and slackness. I mean particularly the slackness of our leader the King, who has just allied himself by marriage with his principal enemy. That’s hardly a sign that he wants to fight him. No, he’s too fat in the arse and only interested in eating and drinking. That’s no life for a fighting man, who ought to be hard and lean and bent on glory. I know he spends plenty, but it’s on silly and futile things, and his people have to pay the bill. There will soon be serious trouble in this country. The people are beginning to grumble and say that they won’t stand it much longer.” 
Heedless of the danger to his life, the Duke’s blind hatred of his nephew the King leading him on, rumors soon spread that Gloucester had approached his great-nephew, Roger Mortimer, earl of March (grandson of Lionel of Clarence, Thomas’ older brother) with a plot to place March on the throne and imprison Richard and Isabella. Shocked by the boldness of his uncle’s plans, Mortimer responds that he needs time to think it over, swears to secrecy, and departs for Ireland .
In July 1397, the jittery King having gotten wind of his uncle’s supposed plot, Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick are arrested and subsequently condemned as traitors in the September Parliament. Arundel was executed on the same day of his arrest, on Tower Hill. Warwick’s life was spared, but he and his wife were exiled to the Isle of Man. Bolingbroke and Mowbray (now the dukes of Hereford and Norfolk) escape Richard’s wrath until the following year, when they were exiled.
The fate of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, hung in the balance. The king arrived unannounced at his uncle’s manor at Pleshy, Essex about five o’clock in the afternoon on a very hot day. The duke, his wife, and their children greeted the king in the customary regal manner. Richard dined cordially with his uncle. On a pretext of Gloucester being required at a meeting of the nobles in London the next day, the King convinced Thomas to accompany him, the duke bringing with him three of his esquires and four yeomen; the king and Gloucester chatted as they rode together when, suddenly galloping ahead, the King had Woodstock arrested near Stratford. The Earl Marshal, with his band, came galloping after, and overtaking the Duke, said “I arrest you in the King’s name.”  Richard rode fast to the Tower of London, ignoring the duke’s calls to him in the distance .
After ten years of waiting for the right moment to strike, the king had his revenge.
Gloucester’s arrest was accomplished “about ten or eleven of the clock in the night: whence he was forthwith carried into a barge, and so into a ship, which lay in the Thames, wherein they conveyed him next day to Calais. Being thus brought thither, he askt [sic] the Earl Marshal the cause thereof; saying, ‘Methinks you hold me here as a prisoner: let me go abroad, and see the fortress,’ but the Earl Marshal refused” .
Gloucester’s death appears to have been widely circulated in August. It seems odd that the king would send William Rickhill to Calais (where the duke was housed in prison) to obtain Gloucester’s confession—unless his plans to triumph over Gloucester included an elaborate ruse of concealment. Why should Richard have allowed Gloucester to survive the announcement of his death? And granting that he did, why, in the name of common sense, should he have left the taking of the confession at so late a date (8 Sept.; see below). Rickhill’s commission was dated 17 August and was received in his hands on 5 September . However, it is clear that the parliamentary rolls were tampered with after Richard II’s deposition, in an effort to discredit the previous regime by making it appear that Richard was directly responsible for his uncle’s murder [15, 16]. The new regime probably needn't have gone to all that trouble to show what must have been obvious. Rickhill went to great pains to convince the new regime that he was unaware of the exact nature of his commission prior to his departure to Calais. There is no reason to expect that Rickhill was stretching the point to save his neck; the public announcement of the duke’s death having been made, no contingencies were planned in the event that a confession could not be speedily obtained from Gloucester. The duke was a strong-willed man and it's not likely that he was immediately defeated by the pressure to obtain a forced confession. In the matter of the timing of events, Richard's plans had to be amended...
At last, seeing that his situation was desperate, at the castle of Calais and in the presence of John Lancaster and John Lovetot, the duke dictate his "confession." Once the document was in royal hands, the king tampered with the confession in order to justify Gloucester’s supposed guilt. This tampered version, read in the September Parliament, is familiar to most historians. However, the duke’s actual confession (in reality not a confession at all), along with two complete copies of the same, was found in the papers of Richard’s eleventh regnal year (the king’s obvious intent was to bury both the Duke and the truth) . Italics in the abstract below indicate portions of the duke’s “confession” that were expunged by Richard:
“I, Thomas of Woodestoke, the viii day of September, the year of my lord the Kyng the on and twentie, be the vertu of a Commission of my lord the Kyng the same yeer directed to William Rykhyll Justice, the which is comprehended more pleynly in the forseid Commission, knowleche that I was on wyth steryng of other men to assente to the makyng of a Commission. In the which Commission I amonges others restreyned my lord of hys freedom, and took upon me amange other power real (i.e., royal), trewly naught knowing ne wyting that tyme that I dede ayens his estate ne his realtie, as I dede after and do now. And forasmuch as I knew afterward that I hadd do wrong, and taken upon me more than I owght to do, I submettede me to my lord and cryed hym mercy and grace, and yet do als lowlych and as mekely as any man may, and putte me heygh and lowe in his mercy and in his grace, as he that hath always been ful of mercy and grace to all other.
“Also, in that tyme that I came armed into my lordes presence and into his Palais, howsoever that I dede it for drede of my lyf, I knowleche for certain that I dede evyll and ayeyns his regalie and his estate: wherefor I submett me lowly and mekely into his mercy and to his grace.
“Also, in that, that I took my lordes lettres of his messagers and opened hem ayeyns his leve, I knowleche that I ded evyll: wherfor I putt me lowly in his grace.
“Also, in that, I sclaundred my loorde, I knowleche that I dede evyll and wykkedly, in that, that I spake it unto hym in sclaunderous wyse in audience of other folk. But, by the wey that my sowle schall to, I mente none evyll therein. Nevertheless I wrote and I knowleche that I dede evyll and unkunnyngelych: wherefor I submett me heygh and lowe in his grace.
“Also, in that, that I among other communed for feer of my lyf to yive up myn hommage to my lord, I knowleche wel that for certain that I among other communed and asked of certain clercs, whethir that we myght yive up our hommage for drede of our lyves or non; and whethir that we assentyd thereto for to do it, trewlych and by my trowth I ne have now none full mynde thereof, bot I trowe rather ye than nay: wherefor I submit me heygh and lowe evermore in his grace.
“Also, in that, that I was in place ther it was communed and spoken in manere of deposyl of my liege loord, trewly I knowleche wel that we were assented thereto for two dayes or three, and than that we for to have done our homage and our oothes, and putt him as heyly in hys estate as ever he was. Bot forsothe there I knowlech that I dede untrewely and unkyndely as to hym that is my lyege loord and hath bene so gode and kynde loord to me. Wherefor I besech to hym naghtwythstondyng myn unkyndenesse, I beseche hym evermore of his mercy and of his grace as lowly as any creature may beseche it unto his liege loord.
“And as of any newe thyng or ordenaunce that ever I shuld have wyten or knowen , ordeyned or assentyd, pryve or apert, that schuld have bene ayeyns my loordys estate or his luste or ony that longeth abowte hym, syth that day that I swore unto him at Langeley on Goddys body; trewly and be that oothe that I ther made, I never knew of gaderyng ayeyns hym, ne none other that longeth unto hym.
“And as touchyng all this poyntes that I have made Confession of tofore William Rykhyll Justyce, in the which I wote wele that I have offendyd my loord unkyndely and untrewly as I have seyde befor how that I have in all this poyntes offendid hym and done ayeyns hym; trewly and as I wyll answere before Godd it was my menyng and my wenyng for to have do the best for his psone and for his estate. Nevertheles I wote wel and know wel nowe that my dedes and my werchynges were ayenys myn entente. Bot, be the wey that my sowle schall to, of this poyntes and of all othir the which that I have done of neclygence and of unkunnyng,it was nev’ myn entent ne my wyll ne my thoght for to do thynge that schuld have been distresse or harmyng ayeyns the salvation of my lyege loordys psone as I wyll answer tofor Godd at the day of Judgement.
“And therfor I beseche my lyege and souverayn loord the Kyng, that he wyll of his heygh grace and benyngnytee accepte me to his mercy and his grace, as that I putt my lyf, my body, and my goode holy at hys wyll as lowlych as mekelych as any creature kan do or may do to his lyege loord. Besechyng to hys heygh lordeschipp that he wyll, for the passion that God soffred for all mankynde and for the compassion that he hadde of hys moder on the cros and the pytee that he hadde of Mary Maudelyne, that he wyll vouchesauf for to have compassion and pytee; and to accepte me unto his mercy and to his grace, as he that hathe ever bene ful of mercy and of grace to all his lyeges and to all other that have naght bene so neygh unto him as I have bene, thogh I be unworthy” .
Depending on which account you read, it is variously stated that Woodstock died a natural death in July or August, or was strangled with a cloth or suffocated under a mattress. The facts of his confession now being known, it is clear that Thomas was still alive on the 8th of September—two months after first being arrested. Later that night, Woodstock was dead.
An inquiry into the death of the Duke of Gloucester was held in the first year of the reign of Henry IV (1399); the accounts are of high interest as there is little evidence, in particular, to doubt the testimony given at that session of Parliament:
Sir John Baggot, then a prisoner in the Tower, was brought to the bar of the house, and there examined on the affair of that murder [Gloucester]; who there declared “That it was by the advice and instigation of the duke of Albemarle…that the duke of Gloucester was inhumanly murdered at Calais. That the duke of Norfolk did keep the duke of Gloucester alive 3 weeks against the king’s will; but, for fear of the king’s displeasure, the said duke and himself, with several of the king’s servants, went over to Calais, and saw him put to death.” The duke of Albemarle rose up and said, “That he utterly denied the charge to be true against him, and offered to justify his innocence by combat, in such a manner as should be thought requisite.” The king denied Albemarle’s application for judicial duel.
Baggot, in one of his examinations before Parliament, mentioned one John Hall, then a prisoner in Newgate, who could say much more than he, relating to the death of the duke of Gloucester. Which Hall, being sent for and examined, confessed the whole matter.
“John Hall, a servant of the duke of Norfolk, being examined by Sir Walter Clopton, chief justice, confessed upon his oath, that in the month of Sept. 21 Rd. II the duke of Norfolk charged the said John, among others, to murder the duke of Gloucester, there being present one John Colfox, an esq. of the said duke of Norfolk; and that they two then being at Calais, went together to Our Ladies church, where they found Wm. Hempsley, esq., ---Bradshaw, esq., Wm. Searle, of the chamber of the late king Rd., --- Fraunces, valet of the chamber of the duke of Albemarle, Wm. Rogers, Wm. Dennice, and --- Cockle, servants to the said duke of Norfolk; all whom were sworn upon the body of Christ, before one Sir William Chaplain, of St. George’s, in the church of our lady, that they should not disclose the said fact or murder. That after this oath made, they altogether went with the duke of Norfolk, towards the house called the Princes Inn, and when they were come, the said duke of Norfolk caused the persons aforesaid to enter into a lodging within the same house, and so departed. After which John Lovetofte, with sundry other esqrs. brought the duke of Gloucester, and delivered him to t he said Searl and Francis, in an inner parlour, and said, ‘There is Searl and Fraunces;’ whereupon the duke of Gloucester said, ‘Now I see I shall do well’ and so asked Searl how the king did? who said ‘well;’ and sent to him commendations, and so the said John Lovetofte departed. Whereupon the said Searl and Fraunces, took the said duke of Gloucester into an upper chamber, saying, That the king’s will was, that he should be slain;’ the duke answered thereto, ‘If it be so it is welcome;’ that Searl and Francis willed to the duke to take a chaplain, whom the duke there took, and was confessed. After which confession they caused the duke to lye upon a bed, upon whom so lying, the said Searl and Fraunces threw a feather-bed, the sides whereof the said Wm. Rogers, Dennice, and Cockle of the chamber, held; and Searl and Francis lay on the mouth of the said duke until he was dead; Colfox, Hempsley, and Bradshaw, sat that night by the duke on their knees, weeping, and praying for the soul of the said duke; and Hall, this examinant, kept the door until the duke was slain. After the death of which duke, the duke of Norfolk came in, and seeing him dead, said, ‘It were a great matter to have the said duke living again.’ By whose confession it seemed to the lords, that he the same Hall should be drawn from Tower Hill to Tyburn, his bowels to be burned before him, his body to be hanged, [be]headed, and quartered, and his head to be sent and set upon Calais, and his quarters to t he king’s pleasure; and the marshal the same day did execution accordingly” .
It’s a pity that Hall, having made his confession, was so soon hurried out of this world--avoiding any further cross-examination. In any case, I don’t think there is much reason to doubt the veracity of his statements to Parliament. Dugdale provides us a glimpse of the fate of some of the other assassins: Searle was arrested in Scotland in 1404 by the English, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The Earl Marshal (Norfolk) was sentenced early in the reign of Henry IV to perpetual banishment .
His life tragically taken from him, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, lies buried in the Chapel of St. Edmund, Westminster Abbey, under a marble slab. His widow, Eleanor de Bohun, joined him in death in October 1399, being buried beside her late husband. Soon after Gloucester’s murder, the king, in a magnanimous gesture, returned to Eleanor in Feb. 1398 all her own wearing apparel and two “chariots,” which had been seized by the Mayor of London. The total appraised value of these goods was given at nineteen pounds, four shillings and four pence .
From the moment of Thomas of Woodstock’s arrest on the road to Stratford in July 1397, Richard II’s escheator for Essex, Clement Spice, began to take control of the liquidation of the duke’s estates—which included Pleshy, principal residence of Gloucester by inheritance of his wife, Eleanor de Bohun. Spice, having taken an exact inventory of all the duke’s moveables, proceeded to auction off these goods and by January 1398 over £1,500 in sales had passed through his hands. “Faced with the prospect of having her household stripped bare, Duchess Eleanor bought back large amounts of her late husband’s property. In 1398, she redeemed goods worth a total of £1,136. Her expenditure included £260 at an auction conducted in London by Richard Whittington, and she also spent £436 on buying back silverware from Clement Spice” .
Spice’s inventory, published in The Archaelogical Journal , makes interesting reading. Written in French, with occasional notations in English, the contents include cloths of arras, tapestries, beds of gold and silk, beds of worsted, vestments for the chapel, books for the chapel, plate for the chapel, the duke’s library, robes and vestments, and arms and armor.
Subjects of the 15 inventoried tapestries include the history of Charles the Great, Godfrey of Boulogne, the taking of Jerusalem, and the battle between Gawayn and Lancelot. Others are of a more miscellaneous character, such as the Story of St. George, an assault upon ladies in a castle, the story of a wodewose and a lion, and the Nativity of Our Lord. The tapestries vary in width from 2 ½ yards to 4 yards, and in length from 6 to 24 yards. The largest piece was valued at £1,000.
There were 16 beds of gold and silk. The word “bed” does not refer to the mattresses, but to the hangings, often the most splendid character with which the beds were furnished. The first on this list is described as “a great bed of gold, that is to say, a coverlet, a tester (canopy), and a cedure (or valance) of fine blue satin wrought with Garters of gold, and three curtains of tartaryn beaten to match. Also two long and four square pillows of the set of the bed.” Total valuation of this assemblage was £182. 3s. One great bed was of white satin embroidered in the midst in Cyprus gold with the arms and helm (i.e., crest) of the Duke of Gloucester. Another was of green double samite with a blue pale or stripe of chamlet embroidered with a gold pot of blossoming lilies worked in silver. Including the usual coverlet, tester and valence, with pillows, this set was valued at £20.
The beds of worsted (Lit de Worsted) were of lesser value, but appear to have been just as beautiful. One was a blue bed embroidered with a yellow stag; another of red with a crowned lion, two griffins, and chaplets and roses; another blue bed was embroidered with a white eagle. A red one was covered with falcons. There was a coverlet of red embroidered with a unicorn, a blue one with lions and roses, another red one with a white greyhound. A tester and coverlet of blue worsted embroidered with a white hart were probably ornamented out of compliment to Richard II.
The largest section, containing nearly one-third of the inventory, is that describing the vestments for the chapel (Vestimenta pro capella). Vestments included chasuble, amices, stoles and fanons, a corporal, a towel, a pillow or cushion for the mass-book, the front, counterfront and frontlet of the altar and the two curtains that hung at its ends. One cope appears to have been particularly beautiful and is described as “a fine cope of blue worked with divers beasts and birds with frets of pearls with Garters inscribed hony soit qi mal pense, with orphreys of cloth of gold of Cyprus embroidered with images, lined with satin.” The value of this piece was £60.
The duke’s library contained eighty-four volumes of romances; only three works appear to have been written in English: a Bible in two large volumes bound in red leather, a Book of the Gospels similarly bound, and “a new Book of the Gospels glossed in English.” The majority of the books were written in French and Latin. Among the historical and other romances in French were the Romance of the Rose, Hector of Troy, Merlin, Bevis of Hampton, Tancred, the Romance of Lancelot, and of Alexander, the Battle of Troy, Godfrey of Boulogne. Other French books included the Miracles of Our Lady, the Passions of divers Saints, and the Life of St. Thomas of Canterbury. The Latin works included the Chronicles of the Pope, two large books of Civil Law.
The duke’s wardrobe included eight gowns lined with miniver or other fur, a blue gown furred with miniver and wrought with Garters. A long gown of red velvet and a mantle of the same stuff furred with miniver, valued at £13.8s.8d., may have been the duke’s parliament robe.
Of the duke’s body armor, the five pairs of plates include some especially noted as for jousts of peace, others for jousts of war. One pair of the latter were gilt: the others were covered with velvet. Another pair are described as having formerly belonged to King Edward III, and these were covered with blue baudekyn, woven of silk with threads of gold. The four breastplates are not mentioned as covered with any material.
The weapons comprise several Bordeaux blades more or less richly mounted and scabbarded. There is a also a Scottish sword. There were several daggers, and an Irish short knife with a roebuck horn handle with silver gilt. A large lance head of Bordeaux steel is mentioned, along with one for boar hunting.
Among the miscellaneous items, a beaver hat is mentioned, as is a small lavender sachet.
 G.E.C. Cockayne, Complete Peerage 5:719-20
 ibid, note (c)
 ibid, 5:720 note (j)
 ibid, 5:722 note (b)
 ibid note (e)
 Harold Arthur, Viscount Dillon, “On a MS collection of ordinances of chivalry of the fifteenth century, belonging to Lord Hastings,” Archaelogia, 57 (1902):62-66.
 G.E.C. Cockayne, Complete Peerage 5:722 note (j)
 Geoffrey Brereton, ed., Froissart Chronicles. Penguin (1968), 422-29
 William Dugdale, The baronage of England. London (1676), 2:171
 G. C. Macaulay, The complete works of John Gower. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1902), note 85ff.
 T. F. Tout, Chapters in the administrative history of mediaeval England. Manchester University Press (1937), 4:25 note (1)
 A. E. Stamp, Richard II and the death of the Duke of Gloucester. English Historical Review 39 (1924): 240-41.
 James Tait, Did Richard II murder the Duke of Gloucester? Historical essays first published in 1902 in commemoration of the jubilee of the Owens College, Manchester. Manchester University Press (1907), 193-216.
 William Cobb, The Parliamentary history of England from the earliest period to the year 1803. T. C. Hansard, London (1806), 1: 284-286.
 William Dugdale, The baronage of England. London (1676), 2:171
 ibid, 2:172
 Michael A. Hicks, ed., Revolution and consumption in late medieval England. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press (2001), 31-32.
 Harold Arthur, Viscount Dillon, Inventory of the goods and chattels belonging to Thomas, duke of Gloucester, and seized in his castle at Pleshy, co. Essex, 21 Richard II (1397); with their values, as shown in the eascheator’s accounts. The Archaelogical Journal vol. LIV, second series vol. IV (1894), 275-308.