Thursday, 6 March 2008

Edmund of Langley

Before I go on to the Southampton plot, or start writing about two of the people I like most from all of history, I think I should say a bit about their dad, Edmund of Langley, father of the House of York.

Historians tend to be a bit sniffy about Edmund, generally rating him as incompetent, stupid, and generally useless - though I suspect he'd be better company on a pub crawl than most of them. If Edmund lived today he'd be driving a muddy Range Rover with dogs and shotguns in the back, and his feet would be clad in green wellies. He was much more interested in hunting than in politics, so the Chroniclers tell us. He also had an eye for the ladies, and according to Froissart was very much attached to his second wife, Joanne Holland - a mere 13 when she married him in 1393. (Different times, very different rules.)

Edmund was born in June 1341, the fifth (but fourth surviving) son of King Edward III and Queen Philippa. He started receiving grants of land as early as 1347, and his livelihood was gradually built up as he grew older, though he was never even a quarter as rich as big brother Gaunt. He took his fair share of fighting in the ongoing war against France, and he and Gaunt persuaded the Black Prince to halt the massacre of the people of Limoges - though it must be said that the main concern was to save French nobles. Edmund was given the Garter in 1361, and a year later was created Earl of Cambridge.

His first independent command was in Portugal 1381-82, and it turned out to be a complete fiasco. John of Gaunt never quite forgave him, and stated in his will that none of his money was to go to settling the accounts of the expedition.

York, like the rest of his family, was favoured by King Richard II, three times being left in charge of the country during Richard's absences, and gradually accumulating offices. Despite what the Chroniclers say, he was often at court and a fairly regular attender at councils and witnesser of charters. He does not seem to have suffered from his brothers' chronic ambition and in political terms was a moderate, essentially loyal to his nephew even if not always enthusiastic about his policies.

In 1388 he quarrelled violently in Parliament with his formidable brother Gloucester about the proposed execution of Sir Simon Burley, going so far as to challenge Gloucester to mortal combat over the issue. Strangely this episode is rarely mentioned by historians, perhaps because it might suggest that Edmund had some backbone, or that Richard II's enemies were not always supported by everyone who mattered.


Alianore said...

Welcome to blogland, Brian! Great to see you here.

That's very interesting about Edmund challenging his brother to mortal combat, and even more interesting that it's so rarely mentioned (I'd never heard it before).

Brian said...

Hi Alianore - thanks; yours was one of the Blogs that inspired me.

I'm going to post up the details of Edmund's little spat.