Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster

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Earl of Lancaster and Leicester
Predecessor Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl
Successor Henry, 3rd Earl
Died(1322-03-22)22 March 1322 (aged c. 43–44)
Pontefract, Yorkshire
Cause of deathExecution by beheading
Noble family Plantagenet
Spouse(s) Alice de Lacy, 4th Countess of Lincoln (m. 1294; div. c. 1318)
Father Edmund Crouchback
Mother Blanche of Artois

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester (c. 1278 – 22 March 1322) was an English nobleman. A member of the House of Plantagenet, he was one of the leaders of the baronial opposition to his first cousin, King Edward II.



Thomas was the eldest son of Edmund Crouchback and Blanche of Artois, Queen Dowager of Navarre and niece of King Louis IX of France. Crouchback was the son of King Henry III of England. [1]

His marriage to Alice de Lacy was not successful. They had no children together, while he fathered, illegitimately, two sons named John and Thomas. [2] In 1317 Alice was abducted from her manor at Canford, Dorset, by Richard de St Martin, a knight in the service of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey. This incident caused a feud between Lancaster and Surrey; Lancaster seized two of Surrey's castles in retaliation. King Edward then intervened, and the two earls came to an uneasy truce. Thomas continued to hold the powerful earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury. This was due to the marriage contract the two families had agreed; upon the death of his father-in-law, Thomas would hold these earldoms in his own right, not, as would be expected, in right of his wife.


Arms of Thomas: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or, armed and langued azure, overall a label of three points azure, each point charged with three Fleur-de-lis or Arms of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Leicester and Lancaster.svg
Arms of Thomas: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or, armed and langued azure, overall a label of three points azure, each point charged with three Fleur-de-lis or

On reaching full age he became hereditary sheriff of Lancashire, but spent most of the next ten years fighting for Edward I in Scotland, leaving the shrievalty in the care of deputies. He was present at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 as part of Edward I's wing of the army.

He served in the coronation of his cousin, King Edward II of England, on 25 February 1308, carrying Curtana, the sword of Edward the Confessor. At the beginning of the King's reign, Lancaster openly supported Edward, but as the conflict between the king and the nobles wore on, Lancaster's allegiances changed. He despised the royal favourite, Piers Gaveston, who mocked him as "the Fiddler", [3] and swore revenge when Gaveston demanded that the King dismiss one of Lancaster's retainers.

Lancaster was one of the Lords Ordainers who demanded the banishment of Gaveston and the establishment of a baronial oligarchy. His private army helped separate the King and Gaveston, and Lancaster was one of the "judges" who convicted Gaveston and saw him executed in 1312.

After the disaster at Bannockburn in 1314, Edward submitted to Lancaster, who in effect became ruler of England.[ citation needed ] He attempted to govern for the next four years, but was unable to keep order or prevent the Scots from raiding and retaking territory in the North. In 1318 his popularity with the barons declined and he was persuaded "to accept a diminished authority."[ citation needed ]

The new leadership, eventually headed by Hugh le Despenser, 1st Earl of Winchester, and his son Hugh the younger Despenser, proved no more popular with the Baronage, and in 1321 Lancaster was again at the head of a rebellion. This time he was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, and taken prisoner. [1]

Lancaster was tried by a tribunal consisting of, among others, the two Despensers, Edmund FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel, and King Edward. Lancaster was not allowed to speak in his own defence, nor was he allowed to have anyone to speak for him. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Because of their kinship and Lancaster's royal blood, the King commuted the sentence to beheading, as opposed to being hanged, drawn and beheaded, [4] and Lancaster was executed on 22 March 1322 near Pontefract Castle.

Upon his death his titles and estates were forfeited, but in 1323 his younger brother Henry successfully petitioned to take possession of the Earldom of Leicester, and in 1326 or 1327 Parliament posthumously reversed Thomas's conviction, and Henry was further permitted to take possession of the Earldoms of Lancaster, Derby, Salisbury and Lincoln.

Soon after Thomas's death, miracles were reported at his tomb at Pontefract, and he became venerated as a martyr and saint. In 1327 the Commons petitioned Edward III to ask for his canonisation, and popular veneration continued until the reformation. [1]

In 1942 it was reported by E. J. Rudsdale that some of Thomas's bones had been found in a box at Paskell's auctioneers in Colchester, Essex, having been removed from Pontefract Castle in 1885. [5]

Titles and lands

Thomas of Lancaster's main possessions (Maddicott) Thomas of Lancaster posessions.png
Thomas of Lancaster's main possessions (Maddicott)

From his father Thomas inherited the Earldoms of Lancaster, Leicester, and a Ferrers earldom of Derby. By his marriage to Alice de Lacy, Countess of Lincoln, daughter and heiress of Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, he became Earl of Lincoln, Earl of Salisbury, 11th Baron of Halton and 7th Lord of Bowland upon the death of his father-in-law in 1311. Master of five earldoms, he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in England. [6] Thomas was in possession of many key fortresses, including Clitheroe Castle, particularly in northern England. He was responsible for the extension of Pontefract Castle and in 1313 he began the construction of Dunstanburgh Castle, a massive fortress in Northumberland.


Inherited from his father, Thomas bore the arms of the kingdom, differenced by a label France of three points (that is to say azure three fleur-de-lys or, each). [7]

Genealogical table

Thomas was exceptionally closely related to both the Capetian kings of France and the Plantagenet kings of England. His contemporaries commented that, "as each parent was of royal stock, he was clearly of nobler descent than the other earls". [8]

Henry III of England Eleanor of Provence
Edward I of England Henry I of Navarre Blanche of Artois Edmund Crouchback
Philip IV of France Joan I of Navarre Thomas of Lancaster Henry of Lancaster
Edward II of England Isabella of France Louis X of France Philip V of France Charles IV of France
Edward III of England


  1. 1 2 3 Maddicott 2008.
  2. Warner, Kathryn (2018). Blood Roses (1st ed.). Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. p. 120.
  3. Hamilton, J. S. "Gaveston, Piers, earl of Cornwall", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , 3 January 2008. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  4. Maddicott 1970, p. 312.
  5. Rudsdale, E. J. "WW2: A Civilian in the Second World War: 31st January 1942: The Earl of Lancaster's Bones".
  6. Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, English Monarchs, Retrieved 13 September 2015
  7. "marks of cadency in the British royal family".
  8. Maddicott 1970, p. 3.

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Further reading

Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster
Born: c. 1278 Died: 22 March 1322
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Edmund Crouchback
Lord High Steward
Succeeded by
Henry of Lancaster
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Edmund Crouchback
Earl of Lancaster and Leicester
Succeeded by
Henry of Lancaster