Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont, 1422-1460

Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont (1422-1460) was the second son of Henry Percy, second earl of Northumberland, and was a troublesome and violent man who played a part in the increase of tension in the north of England in the years before the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses.

The young Percy fell foul of the law in 1447 when he was involved in a fight with tenants of the Archbishop of York at Stamford Bridge and was imprisoned for disorderly conduct. After this early escapade most of his efforts were focused on the Percy estates in Cumberland, perhaps to keep him from embarrassing his father in his heartland in the north-east. In 1448 he helped defend the Percy estates in Cumberland against a Scottish invasion.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

Thomas held the Percy honour of Cockermouth, which included Egremont Castle. On 20 November 1449 Thomas was made Baron Egremont by royal patent, and was granted £10 per year from the revenues of Cumberland. He was a turbulent influence in Cumberland, even attacking Royal officials, going as far as attacking the sheriff in 1453.

In February 1452 Egremont was part of the Royal army during the confrontation with Richard, duke of York, at Dartford, but he soon fell foul of the court. By 1453 he was already raising his own armed retainers, and was involved in a quarrel with John Neville, a younger son of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury. In June both Egremont and John Neville were summoned to court. Egremont refused to attend and in July he was ordered to keep the peace and to prepare to serve in Gascony, a clear attempt to get the troublesome young man out of the country.

In August 1453 the feud escalated into open violence. In that month Sir Thomas Neville, a younger son of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, married Maud Stanhope, Lady Willoughby, the niece and heiress of Ralph Cromwell, Lord Cromwell. Cromwell owned a number of estates that had been forfeited by the Percies after their rebellions against Henry IV, and this marriage meant that these estates would eventually pass into Neville hands.

This was clearly too much for Egremont, who was already involved in a feud with Thomas Neville, and on 24 August, as the wedding part crossed Heworth Moor on its way from York to Sheriff Hutton, Egremont and a gang of between 1,000 and 5,000 of his men attacked it. The amount of actual fighting is unclear, and the wedding party was able to reach Sheriff Hutton safely, but the affair greatly raised the tension in the north. Salisbury and his wife had been with the Neville party, while Egremont was accompanied by his brother Richard Percy and by John Clifford, the heir to Lord Clifford. 

In the same month Henry VI suffered the first of his mental breakdowns, and for the next few months the government was run by his council, dominated by Edmund Beaufort, second duke of Somerset. The council was unwilling or unable to intervene effectively in the Neville-Percy feud, leaving Salisbury feeling very aggrieved. In the crisis of 1452 he had stood by Henry VI and the court against his brother-in-law Richard, duke of York. York had been humiliated and forced into political exile. Now with Henry incapacitated and a crisis in the north the council was forced to call York back to court. Salisbury also came south, and the two men came to an agreement. Salisbury would back York's demand to become Protector of the Realm during the King's illness and in return York would back the Nevilles against the Percies. Egremont's action had thus helped set up the factions that would fight the first battle of the Wars of the Roses.

In March 1454 York was officially appointed Protector and Defender of the Realm, marking the start of his First Protectorate. It was clear that the new Protector would soon turn north, and the Percies looked for allies against him. They found one in Henry Holland, duke of Exeter, who claimed that he should have been appointed Protector. Egremont and Exeter met early in the year and swore an oath of mutual assistance. On 14 May they went one step further and occupied York. This was an act of open rebellion, and Richard of York was forced to act quickly. He dashed north and five days later was close to York. Egremont and Exeter fled from the city. Exeter went south, where he was arrested in London. York had moved so quickly that he lacked sufficient troops, and for a short time Egremont was able to keep him pinned in York, but when reinforcements arrived the Duke was able to begin to re-establish order. He then returned to the south, leaving the Nevilles to deal with Egremont, who was still roaming around the north.

The two sides finally clashed at Stamford Bridge (31 October or 1 November 1454). The Neville troops were led by Thomas and John Neville, two of the younger sons of Salisbury. Egremont was accompanied by his younger brother Richard Percy. A large part of Egremont's force deserted him early in the fighting and he was captured. If this battle had taken place a few years later Egremont and his brother would probably have been killed, but this was still peacetime and instead the Nevilles used the courts against them. A Neville dominated court judged that Egremont owed Salisbury £11,200 in damages. Egremont was unable to pay this massive fine from his income of £100 per year and so was imprisoned in Newgate Prison.

Egremont was imprisoned for the next two years. He thus missed the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and the first battle of St. Albans. His father was killed in the fighting, and his brother Henry became the third earl of Northumberland. Both brothers believed that their father had been murdered by the Nevilles, and became fervent supports of the Lancastrian cause.

In November 1456 Egremont escaped from prison. He and his brother bribed one of the warders, and were able to get weapons into the tower. On the night of 13 November they attacked the keeper of the tower and released other prisoners. These prisoners took to the roof and attracted most attention, while the Percy brothers escaped on horseback. At about the same time Queen Margaret was encouraging Henry VI to thrown off York's dominance, so Egremont's timing was good.

In January 1458 Egremont was summoned to the great council in which Henry VI hoped to end the feuds within his aristocracy. Everyone turned up with large armed retinues, making London exceptionally tense. Egremont was part of a large party that included his two brothers - Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland and Thomas Percy, Lord Clifford, and 1,500 armed men. In the 'Loveday' settlement of 24 March Salisbury agreed to cancel Egremont's massive fine imposed after his capture at Stamford Bridge, while Egremont accepted a 4,000 mark bond to keep the peace with the Nevilles for the next ten years. In June he was given life ownership of the castle and manor of Wressle, one of the manors that had caused the fighting in 1453.

In 1459 the civil war broke out again and Egremont took up arms for Henry VI. He was made constable of the duke of York's castle of Conisbrough in December 1459.

In June 1460 Warwick, Salisbury and Edward, earl of March (the Duke of York's oldest son) sailed from Calais, landing at Sandwich in Kent. They advanced on London and were soon admitted into the city. The Royal army was at Coventry. When the news reached them the Lancastrians moved south to Northampton, where they took up a dangerous defensive position with the River Nene at its back. On 10 July 1460 the Yorkists, led by Warwick, attacked the Royal camp (battle of Northampton). Aided by treachery the Yorkists were able to break into the camp. Egremont was killed in the fighting around Henry's tent, along with several other senior Lancastrians. Henry was captured and the way was clear for Richard of York to return from exile.

Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Wars of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 January 2014), Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont, 1422-1460 ,

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