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Lancaster, Thomas, Earl Of

LANCASTER, THOMAS, EARL OF (c. 1277-1322), was the eldest son of Edmund, earl of Lancaster and titular king of Sicily, and a grandson of the English king, Henry III.; while he was related to the royal house of France both through his mother, Blanche, a granddaughter of Louis VIII., and his step-sister, Jeanne, queen of Navarre, the wife of Philip IV. A minor when Earl Edmund died in 1296, Thomas received his father's earldoms of Lancaster and Leicester in 1298, but did not become prominent in English affairs until after the accession of his cousin, Edward II., in July 1307. Having married Alice (d. 1348), daughter and heiress of Henry Lacy, earl of Lincoln, and added the earldom of Derby to those which he already held, he was marked out both by his wealth and position as the leader of the barons in their resistance to the new king. With his associates he produced the banishment of the royal favourite, Piers Gaveston, in 1308; compelled Edward in 1310 to surrender his power to a committee of " ordainers," among whom he himself was numbered; and took up arms when Gaveston returned to England in January 1312. Lancaster, who had just obtained the earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury on the death of his father-in-law in 13 1 1 , drove the king and his favourite from Newcastle to Scarborough, and was present at the execution of Gaveston in June 1312. After lengthy efforts at mediation, he made his submission and received a full pardon from Edward in October 1313; but he refused to accompany the king on his march into Scotland, which ended at Bannockburn, and took advantage of the English disaster to wrest the control of affairs from the hands of Edward. In 1315 he took command of the forces raised to fight the Scots, and was soon appointed to the " chief place in the council," while his supporters filled the great offices of state, but his rule was as feeble as that of the monarch whom he had superseded. Quarrelling with some of the barons, he neglected both the government and the defence of the kingdom, and in 1317 began a private war with John, Earl Warrenne, who had assisted his countess to escape from her husband. The capture of Berwick by the Scots, however, in April 1318 led to a second reconciliation with Edward. A formal treaty, made in the following August, having been ratified by parliament, the king and earl opened the siege of Berwick; but there was no cohesion between their troops, and the undertaking was quickly abandoned. On several occasions Lancaster was suspected of intriguing with the Scots, and it is significant that his lands were spared when Robert Bruce ravaged the north of England. He refused to attend the councils or to take any part in the government until 1321, when the Despensers were banished, and war broke out again between himself and the king. Having conducted some military operations against Lancaster's friends on the Welsh marches, Edward led his troops against the earl, who gradually fell back from Burton-on-Trent to Pontefract. Continuing this movement, Lancaster reached Boroughbridge, where he was met by another body of royalists under Sir Andrew Harclay. After a skirmish he was deserted by his troops, and was obliged to surrender. Taken to his own castle at Pontefract, where the king was, he was condemned to death as a rebel and a traitor, and was beheaded near the town on the 22nd .of March 1322. He left no children.

Although a coarse, selfish and violent man, without any of the attributes of a statesman, Lancaster won a great reputation for patriotism; and his memory was long cherished, especially in the north of England, as that of a defender of popular liberties. Over a hundred years after his death miracles were said to have been worked at his tomb at Pontefract; thousands visited his effigy in St Paul's Cathedral, London, and it was even proposed to make him a saint.

See Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward 7. and Edward II., edited with introduction by W. Stubbs (London, 1882-1883); an d W. Stubbs, Constitutional History, vol. ii. (Oxford, 1896).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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