Leicester, Earls Of
LEICESTER, EARLS OF. The first holder of this English earldom belonged to the family of Beaumont, although a certain Saxon named Edgar has been described as the 1st earl of Leicester.
Robert de Beaumont (d. 1118) is frequently but erroneously considered to have received the earldom from Henry I., about 1107; he had, however, some authority in the county of Leicester and his son Robert was undoubtedly earl of Leicester in 1131. The 3rd Beaumont earl, another Robert, was also steward of England, a dignity which was attached to the earldom of Leicester from this time until 1399. The earldom reverted to the crown when Robert de Beaumont, the 4th earl, died in January 1204.
In 1207 Simon IV., count of Montfort (q.v.), nephew and heir of Earl Robert, was confirmed in the possession of the earldom by King John, but it was forfeited when his son, the famous Simon de Montfort, was attainted and was killed at Evesham in August 1265. Henry III.'s son Edmund, earl of Lancaster, was also earl of Leicester and steward of England, obtaining these offices a few months after Earl Simon's death. Edmund's sons, Thomas and Henry, both earls of Lancaster, and his grandson Henry, duke of Lancaster, in turn held the earldom, which then passed to a son-in-law of Duke Henry, William V., count of Holland (c. 1327-1389), and then to another and more celebrated son-in-law, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. When in 1399 Gaunt's son became king as Henry IV. the earldom was merged in the crown.
In 1564 Queen Elizabeth created her favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. The new earl was a son of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland; he left no children, or rather none of undoubted legitimacy, and when he died in September 1588 the title became extinct.
In 1618 the earldom of Leicester was revived in favour of Robert Sidney, Viscount Lisle, a nephew of the late earl and a brother of Sir Philip Sidney; it remained in this family until the death of Jocelyn (1682-1743), the 7th earl of this line, in July 1743. Jocelyn left no legitimate children, but a certain John Sidney claimed to be his son and consequently to be 8th earl of Leicester.
In 1744, the year after Jocelyn's death, Thomas Coke, Baron Lovel (c. 1695-1759), was made earl of Leicester, but the title became extinct on his death in April 1759. The next family to hold the earldom was that of Townshend, George Townshend (1755-1811) being created earl of Leicester in 1784. In 1807 George succeeded his father as 2nd marquess Townshend, and when his son George Ferrars Townshend, the 3rd marquess (1778-1855), died in December 1855 the earldom again became extinct. Before this date, however, another earldom of Leicester was in existence. This was created in 1837 in favour of Thomas William Coke, who had inherited the estates of his relative Thomas Coke, earl of Leicester. To distinguish his earldom from that held by the Townshends Coke was ennobled as earl of Leicester of Holkham; his son Thomas William Coke (1822- 1909) became 2nd earl of Leicester in 1842, and the latter's son Thomas William (b. 1848) became 3rd earl.
See G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage, vol. v. (1893).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)