Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster

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Earl of Lancaster
Earl of Lancaster and Leicester
Predecessor Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl
Successor Henry, 3rd Earl
Spouse(s) Alice de Lacy, 4th Countess of Lincoln (m. 1294; div. c. 1318)
Titles and styles
The Earl of Lancaster
The Earl of Lincoln
Noble family Plantagenet
Father Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster
Mother Blanche of Artois
Born c. 1278
Died 22 March 1322(1322-03-22) (aged c. 43–44)
Pontefract, Yorkshire

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


Thomas was the eldest son of Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster and Blanche of Artois, Queen Dowager of Navarre. Crouchback was the son of King Henry III of England.[1]

Titles and lands

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.[2]

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

Thomas was in possession of many key fortresses like 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.


His marriage to Alice de Lacy was not successful. They had no children, though he had two illegitimate sons. In 1317 she 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 divorced his wife and seized two of Surrey's castles in retaliation. King Edward then intervened, and the two Earls came to an uneasy truce.

Although divorced from his wife, he 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.

Conflict with Edward II and death

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 St 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"[citation needed], 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.

After the disaster at Bannockburn in 1314, Edward submitted to Lancaster[dubious ], who in effect became ruler of England. 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 a new faction of barons arose, and Lancaster was deposed from office[dubious ]

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[vague], and in 1321 Lancaster was again at the head of a rebellion. This time, however, he was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge, and taken prisoner.[citation needed]

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. Because of their kinship and Lancaster's royal blood, the King commuted the sentence to mere beheading (as opposed to being drawn, quartered, and beheaded) and Lancaster was convicted of treason and executed 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 Pomfret Castle in 1885.[3]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Coats of Arms of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, and his successors.


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).[4]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Maddicott, J. R. (2004). "Thomas of Lancaster". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27195. Retrieved 4 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, English Monarchs, Retrieved 13 September 2015
  3. 31 January 1942: The Earl of Lancaster's Bones
  4. Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family

Further reading

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Edmund Crouchback
Lord High Steward
Succeeded by
Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Edmund Crouchback
Earl of Lancaster and Leicester Succeeded by
Henry of Lancaster