The Lords Appellant were the five prominent lords who in November 1387
appealed for treason the members of Richard II's government,
accusing them amongst other things of extravagance, corruption and failing in their duty to fight the French.1
The five Lords Appellant were;
Faced with criticism from five such prominent members of the aristocracy (including two members of the royal family) Richard II agreed to meet the five Lords Appellant and conceeded their demands for a parliament to be called to consider their complaints. But in the meantime he sent an army, gathered mainly from the royal palatine county of Chester2 to London under the command of Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford with the intention of defeating the Lords Appellant before parliament could meet.
Unfortunately for Richard, de Vere was defeated by the Appellants at the battle of Radcot Bridge on the 20th December 1387 and subsequently fled the country. With the desertion of de Vere Richard II capitulated, and in January 1388, the Lords Appellant purged the adminstration of the king's supporters. In February 1388 parliament met and later became known as the Merciless Parliament after the ruthless manner in which it prosecuted and condemned Richard's former ministers and supporters.
Under the leadership of Thomas of Woodstock the Lords Appellant continued to control the kingdom until May 1389 when they surrendered control back to Richard once more. Some sources suggest that Thomas wanted to depose Richard, but that his fellow Appellants disuaded him from their course, as they wished only to remove the king's 'evil counsellors' from office. In any event the Lords Appellant singularly failed to prosecute the war in France with any greater degree of success than the previous adminstration. Therefore on the 3rd May 1389 Thomas of Woodstock and his fellow Appellants stepped down and Richard was permitted to regain control of his own government.
Life after the Lords Appellant
Despite being back in charge once more Richard was not the sort of man to forgive and forget, and the humilation forced upon him by these Lords Appellant rankled for many years to come. But in the meantime he had more pressing matters to attend to and between 1389 and 1396 was pre-occupied with the business of negotiating a more permanent peace with France. Eventually a twenty-eight year truce was agreed, sealed by Richard's betrothal to the six-year old princess Isabella of Valois (his previous wife Anne of Bohemia having died in 1394).
Thomas of Woodstock openly criticized the peace and once more fomented opposition to the king and the Parliament of 1397 was again full of complaints about excessive spending by Richard's household and his excessive reliance on favourites. (Which in this case were his half brothers Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and John Holland, created Earl of Huntingdon3.) But Richard faced his critics down and they were forced to apologise. Having established peace with France (and with the Scots as well) he had no need to ask parliament for money and was therefore in a position to ignore their complaints.
The fate of the Lords Appellant
With his position strengthened by peace and a full treasury Richard II felt confident to act against his former enemies. In July 1397 he ordered the arrest of the Duke of Gloucester and the Earls of Warwick and Arundel on the charge of treasonably usurping the government in 1387-1388.
Richard Fitzalan,Earl of Arundel was tried, conducted a brave but ultimately futile defence of his actions and was convicted and executed later that same day. According to Thomas Walsingham he faced his fate with "no more shrinking or changing colour than if (he) were going to a banquet". (His brother Thomas Arundel the Archbishop of Canterbury also found himself sent into exile.) In contrast Thomas Beauchamp the Earl of Warwick faced his ordeal with much "wailing and weeping and whining". Perhaps this inspired Richard to clemency as Thomas Beauchamp escaped the executioner and was rather exiled for life to the Isle of Man. As far as Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester was concerned, he was arrested and carted off to Calais, but never made it back to England as he died in mysterious circumstances whilst held in a Calais prison, where he was generally believed to have been murdered on the king's instructions.
Strangely enough there were soon rumours that the Earl of Arundel had been miraculously been brought back to life. Richard sent a deputation of earls to exhume Fitzalan's body and ensure that he was indeed really dead.
It will be noted that the former Lord Appellant Thomas Mowbray the Earl of Nottingham escaped any kind of retribution at this time. He appears to have ingratiated himself with the king for the time being and indeed is suspected of arranging the killing of his former conspirator the Duke of Gloucester earlier in Calais.
It was therefore no surprise to find Mowbray alongside a number of other key royal supporters who were rewarded with Dukedoms, and thereafter known as the 'duketti';
Thomas Mowbray became the Duke of Norfolk,
Edward of Norwich, Earl of Rutland became Duke of Albermarle,
John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon became Duke of Exeter.
Thomas Holland, the Earl of Kent failed to receive a dukedom for the simple reason that he was dead; but his son another Thomas Holland was made Duke of Surrey in his stead.
The fifth Lord Appellant, Henry Bolingbroke was also amongst the 'duketi', previously known as the 'Earl of Derby' (merely a courtesy title) he was now granted his own title of Duke of Hereford. Apart from the fact that Henry was his cousin, he was also the son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster the richest and most powerful man in the kingdom; for the moment Richard wanted to keep him happy.
January 1398 there took place the Revenge Parliament which reversed the actions of the earlier Merciless Parliament and where Richard began to take action against his opponents. It was there that Mowbray warned Henry that Richard was out to get them, and alleged that he together with the Dukes of Albemarle and Exeter and the Earl of Worcester had foiled a plot by Thomas Despencer, Earl of Gloucester to kidnap and murder both Henry and his father and suggested that Richard II also intended to seize the Lancastrian estates for himself.4
Henry persuade the parliament to grant him a formal pardon for any crimes he had previously committed as well as a formal confirmation of title to the Lancastrian estates; he then confronted Richard with the information received from Thomas Mowbray. The Duke of Norfolk denied ever making any such accusations, effectively calling Henry a liar. Henry then found out, probably from Richard, of Mowbray's involvement with the murder of his uncle Thomas of Woodstock, and openly accused him of the crime.
And so the dispute spiralled out of control providing Richard with the opportunity to kill two birds with a single blow. As Thomas Mowbray insisted that the matter be decided by trial by combat, the great and the good of the kingdom gathered outside Coventry on the 16th September 1388 to decide the matter. However Richard called a halt to the proceedings just as combat was about to begin and pronounced his own judgement on the dispute.
Thomas Mowbray was to be exiled for life, whilst Henry was sentenced to exile for for a period of six years. Six weeks later Henry's father John of Gaunt died and Richard took this as an opportunity to seize control of Gaunt's estates and increased Henry's term of exile to life.
This completed Richard's revenge on the Lords Appellant; one executed, one killed and three exiled for life.
1 Being Robert de Vere, Michael de la Pole, George Neville Archbishop of York, Sir Robert Tresilian and the former mayor of London, Sir Nicholas Brembre.
2 But also including signicant contingents drawn from both north Wales and Ireland.
3 Both Hollands being the children of his mother Joan of Kent by her first marriage to a Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent.
4 Thomas 'the Martyr' Plantagenet was executed for treason in 1322 and his estates of Lancaster forfeited to the crown. In 1327 this forfeiture had been reversed and the estates restored to Thomas' brother Henry from whom they had eventually been inherited by John of Gaunt. Specifically the threat was to quash the 1327 annulment, therby reinstating the earlier sentence of forfeiture.
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- Maurice Powicke The Thirteenth Century (OUP, 1962)
- Alexander Rose Kings in the North (Phoenix, 2003)