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Thomas [Thomas of Brotherton], first earl of Norfolk (1300–1338), magnate, was the fifth son of and the first from Edward's second marriage, to , daughter of Philippe III, king of France (d. 1285); he was thus the elder of the two half-brothers of .

Acquiring an estate, 1300–1312

Thomas was born, unexpectedly, at Brotherton, Yorkshire, on 1 June 1300, as his mother was travelling to Cawood, where her confinement was to occur. The chronicler Rishanger reports that the delivery was initially difficult, but that in her suffering Margaret called on St Thomas of Canterbury for aid, as was customary for pregnant women, and gave birth without difficulty. Hence the child was named Thomas of Brotherton in honour of Thomas Becket, and for his own place of birth. Rishanger goes on to demonstrate Thomas's patriotism, saying that when he was first nursed by a French woman he screamed and vomited up her milk, so that people feared for his life. When he was given an English wet-nurse, however, he immediately recovered and drew refreshment from her. But, despite Rishanger's optimism, Thomas grew to become a man of modest achievement, in his capacity as first a younger brother and then an uncle of the king.

In 1306 Edward I promised, on behalf of himself and his eldest son, Edward, to provide Thomas with an inheritance worth 10,000 marks a year, as had been stipulated in the contract drawn up by Pope Boniface VIII when Edward married Margaret. He also promised Thomas the lands of Roger (IV) Bigod, earl of Norfolk, valued at 6000 marks, if the earl died without a direct heir, since his estate would then pass to the crown under the terms of a settlement made in 1302. Bigod did indeed die later in 1306, and his lands came into royal custody. Thomas's elder half-brother, Edward II, held the estate until 1310, when he gave Thomas and his younger brother, , joint custody for their support and maintenance. It was said that Edward I had hoped to bestow the earldom of Cornwall on either Thomas or Edmund, but Edward II's elevation of Piers Gaveston thwarted that intention. Instead, Thomas was created earl of Norfolk in December 1312, obtained the Bigod estate as his father had promised, and received the office of marshal.

Servant of Edward II, 1313–1322

Edward II summoned Thomas to parliament for the first time in January 1313, though as he was only twelve years old his role in government and politics was largely honorific at this stage. Edward similarly summoned him to serve in Scotland in 1313, but remitted the service shortly afterward. Nevertheless, Thomas was called on to perform military service in Scotland and elsewhere continuously thereafter. He served with his brother Edmund as executor of their mother's will after her death on 14 February 1318. Later that year Thomas and Edmund were among the royalists witnessing the treaty of Leake. The same year the young Edward Balliol, who was later to claim the Scottish throne, was assigned to the household of Thomas and Edmund. The following year Edward II named Thomas keeper of the realm when he departed for war in Scotland. As keeper Thomas summoned the mayor of London to appear before himself, the bishop of Winchester, and the earl of Pembroke on 24 March, to hear complaints about his conduct of elections in London. Thomas ordered the disputants to resolve their conflict or appear before him at Westminster the following day; after withdrawing to talk the matter over the mayor and citizens reached an agreement. On 15 July 1319 Edward II knighted Thomas, along with many others, when they mustered at Newcastle in preparation for a campaign in Scotland. When Edward travelled to France to perform homage, from 19 June to 22 July 1320, Thomas accompanied him with a large retinue. At some point during these years Thomas married his first wife, Alice, the daughter of Roger Hales, the coroner of Norfolk. The match was a remarkably obscure one for a member of the royal family, but all the signs are that Thomas was a less than dynamic personality, who is seldom if ever recorded as acting on his own initiative.

Thomas actively supported his half-brother during the baronial rebellion of 1321–2. In March 1321 he tried to arrange negotiations with the earl of Hereford, who had broken with the king and assembled troops to plunder the lands of the Despensers, but the attempt failed. In April Thomas sat in place of the king in judgment on the younger Hugh Audley, accused of having broken his contract of 1317 to stay in attendance on the king. In October Edward dispatched Thomas with the earls of Pembroke and Richmond to Leeds Castle, Kent, after Sir Bartholomew Badlesmere's men refused entry to the queen, thereby precipitating civil war. Thomas and his brother Edmund later joined the royal army in 1322 as it moved toward the Welsh marches to confront the baronial rebels.

Political haverings, 1323–1329

After the rebellion Thomas apparently fell out of favour temporarily. In August 1323 he surrendered the lordship of Chepstow in Wales, which formed part of the Bigod inheritance, to the king's favourite, Hugh Despenser the younger, for life for the modest rent of £200 a year. In the following year he released Despenser from the rent, as well as from any actions arising out of waste, sales, or destruction committed by Despenser, for only £800. Then Edward II temporarily confiscated the office of marshal because of Thomas's failure to have someone execute the office on his behalf in Lancashire, when royal justices arrived there to hold the king's pleas. Thomas offered a fine of £100 to recover the office, which Edward pardoned, taking the opportunity, however, to administer a verbal rebuke to his half-brother, saying that if Thomas failed to perform his duties properly, he would be punished.

Edward's attitude towards Thomas changed in 1326. As fears of an invasion from France by Queen Isabella heightened, Edward had to rely on a close coterie of supporters. In January he gave Thomas a gift of £200 out of the issues of the bishopric of Norwich, then in royal custody. He also appointed Thomas one of the supervisors of the array in Norfolk and Suffolk, and in May amplified his authority by naming him captain and principal surveyor of the array in a broad swath of eastern counties from Lincolnshire to Essex. Edward also granted Thomas a number of favours, such as the lands of contrariants, wardships, and markets.

Despite these incentives, Thomas deserted Edward. He may have been in communication with Isabella, Roger Mortimer, and his own brother Edmund while they were overseas, for their invasion force landed at Thomas's property of Orwell on 24 September 1326. Thomas met them there, along with Henry, earl of Lancaster, and they spent the night at Thomas's castle. At his command, his men plundered manors belonging to the younger Despenser. Thomas accompanied the queen and her army in their pursuit of Edward II and the Despensers across England, and was present at the baronial council in Bristol that on 26 October declared Prince Edward keeper of the realm. The following day Thomas and Edmund were among the nobles who sat in judgment on the elder Despenser, and they both acted as judges in the trial of the younger Despenser in November. In the summons to the first parliament of the new regime Thomas and Edmund headed the list of nobles, and both sat on the council headed by Henry of Lancaster to watch over the young king.

At first fully supportive of Isabella and Mortimer, Thomas sat on a number of commissions of oyer and terminer, and served as an overseer of the justices of the peace in Norfolk and Suffolk during 1327. He was summoned to serve against the Scots, and participated in the ill-fated Stanhope campaign, which ended in humiliation for Edward III. His own contribution to the campaign may not have amounted to much more than the composition of a brief description of the privileges he claimed in his capacity of earl marshal. In return for his support for the regime he recovered Chepstow, received lands forfeited by the Despensers worth 1000 marks, and obtained an important wardship, as well as other favours. The high point of his involvement came in 1328, when his son Edward married Beatrice, daughter of Roger Mortimer. Edward III and his mother attended the celebrations at Hereford, which included a tournament.

Soon after the wedding, however, Thomas participated in Henry of Lancaster's brief rebellion against the government. Although Thomas and Henry had apparently fallen out over the murder of Sir Robert Holland by Lancaster's followers in October, Thomas met with a group of dissident magnates in London at the beginning of December, and was reconciled with Lancaster when the latter arrived. The nobles and prelates, including Thomas and Edmund, entered into a sworn confederation for the stated benefit of reforming the king and realm, but Thomas and Edmund deserted the rebels and returned to the king's side, whereupon the rebellion collapsed. Nevertheless, Thomas found himself out of favour at court, and witnessed only a few charters in these years.

Servant of Edward III, 1330–1338

By 1330, however, Thomas was again being employed by the crown. On Saturday 17 February 1330, he and Edmund accompanied Edward III's wife, Philippa, on her coronation march from London to Westminster, holding her bridle on either side of her palfrey and dressed merely as grooms. That summer Thomas travelled to Gascony on royal business, and he was a member of a delegation sent to negotiate with Philippe VI of France the following year. In June 1331 he participated in a tournament in Stepney in the King's Company. Edward placed him on several judicial commissions, and in 1332 appointed Thomas one of the keepers of the peace in Norfolk and Suffolk. Responding to unrest in Ireland, Edward in 1331–2 ordered Thomas to restore order on his own lands (pre-eminently the lordship of Carlow) or risk having them seized should a royal army be brought to Ireland, and he summoned Thomas to serve there, though the expedition never materialized. Thomas participated in the Scottish campaign which culminated in the battle of Halidon Hill on 19 July 1333, where he commanded a contingent of royal forces. In the next few years Edward showed his confidence in his uncle by calling on Thomas to serve in Scotland, to consult about the defence of the realm, and to protect Wales from invasion by the Scots. Edward also appointed him a captain of the array in England and Wales, and named him keeper of Perth (1337).

During the 1330s, Thomas also entered into several land transactions that did not work to his advantage. In 1332 he surrendered to the king most of the Despenser manors which he had received in 1327, in part fulfilment of Edward I's promise of lands worth 10,000 marks. Edward III then regranted them to Thomas for life, on condition that on Thomas's death they would pass to William de Bohun, a royal favourite. Bohun at some point gained possession of the lands in return for a rent of £800, but in 1336, in a deal strikingly similar to the one he made with the younger Despenser over Chepstow, Thomas remitted payment of the rent. In 1333 Thomas granted to William Montagu, another royal favourite, all of his lands in Ireland and some of his English property for a period of fifteen years. This grant was made as part of a proposed marriage between Thomas's daughter Alice and William's son William, and the lands were to revert to William and Alice on the elder William's death. Alice, however, married Edward Montagu, William senior's brother. These actions do not speak well either of Thomas's financial acuity, or of his ability to protect his own interests generally, and he seems to have been taken advantage of by both his half-brother and his nephew, as they sought to provide estates for their favourites. Nor was he able to control his own household, so that in 1337 Edward found it necessary to appoint Constantine Mortimer to restore it to order, having first caused Thomas to appear before himself to hear complaints about the unruliness and destructiveness of his followers. In this, as in other matters, Thomas completely submitted himself to Edward's rule. At about the same time Thomas once again lost the office of marshal, though he recovered it before he died.

Thomas's only son, Edward, died in 1337. He himself died the following year, probably in September, and was buried at Bury St Edmunds. His first wife had died by 1330, and Thomas married as his second wife, not much more impressively, Mary, widow of Sir Ralph Cobham and daughter of Sir Piers Brewes, who outlived him and died c.1361. His eldest daughter, , married John, Lord Seagrave, and inherited the earldom of Norfolk. Thomas's estates were divided between Margaret and Alice. Margaret, in particular, was to show a strength of character sadly lacking in her father.

Scott L. Waugh


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