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Percy, Thomas, earl of Worcesterlocked

(c. 1343–1403)
  • A. L. Brown

Percy, Thomas, earl of Worcester (c. 1343–1403), soldier and diplomat, was the younger son of Henry Percy, third Lord Percy (c. 1321–1368), and Mary (d. 1362), daughter of Henry of Lancaster, a grandson of Henry III recognized as earl of Lancaster in 1327. Mary's niece, Blanche, married John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and he, Richard II, and Henry IV acknowledged the Percys as kinsmen. Thomas's brother, Henry Percy (1341–1408), was created earl of Northumberland on 16 July 1377. Thomas Percy never married. His father granted him three manors in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Leicestershire for life or term of years in 1364 and 1368, but he spent almost all his life serving as a soldier, commander, diplomat, household officer, and councillor.

War and capture

Percy probably began his career as a soldier in Aquitaine in the early 1360s and was certainly in Gascony in 1367. He may have served with Edward, the Black Prince, and Gaunt in Spain and at the battle of Nájera in 1367. From 1369 he is frequently mentioned in Froissart's chronicles, and record sources often confirm the facts. Early in 1369 Percy was with the Black Prince in Bordeaux, and in the summer, now seneschal of La Rochelle, he served under Sir John Chandos in Sir Robert Knolles's campaign in the Dordogne and Quercy. He was with Chandos at the siege of the castle of La Roche-sur-Yon in Poitou, which was granted to Gaunt and leased by him to Percy and two others. He was serving under Chandos when the latter was killed at Mortemer on 31 December 1369 and succeeded him as seneschal of Poitou and governor of the Île d'Oléron. In 1370 and 1371 he served on a number of campaigns including the siege and sack of Limoges in September 1370 under the Black Prince—who granted him an annuity of £100 and considerable forfeited land in Aquitaine—and then under the prince's lieutenant, Gaunt. The English suffered a series of defeats in 1372 and in the late summer Percy was captured in a night engagement at Soubise by ‘Houwel Flinc’, a Welshman serving under Owen of Wales with the Castilian fleet which had defeated the earl of Pembroke's fleet at La Rochelle on 23–24 June. Percy was taken to Paris and on 10 January 1373 Houwel surrendered him to the king of France who permitted him to return to England until Easter to raise a ransom. He was still a prisoner in December, and was given his final release by Jean, duke of Berri, only on 2 October 1374.

Service and its rewards

Percy's reputation as a knight was now high and, probably recommended by the Black Prince and Gaunt, he became a king's knight and by April 1376 a Garter knight. In December 1375 he brought a report to Edward III from Gaunt and others negotiating with the French at Bruges and in January 1377 was sent to Flanders to bring a report from Jean, duke of Brittany, who had asked for a council knight and specified Thomas Percy. On 5 November 1376 Edward III granted him an annuity of 100 marks at the exchequer and permitted his brother to grant him another of 100 marks from the 500 marks he received from the customs of Berwick. Richard II confirmed these grants on 1 February 1378, describing Percy as retained for life. Royal pardons were now granted at his request and he served in many ways. For example, he attended his brother at Richard II's coronation; in October 1378 he and another royal knight brought John Wyclif before the Commons in parliament to attack the right of sanctuary; in June 1381 he was one of the group that accompanied Richard to meet the rebel peasants at Mile End, and he took part in the suppression of the revolt in Essex and St Albans.

Percy rarely served in north-east England and the border, the area of most Percy lands and interests. He was one of the joint keepers of the eastern marches for a few months in 1377 and from 1383 to 1384; a commissioner to negotiate with the Scots in 1378, 1384, and 1398; and keeper of the isolated castle of Roxburgh from 24 June 1377 to 1380 or 1381. He served in Richard II's army in Scotland in 1385 with sixty men-at-arms and sixty archers. He must have seen little of Roxburgh for he served at sea, with large forces of soldiers and sailors, as commander under the earl of Buckingham in 1377–8 and under Gaunt in 1378; as admiral of the north in 1379; and with Sir Baldwin Raddington in 1385. He and Sir Hugh Calveley were joint captains of Brest, leased from the duke of Brittany, from 20 May 1379 until 24 June 1381, when Percy became sole captain until 18 February 1386.

Percy was out of England during the political upheavals of 1386–8, for on 15 February 1386 he contracted to serve with 80 men-at-arms and 160 archers on Gaunt's expedition to Spain, and about this time he became Gaunt's feed retainer. He was admiral of Gaunt's fleet which sailed from Plymouth on 7 July and fought in the campaign in Galicia and beyond. But his more important role was as a diplomat. He accompanied Gaunt's daughter Philippa to Portugal for her marriage to King João and was commissioned on 10 June 1387, with Sir John Trailly, to negotiate a settlement of Gaunt's claims with Castilian envoys at Trancoso in Portugal. By July a draft treaty had been agreed and at the turn of the year Percy returned to England to report it to King Richard. He was back in Bayonne in June 1388 and the treaty—'whose sponsor and promoter was lord Thomas Percy' (Thompson, 369)—was ratified there on 8 July with Percy, styled Gaunt's chamberlain, the first witness.

Percy remained Gaunt's retainer and served with him on commissions; in February 1398 he was the first-named lay executor of Gaunt's will. But early in 1390 he began to receive commissions, grants, and appointments from Richard II, and became an important courtier. He was under-chamberlain of Richard's household from 22 February 1390 to 22 February 1393 and steward of his household from 24 March 1393 to late August 1399. He accompanied Richard to Ireland in 1395 and 1399. While under-chamberlain Percy often attended the king's council and as steward regularly witnessed royal charters. He served on missions to France (1391–3) and was justiciar of south Wales (1390–99). In the September parliament of 1397, where Richard took revenge on four lords for their part in restricting his authority in 1386–8, Percy was proctor for the clergy to approve the verdicts and sentences. He then shared in the rewards. On 29 September he was created earl of Worcester and received forfeited property valued at £400 a year. Further grants followed, and in October his brother granted him the castle, town, and forest of Jedburgh and now the full annuity of 500 marks that he himself received from Berwick. For the first time he was well endowed.

A change of loyalty

Percy accompanied Richard to Ireland in June 1399, and, when Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, returned from exile and raised an army, returned in late July with the king to south-west Wales. Near Carmarthen, Richard, now aware of the collapse of support for him in England, abandoned his army and rode to Conwy with a few friends. Percy was not one of them, not surprisingly because his brother was Henry's principal supporter. Walsingham reports that Richard released Percy and his household and that Percy broke his steward's rod. In contrast to French writers English sources do not charge him with disloyalty. He joined Henry Bolingbroke at Chester but did not take a prominent part in the deposition of Richard or the accession of Henry IV. Very soon, however, he was active in Henry IV's service. By 12 October as 'our very dear and faithful cousin' he had been appointed to head the delicate negotiations with French envoys about the maintenance of the truce and the restoration of Richard II's queen, Isabella (TNA: PRO, E 404/15/33). These negotiations continued until 1401 and it was Percy himself who delivered Isabella to the count of St Pol on 31 July near Calais. Percy was an active member of the king's council from November 1399—a French envoy describes his leading role there in the absence of the king in October 1400. He was again steward of the household from 1 March 1401 until early March 1402; admiral of the north and west from November 1399 until April 1401; and one of those who conducted Joan of Navarre, duchess of Brittany (d. 1437), to England in January 1403 to marry Henry IV. In 1399 Percy had been obliged to surrender the forfeited property he had been granted in 1397, but he was compensated by an annuity of 500 marks and his other royal grants were confirmed.

Rebellion and death

Percy had received life grants of the lordships and castles of Emelyn in 1390 and Haverfordwest in 1393, and an annuity of 100 marks in south Wales from 1396; although he was no longer justiciar, he retained these grants in 1399 and it was in Wales that he ended his career of service. On 21 October 1401 he was appointed king's lieutenant in south Wales, with particular responsibility for the castles of Cardigan and Aberystwyth, and in November he became governor of Henry, prince of Wales. He could now normally attend the council only in the early months of the year; much of the rest he spent in Wales. He and his nephew, Henry Percy (Hotspur), who had served in north Wales, were frustrated by royal policy in Wales and the failure to pay them on time. His last campaign was in June and July 1403 under Prince Henry in north Wales, for which he provided the largest retinue. In early July, Hotspur came to Chester to mount a rebellion and Thomas Percy joined him with many of his retinue. They were surprised when they reached Shrewsbury on 20 July to find that the king had already joined Prince Henry there. The following morning the king offered negotiations in which Percy played a central role, and Walsingham accuses him of obstructing and misrepresenting them. If true, this was probably because Percy felt that it was too late to draw back. Whatever the case, a fierce battle followed in which Hotspur was killed and Thomas Percy was captured. He was summarily tried and beheaded two days later (23 July) and his head was displayed on London Bridge until December. His body was interred in the abbey church of St Peter in Shrewsbury. The January parliament of 1404 declared his actions to be treasonable but the parliament of 1484 reversed his attainder and forfeiture. Froissart describes Thomas Percy as a gentle, loyal, and valiant knight, and throughout his life others wrote about him in similar terms.


  • J. Froissart, Œuvres, ed. K. de Letterhove (1866–77)
  • M. D. Legge, ed., Anglo-Norman letters and petitions from All Souls MS 182, Anglo-Norman Texts, 3 (1941)
  • [T. Walsingham], Chronicon Angliae, ab anno Domini 1328 usque ad annum 1388, ed. E. M. Thompson, Rolls Series, 64 (1874)
  • T. Carte, Catalogue des rolles gascons, normands et françois, conservés dans les archives de la Tour de Londres, 2 vols. (1743)
  • J. M. W. Bean, The estates of the Percy family, 1416–1537 (1958)
  • J. W. Sherborne, ‘The English navy: shipping and manpower, 1369–1389’, Past and Present, 37 (1967), 163–75
  • TNA: PRO, E 404/15/33
  • TNA: PRO, E 404/17/234
  • TNA: PRO, E 101/38/3
  • TNA: PRO, E 101/178/20
Chancery records (Public Record Office)
D. Macpherson, J. Caley, & W. Illingworth, eds., , 2 vols., RC, 14 (1814–19)
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London