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Bohun, William de, first earl of Northamptonlocked

(c. 1312–1360)
  • W. M. Ormrod

Bohun, William de, first earl of Northampton (c. 1312–1360), magnate, was the fifth son of Humphrey (VII) de Bohun, fourth earl of Hereford and ninth earl of Essex (c. 1276–1322), and Elizabeth (1282–1316), daughter of Edward I. He and his twin brother, Edward (d. 1334), were close personal associates of the young Edward III and took part in the ambush and arrest of Roger (V) Mortimer, earl of March, at Nottingham Castle in 1330. In November 1335, when a papal dispensation was granted for his marriage to Elizabeth, née Badlesmere, the widow of Mortimer's recently deceased heir, it was stated that the alliance had been arranged specifically to heal the enmity between the two families. Bohun quickly established himself as a prominent figure in the king's household and participated actively in Edward III's Scottish wars. He fought in Scotland in 1333 and, as a knight-banneret of the household, led a contingent of sixty mounted archers on the Roxburgh campaign of 1334–5. He served on the summer expedition of 1335 with forty-three men at arms and eighty mounted archers, and was campaigning in Scotland again in 1336 when he was also appointed to negotiate an Anglo-Scottish truce.

Such service was handsomely rewarded. Already in 1332 Bohun had been granted a series of manors formerly held by Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk; his wife, Elizabeth, not only brought to Bohun her dower from the Mortimer marriage but was also coheir to the estates of Giles Badlesmere. On 16 March 1337 Bohun was created earl of Northampton and was granted, in expectation, the lordships of Stamford, Fotheringhay, Grantham, and Oakham, together with a life interest in the shrievalty of Rutland; until he came into these rights, and to ensure that he maintained the income of £1000 deemed appropriate to his new estate, he was granted annuities from the customs revenues and the farms of London and Essex. In the 1350s Bohun added further to his landed base through purchases, particularly around the lordship of Brecon and in Essex.

Bohun's promotion, like that of the other five earls appointed in March 1337, was intended to replenish the ranks of the military aristocracy in preparation for the impending war with France. In the winter of 1337–8 he was employed in negotiation with the French; and in the following year he represented the king in discussions with prospective allies in Brabant and Flanders and accompanied Edward on his journey to Koblenz. Having been sent back to England to treat with the council at the end of 1338, he spent 1339 in the Low Countries and participated in Edward III's campaign in the Cambrésis and the Thiérache. After travelling to England with the king for the spring parliament of 1340 he returned to the continent, and took part in the battle of Sluys on 24 June 1340. The loan of £800 to Edward III on the eve of this campaign was a mark not only of Bohun's loyalty but also of the king's desperate shortage of cash; ironically, in July, Bohun was temporarily arrested in Brussels as a hostage for the debts owed by Edward in the Low Countries, and he only escaped further victimization by absconding from the city of Ghent with the king in November and fleeing to England.

Bohun played some part in Edward III's subsequent hostile attack on the domestic administration led by Archbishop John Stratford. He was present at the Tower of London when the chancellor, Robert Stratford, was forced to resign the great seal on 1 December 1340. He also acted as the king's spokesman in discussion with the archbishop when the latter was excluded from parliament in the spring of 1341, and was among the peers later appointed to hear the charges made against Stratford. But the reconciliation between king and archbishop in October allowed the aristocracy to turn its attention back to war, and on 20 July 1342 Bohun was appointed as Edward III's lieutenant in the duchy of Brittany. He raised the siege of Brest, defeated Philippe VI's candidate for the duchy, Charles de Blois, at Morlaix in September, and laid siege to Nantes. Although he gave up the lieutenancy on 2 April 1343 and spent most of the following two years in England planning an ultimately abortive diplomatic mission to Avignon, he was the obvious choice of commander for the new offensive planned against Brittany by Edward III in 1345, and was reappointed as king's lieutenant there on 24 April 1345. He joined in Edward III's invasion of Normandy in 1346, fought at Crécy, and participated in the early stages of the siege of Calais; but his replacement as lieutenant of Brittany on 10 January 1347 signified his return to diplomacy, and between 1347 and 1349 he was occupied in negotiations with the Flemings and the French.

The early 1350s saw another change of focus, as Bohun was deployed as warden of the Scottish marches, admiral of the fleet in the north, and commander of Carlisle; he was present at Roxburgh in January 1356 when Edward Balliol surrendered his claims to the Scottish throne to Edward III. He accompanied the king to Calais in 1355, took part in the French campaign of 1359–60, and was one of the English witnesses to the treaty of Brétigny (8 May 1360). He died on 16 September 1360 and was buried on the north side of the presbytery at the Benedictine abbey at Walden, Essex. His wife, who had died in June 1356, was buried at the London Blackfriars.

Despite his busy military career, Bohun took part in the political and cultural life of the English court. He was a frequent witness to royal charters and, when in England, a regular participant in the council. He was present at tournaments held at Dunstable in 1334 and 1342. Although not a founder member of the Order of the Garter, he was quickly recruited into its ranks to fill the stall left vacant by the death of Sir Hugh Courtenay in September 1349. His friendship with Edward III probably facilitated the rehabilitation of his stepson, Roger (VI) Mortimer. As cousins to the king Bohun and his brothers enjoyed a particularly exalted status, and Edward III provided the gilt cloth used at the earl's funeral.


  • G. A. Holmes, The estates of the higher nobility in fourteenth-century England (1957)
  • J. Sumption, The Hundred Years War, 1 (1990)
  • G. L. Harriss, King, parliament and public finance in medieval England to 1369 (1975)
  • M. Jones, ‘Edward III's captains in Brittany’, England in the fourteenth century [Harlaxton 1985], ed. W. M. Ormrod (1986), 99–118
  • J. Vale, Edward III and chivalry: chivalric society and its context, 1270–1350 (1982)
  • R. Nicholson, Edward III and the Scots: the formative years of a military career, 1327–1335 (1965)
  • Calendar of papal registers
  • The wardrobe book of William de Norwell, ed. M. Lyon and others (1983)
  • Adae Murimuth continuatio chronicarum. Robertus de Avesbury de gestis mirabilibus regis Edwardi tertii, ed. E. M. Thompson, Rolls Series, 93 (1889)
  • CIPM, 10, no. 639

Wealth at Death

very wealthy

Chancery records (Public Record Office)
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
, [20 vols.], PRO (1904–); also , 3 vols. (1898–1955)
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)