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Portrait of John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon from British Library MS Harley 1319, f. 25.

John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon (1352?-1400)

JOHN HOLLAND, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon (1352?-1400), born about 1352, was third son of Thomas Holland (d. 1360), first Earl of Kent, by Joan, daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent. His mother afterwards became the wife of Edward the Black Prince; Holland was consequently half-brother to Richard II.

Dugdale wrongly places his first military service in 1354-5, and supports his statement by a reference to a contemporary document which, however, contains no mention of him. In 1381 he was made a Knight of the Garter; on 6 May in the same year justice of Chester. On the rising of the commons in 1381 he was with the king [Richard II] in the Tower, but like his brother, Thomas Holland, he did not go out to Mile End. In the following December he was appointed one of those sent by the king to receive his bride (Anne of Luxemburg) at Calais, and escort her to England. In 1384 he is charged—on the authority of Walsingham, unsupported by any contemporary record—with a cold-blooded murder. A Carmelite friar had informed the king of an alleged plot on the part of the Duke of Lancaster to dethrone him. The duke soon convinced the king of his innocence, and advised the friar's detention in Holland's custody. The night before the date fixed for the inquiry into the matter, Holland and Sir Henry Green caused the friar to be butchered in prison.1

During 1385 Holland was undoubtedly guilty of a crime which illustrates the violence of his temper. In that year he accompanied Richard on his way to Scotland. While the army was near York an archer of Ralph, eldest son of Hugh, Earl Stafford, quarrelled with and slew one of Holland's esquires. According to Froissart on the evening after the occurrence, Ralph rode to visit Holland in order to appease him for the outrage; at the same time Holland was riding out to demand an explanation of Stafford. They passed each other in the dark, and Holland asked who went by; on receiving the answer 'Stafford,' he gave his own name, plunged his sword into Ralph's body, and rode off. Earl Stafford demanded vengeance, and on 14 Sept. 1385 the king ordered Holland's lands to be seized; he had taken sanctuary in the church of St. John of Beverley. Most of the chroniclers of the time state that his mother implored the king's pardon, and died from grief at its refusal. The exact date of the murder is unknown, but Joan died in August 1385, a month before the king issued the extant writ to seize Hollands lands. It is possible that the extant writ is not the earliest issued. In February 1386, it was arranged that Holland should find three chaplains to celebrate divine service for ever for the repose of Ralph Stafford's soul; two of these chaplains were to be stationed at the place where the youth had been slain, and the third at the place of his interment. The king afterwards directed that the three chaplains should be established at Langley, the place of Ralph's burial.

Holland soon obtained the restitution of his property, and married Elizabeth, second daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, sister of the future Henry IV, receiving at the time a considerable grant of lands from the king. In 1386 he went—accompanied by his wife—into Spain as constable to his father-in-law; before starting he gave evidence at Plymouth in the Scrope and Grosvenor controversy. Throughout the campaign in Spain—where he held the post of Constable of the English army—he performed numerous acts of valour in battle and deeds of skill in tilting, which won the highest praise from Froissart.

On his return from Spain he was, on 2 June 1387, created Earl of Huntingdon by the request of the commons of the 'Admirable Parliament;' an immense grant of lands was also made to him. In 1389 he was made Chamberlain of England for life; and soon after Admiral of the Fleet in the Western Seas, and Constable of Tintagel Castle and Brest. On 13 Sept. in the same year he is spoken of as a privy councillor. In 1390 he crossed to Calais in order to engage in further tournaments, and on returning distinguished himself in one at Smithfield.

In 1392 he accompanied an expedition into the northern parts of the kingdom, and later on in the same year went with the Duke of Lancaster to negotiate a truce with France. In 1394 he was made Constable of Conway Castle, and in the same year undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; in passing through Paris he learned that war had been proclaimed between Hungary and Turkey; he therefore, according to Froissart, determined to return from his pilgrimage by a road which would bring him to the scene of action. He probably abandoned this intention, as we find him with Richard II at Eltham in 1395, during the visit of Peter the Hermit. The same year he was made Governor of the castle and town of Carlisle, of the West Marches towards Scotland, and Commissary-General of the same marches 16 Feb. 1396.

In 1397 he took an active part with the king against Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. Richard seems to have heaped honours upon him in quick succession. On 29 Sept. in that year he was created Duke of Exeter. He obtained a grant of the furniture of the castle of Arundel, which the Earl of Arundel had forfeited; and the office of Chamberlain of England, of which he had previously received a grant for life, was in 1398 given to him and his heirs in tail. At this time, his London residence was at Pultney House, where he gave sumptuous entertainments.

Dukes of Exeter and Salisbury meeting with Bolingbroke, BL MS Harley 1319, f. 30v. In 1399 he accompanied Richard on his unfortunate expedition into Ireland, and on his return to Pembroke counselled the king to go to Conway. He was one of those sent by Richard to Henry IV with orders to seek a modus invendi; at the meeting Holland seems to have been the chief spokesman. Henry after hearing his messages detained him about his person.

After Richard's deposition in October 1399, Holland was called on in parliament to justify his action against the Duke of Gloucester. He and the other appellants of 1397 answered that they acted under compulsion of the late king, but that they were not cognisant of, nor did they aid in, Gloucester's death. They were condemned to forfeit their dignities and lands granted to them subsequently to Gloucester's arrest, so that Holland again became Earl of Huntingdon. Soon after this, in January 1400, Holland entered, with Thomas le Despenser, his nephew, Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent (1374-1400), and others, into a conspiracy against Henry IV for the restoration of Richard II. According to one account2 he was present in the fight at Cirencester, and was captured there. Walsingham, more probably, states that he remained near London to watch the progress of events.

When he saw his cause was lost, he fled through Essex, but was captured at Pleshey by the Countess of Hereford, who had him beheaded in the presence of Thomas Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel and Surrey, son of the Earl of Arundel whose death he had helped to bring about. The execution took place on 16 Jan. 1400.3 His head was afterwards exposed, probably at Pleshey, till the king, at the supplication of Holland's widow, directed its delivery to the 'master or keeper of the college of the church of Plessy,' in order that it might be buried there with his body. His estates were declared by parliament to be forfeited on 2 March following. By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John of Gaunt, he left issue three sons; his second son, John (1395-1447), was afterwards restored in blood, and to the family honours.



1. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana (Rolls Series), ii. 113-14.
2. Chronique de la Traison et Mort du Roy Richart (Engl. Hist. Soc.), p. 86.
3. Inquisitio ad quod damnum, 1 Henry IV, No. 29 a.




      Excerpted from:

      Hardy, W. J. "John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. IX. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, Eds.
      New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908. 1041-2.




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