MICHAEL DE LA POLE, called in English Michael Atte Pool, Earl of Suffolk (1330?-1389), Lord Chancellor, son of
Sir William de la Pole (d. 1366), by Katherine Norwich, was probably born about 1330.1 In 1339 he received
for himself and his heirs the grant of a reversion of an annuity of £702 from the customs of Hull,
already bestowed on his father and uncle.3 In 1354 he had a charter of free warren within his demesne
lands of Bliburgh, Gresthorpe, and Grafton.
He was already a knight, when in 1355 he was attached to the retinue of Henry, Duke of Lancaster,
in his abortive expedition to Normandy. Henceforward his chief occupation for many years was war against the French.
In 1359 he accompanied Edward the Black Prince in a new expedition.4 He was
again fighting in France in 1369. He was serving in 1370 under the Black Prince in Aquitaine, took part in September
of that year in the famous siege of Limoges,5 and in December 1370 and January 1371 fought under
John of Gaunt at the successful siege of Montpont.6 He also accompanied John of Gaunt
in the abortive expedition of 1372. During his French campaigns he was twice taken prisoner.7 He was also
at one time captain of Calais.8
While thus active abroad and at sea, Pole was also occupied at home. In 1362 he had livery of the lands of his niece
Catherine, who died in that year, and was the daughter and heiress of his brother Thomas. In January 1360 he was first
summoned to parliament as a baron.9 Thus he was already a peer when the death of his father, on 21 April 1366,
and the succession to his extensive estates, gave him a still more commanding position. On 10 Feb. 1367 he was appointed
one of the commissioners of array for the East Riding of Yorkshire, in which district his influence chiefly lay.
In domestic politics he attached himself to John of Gaunt. In the
Good Parliament of 1376 he stood strongly on the side of the crown and the unpopular
duke.10 Though his relations to John of Gaunt cooled, Pole never swerved for the rest of his career from the
policy of supporting the crown. It was doubtless as a reward for his loyalty that he was on 24 Nov. 1376 appointed
Admiral of the King's Fleet North of the Thames.11
The accession of Richard II did not affect Pole's position. On 14 Aug. 1377 his commission
as Admiral of the West was renewed.12 However, on 5 Dec. of the same year he and his colleague Robert Hales
were superseded in favour of the Earls of Warwick and Arundel.13
He joined in Lancaster's useless maritime operations against the French; was put on the council
of the little king [Richard II], and, on 18 March 1379, headed an embassy to Milan to
negotiate a marriage between Richard II and Catherine, daughter of Bernabo Visconti, Lord of Milan.14
Nothing came of the Milanese negotiation; and Pole, after visiting the papal curia at Rome, went to Wenceslas, king
of the Romans and of Bohemia, to suggest Richard's marriage with Wenceslas's sister Anne. He was, however, taken
prisoner, though under an imperial safe-conduct, and on 20 Jan. 1380 John Otter and others were despatched from
England to effect his ransom.15 A mysterious entry on the issue roll of 1384 allows Pole his expenses
for these expeditions, and also for money paid to ransom the lady, Anne, who also seems to have been taken captive.16
He returned to England in 1381, and in November was appointed, jointly with
Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, counsellor in constant attendance on the king and
governor of his person.17 Richard II married Anne of Bohemia in 1382.
Michael impressed the young king with his ideas of policy. The retirement of John of Gaunt to Castile removed the only
rival counsellor of any influence, and he soon became the most trusted personal adviser of Richard. His attachment to
the court involved him in a growing unpopularity, both with the great barons and the people.
On 13 March 1383 Pole was appointed Chancellor of England in succession to Robert de Braybroke, Bishop of London,18
and opened the parliament of that year with a speech in which he declared his own unworthiness.19 It
was a stormy session. Pole said that, besides enemies abroad, the king had to deal with enemies at home among
his own servants and officials. He especially denounced the fighting Bishop of Norwich, Henry Despenser, whom
he deprived of his temporalities.20 In the parliament of 1384 Pole wisely urged the need of a solid
peace with France; but the commons, who were anxious enough to end the war, were not prepared to purchase a
peace at a high price, and Pole's proposal was ill received.
An accident gave his enemies an opportunity. A fishmonger named John Cavendish appeared before the parliament
and complained that the chancellor had taken a bribe from him. Cavendish had an action before the chancellor,
and had been assured by Pole's clerk, John Otter, that if he paid £40 to the chancellor and £4 to
Otter himself he would speedily get judgment in his favour.21 Cavendish had no money, but he sent
to the chancellor presents of fish which profited him nothing. In great disgust he brought his grievances
before the lords. The chancellor had no difficulty in making a satisfactory answer. As soon as he heard of
the presents of fish, he ordered them to be paid for, and compelled his clerk to destroy the unworthy bond
he had entered into with the fishmonger. Cavendish, instead of gaining his point, was condemned for defamation,
and ordered to remain in prison until he had paid one thousand marks22 as damage to the chancellor,
and such other fine as the king might impose.
Pole failed to carry out his policy of peace, and was forced to face a vigorous prosecution of the war against
both Scotland and France. It was complained that Ghent fell into French hands owing to his want of quickness
in sending relief.23 In the summer of 1385 he accompanied Richard on that king's only serious
military undertaking, the expedition against Scotland, in which he commanded a band of sixty men-at-arms and
eighty archers.24 After the failure of this undertaking, Pole was more than ever bent on peace.
France had threatened invasion. He renewed negotiations. On 22 Jan. 1386 he was appointed, with Bishop Skirlaw
of Lichfield and others, to treat with the king of France and his allies, jointly or separately, for truce
or for peace.25
Pole's wealth was steadily growing, and was exciting widespread envy. Besides the Yorkshire property that came
from his father, and the Lincolnshire estates of his mother, he was now in possession of the great Suffolk
inheritance of his wife, Catherine, daughter and heiress of Sir John de Wingfield. He now busied himself with
consolidating his power in Suffolk by fortifying his manor-houses. He hoped to build up a solid domain in
north-eastern Suffolk, of which the central feature was the new castle, or rather crenellated manor-house,
of Wingfield. His gatehouse on the south front, its flanking towers, and curtain wall still survive, while
in the beautiful late decorated village church—the work, it is believed, of his father-in-law—the
ashes of his son and many later Poles now repose.26
Moreover, on 6 Aug. 1385 he obtained the title of Earl of Suffolk, extinct since the death of
William Ufford three years before. On 20 Aug., at Newcastle-on-Tyne, the king
granted him lands worth £500 a year,27 which had belonged to William Ufford, and which included
the castle, town, manor, and honour of Eye, with other manors and jurisdictions, mainly in Suffolk, which nicely
rounded off the former Wingfield inheritance. But, as the widowed Countess of Suffolk still held part of these
estates for her life, and other portions had been regranted to the queen, Richard further granted to the new
earl £200 a year28 from the royal revenue and £300 a year29 from other lands,
until the Ufford estates fell in. The grant of a small sum from the county revenue completed the formal connection
between the new earl and his shire.30
At the parliament which met Richard on his return from Scotland, Pole was solemnly girt, on 12 Nov. 1385, with
the sword of the shire, and performed homage for his new office, before which Walter Skirlaw, Keeper of the Privy
Seal and Bishop of Lichfield, delivered an oration to the assembled estates on the new earl's merits.31
But the murmurs were many and deep. He was, says the St. Albans chronicler, a merchant and the son of a merchant;
he was a man more fitted for trade than for chivalry, and peacefully had grown old in a banker's counting-house,
and not among warriors in the field.32 The saying became a commonplace, and is repeated by several
Yet nothing could be more unjust than such a taunt levelled against the old companion in arms of the Black Prince
and of John of Gaunt. But it faithfully reflected the opinion of the greater families, and Pole's former ally,
John of Gaunt, had turned against him. Thomas Arundel, then Bishop of Ely,
was especially hostile. He sought to get the temporalities of Norwich restored to Bishop Despenser.
The Chancellor argued in the parliament of 1385 that to restore the bishop's lands would cost the king £1,000 a year.
'If thou hast so much concern for the king's profit,' retorted the bishop, 'why hast thou covetously taken from
him a thousand marks per annum since thou wast made an earl?' The Chancellor had no answer, and Despenser
recovered his temporalities.
Early in 1386 Suffolk was engaged in fruitless negotiations with France. He was on the continent between 9 Feb.
and 28 March.34 The English unwillingness to include Spain in the truce frustrated the negotiations.
England was threatened with invasion. The Chancellor did his best to organise the defence. He acted as
commissioner to inspect Calais and the castles of the marches, and as chief commissioner of array in
Suffolk.35 In April and May he visited Hull, where his influence was still paramount.36
But whatever he did was adversely judged. In June some English ships captured and plundered several Genoese
merchant ships off Dover; and when the Chancellor gave the aggrieved Genoese traders compensation, he was
charged with robbing the king of his rights and with showing more sympathy with traders than with warriors.37
The opposition to Pole was now formally organised under the king's uncle,
Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. When parliament met, on 1 Oct. 1386, Suffolk, as
Chancellor, urged that the time was come for Richard to cross the sea and fight the French in person. This was
a mere pretext for an inordinate demand for money. Four-fifteenths, says Knighton, was likely to be the
Chancellor's request. Afraid of the future, Richard retired to Eltham, where his imprudence culminated in
making his favourite, Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland. Lords and Commons now
united to demand the dismissal of the Chancellor. Richard told the parliament that he would not, at their
request, dismiss a scullion from his kitchen. Gloucester and
Bishop Arundel visited the king at Eltham, and hinted at deposition.
On 24 Oct. Pole was dismissed from the chancellorship, and his old enemy,
Bishop Arundel, put in his place. The Commons now drew up formal articles
of impeachment against the minister: (1) He had received grants of great estates from the king, or had purchased
or exchanged royal lands at prices below their value; (2) he had not carried out the ordinances of the nine lords
appointed in 1385 for the reform of the royal household; (3) he had misappropriated the supplies granted in the
last parliament for the guard of the seas; (4) he had fraudulently appropriated to himself a charge on the customs
of Hull previously granted to one Tydeman, a Limburg merchant; (5) he had taken for his own uses the revenue of
the schismatic master of St. Anthony, which ought to have gone to the king; (6) he had sealed charters, especially
a grant of franchises to Dover Castle, contrary to the king's interest; and (7) his remissness in conducting the
war had led to the loss of Ghent and a large sum of treasure stored up within its walls.38
Suffolk spoke shortly but with dignity in his own defence, but left the burden of a detailed answer to his
brother-in-law, Sir Richard le Scrope, who appealed indignantly to his thirty years of service in the field and
in the council chamber, denied the ordinary allegations of his mean origin and estate, and gave what seem to be
satisfactory answers to the seven heads of accusation.39 The Commons then made a replication, in
which, while silently dropping the third charge—of misappropriation of the supplies—they pressed for
a conviction on the other six, and brought forward some fresh evidence against Suffolk. The earl was committed
to the custody of the constable, but released on bail. The Lords soon gave judgment. Suffolk was convicted on
three of the charges brought against him—namely, the first, fifth, and sixth. On the other four charges
the lords declared that he ought not to be impeached alone, since his guilt was shared by other members of
Sentence was pronounced at the same time in the name of the king. Suffolk was to forfeit all the lands and grants
which he had received contrary to his oath, and was committed to prison, to remain there until he had paid an
adequate fine. But it was expressly declared that the judgment was not to involve the loss of the name and title
of earl, nor the £20 a year which the king had granted him from the issues of Suffolk for the aforesaid
name and title.40 The fine is estimated in the chronicles at various large sums.41 The paltry
character of the charges, the insignificant offences regarded as proved by the hostile lords, show that the only
real complaint against the fallen minister was his attachment to an unpopular policy.
Parliament ordered Suffolk to be imprisoned at Corfe Castle,42 but Richard sent him to Windsor. As soon
as the 'Wonderful' parliament came to an end, Richard remitted his fine and ransom, released him from custody,
and listened to his advice. If not the boldest spirit, Suffolk was certainly the wisest head of the royalist party
now formed against the new ministers and council set up by parliament. He dwelt in the king's household, and seems
to have accompanied Richard on his hasty progress through the land to win support for the civil war which was seen
to be imminent. At one time Pole was in Wales with Richard and the Duke of Ireland.43
On 25 Aug. 1387 five of the judges declared at Nottingham that the existence of the new perpetual council contravened
the king's prerogative, and that the sentence on Suffolk ought to be reversed. The name of Suffolk appears among the
witnesses to this declaration of war against the parliamentary government. But his enemies were resolute in their
attack. He was accused of labouring to prevent a reconciliation between Richard and
Gloucester when Bishop William Courtenay of London went to promote peace between
them. 'Hold thy peace, Michael,' said the bishop to Suffolk, who was denouncing Gloucester to the king; 'it becometh
thee right evil to say such words, thou that art damned for thy falsehood both by the lords and by the parliament.'
Richard dismissed the bishop in anger,44 but was unprepared to push things to extremities.
On 17 Nov. he was forced to promise the hated council that Suffolk and his other bad advisers should be compelled
to answer for their conduct before the next parliament. Thereupon Suffolk hastily fled the realm. On 27 Dec. the
five baronial leaders solemnly appealed him and his associates of treason. On 3 Feb. 1388 the five
Lords Appellant laid before the newly assembled estates a long list of accusations
against Suffolk and his four chief associates.45 No special charges were brought against Suffolk; but he
was associated with the others in such general accusations as having withdrawn the king from the society of the
barons, as having conspired to rule him for their own purposes, incited civil war, corresponded with the French,
and attempted to pack parliament. The declaration of the judges that the form of the appeal was illegal was
brushed aside, on the ground that parliament itself was the supreme judge in matters of this sort. On 13 Feb.
sentence was passed on the four absent offenders. Suffolk was condemned to be hanged. His estates and title were
A knight named William atte Hoo helped Suffolk to escape over the Channel. He disguised himself by shaving his
beard and head and putting on shabby clothes. In this plight he presented himself before Calais Castle, dressed
like a Flemish poulterer. His brother was captain of Calais Castle, and acquainted the governor of Calais,
William Beauchamp, with his arrival. The governor sent him back to the king, who was very angry at his
officiousness.46 For a second time Pole made his escape. This time he went to Hull, whither, on 20 Dec,
the king's sergeant-at-arms was despatched to arrest him.47 But Michael escaped a second time, sailing,
if Froissart can be trusted, over the North Sea and along the coasts of Friesland, and ultimately landing
at Dordrecht.48 Anyhow, he ultimately found his way to Paris. In May 1389 Richard suddenly took
over the government; but he made no attempt to help Pole, who died at Paris on 5 Sept. 1389.49
The chroniclers exhaust their powers of abuse in rejoicing over his death. The popular poets were not less
vehement in their reproaches.50
By his wife, Catherine Wingfield, Suffolk left three sons: Michael de la Pole, second Earl of Suffolk, Thomas,
and Richard.51 He also left a daughter Anne, who married Gerard de L'lsle.52
1. Doyle, Official Baronage, iii. 443.
2. £70 in 1339 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £76,500 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
3. Rot. Orig. Abbreviatio, ii. 229.
4. Rymer, Foedera, Record edition, iii. 443.
5. Froissart, Chronicles, ed. Luce, vii. 244.
6. ib. vol. viii. pp. xixiii, 12.
7. Rotuli Parliamentorum, iii. 217 a.
9. G. E. Cokayne, Complete Peerage, iii. 43.
10. Cf. Rot. Parl. ii. 327-329 a.
11. Foedera, iii. 1065.
12. ib. iv. 15.
13. Nicolas, History of the Royal Navy, ii. 530; Foedera, iv. 36.
14. ib. iv. 60.
15. ib. iv. 75.
16. Devon, IIssues of the Exchequer, p. 224; Rot. Parl. iii. 217 a.
17. Rot. Parl. iii. 104 b.
18. Foedera, iv. 162.
19. Rot. Parl. iii. 149 a.
20. ib. iii. 153-8; Wallon, Richard II, i. 198-214.
21. £40 in 1384 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £32,000 in 2020; £4, £3,200.
Source: Measuring Worth.
22. 1000 marks in 1384 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £536,000 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
23. Knighton apud Twysden, Decem Scriptores, c. 2672; cf. Rot. Parl. iii. 216.
24. Doyle, iii. 433.
25. Foedera, vii. 491-3, original edition.
26. Murray, Eastern Counties, pp. 190-1.
27. £500 in 1385 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £417,500 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
28. £200 in 1385 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £167,000 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
29. £300 in 1385 was roughly equivalent in purchasing power to £250,500 in 2020.
Source: Measuring Worth.
30. Cf. Rolls of Parliament, iii. 206-9; Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 185; Cal. Inq. post mortem, iii. 70, 111, 117, 257.
31. Rot. Parl. iii. 209.
32. Chronicon Angliae, 1328-88, ed. Thompson, Rolls Series, p. 367.
33. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, Rolls Series, ii. 141; Otterbourne, Chronica regum Angliae in Duo rerum Anglicarum scriptores veteres, ed. Hearne, 1732, p. 162; Vita Regis Ricardi Secundi, by the Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne, p. 67.
34. Foedera, vii. 495.
35. Doyle, iii. 434.
36. Foedera, vii. 510.
37. Chron. Angliae, 1328-88, p. 371; cf. Knighton, c. 2678.
38. Rot. Parl. iii. 216; Stubbs's Constitutional History, ii. 474-5, cf. Wallon, Richard II, livre vi., Knighton, cc. 2680-5.
39. Rot. Parl. iii. 216-18.
40. ib. iii. 219-20.
41. Chron. Angliae, 1328-88, and Otterbourne, p. 106, say twenty thousand marks [roughly £10.5m in 2020 money], adding, quite incorrectly, that Suffolk was adjudged worthy of death.
42. Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum, iii. 360; cf. Knighton, c. 2683.
43. Capgrave, Chronicle of England, pp. 246-8.
44. Chron. Angl. 1378-88, p. 383; Capgrave, p. 248.
45. Rot. Parl. iii. 229-38.
46. Knighton, c. 2702; Capgrave, p. 249; Otterbourne, p. 170; Chron. Angl., 1328-88, p. 386; Monk of Evesham, pp. 95-7.
47. Devon, p. 234.
48. Froissart, xii. 286, ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove.
49. Monk of Evesham, p. 113.
50. Gower, 'Tripartite Chronicle' in Political Poems, i. 421, Rolls Series.
51. Foss, Judges of Englandii. 76.
52. Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 185.
Tout, T. F. "Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk."
Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XLVI. Sidney Lee, ed.
New York: Macmillan and Co., 1896. 29-33.
Other Local Resources:
Books for further study:
Roskell, J. S. The Impeachment of Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk in 1386:
In the Context of the Reign of Richard II.
Manchester University Press, 1984.
Sherborne, James. War, Politics and Culture in 14th Century England
Bloomsbury Academic, 2003.
Tuck, Anthony. Crown and Nobility: England 1272-1461.
Wiley-Blackwell, 1999. (2nd ed.)
Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, on the Web:
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