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Portrait of Sir Thomas Erpingham, based on a stained glass window

Sir Thomas Erpingham (1357-1428)

SIR THOMAS ERPINGHAM (1357-1428), soldier, born in 1357, was son of John Erpingham, who died on 1 Aug. 1370, and was buried in Erpingham church. The family claimed to have been settled at Erpingham from the time of the Conqueror,1 but the earliest to be lord of the manor of Erpingham was Robert, who lived in the middle of the thirteenth century. A later Robert de Erpingham, probably grandfather of Sir Thomas, represented Norfolk in the parliaments of 1333-4, 1335, and 1341.2 Sir John had, like his son, a house in Norwich, where he mainly resided.

Thomas, who was only thirteen years old at his father's death, was early trained in the profession of arms. In 1380 he was in the service of John of Gaunt, and by an indenture dated at York on 13 Sept. of that year he stipulated for £20 a year in time of peace and fifty marks in war for himself and a servant, together with the 'usual wages of the bachelors of his sort.'3 On 8 March 1381-2 he was appointed one of the commissioners to suppress rebellions in Norfolk, and on 21 Dec. following his name occurs in a similar commission for Middlesex. In January 1384-5 he was made commissioner of array in Norfolk in view of the anticipated French invasion, and he constantly served on commissions of the peace in the same county.4 In March 1386 he obtained letters of protection on setting out with John of Gaunt for Spain, and sailed from Plymouth on 7 July. In 1390 Erpingham accompanied John of Gaunt's son Henry, earl of Derby (afterwards Henry IV), on his expedition to Lithuania, sailing from Boston on 20 July; and in July 1392, when Henry started on his second journey to Lithuania, Erpingham again went with him. On 23 Sept. Henry sent home most of his followers from Danzig, but Erpingham remained with him, and accompanied him on his adventurous passage across Europe into Palestine. He received various payments from the duchy of Lancaster for his services, and was also granted lands near King's Lynn, Norfolk.

When Henry was banished in 1398 Erpingham was once more his companion in his travels abroad; he was with him at Paris in 1399 and witnesssed the agreement for mutual support and defence which Henry drew up with Louis, duke of Orleans, on 17 June.5 He landed with Henry at Ravenspur in July 1399, and on 30 Sept. he was appointed constable of Dover Castle. By the parliament that met on that day Erpingham was nominated one of the commissioners for receiving Richard II's resignation of the crown.6 On 5 Nov. he was made warden of the cinque ports, and soon after he was granted custody of the lands of Thomas, duke of Norfolk. In the following January he attended convocation to promise the king's help, and advocate some decided action, in putting down the Lollards.7 His selection for this task was singular, as he was himself inclined to lollardy, and was a friend of Sir John Oldcastle.8 In the same month Erpingham was associated with John Beaufort, first earl of Somerset, in the command against the degraded lords who had revolted against Henry IV; and at the end of the month he was one of the commissioners appointed to try the rebels. Before the end of 1400 he was elected K.G., and was made chamberlain of the king's household.

In November 1401 Erpingham was selected to accompany Henry's second son, Thomas, as one of his 'wardens,' to Ireland, landing at Dublin on 13 Nov. [see Thomas, Duke of Clarence, 1388?-1421]. He apparently remained in Ireland until Thomas's return in September 1403; in that year he was publicly reconciled with Henry le Despenser, the warlike bishop of Norwich, who had loyally stood by Richard II, and he is said to have procured the bishop's release from prison9. In January 1403-4 he appears as a member of Henry's privy council, on 9 July he is styled steward of the royal household, and by the parliament which met at Coventry in that year he was entrusted with the duties of marshal of England. On 8 Aug. 1405 he was granted Framingham and other manors in Norfolk, and on 11 July 1407 he was one of the commissioners selected to treat with France. He started on 25 July, and on the 28th an armistice was agreed upon to last until 8 Sept. He was also nominated to treat with the French envoys to England on 1 Dec. following, and on the 7th a truce was concluded to last for three months.10 On 28 Feb 1409 Prince Henry was appointed constable of Dover Castle and warden of the cinque ports in Erpingham's stead.

Henry V placed as much confidence in Erpingham as his father had done, and he took a prominent part in the Agincourt campaign. He crossed to Harfleur with twenty men-at-arms and sixty mounted archers in his retinue, and, after assisting at the siege and capture of Harfleur, he marched with Henry towards Calais. At the battle of Agincourt (25 Oct. 1415) Erpingham was put in command of the English archers. According to the 'Chronique de St Rémy,' where he appears as 'messire Thomas Herpinchem,' Erpingham addressed the archers, riding down their ranks and exhorting them to fight bravely: après ce qu il eult fait les ordonnances, [il] jecta un bastion contremont qu'il tenoit en sa main, et en après descendi à piet et se mist en la bataille du roy d'Angleterre, qui estait aussi descendu à piet entre ses gens et sa barrière devant luy.'11 The precise disposition of the archers on the field is not clear, but it is agreed that they played a decisive part in the battle.12

In July 1416 Erpingham was sent with John Wakering, bishop of Norwich, to Calais and Beauvais to treat with the king of France;13 but he was now nearly sixty years old, and this seems to have been his last important employment. He died on 27 June 1428. [...] He married, first, Joan, daughter of Sir William Clopton of Clopton, Suffolk; and, secondly, after 1409, Joan, (d. 1425), daughter of Sir Richard Walton, and widow of Sir John Howard. He left issue by neither wife, and his heir was Sir William Phelip, son of his sister Julian by her husband, Sir John Phelip. [...] Erpingham figures prominently in Drayton's 'Agincourt' and in Shakespeare's 'Henry V.'

—A. F. Pollard

1. Blomefield, History of Norfolk, vi. 412-413.
2. Official Return, i. 103, 107, 134.
3. £20 in 1380 had roughly the equivalent purchasing power of £15,330 in 2020; 500 marks was roughly equivalent to £255,500 in 2020. Source: Measuring Worth
4. Cal. Patent Rolls, 1381-5.
5. Douët d'Arcq, Pièces inédites sur le règne de Charles VI, i. 157-60.
6. Rotuli Parliamentorum iii. 416, 422).
7. Ramsay, Lancaster and York, i. 32.
8. Wylie, Henry IV, iii. 295.
9. Wylie, i. 110, 169, 177.
10. Monstrelet, Chroniques, i. 152; Wylie, iii. 95.
11. St. Rémy, Chroniques, i. 253.
12. Nicolas, Battle of Agincourt; Ramsay, Lancaster and York, i. 215, 219; Waurin, Chronicles (Rolls ser.), ii. 211, 212; Chroniques du Religieux de St. Denys (Collection de Documents Inédits), pp. 555-65.
13. Monstrelet, iii. 147.
14. 303a Chichele p. i.

      Excerpted from:

      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XXII (Supplement).
      Sidney Lee, Ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1909. 614-5.

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William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
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Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
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