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Ralph de Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford 
from the Bruges's Garter Book

Ralph de Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford (1299-1372)

RALPH DE STAFFORD, first Earl of Stafford (1299-1372), elder son of Edmund, lord de Stafford (d. 1308), and Margaret, daughter of Ralph, lord Basset (d. 1299), of Drayton, Staffordshire, and granddaughter of Ralph Basset (d. 1265), was born in 1299, being nine years old at his father's death. He had livery of his lands 6 Dec. 1323.

Having been made a knight-banneret on 20 Jan. 1327, he served in that and the following year against the Scots. Joining himself to William, lord Montacute (1301-1344), he swore in 1330 to maintain the quarrel of the lords against Roger de Mortimer, fourth earl of March (1287?-1330). In 1332 he was appointed one of the guardians of the peace for Staffordshire.1 In April he was about to go beyond sea on the king's business,2 and in the summer took part in tne expedition of Edward de Baliol into Scotland, where he served in the ensuing years, being there with his second wife, Margaret, in October 1336.

In November of that year he received a summons to parliament, and on 10 Jan. 1337 was appointed steward of the king's household and a privy councillor.3 From 1338 to 1340 he served with the king in Flanders. It is not always easy to be certain about his actions, for Froissart occasionally confuses him with his younger brother, Sir Richard Stafford,4 who in 1337 was sent with others on an embassy to the counts of Hainault and Gueldres, and also to the Emperor Lewis,5 and had a share in the victory of Cadsant,6 and was in 1339 in the king's army at Vironfosse.7 Lord Stafford accompanied Edward on his hurried return to England on 30 Nov. 1340, and was sent by the king to Canterbury with a summons to John de Stratford, the archbishop, to appear before him.8

In the summer of 1342 he undertook to lead reinforcements to the king's troops in Brittany,9 and sailed in joint command on 14 Aug.10 The expedition, of which the Earl of Northampton was in chief command, relieved Brest, and the English, after burning sixty French galleys, landed and overran the country, and, having sent back their ships to England to convey the king, laid siege to Morlaix, and on 30 Sept. defeated Charles of Blois, who marched to its relief. After the king's arrival Stafford took part in the siege of Vannes, and, advancing too eagerly to meet a sally, was taken prisoner, and many of his followers were also taken or slain.11 He was exchanged for Olivier de Clisson, and was one of the English lords who in January 1343 assisted at the arrangement of the truce at Malestroit.

On 20 May he was sent with others on an embassy to Clement VI with reference to a peace, and on 1 July to treat with the Flemings and the German princes.12 He also in this year accompanied Henry of Lancaster, earl of Derby (afterwards duke of Lancaster), in an expedition intended for the relief of Lochmaban Castle.13 He took part in the tournament held at Hereford in September 1344.

On 23 Feb. 1345 Stafford was appointed seneschal of Aquitaine, and after Easter embarked at Bristol with fourteen ships laden with troops and landed at Bordeaux. Having been joined by Derby about 1 July, he took part in the earl's campaign in Gascony, commanded the attack by water at the taking of Bergerac on the Dordogne, was constantly with the earl, and, in conjunction with Sir Walter Manny, acted as one of his marshals. Sir Richard Stafford was also prominent among the English leaders, was at the siege of Bergerac, commanded the garrison at Liborne, and assisted in the relief of Auberoche.

After the surrender of Aiguillon in December, Derby appointed Lord Stafford governor of the place in order that he might operate on the Lot while he himself attacked La Réole,14 where Sir Richard was with him at the surrender of the place in January 1346. In March Lord Stafford signified his wish to resign the office of seneschal, and Edward wrote to Derby bidding him if possible to induce him to continue in office.15

Probably about the beginning of April the Duke of Normandy (afterwards King John of France) advanced with a large army to the siege of Aiguillon. Stafford had repaired the fortifications as well as he could, and where in one place the town lay open is said to have raised a barrier of wine-casks filled with stones;16 the garrison was strong, and he defended the town valiantly.17 Froissart assigns the chief part in the defence to Sir Walter Manny, and it is probable that Stafford left the place some time before the siege was raised, which was not until 20 Aug.; for he certainly fought in the division commanded by the Prince at Crécy on the following Saturday, 28th.18 His brother Richard was also in the battle, and was afterwards sent by the king with Reginald, lord Cobham, to count the slain.19

Lord Stafford took part in the siege of Calais, and in February 1347 was sent by the king and council on a mission to Scotland with reference to the trial of the Earls of Menteith and Fife.20 Returning to the English camp, he was present at the surrender of Calais, and, as one of the king's marshals in conjunction with the Earl of Warwick, received the keys of the town and castle.21 The king granted him some property in the town22 He was one of the negotiators of the truce made near Calais on 28 Sept.23

During 1348 he was one of the original knights or founders of the order of the Garter, became one of the sureties for the Earl of Desmond, received a grant of £573 for his expenses in France, and contracted to serve the king during his life with sixty men-at-arms for a yearly stipend of £600. He took part in the naval victory of L'Espagnols-sur-mer in August 1350,24 and in October was commissioned to treat with the Scots at York.25

On 5 March 1351 the king created him Earl of Stafford.26 Having been appointed lieutenant and captain of A quitaine on 6 March 1352, he proceeded thither, and in September defeated the French forces from Agen, taking captive, along with seven knights of the company of the star, a noted leader named Jean le Meingre or Boucicaut, for whose capture he received the next year £1,000 from the exchequer.27 During a long session of the justices in eyre at Chester he joined the Prince of Wales and others there in 1353 in order to protect them, and afterwards, by the king's orders, returned to Gascony.28

He joined the expedition fitted out by the Duke of Lancaster in the summer of 1355 to aid the king of Navarre, which was finally abandoned, and the earl sailed later with the king to Calais, and took part in Edward's campaign in northern France. Returning to England with the king, he accompanied him in his campaign in Scotland, which lasted until the spring of 1356. Meanwhile his brother Sir Richard followed the Prince of Wales into France in 1355, was sent by him with letters to England in December, rejoined his army, and fought at Poitiers on 19 Sept. 1356.29

In 1358 the earl received custody of the young Earl of Desmond's lands in Ireland. Both he and Sir Richard having accompained the king in his expedition to France in October 1359, a sudden attack was made upon the earl's quarters on 26 Nov. when he was in the neighbourhood of Rheims, but he repulsed it with signal success.30 He was one of the commissioners that drew up the treaty of Bretigni on 11 May 1360. In 1361 he accompanied Lionel (afterwards duke of Clarence) in his expedition to Ireland. In that year his brother Sir Richard was seneschal of Gascony, and held that office until 8 June 1362.31

The earl is said to have again served in France in 1365,32 and in 1367 contracted during his life to serve the king in peace or war with a hundred men-at-arms, at a yearly stipend of one thousand marks from the customs of the ports of London and Boston.33 Meanwhile in 1366 his brother Sir Richard was appointed to go on an embassy, accompanied by his son Richard, to the papal court.

Emaciated and worn out with old age and constant military service, the earl died at his castle of Tunbridge, Kent, on 31 Aug. 1372, and was there buried. Stafford is much praised for his valour and daring. He was a benefactor to the priory of Stone, Staffordshire, founded by his ancestor, Robert de Stafford, in the reign of Henry I,34 gave the manor of Rollright, Oxfordshire, to the priory of Cold Norton in that county,35 and about 1344 founded a house of Austin friars in Stafford.36

He married (1) a wife named Katherine; and (2) before 10 Oct. 1336 Margaret, daughter and heiress of Hugh de Audeley, earl of Gloucester, who died 7 Sept. 1347. By her he had two sons—the elder, Ralph, who married Maud, elder daughter of Henry of Lancaster, and died before 1352, leaving no issue, and Hugh (see below)—and four daughters.

1. Cal. Pat. Rolls, p. 276.
2. ib. p. 297.
3. Doyle, Official Baronage.
4. see Froissart, iv. 60 and 293, v. 201 and 400, ed. Luce.
5. ib.i. 361, 368.
6. ib. p. 408.
7. ib. p. 469.
8. Fœdera, ii. 1148.
9. ib. p. 1201.
10. Murimuth, p. 125.
11. Froissart, iii. 25.
12. Fœdera, ii. 1224, 1227.
13. Walsinqham, i. 254.
14. Froissart, vol. iii. pref. p. xx.
15. Fœdera, iii. 73.
16. Knighton, in Twysden's Decem Scriptores, col. 2589.
17. Avesbury, Chron., 1720, p. 856.
18. Chandos Herald, Vie de Prince Noir, i. 127; according to Froissart, this was his brother Sir Richard, see iii. 169, 408, but the Herald is the better authority.
19. ib. pp. 190, 432.
20. Cat. Doc. Scotland, p. 270.
21. Froissart, iv. 63; according to another recension of the Chroniques, ib. p. 293, this is said to have been done by Sir Richard, who was also at the siege, but this is probably a mistake.
22. ib. p. 65.
23. Fœdera, iii. 136.
24. Froissart, iv. 89.
25. Fœdera, iii. 205.
26. Doyle.
27. G. Le Baker, Chron., ed. Maunde Thompson, p. 12; Issues of the Exchequer, p. 159.
28. Knighton, col. 2606.
29. Avesbury, pp. 486, 445; Le Baker, pp. 130, 297; Froissart, V. 31.
30. Knighton, col. 2621.
31. Fœdera, iii. 628, 653.
32. Dugdale.
33. Fœdera, iii. 821.
34. Monasticon, vi. 226, 281.
35. ib. p. 421.
36. ib. p. 1399.

      Excerpted from:

      Hunt, Rev. William. "Henry of Lancaster."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XVIII. Sidney Lee, eds.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1909. 864-7.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Rogers, Clifford J. The Wars of Edward III: Sources and Interpretations.
            Boydell Press, 2000.

Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years War: The English in France 1337-1453.
           Penguin, 1999.

Waugh, Scott L. England in the Reign of Edward III.
            Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Ralph, Earl of Stafford, on the Web:

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