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English Knight: Thomas Erpingham

Thomas Erpingham

Thomas Erpingham

Thomas Erpingham was born in 1357-58 to local landowner; Sir John Erpingham, whose family had held the manor of Erpingham since 1234.  Thomas would step onto the military stage in his early twenties, becoming a Norfolk hero.

In 1379, Thomas Erpingham entered the retinue (band of attendants, accompanying an important person) of the Second Earl of Salisbury and Captain of Calais, William de Montacute.

On the 13th September 1380, Thomas Erpingham entered the service of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III and uncle of King Richard II.  His position, was one of an esquire ( attendant to a knight – shield bearer).  In later years, Thomas Erpingham would be knighted by John of Gaunt.

John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt

In 1386, the Duke of Lancaster; John Gaunt granted him Erpingham Manor, and in 1396 confirmed it upon him for life.

In the 1380’s Sir Thomas married married Joan, the daughter of Sir William Clopton of Clopton Green, and upon her death in 1404, Clopton Manor descended to him.  In 1409 his second wife was Joan Howard, widow of John Howard of Fersfield, daughter and heiress of Sir Richard Walton.

Erpingham fought with John of Gaunt against the Scots, and the Duke of Brittany in 1385, and Spain in 1386.  In 1390, his services had been passed down to John of Gaunt’s son, one Henry Bolingbroke.

John of Gaunt had sworn an oath, to Prince Edward, the Black Prince that he would protect his heir; Richard.

Richard II came to the throne in 1377 aged 10, and his kingdom was ruled by his uncles; John of Gaunt and Thomas of Gloucester.  In 1382, Richard marries Anne of Bohemia, and in 1389 takes control of the government with William Wykeham as his Lord Chancellor.  In 1394 Anne, his wife dies and in 1396 marries Isabella the daughter of the King of France.

King Henry IV

Henry Bolingbroke

On the 3rd February 1399, John of Gaunt dies, and was buried in St.Paul’s Chuch in London, Henry Bolingbroke becomes the Duke of Lancaster.  Richard seizes his possessions and Bolingbroke is banished from the kingdom and forced into exile, accompanied by Thomas Erpingham, who had seen his own property seized, that which had been granted to him, by John of Gaunt.

Henry Bolingbroke resolved to return from exile in France and claim what was rightfully his, by birthright.  On the 4th July 1399, Henry and his followers landed at Ravenspur at the mouth of the Humber, and gathered support from Lancastrian strongholds.

Thomas Erpingham’s force captured Richard II in Wales, escorted him to Henry Bolingbroke, where he formally surrendered on the 20th August.  Richard II was taken to London, where he was imprisoned in the Tower of London until Parliament convened.

Parliament never questioned Henry’s seizure of the throne in 1399.  As Parliament convened on the 30th September, Sir Thomas Percy called out as Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster took his place.  “Long live Henry of Lancaster, King of England.”  Bishops, Abbots and people exclaimed, we want Henry to be King.

King Richard II

King Richard II

Parliament sentenced Richard II to be imprisoned in a Royal Castle for the duration of his life, and should any attempt be made to rescue him by force, he would be the first to die.  Richard was moved to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, and by February of 1400, Richard had died.

Death is believed to have been starvation, however, was it, self inflicted or imposed by his jailer; Sir Thomas Swynford.  He was buried alongside Queen Anne in the royal mausoleum at Westminster Abbey.

On the 30th September 1399, Thomas Erpingham carried a sword before his new King and friend, and was richly awarded for his services.  He was made Chamberlain of the Royal household until 1404, appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of Cinque Ports (Guardian of the English Channel), which he held until 1409.  In 1401 made a knight of the Garter and later a member of the Privy Council.  Henry granted Erpingham the lands of Norfolk and Suffolk, to his faithful friend.

Norwich was to benefit from the relationship between Henry IV and Thomas Erpingham.  The city was granted its charter in 1404, removing the office of bailiffs, giving its citizens the right to elect a mayor and sheriffs.

Henry V accedes to the English throne on the 21st March 1413, upon the death of his father Henry IV, and within months re-opened the Hundred Years War with France, in order to win back lands lost by his ancestors.

Thomas Erpingham was appointed Steward of the Royal Household in 1413, by Henry V and held it until 1415.

A great fire swept through Norwich in 1415, and Erpingham funded the rebuilding of Blackfriars Church, better known as St.Andrews Hall.

In 1415, the aged fifty-eight year old Erpingham, took to the battlefield in support of his king.  His force of eighty was made up of men at arms and archers.  They sailed from Southampton and landed near the mouth of the Seine in France, and were involved in the siege at Harfleur.

On the 25th October the English and French met at the “Battle of Agincourt.”


Henry marched his forces, close enough to allow his archers under the command of Erpingham to unleash a hail of arrows upon the French.  The French knights charged forward, but the ground was muddy, which made it difficult for them.  More soldiers followed up behind, then they found it difficult to swing their broadswords.  Erpingham’s archers continued to fire lethal waves of arrows into a mass of French soldiers, until they had no option, but to retreat.  English archers dropped their bows, grabbed their swords, joining English knights, slaying their foe.

As the sun set over Agincourt, the battlefield left heaped bodies of French knights… and the English had beaten the French, when their army had been overwhelmingly larger.


Erpingham Gate – Norwich

Sir Thomas Erpingham, left a legacy to the City of Norwich; Erpingham Gate, one of the three gates leading to Norwich Cathedral.

The upper portion of the gate contains a recessed statue of the great man himself, faced with Norfolk flint.  Below, surrounding the Perpendicular Arch is decorated with figures of saints.  The turrets on the buttresses bear sculptures of Erpingham, his wife and families, and each turret is topped with that of a priest.

Sir Thomas Erpingham, an English Knight commanded King Henry V’s archers at Agincourt and died in his home county of Norfolk in 1428.  He was buried in Norwich Cathedral, but his exact location remains unknown.

He left no heir, and thus bequeathed many donations to its people, from prisoners, hospitals and its patients, along with scholars to religious houses.

People Images: Wikipedia
Erpingham Gate: My Photo


4 thoughts on “English Knight: Thomas Erpingham

  1. Pingback: English Knight: Thomas Erpingham | Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History

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