Thomas of Lancaster, Duke of Clarence

Thomas of Lancaster
Duke of Clarence
Effigy Thomas of Lancaster Duke of Clarence.png
Drawing of his tomb effigy
Born Autumn 1387[1]
Probably London
Died 22 March 1421 (aged 33)
Battle of Baugé, Anjou, France
Spouse Margaret Holland (m. 1411)
Issue John of Clarence (illegitimate)
House Lancaster
Father Henry IV of England
Mother Mary de Bohun

Thomas of Lancaster, Duke of Clarence (autumn 1387 – 22 March 1421) was a medieval English prince and soldier, the second son of Henry IV of England, brother of Henry V, and heir to the throne in the event of his brother's death. He acted as councillor and aide to both.

After his father's death, he participated in his brother's military campaigns in France during the Hundred Years' War. Left in charge of English forces in France when Henry returned temporarily to England after his marriage to Catherine of Valois, Thomas led the English in their disastrous defeat at the hands of a mainly Scottish force that came to the aid of the French at the Battle of Baugé. In a rash attack, he and his leading knights were surrounded, and Thomas was killed.


Thomas was born before 25 November 1387 as on that date his father's accounts note a payment made to a woman described as his nurse.[2] 29 September 1388[3] sometimes features as his birth date, but it now seems clear that Thomas was born before Christmas 1387.[4] He was probably born in London,[2] but some sources give Kenilworth Castle.[5]


In November or December 1411 Thomas married Margaret Holland, widow of his uncle John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, and daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent. No children were born from this union, though Thomas was stepfather to her six children from her first marriage, who were his first cousins. He had, however, a natural son, Sir John Clarence, called "Bastard of Clarence" who fought by his father's side in France.


After Thomas's father became ill in 1411, his older brother became head of the royal council. Conflicts arose between the young Henry and his father when the prince gathered a group of supporters favouring his policy of declaring war on France. The prince was removed from the council by his father after he had defied the king's wishes by persuading it to declare war. Thomas was given his brother's seat, and fell in line with his father's peace policy.[6]

Military career

The Battle of Baugé, from Les Vigiles de Charles VII

During the wars of his elder brother Henry V in France, Clarence fought in both the Siege of Caen and the Siege of Rouen (29 July 1418 – 19 January 1419), where he commanded the besieging force. After Henry had negotiated the Treaty of Troyes, in which he became heir to the French throne, the king returned to England with his new wife Catherine. The Dauphin, the disinherited former heir, refused to accept the situation and organised continuing resistance, aided by a Scottish army led by John Stewart, Earl of Buchan.

Following the King's instructions, Clarence led 4,000 men in raids through the Anjou and Maine.[7] This chevauchée met with little resistance, and by Good Friday, 21 March 1421, the English army had made camp near the little town of Vieil-Baugé. The Franco-Scots army of about 5,000 also arrived in the Vieil-Baugé area to block the English army's progress; it was commanded by the Earl of Buchan and the new Constable of France, the Sieur de Lafayette; however, the English forces were dispersed, and, significantly, many of the English archers had ridden off in search of plunder or forage. On Easter Saturday, one of these foraging groups captured a Scots man-at-arms whom they brought before the Duke of Clarence. Clarence was keen to engage the enemy; however, he had a problem: the following day was Easter Sunday, one of the most holy days in the Christian calendar, when a battle would be unthinkable. A two-day delay was also deemed as out of the question.[8][9] According to the chronicles of Walter Bower, both commanders agreed a brief truce to celebrate Easter, but then joined battle that day.[10]

Perhaps underestimating the size of the Franco-Scottish army, Clarence decided to launch a surprise cavalry-led attack rather than use his archers against the enemy. With only about 1,500 men-at-arms available, and virtually no archers, he charged the Franco-Scottish lines. The shock temporarily disordered the Franco-Scots, but soon Clarence and his knights were overwhelmed. Clarence was unhorsed by a Scottish knight, Sir John Carmichael, and finished off on the ground by Sir Alexander Buchanan, probably with a mace.[8][11]


Clarence's natural son John accompanied the remains of his father from Baugé to Canterbury for their interment. This Sir John Clarence had a grant of lands in Ireland from Henry V and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. The noble de Langlée family of France claimed him for their ultimate ancestor. Henry V was forced to return to France with a new army to retrieve the situation.

Clarence's executors, as seen in a legal record of 1430, were John Colvylle, of Neuton, Cambs, knight; Henry Merston, of Westminster, clerk & his widow, Margaret, Duchess of Clarence, living in Bermondsey, Surrey.[12]

Titles, honours and arms

Arms of Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence: Arms of King Henry IV a label of three points argent each charged with three ermine spots and a canton gules (or possibly just differenced by a label of three points ermine[13])