The Battle of Boroughbridge, Thomas of Lancaster, and King Edward II

CWD War and Diplomacy Podcast

This special episode marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Boroughbridge and the execution of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1322. This was the bloody end of a civil war that scarred one of England’s most troubled and turbulent reigns, that of Edward II. Dr Sophie Ambler is the Deputy Director of the Centre for War and Diplomacy and author of The Song of Simon de Montfort: England's First Revolutionary and the Death of Chivalry (2019); Dr Andrew Spencer is Fellow and Senior Tutor of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and has published extensively on the nobility, politics and constitution of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England; Dr Paul Dryburgh is Principal Record Specialist at The National Archives, and has been at the forefront of new research into the records and government of the era for nearly twenty years. Paul, Andrew and Sophie are part of a team of researchers – from the The National Archives and the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and Lancaster– involved in a new collaborative research project: ‘A State within a State? The making of the Duchy of Lancaster, c.1066-1422’.

Thomas of Lancaster was the heir and political successor of Simon de Montfort, champion of parliament and government reform. He was also the mightiest noble of the age, ruling the earldoms of Lancaster, Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, and Salisbury. His domain was a vast state within a state. It would later form the core of the Duchy of Lancaster, which since 1399 has been the private estate of England’s monarch.

In 1322, Thomas brought these huge resources to bear in challenging Edward II. But that year, on 16th March, his force was defeated at Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire. Within a week, Thomas was charged with a series of crimes against the king and kingdom, and sentenced to execution. On 22nd March, he was beheaded, at his own base of Pontefract. But that was not the end of the story. By 1327 Edward II had been deposed – the new regime annulled the sentence against Thomas and even petitioned for him to be made a saint.

Andrew, Paul and Sophie place the civil war of 1322 in the context of catastrophic famine and ongoing wars with Scotland, and consider the policies and personalities of Thomas and Edward II, as well as the sources for their careers. They make the case that Boroughbridge and the execution of Thomas of Lancaster transformed England’s political and military history. This podcast is available to listen to on a number of streaming services including Apple and Spotify.

Select further reading:

Paul R. Dryburgh, ‘The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel? Edward II and Ireland, 1321-7’, in The reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, ed. Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson (Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 119-39

Natalie Fryde, The tyranny and fall of Edward II, 1321-1326 (Cambridge, 1979).

J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, 1307-22: A study in the reign of Edward II (Oxford, 1970)

Seymour Phillips, Edward II (New Haven (CT); London, 2010)

Andrew M. Spencer, ‘Thomas of Lancaster in the Vita Edwardi Secundi: A Study in Disillusionment’, in Thirteenth century England XIV. Proceedings of the Aberystwyth and Lampeter Conference, 2011, ed. Janet E. Burton, Phillipp R. Schofield and Björn K. U. Weiler (Woodbridge, 2013), pp. 155-168

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