1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gloucester, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of
GLOUCESTER, THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK, Duke of (1355–1397), seventh and youngest son of the English king Edward III., was born at Woodstock on the 7th of January 1355. Having married Eleanor (d. 1399), daughter and co-heiress of Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, Essex and Northampton (d. 1373), Thomas obtained the office of constable of England, a position previously held by the Bohuns, and was made earl of Buckingham by his nephew, Richard II., at the coronation in July 1377. He took part in defending the English coasts against the attacks of the French and Castilians, after which he led an army through northern and central France, and besieged Nantes, which town, however, he failed to take.
Returning to England early in 1381, Buckingham found that his brother, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, had married his wife’s sister, Mary Bohun, to his own son, Henry, afterwards King Henry IV. The relations between the brothers, hitherto somewhat strained, were not improved by this proceeding, as Thomas, doubtless, was hoping to retain possession of Mary’s estates. Having taken some part in crushing the rising of the peasants in 1381, Buckingham became more friendly with Lancaster; and while marching with the king into Scotland in 1385 was created duke of Gloucester, a mark of favour, however, which did not prevent him from taking up an attitude of hostility to Richard. Lancaster having left the country, Gloucester placed himself at the head of the party which disliked the royal advisers, Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk and Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, whose recent elevation to the dignity of duke of Ireland had aroused profound discontent. The moment was propitious for interference, and supported by those who were indignant at the extravagance and incompetence, real or alleged, of the king, Gloucester was soon in a position of authority. He forced on the dismissal and impeachment of Suffolk; was a member of the commission appointed in 1386 to reform the kingdom and the royal household; and took up arms when Richard began proceedings against the commissioners. Having defeated Vere at Radcot in December 1387 the duke and his associates entered London to find the king powerless in their hands. Gloucester, who had previously threatened his uncle with deposition, was only restrained from taking this extreme step by the influence of his colleagues; but, as the leader of the “lords appellant” in the “Merciless Parliament,” which met in February 1388 and was packed with his supporters, he took a savage revenge upon his enemies, while not neglecting to add to his own possessions.
He was not seriously punished when Richard regained his power in May 1389, but he remained in the background, although employed occasionally on public business, and accompanying the king to Ireland in 1394. In 1396, however, uncle and nephew were again at variance. Gloucester disliked the peace with France and Richard’s second marriage with Isabella, daughter of King Charles VI.; other causes of difference were not wanting, and it has been asserted that the duke was plotting to seize the king. At all events Richard decided to arrest him. By refusing an invitation to dinner the duke frustrated the first attempt, but on the 11th of July 1397 he was arrested by the king himself at his residence, Pleshey castle in Essex. He was taken at once to Calais, and it is probable that he was murdered by order of the king on the 9th of September following. The facts seem to be as follows. At the beginning of September it was reported that he was dead. The rumour, probably a deliberate one, was false, and about the same time a justice, Sir William Rickhill (d. 1407), was sent to Calais with instructions dated the 17th of August to obtain a confession from Gloucester. On the 8th of September the duke confessed that he had been guilty of treason, and his death immediately followed this avowal. Unwilling to meet his parliament so soon after his uncle’s death, Richard’s purpose was doubtless to antedate this occurrence, and to foster the impression that the duke had died from natural causes in August. When parliament met in September he was declared guilty of treason and his estates forfeited. Gloucester had one son, Humphrey (c. 1381–1399), who died unmarried, and four daughters, the most notable of whom was Anne (c. 1380–1438), who was successively the wife of Thomas, 3rd earl of Stafford, Edmund, 5th earl of Stafford, and William Bourchier, count of Eu. Gloucester is supposed to have written L’Ordonnance d’Angleterre pour le camp à l’outrance, ou gaige de bataille.
Bibliography.—See T. Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, edited by H. T. Riley (London, 1863–1864); The Monk of Evesham, Historia vitae et regni Ricardi II., edited by T. Hearne (Oxford, 1729); Chronique de la traison et mort de Richard II, edited by B. Williams (London, 1846); J. Froissart, Chroniques, edited by S. Luce and G. Raynaud (Paris, 1869–1897); W. Stubbs, Constitutional History, vol. ii. (Oxford, 1896); J. Tait in Owens College Historical Essays and S. Armitage-Smith, John of Gaunt (London, 1904).