Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Edmund of Woodstock
EDMUND of Woodstock, Earl of Kent (1301–1330), youngest son of Edward I, by his second wife, Margaret of France, was born at Woodstock on 5 Aug. 1301. On 31 Aug. 1306 he received from his father a revenue of seven thousand marks a year. It was commonly believed that the old king proposed to confer the rich earldom of Cornwall either on Edmund or on his elder brother Thomas of Brotherton; but the accession of Edward II secured that prize for the favourite, Gaveston. Edward II, however, placed Edward Baliol in the custody of his half-brother. In 1319 he made Edmund lord of the castle and honour of Knaresborough. In 1320 he granted him lands of the value of two thousand marks a year. Next year he still further increased his brother's resources. Edmund's first political act was to join in August 1318 in acting as one of the king's sureties in the treaty of peace between him and Lancaster. In March 1320 he was sent with Bartholomew, lord Badlesmere, on an embassy to Paris and Avignon. Badlesmere's object with the pope was to procure the advancement of his young nephew, Henry Burghersh [q. v.], to the see of Lincoln, and he found in his youthful colleague a pliant instrument for his purpose. In June Edward himself joined his brother at Paris, and their joint intercession resulted in Burghersh's appointment. In October Edmund was first summoned to parliament as Edmund of Woodstock. On 16 June 1321 he was made constable of Dover Castle and warden of the Cinque ports, and on 15 Sept. he also became constable of Tunbridge Castle. In the same year he was created Earl of Kent, the king himself girding him with the sword of the county (this was on 28 June, Doyle, Official Baronage, ii. 274; the Annales Paulini, p. 292, gives the date as 26 July). Henceforth Edmund took a conspicuous, if never a very leading, part in politics. He was present at the July parliament in which the Despensers were banished, but he strongly supported his brother a few months later in intriguing for their restoration. In October 1321 he was one of the six earls who obeyed the king's summons to besiege Badlesmere in Leeds Castle in Kent. He approved of the clerical declaration that the sentence of the Despensers was illegal. Early in 1322 he joined the king in his war against the barons. During this struggle his town and castle of Gloucester were occupied by the rebels, but they were soon won back, for it was there that on 11 Feb. Edward issued his order for the recall of the favourites. Kent joined in recommending the denunciation of Lancaster as a rebel, and on 11 March was appointed with Earl Warenne to arrest his adherents and besiege his stronghold of Pontefract. He was present at that place when, on 22 March, after Boroughbridge, Lancaster was condemned and executed in his own castle. He was also present at the York parliament in May. In July he was made sheriff of Rutland, having also received a grant of the town of Oakham. In 1323 he was a good deal occupied in the Scottish war. On 9 Feb. he was appointed lieutenant of the king in the northern marches, where on 12 Feb. he superseded the traitor Andrew Harclay, one of whose judges he was made on 27 Feb. In March he was appointed chief commissioner of array in Cumberland, Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Craven, and lieutenant of the king in the parts north of the Trent. But on a truce being patched up he was excused from further attendance. In 1323 Edmund also took part in the recapture of Maurice of Berkeley and the other escaped prisoners who had seized upon their place of confinement, Wallingford Castle. His violence of character was shown by his disrespect of the sanctuary of the castle chapel in which the fugitives had taken refuge.
On 9 April 1324 Edmund was sent with Alexander Bicknor [q. v.], archbishop of Dublin, on an embassy to France to persuade the new king, Charles IV, to dispense with the personal homage of Edward II for Guienne. But the outbreak of some disputes in that duchy through the aggressions of the lord of Montpezat and his summons along with his supporter, Ralph Basset, Edward's seneschal, to answer in the French courts, proved a further complication. The magnificent entertainment and persuasions of Charles induced the weak earl to acquiesce in the trial of Montpezat and Basset by the French king's judges; but the archbishop was a more strenuous diplomatist, and on referring the dispute to Edward, the king confirmed Bicknor's views. The homage question was still unsettled, when Edmund was despatched to Gascony, having received on 20 July the appointment of lieutenant of Aquitaine. With very inadequate forces, he was obliged to meet an invasion of the duchy by Charles of Valois. The French conquered the whole of the Agenois, and Edmund had to seek shelter behind the walls of La Réole. At last a truce was patched up, to endure until a permanent peace could be negotiated, on terms that left the French possessors of the greater part of Aquitaine ('Cont. Guil. de Nangis in D'Achéry, Spicilegium, iii. 82, 83). But other events had now thrown the Guienne question into the shade. Queen Isabella had formed at Paris that alliance with Mortimer which resulted in Edward's deposition. Kent, though permitted by the terms of the truce to return to England, seems at once to have joined the conspiracy against his brother.
On 24 Sept. 1326 Kent and his wife landed at Harwich in the train of Isabella, Mortimer, and the young Duke of Aquitaine. Like Isabella and her son he was specially exempted from the fate meted out to the less distinguished rebels by royal proclamation. He was present at Bristol when, on 26 Oct., the younger Edward was made guardian of the realm, and next day was one of the assessors of Sir W. Trussel for the trial of the elder Despenser. On 24 Nov. he played a similar part at the condemnation of the younger Despenser at Hereford. On 29 Jan. 1327 he was present at Edward III's coronation at Westminster. He was one of the standing council appointed, with Lancaster at its head, to govern for the young king. In June he was appointed joint captain of the troops in the Scottish marches, and took part in the inglorious campaign of that summer. He also received fresh grants of lands, including part of the forfeitures of the elder Despenser.
The ascendency of the queen and Mortimer reduced the standing council to impotence, and Kent soon joined Lancaster in his proceedings against Isabella and her paramour. He was among the magnates who refused to attend the Salisbury parliament in October 1328. On 19 Dec. he and his brother summoned to London a meeting of the magnates of their party, and on 2 Jan. 1328–9 entered into a confederation against the king which was rudely broken up by the capture of Lancaster's town of Leicester and the desertion by Kent and Norfolk of his cause.
Kent's weak compliance did not save him from ruin. Mortimer and the queen hatched a deliberate plot to lure him to destruction. Their spies and agents plied him with proofs that Edward II was not dead but imprisoned abroad or in Corfe Castle. They urged him to take effectual measures to restore his brother to liberty. A preaching friar visited his house at Kensington and assured him that he had conjured up a devil who had revealed to him that Edward was still alive. He was also told that the pope was anxious that he should rescue the deposed king. Plans for an insurrection were laid before him. The credulous and discontented Edmund rose to the bait. In hasty speeches and imprudent letters he gave free vent to his thoughts and plans. His political associates, Archbishop Melton of York, Bishop Gravesend of London, and others became equally compromised. He found confederates even in Wales, where he held the lordship of Melynydd. He was now sufficiently involved. At the parliament which met at Winchester in the first week of Lent he was charged with treason. On 13 March 1329–30 he was arrested. At an inquest held by Robert Howel, coroner of the royal household, he had to acknowledge his own speeches and his own letters. These confessions were repeated before parliament. In vain Kent made an abject offer of submission to the king's will, naked in his shirt and with a rope round his neck. But the vengeance of the queen and her paramour was not thus easily satisfied. The episcopal offenders were prudently released under sureties, the lesser offenders received punishment; but the great culprit was adjudged death, though the want of the consent of the commons was regarded as invalidating his condemnation. On 19 March he was led forth to execution to a spot outside the walls of Winchester. But no one could be found bold enough to behead so great a noble, so doubtfully tried and sentenced. From morning to evening Kent remained awaiting his fate. At last a condemned criminal from the Marshalsea was found willing to win his life by cutting off the earl's head.
The profound impression created by Edmund's fate was only modified by his exceeding unpopularity. The members of his riotous and ill-regulated household had plundered the people wherever they went, seizing their goods at their own pleasure, and paying little or nothing for them, and involving their master in the odium they themselves had excited. The vague praise which the courtly Froissart bestows on Edmund is justified neither by contemporary testimony nor by the acts of his life. He is described as magnificent and as possessing great physical strength. He may have had some of the virtues of chivalry and have been a fair soldier, but he was weak, credulous, and impulsive, selfish, fickle, and foolish. He was always a tool in some stronger hands than his own. His tragic fate precipitated the fall of the wicked government that had lured him to his ruin. In vain did the queen and Mortimer endeavour to set themselves right by explanations and justifications of their conduct, addressed to the pope and to the English people. Before the year was out Henry of Lancaster was urged, by the fall of his fickle ally, to drive Mortimer from power. Before his own execution Mortimer acknowledged that Kent's sentence was unjust.
Edmund married about Christmas 1325 (Ann. Paul. i. 310) Margaret (1309–1349), sister and heiress of Thomas, lord Wake of Liddell, and widow of John Comyn of Badenoch. He had by her four children, two sons and two daughters (but cf. Chron. de Melsa, i. 100, which, however, must be wrong). The eldest, Edmund, was born about 1327, and in 1330 was, on the petition of his mother and the reversal of his father's condemnation, recognised as Earl of Kent. On his death in 1333 his brother John (born 7 April 1330) succeeded to the title, but on his death on 27 Dec. 1352 without issue, the estates fell to Joanna, his sister, who brought them first to Thomas, lord Holland, and, after his death, to her more famous husband, Edward the Black Prince [q. v.] The other and elder sister, Margaret, married the eldest son of the Lord D'Albret in Gascony, but died without issue.
[Stubbs's Chronicles of Edward I and Edward II (Rolls Series), i. 291, 307, 310, 314, 317, 319, 332, 344, 349, ii. 85, 100, 168, 251, 275, 291; Adam Murimuth (Engl. Hist. Soc.), 42, 43, and, especially 61–3, ‘quædam recognitio comitis Cantiæ’ in French, the same is given in Latin in Camden, Anglica, &c. Scripta, pp. 129–30; Blaneforde in Trokelowe (Rolls Ser.), 139, 143, 145, 149; Trivet (Engl. Hist. Soc.), 378; Walsingham (Rolls Ser.), i. 171, 174–5; Chron. de Melsa (Rolls Ser.), i. 100, ii. 359; Knyghton, c. 2555; Ann. Lanercost (Bannatyne Club), 265; R. de Avesbury's Hist. Edw. III, ed. Hearne, p. 8; W. de Hemingburgh (Engl. Hist. Soc.), ii. 301; Annales Monastici, iii. 472, iv. 340, 348, 550; Capgrave's Chron. 193; Continuator of Guillaume de Nangis in D'Achéry's Spicilegium, iii. 82, 83, 93; Froissart's Chron. No. 1, pt. i. ch. l.; Fœdera (Record edition), ii. 456, 463, 470, 472, 477, 478, 496, 538, 624, 646, 684, 702, 782, 783, 796; Rot. Parl. ii. 3, 33 a, 52, 53 b; Cal. Rot. Pat. 4 Edw. II, m. 14, 2 Edw. III, m. 5; Parl. Writs, II. ii. 219, II. 539, II. iii. 796–7; Abbrev. Rot. Orig. i. 250 b, 256 b, 259 b, 269 a, 304; Leland's Collectanea, i. 686, 782, 794; Barnes's Edward III, pp. 38–42; Pauli's Englische Geschichte, iv.; Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 92–5; Doyle's Baronage, ii. 274–5.]