The Soldier in Later Medieval England

Sir Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester (1343-1403)


Sir Thomas was the younger brother of Henry Percy, first earl of Northumberland (created earl 1377, d. 1408) and the uncle of Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur). Percy was regularly involved in military activities; when he fought of Shrewsbury in 1403, he  probably had as much experience as anybody else at the battle. [1] Indeed, as a younger son, he held very little land save for three manors granted to him by his father in the 1360s; this might have encouraged him to seek out a military career.


He was a deponent at the Scrope v. Grosvenor case in the Court of Chivalry in 1386, at which time he was around 43 years old, having been born in 1343. His deposition does not do him justice and he only specifically mentions his service on the recent Scottish expedition of 1385. [2]   His service probably began in Gascony in the 1360s. He was certainly there in 1367 and may have taken part in the Black Prince’s victory at Najera in that year. From 1369 he was with the Black Prince in Bordeaux, and in the summer of that year, holding the office of seneschal of La Rochelle, he served under Sir John Chandos in Sir Robert Knolles’ campaign into the Dordogne and Quercy. When Chandos was killed at Mortemer on 31 December 1369, Percy succeeded him as seneschal of Poitou. He served on campaigns in southern France in 1370 and 1371, being present with the Black Prince at the sack of Limoges in September 1370. The Prince granted him an annuity of £100 per annum and confiscated land in Aquitaine. Percy seems to have served continuously in France until he was captured on 23 August 1372 at Soubise by ‘Houwel Flinc’, a Welshman serving under Owen of Wales. He was handed over to the French king and was finally ransomed in 1374.


His service then shifted to the frontier with Scotland. From 1377 to 1380 he was responsible for the defence of the outlying fortress of Roxburgh, although he probably served most of the time at sea. He was also appointed admiral towards the north from 5 November 1378 until 8 April 1380. [3] He was at sea with the earl of Buckingham in 1377-8 and with the duke of Lancaster in 1378. In his position as admiral he accompanied the ill-fated expedition of Sir John Arundel in 1379, but in the storm that took the life of Sir John, Percy did not lose any men or horses. Percy led a retinue in the expedition of the earl of Buckingham in 1380. With Sir Hugh Calveley he was joint captain of Brest from 20 May 1379 to 24 June 1381, when he took on sole captaincy until 18 February 1386, although he was rarely resident there.


He was again made admiral of the north from 29 January 1385 until 22 February 1386. [4]   Indeed, a muster roll probably relating to this service records that he led a force of at least 350 men with a personal retinue totalling 152 soldiers. [5]   As mentioned in his testimony at the Scrope v. Grosvenor case, he served in Scotland in 1385, leading a retinue of 119 soldiers. [6] He immediately followed this service with John of Gaunt in Spain in 1386 for which he indented to serve with 80 men-at-arms and 160 archers. It was at this point that he became a retainer of Gaunt. [7]   He was admiral of Gaunt’s fleet, sailing from Plymouth on 7 July and he accompanied his campaign in Galicia. He was also involved with negotiations with the Portuguese, accompanying Gaunt’s daughter Philippa to Portugal for her marriage to King Joao. He returned to England late in 1387. He was back reinforcing Gaunt in Gascony with 150 soldiers in June 1388, and also finalised the treaty discussed in the previous year. [8]   Percy also served with Richard II in Ireland in 1394 and 1399. [9]


As we can see from this impressive list of expeditions, Percy was heavily involved in military activity and diplomatic activities. He also managed to gain influence in the royal party of the king during peacetime. He was appointed vice-chamberlain of the king in 1390 and in the same year was made chief justice of South Wales. He was an ambassador to France in 1392 and was subsequently appointed steward of the royal household in 1393. [10] He was therefore a loyal and close supporter of the king and rose quickly in his service. He was well rewarded for this service; Richard granted him various castles and lordships in Wales, and a total of £300 of annuities; [11] and following Richard’s prosecution of the Appellants in September 1397, he was created earl of Worcester. He seems to have supported Richard following his return from Ireland, and following Richard’s decision to make a dash for North Wales, Walsingham describes how Percy disbanded the royal household and then,


            ‘breaking his rod of office, he wept bitterly, for he had never wished to perform such an unwelcome task’. [12]


Percy did not suffer despite his former position in the household of Richard II and he was not degraded from his peerage following the deposition. In fact, perhaps suggestive of his specialist naval expertise, he was re-appointed admiral towards the north and west until 20 April 1401, a position he had held since 16 January 1399. [13] Henry IV also made him steward of the household and a knight of the chamber. [14] He received a number of further appointments under Henry IV. Following the death in October 1401 of Sir Hugh le Despencer, he was chosen as tutor to Henry of Monmouth, prince of Wales. In the following March he was named as the king’s lieutenant in Wales. His closeness to the king is also revealed by the fact that he was entrusted with bringing the king’s bride, Joan of Navarre, to England in January 1403.


On 1 April 1403 Prince Henry replaced Percy as lieutenant of Wales, but Percy remained in his service. A three-thousand-strong army was ordered under the prince to take the war to the Welsh in north Wales. [15] Thomas Percy served in person In this army along with one knight, 38 men-at-arms and 200 archers from 18 April to 15 May, and again from 13 June to 17 July. [16] In this second period we also find Sir Hugh Browe serving with 19 men-at-arms and 100 archers. [17] Four days after their service to the prince ended, they were to face him in battle at Shrewsbury. Given the timing, it is highly likely that both Percy and Browe had with them at the battle many if not all of the troops with whom they had served the prince. [18]


Worcester’s fatal act was to join with his brother, the earl of Northumberland, and his nephew Sir Henry Percy in open rebellion. It is not wholly certain where he joined them. According to annals produced at St Albans, it was at the point when Henry Percy was collecting an army in Shropshire (having already moved south with troops from Cheshire). [19] It is therefore possible that Thomas had been at Shrewsbury with the prince until a few days before the battle. Other traditions suggest that he met his brother and nephew with his troops at Lichfield, from where a formal defiance was sent to Henry IV. [20] Sir Henry Percy was killed in the battle of Shrewsbury, where Sir Thomas was captured. He was executed in the city of Shrewsbury two days later on 23 July 1403. His head was sent to London, and was displayed on the bridge until 18 December. [21] It would seem surprising that Percy decided to rebel in 1403 and it would appear that Henry IV was also surprised by his treachery. As the fifteenth century continued, chronicles increasingly ascribed the blame for the rebellion to Thomas Percy. One version of the Brut, for instance, claims that Henry Percy and the king could have made peace had it not been for the false treason of Thomas. [22]


Percy was a most experienced commander and Henry was able to use his abilities against the revolt in Wales. However, it would seem that although Percy did not risk his life in support of Richard II at the time of his deposition, he was willing to put his life on the line for his brother and nephew. Nevertheless, is very noticeable that his military career was largely spent on the continent. He spent comparatively little time in the northern marches, where his brother’s lands and interests were centred, and unlike his brother and nephew, his numerous military commands never included a stint as warden of the march. Although shown great favour by Henry IV, it may be that he resented the deposition of Richard, who had, after all, given him his title. And so it may not have been the ties of family which drew Thomas into rebellion, so much as a shared grudge against the usurper Henry.



Adrian R Bell, Anne Curry, Andy King, David Simpkin

[1] For his biography see The Complete Peerage, xii/2, pp. 838-842; A. L. Brown, ‘Percy, Thomas, earl of Worcester (c.1343–1403)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 22 June 2008]. See also Richard Lomas, The Fall of the House of Percy, 1368-1408 (Edinburgh, 2007). We are helped in our construction of the military career by the AHRC-funded ‘The Soldier in Later Medieval England Online Database’,, accessed 22 June 2008.

[2] The Scrope and Grosvenor Controversy, ed. Harris Nicolas, N. 2 vols (London, 1832), i. p. 50, ii. p. 167. Harris Nicholas states that he was about 45 years of age when he made his deposition.

[3] Handbook of British Chronology, ed. E. B. Fryde, D.E. Greenway, S. Porter, and I. Roy (London, 3rd Edn. 1986), p. 139.

[4] Ibid., p. 130.

[5] See TNA E101/40/39 for muster roll for the force of Sir Thomas de Percy taken at Harwich. His retinue of 152 soldiers included 16 knights, 49 esquires and 86 archers. The muster roll is incomplete due to damage by fire with only the first 346 men detailed in 8 retinues surviving.

[6] Lewis, N. B. ‘The Last Medieval Summons of the English Feudal Levy, 13 June 1385’, The English Historical Review, vol. 73 (Jan. 1958), pp. 1-26, p. 20, retinue consisted of 119 soldiers, including 13 knights, 66 esquires and 40 archers. The ONDB entry states he led a retinue of 60 men-at-arms and 60 archers.

[7] Simon Walker, The Lancastrian Affinity, 1361-1399 (Oxford, 1990), p. 277.

[8] ‘Percy, Thomas, earl of Worcester’, ONDB. J.J.N. Palmer, England, France and Christendom, 1377 – 99  (London, 1972), p. 126, has the reinforcements of 1388 as part of an overall strategy by Arundel and Gloucester to attack France in conjunction with Arundel’s naval campaign of the same year.  See also, Walker, Lancastrian Affinity, p. 49.

[9] Sir Thomas Percy, 1394: TNA E101/402/20 folio 33, retinue of 83 soldiers, including himself, two knights, 19 esquires, 46 mounted archers and 15 foot archers; 1399: CPR 1396-1399, p. 531, April 26th Westminster (Attorney) as Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester.

[10] Sir Thomas Percy, king’s knight, Richard II: C. Given-Wilson, The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity: service, politics and finance, 1360 - 1413 (New Haven and London, 1986), p. 283, Thomas Percy (under-chamberlain 1390-93; steward 1393-99), knight of the chamber and lay officer of the household, of Yorks/diverse, retained in 1390 (1398).

[11] These were all confirmed by Henry IV in November 1399. CPR 1399-1401, p. 110.

[12] Walsingham, cited in Chronicles of the Revolution, 1397-1400, ed. Given-Wilson, C. (Manchester, 1993), p. 122.

[13] Handbook of British Chronology, p. 140.

[14] Sir Thomas Percy, king’s knight, Henry IV: Given-Wilson, The Royal Household, p. 287, Thomas Percy (steward 1401-2), knight of the chamber and lay officer of the household, of Yorks/diverse, retained in 1401.

[15] C.T. Allmand, Henry V (London, 1992), p. 24.

[16] TNA E101/404/24 (account book of John Spenser, controller of the household of Henry, prince of Wales), folio 4.

[17] Ibid, folio 5.

[18] For Browe and his service at Shrewsbury, see the Soldier of the Month for June 2008:, accessed 22 June 2008.

[19] Chronica Monasterii S. Albani. Johannis de Trokelowe et Henricic de Blaneforde, monachorum S. Albani necnon quorundam anonymorum chronica et annales, ed. H. T. Riley (Rolls Series, London, 1866), p. 363.

[20] J. Wylie, History of England in the Reign of Henry the Fourth, 4 vols (London, 1884-98), ii, pp. 357-8.

[21] ‘Percy, Thomas, earl of Worcester’, ONDB.

[22] See The Brut, ed. F. Brie (Early English Text Society, London, 1906), pp. 363, 548, 593.