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Thomas of Lancaster

Thomas of Lancaster (c.1278–1322) was one of the most powerful magnates during the reign of Edward II and a thorn in the side of the king. He was the son of Edmund Crouchback, a younger son of Henry III and was therefore first cousin to Edward II. Succeeding to the earldom of Lancaster in 1296, he served against the Scots during Edward I's reign. But as soon as his cousin succeeded, Thomas moved into opposition. He took an active part against the royal favourite Gaveston, was one of the Ordainers appointed to supervise the young king, and brought about Gaveston's execution in 1312. He refused to serve in the Bannockburn campaign of 1314 and profited from the king's humiliation to increase his own influence. In 1316 he was appointed chief counsellor and in 1318 he and Edward were briefly reconciled at the treaty of Leake, taking part in the unsuccessful campaign against the Scots in 1319. But by 1321 he was once more at odds with the king over the Despensers, whom he forced into exile. In 1322 he was captured at Boroughbridge and executed at Pontefract in the king's presence. Though the experiment with conciliar government recalls de Montfort's career under Henry III, Thomas's activities seem to have been purely factious. Surprisingly a cult grew up at Pontefract and miracles were said to have been performed. The earldom passed to his younger brother, whose great-grandson took the throne as Henry IV.

J. A. Cannon

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