Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York
Norwich, Norfolk, England
Died: October 25, 1415
Agincourt, France (Age 42)
Aumerle in History
Edward of Norwich was the eldest son of Edmund of Langley, the fourth surviving son of King Edward III, and his wife, Isabella of Castile. He was knighted at the age of four at the coronation of his cousin King Richard II and grew to manhood during his cousin's reign. Over time, Edward became a personal favorite to the king. In 1390, he was created Earl of Rutland and made a member of the royal council in 1392. He continued to flourish throughout the rest of Richard's reign, holding several important offices and being created Duke of Aumerle in 1397. That same year, however, it is rumored that Aumerle played a role in the death of his (and the king's) Uncle Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, a member of the Lords Appellant who humiliated the king nine years earlier and who Richard had just now decided to destroy. There can be, of course, no way of proving Aumerle's involvement in Gloucester's murder, but it cannot be ruled out. The fact that Aumerle was made constable of England in his uncle's place leaves room for speculation. In 1399, another cousin of both Aumerle and King Richard, Henry Bolingbroke, returned from exile to reclaim his rightful inheritance (from his recently deceased father John of Gaunt) that Richard had used to fund his Irish expedition. When Bolingbroke landed in England it appears that Aumerle had to make a difficult decision: He was a loyal subject to King Richard and owed much of his wealth and prosperity to him, yet Bolingbroke seemed to have a stronger following and a more noble cause. It is not known exactly how Aumerle resolved this inner conflict, but in the end, he, like his father, joined forces with Bolingbroke who, at this point, was widely believed to be more interested in becoming king than merely Duke of Lancaster. Many of King Richard's former favorites were executed or forced to flee the country. Aumerle himself was treated more leniently by the new King Henry IV. He was stripped of his title of Duke of Aumerle and several other offices that he received during or after 1397 but was not punished for his possible involvement in Gloucester's death. When a group of lords planned to murder King Henry in early 1400 it is said that it was Edward who warned the king of the conspiracy (although some chroniclers claim he was involved to an extent). The rebellion was put down, Richard was killed and the reign of Henry IV began.
Although he had been stripped of his dukedom, Edward continued to be a faithful servant to the crown during the reign of Henry IV and was given a number of important responsibilities, including keeper of North Wales (a region that was extremely unstable at the time), and he succeeded to the title of Duke of York upon the death of his father in 1402. In 1405, he was accused of conspiring against the king (possible in the rebellion led by the Earl of Northumberland) and was imprisoned for several months; he was ultimately cleared of all charges and returned to royal favor. Edward continued to support Henry IV even during the king's heated disputes with the Prince of Wales (the future Henry V) in the latter part of his reign. York continued to enjoy favor after the accession of Henry V. In August of 1415, York's younger brother, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, was executed for his participation in the Southampton Plot (a conspiracy that involved the murder of the king and his brothers). Later that month York fought at the famous Battle of Agincourt and became one of the few noble casualties in the English army. He was roughly forty-two years old. There are several accounts of York's death in the battle: Some chroniclers claim he died while fighting, while others will say that he died of exhaustion or a heart attack brought on by the fact that he was grossly overweight. His title of Duke of York was ultimately awarded to his nephew Richard (son of his late brother Cambridge). The impressions one gets of York are certainly numerous. One may believe that he is a traitor who betrayed a monarch that had treated him so honorably in favor of a usurper. It is more likely though, that he was, like his father, a mere follower, incapable of making his own decisions and simply doing what he was ordered.
Aumerle in Shakespeare
Appears in: Richard II; Henry V
In Richard II, Aumerle is portrayed as a man who is unswervingly loyal to King Richard and is actually one of the main conspirators against the newly crown King Henry IV. When his father, the Duke of York, discovers his part in the plot, he immediately informs the king. Aumerle, however, reaches the king first and begs for mercy, which he is ultimately given due to the pleadings of his mother. King Henry pardons his cousin but severely punishes all the other conspirators. Aumerle does not appear in either of the Henry IV plays but makes a very brief appearance in Henry V under his new title of Duke of York. He requests that he be given charge of the vanguard, which the king grants. In the end, he is one of only a few noble English casualties at the Battle of Agincourt, and he is described as fighting with great courage before he was cut down. This is almost certainly an exaggeration on the part of Shakespeare, as it has become widely accepted that York died at Agincourt, via a heart attack or being suffocated in his armor, as a result of his near-morbid obesity.
Horrox, Rosemary. ‘Edward , second duke of York (c.1373–1415)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22356, accessed 13 Oct 2009]