Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk
Born: c. 1330
Died: September 5, 1389
Paris, France (Age c. 59)
Suffolk in History
Though Michael de la Pole's father William had established himself as a successful merchant, making himself quite wealthy in the process, Michael himself sought to make a name for himself through military and diplomatic means and served with Edward the Black Prince and John of Gaunt (both sons of King Edward III) on expeditions to France during the 1350's, 60s and 70s. By the time the young Richard II ascended the throne (1377), de la Pole was approaching fifty and was used in more of a diplomatic nature, his first major duty being to seek out a proper bride for the king (though the marriage did not occur until early 1382). De la Pole swiftly became one of the king's top advisers and was made chancellor of England (1383). One of de la Pole's primary objectives as chancellor, one that was to make him extremely unpopular with both the commons and the nobility (but not with the king), was a lasting peace with France. The war between England and France had been dragging on intermittently since 1337, and the financial strain put on both countries was beginning to become a significant problem, though many citizens of England loathed the French and had no desire to see peace with them (though they did not want to be taxed any further). To make matters worse, the Duke of Burgundy had taken control of Ghent in Flanders, severely hurting the English cause in France. De la Pole argued that the financial benefits from a peace with the French would outshine those of war, and a short truce was concluded by 1385.
For his services, de la Pole was created Earl of Suffolk (showing that he still enjoyed royal favor), though, unfortunately, the truce did little to improve England's financial situation, and the king was forced to summon Parliament to request more taxes. However, many members of the nobility were beginning to grow disillusioned with Richard II's shabby governing of the kingdom and the favor he showed to men such as Suffolk and Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who were proving themselves to be detrimental to the realm. At the so-called Wonderful Parliament (1386), the primary objective was reform of the king's government, and Suffolk, as chancellor, became a primary target. He was brought up on a number of charges that included misappropriation of funds and failing to give aid to the town of Ghent (among many other things), and the earl was impeached as chancellor and forced to relinquish a number of lands and incomes that he had supposedly acquired illegally.
Though Suffolk was supposed to serve a prison term for his offenses, it does not seem as if this ever happened, and after his impeachment, the earl still enjoyed the king's patronage and was in favor of acting harshly against the men who made him and the king look foolish at the Wonderful Parliament. By late 1387, the royal party and the lords appellant (which the group consisting of the Earls of Warwick, Arundel, Nottingham, Derby and the Duke of Gloucester was referred to because of their appeal of treason against the royal favorites) were on the verge of armed combat. Oxford met the appellants at Radcot Bridge where he was soundly defeated and forced to flee the country. Suffolk did the same. At the so-called Merciless Parliament, the appellants convicted many of the king's favorites of treason, seized their assets and, in a number of cases, had them executed. Suffolk (who had now lost his earldom and all his lands) had fled first to Calais and finally to Paris, where he died the year following his disgrace (1389). The de la Pole family would achieve more success throughout the fifteenth century, though only to fall into more tragedy.
Suffolk in Woodstock
The Earl of Suffolk appears in Thomas of Woodstock as "Lapoole" and is the governor of Calais. He is given control of Woodstock after his arrest and is given the task of his murder, which he has committed with seeming reluctance, before having the murderers killed. Lapoole than fights for the king against the rebels where he is taken captive. The character of Lapoole furthers the playwright's conflation of the event of 1387-88 and 1397 which occur throughout the play, and it appears that Lapoole is a composite figure between the historical Earl of Suffolk and Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Notthingham, who was in control of Woodstock at Calais in 1397 and was most likely responsible for his murder. Though Suffolk was a royal favorite at the time of the appellants' rebellion, he was never taken captive. There is no mention of him being Earl of Suffolk within the play.