Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk

Born: March 22, 1366

Died: September 22, 1399

Venice, Italy (Age 33)

Mowbray in History

Although Thomas Mowbray had a fairly celebrated political career, most will remember him for his argument with the future Henry IV and his exile that followed. The second son of John Mowbray, Thomas was given the title of Earl of Nottingham after the death of his elder brother in 1383 and was made a Knight of the Garter that same year. Mowbray, at this time, was considered to be one of King Richard II's personal favorites and was, therefore, showered with gifts and titles. By 1384, however, Mowbray had married the daughter of the Earl of Arundel, an opponent of the king's. In addition, Mowbray was growing disillusioned with the fact that Richard only listened to a select group of favorites (Robert de Vere was a primary figure) while his own influence gradually shrank away from the king. For this reason, Mowbray came under the influence of the Lords Appelant in 1388. The lords consisted of Mowbray's father-in-law Arundel, the Earl of Warwick and Thomas of Woodstock, one of the king's uncles. Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) was also a member. The Lords ultimately defeated the royal army (led by De Vere) at Radcot Bridge and took control of the king. All of Richard's favorites were either executed or exiled at the Merciless Parliament, including his former tutor, Sir Simon Burley. Both Mowbray and Bolingbroke opposed Burley's execution but the senior lords made sure it happened. In the end, the king was humiliated and was kept as a mere figurehead while the lords controlled the government of the realm. After his separation with the Lords Appelant, Mowbray gradually regained favor with the king and was given several important offices over the following years, including the captaincy of Calais. 1397, though, would be a deciding year in Mowbray's fate.

It was in that year that King Richard decided to take his revenge on the Lords Appelant. He had Warwick, Arundel and his Uncle Thomas (who was now Duke of Gloucester) arrested and charged with treason. Warwick was exiled; Arundel executed; but Gloucester's death was much more complicated and mysterious. Gloucester was given over to Mowbray's care in Calais. When he was being called to his trial, Mowbray informed the king that he was already dead. No one knows the exact details of Gloucester's death but it is most likely that the king ordered Mowbray or another servant to carry out the crime. After the destruction of the lords Mowbray was rewarded with the title of Duke of Norfolk. Henry Bolingbroke (the other Lord Appelant who was not tried) was given the Duchy of Hereford. Shortly after these events, certain chroniclers tell of a meeting between Mowbray and Bolingbroke in which they discussed that they were the next to be tried for treason by the king. Bolingbroke informed his father, John of Gaunt, who, in turn, informed Richard. The two men were brought before the king and Bolingbroke then accused Mowbray of misgovernment in Calais and for murdering Gloucester. In addition, it is rumored that Mowbray had also attempted to murder John of Gaunt. Although the king supposedly attempted to cool the situation, the two former allies were set to fight to the death. Just before the duel, however, Richard decided it would be better to exile the two men: Bolingbroke for six years and Mowbray for life. Mowbray accepted his sentence and departed England on October 19, 1398. He seems to have settled down in Venice, Italy and to have taken a trip to the Holy Land, where he contracted the plague. Mowbray died of the disease upon his return to Venice on September 22, 1399 at the age of thirty-three. He would not get to see the revenge that Bolingbroke would take on King Richard. Thomas Mowbray is a prime example a victim of a monarch's fickleness. He rose quickly, fell quickly, rose again and, finally, fell and sunk. The story of Mowbray is indeed a sad one that would continue, unfortunately, with the actions of his son during the reign of Henry IV.

Mowbray in Shakespeare

Appears in: Richard II

Mowbray only appears within the first act of Richard II where his conflict with Bolingbroke is displayed. He is portrayed as a man who is a loyal subject and will only do evil deeds when he is directly ordered to by his king. When Richard announces that he shall be exiled from the kingdom for life, he is saddened, but accepts responsibility for his past actions and willingly departs. Later in the play, the Bishop of Carlisle briefly announces that Mowbray has died in exile.

References

Given-Wilson, C. ‘Mowbray, Thomas (I), first duke of Norfolk (1366–1399)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/19459, accessed 13 Oct 2009]

Norwich, John Julius. Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977.
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