Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge

Born: 1385

Conisburgh, Yorkshire, England

Died: August 5, 1415

Southampton, Hampshire, England (Age c. 30)

Cambridge in History

Richard of Conisburgh was the second son of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and fourth surviving son of King Edward III. The life of this doomed figure did not begin well when rumors were spread that he was the result of an affair between his mother Isabel and the Earl of Huntingdon. These rumors cannot have been very far-fetched considering the fact that it was well known that Isabel found her husband extremely boring and insignificant. Richard's birth came twelve years after the birth of the couple's first son Edward (who would eventually inherit the Dukedom of York), and this provides further evidence that their marriage was not on the best of terms. In 1395, Richard's godfather (and cousin), King Richard II, awarded him with an annuity of 500 marks. Unfortunately, the king was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke in 1399 (and soon after died), and Richard was practically ignored by his other cousin, the new King Henry IV. Throughout the reign of Henry IV, Richard was given little to no political or militaristic responsibilities (though he was knighted in 1406), and when his father died in 1402, he was not even mentioned in his will (an indicator that the two were estranged).

In 1408, Richard married into the wealthy Mortimer family when he wed Anne, an elder sister of Edmund, Earl of March (a boy who, some might say, had a better claim to the throne than Henry because of his descent from Lionel, second surviving son of Edward III, though this was through the female line). Anne died while giving birth to their son, also named Richard, in 1411. In 1413, Henry IV died and was succeeded by his son Henry V. The new king, following a policy of reconciliation with those who were out of favor during his father's reign, seems to have believed that Richard could not simply be ignored as the grandson of two kings (Richard's mother was daughter to Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile and Leon) and created him Earl of Cambridge in 1414, a lesser title that was previously held by his (Richard's) father. Unfortunately, the earldom was a poor one, and Richard received next to no income from it, yet was expected to perform the feudal duties associated with the title of earl; this seems to be the most likely reason for Richard's disillusionment with the king.

The year following his promotion to earl, Richard took part in a plot (with Sir Thomas Grey and Henry, Lord Scrope) to murder the king and his brothers at Southampton and place Richard's former brother-in-law, the Earl of March, on the throne. It is plausible that the English rebels had French backing in their secret rising and were possibly in contact with the Welsh rebel Owen Glendower and the Lollard heretic John Oldcastle as well. In the beginning, March seems to have been for the plan to take back the inheritance that had been stripped from him by the previous king. It is unclear what made March betray the conspirators (though he most likely knew that he did not possess the necessary gravitas to be a king), but it was he who revealed the entire plot to the king, saving his own life in the process. Richard, Grey and Scrope were immediately arrested and charged with treason. They were all summarily executed for their crimes, despite their pleas for mercy. Only a few short months later, Richard's elder brother Edmund (who by this point was the Duke of York) died at the Battle of Agincourt. Since the duke was childless, Richard would have inherited the Dukedom of York and all the vast incomes that went with, solving his financial difficulties. This fact makes Richard's planned rebellion look even more foolish. The inheritance Richard would have received ultimately went to his son, who was only just approaching his forth birthday at the time of his father's execution. Richard of Conisburgh led a fairly wretched existence. As the possible product of an illicit affair, he was treated poorly by his "father" and elder brother, and he finally became so desperate he rebelled against his king and paid the ultimate price - all this coming soon before all his problems would have been solved. Despite this earl's seemingly predestined downfall, his offspring would achieve much more, as two of his grandsons (Edward IV and Richard III) would go on to sit on England's throne.

Cambridge in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry V

The Earl of Cambridge only appears in one scene of Henry V where he is seen with his fellow conspirators Sir Thomas Grey and Lord Scrope. We as readers are already informed (in the chorus) that the men have been bribed by the French to murder King Henry at Southampton before he leaves for France, and it is revealed that the king and all his party know of the plot as well (although it is not revealed exactly how they found out). In this scene, the king tricks the men into believing they are being awarded important positions and gives them each a document to read. They soon realize that the documents reveal that the king knows about their plot to murder him, and the men immediately beg for mercy. However, when the king earlier asks their advice on how he should handle a man who misbehaved at court (to test them), they were all for punishing him. For this reason, the king orders the three conspirators to be executed. Within the play, there is no mention that Cambridge is the brother of the Duke of York, who appears briefly later in the play and is killed at Agincourt.


Harriss, G. L. ‘Richard , earl of Cambridge (1385–1415)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 12 Nov 2009]

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