Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York

Born: June 5, 1341

Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, England

Died: August 1, 1402

Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, England (Age 61)

Edmund in History

There can be no question that the life and political career of Edmund of Langley is nothing exciting. Born the fourth surviving son of King Edward III, Edmund possessed neither the military prowess of his father and eldest brother (the Black Prince) nor the political savvy of his other brothers John and Thomas. Edmund, although a seemingly decent man, was by no means a leader in any way. His first experience in the military field came in 1359 when he accompanied his father on a French expedition. In 1361, he was created a Knight of the Garter and Earl of Cambridge. During the 1360s Edmund participated in several more military expeditions to France and Spain with his father and brothers but does not seem to have been very active otherwise. He married Isabella of Castile (daughter to the deposed King Pedro I) in 1372 under orders from his father in order to further the relations between England and Spain (Edmund's brother John of Gaunt had married Pedro's elder daughter). After the accession of his nephew, Richard II, to the throne, Edmund seems to have remained relatively inactive in politics in comparison to his remaining brothers. In 1381 Edmund led an army into Portugal with no success at all, and it is highly likely that he may have been used by John of Gaunt to achieve his own goals (John was fighting to become King of Castile by right of his wife); a peace was procured soon after. During the following years Edmund held several smaller posts in government, though never any that had any large amounts of responsibility. He was created Duke of York in 1385 and participated somewhat in the Merciless Parliament (for more information on the Merciless Parliament, see the biography for Richard II) in 1388, apparently asking that many of those on trial be treated mercifully. In 1394 he was designated Protector of the realm while King Richard was away on an expedition to Ireland. By giving him a post such as this it can be safely assumed that Richard trusted his Uncle Edmund more so than his Uncle John and, most definitely, his Uncle Thomas (who had been one of the Lords Appellant that opposed the king). The king once again named Edmund protector in 1396 and gave him responsibilities and designated him a justice of the peace in several districts. In 1399, Richard made Edmund protector for a third time (while away on yet another Irish expedition) - this time with fatal consequences.

In order to fund the Irish expedition, Richard had seized the possessions of the recently deceased John of Gaunt, disinheriting Gaunt's eldest son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke (who had been in exile in Paris since the previous year) invaded England with a small force that gradually increased in numbers as he made way, claiming that he only meant to retrieve his fathers titles and estates that were rightfully his. Edmund seems to have at least thought about opposing his nephew at first, but ultimately (and without much persuading) joined forces with Bolingbroke. When Richard returned from Ireland, he was captured and imprisoned by Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke then proceeded to depose him and have himself crowned as King Henry IV. Edmund did not play a large part in the proceedings, although he was present at Henry's coronation ceremony. After this, Edmund's role in politics declined. He informed King Henry of a plot against him in early 1400 but did little else after. Edmund died August 1, 1402 at the age of sixty-one. The duchy of York was inherited by his eldest son Edward (who would ultimately die at Agincourt); the earldom of Cambridge was ultimately given to his younger son Richard (who would be executed for his participation in the Southampton Plot against King Henry V). Out of all the surviving sons of King Edward III, Edmund (with the possible exception of Lionel who died at a young age) is certainly the one who is least remembered. There can be no debating that he was a loyal subject to his father and both of his nephews. Edmund's primary vice was that he appeared not to have a mind of his own. He was constantly led by others and did what he was ordered to do without question in most circumstances. This is most evident by the fact that he supported Bolingbroke over his rightful sovereign with little or no opposition when his back was against the wall. It is surprising that he sprang from the same tree as men such as Edward III and the Black Prince.

Edmund in Woodstock

Edmund of Langley, Duke of York appears in Thomas of Woodstock as one of the royal uncles who are in opposition against King Richard II. Though he participates in the rebellion against the king, which the rebels win, Edmund is portrayed as a more moderate figure than his brothers Lancaster and Woodstock and is trusted by the king. Historically, Edmund did not participate in the rebellion at all and remained completely loyal to his nephew until his deposition by Henry IV.

Edmund in Shakespeare

Appears in: Richard II

Shakespeare portrays Edmund, Duke of York as man who is a bit scatter-brained and has difficulty making decisions. He is appalled at King Richard's decision to seize John of Gaunt's possessions immediately after his death, yet he seems just as appalled when Bolingbroke returns from exile in an attempt to (supposedly) take his rightful inheritance. Edmund grudgingly joins the faction led by Bolingbroke, yet at first, he still seems to favor Richard. After Bolingbroke's coronation, however, York is unswervingly loyal to the new King Henry IV, and when he finds out of his son's participation in a rebellion against Henry, he informs the king of the plot. Despite the pleadings of his wife (who was actually dead by the time of Henry's accession) York presses on for his son to be punished. In the end, the king is persuaded by the Duchess of York's pleadings and pardons her son. Besides the unhistorical presence of the Duchess there is one other historical inaccuracy: the Duchess leads the reader to believe that the Duke of Aumerle (he was actually demoted to simply Earl of Rutland after Henry's ascension) was their only child. In reality, they had a daughter, Constance, in addition to their younger son Richard, future Earl of Cambridge (see Henry V).


Tuck, Anthony. ‘Edmund , first duke of York (1341–1402)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16023, accessed 12 Oct 2009]

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