Sir John Fastolf

Born: 1380

Norfolk, England

Died: November 5, 1459

Caister, Norfolk, England (Age c. 79)

Fastolf in History

Born during the early reign of Richard II, Sir John Fastolf grew up quietly at his family's estates in Norfolk and did not attain any sort of recognition until he served Thomas, Duke of Clarence (second son of Henry IV, who had usurped the throne from Richard in 1399) in Ireland. He continued to serve Clarence, accompanying him on the abortive Aquitaine expedition during the final years of Henry IV's reign and became a loyal servant to the new King Henry V. After the king had renewed the Hundred Years War with France in 1415, Fastolf fought at the Battle of Agincourt and took part in the sieges of Harfleur, Caen and Rouen. Clarence died in 1421 and Henry V followed his brother to the grave the following year. At this point, Fastolf attached himself to their younger brother John, Duke of Bedford, who had been made Regent of France under the new infant King Henry VI. Fastolf fought at the significant English victory at Vernueil in 1424 and was created a Knight of the Garter in 1426.

As the English continued to be successful in France Fastolf was given a number of important positions by Bedford and took part in the expedition into Maine. In 1429, Fastolf's character would be badly damaged. At Patay, he was forced to flee and desert the army led by John Talbot, one of the most significant English commanders during the Hundred Years War. Talbot himself was captured by the French, and Fastolf was looked at by all as a coward for deserting the valiant warrior. Despite the fact that Fastolf was only saving himself and his troops from an impossible situation, he was looked at badly for this incident for at least another ten years. Bedford does not seem to have thought any less of Fastolf, and he continued to be favored under his regency. Unfortunately, Bedford died in 1435 and the situation in France gradually declined until it was completely lost in 1453. When Fastolf returned to England he became engulfed in the many factions at the court of Henry VI and made a very powerful enemy in William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk. After Suffolk's exile and death in 1450, Fastolf was free of his greatest enemy but was nearly convicted of treason because of associations with the Duke of York (who would soon openly claim the throne for himself). Fastolf's life finally ended in 1459 when he was a man of around seventy-nine. He had led a fairly prestigious career but will, unfortunately, be best remembered for his deserting of Talbot at Patay.

Fastolf in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 1

Within 1 Henry VI, Fastolf is looked at as a sort of antithesis to the brave Lord Talbot. As a result of Fastolf's cowardly actions, Talbot is taken captive by the French. Fastolf deserts him once again at Rouen. Talbot vows to have revenge on the cowardly knight and ultimately does when he strips Fastolf of his garter in front of the king and his court. King Henry, after hearing of Fastolf's dishonor of England's hero, exiles the coward upon pain of death. This goes to show that, even during Shakespeare's time, Fastolf was looked at as a coward for his desertion of Talbot, despite the fact that Fastolf's retreat at Patay was a strategic maneuver that likely saved the lives of many men. The figure of Fastolf is also significant because the fictional character Sir John Falstaff (who appears in 1 & 2 Henry IV) is a composite figure partially based on him. Shakespeare had originally named Falstaff Sir John Oldcastle. But, after complaints from Oldcastle's ancestor Lord Cobham, Shakespeare was forced to change the name. The connection between the historical Fastolf and the fictional Falstaff lies not only in the fact that both figures are looked at as cowards (Falstaff's cowardly behavior at Shrewsbury when approached by Douglas in 1 Henry IV is the equivalent of Fastolf's retreat at Patay), but also based on Fastolf's ownership of the Boar's Head Tavern, the primary meeting place of Falstaff and his followers in the Henry IV plays.


Harriss, G. L. ‘Fastolf, Sir John (1380–1459)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 22 Nov 2009]

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