Roger Bigod, 2nd Earl of Norfolk

Born: c.1143

Died: August 2, 1221 (Age c. 78)

Norfolk in History

The early political career of Roger Bigod was not a pleasant one. Roger's father, Hugh, Earl of Norfolk, had risen in rebellion against King Henry II in 1173-74, causing the king to view him with scorn for the rest of his life. Once Hugh died in 1176-77, Henry II refused to allow Roger to succeed to the earldom. To make matters worse, Roger had to deal with the claims of his younger half-brother, another Hugh, who was fighting for a part of the late earl's lands. Throughout the remainder of Henry II's reign, Roger remained a political non-entity and did not return to royal favor until the accession of Henry's son, Richard I, in 1189. At this point, Roger became a leading figure in England's government. He was restored to his father's earldom, served the new king on military expeditions to France and was present when Richard was released from captivity from the Duke of Austria (who had him imprisoned for nearly two years while Richard was returning from crusade). Norfolk's favor carried into the reign of Richard's younger brother John, who succeeded him in 1199, and the earl continued to display his military prowess in France, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. However, when the magnates rebelled against John in 1215, Norfolk and his son, also named Roger, were two of the leaders.

It is highly likely that Norfolk decided to rebel because of the financial difficulties he was suffering from, which most likely would have been remedied if John were put in check. The king was forced to sign the Magna Carta, limiting his power, but the magnates continued the rebellion, also inviting Louis of France to join. Evidence is given that the Bigods were leading members of the rebellion by the fact that John seems to have been particularly brutal in his punishment of Norfolk. Not only were both father and son excommunicated from the church, but the king also seized a number of the earl's lands and bought off his followers. This harsh treatment most likely contributed to Norfolk's extended participation (whereas many of the other lords made peace upon John's death in October 1216) in the rebellion. Norfolk and his son did not make peace until September 1217, a year into the reign of John's successor, Henry III. The following year, Norfolk was given a complete pardon, restored to his lands and lived quietly in retirement for the remainder of his life. He died in 1221 as a man well into his seventies. Luckily, Norfolk, his father and his son were all able to live out their lives (escaping any severe punishment) despite their rebellious actions against their respective kings.

Norfolk in Shakespeare

Appears in: King John

The Earl of Norfolk does not appear within King John (as Lord Bigot) until the scene where Prince Arthur falls to his death and is discovered by the lords. This is in contrast to Bigot's fellow lords, the Earls of Pembroke and Salisbury, who appear throughout the play. It is likely that Bigot was the replacement for the Earl of Essex, who appears in the play's opening scene and was, historically, deceased by the time rebellion broke out between John and his magnates. The three lords (Bigot, Pembroke and Salisbury) all join forces with Louis the dauphin of France to avenge the death of Arthur against King John. When all hope is lost though, the magnates desert Louis and swear allegiance to Henry III, who succeeds his father on the throne at the end of the play.


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