Thomas Erpingham had already gained some military experience during service in Salisbury’s retinue during Richard II’s expedition into Scotland in 1385.   In 1386-7 he accompanied John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, who was exiled by the king and went into Spain so that the duke of Lancaster could pursue his claim to Castile and Léon[1]. Gaunt had been high steward, and the richest and most powerful of the king’s council; but Richard feared his possible claim on the throne; in addition, Gaunt supported Wycliffe and opposed the clergy.

In March 1386, Erpingham obtained the king’s letters of protection and general attorney [2] and they sailed from Plymouth on 7 July . He was at the relief of Brest, the capture of Santiago de Compostella, and the invasion of Castile. Having failed to defeat his rival, Henry of Trastamare, even with the assistance of Portugal, Gaunt renounced his claim to the Castile throne in the treaty of Bayonne, which gave him £100,000 and an annual pension.[3] and he returned to England. in 1389 even richer than before (his first wife, Mary Bohun, had had a very large fortune).

In 1390 Erpingham joined the personal entourage of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby. on his first expedition to Lithuania; and on 20 July 1392 sailed from Boston with Henry on a second crusade there. Before they departed, “Nicholas Luke, a merchant of the fellowship of the Guinigii dwelling in London. [was given a] Licence to make a letter of exchange to his fellows dwelling in foreign parts for 100l payable to Thomas de Erpingham.”[4] They fought alongside the Teutonic knights at Danzig, Konigsburg and the siege of Vilna, and saw action in Prague and Vienna.. The volunteer knights came to Prussia to take part in the Reisen with the Teutonic Knights in the order’s crusade to enforce by whatever means, usually extremely violent, the adoption of Christianity by the pagan Lithuanians. Sir Roger Felbrigg had died and been buried in Prussia in 1380 during an earlier reysa, as the brass on his monument in Felbrigg church records.

Henry had sent most of his followers back on 23 September, but Erpingham remained with him, and accompanied him on his adventurous journey across Europe to Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes, Venice, Padua, Verona, Milan, Turin and Paris. He did not forget the king’s loyal soldiers afterwards, either. In 1399 he reminded the king of his promise to give to John Sutbury of Crowmere the king’s serjeant 4d. a day during his life, from the issues and profits of   the petty custom of the port of Great Jernemuth, and this was confirmed.[5]

It may be that the chasuble which bears his arms, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, was a trophy from these travels, as the material of the vestment was made in Tuscany or North Italy, probably in 1380-1400. Was this a souvenir, bought at the time, or a trophy of war, “liberated”, as the modern phrase has it, by Erpingham? The orphreys and arms were an English panel added later; it seems most likely that Sir Thomas (or one of his wives) was responsible for this, since he left no children; his heir, Sir William Phelip, was too young to have gone on the crusades with him, and William regarded the Bardolf arms, seen in the first and second quarters of his arms at Cantley church, as more important than the Erpingham arms, in the third.

In his evidence to the Court of Chivalry on the controversy between Sir Edward Hastings and Reginald Lord Grey of Ruthyn, Erpingham said that he said he had seen the arms of Hastings at the House of Our Lady in Prussia as well as on the expeditions to Brest and Spain[6].

In 1398 Henry Bolingbroke himself was sent into exile in Paris amid charges of treason, despite his having earlier supported Richard against his brother the Duke of Gloucester. Erpingham loyally went with him.

Froissart records, with no date, that “Sir Thomas Harpyngham” fought five courses in tournament with a French knight, Sir Johan of Barres, at Moustreau “in so goodly maner, that the kyng and all the others were well content with them” [7]. This may have been during this stay.


[1] Thorne J.O. & Collocott T.C.

[2] Nicholas, Sir N. H., p. 194.

[3] Gardiner J & Wenborn, N. p. 438.

[4] C.C.R. 1392-6. 9 July 1392.

[5] C.C.R. 1399-1402 p. 246

[6] Nicholas, p. 195.

[7] Froissart, p. 619.


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