Sir Thomas Erpingham: The early years

These papers on Sir Thomas Erpingham were published in part in the year 2000, in a book edited by Anne Curry and published by TEMPUS: Agincourt 1415.  This was the result of a symposium organised by the Norfolk Heraldry Society on Sir Thomas Erpingham and held in Norwich Cathedral in October 1996. Erpingham’s banner, stitched by Penelope Knee, was raised in the cathedral over his tomb to mark the event.

The book also has much more information about Sir Thomas, his gate and the chasuble bought home from Italy, the heraldry at Agincourt and the battle and weapons used there, particularly the longbow. Additional background material has a discussion of Henry V’s life and reign, chivalry, and Shakespeare’s Agincourt. There are many illustrations.

References are listed at the end of each chapter, and the sources and bibliography are listed in the file called “References”.



Sir John Erpingham, who was bailiff of Norwich in 1352 and 1360[1], spent most of his life there and owned a house “on the west side of the street against Rose-Lane” in 1370, possibly earlier. Blomefield’s map[2] shows it located on the corner of Cattlemarket Street and Conisford Lane, which is now called King Street. Presumably his son Thomas was brought up in part here, possibly was even born here in about 1357-8; their next door neighbours were the Reppes, distant cousins, and just along Conisford Lane was St. Michael at Conisford where Sir Thomas was later to erect a memorial stained glass window (see below); the church had been absorbed and recently rebuilt by the Austin Friars.

Sir John died on the first day of August, 1370, when his son was about thirteen, and was buried in Erpingham church, where his tomb with its lateen effigy of a knight in full armour survives; his own father had been buried there only a short time before. The Erpinghams had held the manor of Erpingham since about 1234, and Sir John had shared a grant in Intwood, with the advowson there, with another bailiff, Bartholomew Appleyard[3].

Thomas entered the retinue of the second Earl of Salisbury and Captain of Calais, William de Montacute, in 1379, and must have attracted attention by his appearance, education or prowess for in 1380, by an indenture dated 13 September, he joined the retinue of John of Gaunt (with whom Salisbury had recently served), the greatest landowner in Britain, and King of Castile from his marriage in 1371 to Constance, daughter of Pedro the Cruel (Peter I) of Castile. He became one of the duke’s knights bachelor (presumably the duke knighted him) with a retainer of 20livres a year in peace and 50 marks in war for himself and a servant[4].

The duke granted him the Erpingham manor in 1386[5], confirming this for life in 1396 Gaunt had acquired the manor of Aylsham from the king in 1372, when it became the principal town of the Duchy of Lancaster in Norfolk.   He helped to build the church there; his arms are in the porch and of the east side of the font pedestal; adjacent on the south side of the pedestal are those of Erpingham (recently renewed), which suggests a close relationship with his lord, and that the pedestal was made either during Gaunt’s possession of the manor or, less likely, by Erpingham as a memorial to Gaunt afterwards. After reverting to the crown on Gaunt’s widow’s death, Aylsham was granted to Erpingham until 1414, when it went to the king’s feoffees along with several other manors and the hundreds of North and South Erpingham, and Gallowe and Brothercross.

Sir Thomas had acquired “a messuage in Gresham called Manclerks, and two inclosures in Susted”, with others, from one John Leverich of Susted in c. 1383[6]. Erpingham was soon becoming involved in business and obligations in the city and county, for in 1384 he granted his manors at Banham, shared with the bishop of London, Robert Braybrooke, and others, to the widow of Sir Thomas de Felton., with Thomas de Morlee, marshall of Ireland, guaranteeing payment of 200l; Sir Thomas paid a yearly rent of 20l.[7] Earlier that year he had, with 13 others, agreed by charter to hold the lady’s manor of Fordham, Cambridgeshire, during the lives of herself and her daughter, a minoress of the Abbey of St Clare without Aldgate.

In 1391, with Robert Offorde, Ralph de Schelton, Thomas Jenye, knights, John Gurnay, Roger Davy, John Payn, Richard de Creyke, and Nicholas Berry of Holm, Sir Thomas received a charter of “the manor of Hunstaneston and all lands thereto belonging [in] Holm, Totyngton, Sneterton, and Estwynche, all rents, marshes etc.”, from Sir John le Straunge (Lestrange) of Hunstanton[8].

Not all his lands remained his. The tenure of manors seems frequently to have been given “for life”, and as frequently removed and given to others well within that lifetime. In 1398, the king ordered “the escheator in Sussex… to give Katherine wife of John lately duke of Aquitaine livery of the castle and lowry of Pevese, the manors of …..the hundreds of Northerpyngham, Southerpyngham granted to John and his wife and his heirs, and the reversions of the said wapentake or hundred which was held for life by Ralph de Ipre knight, and of the said hundred of ‘Southerpyngham’ which was held for life by Thomas de Erpingham knight and his heirs….[9]

And the same year, Erpingham entered a quitclaim, or formal renunciation of claim, “of the manors of Erpingham and Wyckmere, and of all lands , rents, services, villeins with their villeinages etc. there and in all other towns in Norfolk sometime of Robert Erpingham knight”, renouncing them to Miles Stapleton, Simon Felbrigge, William Clopton, Walter Clopton, Robert Berney, and John Strange, knights, John Gurnay, John Wynter, John Yelverton, John Thorp parson of Erpingham, and others.[10]   Lordship was often multiple; the apportionment of revenue, rights and obligations remains indistinct.

Lands, rents and services in Little Glenham came to Erpingham, Simon Felbrigge, knights, William Phelipp and Julian his wife, and to their heirs and assigns from John Glenham in 1399.

Sir Thomas was married sometime before 1389[11] to Joan, “the beautiful daughter” of Sir William Clopton, of Clopton Green in Suffolk; winning a lady whose beauty was of great renown suggests that his military skills and reputation was matched by physical comeliness..She died in 1404; Clopton manor descended through her to him   Presumably they lived at the family home off Conisford Lane.

He married in 1409 his second wife, Joan Howard, widow of Sir John Howard of Fersfield, and daughter and heiress of Sir Richard Walton, and it seems that he then acquired a house in Norwich built by the Berney’s (and called Berney’s Inn) in the early 14th Century, on World’s End Lane. [The identification of this with Hall House at St. Martin’s-at-Palace[12] seems to be entirely false, and the bay window ascribed to his house and re-erected at No. 10, St. Martin-at-Palace, comes from Hall House, now lying under the Law Courts.]

Erpingham’s house was even further east over towards the river, mostly under the site of the westernmost of the two gas-holders built there in the nineteenth century.   It was very substantial, with a small central courtyard surrounded by the main blocks and by two wing running north-south; the site was large, and the house set well back from the road.   It must have housed and supported a number of people, since one of Erpingham’s servants, John Middleton, left legacies to 17 people, including his lord’s butler, his personal servant, cook, barber, five stable hands, a skinner and five poor people living there. The house went on Erpingham’s death to his niece, who sold it in 1446 to Sir William Calthorpe, MP, together with much of the furniture and equipment, for 350 marks. His son Sir Philip Calthorpe’s widow lists a great chamber, a gallery, and a wardrobe, as well as other rooms, some hung with tapestries; and in 1858 it was said that the banqueting room with carved chestnut panels, measuring 35′ by 17′, and with a ten-foot window on the south side, could still be discerned, as well as the external stairway faced with stone, probably roofed, leading to it.[13] Set in spacious gardens, on the banks of the Wensum, it must, as Druery says, “have been a n ornamental and handsome residence”.

Just across the river to the east was the Lollards pit, where only three months after Sir Thomas’s death, a follower of Wycliffe, a priest called William White, suffered “death by by stake and faggot”, according to Henry IV’s statute DE HERETICO COMBURENDO of 1401, as had many of his persuasion and belief.


[1] Rye, W. (3).

[2] Blomefield, F. vol. iv.

[3] Rye., op. cit.

[4]DNB. Supplement II, p. 189.

[5] Blomefield, vi, p. 240.

[6] Rye, W., (3) p. 73.

[7] C.C.R. 1381-85 (1384), pp. 563, 596.

[8] C.C.R.1386-1399: 21 April, 1391. The entry for 1393, on p. 237, about “the manor of Ledene Rothyng with appurtenances in the manors of Loftehalle, Olyvers, and Belhous in Great Orsete, Gt. Staneweye and Leyre del Haye” held together with the earl of Oxford, Walter Clopton, the bishop of London, et. al., probably refers to the Thomas Erpingham who was rector of Hindercley, Suffolk.

[9]   C.C.R. 1386-1399 =   p365, 9 March, 1398.

[10] C.C.R. 1386-1399 =   p399, 17 Sept., 1398.

[11] Kirkpatrick, J. p. 262-7

[12] Haywood, S. p. 22 et seq.; V. Nierop-Reading, personal communication.

[13] East Anglian Archaeology Report No. 37. pp. 148-50.   Also Druery  J.H., pp143-7

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