Percy, Henry (1364-1403) (DNB00)
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Percy, Henry (1364-1403)
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PERCY, Sir HENRY, called Hotspur (1364–1403), born on 20 May 1364, was eldest son of Henry Percy, first earl of Northumberland [q. v.], by his first wife, Margaret, daughter of Ralph, fourth baron Neville of Raby [q. v.] (G. E. C[okayne], Complete Peerage; Scrope and Grosvenor Roll, p. 199; Dugdale, Baronage, i. 276). His active life began early. Knighted by the aged Edward III at Windsor in April 1377, along with the future Richard II and Henry IV, who were almost exactly of his own age, Percy had his first taste of war in the following year, accompanying his father when he recovered Berwick Castle from the Scots after a siege of nine days (Walsingham, i. 388; Beltz, pp. 12, 314). He was soon employed in border affairs, and in 1384 associated with his father as warden of the marches, becoming in the next year governor of Berwick. The sleepless activity which he showed in repressing the restless hostility of the Scottish borderers won him among them the sobriquet of Hatspore, that is Hotspur (Walsingham, ii. 144).
His military reputation was already beyond his years, and in the summer of 1386 he was sent over to Calais, where an attack was expected. But no attack came, and the fiery Hotspur, weary of inaction, made plundering raids into the enemy's country, and then, learning that the French meditated an invasion of England, returned home to repel it (ib.) He and his younger brother Ralph are said by Froissart to have been stationed at Yarmouth for that purpose. In the autumn he gave evidence in the famous Scrope and Grosvenor controversy. Next year the king's favourites entrusted him with a squadron to prevent French retaliation for the Earl of Arundel's recent naval exploits. The chroniclers assert that, being envious of Percy, they sent him to sea ill-found, and even sought to inform the French of his movements (ib. ii. 156; Monk of Evesham, p. 79). But he executed his commission in safety, and in the following spring he was given the Garter vacated by the king's favourite, the Duke of Ireland, on his condemnation by the Merciless parliament.
The Scottish truce drawing to a close, Percy was once more sent into the north as warden of the marches. He seems hardly to have been fully prepared for the great Scottish invasion in the summer of 1388, but it was nevertheless the occasion of perhaps his most famous exploit—the battle of Otterburn. There are some discrepancies between the English and Scottish accounts of the battle, while the much more circumstantial narrative of Froissart, which he had, he tells us, from combatants on both sides, is, as usual, not without its difficulties. Both marches were simultaneously invaded, the Earls of Douglas, March, and Moray harrying Northumberland. After penetrating, so, at least, says Froissart (ed. Buchon, xi. 362 sqq.), to the gates of Durham, they offered battle before Newcastle, into which Percy and his brother Ralph had thrown themselves. This he did not feel himself in sufficient strength to accept, but promised to fight them within three days, and they drew off northwards along the road into Scotland through Redesdale (Walsingham, ii. 176). It is rather implied that the Scots on their part had undertaken to wait for the time he mentioned. Froissart says that Douglas had captured Percy's pennon in a skirmish before Newcastle, and declared he would plant it on the towers of Dalkeith, but would not deny its owner an opportunity of recovering it (cf. Boethius, p. 332). Be this as it may, on the still summer's evening of a Wednesday in August (the 5th according to Hardyng and Knighton; a fortnight later according to Froissart, whose date agrees better with the royal proclamation of 13 Aug.) (Fœdera, vii. 594), Hotspur suddenly fell upon their camp at Otterburn in Redesdale, some thirty miles north-west of Newcastle (Hardyng, p. 342; Knighton, col. 2728; Scotichronicon, ii. 406). The Scottish leaders were roused from their supper and did not have time to completely arm themselves, but the growing dusk and the general character of the ground served them well, and any advantage their assailants may have had in numbers (the estimates are conflicting) was neutralised by the fatigue of the long forced march from Newcastle (Wyntoun, iii. 35). They fought desperately all night by the light of the moon (Froissart; the moon was full on 20 Aug.), until Douglas fell, whether by unknown hands or, as the English doubtfully boasted, by the sword of Hotspur, and Hotspur himself was surrounded and captured with his brother Ralph.
Both sides claimed the victory, the English, however, very faintly. ‘It was,’ says Froissart, ‘the best fought and severest of all the battles I have related in my history’ [see under Douglas, James, second Earl of Douglas]. The popular imagination was kindled by its romantic features, and made it the subject of the well-known ballad which exists in both Scottish and English versions (Percy, Reliques, i. 21–34; Child, iii. 302, 315; Scott, Minstrelsy of the Border, i. 354). The even more famous ballad of ‘Chevy Chase, or the Hunting of the Cheviot,’ mingles it with incidents which, if they have any historical basis at all, belong to a later time. Thomas Barry [q. v.] wrote a Latin poem upon it in the sixteenth century. A cross marking the spot where Douglas is supposed to have fallen is locally known as Percy's Cross. Hotspur was captured, according to the English chroniclers, by the Earl of March and taken to his castle of Dunbar; but the Scottish accounts represent his captor as Sir John Montgomerie [q. v.], who is said to have built with his ransom the castle of Polnoon at Eaglesham in Ayrshire.
Percy was free again and in command on the borders before July 1389. In October his term of office as warden of Carlisle and the west march was prospectively prolonged for five years (Ord. Privy Council, i. 12 d). The east march was afterwards added. But the truce of 1389 made his constant presence there unnecessary. In March 1391 he went to Calais in the train of Henry of Derby to take up the challenge of three French knights who were fighting all comers at Saint Inglevert. The Frenchmen confessed them their most dangerous opponents (Saint-Denys, i. 680). From 1393 to 1395, perhaps longer, Percy was governor of Bordeaux. The citizens at first refused to admit him because he came in the name of John of Gaunt as Duke of Aquitaine. They would only be ruled, they said, by the king or his son, if one was born to him, and Hotspur had to declare that he came by the king's authority (Annales Ricardi II, p. 158; Delpit, Documents Français qui se trouvent en Angleterre, p. 210).
By the autumn of 1398 he was again acting as warden of the east march against Scotland, and with his father joined Henry of Lancaster at Doncaster immediately after his landing in the following July. The French writer Creton is the only authority for the statement that Hotspur had been accused to Richard of holding treasonable language and his father banished for disobeying a summons to court (Archæologia, xx. 157). Percy accompanied Henry into the west, where Richard was taken, beat off the half-hearted attacks of the Cheshiremen, and returned to London with Richard's conqueror (Annales, pp. 246, 250–1). Late in the year poison was thought to have been administered to him as well as to the new king (ib. p. 323). The subsequent boast of the Percys that they had placed Henry on the throne was not without foundation, and neither Hotspur's nor his father's services went unrewarded. One of Henry's first acts was to confirm him as warden of the east march and governor of Berwick and Roxburgh, Carlisle and the west march being given to his father.
The disaffection of Wales and Cheshire calling for a strong hand, he was appointed, before the first year of the reign was out, justiciary of Cheshire, North Wales, and Flintshire, and constable of the castles of Chester, Flint, Conway, and Carnarvon, with a grant for life of the Isle of Anglesey and the castle of Beaumaris, along with the castle and lordship of Bamborough in Northumberland. He was also sheriff of the latter county and of Flintshire. But these border commands were no beds of roses, and King Henry took little pains to humour his hot-tempered and formidable follower. Conway Castle was betrayed to the Welsh on Good Friday 1401, and, though Hotspur recovered it after a month's siege, he could only get the half of his expenses out of the king, with a hint that if he had taken proper precautions they need not have been incurred. He complained bitterly, too, that his soldiers in the Scottish marches were left unpaid (Adam of Usk, p. 60; Chronique de la Traïson, p. 284; Ord. Privy Council, i. 146–53, ii. 57). He was evidently weary of his Welsh charge, and on his appointment on 1 Sept. as one of the commissioners to negotiate a peace with Scotland, Sir Hugh le Despenser succeeded him as justiciar (ib. i. 168; Wylie, i. 242). In March 1402 he was called upon to surrender Anglesey to the Prince of Wales, and to accept compensation out of the Mortimer estates (Ord. Privy Council, i. 177). Roxburgh Castle was at the same time transferred to Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, the great rival of the Percys in the north. This arrangement seems to have been part of a scheme by which Hotspur became lieutenant of North Wales, his uncle, Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester [q. v.], receiving the same position in South Wales (ib. i. 146, 173). But the appointment, if made, never took effect.
The state of affairs on the Scottish border imperatively demanded the presence of the warden of the east march. After a preliminary raid in June, the Scots in August repeated the great invasion of 1388. A great force under Murdoch Stewart, earl of Fife, son of the regent Albany, and Archibald, fourth earl of Douglas, harried Northumberland with fire and sword, and, according to one account, penetrated beyond the Wear (Wyntoun). Thirty French knights were with them. But the Percys had now the assistance of the cool-headed George Dunbar, earl of March, Hotspur's old antagonist at Otterburn. They occupied a position at Millfield on the Till, some six miles north of Wooler, completely commanding the line of retreat of the main body of the Scots. The latter coming up on 14 Sept., and finding their progress barred, halted irresolutely on the slope of Humbledon Hill (called by the chroniclers Homildoun Hill), within bowshot of the English. March restrained Hotspur's eagerness to charge, and the English archers riddled the exposed ranks of the Scots. Within an hour the battle was won, the English men-at-arms having never come into action. Five earls, including Douglas and Fife, and many scores of gentlemen of name laid down their arms; five hundred of the fugitives were drowned in the Tweed, thirteen miles from the field (Walsingham, ii. 251; Monk of Evesham, p. 180; Hardyng [a page of Hotspur, who was present], p. 359; Wylie, i. 291).
This brilliant success of the Percys stood in sharp contrast to the miserable failure of the king's own expedition into Wales, and their relations, which for some time had not been very cordial, soon became strained almost to breaking-point. Henry was threatened by a combination of Scots, Welsh, and French, and his position was critical. Yet he gave mortal offence to Hotspur by forbidding the ransom of his brother-in-law, Sir Edmund Mortimer [q. v.], who had been captured by Glendower, and by taking into his own hands the prisoners made at Humbledon. Hotspur refused to send up Douglas to London with the other prisoners, and, in a stormy interview with the king during the October parliament, demanded permission to ransom Mortimer. Henry refused, and high words were exchanged, the king calling him a traitor, and even drawing his dagger upon him. Whereupon Hotspur withdrew, crying, ‘Not here, but in the field’ (Cont. Eulog. Hist. iii. 295). Wavrin's version is that the king had given him ‘ung grant soufflet.’ Meanwhile, Hotspur's father had been pressing for payment of the arrears of his own and his son's salaries as wardens of the marches, while Henry, on being asked what had become of Richard's treasure, threw the responsibility upon the earl. But an outward reconciliation was effected, Henry appointing commissioners to report on all claims in reference to the Scottish prisoners, and endeavouring to conciliate the earl, and perhaps dissociate him from his son, by a grant (March 1403) of Scotland south of the Tweed, including the county of Douglas.
Hotspur in May besieged the border peels of Cocklaw, near Yetholm, and Ormiston, near Hawick, but, meeting with considerable resistance, departed with the undertaking to surrender if not relieved by 1 Aug., and recrossed the border. The arrangement was communicated to the king, who was on his way northward in the middle of July to assist the Percys on the borders, when he suddenly learnt that Hotspur was on the Welsh border and had thrown off his authority (Ord. Privy Council, i. 207; Fœdera, viii. 313). He was aware that the Percys were still disaffected, but does not seem to have been prepared for their revolt. They had written to many nobles protesting their loyalty, but criticising Henry's government, more especially his financial administration, and expressing their determination to get those who poisoned his mind against them replaced by better counsellors. A large number of those addressed are said to have sent assurances of support (Hardyng, p. 361). The king heard of these letters, and, seeking to remove the impression they had made, denied that he had left the Percys to bear the whole burden of the border warfare, but promised them vaguely further sums (for the state of the account between the Percys and the crown see Ramsay, i. 57). A demand from the earl for an immediate advance as late as 26 June possibly hastened Henry's departure for the north (Ord. Privy Council, i. 204–7).
But this more or less open disaffection concealed a conspiracy against his throne. Secretly encouraged by Archbishop Scrope, the Duke of York, and others, the Percies had come to an understanding with Glendower and Sir Edmund Mortimer, who since the previous November had definitely gone over to Owen and married his daughter. Henry was to be deposed in favour of the young Earl of March, the nephew of Hotspur's wife, and Wales was to be left independent under Owen. Shortly after his father's last letter to the king, Hotspur threw off the mask, and hastened, with 160 horse, through Lancashire to Chester, where he arrived on Monday, 9 July, and took up his residence in the house of one Petronilla Clark (Wylie, i. 357). He was accompanied by the Earl of Douglas and other Scottish prisoners, whom he had set free. A proclamation that King Richard was with them, and could be seen either in Chester Castle or at Sandiway, between Chester and Northwich, on 17 July, caused the Cheshire adherents of the late king to flock to his standard. Among them were Richard Venables, baron of Kinderton; Richard Vernon, baron of Shipbrook, and a number of the Cheshire clergy. Many mounted Richard's badge of the white hart. But when Hotspur had been joined by his uncle Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, and was moving southwards with a view to a junction on the Severn with Glendower, the pretence that Richard still lived was dropped, Edmund of March was declared the rightful king, and letters of defiance were sent forth, in which, as ‘Protectors of the Commonwealth,’ they accused ‘Henry of Lancaster’ of breaking an oath made to them at Doncaster in 1399 that he came not to claim the kingdom but only his inheritance, of starving King Richard to death, and of tyrannical government (Hardyng, p. 352). The statement of more than one chronicler that they advanced as far eastwards as Lichfield seems most improbable, if only from the fact that the king was there from 17 July (Cont. Eulog. Hist. iii. 396; Fœdera, viii. 313).
Early in the morning of Saturday, 21 July, they appeared, by the Oswestry road, at the Castle Foregate of Shrewsbury. But to their astonishment the banner of Henry was displayed from the walls. Henry had learnt of their treason by 16 July, and had been collecting troops; on the advice of the Scottish Earl of March he had made a forced march of forty-five miles to Shrewsbury on the Friday, though his musters were not yet complete, in order to cut off the Percies from Glendower, who was in south Wales. Drawing back along the Whitchurch road for some three and a half miles, Hotspur took up an advantageous position on the slope of the Hayteley field, a little to the left of the road in the parish of Albright Hussey (Ramsay, i. 60, with map; cf. Wylie, i. 360). His front was protected by a tangled crop of peas and, according to Sir James Ramsay, three small ponds; but it has been questioned whether these were permanent features of the site. The king, following, drew up his forces at the foot of the slope. Hotspur called for his favourite sword, and on being told that it had been left behind at the village of Berwick, where he had spent the previous night without hearing its name, he turned pale and said, ‘Then has my plough reached its last furrow!’ He had been warned by a soothsayer that he should die at Berwick, but had never doubted that Berwick-on-Tweed was meant. The omen possibly made him listen more readily to the offer to treat which Henry sent by the abbot of Shrewsbury; and his uncle went down to the royal camp. But nothing came of the negotiations; and shortly after midday the king set forward his banners. ‘St. George!’ was the cry on one side, ‘Espérance Percy!’ on the other. The deadly fire of the Cheshire archers broke part of the royal line, but the Prince of Wales carried the slope, and the battle soon resolved itself into a desperate hand-to-hand fight. Hotspur and Douglas, with a chosen band of thirty, cut their way to the royal standard, beat it down, and, as they supposed, slew the king. But the prudent March had removed him to a place of greater safety; and it was only one clad in his armour that had fallen. At last Percy, pressing on ahead of his men, was brought down by an unknown hand. His followers, doubtful whether he had taken the king or had himself perished, falteringly raised the cry ‘Henry Percy King.’ But the king lifted his voice and shouted to them, ‘Henry Percy is dead’ (Annales Henrici IV, p. 368). After the ‘sory bataill,’ the forerunner of sorrows for England, was finished, his body, over which the king is said to have shed tears, was delivered to his kinsman, Thomas Neville, lord Furnival, who buried it in his family chapel at Whitchurch, sixteen miles north of the battlefield. But a day or two later, in order to prevent any rumours that he was still alive, the body was brought back to Shrewsbury, rubbed in salt, and placed erect between two millstones by the side of the pillory in the open street (Wylie, i. 364; cf. Chronique de la Traïson, p. 285). After a few days' exposure the head was cut off, and sent to be fixed on one of the gates of York; the quarters were hung above the gates of London, Bristol, Newcastle, and Chester.
His wife Elizabeth Mortimer, daughter of Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March, and Philippa, granddaughter of Edward III, was born at Usk on 12 Feb. 1371. She was put under arrest after Hotspur's death (Fœdera, viii. 334), but subsequently married Thomas de Camoys, lord Camoys, and was alive in 1417. She may be ‘the Isabel Camoyse, wife of Thomas Camoyse, knt.,’ who died in 1444, and was buried in Friars Minors. By her Hotspur had one son, Henry (1394–1455) [q. v.], to whom the earldom of Northumberland, forfeited by his grandfather, was restored by Henry V in 1414; and a daughter Elizabeth, married, first, to John, lord Clifford (d. 1422), and, secondly, to Ralph Neville, second earl of Westmorland.
Hotspur is the last and not the least in the long roll of chivalrous figures whose prowess fills the pages of Froissart. He had the virtues and the defects of his class and time. A doughty fighter rather than a skilful soldier, he was instinct with stormy energy, passionate and ‘intolerant of the shadow of a slight.’[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; Rymer's Fœdera, original ed.; Annales Ricardi II. and Henrici IV (with Trokelowe), Continuatio Eulogii Historiarum, Walsingham's Historia Anglicana, and Wavrin (Waurin), all in Rolls Ser.; Hardyng's Chronicle, ed. Ellis; Monk of Evesham's Chronicle, ed. Thomas Hearne (1729); Adam of Usk, ed. Maunde Thompson; Knighton in Twysden's Decem Scriptores; Chronique de la Traïson de Richart Deux, ed. for English Hist. Soc.; Creton in Archæologia, vol. xx.; Wyntoun's Chronicle and Liber Pluscardensis in the Scottish Historians; Boethius's (Boece) Historia Scotorum, Paris, 1575; Wallon's Richard II; Ramsay's Lancaster and York; Wylie's History of Henry IV; Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry; Child's English and Scottish Ballads; Hodgson's History of Northumberland; R. White's History of the Battle of Otterburn; Dimock-Fletcher's Battlefield Church, Shrewsbury, 1889; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage.]