1388: Sir Simon Burley

Add comment May 5th, 2019 Headsman

Sir Simon Burley lost his head on this date in 1388 to the fury of the Lords Appellant.

The childhood tutor of the young King Richard II, Burley had come up in the world as a bosom friend and comrade in arms to Richard’s uncle, Edward the Black Prince. A few years prior it had been entrusted to Burley to sojourn on the continent and arrange Richard’s wife, Anne of Bohemia — and a good job it was for him too since he was away when his head might have wound up on a pike during the 1381 peasants’ rebellion.

Instead, it would be peers in the court who dished out that treatment.

Over the course of the 1380s, Richard’s relationship with the top nobility progressively worsened and finally came to civil war in 1386-1388. The king’s foes, the Lords Appellant prevailed in that fight and with the young king in their power forced him to seat a parliament at which the Lords Appellant would scourge the king’s former allies. It’s called the Merciless Parliament; the reader may judge the reason.

We have already in these pages met several casualties of this purge; even within the context of the bloody intra-elite purge, Burley’s persecution struck a painful chord; two of the Lords Appellants’ junior affiliates, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke, who in time would depose Richard and seat himself on the throne as King Henry IV, both opposed killing Burley.* The queen, as powerless as her husband, prostrated herself before the implacable senior magnates on behalf of the old man who had escorted her from Bohemia.


Nineteenth century illustration of Queen Anne begging the Earl of Arundel to spare Simon Burley. Arundel refused her entreaties; a decade later, it was he who got no mercy.

All was for naught. Chronicler Jean Froissart, confesses himself “exceedingly vexed” at Burley’s execution, “and personally much grieved; for in my youth I had found him a gentle knight, and, according to my understanding, of great good sense.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions

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1397: Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel

Add comment September 21st, 2017 Headsman

“Torment me not long, strike off my head in one blow”

-supposed last words of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, to his executioner

On this date in 1397, the Earl of Arundel was condemned and immediately beheaded in London’s Cheapside.

Not to be confused with his grandfather, the Earl of Arundel* beheaded 71 years earlier for loyalty to his deposed king, our man Richard FitzAlan earned the chop for being a thorn in his king’s backside.

As one of England’s great magnates, Arundel had played a principal role for many years in the bloody struggle with King Richard II over power and prerogatives; he was one of the three original Lords Appellant whose rebellion against Richard brought about their “Merciless Parliament” in 1388, and its cruel purge of royal loyalists.

Powerless at that time to impede the Lords Appellant, then-21-year-old King Richard quietly nurtured hatred of his foes for many years until he was in a position to really strike them. This was a delicate and a long-term business, but Richard’s bitterness proved equal to the revenge. In 1397, Richard finally — per Froissart — “decided upon a bold and daring move. He had reflected that it was better to destroy than to be destroyed and that speedy action could prevent his uncle from ever being a threat to him again.”

Said uncle was the Duke of Gloucester, another one (the senior one) of those difficult Lords Appellant. To conquer Gloucester required daring indeed: Richard lured him away from the considerable protection of his own retinue on the pretext of a hunting trip, and led him into an ambush where the Earl Marshal could arrest him undefended.

Needing now to stay ahead of the news, Richard flew for London to complete his counter-coup and the next day had Arundel arrested along with the other of the three original Lords Appellant, the Earl of Warwick. Mighty Gloucester had been spirited secretly to Calais to be murdered in prison; a more formal version of the same fate awaited Arundel.**

It may be said that the Duchess of Gloucester, with her son Humphrey and her two daughters, were naturally deeply distressed when their husband and father was brought home dead, and the Duchess had to suffer another blow when the King had her uncle. Earl Richard of Arundel, publicly beheaded in Cheapside, London. None of the great barons dared to thwart the King or dissuade him from doing this. King Richard was present at the execution and it was carried out by the Earl Marshal, who was married to Lord Arundel’s daughter and who himself blindfolded him. (Froissart, again)

* The Earl of Arundel rank still exists today as a courtesy title held by the Duke of Norfolk’s heir; it has existed nearly continuously since it was created in 1138 for a Norman nobleman.

** Warwick got enough political pull on his behalf to survive in captivity; he’d eventually be released when one of his Lords Appellant allies deposed Richard II and made himself King Henry IV … a feat that he accomplished with the aid of our Arundel’s younger brother, who also happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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1400: John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon

4 comments January 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1400, English aristocrat John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon and (formerly) Duke of Exeter, lost his head for the Epiphany Rising.

John Holland’s coat of arms.

Half-brother to (and staunch ally of) Richard II, the violent John Holland prospered during the king’s acme in the 1390s. A variety of lucrative posts accumulated as honoraria for Holland’s exertions in the military and political fields.

Most memorably, Holland helped in 1397 to destroy the leaders of the Lords Appellant, who in 1388 had clipped the king’s wings with a successful revolt. Within days of the murder of Thomas of Woodstock and the execution of Richard FitzAlan, Holland was elevated to Duke of Exeter.

Nice work if you can get it.

Unfortunately for “Exeter”, a fellow Lord Appellant named Henry Bolingbroke was about to successfully depose Richard II, and style himself Henry IV.

Holland’s loyalty to the former King Richard, now held under lock and key, became distinctly impolitic.

Having been dispossessed of the Exeter title, earned by service the new sovereign did not consider meritorious, John Holland got in on a plot to kidnap Henry IV during a tournament at Windsor … which devolved, when Henry found out about it, into an abortive rising with a number of executions. Richard FitzAlan’s sister (also Henry IV’s mother-in-law) had the satisfaction of ordering Holland’s beheading at Pleshy Castle, Essex.

Holland’s loyalty to Richard II ultimately did them both in: because the Epiphany Rising so graphically illustrated the danger that a living rival claimant posed to Henry IV, the king had his imprisoned predecessor murdered behind dungeon walls that February.

And of course, while that act secured Henry’s throne, Bolingbroke could never entirely chop his way to uncontested legitimacy: the rival successions of Henry IV and Richard II came to blows decades later in the War of the Roses. (Much to the profit of this site.)

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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