Tomb: Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland

The tomb of Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland in Beverley Minster

Who was Henry Percy?

The only son of Henry Percy, 3rd the earl of Northumberland and Eleanor Poynings, the 4th earl is (in)famous for not joining the battle of Bosworth – an act that many have credited with contributing to Richard III’s defeat.

Earlier in the Wars of the Roses, his father had died fighting for the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton (1461). Initially imprisoned by Edward IV, the young Henry Percy did homage to the Yorkist king in 1469 and Edward restored him to the earldom of Northumberland in March 1470. He remained in England during Edward IV’s exile of 1470-1 and was crucial to Edward’s retaking of the throne – when Edward landed at Ravenspur to retake the throne, the 4th earl of Northumberland made no move to stop him, allowing Edward to recruit supporters and march south without major opposition.

During Edward IV’s reign of 1471-83, Northumberland’s power in the north of England was challenged by the influence of Richard, duke of Gloucester. The two men appear to have initially had a good relationship, and Northumberland’s army helped back Richard’s claim to the throne in 1483. However, rather than rewarding Northumberland with increased power in the north, Richard chose to retain direct control of the area and to continue to build his own following. This is generally believed to have motivated Northumberland’s decision to keep his army on the sidelines at Bosworth (though poor communication and positioning may also have made it difficult for him to join the battle!). In the immediate aftermath of the battle, he was imprisoned but was soon released to help control the north for Henry VII.

Why was his death controversial?

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