Thomas Clifford, the sixth baron, was born in approximately 1365. He became a royal favourite at the time of Richard II – he was noted, apparently, for his “dissipation and indulgence” by which we can assume his shoes had very curly toes. Quite what the inhabitants of the borders would have made of a court favourite dressed in the height of fashion is left unrecorded but Thomas found himself in the role not only of Warden of the West March but also the East March – making him a very busy man. In 1384 he was granted custody of Carlisle Castle for life along with John Neville. Presumably they took turns visiting.
One of the features of Thomas’s tenure was the knightly habit of jousting- hence the repetition of the picture in this post. Thomas travelled widely in Europe with a retinue of knights who attended tournaments. In fact, he even crossed into Scotland for the odd tournament and gave Lord Douglas permission to come into England for the same reason. Think of these tournaments as the equivalent of medieval football matches crossed with the arrival of your favourite pop star.
In between governing the whole of the north and keeping the Scots under control and generally being knightly Thomas also rose to the role of Master of the King’s Horse.
It’s worth mentioning that while Thomas was busy doing all of this that England was having a spot of bother. The Lords Appellant were not keen on the way Richard II was ruling his kingdom. Having come out of the Peasant’s Revolt with a reputation for personal bravery Richard developed a sense of his own importance. It was this monarch who introduced the word ‘majesty’ into the descriptors to be used and also came up with an elaborate protocol involving repeated bowing on approaching the royal presence. Unsurprisingly this did not go down particularly well with the aristocracy who were just as well bred as Richard. Nor were they terribly impressed with Richard’s best friend, Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Inevitably, de Vere was sent packing following the Battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 and then expired whilst in exile. Richard was forced to submit to the so called Merciless Parliament in 1388 (the year Thomas became Master of the King’s Horse) and then spent a good number of years biding his time while he gained sufficient power to show everyone exactly who was in charge.
Thomas was treading an aristocratic tightrope along with every other noble in the country. Not only did the nobility owe their land and their allegiance to the monarchy but they were increasingly connected by ties of blood. For example Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth de Roos was descended from King Edward I. De Roos was the Lord of Helmsley – a reminder that national politics were interwoven with marriages and family relationships at a local level. Feudalism was giving way to bastard feudalism. In part this was a consequence of the Black Death but it was also the result of family sponsorship and patronage that lent itself to close knit community ties but also to feuding.
Little wonder that Thomas took himself off on crusade to Lithuania with Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Gloucester in 1395. Unfortunately he got into a bit of a fight with a son of the Earl of Douglas – and killed him. Filled with remorse Thomas decided to go on another crusade to Jerusalem. Somewhere (don’t you love it when history fails to provide all the details?) between Lithuania and Jerusalem he died, missing out on the joys of Richard II’s deposition by Henry Bolingbroke (a.k.a. Henry IV, cousin of Richard II, member of the Lords Appellant and king in Shakespeare’s Hollow Crown cycle of plays) but leaving a two-year-old to inherit the title who in turn would grow up to be one of Henry V’s warriors as well as assorted other offspring who were married into leading northern families. But more of them anon.