Thomas was born in 1415 so he was seven when his father died. The size of the Clifford estates meant that Thomas passed into the wardship of King Henry VI. Often children were passed into the hands of unscrupulous guardians who used the opportunity to strip their charges’ estates or marry them off to their own children. Thomas was more fortunate as he was placed in the custody of his own mother. It was she who arranged the marriage of Thomas to Joan the daughter of Lord Dacre of Gilsland keeping alive the tradition of intermarriage between the powerful northern families. They had four sons and six daughters.
Like his father, Thomas took an active role in keeping the Scots under control along the border and like his father he took part in the Hundred Years War, which was drawing to a close by this time. In the years following Henry V’s victory at Agincourt the English had gradually lost the land they had gained. Following the death of Henry VI’s uncle the Duke of Bedford, poor leadership resulted in a rapid decline in English fortunes only halted by peace negotiations and marriage between King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.
Henry VI’s gentle nature may have suited him for monastic life but they did not suit him for the role of medieval monarch. Frictions between the various court factions were beginning to show the cracks in the Plantagenet royal family.
The Cliffords were associated with Richard of Cambridge through Thomas’s aunt Maud who was Richard’s second wife, Thomas’s godmother and Thomas was a beneficiary of her will. Logically then, the Cliffords should have sided with the House of York as Cambridge’s descendants would be known because of the ties which bound the two families together. However, there seems to have been a growing enmity between the two clans. One possible reason could be to do with Maud retaining the castle at Conisborough and its estates as part of her dower. Yerburgh suggests that the bad blood that developed into a feud during the Wars of the Roses might be accounted for by the death of one of Cambridge’s men at the hand of Clifford whilst hunting but history hasn’t left a detailed account.
Politics gradually turned into warfare. The first battle of the Wars of the Roses was the Battle of St Albans in May 1455. Richard, Duke of York (Richard of Cambridge’s son) led a force of about 3,000 towards London. Henry VI’s army halted at St Albans on their way to intercept York. St Albans found itself behind barricades while the Lancastrians (those for Henry VI) negotiated with the Yorkists. Thomas Clifford, loyal to his king, was commanding the vanguard. Fighting was fierce but ultimately the Earl of Warwick tilted matters in favour of York by breaking through some houses into the market place.
Lord Clifford was killed and his body stripped. His twenty-one-year-old son found the body. A feud was born that would continue until the death of Thomas Clifford’s son at Ferry Bridge. Before that John Clifford’s fury would lead to increasing ferocity on the battle field and the deaths of the flower of England’s nobility.