The story of the Holland family begins with Robert de Holland from Upholland in Lancashire. He was born about 1283. He was a trusted part of Thomas of Lancaster’s household. He benefitted from being within the Lancaster affinity by acquiring land as well as a wife in the form of Maud de Zouche – a co-heiress.
He fought at Boroughbridge in 1322 but not on the side of the earl who was in rebellion against his cousin the king. This may well have been because Edward II was holding one of Robert’s daughters hostage at the time. However, the Lancaster faction were not quick to forgive the fact that the second earl was executed in Pontefract soon after the battle and that Robert, one of his most trusted men, had been a traitor to the earl’s cause.
Thomas of Lancaster was succeeded by his younger brother – Henry of Lancaster. Time passed. On 15 October 1328 Robert Holland, or Holand, was at Borehamwood. Unfortunately so were a number of Lancaster supporters. There was an argument. Robert was beheaded.
Thomas, Robert’s eldest son pictured at the start of this post in his garter robes, served Edward III. He was a man of no substantial wealth. His mother Maud had to borrow money so he could be outfitted as a knight. However, it would appear that Thomas had a great deal of charm, not to mention nerve and persistence. He wooed and won Edward III’s young cousin Joan of Kent. They married in a secret exchange of vows when she was eleven or twelve. He was more than ten years older than Joan. It would take another nine years, a bigamous marriage and a papal decree before he was allowed to live with his bride.
Thomas’s fortunes really changed when Joan’s brother died. He had no other heirs so Joan became the Countess of Kent in her own right (suo jure). Thomas effectively became an earl through the right of his wife. Thomas who had a proven military track record by this time now had the money and the position in society to fulfil a leading military role in the Hundred Years War. Thomas and Joan’s eldest son another Thomas became a baron after his father’s death but did not become the 2nd Holland Earl of Kent until Joan died in 1385.
Thomas died in December 1360. The following year his widow married her cousin Edward, the Black Prince. The Holland children now had access to patronage with a very heavy clout. Thomas (Joan’s son) gained a wealthy and aristocratic bride from the FitzAlan family. More importantly it was the Hollands’ half-brother, Richard, who ascended the throne after Edward III died in 1377.
Thomas and John Holland were loyal to their half brother, Richard II, and benefited from their close ties – John even managed to get away with murder. The Holland family found themselves spouses from some of the wealthiest families in the country, had the ear and trust of the Crown and continued to thrive whilst Richard II was on the throne. The second earl’s son, another Thomas not only became the 3rd Earl of Kent but from 1397 the 1st Duke of Surrey. This was a reward for loyalty. Thomas had arrested his FitzAlan uncle on behalf of his royal uncle Richard II. Perhaps because he felt a bit guilty about it he the founded of Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire the following year.
It is perhaps unsurprising that when Richard II was deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke – Richard’s first cousin and the Hollands’ first cousin once removed- that they found themselves being demoted. The dukedom had to be handed back. As a consequence Thomas Holland the 3rd earl of Kent became involved with the Epiphany Rising of 1400. He was executed. He had no children.
Thomas’s uncle John (Joan’s second son) was executed at the same time. John Holland had married another wealthy royal cousin, Elizabeth of Lancaster (John of Gaunt’s daughter). This may have been because of the Black Prince’s patronage and it may have been because his mother Joan of Kent got on well with her cousin John of Gaunt. John became Earl of Huntingdon in 1388 and in 1397 became the Duke of Exeter. He was also involved in removing Richard II’s enemies. In John’s case not only had he arrested his uncle Richard FitzAlan (the 11th Earl of Arundel) he has gone to Calais to arrest Thomas of Woodstock, Richard’s youngest Royal uncle. Thomas had died whilst in Calais as pictured in Froissart – the story involves a mattress…
When Richard II fell from power John was stripped of his dukedom but was allowed to retain his earldom by his brother-in-law the new king Henry IV. This double relationship did not stop John from being involved in the Epiphany Rising of 1400 nor did it prevent his execution.
For the moment the fortunes of the Holland family looked bleak. It would continue to be dubious until 1415 when John Holland’s son, another John, would be able to regain the dukedom of Exeter from Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt. He would also continue the family tradition of marrying someone who was a cousin in a degree that required papal dispensation and which kept his family close to the line of succession!
Hicks, Michael. Whose who in Medieval History
P.S. A family tree will be forthcoming at some point soon.