Thomas of Brotherton was the oldest son of Edward I’s second wife Margaret of France. Margaret was never crowned. Her son Thomas was born on 1 June 1300 near Pontefract. It was a difficult labour which is why Thomas is named after Thomas Becket. Margaret and her ladies prayed that the sainted bishop would intercede on Margaret’s behalf for a safe delivery.
A year after he was born Thomas had his own household. When he was two years old Edward I created his new son the Earl of Norfolk. As readers of the History Jar have probably come to expect by now, there isn’t much information about Thomas’s childhood other that what can be gleaned from the account books.
On the 7th July 1307 Edward I died and Thomas’s half brother, Edward, became king in their father’s stead. Thomas was just seven years old but he was heir tot he throne. Not that Edward II lavished titles and estates upon his little brother. Edward I had meant to make Thomas the Earl of Cornwall – that particular title went to Piers Gaveston. It didn’t impress Margaret of France (pictured above) or other members of the royal family that such an important title should be wasted on a favourite like Gaveston.
Eventually, in 1312, after the birth of his own heir, Edward II confirmed his half brother as Earl of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of England. He also appears in the legal record as being an executor of his mother’s will. We also have records of Thomas’s half sister Mary visiting him regularly when he was a child. Mary was a nun at Amesbury.
The conformation of Thomas as Earl of Norfolk would normally have made him politically important. It was confirming his seat on the royal board. However he was still only twelve years old at the time. As he grew to maturity the barons became increasingly restive. Political uncertainty ultimately gave rise to rebellion. Interestingly as a young man he was at the funeral of Piers Gaveston. Edward II clearly felt that his brother should be seen to side with him at that point in time. As Thomas grew up he demonstrated the Plantagenet temper. He also fell victim to Hugh Despenser’s greed – he was required to hand over valuable land to the Royal favourite including Chepstow which had a lucrative taxation on imported wine. It is perhaps not surprising that he allied himself to his sister-in-law Isabella of France and took the opportunity to do a spot of looting from the Despensers along the way. Thomas was one of the judges that found both the Despensers guilty. He then settled into the new regime with the bonus of several large grants and estates.
The ties that held Thomas to Isabella and Mortimer were further strengthened when Thomas’s son Edward married Beatrice Mortimer, the daughter of Isabella’s lover Roger. However, within three years Norfolk had changed his allegiance to his nephew who was of age to rule without the regency of his mother and Roger Mortimer.
Ultimately Thomas became on of his nephew’s advisors when in 1330 Edward III reclaimed the throne for himself. Thomas was after all, the Earl Marshal of England. However, it appears that his nephew preferred other advisors than his uncle.
Sometime between his sixteenth and twentieth birthdays Thomas married Alice Hales of Harwich. Her father was the coroner for Norfolk. It seems odd that the son of a king would marry so far down the social ladder. They had three children – a boy and two girls. Their son Edward died without children so the earldom of Norfolk was passed to Thomas’s daughter Margaret who is know in history as Margaret Marshal because the Dukes of Norfolk hold the title of Earl Marshal of England. Two of Margaret’s descendants would marry Henry VIII.
As for Thomas’s other daughter, she was called Alice. Alice was married to Edward Montagu. His brother, William, was one of Edward III’s favourites. It may have been that Thomas was trying to rebuild his political capital. She died in 1352 – murdered by her own husband.
Thomas died on the 20th September 1338 and is buried in the abbey of Bury St Edmunds. He does not appear to have been very popular or very successful for that matter.