Sir Henry Percy (called ‘Hotspur’), KG, 1364-1403

AV 7 Henry Percy, called Hotspur.jpg
AV 7 Henry Percy, called Hotspur.jpg

Sir Henry Percy (called ‘Hotspur’), KG, 1364-1403

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Henry Percy (1364-1403) was knighted by King Edward III in 1377, together with the future Kings Richard II and Henry IV. After a visit to Ireland in 1385 he accompanied Richard II on an expedition into Scotland where his zeal in border warfare won him the name of Hotspur from the Scots. In 1386 he fought in France in appreciation for which he was made Knight of the Garter in 1388. He commanded the English forces against the 2nd Earl of Douglas at the Battle of Otterburn on 10 August 1388, where he was captured, but soon released for a fee of 7000 marks. Percy's reputation grew. He went on diplomatic mission to Cyprus in 1393 and was appointed deputy to John of Gaunt in the Duchy of Aquitaine. His service brought royal favour but the Percies still decided to support Henry Bolingbroke in his rebellion against Richard II. Percy and his father joined Henry’s forces at Doncaster in 1399. After King Richard's deposition, Percy and his father were 'lavishly rewarded' with lands and offices. In Wales he was under pressure from the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr. In March 1402, Henry IV appointed Percy royal lieutenant in north Wales, and in 1402, Percy, his father, and the Earl of Dunbar and March were victorious against a Scottish force at the Battle of Homildon Hill. Among others, they captured the 4th Earl of Douglas. But all was not well and the Percy’s had strong grievances against the King so took up arms against him in 1403 in collusion with Glyndŵr.  On 21st July 1403 Percy met the King’s much larger force at the Battle of Shrewsbury where he was killed and his army fled.

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At the coronation of King Richard II in 1377 many young men were knighted, amongst them Henry Percy, the fifteen-year-old son of Henry Percy who, on the same occasion, was created Earl of Northumberland.

The power of the ancient house of Percy lay not only in the extent of the wealth and feudal service which it could command, but in the strategic position of its lands, which lay along the explosive Scottish border. Far from Westminster and close to Scotland they were a force to be reckoned with.

The head of the house of Percy could not afford to be other than a professional soldier and young Henry seems to have accepted his hereditary occupation gladly. Early in life he acquired the nickname of 'Haatspore' from the Scots, with whom he first joined arms when his father re­ captured Berwick, and he soon acquired that reputation as a fierce and implacable commander which Shakespeare has immortalized. Similarly his halting and explosive speech is echoed in the fast­ moving drama of the first part of King Henry IV.

What Shakespeare does not stress is his other quality, that of courtesy. Hotspur was not just a ranting blood-and­thunder soldier any more than the Percies were a band of robbers who lived by the sword. Had he been such a man he might well have been given the Wardenship of the East and West Marches, been sent to fight the Scots at Otterburn and the French at Calais and made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter, as he was in 1388, but he would never have been made deputy to John of Gaunt in his new dukedom of Aquitaine. This was a job for a soldier, but a soldier who was also a diplomat. The people of Bordeaux would not give allegiance to any but the king and had no time for their newly created Duke. From this his deputy's job cannot have been an easy one.

In the events of 1399 which led to the deposition and murder of King Richard II the Percies, as is well known, sided with Henry Bolingbroke, son and heir of John of Gaunt. It seems that they must have later regretted this action for although they received certain rewards their position was not greatly enhanced. They had exchanged a weak king for a strong one and one who, as lord of the great Lancaster estates, was also their next-door neighbour. Hotspur complained, though with exactly what justice it is hard to assess, that he had not received monies due for his campaigns against Owen Glendower in Wales and against Archibald, Earl of Douglas, whom he had defeated and captured at the battle of Homildon Hill.

He tried to blackmail the king into paying up by withholding his prisoner, Douglas, whom he should in duty have handed over to the crown. He also complained that Henry would not ransom his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer. The Percies' grievances were made explicit in a manifesto drawn up in July 1403. This testament was no more than an apologia for the revolt they planned. Most of their complaints do not stand up well to critical examination and, apart from their financial grievances, the matter which irritated them most was that they had backed the wrong horse and that the future would be much rosier if Mortimer, representative of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, were on the throne.

The Percies formed an alliance with the warlike Glendower, whose activities in Wales had caused considerable alarm to the king, and marched down South to join forces. Unfortunately for them Henry moved faster and entered Shrewsbury, headquarters of the Prince of Wales, before Hotspur arrived. Then, not waiting for Percy to join up with his Welsh allies and attack, he moved out of the town and engaged the rebel army. Before the bloody but decisive battle of Shrewsbury the king offered terms of peace to Hotspur, but these were refused; whether this was because Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester and uncle to Hotspur, misrepresented the king's intentions to his nephew or whether Hotspur already mistrusted the king and was confident of victory, is not known. Certainly after the victory King Henry gave the greatest publicity to the fate which traitors might expect.

The body of Hotspur, who was slain and buried at Whitchurch, was exhumed, the head being sent to York and the quarters to various other great towns where they were publicly exhibited before being returned to his widow for burial in York Minster. In an age when great magnates had to live by the sword they certainly perished by it with monotonous regularity.

The ancient arms of Percy, as described in a thirteenth century roll of arms and which still form part of the armorial achievement of the present Duke of Northumberland, consist of five gold fusils[1] (long narrow diamond-shaped objects) joined together and stretching horizontally across a blue shield. After Henry, 1st Lord Percy's marriage to Eleanor, daughter of John Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, he seems to have abandoned this coat for a gold shield charged with a blue lion rampant, possibly reflecting the gold rampant lion on red of Fitzalan, for he bore this coat at the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300. These arms are shown on Hotspur's jupon[2] quartered with Gules[3] three Lucies[4] Argent[5], the canting, or punning coat of the Lucy family: lucy is a colloquial term for a pike. Hotspur's father had married as his second wife Maud, sister and heiress of Anthony, Lord Lucy, and widow of the Earl of Angus. A settlement was made whereby Hotspur and his heirs should, if Maud died without issue, inherit the Lucy honour and Castle of Cockermouth, provided always they quartered the arms of Lucy with their paternal coat. Hotspur's seal shows that he fulfilled this obligation on the death of his step-mother. Across the top of his jupon is a red label of three points. He bore this mark to show that he was not the head of his house and, as he died before his father, he carried it with him to the grave. The crest of Percy is a lion as in the shield but crowned with a golden coronet.

Hotspur's armour is like that of Gaunt and Oxford, for all three died within a few years of each other. The plate sabaton[6], or shoe, covers all the foot except the instep and is not simply a protective articulated plate strapped over the mail. He wears the Garter below the knee on his left leg. This was, and is, a blue strap embroidered with the motto of the Order, Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense. The pommel of his great sword is shown in the form of a crescent, for this was one of the Percy badges.

 

[1] A bearing in the form of an elongated lozenge; understood to have been originally a representation of a spindle covered with tow.

[2] A close-fitting tunic or doublet; esp. one worn by knights under the hauberk, sometimes of thick stuff and padded.

[3] Red.

[4] The pike (Esox lucius), esp. when full grown.

[5] Silver

[6] A broad-toed armed foot-covering worn by warriors in armour.