Thomas Holland's soldiering probably began in Scotland in the early 1330s. He was in Bordeaux in 1337 with Robert d'Artois, was a knight of the royal household by 1338, served in Flanders in 1338–9 and 1340, at Sluys, and on the abortive Tournai campaign. Probably by this time he had made the considerable coup of marrying the king's cousin, Joan Plantagenet known as "The Fair Maid of Kent". He was a landless young knight, son of a disgraced Lancastrian lord. She had also lost her father in disgrace and was not then the heiress she would become through the deaths without heirs of her uncle Thomas, Lord Wake, in 1349 and her brother John, Earl of Kent, in 1352, but it seems a surprising match and may have been a reward by Edward III to a loyal, energetic, young knight. Joan's mother, Margaret, countess of Kent, was not so favourable towards the match, and she may well have engineered Joan's marriage to the better connected William Montagu, heir to the earl of Salisbury, by February 1341, at a time when Holland was probably away on crusade in Prussia.
Holland was now also able to institute proceedings at the papal court for the restoration of his wife, Joan. Their marriage was confirmed and publicized in November 1349
Thomas and Joan had the following children
Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent the first son born in 1350
John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter born in 1352 , also Earl of Huntingdon, was an English nobleman, primarily remembered for helping cause the downfall of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester and then for conspiring against Henry IV.
Holland became one of the premier nobles in the kingdom, one of the principal props of Richard II's regime in its later years, and a military figure of some renown with a considerable territorial base in the south-west.
Although John Holland's precise date of birth is unknown, it was after 1350, and he was probably his father's youngest child. His stepfather, the Black Prince, assigned his yeoman John de la Haye to be Holland's guardian and he received royal household livery from 1371. He first came to prominence in 1378, shortly after his half-brother Richard's accession as king. Then he was awarded an annuity of £100 from the exchequer, served on John of Gaunt's abortive siege of St Malo in Brittany, and received his first grant of estates, the manors of Ardington and Philberds Court at East Hanney in Berkshire, to replace his annuity. He was given the Marensin lordship in Gascony in 1380. The award of the wardship of Rhys ap Gruffudd's estates, mainly in Staffordshire, Northwich in Cheshire, and Hope and Hopedale lordship in Flintshire, was extended by his first administrative appointment as justice of Cheshire for life on 6th May 1381. In 1381 he was also made a knight of the Garter. A proposal to send him to Ireland as lieutenant in August 1382 was not carried out.
Holland came increasingly under the influence of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, going on embassies with him to Calais in 1383 and again in 1384 when he was made a baronet. The Salisbury parliament in May 1384 witnessed the first indication of John Holland's violent temper. A friar who accused Gaunt of conspiring to kill the king was horribly murdered by Holland, and others, propter amorem ducis (‘for love of the duke’) according to the chronicler Walsingham. The fuller account of the monk of Westminster has Holland acting as a member of a household clique. Whatever his motive, this was his first real involvement in the politics of Richard II's court.
The grant in December 1384 of the reversion on their deaths of thirteen manors of Sir James Audley in Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, and two manors of Sir Nigel Loryng in Devon provided Holland with the first properties in his later extensive south-western patrimony. He then joined Richard II's expedition to Scotland in July 1385. It had only reached York when in a brawl one of Holland's esquires was killed by an archer of the retinue of Ralph, son and heir to the earl of Stafford. Seeking the perpetrator, Holland happened upon Ralph Stafford and slew him without having ascertained properly who he was. He fled to claim sanctuary at Beverley Minster and was disgraced, losing many of his earlier awards. After suitably abject apologies he was pardoned in February 1386, at Gaunt's request according to the chronicler Knighton, and on condition that he establish three chaplains to pray for Ralph's soul.
Holland, still under a cloud at court, was now very much under Gaunt's aegis, and became Constable of the army which Gaunt took to Spain in 1386 to win the crown of Castile. On 24th June of that year, near Plymouth, Holland married Gaunt's second daughter, Elizabeth of Lancaster who lived form c. 1364 until 1425, whom he had made pregnant while she was still married to the earl of Pembroke. The full importance of this marriage would only become apparent in 1471 when, on Henry VI's death, Holland's grandson, Henry, became the Lancastrian claimant to the throne. Gaunt's Spanish campaign was inconclusive, for which Holland as Constable must take some blame. He featured extensively in the diplomatic engagements and his prowess in the jousts was lauded by the chronicler Froissart. He abandoned the army and returned by April 1388 to England, where he was wooed at court by Richard's appellant opponents, possibly in an attempt to gain, through Holland, Gaunt's support.
Holland was created earl of Huntingdon on 2nd June 1388 with estates and revenues, mainly in the south-west and Suffolk, giving him an income of 2000 marks p.a. This was augmented by a number of grants of Duchy of Cornwall estates, such as Berkhamsted Castle on 8 October 1388, Tintagel Castle on 6 January 1389, and Trematon Castle and manor in 1392. He used Berkhamsted Castle as a base but he then also built himself a considerable residence at Dartington Hall in Devon. Although regarded by Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, as an intrusion into his area of authority, Holland's influence in the south-west grew further when he was made Admiral of the west on 18th May 1389, and initiated a characteristically aggressive administration. On 1st June 1389 he was made captain of the Breton port of Brest, an English outpost requiring the leadership of an experienced, self-sufficient figure.
In addition to such military duties Holland was appointed chief chamberlain of England on 31st May 1390, a move prompted by Richard's increasing desire to build his own group of royal kin and supporters. This life award was augmented into a grant to him and the heirs male of his body on 2nd February 1398. The post reflected Holland's chivalric renown, recorded and lauded by Froissart in tournaments at Calais in May and Smithfield in October 1390, and involved him in a number of ambitious foreign projects. He made preparations for a journey to Jerusalem and possibly Hungary in 1394, but joined the Irish expedition of 1395 late. He recruited troops for a projected expedition to Florence in 1397, when he was also appointed gonfalonier of the Roman church and Captain-General of the papal troops on 1st March 1397, with the aim of ridding Italy of schismatics.
Despite the fact that Holland held an annuity of 200 marks from the Duchy of Lancaster estates in Norfolk by March 1391, his earlier ties with Gaunt seem to have cooled in the 1390s. One cause may have been the involvement of one of Holland's men, Sir Nicholas Clifton, in an anti-Gaunt rising in Cheshire in 1393; Holland also clashed with Gaunt over rival marital plans involving the Duke of Brittany's children. Although Holland was Gaunt's son-in-law, he does not feature in Gaunt's will of 1398. By contrast, he was increasingly identified with the royal court. During the 1390s Richard handed to him a life interest in much of his duchy of Cornwall inheritance. The king further entrusted him with a series of castles to add to his south-western holdings: Rockingham on 19th April 1391, Horeston on 29th September 1391, Haverfordwest on 10th January 1392, and Conwy on 3rd September 1394. After serving in Ireland on Richard's first expedition there in March and April 1395, Holland was appointed by Richard warden of the western march towards Scotland and custodian of Carlisle on 16th February 1397, as part of his policy of loosening the grip on that office of the Nevilles and Percys. His military exploits also encouraged Philippe de Mézières to enlist Holland's support as a patron for his order of the Passion and to present him with an abridgement of the order's rule, now Oxford, Bodleian, MS Ashmole 813. His violent intemperance and physical rashness were characteristics not then despised by contemporaries.
With his nephew Thomas, the new earl of Kent on his father's death in 1397, Holland was very firmly a supporter of Richard II in his actions to remove the appellants in his coup of 1397. In the absence of children of his own, Richard used his Holland relatives to bind his noble supporters closer to his cause and bring them within the royal kin. Holland's elder daughter, Constance, had been betrothed in 1391 to Thomas (II) Mowbray, the heir of one of Richard's supporters, and his other daughter was married to Richard de Vere, the heir of the earl of Oxford, Holland's predecessor as king's chamberlain. The marriages of his nieces into the Mortimer, York, Beaufort, Montague, and Neville families, and of his nephew Thomas to a Stafford, all helped to tie these families closer to the king.
In July 1397 Richard II struck against the lords appellant of 1388. After dining with Holland in London, the king rode with him to Pleshey Castle to arrest the king's uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. The earls of Arundel and Warwick were similarly seized. All their estates were forfeited. Holland was rewarded with the southern lordships of the Earl of Arundel, including Arundel Castle, on 3rd August 1397 and he was promoted Duke of Exeter on 29 September. Thomas (I) Mowbray's banishment in 1398 brought Holland further southern Arundel estates, previously awarded to Mowbray, in Lewes Castle on 23rd September 1398 and Reigate Castle on 15th January 1399. He was also established in south Wales with the wardship of the Mortimer estates there on the death of the Earl of March in July 1398 and custody of Gaunt's powerful south Wales holdings on the death of his former mentor in February 1399.
Holland continued to help defend the peripheries of the kingdom, being appointed Captain of Calais on 24 February 1398. He left Calais to serve on Richard's second Irish expedition in May 1399. On the news of Bolingbroke's landing in England, Holland accompanied Richard on his hasty journey to Pembroke in July and then on to Conwy Castle. Sent by Richard to negotiate with Bolingbroke, Holland was imprisoned in Chester, and Richard soon followed him into captivity. He was probably moved with Richard to London in September 1399, though he may have been at large to see to the birth of his youngest son, Edward, around this time, and his administration was still active in September.
Holland attended the parliament in October 1399 that formalized Richard's deposition. He denounced Richard's actions and assisted in Henry IV's coronation. He was then imprisoned in Hertford on 20th October, before being tried with fellow members of the previous regime on 3rd November and stripped of all his gains since July 1397, so reverting to the status of earl of Huntingdon. Given the short time he had held these gains Holland's benefits from them had not been great, but the awards he had received before 1397 now also came under threat. He suffered from Richard's policy of passing on estates where the title was by no means absolute: his tenure had been secure while the king supported him, but now a number of rivals revived their claims to these lands. On 22nd December Holland lost his Cornish Duchy of Cornwall estates to the new prince of Wales. The abbey of St Mary Graces disputed his Devon lands and a claimant had seized from him Barford St Martin, a Wiltshire manor, in August. Other former supporters of Richard II, such as Holland's nephew Thomas, also saw their positions eroded after 3 November, with the result that a plot was hatched in the last days of 1399 to remove the new Henry IV.
The conspirators met at Kingston in Surrey on 4th January, with the intention of surprising Henry at a tournament at Windsor. Henry had been forewarned and left Windsor for London. The rebels fled west to Cirencester where the Earls of Kent and Salisbury were killed on 8 January. Holland had been waiting meantime to seize London on the news of success at Windsor. He escaped east on 6th January, but contrary winds drove his ship ashore in Essex. He received shelter at the de Vere castle of Hadleigh but was arrested at Prittlewell and imprisoned by the king's mother-in-law, the Countess of Hereford, at Pleshey, Essex. In the presence of the new Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, he was executed there by popular demand on 9th or 10th January. His head was displayed on London Bridge until it was buried with his body in the collegiate church at Pleshey in February 1400.
John and Elizabeth had five children:
Richard Holland who died in 1400
Edward Holland Count of Mortain who died in 1418
Constance Holland who died in 1437 and married Thomas (II) Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, and then John Grey of Ruthin
A daughter, name unknown, who married Richard de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
His widow, Elizabeth, married John Cornwall, later Lord Fanhope who died in 1443. She died on 24 November 1425 and was buried at Burford, Shropshire.
M. M. N. Stansfield, ‘The Holland family, dukes of Exeter, earls of Kent and Huntingdon, 1352–1475’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1987 · Chancery records · PRO, E 101, E 403, E 401, E 364, C 61, C 71, C 81, C 76, C 56, KB 27, KB 9, DL 29, E 159 · N. Saul, Richard II (1997) · Œuvres de Froissart: chroniques, ed. K. de Lettenhove, 25 vols. (Brussels, 1867–77) · Thomae Walsingham, quondam monachi S. Albani, historia Anglicana, ed. H. T. Riley, 2 vols., pt 1 of Chronica monasterii S. Albani, Rolls Series, 28 (1863–4) · B. Williams, ed., Chronicque de la traïson et mort de Richart Deux, roy Dengleterre, EHS, 9 (1846) · Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden monachi Cestrensis, ed. C. Babington and J. R. Lumby, 9 vols., Rolls Series, 41 (1865–86), vols. 8–9 · Chronicon Henrici Knighton, vel Cnitthon, monachi Leycestrensis, ed. J. R. Lumby, 2 vols., Rolls Series, 92 (1889–95) · ‘Annales Ricardi secundi et Henrici quarti, regum Angliae’, Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde … chronica et annales, ed. H. T. Riley, pt 3 of Chronica monasterii S. Albani, Rolls Series, 28 (1866), 155–420 · A. Roges, ‘Henry IV and the revolt of the earls, 1400’, History Today, 18 (1968), 277–83 · [J. Creton], ‘Translation of a French metrical history of the deposition of King Richard the Second … with a copy of the original’, ed. and trans. J. Webb, Archaeologia, 20 (1824), 1–423 · M. D. Legge, ed., Anglo-Norman letters and petitions from All Souls MS 182, Anglo-Norman Texts, 3 (1941) · M. Jones, Ducal Brittany, 1364–1399 (1970)
Wealth at death
had £301 11s. 4d. of goods in flight from Essex (Jan 1400): PRO, E 101/355/7 · £2096 16s. 6d. of valuables used to pay off debts (Sept 1399): PRO, E 159/176, 177 · lands and annuities to value of 2000 marks as Earl of Huntingdon (1388)
Maud Holland who married first Hugh Courtenay and then Waleran, Count of St Pol. She died in 1392
Joan Holland who married John de Montfort, duke of Brittany and died in 1384
Their original union was declared to have been consummated; the ‘marriage’ with William Montagu had been null and void from the start. Holland's fortunes soon took a further rise as Joan's brother John, earl of Kent, died childless in 1352. Joan inherited his estates, spread over some sixteen counties. Holland was now, in the right of his wife, a landed lord of significant territorial resources. He was summoned to parliament as Lord Holland from 1354, and his military career burgeoned with a series of independent commands. Captain of Calais Castle in August 1352, he travelled again to Brittany in 1353 and in 1354 was made the king's captain and lieutenant there, with custody of the young heir to the duchy and funding from local revenues. He became keeper of the Channel Islands in June 1356, at a time when Castle Cornet there was in French hands; his able lieutenant, his brother Otto, soon recaptured it. Holland was appointed custodian of Crocy Castle in Normandy in November 1357 and then governor of the Harcourt lands in the Cotentin, based on St Sauveur-le-Vicomte, in October 1358. Custody of Barfleur in the Cotentin followed in October 1359, when he was also made joint lieutenant of Normandy with Philippe of Navarre. In September 1360 he received his most important post yet, when he was made Edward III's captain and lieutenant in Normandy and France. He was now accorded the title of Earl of Kent to bolster his authority and prestige. He had the delicate, diplomatic task of carrying out the provisions of the treaty of Brétigny of October 1360, but while performing this duty he contracted some illness and died at Rouen on 28 December 1360. His body was initially interred in the church of the Friars Minor in Rouen, and was later moved to the church of the Greyfriars, Stamford, Lincolnshire.
Holland's widow, Joan, married Edward, the Black Prince, in 1361.
M. M. N. Stansfield, ‘The Holland family, dukes of Exeter, earls of Kent and Huntingdon, 1352–1475’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1987 · Chancery records · PRO, C135/155/117 · K. P. Wentersdorf, ‘The clandestine marriages of the Fair Maid of Kent’, Journal of Medieval History, 5 (1979), 203–32 · Œuvres de Froissart: chroniques, ed. K. de Lettenhove, 25 vols. (Brussels, 1867–77) · J. H. Le Patourel, The medieval administration of the Channel Islands, 1199–1399 (1937) · Chronique de Jean le Bel, ed. J. Viard and E. Déprez, 2 (Paris, 1905) · E. Perroy, The Hundred Years War, trans. W. B. Wells (1951) [Fr. orig., La guerre de cent ans (1945)]; repr. (1965) · G. Wrottesley, Crécy and Calais (1897) · S. Luce, ed., Chronique des quatre premiers Valois, 1327–1393 (Paris, 1862), 123
Wealth at death
approx. £1281 17s. 2½d.: PRO, C 135/155/117