Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York

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Edmund of Langley
Edmund of Langley remonstrating with the King of Portugal - Chronique d' Angleterre (Volume III) (late 15th C), f.186r - BL Royal MS 14 E IV.png
Edmund of Langley before King Ferdinand I of Portugal, from Jean de Wavrin's Chronique d'Angleterre
Duke of York
Successor Edward of Norwich
Spouse Isabella of Castile
Joan Holland
Issue Edward, 2nd Duke of York
Constance, Countess of Gloucester
Richard, 3rd Earl of Cambridge
House House of Plantagenet
Father Edward III of England
Mother Philippa of Hainault
Born (1341-06-05)5 June 1341
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire
Died 1 August 1402(1402-08-01) (aged 61)
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire
Burial Kings Langley, Hertfordshire

Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, KG (5 June 1341 – 1 August 1402) was the fourth surviving son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Like many medieval English princes, Edmund gained his nickname from his birthplace of Kings Langley Palace in Hertfordshire. He was the founder of the House of York, but it was through the marriage of his younger son, Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, to Anne de Mortimer, great-granddaughter of Edmund's elder brother Lionel, that the Yorkist faction in the Wars of the Roses made its claim on the throne (the other party in the Wars of the Roses, the incumbent Lancasters, being the male descendants of his elder brother John of Gaunt, Edward III's third son).

Early years[edit]

On the death of his godfather, the Earl of Surrey, Edmund was granted the Earl's lands north of the Trent, primarily in Yorkshire. In 1359 he joined his father King Edward III on an unsuccessful military expedition to France and in 1361 was made a knight of the Garter. In 1362, at the age of twenty-one, he was created Earl of Cambridge by King Edward.[1]

Military career[edit]

Some argue that Edmund had little aptitude for war, but he took part in several military expeditions to France in the 1370s, and when his tomb was opened in the 1870s his skeleton showed evidence of wounds that strongly suggests his martial abilities have been under-rated. In 1369 he brought a retinue of 400 men-at-arms and 400 archers to serve with John Hastings, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, on campaign in Brittany and Angoulême. The following year he first joined Pembroke again on an expedition to relieve the fortress of Belle Perche and then accompanied the Black Prince on the campaign which resulted in the siege and sack of Limoges. In 1375 he sailed with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, to relieve Brest, but after some initial success a truce was declared.

In 1381 he led an abortive expedition to join with the Portuguese in attacking Castile, but after months of indecisiveness a peace was again declared (between Spain and Portugal) and Edmund had to lead his malcontented troops home.

He was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports on 12 June 1376 and held office until 1381. He acted as Keeper of the Realm in 1394/95 when Richard II campaigned in Ireland and presided over Parliament in 1395. He was also keeper of the realm in 1396 during the king's brief visit to France to collect his child-bride Isabella. The Duke was left as Custodian of the Realm in the summer of 1399 when Richard II departed for an extended campaign in Ireland. In late June the exiled Henry Bolingbroke landed at Bridlington in Yorkshire. He raised an army to resist Bolingbroke, then decided instead to join him, for which he was well rewarded. He thereafter remained loyal to the new Lancastrian regime as Bolingbroke overthrew Richard II to become King Henry IV.

Later life[edit]

On 6 August 1385, Edmund was elevated to Duke of York[2]

Towards the end of his life, in 1399, he was appointed Warden of the West March for a short period.[3]

Edmund of Langley died in his birthplace and was buried there in the church of the mendicant friars. His dukedom passed to his eldest son, Edward.


Langley's first wife, Isabella, was a daughter of King Peter of Castile and María de Padilla. They had two sons and a daughter:

After Isabella's death in 1392, Langley married his cousin Joan Holland, whose great-grandfather Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, was the half-brother of Langley's grandfather Edward II; she and Langley were thus both descended from King Edward I. The marriage produced no children.

Langley's first wife, Infanta Isabella of Castile, was the sister of Infanta Constance of Castile, the second wife of Langley's brother John of Gaunt.

His second wife, Lady Joan Holland, a granddaughter of Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales (mother of Richard II), was the sister of Margaret Holland who married firstly to Gaunt's son John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and secondly to Thomas of Lancaster, grandson of John of Gaunt by his son King Henry IV. Another sister, Eleanor Holland was mother-in-law to Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, grandson of John of Gaunt by his daughter Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. Yet another sister, Alianore Holland was mother to Anne de Mortimer, wife to Langley's son, Richard of Conisburgh. Another sibling of Lady Joan, Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent would father a child by Langley's daughter Constance of York; it has been claimed there was a marriage betrothal between the two, but no evidence that they were officially married.[4]

Shakespeare's Duke of York[edit]

As a son of the sovereign, Edmund bore the arms of the sovereign, differenced by a label argent, on each point three torteaux.[5]

Edmund, the 1st Duke of York is a major character in Shakespeare's Richard II. In the play, Edmund resigns his position as an adviser to his nephew, Richard II, but is reluctant to betray the king. He eventually agrees to side with Bolingbroke to help him regain the lands Richard confiscated after the death of Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt. After Bolingbroke deposes Richard and is crowned Henry IV, Edmund discovers a plot by his son, Aumerle to assassinate the new king. Edmund exposes the plot, but his wife Isabella convinces Henry to pardon her son.


From an account of the exhumation of Edmund's corpse in 1877: "The skull belonging to the male skeleton had a sloping forehead. The chin and lower jaw were powerfully developed. The front teeth were small in size and crammed together, and many of the back teeth lost. Still the retention of the front teeth and the good development of the lower jaw and chin, coupled with the length and breadth of the facial region, must have given a commanding expression to the old man who owned this skull... A piece of coarse textile fabric, with some hair of a greyish-red color adhering to it, was found with the skull. He was from 5' 5" to 5' 7" in height."[6]



  1. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Person Page 10188". thePeerage.com. Retrieved 2008-09-19. [unreliable source?]
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica Edmund of Langley First Duke of York
  3. ^ Dodd, Gwylim (2003). Henry IV: the establishment of the regime, 1399-1406. ISBN 9781903153123. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  4. ^ Douglas Richardson. Plantagenet Ancestry, 2011.
  5. ^ Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family
  6. ^ From an account of the exhumation of his corpse in 1877


  • Peggy K. Liss, "Isabel the Queen," New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 165
  • James Reston, Jr. "Dogs of God," New York: Doubleday, p. 18.
  • Douglas Biggs, “A Wrong Whom Conscience and Kindred Bid Me to Right: A Reassessment of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and the Usurpation of Henry IV” Albion, 26 (1994), pp. 231–246.
  • Douglas Biggs, “To Aid the Custodian and Council: Edmund of Langley and the Defense of the Realm, June–July 1399,” Journal of Medieval Military History, I (2002), pp. 125–144.
  • Douglas Biggs, “’A Voyage or Rather and Expedition to Portugal:’ Edmund of Langley in Iberia 1381/82,” Journal of Medieval Military History 7 (2009), pp. 57–74.
  • Douglas Biggs, Three Armies in Britain: The Irish Campaign of Richard II and the Usurpation of Henry IV, 1399, Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2006.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Reines
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Assheton
Preceded by
The Lord Beaumont
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Dorset
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir John Holland
Justice of Chester
Succeeded by
The Duke of Ireland
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of York
1st creation
Succeeded by
Edward of Norwich
Earl of Cambridge
2nd creation