Earls of Great Britain


William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.

William Marshal was born in 1146 and was the 1st Earl of Pembroke, and the only knight ever to unhorse King Richard the Lionheart. He rose from obscurity to become Regent of England after the death of John, was the second son of John, marshal of the court under Henry II, and succeeded him in that office. He married Isabella de Clare, daughter of 'Strongbow', thus acquiring the title of Earl of Pembroke and the vast estates of the deceased earl. He served under 4 kings, Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III for whom he was the regent. He was the champion of England for many years and was never defeated in battle. He last fought his last battle at the age of 72. On the 15 June 1215 at Runnymede it was William who dealt with the barons who forced King John agree to the Magna Carta. He died at his monor of Caversham near Reading, 14th May 1219, and was buried in the Temple Church, London.He left five sons who successively held the earldom, and five daughters. The film A Knights Tale was based on his life.
[Earl of Pembroke written mainly by Pride James, August 2009]

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Anthony Woodville, (or Wydeville), Earl Rivers,

an accomplished nobleman of the 16th century, was born in 1442. In consequence of his sister having married Edward IV., he shared in all the vicissitudes which befell the king, and became governor of Calais and captain-general of the king's forces. He was also made governor of Prince Edward, and chief butler of England. On the death of the king the Earl assembled a body of troops, with the intention of crowning his nephew; but his design was defeated by the machinations of the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III., who caused the gallant nobleman to be beheaded, without trial, in the castle of Pontefract, June, 1483.

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Sir Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford,

the great minister of Charles I., and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was of an ancient and wealthy Yorkshire family, and was born at London, in 1593. He studied at Cambridge, married in 1611, was knighted, and travelled on the continent. He was returned to parliament as member for Yorkshire in 1614, and the next year was named custus rotulorum for the West Riding. He sat in several parliaments for Yorkshire, and without going to extremes, took part with the opponents of the court. He was once made sheriff of Yorkshire that he might not be returned to parliament, and was afterwards imprisoned for refusing a forced loan. In 1628 his course was changed; he went over to the side of the king, and was created Baron Wentworth, then Viscount, lord President of the Council of the North, and in 1629 Privy-Councillor. As President of the North he exercised arbitrary power, and violated the Petition of Right; and his love of power still unsatisfied, he was made, by his own desire, Lord-Deputy of Ireland in July, 1633.

His government was despotic and cruel; he would fain have driven out of the country all the Scots who had taken the covenant; he raised a large army, which was no doubt intended for the support of tyranny in England; and by his infamous claim of the whole province of Connaught for the crown created general alarm and led the way to the rebellion of 1641. Ireland, however owes to him the introduction of the growth of flax and the establishment of the linen manufacture. In 1639 Wentworth was created Earl of Strafford, and received the title of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was soon after called to command against the Scots but he effected nothing.

He took his seat in the House of lords in November 1640 and was immediately impeached of high treason, Pym taking the leading part against him. He was committed to the Tower, and in March, 1641 his trial began --one of the most memorable of state Trials. The whole house of Commons was present, with them commissioners from Scotland and Ireland, eighty peers as judges and the King and Queen as spectators. The management of the proceeding was entrusted to Pym. For seventeen days, says Guizot, he, unaided against thirteen accusers who relieved one another, argued the charges which they brought forward. The impeachment seemed likely to fail, and a bill of attainder was proposed. The trial went on, Strafford closed his eloquent defence on the 13th April, the attainder was hurried on, and passed on the 21st but the King refused his assent. The popular excitement rose to a panic, a report was spread that the House of Commons was to be blown up and twice within a week a cracking of the floor caused the flight of the members. At last, moved by the tears of his wife, who hated Strafford, and was on the point of fleeing to France; influenced also by the intrigues and sophistry of the bishop of Lincoln; the king gave his assent to the attainder; and his minister, who had trusted in his promise of protection, was beheaded on Tower Hill, May 12, 1641.

Strafford's character is thus sketched by Macaulay. He was the first Englishman to whom a peerage was a sacrament of infamy, a baptism into the communion of corruption. As he was the earliest of the hateful list, so was he also by far the greatest; eloquent sagacious, adventurous, intrepid, ready of invention, immutable of purpose, in every talent which exalts or destroys nations pre-eminent, the lost archangel, the Satan of the apostasy.' The attainder of the Earl of Strafford was reversed in 1662. Strafford's Letters and Despatches have been published in 2 vols. folio, and his Life has been written by Forster. Vandyck's fine portrait group of Strafford and his secretary, Sir P. Mainwaring, was lent to the National Portrait Exhibition (1866).

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Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick,

'the King-maker,' was born about 1428. He was the eldest son of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and having by his marriage with Anne; daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, become possessor of the immense estates of the Warwick family, was created Earl of Warwick when about the age of twenty-one. His personal character and great abilities, his enormous wealth and lavish expenditure, and his extended and important family connections, made him at once the mightiest English noble of his time, and the favourite of the people. The story of his life would be also that of the Wars of the Roses, in which he is the most prominent figure.

A family alliance with Richard, Duke of York, father of Edward IV., led him to take the side of the house of York, and his dashing courage at the battle of St. Alban's in 1455, when he led the van, chiefly decided the victory of the Duke of York. He was then appointed to the important post of governor or captain of Calais, which, with a short interval, he held till his death. In May, 1458, he attacked a fleet of Lübeck vessels, and after a sharp combat, captured several of them. A few months later an attempt was made in London to assassinate him, and the war soon after was renewed. But after some trifling successes the Yorkist army was dispersed, and Warwick with his father retired to Calais.

After carrying on a piratical warfare for a short time, he landed in Kent with an army in 1460; was joined by large numbers, marched on London, and on July 10th defeated the Lancastrians at Northampton, and took Henry VI. prisoner. Queen Margaret escaped and raised an army, with which she defeated the Duke of York at Wakefield in December; and the Earl of Warwick at St. Alban's in February, 1461. But these victories were fruitless, for Warwick, joined by Edward, now Duke of York, compelled the royal army to retire to the north, and occupied London, where Edward was at once proclaimed king.

Warwick defeated the Lancastrians at Towton, and was rewarded for that and other important services by various appointments and large grants of forfeited estates. He was made captain of Dover, warden of the West Marches, and lord chamberlain, his two brothers being similarly honoured with high appointments. But Warwick and his family did not long retain the favour of the king. Edward married in 1464 Elizabeth Woodville, and jealousies naturally grew up between the Nevilles and her relations. Other causes probably contributed to the alienation, which was shown in 1467 by the king's depriving George Neville, archbishop of York, of the Great Seal; afterwards by insurrections in the north; and in 1470 by the alliance of Warwick with Queen Margaret, and the marriage of her son, Prince Edward, to Anne Neville, younger daughter of the great Earl. Warwick then invaded England with a fresh force, proclaimed and restored Henry VI., and with the Duke of Clarence, Edward's brother, entered London in triumph.

The Nevilles were reinstated in their dignities and offices, and Warwick was appointed in addition Lord High Admiral. But once more the tide turned; Edward, landing in Yorkshire in March 1471, was joined by Clarence and the archbishop of York, and won the decisive victory of Barnet, April 14, at which the kingmaker and his brother, Lord Montague, were killed. Their bodies were exposed to public view in London, and afterwards buried in Bisham Abbey, in Berkshire. The widow of Warwick long survived him, taking refuge for a time at Beaulieu; was reduced to penury, and was still living in 1490.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson © 1996.

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