The 2nd son of Robert Holland, Lord Holland of Upholland, Lancashire, Thomas was born around 1315 and grew up to be quite a renowned soldier. His mother was Maud, daughter and co-heiress of Alan Zouche, Lord Zouche of Ashby. Thomas grew up with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. His older brother, Robert, succeeded to the Holland estates and resided at Thorpe Waterville in Northamptonshire. Thomas’s 2 younger brothers, Alan and Otto, followed their brother into military service, and are often noted as having accompanied him on campaign.
The number of sisters seems to be confused; some sources put it at 5, while others mention only 3. Of the 3 known sisters the eldest, Isabella, became the mistress of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey who had married to Edward II’s cousin, Joan of Bar. Another sister, Margaret, died in 1349 and had been married to John de la Warr, while the last, Matilda or Maud, had been the wife of John (II) Mowbray, Lord Mowbray.
Thomas Holland’s father had been a chief supporter of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had attempted to curb the malevolent influence of Hugh le Despener the Younger on King Edward II and, by extension, the country. Holland, however, turned his coat at the last-minute and joined the king’s faction just months before Lancaster was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.
Lancaster was executed but Robert Holland did not get the reward he was probably expecting; he was imprisoned, with his lands confiscated. It was only in 1327, after Edward II’s deposition and the accession of Edward III, that Holland’s lands were restored. However, in October 1328 Robert Holland was murdered in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, probably by supporters of the new Earl of Lancaster, Thomas’s brother Henry.
A landless young knight, and the son of a disgraced lord, Thomas Holland had very little going for him when he started his soldiering career, probably in Scotland in the early 1330s. However, as the 1330s progressed he was making a reputation as an able soldier. In 1337 he was fighting in Bordeaux with Robert d’Artois, but by 1338 he was a knight of the royal household; serving in Flanders the following year and at Sluys in 1340.
In 1339 Thomas managed to pull off the marriage coup of the century – but no one was to know about it for 10 years. At the age of 24 Thomas married 11-year-old Joan Plantagenet, daughter of Edmund, earl of Kent, granddaughter of Edward I and cousin of King Edward III. Despite her family links, at the time of the marriage Joan was no great heiress; her brother was earl of Kent and it was only his death in 1352 and the earlier death-without-heirs of her maternal uncle, Thomas Lord Wake, in 1349, that made her a wealthy woman in her own right.
Modern sensibilities will make us cringe at Joan’s tender age, but, although it was young even for the period an 11-year-old bride was not unheard of. We know, from Joan’s later testimony, that the marriage was consummated almost immediately; however, the couple did not settle down to marital bliss and Holland was soon on his travels.
In 1341, while Holland was away crusading in Prussia, Joan’s mother, Margaret Wake, arranged an advantageous marriage for her daughter to William Montagu, 2nd earl of Salisbury. Whether Margaret knew about the extent of Joan’s relationship with Holland is uncertain – maybe she believed Joan was infatuated with the landless knight and hoped that marrying her to Montagu would cure the pre-teen of this puppy love?
By February 1341 Joan and Montagu were married.
Thomas Holland, however, didn’t appear to be in a rush to return to claim his wife; he spent the next few years campaigning in Europe. In 1342-3 he fought in Brittany with the king and was probably in Granada with the earl of Derby by 1343. In 1345 he was back in Brittany and was at the Siege of Caen in 1346; a battle in which Joan’s other husband, Montagu, may also have taken part – awkward!
Holland played a prominent part in the Siege of Caen, capturing the Count of Eu, constable of France, who surrendered himself to Holland based on the knight’s chivalrous reputation. The count was then sold to Edward III for 80,000 florins, possibly making Holland very wealthy indeed (if he ever received the full balance owed). Thomas Holland’s eminence rose further during the 1346 Crecy campaign, seeing action at Amiens and Rouen; he was wounded at a castle on the Seine and commanded the rearguard on the march from Caen.
Recognition of his exploits came from the King in 1348, when Holland was made one of the Founder Knights of the Order of the Garter. His brother and lieutenant, Otto, was also awarded with the same honour – as was William Montagu, earl of Salisbury and the ‘other’ husband of the fair Joan. Montagu was also, at this time, employing Thomas Holland as his steward – I wonder if Joan had had a hand in the appointment?
Holland now found himself in a position to petition the papal court to confirm the validity of his marriage and have Joan returned to him. The inaugural Garter tournament on St George’s Day, 1349 must have caused great interest, seeing Joan’s current husband, the Earl of Salisbury, fighting on the king’s team, while Sir Thomas Holland was on the side of Prince Edward, the Black Prince (Joan’s future husband, just to make things more confusing). It is not hard to imagine the highly charged atmosphere, with Joan’s 2 husbands facing each other across the tournament field, with the object of their affection watching from the stands.
If you’re wondering who Joan cheered for, my guess is Thomas Holland as, when called to testify to her marriage with Holland, Joan confirmed that, not only had she married Holland but the marriage had also been consummated. In November 1349 the court publicised the verdict; Joan’s marriage to Montagu was declared null and void and she was ordered to return to Holland.
Holland’s fortunes were certainly on the rise, his wife restored to him, and with her brother’s death in 1352, Joan inherited estates in 16 counties, making Holland (by right of his wife) a lord of vast estates. His military career blossomed, he was given independent commands and in August 1352 was made Captain of Calais Castle; from 1354 he was summoned to parliament as Lord Holland.
Joan and Sir Thomas Holland had 5 children together; 3 sons and 2 daughters. Their 1st son, Thomas, Earl of Kent, was born in 1350 and married Alice, the daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel; he died in 1397. Edmund was born in 1352 and died young. Their 3rd son, John, was created Duke of Exeter in 1397 by his younger brother, King Richard II. He married Elizabeth of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt and Blanch of Lancaster, but was executed in 1400 for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Henry IV and return his brother to the throne.
Of their daughters, Joan married John V, Duke of Brittany (who would marry Joanna of Navarre as his 2nd wife, the future queen-consort of Henry IV), but died in 1384. Their youngest child, Matilda, was born in 1359 and married twice; Sir Hugh de Courtenay, who died in 1377, and then Waleran of Luxembourg, Count of St Pol and Ligny. Matilda died in 1391.
Thomas Holland’s military prestige continued to rise throughout the 1350s, with his appointment as the King’s lieutenant in Brittany in 1353-4, receiving funding from the local revenues. Thomas also had custody of the young heir to the duchy, John V, who was later married to the Holland’s daughter, Joan.
In June 1356 Holland was appointed Keeper of the Channel Islands and tasked with the recovery of the Islands’ Castle Cornet, then in French hands; Holland’s brother, Otto, soon recaptured it for the English. In the subsequent years, Holland was placed in charge of various castles in Normandy; until October 1359 when he was appointed joint lieutenant of Normandy with Philip of Navarre.
The apotheosis of Holland’s military career came in September 1360 when he was appointed the king’s captain and lieutenant in France and Normandy. It was at this time, also, that he was finally given the title earl of Kent – to bolster his authority and prestige among friends and enemies alike, in order to aid in his task of carrying out the provisions of the Treaty of Bretigny of October 1360.
However, before this duty could be fulfilled, and at the height of his fame and prestige, Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, contracted an illness and died at Rouen on 26th December 1360. He was buried in the church of the Friars Minor at Rouen, but was later moved to the Church of the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire.
His widow, Joan, would marry Prince Edward, the Black Prince and heir of Edward III, in the following year and their son, Richard would be crowned in 1377 as King Richard II. Holland’s children by Joan would be half-siblings to the King of England.
When Joan herself died in 1385 she chose to be buried beside her 1st husband in Lincolnshire, rather than with her prince in Canterbury Cathedral.
©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
Pictures taken from Wikipedia.
Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; oxforddnb.com; britannia.com; themcs.org.