Course: Introduction to Feudal Warlord
Student: Henry Percy, first Earl of Northumberland
Grade: C-

In 1388 Henry Percy produced a list of his men. It is now in the archive of the British Library; it is about eight inches wide and it unrolls and unrolls and unrolls to its full length of five feet [Cottonian Charters, viii, 3]. Percy could list "four bannerets, thirty-seven knights, and over a thousand esquires and archers, besides foot-soldiers in large numbers." [Brenan, p. 36] The roll is undated; hence, 1388 is the best guess of the indexers of the manuscript. The roll is equally uninformative about its purpose. But the purpose of the army of men is clear.

Henry Percy was a prototypical feudal warlord [Brenan, 1902; De Fonblanque, 1887]. He spent most of his adult life making war. Usually it was war against the Scots. As lord of Alnwick and earl of Northumberland he was on the front line between Scotland and England. Much of his life he was warden of the east marches, which made him responsible for the eastern section of the border between England and Scotland, and from time to time he was warden of both east and west marches. The Scottish border was his responsibility; a responsibility he fulfilled by constant warring -- invading their space and repelling them when they invaded his space. From time to time he quit the warring with the Scots and took off for the continent where he made war on the French. And upon occasion he made war on English kings -- Edward III, Richard II, and Henry IV.

War is not a one person game. Percy needed an armed force he could call forth on a moments notice -- frequently. Those were his men. For Percy, it meant he was commander of a force. Hence, he was a force to be reckoned with in Scotland and England. It meant additional stature and wealth. This fourth lord of Alnwick became the first earl of Northumberland. Kings rewarded him with lands that he captured and command of towns and villages in the north of England. What it meant to Percy's men is not equally clear. This is what it meant to be on Percy's list -- for three Boyntons.

Robert de Boynton

Robert de Boynton was a member of a distinguished East Riding family. The family had held land in Boynton and Hunmanby for more than seventy-five years. The land was sufficiently valuable that his grandfather had been called to perform military service by Edward I against the Scots in 1300. [A Boynton Story: Recalibrating Wealth] When Robert died the inquisition post mortem listed land at Hunmanby that he held for knight's service to the king and land at Boynton held from "divers lords by divers service." And Robert de Thorpe held land in Ruddestane [Rudston] from him by knight's service, which he held from Henry Percy by knight's service, and Henry Percy held from the king. [Calendar Inquisitions Post Mortem, Richard II, p. 31] The relationship between the de Boyntons and the de Thorpes was already in place at the beginning of the century, though there is no mention of the Percys in that inquisition. [Calendar Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward II, p. 54] Robert de Boynton was a knight on the basis of these land holdings, as his grandfather had been before him.

Robert Boynton and Henry Percy were connected in a number of ways in the 1370s. [A Boynton Story: Henry Percy Makes His Move] They did business together; there are several charters in which they were both involved. They played together; Robert went up to visit Henry Percy at his castle in Alnwick at least once. Robert had to go at least 100 miles to get there, which you did not do in a day in the fourteenth century. So it meant putting up in the castle for a while. They did governing together; both served in parliament in 1376 and they both served on two commissions set up at the request of that parliament. And they fought together; they protected the northern border. There is quite a lot of evidence of Henry Percy leading troops, but only circumstantial evidence making Robert one of the troops. In 1378 Robert de Boynton was constable of the castle at Berwick upon Tweed. Henry Percy was responsible for the castle, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that Percy would have put someone in charge of the castle who had not demonstrated his military prowess in earlier campaigns.

Historians have spent a considerable amount of energy during the last 50 years dissecting the feudal relationship. [Hicks, 1995] Much of the research has turned on a distinction they make using the labels 'feudalism' and 'bastard feudalism.' One of the important distinguishing features between the two: in feudalism the benefits conferred on the vassal by the lord are inheritable; they are benefits to the family and bind the family to the lord. In bastard feudalism the benefits conferred are not inheritable in the same sense; they are land that can be held for a specified period of time or for as long as the vassal is in an office or they are money -- none of which bind the family to the lord beyond the life of the benefit.

The relationship between the earl of Northumberland and Robert Boynton is interesting in the context of these distinctions. Robert held land from Henry Percy by knight's service. That is the standard feudal relationship -- holding land for knight's service; holding that will be passed to one's heirs. Originally knight's service was largely military, but over time it became a much broader range of services. However, Robert had many lords -- it turns out. He held land in Hunmanby from the king. He held land in Boynton and Thorpe from divers lords for divers service. And he held land in Ruddestane from Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland. Which lord got to "call the shots" when there were several? However, while the land stayed in the Boynton family, the lords kept changing. Robert's grandfather had land in Hunmanby which he held from the Tateshales. The Tateshales disappeared over the fifty years between the two inquisitions post mortem and were replaced by the king. We cannot be sure about "divers lords." And there is no mention of Henry Percy in the inquisition post mortem of Robert's grandfather. At the time he [an earlier Percy] was only lord Percy, but it still seems that he would have been mentioned had the land been held from him.

There are two more elements in the conferring of benefits from lord to vassal between Henry Percy and Robert Boynton -- one land and one money. There was a transaction in 1376 in which a piece of land that produced a rent of 40 s. a year was "to hold to Henry [Percy] and his heirs (together with . . .)." [W.P.B. 190-91] The interesting point about the transaction is the parenthetical (together with . . .). Thirty-two individuals are listed within the parentheses -- and their heirs. If you divide 40 s. between 33 families, the Percys and the other thirty-two, it is not a rich haul. This must have been much like Percy's list of 1388; this is the cut down list of his men. Robert was one of the persons on the list -- hence, could anticipate slightly more than 1 s. a year from the land.

About money: Henry Percy had income from Berwick upon Tweed. Berwick was a busy seaport at the time; it was an important port of entry supplying goods to Scotland. Henry Percy received the right to take 500 marks a year from the tax revenues generated by the seaport [Bean, pp. 6-7]. Percy had cash as a result of his control of Berwick upon Tweed. It seems likely that Robert Boynton got part of it for serving as constable of the castle.

There was a down side to being constable of the castle. This was the border between Scotland and England. It was a dangerous, dangerous assignment. And Robert suffered that danger -- losing his head to a band of Scots who captured the castle one evening in 1378.

Thomas de Boynton

Thomas de Boynton was lord of Acklam, which was in the North Riding of Yorkshire. His family had held land in Boynton and added land in Acklam and Roxby to their holdings as early as 1230. He and Robert were distant cousins, and they must have known each other since they both held land in Boynton. Thomas' family, like Robert's, was moderately wealthy and they were distinguished persons in the history of the county. Just north of Acklam was County Durham. The Prince Bishop of Durham had his own army, money, taxes, and justice system. Thomas served as sheriff of Durham for bishop John of Fordham, 1385-1387, and also for Walter of Skirlaw from 1391 to 1401. He also served as escheator for bishop Walter.

In addition to his work for the bishop of Durham Thomas worked with the Percys in several ways, but, apparently, not economically. The North Riding Boyntons did not hold land from the Percys [Appendix: Percy Land Holdings] nor are there any economic charters that involve them. However, they clearly knew each other and worked together in other arenas. Thomas visited the castle at Alnwick in 1376 to celebrate a religious holiday. He worked with Henry Percy on the Commission of Peace for the North Riding of Yorkshire. They were both members of the Commission in 1385 and 1386. When Hotspur, the son of the earl of Northumberland, became warden of Carlisle in 1390 he appointed Thomas Boynton constable of the castle [Appendix: Hotspur and Carlisle]. The king said that Hotspur could take advantage of "meadows, pastures, and fisheries" that other wardens had used. It seems likely that Thomas could take part of that as the constable. Thomas Boynton and the Percys do not seem to have shared land other than the land valued at 1 s. per person he shared with Henry Percy and 31 other families. If he was twice on the Percy list -- the charter in 1376 and the roll of 1388 -- then he must have been involved in Percy led battles against the Scots. And there is one other bit of evidence that he was a warring person. In his will he made provision for his "armaments." It was a time of warring, and apparently Thomas was part of the times.

Henry de Boynton

Thomas died in 1402. His oldest son and heir was Henry. Henry was relatively young at the time -- probably in his late twenties. He inherited the Boynton family fortune. And his father had left big shoes to fill if he was going to follow that path into public service.

There is no indication of economic relationships between Henry Boynton and Henry Percy. However, the political relationship -- though short lived -- was probably closer than had been the case for his father or for Robert de Boynton. In 1405 Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham, Richard Scrope, archbishop of York, and Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, led an insurrection against the king, Henry IV. The insurrection was put down and Mowbray and Scrope were executed when they were captured. Henry de Boynton was also executed along with six other knights who were captured when the castle at Berwick upon Tweed was taken. Henry Percy escaped into Scotland. After the insurrection had been crushed Henry IV inserted into the record of Parliament the perfidy of Henry Percy. Among the indictments was the claim that Henry Percy had appointed Henry Boynton to negotiate for him with the kings of Scotland and France. Whether he engaged in negotiations or was only appointed to engage in negotiations is not clear from the text. But it suggests a close -- if surreptitious -- working relationship. A relationship that cost Henry Boynton his head.

Leader and Led

The Boyntons were independently wealthy; their wealth was largely independent of Henry Percy [Appendix: Percy Land Holdings]. They did follow him, however. They followed his leadership; they followed him into battle -- including in insurrection against the king.

The benefits of following Percy seem most thin. Robert Boynton held some land from the Percys -- though the Boynton family seems to have held the land before Percy acquired it. Robert got the rewards of being constable at Berwick castle. One of those benefits was losing his head. Thomas Boynton also was appointed constable of a castle, and that is the only benefit we can find. Henry Boynton seems not to have received any benefit -- only a severed head.

Feudal warlords were supposed to protect and reward their followers. Henry Percy seems to have failed the Boyntons on both counts.

The relationships seems clear; there is ample documentary evidence of how they worked together. And because we know that Henry Percy frequently led a force against the Scots we can be confident that the Boyntons were warriors -- though there is no other evidence for this. Why they did it is another matter. Neither lord and vassal nor patronage seems adequate to account for the relationships. The standard conceptions of leader and led in feudalism need to be augmented.

The Aftermath

Henry Percy escaped execution by heading for Scotland. The king took the Percy land, and it was not returned to the Percy family until 1416 -- after Henry Percy had died.

Henry Boynton lost his head immediately, and the king took the Boynton land. The king did provide for Henry's mother and wife by setting aside some of the Boynton land to maintain them, but that land returned to the king when they died. Henry's first son died. His second son petitioned the king in 1424 for the return of the family land, and it was returned by 1427.

Christopher Boynton, Henry's younger brother, took up law, and threw in with the Nevilles. The Nevilles were the other distinguished family in Yorkshire and points north. The Boyntons had not been very successful following Henry Percy. Christopher was considerably more successful operating within the circle of the Nevilles. He had a long and distinguished career as a public lawyer. He was the lawyer who could make a quorum for the Commission of Peace in the North Riding. He served on the Commissions of Peace, Assize, and Gaol Delivery in Durham. He was on retainer to the city of York, and he served the king on many ad hoc commissions.


Appendix: Hotspur and Carlisle

Carus Collier wrote that Thomas Boynton "was Lieutenant and Constable of Carlisle under Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland in 1383." [Collier, chapter 2, p. 7] He based that on a manuscript at Burton Agnes when he was doing his research. The Henry Percy who was the son of the Earl was popularly known as Hotspur.

The date, 1383, must be inaccurate. Hotspur did not become warden of Carlisle until 1390. In 1390 he was appointed as warden and was granted the meadows, pastures and fisheries that had gone with being warden for earlier wardens. The first two paragraphs below are taken from the Calendar of Patent Rolls of 1390, and summarize the appointment of Hotspur as warden. The third paragraph reports the appointment of John Holand to be keeper of Carlisle in 1397.

We have found no record of Thomas Boynton being appointed constable of Carlisle. But if he was appointed to the office it must have been between 1390 and 1397.

1390. Oct. 16. Westminster
Appointment of Henry de Percy 'le Fitz,' warden (custos) of the castle and town of Carlisle, to cause the castle and the gates and towers of the town, by survey and control of Richard Redmayn and indenture thereof with him made, testifying the expense, to be repaired, for which expense he is to have allowance. Mandate in pursuance to the said Richard. p. 305

1390. Oct. 16. Westminster
Grant to Henry de Percy 'le filz,' warden of the castle and town of Carlisle, that he may hold the meadows, pastures and fisheries there in the same way as the lord Beaumont the late warden, and the lords de Roos and de Nevill, when they were wardens, held the same. pp. 308-309

Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Richard II vol. iv. A.D. 1388-1392, for his majesty's stationery office, 1902.

1397. Feb. 28. Westminster.
Grant to the king's brother John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, keeper (custodi) of the castle and town of Carlisle, and of the Westmarche towards Scotland, of all the meadows, pastures and fisheries belonging to the castle, without rendering aught therefor. p. 86

Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Richard II, vol vi. A.D. 1396-1399, for his majesty's stationery office, 1909

Appendix: Percy Land Holdings

The primary sources of information about the Percy land holdings are:

The Early Yorkshire Charters in 12 volumes. This is a collection of charters dated before and early into the 13th century. Volume 11 of the series is charters from the Percy fee.

Clay, Charles Travies, ed. (1963) The Percy Fee, Early Yorkshire Charters vol. 11, Yorkshire Archaeological Record Series.

M.T.M, ed. (1911) The Percy Chartulary, The Surtees Society, v. 117. This is the collection of family charters brought together by Henry Percy in 1376.

Bean, J.M.W. (1958) The Estates of the Percy Family 1416-1537, Oxford University Press. The lands attainted because of the 1405 insurrection are listed, and the author traces the Percy fortune for another 100+ years.

There are two substantial histories of the Percy family. Both are two volume publications, but only the first volume of each is relevant to the medieval Percys. Both were done at the turn of the 20th century. The De Fonblanque book includes a number of documents that are not otherwise available.

Brenan, Gerald (1902) A History of the House of Percy From the Earliest Times Down to the Present Century, vol. I, Freemantle, London.

De Fonblanque, Edward Barrington (1887) Annals of the House of Percy, From the Conquest to the Opening of the Nineteenth Century, printed for private circulation.

There is no indication of substantial economic relations between Henry Percy and the Boyntons of the late 14th century in these books.


Bean, J. M. W. (1958) The Estates of the Percy Family 1416-1537, Oxford University Press, pp. 6-7.

Brenan, Gerald (1902) A History of the House of Percy From the Earliest Times Down to the Present Century, vol. i, Freemantle & Co.

Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward II, vol. 5, For His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1908, p. 54.

Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Richard II, vol. XV, For Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1970.

Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Richard II vol. iv. A.D. 1388-1392, for his majesty's stationery office, 1902.

Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Richard II, vol vi. A.D. 1396-1399, for his majesty's stationery office, 1909.

Collier, Carus (1914) An Account of the Boynton Family and the Family Seat of Burton Agnes, William Appleyard & Sons.

De Fonblanque, Edward Barrington (1887) Annals of the House of Percy, From the Conquest to the Opening of the Nineteenth Century, printed for private circulation.

Hicks, Michael (1995) Bastard Feudalism, Longman.

W.P.B. (1915) Yorkshire Fines 1347-1377, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series.