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Earl of Wiltshire 1397-1399
King of the Isle of Man 1393-1399
Born c1351 Died 1399

The Earl of Wiltshire hath the realm in farm
William Shakespeare Richard II - Act 2. Scene I

The exact date of his birth is not known, but he was probably born about the year 1351, the eldest son of Sir Richard le Scrope, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton former Lord Chancellor and Blanche de la Pole, sister of Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk.

The first mention of William's name relates to his participation in one of the fairly regular crusades of the Teutonic Knights against Lithuania although he was to spend most of his early life between the years 1369 and 1378 serving under John of Gaunt in the Hundred Years War during which time he was knighted for valour. He was then in Italy where he fought on behalf of the Genoese in their assault on Venice during the War of Chioggia, before returning to France where he held the office of Steward of Gascony between the years 1383 and 1392.

William returned to England in 1393 in a period when king Richard II was rebuilding his personal rule in the aftermath of the attempt by the Lords Appellant to govern the country in the years 1388-1389, and William rapidly became one of the key figures in the royal administration. In 1394 he was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household, became a Knight of the Garter and was granted the castle and manor of Marlborough in Wiltshire. Further honours and advancement followed; in 1396 he was appointed Lord Chamberlain, in 1397 he was created Earl of Wiltshire, and in the following year served as ambassador to the court of Robert III of Scotland and appointed to the office of Treasurer of England.

In 1393 his father had purchased the Isle of Man on his behalf from William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. Thus when Thomas de Beauchamp, 4th Earl of Warwick was sentenced to a life in exile in 1398 it was the Isle of Man that was chosen as the destination. The Earl of Warwick was entrusted to the care of William and his brother Stephen le Scrope and it is recorded that in 1399 William received the sum of 1,074 pounds 4 shillings and 5 pence in reimbursement for the costs of conducting the Earl of Warwick to the island and for his subsequent support there.

When Richard II decided in 1399 to lead another expedition to Ireland, during his absence he placed his young queen Isabel de Valois in the care of William and additionally appointed him one of the three Guardians of the Realm during his absence. Thus charged with the defense of the realm William was placed at the forefront of events when Henry Bolingbroke reappeared in England in 1399. As William had earlier acted on behalf of the king in the matter of repealing the patent granted to Henry Bolingbroke guaranteeing his succession to his fathers estates and dignities, which preceded Richard's seizure of said estates and dignities, it can be understood that William had much to fear from the appearance of the king's cousin.

It soon became apparent that the country favoured Henry over Richard and thus William, together with a John Bussy and Henry Grene, decided to take shelter in the city of Bristol until such time as Richard returned from Ireland. Whilst they were waiting their men deserted them and when Henry Bolingbroke appeared before the city walls the local population seized hold of them and handed all three over. Henry subjected the three men to a form of trial, pronounced them guilty of treason and sentenced them to death. Together with his two acquaintances William le Scrope was thus beheaded at Bristol Castle on the 29th July 1399.

William's head was subsequently placed in a white basket and taken to London where it was displayed on London Bridge. After Henry's coronation as Henry IV, William's head was taken down and sent to his widow Isabelle Russell. (No doubt she was grateful for the king's kind attention in this regard.)

The sentence carried out at Bristol was later confirmed by Parliament, when William was also attainted and his possessions and titles declared forfeit to the crown. His father, the Baron Scrope of Bolton, and his surviving sons were able to escape inclusion in the attainder, and received full pardon from Henry.

His contemporaries had little good to say of him. Thomas Walsingham wrote in the Historia Anglicana that the "human race hardly contained one more infamous and cruel" as William was regarded as one of architects of the tyranny of the later period of Richard II's reign and thus worthy of condemnation. However his record of his service in France appears to have been exemplary and although he undoubtedly took the opportunity to enrich himself when placed in authority by Richard II, this made him no different than any of his contemporaries and there appears little evidence of any specific acts of cruelty that can be laid at his door.


SOURCES

  • Sir Williem Le Scrope, K.G. King of Man: 1393-1399 at http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/mannin/v5p257.htm
  • Scrope at www.tudorplace.com.ar/SCROPE.htm
  • Michael W Cook; Bolton Castle, North Yorkshire, England at http://www.castles-abbeys.co.uk/Bolton-Castle.html

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