PERCY, HENRY, fourth Earl of Northumberland (1446–1489), was the only son of Henry Percy, third earl [see under Percy, Henry, second Earl]. On his father’s attainder, Edward IV committed him to safe keeping, and three years later conferred the forfeited earldom of Northumberland on John Neville, lord Montagu [q. v.] Percy’s imprisonment cannot have been very strict, for in 1465 he was confined in the Fleet, where he made the acquaintance of John Paston (1421–1466) [q. v.], a fellow-prisoner (Paston Letters, ii. 237, 243). His subsequent transference to the Tower may be attributed to the Nevilles when they held the king in durance after the battle of Edgecott in 1469. One of Edward’s first steps on shaking off this constraint was to release Percy (27 Oct.), merely exacting an oath of fealty (Fœdera, xi. 648). When the final breach with the Nevilles came in the following spring, and the king drove the Earl of Warwick out of the realm, he took the earldom of Northumberland from Lord Montagu, and restored it (25 March at York) to Percy, who had accompanied him throughout the campaign (Paston Letters, ii. 396). The new earl also superseded his disgraced rival in the wardenship of the east march towards Scotland, which had usually been held by the head of his house. This he lost again in the autumn, when the Nevilles restored Henry VI, and though Northumberland made no open resistance to the change of government, and could not very well be deprived of his newly recovered title, the Lancastrian traditions of his family did not blind him to the fact that for him it was a change for the worse.
On landing in Yorkshire in the following spring, Edward is said to have exhibited letters, under Northumberland’s seal, inviting him to return; and though he ‘sat still’ and did not join Edward, his neutrality was afterwards excused, as due to the difficulty of getting his Lancastrian followers to fight for York, and was held to have rendered ‘notable good service’ to the cause by preventing Montagu from rousing Yorkshire against the small Yorkist force (Warkworth, p. 14; Arrival of Edward IV, p. 6). Twelve days after the battle of Barnet, Northumberland was created chief justice of the royal forests north of Trent by the triumphant Edward, and, after Tewkesbury, he was made constable of Bamborough Castle (5 June) and warden of the east and middle marches (24 June). In the parliament of August 1472, the first held by Edward since his restoration of the earldom to Percy, the attainder of 1461 was formally abrogated. Shortly after the opening of the session Northumberland was appointed chief commissioner to treat with the Scots. Two years later he entered the order of the Garter, and was made sheriff of Northumberland for life (Doyle). In 1475 he was given a colleague in his wardenship, in order that he might accompany the king in his expedition to France, and his presence is noted by Commines (i. 374) at the interview between Louis XI and Edward at Pecquigny. He led the van in the Duke of Gloucester’s invasion of Scotland in June 1482, and Berwick, then recovered, was entrusted to his keeping.
Richard of Gloucester, when he assumed the protectorship, was careful to conciliate Northumberland by renewing his command as warden of the marches and captain of Berwick. A few weeks later the earl had no scruples in recognising Richard as king, and bore the pointless sword, curtana, the emblem of royal mercy, before him in the coronation procession (Excerpta Historica, p. 380; Taylor, Glory of Regality, pp. 71, 149). The office of great chamberlain of England, which the Duke of Buckingham forfeited by rebellion in October, was bestowed upon Northumberland (30 Nov.), together with the lordship of Holderness, which had long belonged to the Staffords, and formed a desirable addition to the Percy possessions in Yorkshire. Richard gave him many offices of profit, and lands valued at nearly a thousand a year. Parliament restored to him all the lands forfeited by the Percy rebellions under Henry IV and not yet recovered. Next to the Duke of Norfolk’s, Richard bid highest for Northumberland’s loyalty (Rot. Parl. vi. 252; Ramsay, ii. 534). But he was not more ready to sink or swim with Richard than he had been with Edward. Some months before he landed in England, Henry of Richmond had entertained a suggestion that he should marry a sister-in-law of Northumberland (Polydore Vergil, p. 215). When the crisis arrived the earl obeyed Richard’s summons, and was at Bosworth, apparently in command of the right wing, but his troops never came into action; and, if Polydore (p. 225) may be believed, he would have gone over early in the battle had Richard not placed a close watch upon him (cf. Hutton, Bosworth Field, p. 130).
Northumberland was taken prisoner by the victor, but at once received into favour and soon restored to all his offices in the north, and employed in negotiations with Scotland. In the spring of 1489 he was called upon to deal with the resistance of the Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for the Breton war (Gent. Mag. 1851, pt. i. p. 459; Busch, i. 329). On 10 April he was appointed commissioner, with the archbishop of York and others, to investigate and punish the disturbances in York at the election of mayor in the previous February (Campbell, ii. 443). Towards the end of the month he was alarmed by the attitude of the people in the vicinity of his manor of Topcliffe, near Thirsk, and on Saturday, 24 April, wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday (Plumpton Correspondence, p. 61). On Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was slain at the first onset (Leland, Collectanea, iv. 246; Dugdale, Baronage, i. 282; Brown, Venetian Calendar, i. 533). It was at first reported that he had gone out unarmed to appease the rebels (Paston Letters, iii. 359). Some affirmed that over and above the immediate cause of collision the commons had not forgiven him for his conduct to Richard, who had been very popular in Yorkshire (Hall, p. 443). Bernard Andreas [q. v.] wrote a Latin ode of twelve stanzas on his death (Vita, p. 48; cf. Percy, Reliques, i. 98, ed. 1767), and Skelton wrote an elegy in English. He was buried in the Percy chantry, on the north side of the lady-chapel of Beverley Minster, where his tomb, from which the effigy has disappeared, may still be seen. His will, dated 17 July 1485, is given in the ‘Testamenta Eboracensia’ (Surtees Soc.), vol. iii.
By his wife, Maud Herbert, daughter of William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke [q. v.] of the second creation, whom he married about 1476, he left four sons—Henry Algernon (1478–1527) [q. v.], his successor in the earldom; Sir William Percy; Alan [q. v.]; and Josceline, grandfather of Thomas Percy (1560–1605) [q. v.] —and three daughters: Eleanor, wife of Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham (beheaded in 1521); Anne, married (1511) to William Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1483–1544); and Elizabeth, who died young.[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Rymer’s Fœdera, original ed.; Historiæ Croylandensis Continuatio, ed. Fulman, 1684; Warkworth’s Chronicle, the Arrival of Edward IV, Polydore Vergil (publ. by the Camden Society); Fabyan’s Chronicle, ed. Ellis, 1811; Hall’s Chronicle, ed. Ellis, 1809; Bernard André in Gairdner’s Memorials of Henry VII, Campbell’s Materials for the Reign of Henry VII (in Rolls Ser.); Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Ramsay’s Lancaster and York, 1892; Gairdner’s Richard III; Wilhelm Busch’s Hist. of England under the Tudors, Engl. transl.; Hutton’s Battle of Bosworth Field, 1813; Collins’s Peerage, ed. Brydges, 1812; De Fonblanque’s Annals of the House of Percy, 1887.]
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44
Percy, Henry (1446-1489) by James Tait