The Percies: the other side of the coin

Posted: May 7, 2012 in Nevill Percy feud, Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont

Sometimes, those of us interested in the Wars of the Roses take sides: Team York and Team Lancaster. Then there’s Team Plantagent and Team Tudor. As should be clear by now, I’m a firm member of Team Nevill. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’ll admit to being on Team Percy.

The ‘perfidious Percies’ as I noticed them described recently. No-one much likes them, it seems. The deep irony of this is that, as a titled and land rich family, they’ve survived when so many others haven’t. This survival seems to have hung, in the 15th century, from a very slender twig. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland… That they were *all* called Henry can get a little confusing, but we just have to learn to live with that.

The list of Percy dead during the Wars is as impressive as it is tragic.

First to die was Henry Percy, son of Hotspur, father of the belligerent Egremont who was so fond of feuding with our very own John Nevill. He was killed at the first battle of St Albans. Possibly targetted by one or other of the Nevills. His death added a level of ferocity to his sons’ actions. Egremont, in particular, seems to have developed a thirst for revenge. He, along with others, including young Somerset whose father also fell at St Albans, tried several times to ambush one or more Nevill. My name is Thomas Percy. You killed my father. His older brother, Henry (Lord Poynings, later earl of Northumberland) kept himself out of it, though he can’t have had much love for his cousins.

Egremont himself was killed at the battle of Northampton. His younger brothers Richard and Ralph, partners in his feudic crimes, were also killed in battles – Ralph at Hedgeley Moor and Richard (along with Henry, the earl) at Towton.

Henry’s son (Henry – whoda thought!) was captured and kept prisoner by Edward IV, his titles and lands forfeited, until the King realised that he needed him. He was restored to his titles (which John Nevill had been keeping warm) but didn’t do a great deal to show his gratitude to Edward, except, by happenstance, keep Nevill from preventing him land at Ravenspur in 1471.

Ricardians often partly blame the 3rd earl of Northumberland for the defeat at Bosworth in 1485, but his actions may not have been deliberate treason – he might have been too far away to get there in time. But, as the Percies are clearly perfidious

The next Percy who rates any kind of mention is the one who didn’t marry Anne Boleyn and is therefore held responsible for her execution. And, apparently, in punishment for this, he was rendered impotent.

The Nevill-Percy feud is still being fought, it would seem, though few people are actually on the side of the Nevills. They just stand in as kind of proxies for the real heroes – Edward IV and Richard III. Interestingly, by the time of the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, the Nevills (the earl of Westmorland) and Percies had put aside their differences and now worked together to topple a queen. They failed.

The Percies lost a good deal between Hotspur’s actions in the early 1400s and the 1569 rising. Three generations, five men killed in battle and one imprisoned in the Tower, suffered during the Wars of the Roses. It might be time to cut them a little slack.


  1. Marina says:

    I’ve just recently discovered this blog and I’m enjoying it immensely!
    I love it how your posts are about history but in a very easy to read and accessible way.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Marina, and welcome to the Feast. I got tired of the poor old Nevills either being kicked (Warwick and George), forgotten entirely (Thomas) or turned into some kind of emo saint (John), so I decided to do something about it. Glad you’re enjoying it.

      • Marina says:

        Ha! I can see why you would, though I personally have only ever read “The Sunne in Splendour” (well, ‘read’ is a bit ambitious – I’m dreading to read past page 803) and Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” and Warwick is such an awesome character in the former and my second favourite in the latter (York’s the first).

  2. anevillfeast says:

    I read The Sunne in Splendour years ago and enjoyed it. I’m not sure I agree with SKP’s portrayal of John Nevill, though, and (if I remember correctly) she wrote Warwick from a pure Yorkist position – which is fine, coz she was writing a Yorkist story. Mine isn’t. My work is unashamedly Nevillcentric. I’m not planning on pulling any punches, though. Warwick doesn’t get a free pass from me!

  3. Will Glover says:

    It’s the Butterfly Effect. Somewhere in the south Pacific a woman’s fingers flit over a keyboard and type ‘My name is Thomas Percy. You killed my father.’ Half way around the world a man reaches for a remote control and ‘The Princess Bride’. Cause and effect.

  4. Satima Flavell says:

    ‘The next Percy who rates any kind of mention is the one who didn’t marry Anne Boleyn and is therefore held responsible for her execution. And, apparently, in punishment for this, he was rendered impotent.’ I don’t know that story. Has anyone written it yet?

    • anevillfeast says:

      I don’t know anything more than that, Satima. I tend to avoid Tudors where possible. It came up in a conversation where his supposed impotence was put down to ‘karma’.

  5. Satima Flavell says:

    Karma – or guilty conscience! I’m gettting briliant ideas for a fiction story on that scenario, using different names, of course. Thanks for the fascinating post!

    • anevillfeast says:

      I was actually quite annoyed when I wrote that, Satima. I have no idea as to the soundness of the story, but the glee with which it was reported saddened me a bit. Anyway, good luck with your story.

  6. Satima Flavell says:

    Yes, I can’t imagine why anyone would rejoice at a story involving a beheading and impotence. If I ever get around to writing it, it would be as a horror story. Just the thought of it is enough to give me shudders and weepiness!

  7. Esther says:

    IIRC, Percy had been quite ill around the time of Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution … maybe, his illness had something to do with the alleged impotence? I know his wife, Mary Talbot, was trying to get the marriage annulled … she raised the pre-contract with Anne, but Percy denied it, and his denial was accepted. I don’t know if she raised impotence, though.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Esther. I know nothing about this particular Percy other than what came up in conversation – jilted AB/rendered impotent as divine punishment. I thought it sounded awfully unfair.

  8. Gillian Laughton says:

    Have you read Carol Wensby-Scott’s trilogy of fiction works on the Percys’? I quite enjoyed them, but as a writer you may pull them apart. All 3 titles start with Lion.

    As a side note I thnk the poor Henry Percy linked with Ann Boleyn had to preside at her trial. I could be getting that from too much historical fiction about that time period though.

    • anevillfeast says:

      I have’t read Scott’s Percy books, Gillian, but I know they exist and am always on the lookout. I don’t read a lot while I’m writing – don’t want to be influenced – but the Percy books are on my radar.

    • Esther Sorkin says:

      Regarding your side note: FWIW, he didn’t preside (her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk did), but, since he inherited his earldom by then, he was on the jury that convicted her.

  9. Alexandra Hamilton says:

    Just discovered your blog (rather late I know!). Always been Team Percy all the way myself. I think it may date back to reading Henry IV part 1 as a teenager and hating Hal and Falstaff and loving Hotspur! Then a trip to Alnwick Castle and Warkworth years ago did the trick. Esperance en Dieu!

    • anevillfeast says:

      Welcome, Alexandra! I really need to find out more about Hotspur, when I have the time. Being firmly Team Nevill lets me write about the Percies from their point of view, but I’m not actually Anti-Percy at all.

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