Sir Thomas Erpingham was born in 1357 in the Norfolk village of Erpingham. His family had been in the village since the Norman Conquest and were part of the local gentry who came to be the holders of the manor in the early thirteenth century, taking the place name of Erpingham as their surname.
After the death of his father, Sir Thomas went into the service of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and fought alongside Gaunt’sson (Henry Bolingbroke) across Europe and the Middle East. Bolingbroke later became King Henry IV and Sir Thomas was made his chamberlain.
In 1400 Sir Thomas became a Knight of the Garter and received many estates in Norfolk and Suffolk. He used his position at court to promote the interests of Norwich and in 1404, the king gave Norwich its new charter, making it the County and City of Norwich. Sir Thomas was a generous patron and his legacy can be seen most clearly in his building of the Norwich Cathedral’s ErpinghamGate, c.1420, a great gateway into the Cathedral close.
Sir Thomas went on to have an impressive military and political career beyond the confines of Norfolk. A staunch supporter of the Lancastrian dynasty and part of Henry V’s inner circle, he was instrumental in the king’s political and military successes.
In 1415, Sir Thomas went with Henry V to Agincourt where he is thought to have been in charge of the archers, riding out in front of the English lines giving the order to strike the French.
Sir Thomas appears in Shakespeare’s Henry V in the act that takes us through the English and French camps on the eve of the battle, portrayed as a steadfast and loyal ‘old hero’.
Sir Thomas died in 1428 and is buried in Norwich Cathedral.