1376 was the year of the Good Parliament, a year of great upheaval when the government of England was in question. King Edward III was ill and given over to indulging his mistress, Alice Perrers. His courtiers were skimming as much money out of the system as they could – rather like today’s Members of Parliament in fact. Edward’s eldest son, the Black Prince, had been ill for many years, and was dying. The main representative of the crown was John of Gaunt, who up until 1376 had appeared disinterested in domestic politics. He claimed the crown of Castile through his marriage to Pedro the Cruel’s daughter, Constance.
So what then of the Earls, supposedly the advisors and supporters of the crown? Were they up to the job? Could they help the Commons of the Good Parliament reform the government and get rid of the stain of corruption? It’s a bit like asking whether the new Conservative/Liberal coalition government in the UK can stick to their good intentions? A lot of promises made, but in the end? Well perhaps we’ll let history decide on that one.
You can read more detail about each of the Earls at English Earldoms in 1376, one of my resource pages for this year in history.
Unfortunately many of them were young and inexperienced, for example the Earl of Arundel was a prominent noble, but died in 1376, to be succeeded by his inexperienced son. While Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and a childhood companion of the future Richard II, was only 15 in 1376.
The most prominent of the Earls were Warwick, Stafford, Suffolk and March. They do seem to have taken a proactive role in the events of 1376, demanding more involvement in government. Indeed March, along with William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, was most probably the leader of the opposition. He was supported by Warwick and Stafford to a certain extent as well.
Hopes of reform dashed
Unfortunately for Parliament, the Earl’s support was not unified and John of Gaunt overturned many of their impeachments aimed at corrupt courtiers. Gaunt even deprived March of his position as Marshall, instead having this conferred on Henry Percy, along with the Earldom of Northumberland in 1377. By the end of 1376 all of the ordinances of the Good Parliament had been overturned, and in 1377 Gaunt called a new Parliament, one that would do his bidding.
There was very little protest from the nobility about this. In the end the Earls were too interested in their own ambitions to work together.