By Stephen Cooper
Sir Thomas Erpingham lies buried in the cathedral at Norwich, where he also paid for the building of the Erpingham Gate, the rebuilding of the church of the Dominican Friars and a new East window for the church of the Augustinian Friars.
Erpingham was a seasoned veteran when he participated in the Agincourt campaign. Born in 1357, he had served Henry V’s father (Henry ‘Bolingbroke’) and grandfather (John of Gaunt). He had been a soldier in France and Spain, crusaded in Prussia, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and fought the Scots. While in the Holy Land, he may well have acquired the material for the sumptuous chasuble, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which bears motifs of a camel. He was elected Knight of the Garter in 1401, and had been Constable of Dover Castle, Warden of the Cinque Ports, Marshal of England, and a member of the Privy Council. Henry V re-appointed him Steward of the Household in 1413.
Given his starring role in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, the early English chroniclers are strangely silent about the role played by Sir Thomas at the Battle of Agincourt. The archives tell us merely that he set out for France with a retinue of 20 men at arms and 60 archers; but the Burgundian chroniclers say that he was in charge of the archers – perhaps the most critical position of all.
The Erpingham Gate gives access to the close at Norwich Cathedral and was erected between 1420 and 1435, in a style which matches the west front of the cathedral itself. The exterior of the gate has a small statue of Sir Thomas above, though this was apparently only put in place in the 17th century. The interior displays the Erpingham coat of arms. There are no less than 24 Christian Saints carved in the archway – 12 male and 12 female – a nice example of equal treatment, 600 years before the Equality Act. (Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Sir Thomas had two wives).
Based on J.H. Wylie, The Reign of Henry the Fifth, vol. II (1919), 156 ; Anne Curry, (ed.) Agincourt 1415, Henry V, Sir Thomas Erpingham and the triumph of the English archers (Tempus 2000); The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Adrian R. Bell, Anne Curry, Andy King and David Simpkin, The Soldier in Later Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 2013); David Rose, Historic Norwich Guide – www.britainexpress.com
Stephen Cooper is the author of Agincourt, Myth & Reality, 1415-2015 (Pen & Sword 2015). www.pen-and-sword.co.uk )
The Erpingham Gate from the West – photograph taken by Stephen Cooper