The FAT Old Duke of York?

Tudor propaganda in regards to the appearance of members of the York family was not confined, it seems, to Richard III, but was  also applied to Edward of Norwich, Duke of York, his grandfather’s older brother, who was slain at Agincourt, the only major English casualty of that famous battle.

In the account written closest to the actual time frame, it was said that Duke Edward stood his ground and would not flee, and that his bascinet ‘to his brain was bent.’ A heroic death mirrored to a certain extent by that of his great-nephew Richard.

However, by Tudor times, a new ‘story’ had arisen, first appearing in the works of John Leland–that Edward was morbidly obese and  died on the battlefield from either a heart attack or from suffocating in his own armour owing to his size. No glorious demise there, but rather an embarrassing one.

Once again, this description of his death, written over 100 years after the battle, became the accepted one, rather than the the earlier portrayal of his  death as heroic, in the thick of the battle. Various historians have repeated Leland’s version, including Desmond Seward, whose vaguely sarcastic and not terribly accurate works are always good for raised eyebrows or a bitter laugh, who in his inimitable ‘style’, wrote that ‘the fat Duke of York was trampled…’ (So not merely repeating the obesity rumour but even changing the way Edward of Norwich died.)

There is nothing contemporary to suggest that Duke Edward was massively obese. His extant household records do not appear to show excess.  Perhaps Leland was taking a subtle jab at Edward IV, who was large, by making his great-uncle similar? It is possible, of course,  that Norwich was a larger than average man with the genetic tendency to put on weight (which could be a bit more  proof, if any is needed, that Edward IV was not illegitimate–the trait for size, both in height and girth, ran in the family.)

At any rate, it seems fairly certain that, somewhat overweight or no, the Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York,  fought heroically at Agincourt, his men taking the brunt of the onslaught. He did not suffocate without striking a blow and he most certainly was not trampled underfoot. Today, his tomb  can be visited in Fotheringhay church.



  1. As I recall, it was some of the earlier Angevins in 12C who ran to fat: Amaury of Jerusalem, his half-nephew Henry II and Henry’s son Richard I. What was interesting was that they were all notably physically active, not reputed to be gluttons, and are sometimes described as having protruding eyes, as well as violent mood-swings, yet ballooned as middle age approached. I strongly suspect a thyroid disorder.


  2. “the only major English casualty of that famous battle.”

    Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk, also died at Agincourt. Not a royal although his brother’s grandson, the Earl of Lincoln, would be Richard III’s heir.


  3. Edward was an interesting man, to say the least. One Chronicler refers to him as the ‘second Solomon’. He was certainly an author, albeit his Master of Game is largely a translation. He was the only one of Richard II’s inner circle to survive and prosper, along with Bagot, who was, of course, a less important individual.

    Liked by 1 person

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