Inheritance and Partition: The Break-up of the Holland Earldom of Kent

Michael Hicks discusses CIPM xix.622-38, the IPMs for Edmund Holland earl of Kent and a case study in the division of an inheritance among co-heirs.


This IPM reveals that when Edmund III Holland, earl of Kent died in 1408, he had no legitimate offspring and his heirs were five married sisters and their issue. This is a classic example of a great estate that was permanently divided amongst coheirs.

The earldom of Kent had been created in 1321 by Edward II for his youngest brother Edmund of Woodstock and was generously endowed. [1. CP vii.142-8: CIPM vii.300.] Earl Edmund I was executed in 1330 but, after a brief hiatus, his son and heir was restored. Earl Edmund II died, aged 5 in 1331, his brother Earl John in 1352, and their sister Joan of Kent in 1385. Joan married three times, thirdly to Edward the Black Prince, to whom she bore King Richard II. This was a fortunate circumstance for King Richard's half-brothers, Thomas II and John her sons by Thomas Holland I, earl of Kent (d. 1360).  John was promoted earl of Huntingdon in 1388. Thomas II died in 1397 and it was therefore his son Thomas III and John, who were promoted dukes (duketti)  of Surrey and Exeter in 1397.  Both were demoted again in 1399 and both perished in rebellion against Henry IV in 1400. Earl Thomas II's brother Edmund was allowed to succeed to the earldom and estate but died in 1408. [2. CP vii.148-63; S.L. Waugh, ‘Edmund (Edmund of Woodstock), first earl of Kent (1301–1330), magnate'; R. Barber, ‘Joan, suo jure countess of Kent, and princess of Wales and of Aquitaine (called the Fair Maid of Kent) (c.1328–1385)'; M.M.N. Stansfield, Thomas Holland, earl of Kent (c.1315–1360), soldier'; idem, ‘Holland, Thomas, fifth earl of Kent (1350–1397), magnate';  idem, Edmund Holland, seventh earl of Kent (1383–1408), magnate'; J.L. Gillespie, ‘Thomas Holland (Holand), sixth earl of Kent and duke of Surrey (c.1374–1400), magnate and courtier', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (subscription required).]

Edmund III, 7th Earl of Kent , may have fathered a bastard daughter Eleanor Lady Audley, [3. CP vii.161n.] but bastards had no rights of inheritance in late medieval England. Edmund had no legitimate offspring. He did have six sisters. Apart from Bridget, who was supposedly a nun, vowed to poverty and disqualified from inheritance, there were five coheirs to share his estates: Eleanor I, Countess of March (d. 1405), or rather her son Edmund Earl of March; Joan Duchess of York (d. 1434); Margaret Countess of Somerset, later Duchess of Clarence (d. 1439); Eleanor II, Countess of Salisbury (d. c. 1424); and Joan (d. 1423) widow of Sir John Neville of Raby. [4. CIPM xix. 622.]  The Complete Peerage lacked precise dates of death for Elizabeth and Eleanor II:  more accurate dates emerge from the new published Calendars. [5. CIPM xxii.144, 328.]  There was no eighth earl of Kent: in modern parlance, the title fell into abeyance between these sisters, four of whom still have surviving descendants today. There have been several creations of new earls and dukes of Kent since.  Primogeniture dictated that heiresses inherited equally and divided the estates: another famous example is the partition in the 1240s of the earldom of Pembroke amongst William Marshal's five daughters. [6. CP x.377.] Therefore these five sisters partitioned their brother's inheritance – or probably less than two-thirds of it initially, when allowance is made for the dower of Edmund's widow Lucy Visconti. In fact Edmund III's  estate was encumbered by four dowagers: Elizabeth of Juliers (d. 1411), widow of Earl John (d. 1352); Alice Arundel, (d. 1416) widow of Earl Thomas II (d. 1397); Joan Stafford (d. 1442), widow of Earl Thomas III (d. 1400); and Lucy Visconti (d. 1424), widow of Earl Edmund  (d. 1408). [7. CP vii.150, 156, 159, 163.] Most probably Earl Edmund enjoyed only a fraction of the total estate. The oldest dowager Countess Elizabeth of Juliers had dower of the estate throughout the tenure of Princess Joan, her husband Thomas I, son Thomas II, and her grandsons Thomas III and Edmund.

Countess Elizabeth died in 1411, Countess Alice in 1416, Countess Lucy in 1424, and  Countess Joan in 1442. One sister, Joan Duchess of York died without issue in 1434. [8. CP vii. 149, 156-7, 163, 328-32; CIPM  xxii.327-32, 352;  xxiv.245-62; xxvi.59-66.] There were therefore five occasions over the next 34 years when further instalments fell in until the whole inheritance accrued to the sisters or their heirs: Countess Joan outlived all her sisters-in-law and it was their heirs who benefited. Eleanor I (d. 1405) had married Roger Earl of March (d. 1398) and Edward Lord Charlton (d. 1421), so her coheirs in 1442 were the her three daughters or their offspring: Richard Duke of York, son of Anne Mortimer, the eldest daughter; Joyce Lady Tiptoft (d.1446), the second daughter; and Henry Grey of Powys (d.1450), son of her third daughter Joan (d. 1425) wife of Sir John Grey.  Although half-sisters by two different fathers, they were equal  heirs to their mother Eleanor I, and were each entitled ultimately to inherit a twelfth the whole Holland estate. [9. CIPM xxii. 471; xxvi.59; CP iii.162n; xii(1).749.] John Duke of Somerset (d. 1444) was son and heir of Margaret: his daughter and sole heiress was Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), countess of Richmond and Derby and mother o0f Henry VII.   Ralph Earl of Westmorland (d. 1484) was son of Joan and Alice Countess of Salisbury (d. 1462) of Eleanor II. [10. CIPM xxvi.59.]  There survive inquisitions post mortem for all of them [11. CIPM xvi. 301-35;  xvii.974-9; xix.861-74; xxii.328-32; xxiv.245-62; xxv.438-45; xxvi.59.]  and some partitions too. [12. TNA SC 12/41/3; C 47/9/35 m.1; CIPM xix.639.] The original IPM valuation in 1408 yielded shares of only £140. [13. CIPM xix.622-39.] Ultimately the heirs of Eleanor II accrued properties altogether worth £ 675 [14. M.A. Hicks, ‘The Neville Earldom of Salisbury 1429-71', Richard III and his Rivals: Magnates and their Motives during the Wars of the Roses  (London, 1991), 357.] - certainly an understatement – suggesting that the whole inheritance, never again united after 1352, was worth at least £2,700 and more probably about £4,000.  Even the twelfth share of Somerset and his daughter Lady Margaret Beaufort (d. 1509) should have been worth £250. Divided into quarters, sixths, and twelfths, the Holland inheritance augmented several other family estates but it lost its own identity.

Holland pedigree