History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Carved 15th century moulding depicting male and female saints
One of the most powerful men in late 14th and early 15th century Norwich - and indeed in all of England - Thomas Erpingham was born in 1357 and over the course of a tumultuous life he had a hand in most of the important historical events of the time. He was a household retainer in the service of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and helped re-establish order in Norfolk following the upheavals of the 1381 Peasant's Revolt. He fought for Richard III against the Scots, and for Gaunt in Castile and Leon. He then aligned himself with Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, and followed Bolingbroke abroad when Richard III exiled him.
In 1399 Bolingbroke returned, to make an ultimately successful bid for the throne. Erpingham not only fought with his lord, he commanded an ambush that seized Richard, and had the honour of guarding the deposed king in the Tower of London. When Boloingbroke took the throne as Henry IV, Erpingham became his chamberlain, and gained lands in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as becoming constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports. He used his position at court to promote the interests of Norwich, prompting Henry to award a royal charter to the city in 1404. When Henry died, his son dismissed most of his father's counsellors, but he not only kept Erpingham, he named him his royal steward.
But it is not as Henry V's steward that Erpingham is remembered, but as the commander of Henry's archers at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It was Erpingham who gave the order to his archers to fire at the pivotal moment, and fire they did, overwhelming a vastly superior force of French mounted soldiers. His role was remembered, even eulogised, by Shakepeare, who called him a 'good old knight' in his play Henry V. And he was indeed old by the time of Agincourt.
Erpingham must have been conscious of his mortality, and determined to leave a legacy behind. He left large amounts of money for the poor in his will, but he left behind something even more tangible; a great gateway into the cathedral close in his beloved Norwich. Perhaps it was an act of gratitude for surviving Agincourt. Another version suggests he built the gate as atonement for a sin, perhaps a murder, or support for heretical ideas.
Just as likely is that he hoped to be buried inside the cathedral and the gate was an elaborate bribe. If so, it worked, for when Erpingham died in 1428 he was buried in the cathedral in a pre-made tomb showing him beside his two wives. A chantry was established so that monks could say prayers for his soul.
About Erpingham Gate
Address: Tombland, Norwich, Norfolk, England, NR3 1HF
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: At the northern end of Tombland, giving access to the cathedral's west end. Exterior only, easily viewed from Tombland at any time.
Website: Erpingham Gate
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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