by Brian Wainwright
Edward was born sometime in 1373, the eldest child of Edmund of Langley, Earl of Cambridge, fourth surviving son of King Edward III, and his wife Isabella of Castile. Edmund was by some way the least rich of his brothers, of whom he was the only one not to marry an heiress. Isabella was the younger sister of Constance of Castile, who had married Edmund's brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster as his second wife. Constance claimed to be the rightful heiress to the throne of Castile, a claim which her husband was to pursue, unsuccessfully, over the next few years. Edmund and Isabella were merely pawns in this game, and were in fact required to renounce any rights in Castile. It was a very poor deal for the Earl of Cambridge, but he seems to have been an amiable cove without the excessive and distasteful ambition of most of his family.
Edward is sometimes known to historians as 'Edward of Norwich' although there is no evidence he was born there or had any connection with it. As his father was created Duke of York in 1385, it is more appropriate to refer to him as Edward of York. He was knighted at the coronation of his first cousin, King Richard II, when only four years old.
It was not long before young Edward became involved in English diplomatic manoeuvres. In 1381, he was taken by his parents to Portugal, Edmund having been placed at the head of an English expeditionary force which was intended, with the aid of Portuguese allies, to attack Castile. Edward was 'married' to the Princess Beatriz of Portugal, and if his father had not made such a mess of the expedition Edward might eventually have become King of Portugal, because Beatriz was her father's heiress. Instead, with Edmund's army in a state of near-mutiny, her father had second thoughts and married her to the son of his enemy, the King of Castile. He also paid to send Edmund of Langley, his wife, son, and attendant unruly army back home.
Back in England the York family were to receive increasing favour from Richard II, not least because they were loyal to a fault and gave him far less trouble than his other relatives. Edward was created a Knight of the Garter in 1387 (just when Richard was starting to have serious political difficulties) and was the made Earl of Rutland in 1390 (once Richard was back in full control of his affairs.) By late 1391 he was also Lord Admiral of England, one of the great offices of state, despite the fact that he was not yet of full age. Much more was to come...