The son of Edmund of Langley and his first wife, Isabella, and thus a grandson of King Edward III of England, he is thought to have been born in Norwich. He was close to his cousin Richard II, and was created by him Earl of Rutland (1390), and then Duke of Albemarle (1397). This association put him out of favor after the usurpation of Henry IV, and he was deprived of his dukedom. He soon got another one, however, when he succeeded his father as Duke of York in 1402. He married a widow, Philippa de Mohun, but there were no children from their marriage. On his death at Agincourt, the dukedom did not immediately pass to his nephew, Richard, as Richard's father Richard, Earl of Cambridge, had been attainted for treason, but the younger Richard was eventually restored to the dukedom.
The Duke's death in battle is difficult to portray as an act of heroism. Along with many of the French knights, he was unable to remain upright when trampled in the fray and effectively died of suffocation under a pile of other men and horses.