The Tudor taint – an heir problem

LadyMargaretCliffordHistory tends to decree that the Tudors had problems with heirs.  In reality it must have felt to the heirs, on occasion, that they had problems with being Tudor.  Henry VIII decreed the order of inheritance beginning with his own children. Not only did he specify the order of inheritance in his will but he ensured that it was enshrined in law with the third Act of Succession of 1544.

In the event of Henry’s own children not having children or surviving to inherit, Henry being Henry  broke with the usual rules of inheritance by bypassing the children of his elder sister Margaret by nominating those of his younger sister Mary.  His will refers to her as the “French Queen,” a courtesy title that she kept after the death of King Louis XII of France and her subsequent second marriage to Charles Brandon who became Duke of Suffolk.  The crown was to go first to the heirs of Frances Brandon who became Lady Frances Grey the mother of Ladies Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey.  If that line failed the crown would pass, in theory, to the children of  Frances’ younger sister Eleanor  who had married Henry Clifford, the 2nd Earl of Cumberland.

There was undoubtedly a paucity of males at that point in proceedings.  Eleanor Clifford, born sometime between 1518 and 1521, had produced two sons: Charles and Henry as well as a daughter Margaret pictured at the start of this post.  Eleanor died in November 1547 having been married to Henry Clifford in 1535, so she never fully understood the poisoned chalice of her Tudor bloodline.  The pair lived in Brougham Castle although the 1st earl went on a bit of a building spree on the strength of having a royal daughter-in-law.  The year after her marriage Eleanor was the chief mourner at Katherine of Aragon’s funeral and found herself in the wrong part of the country during the Pilgrimage of Grace. A flight across the moors from Bolton Abbey to Skipton Castle saved her from  immediate capture but having arrived at Skipton she found herself besieged.  Her husband was in Carlisle dealing with the rebels in Cumberland.

Eleanor does not seem to have spent much time at court although Frances Grey is listed as being present at key occasions such as the baptism of Prince Edward and the arrival of Anne of Cleves.  It is perhaps not surprising both Charles and Henry died in their infancies and it would appear from surviving letters that Eleanor did not enjoy robust health.  In 1540 though she gave birth to Margaret.

After Eleanor’s death the 2nd Earl of Cumberland would eventually remarry and have sons but the Tudor inheritance would pass to Margaret Clifford.  This is evidenced by the fact that John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland initially suggested a marriage between his youngest son Guildford and Margaret.  Before contracts could be drawn up John Dudley arranged for his youngest son to marry Margaret’s cousin Lady Jane Grey and in order to ensure that the Tudor line and the Dudleys remained firmly intertwined Margaret was betrothed instead to Andrew Dudley, the duke’s younger brother, in June 1553.  Andrew would soon  find himself under arrest for his part in Dudley’s bid to bypass Henry VIII’s succession.

Fernando_StanleyMargaret was married instead to Lord Strange, the heir of the Earl of Derby – or in other words into the Stanley family.  She married Henry Stanley in 1555 under the watchful gaze of Queen Mary.  The pair had four sons but it wasn’t a particularly happy marriage and the pair eventually separated.  Of the four sons only two survived to adulthood. Ferdinando Stanley became the Earl of Derby followed by his brother  William in 1594.  Ferdinando (pictured left) had been earl for only a year and whilst William became the 6th earl as well as Baron Strange it was Ferdinando’s daughters who became co-heiresses to the estates.  Inevitably there was a messy court case.  I shall return to Ferdinando who may well have died because of his closeness to the throne and also the Stanley suspected adherence to Catholicism.

After the death of Mary Grey the last of her Grey cousins in 1578 Margaret  found herself as one of the potential heirs to the English throne.  In 1580 she wrote to Walsingham about the “heavy and long-continued displeasure” that she had found herself experiencing. When she died in 1596 she had spent several years under house arrest in Clerkenwell having been arrested on charges of using astrology to predict when Elizabeth I would die – a treasonous act (and one which got Eleanor Cobham into huge amounts of bother in the fifteenth century).  Even in death she was careful not to offend Elizabeth as her will testifies:

First, I bequeath my soul into the hands of Almighty God, my only Saviour and Redeemer, by whom I hope only to be saved and by no other ways nor means, and my body to be buried where it shall please the Queen’s Majesty to appoint, or otherwise at the discretion of mine executors.

 

The line of the French Queen’s youngest daughter was now carried on by Ferdinando’s three daughters; Anne, Frances and Elizabeth.  William had no children.  In 1596 Anne was created the legal heir presumptive to Elizabeth I bypassing William who was also suspected on account of his closeness to the throne and catholicism.

william stanley.jpgWilliam (pictured right) was specifically forbidden from joining the Earl of Essex on his campaign in Ireland as it was felt that he might take advantage of the opportunity to do a spot of networking.  William, it would’ve to be said, appears to have done nothing to deserve royal suspicion  – he was very much a member of the gentry concerning himself with his northern estates and keeping his head down – presumably he didn’t want to end up like his mother or brother.  He appears to have been a scholarly type and if you like your conspiracy theories he is one of the contenders for the real Shakespeare based on the fact that George Fenner, a Jesuit, reported that William rather than being interested in politics and matters of religion spent his time “penning common plays” in his house near Chester.

Elizabeth did eventually make him a knight of the garter and King James I made his relation a privy councillor.

To be king…or not to be king…

You’d have thought, from history lessons at school, that inheriting the throne in the medieval period would have been fairly straight forward – i.e. the number one son.  However, from Norman times onwards it was rarely as simple as that; occasionally it involved imprisonment or death – sometimes both.  GraduHenry IVally, however, Parliament became involved with the process of identifying the order in which monarchs would ascend the throne.
In 1406 an act of the so-called Long Parliament which went on most of the year and seemed to deal largely with sorting out Henry IV’s account book decided who would inherit the crown in the event of Prince Henry (who would become Henry V) pre-deceasing his father without producing ‘an heir of his body’.  Many historians have identified this as Henry IV seeking to restrict the number of people who could make a claim to the throne in an attempt to bolster his line which descended from the third surviving son of Edward III and which only had its grubby mitts on the crown because Henry IV had usurped the crown from his cousin Richard II (imprisonment and death).  In June 1406 an act identified Henry IV’s sons in age order and their male heirs but in December this act was replaced by an earlier law (1404) restoring the succession to the king’s sons and their heirs. The term heirs means male and female children. Neither of Henry IV’s daughters were mentioned – Blanche who had been married in 1402 to Louis III, Elector Palatine and Philippa who was queen of most of Scandinavia:

…it is ordained and established, that the inheritance of the crown, and of the realms of England and France, and of all the other dominions of our said lord the king beyond the sea, with all the appurtenances, shall be settled and remain in the person of the same our lord the king, and in the heirs of his body begotten; and especially at the request and of the assent aforesaid, it is ordained and established, pronounced, decreed, and declared, that the lord the prince Henry eldest son to our said lord the king, be heir apparent to the same our lord the king,to succeed him in the said crown, realms and dominions, to have them with all the appurtenances after the decease of the same our lord the king, to him and his heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without heir of his body begotten, then all the said crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord Thomas, second son of our said lord the king, and to the heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without issue of his body, that then ail the said crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord John, the third son of our said lord the king, and to the heirs of his body begotten; and if he die without heir of his body begotten, that then all the foresaid crown, realms and dominions, with all the appurtenances, shall remain to the Lord Humphrey,the fourth son of our said lord the king, and the heirs of his body begotten.

 

300_2511351As it happened none of Henry IV’s children did much in the way of begetting.  Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge in 1421.   Henry V married Katherine of Valois and had one son who became Henry VI by the time he was nine months old in 1422.  John, Duke of Bedford was married twice.  His second wife was Jacquetta of Luxembourg who went on to marry one of John’s household knights and have a large family including her daughter Elizabeth Woodville.  John of Bedford, on the other hand, had no legitimate children. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was initially married to Jacqueline of Hainault but the marriage was annulled without surviving issue.  Humphrey then went on to marry his mistress Eleanor Cobham who was ultimately found guilty of witchcraft and imprisoned.  He didn’t have legitimate children either.    Given that Henry IV had six children who survived to adulthood he possibly didn’t anticipate that his line would prove quite so unprolific when he arranged for Parliament to pass the 1406 Act of Succession.

 

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In 1460 during the reign of Henry VI which history remembers largely for the Wars of the Roses,  Parliament repealed the act of 1406 at the behest of Richard, Duke of York who said that the whole thing was decidedly dodgy and reflected the fact that Henry IV was trying to shore up his line having usurped the crown from Richard II and his rightful heirs who were, of course, Richard of York’s immediate ancestors. The Act of Accord passed in October 1460 allowed Henry VI to keep the crown but identified Richard of York as his heir by-passing Henry VI’s own son Prince Edward. Richard was dead by the end of the year, killed at the Battle of Wakefield.

 

Richard of York, it should be added, made no comment about the note added in 1407 to the document that legitimised Henry IV’s half siblings by Katherine Swynford. Henry IV wrote on it himself ‘excepta dignitate regali’ . Those three words meant that although the Beauforts were legal they could not claim the throne. Henry IV’s marginal amendment did not go through the legal process. Parliament did not ratify his endeavours to influence who might or might not become king making Henry IV’s bar on them decidedly dubious.

 

Of course, Henry IV was not the last king to try and ensure the succession from beyond the grave. Henry VIII had more Acts of Succession than were healthy for any one king– the first one was passed by Parliament in 1533 (Actually March 1534) replaced Princess Mary, having bastardised her, with the Princess Elizabeth. The second of these acts made Elizabeth illegitimate whilst the third Act of Succession in 1543 legalised both princesses and stipulated the order in which Henry VIII’s children beginning with his son Edward were to inherit the throne. Henry VIII backed this act up with his will which also laid out the order in which his offspring were to inherit the kingdom.  The last of the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth I, not only by-passed marriage and the begetting of heirs but also refused to name her successor outright much to the irritation of her council and her parliaments.

 

By 1701 Parliament had gained sufficient clout to prevent kings (and queens) they didn’t like from inheriting the kingdom. They mainly didn’t like Catholic Stuart kings – the 1701 Act of Settlement, identified the first available non-Catholic heir by tracing back up the Stuart family tree to Elizabeth of Bohemia (the so-called Winter Queen) who was the daughter of James VI of Scotland/ James I of England. Her daughter was Sophia of Hanover. Parliament very politely invited her to accept the crown in the event of Queen Anne, who clearly wasn’t going to have an heir of her own, dying. Sadly for Sophia, Queen Anne outlived her by nearly three months, necessitating a further Act of Settlement that invited Sophia’s Protestant son George of Hanover to take the crown in 1714.