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The House of Lancaster part III: The Beauforts


On 24 March 1394 Constance of Castile died at Leicester Castle.  She was interred in the church of St Mary in the Newark.  In 1396 John of Gaunt wrote a letter to Pope Boniface explaining that he and Katherine Swynford desired to marry and asked for a dispensation because he was Blanche Swynford’s godfather.  A dispensation was duly granted – the pope noting that John and Katherine already had offspring. John of Gaunt’s relationship with Katherine Swynford had resulted in four children  during the course of their affair which started after John of Gaunt’s first wife had died and Katherine’s husband had died in France.  In January 1396 John married Katherine “from affection to their children” according to Froissart – who as Weir notes seems unable to comprehend that a duke might marry for love.  The following year the Beauforts were legitimised by the Church and by parliament through Richard II’s charter.

John Beaufort was enabled in February 1397 and in the same year he acquired a wealthy wife in the form of Margaret Holland.  Margaret was Richard II’s cousin via his mother (Joan of Kent) and her first family.  John repaid Richard II’s generosity by helping to condemn the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl of Arundel and the Earl of Warwick of treason.  The Duke of Gloucester, Richard II’s youngest uncle was murdered in Calais before he could be arrested – it was put out that he had died but the rumours were swift to fly.  The Earl of Arundel was executed and the Earl of Warwick was banished.  As a result of this successful outcome John Beaufort was elevated from being an earl to a marquess.

There were other promotions as four new earldoms were created at the same time.  Ralph Neville, Lord of Middleham and Raby became the Earl of Westmorland.  He had become engaged to John Beaufort’s sister Joan in November 1396.  On one hand it could be said that Richard II was rewarding loyalty and punishing treachery – on the other hand it does look, in hindsight, remarkably like bribery on a huge scale.

There can be no doubting the tension within the country as Richard became increasingly unpredictable and life must have become difficult for the marquess when his half-brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, was banished.  John was on good terms with his half brother so seems to have had no difficulty in swapping his allegiance from cousin Richard to brother Henry when Henry returned to England and became King Henry IV.

John’s family would continue to be involved in English politics.  They were, after all, family.  They also owed everything to their definitely legitimate half sibling who carefully changed Richard II’s charter to make it clear that although the Beauforts were legitimate that they might never inherit the throne.  Given that Henry IV had a healthy brood of sons it seemed unlikely at the time that he wrote his addition in the margins that it would have much relevance.  John Beaufort’s sons and sons-in-law would be involved in the running of the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority.  John’s son Edmund would be suspected of wanting to marry his cousin Henry V’s widow and there are some historians who speculate that Katherine of Valois had to marry Owen Tudor in order to ensure that she didn’t become the mother of another illegitimate Beaufort baby. John’s grandsons would die on battlefields across England and be dragged to their execution by triumphant Yorkists until in the end only a single girl would remain with the name Beaufort – his eldest son, also called John, having died in 1444 as a suspected suicide resulting from the shame of his military blunders in France.

Meanwhile John of Gaunt and Katherine’s third son Thomas who had a place within Henry of Bolingbroke’s retinue would benefit from Richard II’s revenge against the Lords Appellants in that he was granted lordship of Castle Acre which had been in the hands of Thomas Mowbray.  Thomas Beaufort would retain his place in his half-brother’s affinity and become a confidant of young Henry of Monmouth (to be Henry V) and would campaign with him against the Welsh and Owen Glendower.  He would go to France with Henry V and he would be wounded at Harfleur.  Thomas was elevated to the dukedom of Exeter for his loyalty to Henry V but although he married his son did not live long and that line of Beauforts died out.  He reflects the fact that the first generation of Beaufort boys were part of the Lancaster affinity. After their father’s death their loyalty belonged to their half-brother.

Henry Beaufort, the second Beaufort son born to John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford,  also benefited from his family’s respectability when he became Bishop of Lincoln in February 1398.  He was just twenty-three years old.  He would become Bishop of Winchester in 1405 and a Cardinal in 1426.  He would dominate the political scene becoming a pivot on Henry VI’s regency council between his half-nephews Humphrey of Gloucester who governed domestic affairs and John of Bedford who conducted the war in France and governed England’s French territories.

Joan Beaufort is the only daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  Her first marriage to Robert Ferrers of Wem reflects her status as an illegitimate child of a duke.  Robert was part of the Lancaster affinity.  By giving his daughter in marriage to the 2nd Baron Ferrers John of Gaunt bound the baron more closely to the affinity and elevated his daughter to a position of gentility.  The pair had two daughters.  One, Elizabeth married  John Greystoke and the second called Margaret, Mary or Margery depending upon the source married her step-brother Sir Ralph Neville – a son of Joan Beaufort’s second husband Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland – which must have been complicated as the first family of the Earl of Westmorland did not much like the children of his second marriage to Joan Beaufort.

You will note that there are sheets 2 and 3 to follow as I could not fit all fourteen of Joan Beaufort’s children with the Earl of Westmorland on to this particular family tree.  In some respects it is perhaps just as well that they are not represented here,  as these children help to cloud the issue of red and white rose – Richard Neville became the Earl of Salisbury.  His son was the Kingmaker.  One daughter, Ann, married the Duke of Buckingham.  Her second son married his Beaufort cousin Margaret and appears at the bottom right hand side of the family tree at the start of this post. Another daughter married the Earl of Northumberland, whilst the most famous of Joan’s daughters, Cecily, married Richard of York and was mother to the two Yorkist kings – Edward IV and Richard III demonstrating that the Wars of the Roses really was a war between cousins.

Sheet 3 identifies the descendant’s of the first earl’s daughter also named Joan.  Her story, like her grandmother’s, is a love story.  Her royal children married into the Scottish nobility and into continental royalty becoming dauphinesses, duchesses and archduchesses.  Her son was James II of Scotland meaning that when James VI of Scotland became James I of England the five times great grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford sat upon the throne (if I’ve counted correctly)….I keep telling you that everyone powerful in English History is related.



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Filed under The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Margaret Holland – troubled royal

margaret holland.jpgMargaret Holland, duchess of Clarence was born in the later part of the fourteenth century, the daughter of Thomas Holland.  He was the fifth earl of Kent and his half-uncle was Edward II through his mother Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, meaning that Margaret Holland was the great granddaughter of Edward I if I’ve counted back right. This is important because Margaret Holland whose family had a bit of a torrid time when Richard II was deposed had married John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, the eldest illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford meaning that she was the other more famous Margaret Beaufort’s granny.

Margaret Holland’s husband seems to have been a bit more on the ball that her Holland brother and uncle who managed to get themselves executed in a plot in 1400 to remove Henry IV from the throne. John Beaufort benefited from his half-brother’s rise to power by becoming Constable of England before he died in 1410 leaving his wife a wealthy widow with a royal pedigree and a title.

Margaret now married her husband’s half nephew – Thomas of Lancaster, the second son of Henry IV- just in case the waters weren’t already muddy enough. Thomas, in the way of younger sons, wasn’t terribly well off and there was a fairly complicated dispensation required before the marriage could go ahead because, of course, they were related twice over in that they were both descended from Edward I – i.e. consanguinity and they were related through marriage – i.e. affinity.

Thomas when the marriage finally received papal dispensation became the duke of Clarence.  History now enters the glory days of the Hundred Years War with Henry V being all martial thus allowing Shakespeare the opportunity to write dramatic speeches on the subject in the sixteenth century.  Unfortunately despite the fact that Henry V ended up married to Katherine of Valois in the aftermath of Agincourt and the Treaty of Troyes he ultimately failed in his bid to rule France successfully because he died leaving his infant son Henry VI on the throne for a lengthy minority and the Wars of the Roses.

Thomas of Lancaster managed to die at the Battle of Baugé on 22 March 1421.  As though this wasn’t bad enough Margaret’s sons John and Thomas Beaufort were captured. John Beaufort would remain in captivity for the next seventeen years and when he did get out he was heavily in debt thanks to the ransom he was required to pay. This John Beaufort would become Duke of Somerset and he would also be the father of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor.

Meanwhile Margaret Holland decided that two husbands were enough for any woman and decided that she wouldn’t marry again.  She didn’t need to.  She was wealthy in her own right.  She spent a lot of time trying to negotiate for her sons’ release.  She also, as many wealthy widows did at this time, developed close links with a monastic community. She is particularly associated with Syon.  When she died in 1439 she was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.


R. L. J. Shaw, ‘Holland , Margaret, duchess of Clarence (b. in or before 1388, d. 1439)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2008; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/98133, accessed 22 April 2017]

PS Apologies for lack of posts – wifi is erratic to put it mildly at the moment!

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Filed under canon law, Fifteenth Century, Law, The Plantagenets

Owain Tudor

Katherine of Valois was widowed at just twenty-one years of age when Henry V, victor of Agincourt, died of dysentery. Her infant son’s protectors-he uncles and great-uncles- could see that she might wish to marry again. However, they don’t appear to have been terribly keen on the idea given some of the strictures that they imposed. Firstly Katherine’s prospective spouse had to be prepared to give up his titles and his lands. Secondly she had to get her son’s permission and in order for young Henry VI to give it he had to have reached his majority – so sixteen. These rules seem to have been proposed by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester who became concerned in 1428 that Katherine was showing a bit too much interest in Edmund Beaufort, Earl of Somerset.


As luck would have it the lonely young woman did encounter a man that she wished to marry, her Keeper of the Wardrobe – one Owain Tudor as he would eventually become known. Depending upon which version of events you read she either spotted him whilst he was swimming or he fell into her lap whilst dancing. There is, it would have to be said, no historical evidence for either.


Owain ap Maredudd was born, we think, the same year his father Maredudd’s cousin Owain Glyndwr raised a rebellion against English rule- so about 1400. Maredudd’d brothers were heavily involved in the conflict. Owain Glyndwr had vanished by the time young Owain was six – another subject for legend despite his uprising against the English being quelled.   Maredudd’s fortune was in a state of parlous repair so, in one history, he went to London to make his fortune. Other accounts say that he murdered someone and fled into Snowdonia…so take your pick. In any event young Owain did not have a settled childhood.

Maredudd and his brothers claimed a line of descent from Cadrod of Calchfynedd and were relations of the Princes of  Deheubarth (South-West Wales). Maredudd himself held land inAnglesey.  Prior to Glyndwr’s rebellion he’d served both Welsh and English kings in important posts. In 1392, for example,  he  was Escheator of Anglesey.  He was also the Bishop of Bangor’s  steward.

Despite his rebellious father, cousin and uncles by the time he was seven Owain was at the court of Henry IV – the very man that his family were revolting against on their native Anglesey.

It is possible that Owain was at the Battle of Agincourt as a squire but we cannot be certain. He turns up in the records in 1421 in the service of Sir Walter Hungerford and then he must have entered the household of Katherine of Valois but we can only guess that Hungerford recommended him for the post. Equally we only have the two romanticized tales of how a dowager queen and her keeper of the wardrobe fell in love.


Inevitably Tudor ‘spin’ was bought to bear on proceedings by Henry VII. His historian Polydore Vergil wrote of “Owen Tyder” that he was “a gentleman of Wales, adorned with wonderful gifts of body and minde, who derived his pedigree from Cadwalleder, the last King of the Britons.” Henry VII needed to bulk his ancestry out a bit and since he was rather short on Plantagenet genes had to look back into the mists of time in order to garner some shreds of royalty.


Of course, Henry’s desire to justify his right to the crown by blood rather than right of conquest- was somewhat thwarted by the fact that Owain and Katherine couldn’t exactly publicise their nuptials so had married in secret and the problem with secrets is that there are no records. Katherine certainly hadn’t got Henry VI’s consent and she’d married beneath her another issue that the parliamentary act regarding any marriage she might have made had issue with– but at least Owain didn’t need to worry about losing his titles and his lands. He may perhaps have been a bit more concerned about losing his life when the various uncles of Henry VI’s protectorate found out what the dowager queen had been up to.


We can surmise that the couple married somewhere between 1428 and 1430 when Edmund Tudor was born.  We know that they went on to have at least four children – Edmund, Jasper, Owen and Margaret. There may have been others. We also know that Humphrey of Gloucester wasn’t terribly amused when he found out that Katherine had not only married but was producing the king’s half-siblings who were to be treated, according to the parliamentary act which had laid so many stipulations upon Katherine’s remarriage, as members of the royal family.

In 1436 politics caught up with Katherine and Owen, despite their quite life it is ultimately quite difficult to hide such a rapidly growing family.  The children were removed and Katherine retired to Bermondsey Abbey where she gave birth to her last child- Margaret.  The dowager queen died on January 3rd 1437.

Owain was ordered to come to court but he very sensibly refused without a letter of safe conduct.  He did set out for London but decided that it would be better for his safety if he took sanctuary in Westminster rather than throw himself on the Protectorate’s mercy.

Ultimately Owain was acquitted of all charges against him but the establishment can be a spiteful thing.  Owain was retrieved from Wales and imprisoned by Lord Beaumont who handed him over to the Earl of Suffolk.  He spent time in Newgate Prison and in 1438, following his escape from Newgate and recapture was sent to Windsor.  In 1439 he was finally released.

By that time Henry VI was of age.  He pardoned Owain for any crime that may have been committed, took Owain into his own household and welcomed his half-brothers.  Owain, unlike some more nobly born Englishmen remained loyal to Henry for the rest of his life. He must have dreamed of returning to his home in North Wales because in 1460 Henry VI made him Keeper of the Parks at Denbigh.

The following year Owain took part in the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross.  The old man was captured and executed in Hereford market square on the orders of Edward IV who was furious about the death of his own father.  Owain believed that he would be ransomed until the moment that he was faced with the executioner’s block.  Owain’s head was put on display at the market cross where a young woman combed his hair and washed his face before placing lit candles around it.  Contemporary sources describe her as mad but Leanda de Lisle contemplates the possibility that the young woman was the mother of Owain’s illegitimate son Daffyd who was about two in 1461.


de Lisle, Leanda. (2013) Tudor: the family story London: Chatto and Windus



Filed under Fifteenth Century, Queens of England, Wars of the Roses

The Earl of Kendal – one man, many titles.

NPG D23929; John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset after Unknown artistJohn Beaufort, as well as being the grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, was also the first Duke of Somerset.   Just to confuse things his father was only the Earl of Somerset. It was only in the reign of Edward III that Duke’s were added to the list of English nobility. Initially it was a title reserved for the king’s sons prior to that time the title ‘Earl’ was the highest ranking title in the peerage below that of King.  Our John, depicted here in an eighteenth century engraving, was the second son of John Beaufort, First Earl of Somerset. He became the third earl when his brother, Henry, died in 1418 – somewhat bizarrely making him Earl and Duke of Somerset.


Beaufort fought in Henry V’s army in France. In 1421, he accompanied the king’s younger brother Thomas of Lancaster to the fighting in Anjou. Thomas was killed at the Battle of Baugé and Somerset was captured. He remained a captive until a ransom was paid and then he continued a military career which was not an unmitigated success.

In August 1443, having been created Duke of Somerset, Earl of Kendal and Knight of the Garter by King Henry VI, John led an army to France where he managed to loose badly.  He had to turn to Richard, Duke of York for support – a bitter pill for the Duke of York to swallow, as John’s army had been financed while his own army was not. Unable to bear the stigma of defeat it is thought that John Beaufort, First Duke of Somerset, committed suicide.


The Earldom of Kendal was not a new title when Henry VI gave it to him.  This, of course, is one of the things that make titles hard to follow.  It had been re-created from a Norman title for a son of Henry IV but it became extinct on his death. It became extinct once more when John Beaufort died. Oddly, John Beaufort has something in common with Charles I’s nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine because he too was given the title Earl of Kendal and once again it became extinct with the earl’s death without legitimate issue.  The only thing that can be said about the Earldom of Kendal after the Norman period is that it was given to someone with a familial connection to the king!


The question then becomes why don’t we known John Beaufort as the Earl of Kendal? Well, quite simply a duke is more important than an earl.  Of course, just to complicate things there is a title between Duke and Earl – Marquess- but there aren’t very many of them.

King Richard II introduced the title ‘marquess’ in 1385 when he made Robert de Vere, who was already Earl of Oxford, Marquess of Dublin.  The title was removed from de Vere in 1386 on account of the rest of the earls being decidedly underwhelmed.  The title remained unpopular.  John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (the John of this blog’s father) asked not to be known by the title Marquess of Dorset because he said that it was ‘strange’ in England.




Filed under Fifteenth Century