Tag Archives: John of Gaunt

Katherine Swynford

KatSwynfordKatherine de Roet was probably born about 1350 in Hainault.  As is often the case we have no exact records of her birth.  What we do know about Katherine’s early life is found in the accounts of chronicler Jean Froissart who was also from Hainault.  He talks of Katherine as a ‘Hainaulter’ so its a reasonable assumption to make. 

The family headed by Katherine’s father  Paon de Roet arrived in England as part of Philippa of Hainault’s entourage when she married Edward III in 1328.  Paon served in the royal household. Historians think he died in the early 1350s.  Katherine  and her sister Philippa served in the queen’s household  and received their education there as well as developing links with some of the most important people in the country.  Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer whilst Katherine found herself looking after the daughters of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster; Elizabeth and Philippa.  

Blanche died in 1368, most historians think from the Black Death.  By this time Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was considered an advantageous marriage for Katherine at the time. Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt held many estates in the area. Historians tend not to think that Katherine had begun her affair with John of Gaunt before Blanche of Lancaster’s death.  Certainly Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess suggests that the duke deeply mourned the wife that gave him seven children and made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Katherine and Hugh appear to have had three children who survived infancy.  The oldest child was a boy called Thomas, the second was a girl called Blanche presumably named after Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt was Blanche’s god-father and when the time came for John to make his union with Katherine legal and also to legitimise his children this would cause a degree of problem as the papacy deemed that there was a degree of prohibited relationship on account of John’s role as godfather. Blanche grew up with Elizabeth and Philippa of Lancaster. The third child probably grew up to be a nun.  Her name may have been Margaret. Katherine swore her affair with John of Gaunt did not begin until after Sir Hugh Swynford died but Froissart says differently.

Hugh died in 1372 and Katherine’s first child by John of Gaunt was born the following year. John Beaufort was named after the french castle that Gaunt owned and where John was possibly born.  The  couple went on to have three more children who survived infancy; Henry, Thomas and Joan who had her own dramatic love story.  John had married his second wife Constance of Castile in  1371.  It was a state marriage that gave John a claim to the throne of Castile but the existence of a much loved mistress in John’s life cannot have helped the relationship nor the fact that it is known that during some periods Katherine lived quietly in the home of John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the lovers parted company or they became more secretive about their liaison possibly because John was so hated or because John wished to pursue his claim to the Castilian throne.  Not that this prevented Katherine from being made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Wife number two died in 1394.  There followed a flurry of letters to the pope and two years later John of Gaunt took the unusual step of marrying his mistress.  They were married on  13 January 1396 at Lincoln Cathedral.  This had the effect of putting rather a lot of noses out of joint. Not only did Katherine become the duchess of Lancaster  but because the king, Richard II, had no queen and John was the next most important man in the country Katherine automatically became the first lady to whom all others had to give way… I should imagine that some very stiff necked ladies muttered rather a lot about that particular turn up for the books. 

John and Katherine’s children were not only legitimised by the pope but also legitimised by Act of Parliament on the command of their cousin Richard II on 9th February 1397.  Later Henry IV would add a note in his own hand to the effect that whilst the Beauforts might be legitimate they couldn’t inherit the throne.  This didn’t stop Henry IV from making effective use of his Beaufort half-siblings.

katherine swynford coat of arms.jpg

Katherine Swynford’s coat of arms – after her marriage to John of Gaunt

Katherine died on the 10th May 1403 having outlived John of Gaunt by four years.  She’d survived a period of plague, seen the Peasants revolt and the Hundred Years War as well as having caused a national scandal.  She and her daughter Joan are buried in Lincoln Cathedral having lived quietly in Lincoln in her final years.  We can still identify her house.

There was a brass of the dowager duchess but it was destroyed or certainly very badly treaded by the Roundheads in 1644 so we have no certain primary source image of the woman who stole the heart of the most powerful man in England despite the fact that there is now a brass over Katherine’s tomb it is not the original and she’s wearing a widow’s veil which doesn’t help matters but it is an effective way of the engraver dealing with the fact he didn’t know what the duchess looked like.  Froissart describes her as young and pretty in his chronicles. The image at the start of this post comes from a fifteenth century edition of Chaucer’s work and it shows the key people of Richard II’s reign. John of Gaunt is identifiable.  It’s possible that the girl in blue is Katherine.

Weir, Alison.(2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

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Lionel, Lord Welles – step father of Margaret Beaufort

lord welles.jpgBaron Lionel de Welles was born in 1406. The family was a Lincolnshire one but Lionel’s mother was the daughter of Lord Greystoke (pause for Tarzan jokes if you wish).  As you might expect he was part of the network of families that ruled England. Mowbray blood ran in his veins as well as a splattering of  Clifford DNA reflecting a heritage stretching from the Midlands via Yorkshire into Cumbria. John inherited his lands when he was still a minor.  It took a further five years for him to win his estate in his own right.

The family was firmly Lancastrian in its sympathies. He married in 1417 to Joan Waterton of Methley near Leeds. Her father was one of John of Gaunt’s retainers. They had one child called Richard. Lionel’s service began with Henry VI who knighted him and in whose household he served.  Lionel was a soldier as well. He went to France with Humphrey of  Gloucester in 1435 and later to Ireland where he made a bit of a hash of things being unable to control the locals.

All this knightly pursuit would have been well and good if he’d been a single man but in addition to his wife he had a mother, several sisters, four daughters and an aunt to support as well as his grandfather’s debts to pay off. In short Lord Welles was actually Baron Hardup personified.

Things changed in 1447 when he married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, the dowager duchess of Somerset who was considerably wealthier than him and with better connections for that matter.  Having secured a trophy wife, though none of the texts I’ve read have given any indication about how he managed to do this (so in the short term I will merely assume he had an absolutely charming personality and then kick myself when I remember something important about land holdings), Lionel landed the role of knight of the Garter and also Lieutenant of Calais. He managed to find time to be at home long enough for Margaret to have a son called John who was Margaret Beaufort’s half brother.

He fought at the Second Battle of St Albans in February 1461 Towton and a month later at Towton where he was killed. Edward IV promptly attained him as had been on the Lancastrian side of the battlefield. Richard de Welles didn’t inherit the family title or estates until the attainder was reversed in 1467 and generally speaking he didn’t take to the Yorkists although he managed to inch his way into Yorkist favour for a time. Richard and Lionel’s grandson were ultimately executed by Edward IV in 1471 meaning that it was Margaret Beauchamp’s son who became the first Viscount Welles.  Its a typical fifteenth century tale when alls said and done.

 

Lionel was buried in St Oswald’s Church Methley where he’d married his first wife Joan. It might have been because of the great love he bore his first wife but equally I am compelled to point out that Methley is rather closer to Towton than his Lincolnshire estates.  His monument, with some rather fine corbels and medieval glass can still be viewed today along side other West Riding notables including members of the Savile family.

Michael Hicks, ‘Welles, Leo , sixth Baron Welles (c.1406–1461)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28998, accessed 26 April 2017]

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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.

BeaufortJohnTomb.jpg

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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Duke of Exeter -was he murdered or did he slip?

holland-armsHenry Holland, Third Duke of Exeter was yet another descendent of John of Gaunt. His grandmother Elizabeth was John’s daughter. He had a claim to the throne after the death of Henry VI, something which Edward IV may have been all too aware of being the aforementioned earl’s brother-in-law.

Henry had been Richard of York’s ward.  Richard married his eldest daughter off to Holland in order to secure the dynastic links and power base.  Unfortunately for both Holland and the Duke of York it would appear that the Exeter lands weren’t terribly productive.  Consequentially Holland was always in finical difficulties which didn’t help his disposition overly.

He developed an unsavoury reputation early in his career when he seized Lord Cromwell’s estate at Ampthill and had him falsely accused of treason.  He also extended his land holding through the convenient method of fraud. This was all dragged through the law courts and resulted in no one wanting to be sheriff of Bedfordshire on account of Holland’s bullying tactics. In the end he aligned himself to one of Cromwell’s enemies in order to further his cause – thus demonstrating beautifully the fact that the Wars of the Roses could be said to be a bunch of local disputes that got seriously out of hand.

There wasn’t any great love between the Yorks and Holland so it probably didn’t unduly bother Holland that his alliance with Lord Egremont was one of the causal factors in him being in the Lancastrian army chasing Richard of York around the countryside in December 1460.  Henry Holland was a commander at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30 1460.  Presumably he hadn’t enjoyed being imprisoned in Wallingford Castle in 1455 after Richard assumed the title of Protector when Henry VI was incapacitated on his father-in-law’s orders.  In reality, Richard’s descent from two sons of Edward III gave him a better claim to be protector than Holland who thought he ought to have the job. He was descended from John of Gaunt and the First Duke of Exeter had been Richard II’s half-brother.  York’s claim came from the fact that he was descended from the second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp via the Mortimer line.  The Mortimers had been Richard II’s heirs.  As if that wasn’t bad enough Holland wasn’t given a role of any importance. Holland threw his toys out of his pram, fermented rebellion in the north and consorted with the Scots – he was lucky that a year in Wallingford was all that he got.

He was, at least, consistent in his support for the Lancastrian cause being present not only at Wakefield but also at the Second Battle of St Albans and Towton.  He scarpered from the latter and managed to escape to France where he joined Margaret of Anjou.

Unsurprisingly family relations were at an all time low by this point. Not only was his attainted of treason but his wife Anne who had been married off to him when she was eight-years-old sought a legal separation from a man who’d gained a reputation for being deeply unpleasant one way or another. They had one child, Anne Holland who would be married off to one of Elizabeth Woodville’s sons from her first marriage, and pre-decease her unfortunate father.

In 1471 he returned to England with the Earl of Warwick who had stopped being Yorkist and become a Lancastrian in what can only be described as a giant strop when Edward IV stopped listening to his advice.  Warwick died at Barnet. Henry Holland though badly wounded managed to reach sanctuary in London. Edward had him rounded up and sent to the Tower.  He had for a time been the Constable of the Tower so at least he was familiar with his accommodation.

By the following year Anne was able to have the marriage annulled, she went on to marry Thomas St Leger but Edward IV seems to have welcomed Henry back into the fold as he was part of the military expedition that set off to make war on the French. It wasn’t a roaring success from the wider population’s point of view as they’d been heavily taxed and expected a decent battle at the very least. What they got was a treaty whilst Edward IV received money to go away and an annual pension.

As for Henry Holland?  He had an unfortunate accident on the way home.  Apparently he fell overboard.  The Milanese Ambassador suggested that the accident was caused by a couple of burly nautical  types picking him up and throwing him…

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Edward of Norwich

edward of norwich.jpgSome of you will be relieved that I’m moving away from Henry VIII for a short while. Today I’ve landed on the 8th of December 1405 and the figure behind the door is Edward of Norwich. So we’re slap bang in the middle of the reign of Henry IV and almost inevitably Edward is a Plantagenet related to Edward III. Edward III is Edward’s grandfather.

 

Edward’s father was Edward III’s fourth surviving son Edmund of Langley a.k.a. the first duke of York – from whence the name York of the House of York stems though rather confusingly by the time the Wars of the Roses started much of their land holdings were in the south whilst the Lancastrians held lands in Yorkshire (you know you’d be disappointed if it was straight forward).   Edward’s mother was Isabelle of Castille, the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Blanche and there’s a tale to tell about Isabelle and her husband because there were rumours (aren’t there always?) that Edward’s younger brother Richard of Connisburgh wasn’t necessarily the child of Edmund of Langley.

 

Any way enough of that.  Edward died at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 having lived through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. His death without heirs would mean that his nephew would become the 3rd duke of York and he would be at the heart of the Wars of the Roses.

 

Edward was born, oh dear, in Kings Langley, Norwich or York as it is possible that Norwich is a mispronunciation of the Latin form of the name York…it’s always nice to be clear about these things, don’t you think?

 

Edward was knighted at Richard II’s coronation in 1377 when he was about four years old. He was younger but close enough in age for the two boys to grow up together and  to be close to Richard II throughout Richard’s life. He benefitted accordingly becoming the earl of Cork and the earl of Rutland, as well as, duke of Aumale and eventually second duke of York. He became warden of the West March, Constable of the Tower, Governor of the isle of White. In fact if you can think of a well known role chances are that Edward will have held the office at some point during Richard II’s reign. He even gained control of Anne of Bohemia’s lands after her death and benefited from them financially.

 

In 1397 following the arrest of Thomas of Woodstock a.k.a. the duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III) and his subsequent nasty accident with a mattress it was Edward who became Constable of England ultimately accusing his uncle and the earl of Arundel of treason. It was widely suggested that Edward had assisted with the practicalities of the mattress related incident in Calais when his cousin suggested it would be a good idea if their uncle was removed from the scene.

 

So, Edward is at the key event in 1398 when Henry of Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt’s son and later Henry IV) took on Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, in armed combat. Edward was the constable in charge of overseeing fair play. Of course the combat didn’t go ahead and both Mowbray and Henry were exiled.

 

Edward went off to Ireland with Richard II who on John of Gaunt’s death had seized his estate and changed Bolingbroke’s exile from a temporary affair to one of life. Edward seeing which way the wind was blowing swiftly changed sides when Henry landed at Ravenspur. This about-face didn’t save Edward from the wrath of the people who’d risen up against Richard II.  It was only the intervention of Henry IV which saved him from prison and worse.  He did lose the title of Aumale.

 

In October 1399 Edward was a prisoner but by the end of the year he was back on the king’s council. Henry IV was troubled by plots throughout his reign. Henry V (then Prince Henry) would describe Edward as a ‘loyal and valiant knight’ demonstrating that Edward’s personality was such that he managed to survive being implicated in any of them over the long term unlike his brother Richard of Connisburgh got himself executed for his role in the Southampton Plot of 1415 or their sister Constance who had tried to put the earl of march on the throne in 1405.

The 1415 plot also sought  to place Edmund Mortimer a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp – the second surviving son of Edward III so legally the correct claimant of the crown after Richard II- in place of Henry V who was, of course, descended from John of Gaunt – the third surviving son of Edward III and Henry Iv who had of course usurped his cousin’s throne, albeit by popular demand.

 

Edward of Norwich died at Agincourt having placed himself in danger to protect Henry V. Edward was replaced as duke of Norfolk by his nephew, Richard of York – the son of Richard of Connisburgh who’d been executed for treason at the start of the French campaign for his role in the Southampton Plot.

 

And welcome to the Wars of the Roses. Richard of York would eventually attempt to claim the throne in December 1460 through his descent from Lionel of Antwerp rather than Edmund of Langley but fail to gain popular support. On the 30th December 1460 he would be killed along with his son the young earl of Rutland in the aftermath of the Battle of Wakefield.

In between doing what Plantagenets did i.e. being a soldier, ruling various realms and plotting against his family, Edward of Norwich  also managed to find time to write the oldest known book on hunting.

You might be wondering whether Edward married.  The answer is yes, he did.  Phillippa de Bohun who was twenty years his senior.  She must have been an heiress I hear you yell. Well actually no.  Although Phillippa was a de Bohun her mother had sold the family estates leaving her daughters with no lands and no noticeable dowry.  Intriguingly Edward’s bride was not only twenty years older than him she was also no great catch and having already been twice widowed but still childless not particularly fertile…leaving us with the possibility that the pair loved one another.

 

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_70.html

http://www.shakespeareandhistory.com/duke-of-aumerle.php

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Edward III, Danny Dyer and the Emperor Charlemagne

220px-king_edward_iii_from_npgEdward III is sometimes described as “The Father of the Nation.” According to one of my old copies of Who Do You Think You Are magazine approximately four million people along with the likes of Danny Dyer are descended from King Edward III. Ian Mortimer’s book on Edward III suggests that the actual figure is somewhere between 80 and 95% of the population of England- perhaps ‘Father of Millions’ would have been a better name.

(And wasn’t it a brilliant opening episode of Who Do You Think You Are?– I hope there’re more episodes this series that go back up a family tree as far as possible but I doubt anyone will look quite as stunned as East Enders’ actor Danny when he found himself sitting in Westminster Abbey with a pedigree as long as your arm in his hand – and then there’s the Cromwell link!)

So, where to start if you want to know more about Edward III? Edward III was rather helpfully the son of Edward II. Edward II was married to Isabella of France – the warmly named “She-Wolf” who arrived in England aged twelve to discover that her spouse had a preference for his male companions, in particular Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despencer. Chroniclers of the period are disapproving of Edward’s friendships. To cut a long and complicated story down to size Edward II was deposed by Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer when young Prince Edward was just fourteen.   Edward II disappeared from the scene via Berkeley Castle and a helping hand; though there are some interesting theories that his death was somewhat exaggerated.

 

Young Prince Edward became King Edward III though the power behind the throne was in the hands of his mother and Roger Mortimer. Edward III became increasingly concerned about his perilous position vis a vis Mortimer who behaved as though he was king. Edward, aged just seventeen in 1330 seized his opportunity in Nottingham when his men were able to sneak into the castle through a network of tunnels, surprise Mortimer and take back power. Edward III went on to reign until his death in 1377; some fifty years plus a few months.

 

Edward married Philippa of Hainault in York Minster in 1328 and proved a most uxorious monarch though that didn’t stop him having several illegitimate children with his mistress, the avaricious Alice Perrers, after Philippa’s death. The royal pair had thirteen children of whom nine survived to adulthood – I’m not sure what the maths is but to expand from nine (plus a hand full of illegitimate children) to at least four million descendents is jaw dropping. If you want to understand the maths better double click on the picture at the start of this post to open up a new page and an article in the National Geographic which also explains how come you might be related to the Emperor Charlemagne even if you don’t have the family tree and paper trail to prove it.

 

What do we know of Edward’s children? Let’s deal with the boys first. Edward of Woodstock, the so-called Black Prince and the hero of Crecy was born in 1330. He made a love match with his cousin Joan of Kent (who had a dodgy marital past of her own). They had two sons but the eldest died when he was just six. The second boy, Richard of Bordeaux, became Richard II when his grandfather died – the Black Prince having pre-deceased his father. Richard II had no children. So far so straight forward and no sign of the four million.

Lionel of Antwerp was Edward’s third son but only the second to survive to adulthood. Lionel was married twice. His second bride was Violante Visconti of Piedmont. Lionel died shortly after arriving in Italy and definitely before he had the chance to go doing any begetting. The word ‘poison’ was bandied around at the time and it should be noted that Violante’s second husband was also murdered.  Lionel did have a child from his first marriage– a girl called Philippa who found herself married into the Mortimer family in the person of Edmund Mortimer (a difficult opening conversation might have been “your grandfather was my grandma’s lover and then my dad had him dragged off and executed!”) The House of York would one day base its claim to the English throne on its descent from Philippa. That line was also descended from Lionel’s younger brother Edmund of Langley hence the York bit. There are rather a lot of girls in Lionel’s strand of descent through the family tree.  Reason enough for bloodlines getting lost over time as younger daughters of younger daughters gradually tumbled down the social ladder and that’s before warfare, treachery, bad luck as well as just being plain unimportant get involved in the equation.

 

The next son to arrive in Edward III’s and Philippa of Hainhault’s nursery was John of Gaunt. John, the duke of Lancaster, through his first marriage to his distant cousin Blanche fathered the Lancastrian line of kings – Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. He had two daughters with his second wife Constance of Castile but they married royalty on the Iberian Peninsula. It is through one of them that Katherine of Aragon is descended from Edward III.

 

John of Gaunt also had a third family with his mistress Katherine Swynford. This family was later legitimised by the pope and by parliament. This family were called Beaufort after one of John’s castles in France. It is through the Beaufort line that Henry Tudor would one day make his claim to the throne. Students of the Wars of the Roses know that the problem for the House of Lancaster was that there was a shortage of males by 1485, hence the rather dodgy claim of Henry Tudor. However, there were plenty of girls in the distant family tree when you look at it closely – all of them, well at least the ones who didn’t die in infancy or become nuns, contributing to the projected four million descendants of Edward III.

 

The next prince was Edmund of Langley who became the duke of York. He married the younger sister of John of Gaunt’s second wife Constance of Castile and there were offspring. Edward III had three more sons after that, Thomas and William who both died in infancy and then came Thomas of Woodstock who was created duke of Gloucester. He’s the one who ended up murdered in Calais on the orders of his nephew Richard II – a mattress was involved – but not before he’d fathered a number of children.

 

Now – for the girls who, it would have to be said, are much more straightforward. Edward III’s eldest daughter was called Isabella. She had two daughters, one of whom married in to the de Vere family – meaning that the earls of Oxford can trace their ancestry back to Edward III as well as to other Plantagenets. The next girl was called Joan and she was one of the first victims of the Black Death that struck in 1349. Her sister Blanche died in infancy in 1342. The next two sisters weren’t particularly long lived either. Their names were Mary and Margaret. So far as history is currently aware none of the last four had offspring.

 

Edward III also had a number of known illegitimate children. Alison Weir lists them as John Surrey, Joan, Jane and possibly Nicholas Lytlington who became the Abbot of Westminster but there is uncertainty as to his paternity. He could also have been a Dispenser. I should like to say that as an abbot it isn’t really an issue, except of course being in clerical orders doesn’t seemed to have prevented rather a lot of the clergy from fathering children.

 

And those are the key names if you’re one of the four million. Of course, it turns out that if you’re from Western Europe and understand mathematics (its true apparently even if you don’t understand the maths) you’re also related to the Emperor Charlemagne – which is mildly disconcerting. If you just want to find out more about Britain’s royal genealogy then the most comprehensive place to look is at Alison Weir’s  Britain’s Royal Families published by Vintage Books.

I’m off to find my gateway ancestor… though I must admit to never having seen a genealogical expert just sitting around, waiting for me to turn up in order to point me in the right direction. Ho hum!

 

 

 

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Henry VII – king of ‘spin’?

henryviiHenry VII’s claim to the throne was weak – and that’s putting it mildly. There was only the thinnest of Plantagenet threads running through his blood. Even that had to be legitimised in 1397 by Richard II who issued Letters Patent to that fact when the children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford (they’d finally married the previous year) were bought into Parliament along with their parents to stand beneath a canopy of State. Pope Boniface IX had already issued a papal dispensation legitimising the Beaufort clan. However, Henry IV added a note into the legal record in 1407 stating that the Beauforts were not to inherit the throne. It might not have been strictly legal but it weakened Henry’s already weak claim.  In addition to which England did not have a salic law prohibiting women from the crown so technically the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth should have seen the crowning of Queen Margaret.

 

Henry was able to make a play for the throne simply because by 1483 there weren’t many Lancaster sprigs left – the Wars of the Roses took a terrible toll on the aristocratic male population who counted themselves as having direct male descent from Edward III whether they were for York or for Lancaster. George, Duke of Clarence’s son, Edward – the young Earl of Warwick, was a child. The Duke of Buckingham claimed Plantagenet blood but like Henry Tudor’s it came from the Beaufort line and a junior one to Henry’s. There were others descended from female lines including the de la Poles who would be regarded as a key threat to the Tudors.  After Henry came to the throne as well as demonstrating prudent fiscal policy Henry also demonstrated a dab hand at pruning the Plantagenet branches still further – as did his son, to ensure that the Tudor dynasty continued.

 

DSCF2105.JPGWhatever one might think of the twists and turns of the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, not to mention the Stanley turncoats, the fact is that Richard III’s army gave way to Henry’s and Richard lost his life. Henry became king of England on the battlefield by conquest and thus by God’s will – Divine Right – working on the principle that God had given Henry the power to overcome Richard III. Yes, I know that some of the readers of this post are going to mutter about treachery but the view is a valid one when one takes account of the medieval/early modern mind set. The badge to the left of this paragraph is in the keeping of the British Library and it reflects this fact.  Henry wasn’t shy about reminding people.

bosworth-windows.jpgThere were also ballads entitled ‘Bosworth Field’ and the ‘Ballad of Lady Bessie”.  The earliest printed version (well – a summary) dates from the sixteenth century and there is some question as to whether these ballads are pure fiction, their reliability is questionable. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that Henry would have encouraged ballads like this in order that ordinary people heard about the fact that someone who was really very obscure had taken the crown on the battle field.  According to the ballad – in a king on king struggle to the death Henry was personally victorious…history is after all the winners version and does not necessarily take all the facts into consideration. Double click on the image on the right to open a new window linking to the American branch of the Richard III society and a version of the ballad.

 

Henry was equally swift to ensure that the written word reflected not only the Tudor right to rule but how much better they were than their immediate predecessors.  Polydore Vergil arrived in England in 1502 to collect Peter’s Pence but as a humanist scholar Henry VII was keen to have him on board.  It is thought that he began writing the Anglica Historia in 1505, although it wasn’t published until 1534. Double click on the title to open a new window and the online version of Vergil’s unashamedly pro-Tudor writing.  In this excerpt we see Vergil extol Henry’s virtues as he took up the reigns of office:

 

His chief care was to regulate well affairs of state and, in order that the people of England should not be further torn by rival factions, he publically proclaimed that (as he had already promised) he would take for his wife Elizabeth daughter of King Edward and that he would give complete pardon and forgiveness to all those who swore obedience to his name. Then at length, having won the good-will of all men and at the instigation of the both nobles and people, he was made king at Westminster on 31 October and called Henry, seventh of that name. These events took place in the year 1486 after the birth of Our Saviour.

 

There were other contemporary chronicles, principally The Great Chronicle of London and the Chronicle of Calais as well as later chroniclers including Edward Hall who wrote The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, more commonly known as Hall’s Chronicle – Hall was born in 1497.  Sir Thomas More wrote about the reign of Richard  III – he was four in 1485. And, of course, there was Holinshed’s Chronicle which heavily influenced Shakespeare. It made its first appearance in 1577. All of them were vehicles for the Tudor State one way or another.

gold medal.jpgBack to Henry – having driven home the message that he was king by Divine Right and because he was better (yes, I know its Tudor spin) than his predecessors because he paid attention to the country and didn’t murder small boys he also needed to make it clear that the Tudor dynasty was a fresh start. The pope had been so glad that the English had stopped slaughtering one another that he didn’t hesitate in signing the dispensation that allowed Henry to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. He  was swift to honour his pledge to marry her, once the stain of illegitimacy had been revoked by Parliament. A medal was struck commemorating the marriage in 1486. This rare survivor is in the hands of the British Museum.  Double click on the image to open a new page with information about the medal. Elizabeth wasn’t crowned until the Tudor dynasty looked like becoming a certainty. Henry did not want to be seen as Elizabeth’s consort. He wanted it to be understood that he was king in his own right.

marriagebed + henry tudorBizarrely Henry VII’s marriage-bed came to end up in a car park in Chester.  However, since it’s identity has been verified the magnificent carvings can be used to tell the story that Henry wanted to tell in his union with Elizabeth of York Double click on the image to open a window and find out more.

 

DSC_0002Which – brings us back to the dodgy bloodline.   Henry got around the problem by simply using a much older legacy. He claimed that he was descended from the ancient British hero Cadwallader, and produced pedigrees to prove it.  He fought under the red dragon at Bosworth and a red dragon was swiftly added to the permitted armorial supporters before his coronation. Cadwallader was reflected on his coat of arms as shown in the first image in this post. The white greyhound is the Richmond greyhound but the red dragon, which flew on Henry’s banner as he marched through Wales from Pembroke belonged to the ancient king. Other images show Henry’s coat of arms also bearing a portcullis. This came from the Beaufort armorial bearings.

Penn’s acclaimed book about Henry VII demonstrates the lengths that Henry went to in order to secure his kingdom and his dynasty.  An article published in The Guardian in 2012 notes that Henry didn’t just use the red dragon he also made use of the red rose of Lancaster – a somewhat obscure symbol at that time- which was then united with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose signifying the union of the two houses and the end of the thirty years of conflict.  He then proceeded to plant his roses everywhere: on architecture, on pre-existing manuscripts and on new documents. Double click on the image of Henry’s banner to open a new page with the full article.

 

Another well used symbol locating Henry’s right to be king in conquest is the image of that crown perched on a wild rose bush. This was a reminder that Henry had won his crown on the battlefield. In an age of low literacy it was important for there to be symbolism that people understood. Henry was a master of propaganda, right down to the Tudor livery of green and white. White symbolised purity whilst green represented renewal.

DSCF2103Henry also looked to the legend of King Arthur.  Unsurprisingly Henry simply claimed him as an ancestor and reminded folk of Merlin’s prophecy that Arthur would return with the union of the red king and the white queen.  It probably isn’t co-incidence that Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was one of the first books off Caxton’s printing press in England. Elizabeth of York went to Winchester which Malory claimed was Camelot in order to have her first child.  Prince Arthur was duly born and baptised in Winchester.  The Italian humanist, Petrus Carmelianus wrote a poem to celebrate the birth and the end of the civil war.  One of the illustrated pages shows the royal coat of arms being supported by two angels (back to Divine Right). It might also be worth noting that Petrus went on to become Henry VII’s Latin secretary and chaplain.  Double click on Petrus Carmelianus to open a new page with an illustration of one of the pages from his poem. Henry also reinstated Winchester’s round table which dates from the reign of Edward III.  This together with a small number of King Arthur related tapestries and images, according to the article on the subject by Starkey, is all that remains of Henry’s arthurian public image strategy – one which he’d borrowed, it should be added from earlier Plantagenet kings including Edward III and Edward IV.roundtable.jpg

In other respects Henry simply took up long established traditions such as being portrayed in manuscripts as a king, including one where he was depicted as a classical hero and issuing coinage which showed a very lifelike looking Henry.

The most easily accessible online image in a manuscript of Henry as king can be found in the British Library. The book called Henry VII’s book of Astrology shows him sitting on his throne in royal regalia receiving the book of astrology as a gift. Obviously Fate and the stars were on Henry’s side when he became king. Double click on the image from the manuscript to open a British Library article about the imagery in the text.  The manuscript itself has been digitised and pages can be viewed on the British Library website Astrology was a ‘proper’ science. All the Tudors had court astrologers – the most famous being Dr John Dee during the reign of Elizabeth I.

henry vii receiving book.jpgHenry VII’s astrologers appear not to have been a particularly able bunch.  One predicted that Elizabeth of York would live until she was eighty whilst William Parron’s 1503 manuscript predicted that young Prince Henry would grow up to be a good son of the Catholic Church. Parron had originally found favour by predicting that all of Henry VII’s enemies would die…

 

 

 

 

 

Doran, Susan. The Tudor Chronicles. London:Quercus

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

Starkey, David, “King Henry and King Arthur,” in Arthurian Literature XVI, ed. James Patrick Carley, 171-196. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1998.

 

 

 

 

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Richard II – birthday boy

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard, son of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent was born on January 6th 1367. Ten years later the Black Prince died pre-deceasing his aged and increasingly infirm father Edward III. It says something about the changes in society that a child was successfully able to inherit his grandfather’s throne. It probably also says rather a lot about Richard’s uncles, particularly John of Gaunt that there was no take over bid.

 

Richard’s reign tends to be remembered, in popular imagination at least, for two things. The first event was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Richard demonstrated personal bravery in order to ride out to Smithfield to meet Wat Tyler – and remember that Richard’s chancellor, even though he did resign shortly before, Simon of Sudbury had been brutally murdered by the mob and that John of Gaunt’s palace, The Savoy, had been utterly destroyed.

 

Richard, married to Anne of Bohemia introduced the word Majesty to court circles, no doubt helping his uncles and relatives to remember who was in charge. It was this period that saw curly toed footwear, Geoffrey Chaucer and the building of Westminster Hall. Despite these things which seem on their own to indicate a period of culture and learning (shoes aside) but Richard failed to live up to his early promise.  In addition to not being particularly keen on fighting the french he liked bathing, reading and clothes as well as getting his own way. The death of Anne of Bohemia in 1394 didn’t help matters very much nor did his second marriage two years later to Isabella of Valois who was a child so unable to curb his despotic tendencies or desire to have his entire court on their knees:

 

‘After this on solemn festivals when by custom [Richard II] performed kingly rituals, he would order a throne to be prepared for him in his chamber on which he liked to sit ostentatiously from after dinner until vespers, talking to no one but watching everyone; and when his eye fell on anyone, regardless of rank, that person had to bend his knee towards the king …’

Continuatio Eulogii, pp. 371-9

 

 

To cut a long story short Richard didn’t look to his relatives for support once he reached adulthood – a fact which irritated them immensely. One of Richard’s uncles (Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester) waited until John of Gaunt (yet another of Richard’s uncles) was out of the country and then used the law to curb Richard’s increasingly authoritarian practices. Many of Richard’s favourites were executed. The event is recalled by the title that the 1388 Parliament is known by – the Merciless Parliament.

 

Richard had to wait nearly a decade to get his own back and during that time he ensured that there was a cohort of men loyal to him as well as a crack troop at his command. In 1397 Richard arrested and banished his opponents including his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke who was also John of Gaunt’s son. The Duke of Gloucester having been arrested and sent to Calais had a fatal ‘accident’, allegedly involving a mattress, on his nephew’s orders.

 

When John of Gaunt died, Henry of Bolingbroke thought that his banishment would be over. Instead Richard made the banishment permanent and stripped Henry of his lands. Henry landed at Ravenspur with the intent of reclaiming the Duchy of Lancaster. Which leads to the second event of Richard’s reign which most folk know – his usurpation and death from starvation at Pontefract. No wonder Shakespeare found plenty of material to write about.

Froissart’s Chronicles, somewhat sympathetic to Richard, gives an account of the period but ultimately seems to indicate that Richard brought his own downfall upon himself through his authoritarianism and failure to make war on the French.

 

Two generations on, problems resulting from Richard’s removal would arise when the Lancaster line failed to produce a strong king. Henry IV as Henry Bolingbroke became held on to his crown though in constant fear that someone would do to him what he had done to Richard.  Henry V was probably the most martial king of the period and then there was Henry VI.  That would be the time when a swift investigation of the family tree would remind the nobility that the Lancaster line was descended from Edward III’s third surviving son.  Unfortunately for England, Lionel of Antwerp, Edward’s second surviving son, had a child Philippa who had married into the Mortimer family.  Richard II had named Philippa’s son (Roger Mortimer) his heir. At a time when the Lancaster line weakened this inconvenient fact would become very important indeed. And it would be another Richard – Richard of York – descended on both his mother and father’s side from Edward III who would demand that attention be paid to the previously ignored rights of the Mortimers.

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Elizabeth of Lancaster and Sir John Holland

elizabeth_of_lancasterI’ve found a new author – well, she might not be new but she’s new to me- Anne O Brien.  I’ve just guzzled ‘The King’s Sister’ a novel about Elizabeth of Lancaster, the third child of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt.

Her story is an everyday tale of the Plantagenets – so there’re two arranged marriages, treachery and a spot of skulduggery for starters.

John of Gaunt arranged a marriage between Elizabeth and John Hasting’s the third Earl of Pembroke in 1380.  She was seventeen, he was eight and got on, in the novel at least, very well with Elizabeth’s little brother Henry of whom more anon.  It isn’t perhaps surprising that she was more attracted to John Holland a son of Princess Joan and her first husband (the one she married when she was twelve before her family married her off to a second more important husband but that’s a different story) who had been married for a third time to the Black Prince and was mother to King Richard II.  John Holland had a reputation as a ladies man and a champion jouster – or in other words a knight errant- as well as gaining a reputation as a soldier in the field in both Scotland and Spain.  Apparently, according to the records of the time, he was smitten with Elizabeth of Lancaster’s great beauty.  He followed her day and night…so what would you do if you were a hormone ridden teenager – remain loyal to the child to whom your father has married you off to or run away with the handsome half brother of the king?   Elizabeth’s marriage to the young Earl of Pembroke was annulled.

The relationship between Elizabeth and John Holland is a tempestuous one in Anne O’Brien’s novel but the historical reality is not without its ironies.  John’s half brother was Richard II.  Elizabeth’s brother was Henry Bolingbroke a.k.a. Henry IV.  I should imagine that the family get together after Henry deposed and imprisoned Elizabeth’s brother-in-law was a tense one.  Although John gave his fealty to the new king he remained loyal to Richard in Pontefract – and despite Richard’s notorious temperamental streak – he’d been good to his half-brother and wife.  John Holland had been created First Duke of Exeter and been rewarded with other posts and estates.

In 1400 he was involved in the so-called ‘Epiphany Plot,’ also known as ‘the Three Earls Plot’ which sought to overthrow Henry, kill him and his sons, and return Richard II to the throne.  The plot was betrayed and John fled but was captured at Pleshy Castle in Essex.  He was fortunate to get so far.  Twenty-nine of the conspirators were executed at Oxford.  John was  was executed by Joan Fitzallan, the Countess of Hereford who had a grudge against Elizabeth’s husband.  Holland had executed her brother (the Earl of Arundel) several years before without going through the niceties of an entirely fair trial.

Henry IV used attainder to impoverish his sister and his nieces and nephews in the short term.  So not what you might call a terribly happy-ever-after for the couple although there is more to Elizabeth’s story and her children because they remained close to the crown and eventually regained their titles if not all of their estates.  As for Richard II, well he apparently starved himself to death very soon after the failed uprising in January 1400.  The chroniclers didn’t believe it either!

As for me I’m pleased to report that there are five other novels by Anne O Brien…as well as a list of places for me to visit that are associated with the Plantagenet princess who broke the rules and ran off with her handsome knight only to find herself embroiled in deadly family politics.

 

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Richard III – evidence in the bones.

Richard_III_of_EnglandIt turns out that someone somewhere has been skulking along the medieval corridors of power  late at night on their way to an assignation– the problem is that we can’t be sure when or even who was encouraging the aforementioned skulk and for the last five hundred years no one – with the obvious exceptions- have been any the wiser. An article published in this month’s edition of Nature has changed that along with the revelation that Richard was a blue-eyed blond or at least a blond baby whose hair darkened with the passage of time.

 

The story begins with Richard III. He’s a chap who’s provided history with more than one mystery and now there’s another to add to the collection.  Most folk are aware of the conflicting theories about the disappearance of Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483. Was Richard a wicked uncle responsible for the demise of his nephews or has history framed the last Yorkist king for a crime that he didn’t commit? Were King Edward V and Prince Richard done away with as Tudor chroniclers would have us believe and if so who did the deed and who gave the orders? Other scenarios suggest that one or more of the princes were spirited to safety; other folk suggest that the Lancastrians did the terrible deed to ensure their own man’s success. I wouldn’t like to make any definitive suggestions as there’s evidence that can be offered in support of all these options as well as plenty of circumstantial evidence and there are plenty of passionate advocates for the different theories.

This post isn’t about that.   It’s partly about a pleasant trip down memory lane and the way that history isn’t something that’s static – it shifts like quicksand. Richard and the missing princes were the first topic that was covered at my secondary school by way of an introduction to history and the trustworthiness of sources. As I recall there was a folder full of ‘evidence’ that had to be sorted and categorised to try to decide whether Richard did the deed – and that’s before we even advanced to his portrait – was he really as physically repellent as Shakespeare portrayed him? While we now know the answer to his appearance thanks to the work of countless professionals– including the surprising blue eyes and baby blonde hair- we still don’t know about his role as murderous uncle – its certainly not a debate I want to get tangled in; not least because I can never quite make up my mind. What I do recall is that I progressed from the facts to Josephine Tey’s Daughter in Time in the space of an afternoon and at the age of eleven became hooked on historical fiction.

 

What I’m really blogging about this evening are the findings from the Leicester University that were all over the weekend’s papers – the quicksand bit of history.  Something which appeared to be solid turns out to be mired in uncertainty.   Maternal DNA reveals that Richard really was the king under the car park but further analysis reveals that somewhere along the line of the Beaufort family the paternal line was broken – Richard has a rather unusual Y chromosome but the brave souls- Beaufort descendants who offered their own DNA for comparison do not match up to that of the last Yorkist King. Their Y chromosomes are much more pedestrian. Someone somewhere in the family tree between Edward III and Richard III was a bit of a naughty girl on the quiet.

 

One line of thought is that John of Gaunt might not have been the son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. There was a persistent rumour that he was the son of a Flemish butcher….an odd possibility. I mean, I can see how Duchess Cecily Neville (the wife of Richard of York and mother to Edward IV and Richard III) might have fancied a fling with a tall handsome archer (more of that in a moment) but how on earth would a butcher have met, let alone struck up a conversation that progressed to a liaison with the English queen?

 

Generally speaking it has always been assumed to have been a vile slander. John of Gaunt wasn’t popular in England. His palace at the Savoy was destroyed during the Peasant’s Revolt. Folk believed that he wanted the crown for himself even though he was always loyal to his nephew the young Richard II. Apparently the rumour of his supposed parentage made John very, very irritable as depicted in that wonderful fictional evocation of his mistress’s life Katherine by Anya Seyton.

 

It is equally possible that the cuckoo in the nest could have been John Beaufort,  Gaunt’s son by Katherine Swynford – one of history’s love stories… so I really hope not. It would be deeply ironic if the legitimised illegitimate son of the Duke of Lancaster turned out not to belong to the man who claimed him as a son.

 

Another possibility presents itself.  What if Richard was the progeny of a cuckoo in the nest? Or indeed not quite what he seemed. Rumours about Duchess Cecily, his mother, sprang up in relation to Richard’s brother Edward IV. It was suggested that Edward’s father was actually an archer called Blaybourne. There is also contention over the conception dates. Richard, Duke of York was in Pontoise while Cecily was in Rouen. It seems quite difficult to reach a definitive conclusion without the existence of undisputed primary evidence – though that’s only my opinion. Certainly Edward’s baptism at Rouen was very low-key but then again the Duke of York didn’t deny paternity and in Medieval terms that meant Edward was legitimate. The rumour floated to the surface at a time when George, Duke of Clarence took a shine to the crown and its not difficult to see that George might have used gossip for his own ends (supposition again).  When Richard needed a public justification for his claim to the throne in 1483 the rumour was aired again. And as we all know mud sticks and there’s no smoke without fire. I’m sure if I think I can come up with a few more clichés.

 

Whatever the truth about Plantagenet goings-on in the bedroom department, the very informative University of Leicester website reveals that false paternity is to be expected – apparently it runs at 1-2% per generation which if you’re a family historian should make for disturbing thoughts about your own ancestry.

 

Ultimately, the fact that someone passed off the child of their lover as legitimate makes no difference whatsoever to the events of the Wars of the Roses or the monarchy thereafter but what it does do is add another fascinating layer to a story that already has many complex twists and turns. Who needs soap opera  or even Cleudo when we’ve got the Plantagenets?

 

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