The House of Lancaster – the basics

 

The House of Lancaster - kingsi.jpgThis afternoon I’ve been learning how to convert a word document into a jpeg.  It is rather a straight forward process as it turns out.  The word document needs to be saved as a pdf which can then be saved as a jpeg.  I am therefore a very happy woman and well under way with planning the first part of the forthcoming day school on the Beaufort  family.

Here then is a brief reminder of why the House of Lancaster ended up wearing the crown.

Edward III was a long lived king.  He became king in 1327, at the age of 14, when his father Edward II “abdicated” at the suggestion of Edward III’s mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  Three years later Edward III overthrew his regents and took charge of his kingdom. In part it was because Edward was now a young man but other factors must have included the fact that Roger Mortimer’s military campaign in Scotland didn’t go terribly well and there was the all important factor that Isabella of France had become pregnant with Mortimer’s child.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with Mortimer in charge that Edward III was a hindrance to perhaps placing his own child upon the throne.  Edward became involved in a coup of his own. Men loyal to Edward III burst in to Nottingham Castle through a secret passage and arrested Mortimer who was promptly carted off to London where he was executed. Alison Weir speculates that the child that Isabella was carrying was either still born or miscarried.  There certainly isn’t any further reference to an illegitimate child of the queen’s.

Meanwhile Edward III had married, the year after he became king in name only, Philippa of Hainhault. Edward and Philippa had thirteen children not all of whom survived infancy which is rather impressive since Edward III was busy governing his kingdom and launching the Hundred Years War base don the fact that his mother was a french princess, there was a vacancy and no one had explained salic law to him.   In addition to his heir, also called Edward (of Woodstock) and whom History knows as the Black Prince he had four other sons who lived into adulthood. Edward wished to ensure that all his sons were well provided for so turned them into dukes and ensured that they were all married to heiresses.

Unfortunately the Black Prince instead of settling down to beget plentiful heirs of his own became embroiled in a love story to compete with that of his younger brother John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  He settled his heart upon Joan of Kent who was the granddaughter of Edward I and his second wife (Margaret of France).  Young Joan or the Fair Maid of Kent as she is sometimes called had a bit of a reputation.  The Black Prince aside from being quite closely related to her was her third husband – husbands one and two had both been alive at the same time and there had been quite some scandal over the whole affair when she selected the knight Thomas Holland to be her spouse rather than the heir of the Earl of Salisbury. She had several children but only one child, Richard of Bordeaux, who survived infancy with her third husband the Black Prince.  The Holland children and their descendants turn up throughout the Wars of the Roses having married into various families adding to the general sense of internecine quarrelling.

The Black Prince careered around France, irritating the French, winning battles and inconveniently dying of dropsy in 1376 the year before his father which meant that the heir to the throne was a nine-year-old boy with four wealthy adult male uncles…and for those readers who enjoy a good pantomime this was clearly not a good position to be in.

It says something for the stability of the kingdom that Richard II became king in 1377 aged just ten.  Four years later the Peasants were revolting and Richard showed his metal by riding out to meet their leader Wat Tyler at Mile End and then at Smithfield.  The rebellion was unsuccessful and this is not the post to explore it any further. Let’s just say that the reign didn’t go well after a promising early start.

Richard’s lords, the so-called Lords Appellant plotted against him.  One of the men was his uncle – Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester.  He would have a nasty accident in Calais with a mattress which suffocated him on his nephew’s orders. Another uncle Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence was already dead – poisoned it would appear by his Italian father-in-law. The Duke of York (Edmund of Langley) kept his nose clean and receives mention in Richard II’s will as a potential heir along with Lionel’s grandson by his only child Philippa who married Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (a descendent of Isabella of France’s lover)- which just leaves us with the most powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.  Everyone believed that Gaunt wanted to be king but he was never anything but loyal to his nephew.

The same can not be said of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke (the Earl of Derby). Henry had joined the Lords Appellant in 1387 to plot against Richard who bided his time until he had gained sufficient power to take his revenge.  Henry meanwhile had learned the error of his ways and John of Gaunt had returned from making his claim to the throne of Castile to help keep order in the family. Henry of Bolingbroke reported an alleged treasonous comment in 1398 made by Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk.  The pair were to fight a duel at Coventry but Richard changed his mind and banished Mowbray for life.  Henry was banished for a period of ten years, ostensibly to avoid further blood shed.  The following year John of Gaunt died and rather than send the revenue from the Lancaster estates to his cousin Henry, Richard II now took the opportunity to banish Henry of Bolingbroke for life and claim all of his uncle’s lands.  Richard had cousin Henry’s young son, also called Henry with him as a hostage for Henry of Bolingbroke’s good behaviour when he sailed off to Ireland to deal with the Irish.

Henry of Bolingbroke, now returned to England claiming that he wanted nothing more than what was rightfully his. He swiftly gained sufficient power to claim the kingdom for himself and bingo Henry of Bolingbroke, a.k.a the Earl of Derby transformed overnight into King Henry IV (though he did spend the rest of his life looking one this shoulder for potential plotters and assassins).  Richard II was carted off to Pontefract Castle where someone (Thomas Swynford as it happens) forgot to feed him and he died. Young Henry the hostage would turn into Henry V,

The house of Lancaster now seemed secure on the throne as Henry IV had many sons. Unfortunately his eldest son Henry V contracted dysentery and died leaving a nine month old child, also called Henry on the throne. After a while the hold of the House of Lancaster unravelled – Henry VI aside from not wanting to thrash the French actually married one of them, failed to produce an heir for such a long time that when Prince Edward finally turned up there were plenty of rumours about paternity.  It didn’t help that Henry VI had suffered a mental breakdown and was incapable of ruling let alone acknowledging his son.

The descendants of all those dukes began to look back up their family trees.  Factions formed and it was one short step from angry words to drawn swords on various battle fields.  Ultimately Prince Edward of Lancaster would died at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 meaning that the house of Lancaster would have to look back up its own family tree for a potential heir.

Henry V’s brothers were as follows:

Thomas who died in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge.  He had no legitimate children.

John, the Duke of Bedford who took over the campaign and governance in France after the death of his brother Henry V.   He had been married twice for reasons of allegiance, firstly to Anne of Burgundy and then to Jacquetta of Luxembourg (yes, that one who was mother of Elizabeth Woodville).  Neither wife had produced a little scion of the house of Lancaster.

Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester who took over ruling in England on behalf of his little nephew Henry VI counterbalanced by the child’s half great-uncle Cardinal Beaufort.  Humphrey is known as the “Good Duke.”  His first wife was Jacqueline of Holland, Zeeland and Hainault (all very useful for waging war against the French).  The marriage was annulled  and Humphrey married his mistress Eleanor Cobham.  In 1441 Humphrey’s grip on political power was removed when his wife was convicted of witchcraft and the pair were forcibly divorced.  There were no children and Humphrey died unexpectedly in 1447…possibly from poison.

For the House of Lancaster to continue to vie for the throne after the death of Henry Vi and his son in 1471 it would have to look elsewhere for its sprigs – which is, of course, where the House of Beaufort comes into the equation.

Meanwhile there’s always an opportunity for spotting heraldic devices on modern pubs.  The white hart was Richard II’s favoured heraldic device whereas Henry IV used several including the fettered swan of his wife Mary de Bohun.  Henry V sometimes used the fettered swan as well.  And then of course there is Henry VI’s spotted panther  incensed (means its shooting flames) which is rather wonderful but which so far as I am aware does not feature as a pub.

 

Henry Bolingbroke

Henry IVYoung Henry Bolingbroke was just eleven years old when he carried the ceremonial sword at his cousin Richard II’s coronation. The king was a year younger than Henry.

Henry, named after one of his father’s (John of Gaunt) Lincolnshire castles was also known as Henry of Lancaster. His mother was Blanche of Lancaster and as his father’s heir the title is one that makes sense. However, just to confused things he was also created the Earl of Derby and upon his marriage to Mary Bohun he was created Earl of Hereford – oh yes, then he deposed his cousin and became known as King Henry IV.

 

Henry’s variety of names is confusing enough but his familial relations look like spaghetti rather than a tree. Henry’s grandfather was King Edward III, his father John of Gaunt and his mother Blanche of Lancaster. So, far so good. However, when Henry married Mary Bohun, who was just eleven at the time and remained at home with her widowed mother after the wedding, Henry’s aunt became his sister-in-law! Edward III’s youngest son Thomas of Woodstock was already married to Mary’s older sister Eleanor. They were the co-heiresses of the Earl of Hereford. Henry’s mother-in-law was the widow of the earl and the daughter of Richard FitzAlan third Earl of Arundel.

 

As Richard II grew to manhood he became convinced about the authority of kings. It was this king who introduced the terms ‘Majesty’ and ‘Highness’. It was this king who demanded that anyone entering his presence should bow three times before they approached him. This high handed attitude, not to mention failure to go to war with France, didn’t win him friends within his family. Nor did his preference for ‘new men’ such as his chancellor Michael de La Pole help matters very much.

 

Inevitably there were plots. Eventually in 1387 the Lords Appellant, as they became known, forced Richard to tow the line. He spent some time in the Tower – possibly on the naughty step. Amongst the Lords Appellant were Thomas of Woodstock (Henry’s uncle and brother-in-law) and Richard Fitzalan, the fourth Earl of Arundel (Henry’s uncle-in-law), Thomas Beauchamp (Earl of Warwick), Thomas Mowbray (Earl of Nottingham) and Henry himself.

 

Of course, Richard didn’t take kindly to being told what to do by the nobility even if he was related to most of them. Eventually he regained his power and had Thomas of Woodstock sent to Calais where he ordered his royal uncle to be murdered. The man who organized this was another of Thomas’s nephews ….it’s always nice to see a happy extended family, isn’t it?

Henry’s uncle-in-law, Arundel, was given a show trial and executed. The Earl of Warwick must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when he found himself on a slow boat to the Isle of Man with instructions not to come back. The king seized the estates of all three of these Lords Appellent. Henry and Mowbray seemed, at least for the time being, to have escaped Richard’s wrath.

 

However, Mowbray suggested that the king would do to him and Henry what he’d done to the other three lords. The conversation was not a particularly private one and inevitably word got back to the king that Mowbray was plotting again. Henry denounced Mowbray before he could be accused of being involved.  He went on to challenge Mowbray to trial by combat. The two men were to have met at Coventry on the 16th September 1398. They were just about to attack one another when Richard banned the combat and exiled its combatants: Mowbray for life, Henry for ten years – demonstrating that Mowbray had been right all along.

 

Then John of Gaunt died. Richard changed Henry’s exile to life and claimed Lancaster’s estates as his own.

 

Henry landed at Ravenspur in July 1399. Men flocked to his banner. Richard, who was in Ireland at the time, hurried to meet his cousin but by the time he reached Conway Castle it was evident that Richard had lost his kingdom to his cousin.

 

Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV by popular acclaim. If Richard’s abdication was real rather than forced – and the deposed king was to die very soon afterwards in Pontefract Castle.  The next rightful heir was eight-year-old Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March- and no one wanted another child on the throne.   Henry however, did not claim his right to rule exclusively from his grandfather. He claimed his right to rule through his mother Blanche of Lancaster. Blanche was descended from Edmund Crouchback, the second surviving son of Henry III. Henry IV allowed it to be known that rather than being the second born, Edmund Crouchback was actually the first born child but had been set aside in favour of his brother Edward (King Edward I) on account of his ‘crouchback’.   Given that crouchback meant cross-back it was probably a reference to his crusading zeal rather than any physical deformity.

 

Henry did not have a peaceful reign. Owen Glendower rose with the Welsh in rebellion and the Earl of Northumberland joined in with his son ‘Hotspur’. Hotspur was the husband of Ann Mortimer and therefore uncle to Edmund Mortimer (the child with a better claim to the throne than Henry). It would be nice to think that he was outraged that his nephews Edmund and Roger Mortimer were being imprisoned simply because of their ancestry but it is much more likely that he, together with his father Northumberland, was furious that they hadn’t received what they perceived to be their dues for supporting Henry when he arrived at Ravenspur. They were also expected to guard the border with Scotland more efficiently now that Henry was on the throne.

 

In any event, Henry had to quell rebellions, assassination attempts, deal with financial difficulties, his own heir’s apparent waywardness and his poor health. It was widely reported that he became a leper- he certainly suffered from an unpleasant skin disease of some description. He had difficulty walking and had a fit whilst praying in Westminster Abbey before dying on the 20 March 1413.

 

He left a warrior son to become King Henry V. Unfortunately for England, King Henry died when his own son by Katherine of Valois was an infant.

The Mortimers had not forgotten their claim to the throne (though Edmund and Roger died without children- their sister Ann had married and had children).  Their claim to the throne was  better than baby Henry VI’s. The stage was set for The Cousins War or as we know it, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, the Wars of the Roses – which strange though it may seem given that I’ve cantered through the reigns of both Richard II and his cousin Henry IV,  is what I’m warming up for with this post.