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Who’s the great-granddaddy then…?

Following on from the blog A Big Development below….

john holland - duke of exeter - with the duke of alisbury John Holland I Medieval tournament

It is interesting that the latest scientifically gleaned results to come out from the tests made on the remains of King Richard III, have raised in a question mark over the line of legitimacy on his paternal side. Someone, somewhere, somewhen committed adultery, and the resultant child was presented as legitimate. Hardly surprising. People will be people.

In this instance, however, I am curious that the name of John Holland, 1st Earl of Huntington, 1st Duke of Exeter, has cropped up as a possible culprit. Holland was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers. They were the offspring of Joan of Kent’s first marriage, Richard II being by her second husband, the Black Prince.

John Holland came to a sticky end at Pleshey, being captured after the unsuccessful Epiphany Rising of 1399, and was beheaded without trial in January 1400. His resting place has now vanished. The rising had been against Henry IV, who had usurped the throne of Holland’s half-brother, Richard II. Henry IV was also Holland’s brother-in-law, Holland having married Henry’s younger sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster.

As a young man, Holland had been quite a lad with the ladies. He had to marry Elizabeth because he got her into trouble when she was already married to a boy who was not old enough to consummate the marriage. John of Gaunt, Elizabeth’s father, had to hastily put things right. But such was Holland’s charm, that he and his father-in-law got on well. Holland was also known for his fiery temper, and had killed when in a rage, so he was certainly not a dull figure around the court.

He was a fine warrior and jouster, one of the best, and appeared at international tournaments such as those depicted in the film “A Knight’s Tale”, which happens to feature the Black Prince, who was Holland’s step-father. How intricately it all links together . . .

So, here we have a tall, handsome lord, depicted in the few illustrations of him as having red-gold hair and the short forked beard that was the fashion then. He is shown wearing the beautiful houppelandes that were so very much admired at Richard II’s court, and were worn by men and women alike. Holland was, quite literally, a knight in shining armour, dashing, passionate, charming, seductive, dangerous . . . and therefore irresistible to many women. Including, it seems, Isabella, Duchess of York.

She had been Isabella of Castile (not the Isabella of Castile) and had accompanied her sister Constance to England when Constance became John of Gaunt’s second wife. Isabella was married to Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. Edmund was not likely to set Isabella’s blood on fire, but when she met John Holland, the flames started.

The affair, which pre-dated Holland’s marriage, caused a scandal at court. Chaucer wrote about it in “The Complaint of Mars”, which relates that the Candle of Jealousy (York) is approaching when Holland (Mars) and Isabella (Venus) are canoodling. The affair eventually ended, but there is a strong suggestion that her second son, Richard of Conisburgh, Earl of Cambridge, was Holland’s child, not the 1st Duke of York’s.

IF this is true, then Richard of Conisburgh’s son, Richard, 3rd Duke of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III) was not descended from Edmund of Langley, and it makes John Holland Richard III’s great-grandfather.

The thing that occurred to me, however, is that I have always wondered where the looks of Edward IV and Henry VIII originated. Both were tall, strong, handsome men of great charm (when they chose), and both are depicted as having red-gold hair, although whether that is artistic fashion-following is uncertain, for such hair colour was admired. So who do they sound like? Yes, John Holland. So, maybe the rumour about Richard of Conisburgh’s parentage is true after all.

I am only speculating, of course, and those tall, handsome looks may well have come from elsewhere. There is also the thought that Richard III was not like that in appearance, but was said to be more like his father, the 3rd Duke of York. Which makes me think that if Isabella had been small and darkish, then Richard III and his father probably inherited their looks from her.

Yes, all guesswork, but interesting.

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11 thoughts on “Who’s the great-granddaddy then…?

  1. Jasmine on said:

    An interesting idea. John Holland would have inherited Plantagenet blood from his mother who was descended from Edward I and Margaret of France, but not the important Y chromosome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So essentially, this Duke of Exeter may have tilted when he should have withdrawn. (5 points to anyone who recognizes the reference.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. viscountessw on said:

    My thoughts are still ticking over on this story, and have now lighted on Henry Holland, the awful, nasty, horrible and just about everything else 3rd Duke of Exeter, who was John Holland’s grandson. Henry Holland was not a likeable man, and drowned at sea when returning from Edward IV’s 1475 expedition. It has always been thought he didn’t fall, but was pushed at Edward IV’s command.

    Henry Holland had a claim to the throne through his descent from John of Gaunt’s daughter, but what if the real reason for him being disposed of was that (as seems likely with George of Clarence) he knew something he should not? What if he’d found out for certain that his grandfather, the 1st Duke of Exeter, was Edward IV’s real paternal great-grandfather, not Edmund of Langley, and thus Edward and the House of York had no blood right to the throne. What if the rumours of illegitimacy surrounding Edward IV had nothing to do with his mother and an archer named Blaybourne, but with John Holland I and Isabella, Duchess of York? What if the secret that George of Clarence discovered wasn’t to do with Edward’s pre-contract either?

    Richard III would obviously prefer to refer to the Blaybourne story than the Holland story. I would too, under the circumstances. And it might explain why Cecily Neville was prepared to let the story of her infidelity go ahead. She too would want the truth suppressed, because if it came out, the whole House of York would be at risk. Including the reputation and standing of her beloved late husband. Maybe. Speculation again. Richard was still stuck with a situation that he had to overcome, and I have no problem at all with his kingship…only that it didn’t last long enough!

    I know I let my imagination have a lot of rein, but there do seem to be a few odd things about it all. Intriguing question marks aplenty.


  4. sighthound6 on said:

    This theory was first promulgated by T B Pugh many years ago. The only way to be sure would be to take DNA from Edmund of Langley. But the principal York claim came through Anne Mortimer, and that being the case the claim would still be superior to that of Lancaster, even if Richard of Conisbrough was a bar sinister.

    The Hollands (certainly John Holland and the later Henry Holland) had a powerful streak of irrational violence; but that was not uncommon among medieval males and I’m not sure much can be made of that.


  5. viscountessw on said:

    There go some of my theories, sighthound6…. But I did know I wasn’t by any means the first to put the Holland story forward, not even the first to come upon it this time around. The Mortimer line was, of course, the most senior, but I don’t imagine a strong whiff of illegitimacy would go down well in the House of York, especially when it was that very thing that was supposed to preclude the House of Beaufort. Which sneaked in anyway, of course. Darn it.


  6. This is an old post, but anyway: Edward IV definitely did not have red gold hair. I don’t know where the myth about blond Edward IV even first came from – but it must have been one from a much later date, because every near contemporary portrait of Edward IV shows him with brown hair; the contemporary representations of him in books (like Luton Guild Book portrait of the royal family etc.) all show him with dark brown hair; and the lock of hair recovered from his tomb, which was opened in 1789, and kept in a museum, is brown, and pretty dark at that.

    However, since at least one of his children was red-haired (Elizabeth of York), Edward must have had a recessive red hair gene that did not express itself in him (and another one must have come from Elizabeth Woodville). But that red haired gene could have come from Cecily Neville’s side of the family; we know that Anne Neville was a redhead.

    Henry VII and Anne Boleyn probably had recessive red hair genes as well, since Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were typical gingers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As for tall, handsome looks: well, handsome is a matter of taste, and I’d say Richard had very handsome looks, especially based on his facial reconstruction. George is not bad-looking in his portrait, either. The main difference in Edward’s facial features is a plumper face. The straight/slightly snub nose and the tiny pouty lips are very much Cecily Neville’s (and George has the same mouth in his portraits). But Edward also has a big chin that looks even more prominent in his portraits than that of his brother Richard, and Richard. Duke of York had prominent chin (Cecily seems to have had a small chin, similar to her Neville daughters-in-law in their portraits).

    Edward IV’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy was supposedly about 6′, which is an even more impressive height for a woman than 6’4″ is for a man, and had to lean down to kiss her husband Charles the Bold at their wedding. Richard was medium height, 5’8″ without scoliosis (due to the scoliosis, he probably looked around 5’5″). And we don’t really know George’s height, but there’s now at least one historian (John Ashdown-Hill) who thinks George was probably rather short. So, it’s pretty difficult to make any judgments on the family’s heights, they seem all over the place.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. viscountessw on said:

    Picturing any of them is an art form, timetravellingbunny. The height thing is a lottery, although it seems there was a ‘very tall’ gene in the family. All I know is that when I see the new blond Richard, I shudder. It just does NOT look right. None of his portraits show him like that, even the early drawings. And I agree, he was very handsome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The blond thing is just silly. Why do they keep ignoring the fact that the DNA results merely showed he had blond hair as a child? I have very dark hair, people couldn’t probably imagine me differently, but if you look at my photos when I was 4, my hair was very light. By the time I was in elementary school, it was already brown, but over half of the kids in my class were blond… and then just a few years later, most of them had various shades of brown hair.


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