Why lineage still matters in battle
The crown of England, among others, has often been claimed in battle or by other forceful means. However, to exercise such a claim, it is necessary to persuade a challenger’s military followers that he has a dynastic claim of sorts, even when this is greatly exaggerated or totally spurious.
Thus William I, the Conqueror or Bastard, was the great-nephew of Emma of Normandy, wife of two earlier English kings ( Ethelred II and Cnut) and there was arguably no suitable adult male from the House of Wessex. Stephen (of Blois) was Henry I’s cousin when the latter had died without a legitimate male heir. Henry IV wrested the crown from Richard II when the latter was childless with a pre-pubescent second wife, whilst the Mortimer who was Richard’s heir had died the previous year allowing his young son to be leapfrogged. Edward IV was the senior Mortimer descendant and thus Richard II’s heir, whilst Henry VII’s claim is far more difficult. Jane (Grey), supported by her father and father-in-law, was nominated in Edward VI’s will, even though Henry VIII’s legislation trumped this, preferring Mary I. William III was both nephew and son-in-law to James VII/II before he caused the latter to lose his nerve completely and flee.
Two of these cases deserve further scrutiny. At his 1413 death, Henry IV must have thought he had accomplished his mission. He left four healthy sons and he could reasonably have expected them to have families of their own but two of these lines failed completely, a third possibly had two children legitimised and the fourth left a baby to reign as Henry VI. The mental instability and total unsuitability of the latter to his royal duties would not have been a problem in a larger legitimate family but it was. By the time that he and his son died in 1471, the House of Lancaster proper (descended from Blanche, Duchess in suo jure and Henry IV’s mother) was extinct save for the mainly foreign offspring of its heiresses.
So, in the absence of any true Lancastrian heirs in England, the claim somehow devolved upon the great-grandson of the first Earl of Somerset, conventionially recorded as Henry IV’s half-brother, who was also the grandson of Henry V’s widow. The future Henry VII’s royal descent has been open to question on two counts recently. It was certainly inferior to that of the House of (Mortimer) York and to the Portuguese royal house of the time. There is no doubt, however, that he, his father and uncle were Lancastrian-inclined in a political sense whatever their lineage and that this thin or non-existent lineage was spun continually, representing him as a son of Henry VI at one stage.
Ironically, the 13th Earl of Oxford, the commander to whom Henry owes his victory, was of unquestionable royal ancestry – through Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I.