Usurpers? ALL of them…?
Well, all of them except Richard II. The following are extracts from the Introduction to Anthony Steel’s 1941 biography of Richard II. I think it is a very succinct and interesting description of the right to the throne of all the kings of England from Richard II to Henry VII. However… (see my comments at the end of this article)
“…The reign of Richard II marks in many respects the culminating point in English medieval history. If Henry VII was, as has been claimed for him, the last of the medieval kings of England, Richard II was the last of the old order, the last king ruling by hereditary right, direct and undisputed, from the Conqueror…”
“…After his [Richard II’s] violent deposition in 1399 nothing could ever be quite the same again: it was the end of an epoch. Medieval divine right lay dead, smothered in Pontefract castle, and the kings of the next hundred and ten years, medieval as they were in many respects and desperately as they tried to drag together the shredded rags of legitimacy, were essentially kings de facto, not de jure, successful usurpers recognized after the event, upon conditions, by their fellow-magnates or by parliament. Even Henry V, perhaps the strongest and the most medieval of the series, depended for five-sixths of his revenue on the goodwill of his subjects, and could never quite live down the dubiety of his father’s title and the precedent of unfortunate concessions exacted from his father’s weakness…”
“…It is true that the effective precedent afforded by the events of 1399 was for at least a century or two no more than a precedent of usurpation and that the Lancastrian parliamentary title was in the main imposed on those reluctant sovereigns after the event. Even Henry IV (and how much more Edward IV and Henry VII) owed the throne not to the sovereign will of the English people, expressing itself through a representative assembly, but effectively to conquest, to some dim pretence of hereditary right and above all to the support of a few wealthy and powerful individuals and the vague fears of the propertied classes in general. All were saviours of society, in the limited medieval sense, against a threatened spoliation or, worse, disintegration. But with the gradual perfecting of the bureaucratic and remorseless Tudor machine of government [it all changed]…”
Maybe Richard II was indeed the last of the old order, but in my opinion the king guilty of meddling with the true hereditary descent was Edward III, who shortly before his death apparently gave in to Lancastrian pressure and signed a document that declared the crown could not descend through the female line. This meant that the junior House of Lancaster took precedence over the senior House of Clarence/Mortimer. Why? Because although the latter descended through Edward’s second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, it was through the female line. Lancaster was through the third son, but through the male line.
So, although Henry IV usurped Richard’s II’s throne, he did it with what would, apparently, have been his grandfather’s blessing. Well, perhaps not entirely, for I doubt the old king would have gone along with the ‘let’s kill Richard II’ aspect.
Herein lay the origin of the Wars of the Roses, the House of York tracing its descent through the line of Son Number Two, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and Lancaster through the line of Son Number Three, John of Gaunt.
It is only within the last year or so that it has been decided that from now on the Crown can pass through the female line with equal right as the male. How many centuries?
But anyway, the above extracts are interesting and very clearly put. After Richard II, they were ALL usurpers. Correct?
Hmm. To my mind, the accession of Edward IV righted the great wrongs done by Edward III and then Henry IV. The kings of the House of York were indeed the true hereditary heirs to the throne of England. Opinions please…?