Henry VII’s iffy Beaufort claim….

There is always a howl of outrage if fingers are pointed at Katherine de Roet/Swynford and John of Gaunt, and the legitimacy of their Beaufort children is called into question. The matter is guaranteed to end up with someone’s digit jabbing toward Richard III. Why? Because in his proclamation against Henry Tudor, Richard derided the latter’s claim for relying on his mother’s Beaufort descent.

Richard and HT

Initially, the Beauforts were clearly illegitimate. Their parents were not married at the time of their birth, and even if Katherine’s first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, was dead, Gaunt’s second wife, Constance of Castile, certainly was not. The union of Katherine and Gaunt was adulterous. In those days a late marriage did not legitimise children born before the belated wedding vows. Unless one acquired a convenient papal bull, of course. Which Gaunt was quick to do on the death of his second duchess. He married Katherine, and Richard II was persuaded to make their offspring legitimate. Well, the pope’s invention had made them so anyway. Richard II merely tidied it all up.

Henry IV

But on Gaunt’s death, a spanner was thrown into the works. Henry IV (Gaunt’s very definitely legitimate heir through the duke’s first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster) made it very clear indeed that even though they had belatedly been made legitimate, they were excluded from the throne. And he was their half-brother! He was also a trueborn Lancastrian, his mother having been Blanche of Lancaster, the great Lancastrian heiress. Blanche was the daughter of Henry of Lancaster. It was through her that Gaunt became Duke of Lancaster. Gaunt himself was not a Lancastrian, he merely acquired the title through marriage. So any children he had with anyone other than Blanche of Lancaster were not true Lancastrians.

If Henry IV was empowered to make this stipulation, which clearly he was, then he was determined to deny the throne to the Beauforts. No question about it. Yet, late in the 15th century, along came Henry Tudor, presenting himself as Earl of Richmond and the Lancastrian heir. Yes, he descended from John of Gaunt (3rd son of Edward III), but through the Beauforts, whose legitimacy was suspect to say the least, and who had anyway been barred from the throne by Henry IV. This was the basis of Henry Tudor’s challenge for the crown of England. No wonder than when push came to shove, on miraculously/treacherously defeating Richard III at Bosworth, he wisely made his claim through conquest! The Beaufort side of it was a little too dodgy, and he knew it. Conquest, on the other hand, was plain, simple. . .and unchallengeable.

Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, with his second wife, Joan Beaufort
Joan Beaufort, 2nd wife of Ralph, 1st Earl of Westmorland.

But, I hear you cry, Richard had a Beaufort in his ancestry! Yes, he did, Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, daughter of Katherine and Gaunt. No disputing the fact. I make no bones about it. However, Richard didn’t claim through Joan. His descent came from two of Edward III’s other sons, Lionel of Clarence (2nd son) and Edmund of York (4th son). The two lines were subsequently united when Richard of Conisbrough (York) married Anne Mortimer (Clarence). Their son, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, became the father of both Edward IV and Richard III, No link to any Beauforts.  There was nothing iffy in Richard’s descent, unless one wishes to challenge the fact that Edmund of York was his progenitor. The then Duchess of York was said to be frisky, and a certain Duke of Exeter was supposedly her lover, which, if true, made Edmund’s, er, input, a little questionable. But Richard of Conisbrough was accepted as Edmund’s son, and even if the rumour about Exeter and the duchess were  true, it still leaves Richard III’s descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whose position as Edward III’s second son was superior to Gaunt’s, the latter being only the third son.

So there you have it. When Richard III derided Henry Tudor’s Beaufort descent, he was spot on. It was Tudor’s only claim, and placed him on thin ice. Which was why he vowed to marry Elizabeth of York (to benefit from her Yorkist lineage), and then claimed the throne through victory in battle in 1485. Richard wasn’t lying or conveniently forgetting anything. Yes, he had a Beaufort in his ancestry, but he didn’t claim anything through that line. His descent from Lionel of Clarence and Edmund of York was considerably stronger than anything Henry could produce.

Spare me your howls of outrage. Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt were deeply in love, there is no doubt of that, but in the beginning it was an adulterous romance on Gaunt’s part. Maybe on Katherine’s too, although that seems less likely. Not impossible, though. So the Beauforts were illegitimate, legitimate, forbidden the throne. In that order. Henry Tudor of the House of Beaufort had his eyes on that very thing, the crown of England. Gaunt himself probably wanted his children by Katherine to be in line for everything, and he schemed to exclude the female line—in order to negate any claim from the descendants of his elder brother, Lionel, who left a daughter. Gaunt also claimed the throne of Castile through his own second wife. How very selective of him.

Do not point your bony fingers at Richard for not mentioning his Beaufort blood. Why should he refer to something that was of no importance to him? So he focused instead on Henry Tudor, to whom that dodgy Beaufort blood provided an only link to English royalty? Take away the Beaufort element, and Henry Tudor had nothing whatsoever to bolster his claim. Richard’s claim, on the other hand, was not in the least reliant on the Beauforts. He was the rightful King of England. The only rightful king!

Richard III and Undercroft

See also:-

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/bulletin/2007_06_summer_bulletin.pdf In the article by David Candlin, page 22, are full details of Richard’s proclamation against Henry Tudor. Richard claims that Tudor’s Beaufort line was begotten in double adultery. He may have  believed that Katherine Swynford’s first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, was still alive when she began her affair with Gaunt. Whatever, adultery was certainly involved, which made the children illegitimate.







  1. 1. As I understand it, on the Continent, a subsequent marriage of the parents of illegitimate children would legitimize the children, as long as they were acknowledged as the children of the father;
    2, In England, and in Scotland, “once a bastard, always a bastard” unless the secular authorities legitimized. A papal bull might be persuasive, it was not controlling. (Note also that the bull legitimizing the Beauforts was issued during the Great Schism, so the Pope’s authority was subject to challenge);
    3. The partial delegitimizing of the Beauforts as to the throne was viewed askance because Englishmen thought that “legitimate in one thing, legitimate in all” was the rule. So, many of Henry VII’s supporters simply ignored the proviso of Henry IV;
    4. Tudor’s right by conquest did not deal primarily with his claim to be king, but with the extent of his authority. As conqueror, he wasn’t bound by the previous laws. Of course, he treated this gingerly, but he used it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In this instance, their father – at least the father of three of them – was married to someone else when they were born, which prevents automatic subsequent legitimisation.
      Furthermore, canon law should have prevented a subsequent marriage between Gaunt and de Roet because their adultery would have “polluted” their relationship. See “Eleanor” for an explanation of this point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a difference between canon law and inheritance law in England – this point was made in discussions about the pre-contract with Eleanor Butler. There was no church court to rule on the legitimacy of Edward IV’s children, but English law via Parliament was used to remove them from the Succession and vest that in Richard. Thus it is conceivable that the English Parliament could rule on the legitimacy of the Beauforts and their inheritance rights, and that a subsequent king (Henry IV) could rule on their ability to inherit the crown.

        With regard to the point about only Blanche of Lancaster’s children having the right to be called Lancastrian – surely over time the short-hand description of the rival claimants to be from the House of York or the House of Lancaster, made it clear about the descent from John of Gaunt, who was ‘the great Duke of Lancaster’.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Actually, it was the Statute of Merton that decided English inheritance law and it still applies today, as modified in 1925, to agree almost completely with mediaeval canon law.
        Subsequent marriage of the parents can only legitimise an existing child if they were free to marry at the time of the birth – Constanza de Castile ensured that they were not.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. There is a parallel modern case. One of the Queen’s Lascalles cousins had a son by his (eventual) second wife, while still legally married to the first. That boy is not in the line of succession to the throne, and cannot even inherit his father’s title. As he is well down in the pecking order, and also has older half-brothers, I doubt if that bothers him very much. Common law may apply to common people, not to royals – to their disadvantage here.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well, last I checked, Henry VII won the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was killed, Henry VII held on to the throne for the rest of his life, left it to his son, both his son and his granddaughter were great monarchs, and his dynasty, although it lasted only 118 years, is the best known and most talked about English dynasty in the modern world. So in other words, who cares about his genealogical claim?


      1. Actually, if it were possible for me to come into an inheritance, and the only reason it was being denied to me was that my great-grandfather was born illegitimate and legitimized as a young adult when his parents married, I’d be pretty darn angry.


      2. The Crown is surely a different thing, given that legitimacy is a prerequisite for inheriting it and the Beauforts were specifically legitimised “excepta dignitate regali”.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I have a question, and the following is absolutely true:

    I was conceived when my mother and my father were both married to someone else. When I was born, my mother was still married to her first husband. I am not sure whether or not my father had obtained a divorce from his first wife by the time I was born, but I know that my mother had not yet obtained a divorce from her first husband.

    Both were definitely divorced by the time I was nine months old, which is when they got married.

    This was in the United States in 1960 and 1961.

    Am I still a bastard?


    1. I have no idea, Janice. But in the UK now it’s the law that if parents marry after the birth of children, those children are now considered to be legitimate. At least, that’s how I understand it. But it’s not retrospective. I know someone whose situation was exactly the same as yours, but because it was pre the change in the law, he’s still illegitimate. If I have that wrong, I apologise, but I really don’t know what applies in the US.


      1. If both parents are free to marry when a child is born in England and Wales, it can be legitimised subsequently. if either is still married to a third person at the time, it cannot except in case of an annulment, which implies that the earlier marriage never applied. Death and divorce are different.
        I believe that titles may be exceptions to the law I quoted first – see the Moynihan case.

        Liked by 1 person

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