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.
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.
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.
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!
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.