Were the Houses of York and Lancaster true Plantagenets or not….?

This illustration is from the history of Liverpool
(don’t bother, it’s traditionalist fare masquerading as funny-ha-ha).

When reading the Yorkshire post I came upon the following sentence: “It’s thought that the white rose was adopted as a symbol in the 14th century, when it was introduced by Edmund of Langley, the first Duke of York and founder of the House of York, a dynasty related to the Plantagenet kings.”

Related to the Plantagenet kings? Well, yes, they were all related, but the implication seems to be that they weren’t Plantagenets themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the House of York was Plantagenet, as was the House of Lancaster. They were two parts of the House of Plantagenet, fighting each other.

But there is a school of thought that considers the true House of Plantagenet to have ended with the death of Richard II, who was, of course, the last king of the senior line of descent. He was the only surviving son of the Black Prince, who was himself the senior son and heir of Edward III, who was in turn the senior son of Edward II, etc. etc. It begins to sound like the Bible, with all the “begats”.

Coronation of the boy king, Richard II, from Chroniques de France ou de St Denis. End of 14th century

The Black Prince pre-deceased his father, and his brothers startled jostling for control of Richard, who was only a boy at that time. When Richard was married to Anne of Bohemia it was expected that he would produce an heir, thus continuing the senior line. But he and Anne were childless, Cue more jostling from the increasingly ambitious uncles. Especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who out-ambitioned the lot of them. Because he married the elder daughter of the King of Castile, Gaunt thought he had a right to the throne of that land, and demanded that he be addressed as “My Lord of Castile”. Gaunt also wanted the English succession to go to him and his line, should Richard die without issue, and he is believed to have persuaded/cajoled/forced the senile, failing old Edward III into agreeing to an entail that would ensure this. It is also believed that in due course Richard II disposed of this entail.

John of Gaunt receiving a letter from the King of Portugal – Chronique d’ Angleterre (Volume III) (late 15th C), f.236r – BL Royal MS 14 E IV.png

Then Anne of Bohemia died, and instead of taking another wife of a suitable age to have children, Richard married a little girl, Isabella of France. Not a wise move, because it would be years before she’d be considered old enough to consummate the marriage. Richard put peace with France above his own succession.

Richard II, Isabella, and King Charles VI of France, Isabella’s father. Richard was 22 to Isabella’s mere 6 years. The marriage was political.

Richard’s rule was not popular among the nobility, and when Lancaster died, his son Henry Bolingbroke became duke. Well, Richard and Henry had never got on, in fact they loathed the sight of each other (or so it seems to me, even though they were thrown together as boys) and Richard banished Henry into exile (a long story). Richard then confiscated the entire Lancaster inheritance, which was yet another very unwise move, because Henry came back with an army. He caught Richard (whose next exceedingly unwise move had been to go off to Ireland with all his friends – he specialised in being unwise) on the hop, and disposed of him. Henry then usurped the throne as Henry IV. Thus the House of Lancaster took the crown.

I can’t imagine the scene was quite like this, or that Richard II was willing, maybe even eager, to be rid of the crown that was his birthright.

Henry IV’s coronation sealed the moment the Plantagenets split, but they all remained Plantagenets. There were plenty of people in England who didn’t believe Henry, descended from Edward III’s third son, had any right to the throne, because there were descendants (the Mortimer Earls of March) from Edward III’s second son, Lionel of Clarence. Lionel had passed away some time before, leaving a daughter. The Mortimers would eventually be blood descendants of Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. Therefore the 5th Earl of March, who was a mere child, was deemed to have a stronger claim than Henry IV, who had usurped Richard II’s throne and probably seen to that unhappy king’s murder, and was only descended from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt. But slick Henry could easily see off an opponent who was less than ten years old!

And so the rebellious rumbles began and did not go away. They were still around when the House of Tudor eventually held the throne.

But did this dichotomy in the Plantagenet family make Henry IV any less of a Plantagenet than Richard II had been? I think not. They were both grandsons of Edward III as well as being first cousins, I cannot see that Henry suddenly ceased to be a Plantagenet and became solely a Lancastrian. The bloodline remained the same, the difference being that Henry was from Edward III’s third son, whereas Richard had been from the first and senior line.

Then, in due course, Henry IV died and his son Henry V came and went, until his son, Henry VI, a mere baby, ascended the throne. Henry VI reigned a long time, but was a disastrous king, far too weak and impressionable to rule England. He drifted in an out of mental illness, eventually requiring a Protector to be appointed to safeguard the realm. Along came the 3rd Duke of York, who was directly descended from the fourth son of Edward III, but also from the second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, through Lionel’s only child, a daughter. It was from her marriage to a Mortimer that in many eyes made the then Earl of March the rightful king when Henry IV usurped the throne. A subsequent marital union between York and March thus gave the 3rd Duke of York a very strong case indeed.

York felt (rightly in my opinion) that he had a better claim to the throne than Henry VI, but his ambitions were thwarted by the convenient (after years of barren marriage to Margaret of Anjou) arrival of Henry VI’s son. It was widely believed that Henry (who had been mentally ill at the time of the child’s conception) was in reality made a cuckold by his wife’s affair with Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Somerset was also descended from John of Gaunt, albeit through an originally illegitimate line, the Beauforts. Perhaps he and Queen Margaret decided he was close enough in blood for it to be OK? Who knows. Perhaps it was just passion.

Killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, aged 17

York therefore encountered effective opposition from Margaret, Somerset and others at the Lancastrian court, even though he was better qualified for the crown. Thus he rebelled, and the so-called Wars of the Roses began. You either supported York, or Lancaster, or kept your head down and hoped to survive unnoticed.

The above paragraphs illustrate the very basics of what prompted the Wars of the Roses: the white rose for York and the red rose for Lancaster. We had three Lancastrian kings, then two (three if you count Edward V) Yorkist kings in Edward IV and Richard III.

Henry VII receives Richard III’s Crown from the traitorous Stanley

Then came Bosworth, in which Richard III was cruelly betrayed by the Stanleys, who turned traitor mid-battle to support Richard’s opponent, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), whose actual blood claim to the crown of England was dodgy to say the least. Little more than right of conquest. His descent came through the Beauforts, who were the result of John of Gaunt’s extra-marital affair with Katherine Swynford and thus baseborn. Well, Gaunt managed to persuade Richard II to legitimize them, but when their half-brother Henry IV swiped the throne from Richard, he made sure to exclude the Beauforts from any claim to the throne. The line of succession would descend through his offspring, not his half-blood siblings.

This made Henry VII a mere Beaufort through his mother Margaret Beaufort, whose father was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, the eldest of Gaunt’s Beaufort brood. But, it is thought Henry VII was probably also a Beaufort on his father’s side. There had been an affair between Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois (who died today in 1437), and the self-same Edmund Beaufort (third son of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset) who was thought to have fathered Henry VI’s son and heir! Edmund was a busy boy between the sheets. I know that posterity has Owen Tudor as Catherine’s only love after the death of Henry V, but Edmund Beaufort is far more likely, as Harriss and Ashdown-Hill , inter alia, both said. It was also thought so at the time, and hasty moves were made in Parliament to regulate remarriages for queens of England. And Catherine’s first son, supposedly by Owen Tudor, was named Edmund. A coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

from http://www.ssqq.com/travel/london2017history04.htm
Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor – maybe she was already with child by Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset? Was Owen a convenient reputation-saver? Or was it a true lovematch, and the Beaufort story a fabrication?

Let’s face it, Henry VII’s probable total descent through the Beauforts wasn’t much to brag about when it came to parking his behind on the throne with any real authority. He was not a Plantagenet, and that particular parking lot was not built on solid, unchallengeable ground. So he married Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, who was a Plantagenet, and thus managed to make himself more secure on the throne by “uniting” the two warring Plantagenet houses. Not entirely secure, for there were pretenders throughout his reign, but he survived, dropped the pretence of being a Beaufort/Lancastrian, and instead set up the House of Tudor, which gave us a truly charming sequence of monarchs, I think you’ll agree. The only one worth her salt was Elizabeth.

So there you have my version of the bare bones of English Plantagenet history from Richard II to Richard III. To my mind, all the kings (between and including those two) were Plantagenets. They didn’t cease to be Plantagenet and suddenly morph into York or Lancaster. They all claimed direct descent through the many sons of Edward III, and thus to all the Plantagenet and Angevin Kings of England who’d gone before.

Is my reasoning correct? Or do you disagree? Please feel free to comment. To help you sort out all these different monarchs, here is a tree from https://www.britroyals.com/plantagenettree.asp.



  1. Many threads to play with in this post; to start with I read, somewhere, that the white rose was also, and much earlier, a device of the Mortimers, which may be why it was adopted by York later on.

    As to the House of York being a valid branch of the Plantagenets, I didn’t realize that there was any question there! (Or even the House of Lancaster, even the Beauforts still have their link to Gaunt; it’s the disconnect with ‘Tuddor’ and Catherine of Valois that disrupts the discussion – as much fun as it is to ponder Edmund Beaufort’s various dalliances with various Queens … well …)

    Here’s an issue I never see mentioned in respect to the Beauforts, which if I was Henry IV, would have frosted me no end – what on earth was wrong with his father Gaunt, legitimizing his adult bastards by Roet-Swynford when he, Bolingbroke was not only healthy but had himself four healthy, living sons?! It’s not as if Gaunt’s line was hanging by a thread, nearly extinguished and required drastic measures to insure the survival of Gaunt’s line. Good grief, the sheer mayhem caused by this one action, legitimizing the Beauforts probably accounts for how much civil war in the 15th century? The ‘cousins’ war’ indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were, at the time under canon law, a number of legal prohibitions on bastards. One of these was they could not inherit property. Although the lands/estates Gaunt had through his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster were entailed to Bolingbroke there were likely other lands/riches/titles that would never have gone to the Beauforts if they were still legally bastards. A number of things may have been available to the bastard children of a monarch that were not available to those of a royal duke. (Would Henry, for example, be made a bishop at a young age without being legitimized?)

      Richard II at this time counted Gaunt amongst his supporters. How do you reward someone who is as wealthy and powerful as Gaunt? The Beauforts seemed to have performed loyal service to Richard. Have wondered if Richard was planting a burr under the skin of Bolingbroke?

      Gaunt was also married to their mother. And as the old saying goes if the woman of the house is not happy no one is happy. And who could possible predict that Henry IV would only have one legitimate grandchild reach adulthood and that one would be such a developmental disaster?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gary,

        I’m sure Richard was provoking his cousin, and not for the first time, with the Beauforts (a little late too, considering . He had already been taunting Bolingbroke with the decision to name (Roger and Edmund) Mortimer as his heir.

        I’m less versed on Richard II, possibly due to what strikes me as a rather fey personality, I can’t get a fix on him, and Gaunt just seemed opportunistic in the extreme; as to being the mother of the Beauforts, well, eventually he married her! Took him some time, he had designs on being the King of Castile (by right of his wife, that would be Constance, whom he married in 1371, bypassing Widow Swynford. Constance passed in 1394 allowing him to marry his mistress 2 years later, but their children were well into their teens by that time).

        I think I need Ian Mortimer to write one of his biographies on Richard II, I have him bookended with the excellent one on Henry IV and the other on Roger Mortimer, 1st earl of March (still my favorite of Mortimer’s works). Every time I think I have some idea of what to think about Richard II he slips away from me. Gaunt is quite transparent. And I doubt he was ever too concerned about the happiness of his mistress, or ‘wives’ – perhaps the first one, of whom Chaucer idolized, and very possibly Gaunt himself.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there. I was wondering what you thought about the idea that the Yorkist branch of the Plantagenet dynasty became extinct following the death of Edward 2nd Duke of York. And that his brother Richard of Conisburgh 3rd Earl of Cambridge was in fact his half brother and the son of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter. Making the Yorkist Plantagenets actually Hollands as well as illegitimate and only descended from Edward III’s 2nd son Lionel of Clarence and later John of Gaunt after Richard 3rd duke of York married into the Neville family. Would that put into question their legitimacy and by how much? Do you think they would have gotten less support or maybe even have some families who were Staunch Lancastrians side with them?

    Also sidequestion my understanding is that Richard 3rd duke of York gave himself the surname Plantagenet in reference to a nickname of his ancestor Geoffrey Count of Anjou, and that the family had the surname de Château-Landon so what do you think their surname was once they inherited England.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I know the story of John Holand’s, er, input, but as Edmund of Langley accepted/didn’t reject Richard of Conisbrough, I don’t think the Yorkist succession was affected. Richard was considered completely legitimate., in law and by the Church. Edmund would have had to reject him for things to have been different. Do that and he put horns on himself in the eyes of the world. As for Holand, his mother was Joan of Kent, so he was half-royal too. He wasn’t very far at all from the main gene pool.

      The descent from Lionel of Clarence was important, and only quibbled over by those who wanted to prevent descent through female lines. But Edward III claimed France through his mother, and John of Gaunt claimed Castile through his second wife, Costanza. Henry VII also claimed royal descent hrough his mother’s line, the Beauforts. So they’d all have been hypocrites to quibble over female descent. John of Gaunt especially was an A1 with Honours hypocrite in my opinion.

      As far as I know the name Plantagenet simply stuck. And once the 3rd Duke of York had staked a claim to it, his sons were hardly likely to ditch it in favour of, well, whatever. To be strictly correct, I suppose the House of Plantagenet ended with Richard II, the House of Lancaster began with Henry IV and ended with Henry VI, and the House of York began with Edward IV and ended with Richard III. I doubt very much if Château-Landon even got a look-in! And posterity regards them all as Plantagenets. Then we had the Tudors, of whom enough said. 😒

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Viscountessw, just as Ilsa says to Rick (or is it Rick says to Ilsa?) “We’ll always have Paris” the Tudors will always have the BBC

        and Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory and Susan Higginbotham and Margaret George and Hilary Mantel and Desmond Seward and David Starkey and Nathen Amin ….

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yeah I think it was pretty silly that they used descent from the female line whenever it suited them. Also Henry IV funningly enough claimed he was the rightful king through his mother’s side, and claimed that every king after Henry III were usurpers and that Edmund Crouchback Earl of Lancaster was the elder of Henry III’s sons and that he had been disbarred because he had been born a hunchback (which was a mistranslation of his nickname).

        I know what you mean I’m just not sure what surname they used before it stuck I know that Henry II and his brothers had the surname Fitzempress or of Anjou. But yeah you are right refferring to them as Plantagenets and cadet braches does make it quite confusing since the original House of Lancaster started with Crouchback’s descendants which later married back into the main royal family. Also yeah the Château-Landon thing does seem like a bit of a long shot 😂.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. If only the senior male can carry the family name, surely the Plantagenets came to a sudden end with the death of Henry the Young King? Everyone is descended from King John. Do we call this a cadet line?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not sure about the senior male being the only one with the family name. His brothers and sisters would too. Nor am I sure about the cadet line thing in this instance. I do know that in general the Tudors are reckoned to have followed the Plantagenets. So I guess Plantagenet is an umbrella name for everyone up to Richard III. But that’s me guessing. I’m happy to call them all Plantagenets until August 1485. 🙄


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