Two butchers, an archer and a “bourgeois of Tournai”….

The busy butcher of Ghent?

“….Consider, for example, the case of John Sperhauk, which came before King’s Bench in April 1402. The plea roll record opens with the memorandum of his confession taken on 13 April by the coroner of King’s Bench, before the king and ‘by [his] authority and command’. In this confession, Sperhauk admitted to publicly repeating allegations made to him by a tailor’s wife that the earl of March rather than Henry [IV] was the rightful king; that Henry was the bastard son of a butcher of Ghent and not the son of the duke of Lancaster...”

The above extract is from this paper and is another example of the charges of lowly parentage laid against very important people indeed. I’m referring here to the 14th/15th centuries in England.

It was a favourite ploy, because spreading rumours about the legitimacy of important men (it was usually men) was a sure way to discredit their authority and standing.

Another example was the charge that Henry IV’s father (John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster) was a changeling. It was said that his mother, Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England, had “overlain” her newborn baby (a girl) and in a panic had sent her servants out to find a replacement. Only a boy could be found. This terrible truth was only to be revealed if the boy ever rose to seek the crown! As it happens, the father of this changeling was….a butcher of Ghent! So I rather think the gossiping tailor’s wife mentioned in the extract above was muddling her rumours! Oops. Or was it true and—moreover—the same butcher still in action? Those fellows in Ghent seem to have been a rampant lot!

Such derogatory whispers were to be resurrected in the time of Edward IV, when a story was circulated that his mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, had been had been unfaithful to her husband, the 3rd Duke, with an archer named Blaybourne. The thought of Proud Cis deigning to even speak to a mere archer is laughable. But the story swirled around, calling Edward’s legitimacy into question.

Later again, of course, the most prominent challenger to the throne of Henry VII, one Perkin Warbeck, was to “confess” that far from being a son of Edward IV he was actually the offspring of a “bourgeois of Tournai”.

In fact, what had happened was that Edward IV had neglected to mention a first wife when he’d married again, (both times secretively) so all the children of the second match were illegitimate. This was why Edward’s remaining brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had been offered the throne as the much-wronged Richard III.

But a sly chap called Henry Tudor fancied the throne for himself, and to raise support for his wafer-thin claim had vowed to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV. To do that he had to make her legitimate again, because he couldn’t have an illegitimate queen! But the moment he did that, he also legitimised her missing brothers. How tiresome for him. But the whole tangle created fertile ground for men claiming to be one of the boys.

In Perkin’s case, he was captured and tortured into “admitting” he was only lowborn. I’ve also seen his father referred to as a boatman, which makes a change from butchers and archers. But it’s more than likely that Perkin really was one of the missing boys.

Yes, I know, wrong part of Europe, but I couldn’t find anything more suitable! 😁

And still it continues! See here.

“….Controversy regarding children: A 2014 Y-DNA study compared the DNA of Edward III’s descendants, namely Richard III and 5 men descended from Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester. Richard III descended in the male line from Edward’s son Edmund of Langley, and Henry Somerset descended in the male line from Edward’s son John of Gaunt. The Y-DNA did not match. The press sensationalized the announcement to suggest that Edward III might not be the father of Edmund of Langley or John of Gaunt, or even of his other children[7] ….”

“….[7] e.g. Knapton, S. (2014, December 02). Richard III DNA shows British Royal family may not have royal bloodline. Telegraph. (Note Elizabeth of York’s claim was through Lionel of Antwerp, not John of Gaunt.)….”

But let’s face it, when it comes to thoroughgoing bastards, you only have to look at Henry VII! Say no more.




    1. Not that I know of. I suppose I just go by the sobriquet, which must have come from somewhere. It’s probably like the Black Prince…something that came ages afterward.


  1. Why do you think Perkin was ‘most likely’ one of the missing princes? Statistically, claimants to a title or fortune are almost always false claimants. e.g. the Tichborne heir, the erstraz Romanovs. There could always be exceptions to the rule, of course, but they are difficult to prove

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      1. In other words, you have a hunch that he was Richard of York. And I have a hunch that he was not. ; Most likely’ he was an Edwardian bastard.
        Which sends me off on a tangent. Why do we say “has a hunch that…” when we mean “has a feeling that….” Anything related to hunchbacks?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am glad you have found the reference to the rumour that Gaunt was a changeling still being talked about in his son’s reign. I was aware of this but had lost the source. As this story emerged early in Richard II’s reign (or late in Edward III’s, I forget which) it strongly implies that the story must have been in general circulation. I find this fascinating, especially given Henry IV’s seemingly deep reluctance to claim his right as heir male of Richard, and preference for the bizarre and ludicrous claim that Edmund, Earl of Lancaster had been the elder brother of Edward I.

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  3. A John Sperhauk appears several times in the Rolls of Richard II, including once on a commission of oyer and terminer which would suggest a man of some weight. But it may not be the same chap, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Halfwit36 – yes, Merriam-Webster says there is a connection between hunch and hunchback – at least, that’s to be interpreted. As for my hunch…I think it most lilkely he was! Ha! 😊


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