Today in 1367, Henry IV was born:
“The civil [Roman] law [followed on the Continent] legitimates children born before matrimony as well as after, and causes them to succeed to the parental inheritance. But the law of England does not allow children born out of wedlock to succeed, proclaiming them merely natural and not legitimate. The civilians extol their law in this point, because they say that thereby the sin, through which otherwise the souls of the two parties would perish, is absolved by the sacrament of marriage. . . .
“These are answered by those learned in the law of England thus: in the first place they say that the sin of the first intercourse in such a case is not purged by subsequent marriage, though the punishment of the offenders is deservedly mitigated in some measure. They say, also, that these sinners repent by so much the less, the more they consider the laws favourable to such transgressions. By such a consideration they are rendered all the more disposed to commit the sin, and thereby neglect the commands not only of God but also of the Church. So this [civil Roman] law not only participates in the guilt of the offenders, but also deviates from the very nature of a good law since law is a holy sanction commanding what is honest and forbidding the contrary; for this law does not forbid but rather invites wavering minds to do dishonest acts. . . .
“But the law of England in this case operates to a far different effect, for it does not encourage sin, nor favour sinners, but deters them, and threatens them with punishment lest they sin. For indeed, the allurements of the flesh need no encouraging; they need rather restraints. . .
“Hence the [English] law which punishes the progeny of the offender prohibits the sin more effectively than the law which punishes only the guilty. From this you may observe how zealously the law of England prosecutes illicit intercourse when it not only judges the offspring thereof illegitimate but also forbids them to succeed to the parental patrimony. Is not then this a chaste law? Does it not more powerfully and firmly repulse sin than the said civil law, which quickly and almost without penalty remits the sin of lust?”
“And since such a child has not a father at the time of his birth, nature knows not how he can obtain a father after the fact. . . . Therefore it would appear inconsistent that a son born in wedlock to the same woman, whose procreation could not be dubious, should have no share in the inheritance, and the son who does not know his father should displace him in the succession to his father and mother, especially in the kingdom of England, where the elder son alone succeeds to the paternal inheritance. Moreover, a fair arbiter would consider it no less inappropriate, if the son born of disgrace should participate equally in the inheritance, which by the civil law is divided among the males, with a son born of a lawful marriage-bed. . . .
“Moreover, holy scripture reproves all illegitimate offspring, saying in a metaphor, ‘The shoots of the spurious shall not take deep roots nor lay a firm foundation’, Book of Wisdom [Vulgate], chapter iv. The Church also reproves them and it rejects them from holy orders, and though it gives dispensation to them, yet it does not permit them to be of any dignity in the Church of God. It is fitting, therefore, that the law of men should deprive of the benefits of succession those whom the Church judges unworthy of holy orders and rejects from all prelacy, and those whom holy scripture deems inferior in birth to those legitimately procreated.”
Citation: Excerpts from JohnFortescue, De laudibus legum Anglie, secs. XXXIX and XL, written between 1468-1471; not published until 1538.
NOTE: As a citizen of the modern world, I DO NOT personally agree with the sentiments expressed above, but Fortescue was the leading legal authority of the 15th century. He was writing De laudibus as a “treatise” to instruct Henry VI’s son, Edward, while they were living in exile in France, in preparation for Henry VI’s re-adeption to the English crown. In part, Fortescue was attempting to inspire Prince Edward to remain essentially English and not to acquire any of the customs or practices from the Continent.
Fortescue’s analysis has so many implications for the lawfulness and legitimacy of the Beaufort line, and for the arguments that would be raised in 1483 when it was determined that Edward IV was not lawfully married to Elizabeth Woodville, his queen. Sermons preached in 1483 used the same refrain quoted by Fortescue from the Bible – bastard slips shall not take root – undoubtedly adopting his position in terms of whether the illegitimate offspring of Edward IV by Woodville could be in line for succession to the crown. In Fortescue’s learned opinion, they could not under settled English law.
Sometimes, in this very old country of ours, even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.
At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?
One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.
Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon church originally on site, and there is visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.
The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.
As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during the reign of Edward II. Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate for life. However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.
Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.
There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset) were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset, stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.
Henry IV added these words to Richard II’s legitimisation of his half-siblings in 1407, when he had four healthy sons and two daughters. So what was the Beaufort family situation in the year that their claim to the throne was disregarded?
JOHN, MARQUIS OF DORSET AND SOMERSET was about 36, a married father of five.
HENRY, later CARDINAL, was about 32 and had already taken holy orders, then being Bishop of Winchester. He was, therefore, incapable of having legitimate children.
THOMAS, later DUKE OF EXETER, was about 30 and effectively childless – his wife and their only son may have already died, or the son may have been born later.
JOAN was about 28 and married to the Earl of Westmorland (her second husband).
It is, therefore, quite likely that the only Beauforts (by name) of future generations would be descended from Dorset, the eldest. Did Henry IV suspect, as the Statute of Merton suggests, that Dorset was Sir Hugh Swynford’s son and that later “Beauforts” would be descended only from Henry III, through the Marchioness? Was this his motivation?
In 1921, a manuscript dating to the late 15th or early 16th century was donated to the National Library of Wales. It was a “passional”, a book recounting the sufferings of saints and martyrs, and containted 2 texts in medieval French: “La Passion de Nostre Seigneur” (The Passion of Our Lord), an account of the Passion of Christ, and “Le miroir de la mort” (The mirror of death), a religious poem by the Burgundian chronicler Georges Chastellain. The book had once been owned by Lady Joan Guildford (c. 1463-1538), nee Vaux, who served in the household of Elizabeth of York as governess to the princesses Margaret and Mary Tudor, but it remained relatively obscure until 2012 when it was scanned to make it available on the internet.
When Dr Maredudd ap Huw, the library’s manuscripts librarian, examined the first miniature in the book as part of the digitisation project, he realised that it showed the family of Henry VII, including the future Henry VIII, mourning the death of his queen, Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). Young Henry, who is shown slumped over his mother’s empty bed, was 11 years old at the time of her death, making this the earliest known depiction of him and certainly the most vulnerable. Also present are his sisters Margaret and Mary, dressed in mourning black, while the sovereign in the centre of the miniature appears to be an idealised version of their father, Henry VII. The bottom of the page bears the royal arms of England.
Dr ap Huw’s discovery catapulted the Vaux Passional to fame, but while the persons on the left of the miniature were now identified, the those on the right remained shrouded in mystery. Most mysterious of all was the man at the centre who is handing a book to the king – so much so that Dr ap Huw appealed to fellow historians and even members of the public for suggestions who he could be. Unfortunately, the response was muted and today – more than 2 years later – he remains officially unidentified.
Why is he so mysterious? At first glance, the scene appears to be a typical “presentation miniature”, showing the author or person who commissioned the book – in this case the passional – presenting it to his patron. It was therefore initially assumed that the book had been part of the royal library of Henry VII before passing into Lady Guildford’s possession. Since both texts contained within the book had been published before, the mystery man can’t be the author. He therefore would have to be the person who commissioned the book, so who is he?
He is unlikely to be Sir Richard Guildford, who has been tentatively identified by Dr ap Huw as the man in the foreground holding the white wand of the office of Comptroller, an office he held under Henry VII. The book bears an inscription by Lady Guildford’s son, Sir Henry Guildford, but he was only 14 years old at the time of queen Elizabeth’s death and her brother was serving as Lieutenant of Guînes. Dr ap Huw had hoped that the arms on other pages of the manuscript would help to identify him, but they were found to point to the maternal ancestors of Lady Guildford, except those on the page depicting Christ’s resurrection, which are the arms of the Beaufort family. This led Dr ap Huw to consider the possibility that the book had not been commissioned for Henry VII, but for Lady Guildford – in which case the scene is not a presentation miniature.
There are a number of other clues which support this conclusion. In presentation miniatures the person presenting the book is usually shown kneeling, but the mystery man is standing. The composition places him on roughly the same floor level as the king and his facial expression and body language are relaxed and confident: he looks more like an equal than a subject paying tribute to his sovereign. Last but not least, the book in the picture is blue while the passional is bound in red velvet which, according to the library’s website, is the original binding. So if this is not a presentation miniature and the mystery man therefore not the person who commissioned the book, who is he?
Unlikely as it may seem in this context, he looks remarkably like Henry’s predecessor, Richard III. The hair style, texture and colour as well as facial features – prominent chin, down turned corners of the mouth and furrowed brow – are similar to Richard’s portraits from the Tudor period. These were created based on a pattern which the miniature seems to broadly follow: allowing for the cartoonish style, the 3/4 perspective, facial features and frown line between his eye brows line up remarkably well. The clothing, position of the hands and facial expression are different, but he certainly looks more like Richard III than the idealised sovereign looks like Henry VII. Finally, we could stop looking for a coat of arms to identify him by as it would be right on this page: the royal arms of England.
So could this be Richard? At first glance, it seems unlikely. There’s no known precedent for depictions of a dead king presenting a book to his living political enemy and the Guildfords were by all accounts staunch Lancastrians. Lady Guildford was the daughter of Katherine Vaux, nee Peniston, who served as lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou and was so loyal to her mistress that she is said to have shared her imprisonment and exile. Young Joan and her brother Nicholas were brought up in the household of Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, and Joan went on to become her lady-in-waiting. Nicholas is thought to have fought for Henry at Bosworth as he later did at Blackheath and Stoke, for which he was knighted. Lady Guildford’s husband, Sir Richard Guildford, was the son of Sir John Guildford, who had been Comptroller of the Household to Edward IV. Both father and son took part in Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard and when it failed Sir Richard joined Henry in exile in Brittany. Like his brother-in-law, he is thought to have fought for him at Bosworth.
However, Lady Guildford also had Yorkist connections. Her brother’s first wife was Elizabeth FitzHugh, daughter of Sir Henry FitzHugh and Alice Neville, niece of Cecily, duchess of York and aunt to Anne Neville, Richard’s queen. Both Elizabeth and her mother had served Queen Anne as ladies-in-waiting and her sister Anne FitzHugh was the wife of Richard’s best friend, Francis Lovell. Despite her devotion to Margaret of Anjou, Lady Guildford’s mother received an annuity of 20 marks from Richard, the same amount as later from Henry VIII. And most obviously, Lady Guildford herself served in the household of Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and Richard’s niece.
There may not be a precedent for a dead king presenting a book to his living enemy but, as explained above, this is unlikely to be a presentation miniature and in fact there is a precedent, albeit not in painting but in writing. Even before he had won the throne Henry called Richard usurper and worse, but his attitude was not consistent. In 1494, almost 10 years after Bosworth, he arranged for an alabaster tomb to be placed on his grave with an epitaph that described the transition of royal power from the house of York to the house of Lancaster thus:
“I, here, whom the earth encloses under various coloured marble,
Was justly called Richard the Third.
I was Protector of my country, an uncle ruling on behalf of his nephew.
I held the British kingdoms in trust, [although] they were disunited.
Then for just sixty days less two,
And Two summers, I held my sceptres.
Fighting bravely in war, deserted by the English,
I succumbed to you, King Henry VII.
But you yourself, piously, at your expense, thus honoured my bones
And caused a former king to be revered with the honour of a king
When [in] twice five years less four
Three hundred five-year periods of our salvation had passed.
And eleven days before the Kalends of September
I surrendered to the red rose the power it desired.
Whoever you are, pray for my offences,
That my punishment may be lessened by your prayers.” [^1]
Another version of the epitaph is more critical of Richard, but both describe the transfer of power from him to Henry in equally amicable terms. Is this the scene depicted in the miniature? The linking of the Beaufort arms to the resurrection of Christ appears to send a similar message: the restoration of the “red rose” of Lancaster to its rightful place on the throne of England. Is the book in the miniature then not a physical book, but a symbol? That would explain why it doesn’t look like the passional.
So what if this is Richard? It would be one of his oldest surviving depictions aside from coins and pen-and-ink sketches (the oldest portraits in the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Collection date from around 1504-1520) and the only one showing him smiling. Given that the image of the “crookback” king had been around since at least the 1490s and by the time the Royal Collection portrait was created his paintings were being actively “corrected”, it would also be unusual in that it shows him without deformities.
Is this perhaps how he was remembered in the household of Elizabeth of York where Lady Guildford served as governess? Elizabeth had spent time at her uncle’s court and would have known that his scoliosis was not visible under normal circumstances (see Bones Don’t Lie). The exact nature of the relationship between Richard and his niece is unclear. It is highly unlikely that he wanted to marry her – he publicly denied the rumour and was negotiating a foreign marriage – but they seem to have been on friendly terms. One source for this is Elizabeth’s letter to John Howard, duke of Norfolk, in which she declared that her uncle “was her onely joy and maker in…Worlde, and that she was his…harte, in thoughts, in…and in all.” The original letter doesn’t survive, so we can’t be sure how accurately its content was summarised and the summary itself is damaged, but the tone is clear. Richard also appears to have given her 2 books as gifts. The first, Boethius’ “De Consolatione Philosophiae”, bears his motto “Loyalte me lye” and underneath it her signature. The other, “Roman de Tristan”, is inscribed “Iste Liber constat Ricardo Duci Gloucestre” and on the same page in her handwriting “sans remevyr Elyzabeth”.
Of course, one English king is conspicuously missing from the scene: where is Edward V? The destruction of Titulus Regius had reversed his illegitimacy and restored him to the throne. Indeed, the harsher version of the epitaph alleges that Richard ruled on his behalf by broken faith – curiously ignoring Henry’s assertion dating back to 1484 that he, Henricus Rex, was the rightful heir to the throne of England, which bypassed the Yorkist claim entirely. So what are we to make of it if Edward’s supposed usurper and murderer is depicted in such a benign way in a book belonging to a servant of his sister? After James Tyrell’s supposed confession? It seems that the Vaux Passional has yet more secrets to reveal…
A zoomable version of the miniature can be viewed here
[^1]: John Ashdown-Hill: “The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of his
DNA”, Stroud 2013
History Extra: “Portrait may show young Henry VIII”, website of BBC History Magazine, 1 December 2012 http://www.historyextra.com/henrypicture
National Library of Wales: “The Vaux Passional” http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=5926
Frederick Hepburn: “Earliest Portraiture of Richard III”, website of the Richard III Society http://www.richardiii.net/2_4_0_riii_appearance.php#portrait
Emily Kearns: “Richard III’s Epitaph”, The Ricardian Vol. XXIV 2014, p.75-86.
For the purpose of this post I am going to assume that everyone’s father was as given in standard family trees. The question of whether the eldest 14th Century Beaufort was actually a Swynford both legally and biologically, and the issues around the fathering of Katherine of Valois’ children I leave to others to untangle. Such matters merely complicate the case.
In 1396/97 the four Beaufort children of John of Gaunt were comprehensively legitimised by both Papal Dispensation and an Act of Parliament. Without going into tedious detail, this rendered them legitimate in both Canon and Common Law terms, as though their parents had not only been free to marry in open church before their birth but had actually done so. They were under no legal disabilities whatsoever.
Of course, at that time, there was little question of their having a claim to the throne as there was a host of people with a more senior place in the queue. A few years later, once their half-brother Henry IV had ascended the throne, they moved up several places. Henry, whose own claim was far from unanimously accepted, went to the trouble of passing two Succession Statutes. By the second he entailed the crown on his children and their heirs, both male and female. He made no mention at all of anyone beyond that, and this was not unreasonable. He had six children in all, and I suspect you would have got very long odds on a bet that only one (the future Henry V) would produce a legitimate heir, and a single legitimate heir at that.
John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, asked his half-brother for an Exemplification of the Beaufort parliamentary legitimacy Statute. Henry obliged by issuing Letters Patent confirming the Statute, but specifically excluding the Beauforts from the succession. Henry’s motives for making this exclusion are not known, and it is probably better to say no more than that. Were I to speculate, I might suggest some fairly outlandish theories – even perhaps illogical ones. However, as already indicated, he probably assumed that the matter would never arise anyway.
Some people have questioned whether Henry had the right to effectively amend an Act of Parliament. Under present law he certainly had not, but then again under present succession laws he would not have been the sovereign in the first place. The King’s authority in such a matter was much less clear in the 15th Century than it is today. Indeed it remained a matter of argument right through to the Bill of Rights of 1689. So it is simplistic to say that Henry was not entitled to add the condition. He clearly thought he he had the right, as he could easily have presented Parliament with a Bill on the subject had he considered it necessary.
Here the matter rested until the reign of Henry VI, when the matter of the succession became a political issue again. With the King’s uncles dead, the potential candidates were York, Somerset and Exeter. Something may be said for each of them.
York was descended from Lionel of Clarence in the female line, which made him senior to anyone else – including, unfortunately, the King. So this line of descent was tacitly ignored for the time being. In the male line he descended from Edmund of Langley, Gaunt’s younger brother.
Somerset, being a Beaufort, could claim he was heir male to Henry VI, prior to the birth of Edward of Lancaster. All that was in his way was Henry IV’s exclusion clause, and indeed York’s claim from Lionel of Clarence, which was not overly stressed.
Exeter was descended from Gaunt’s daughter Elizabeth, and as such was undoubtedly possessed of a strong claim to inherit the Duchy of Lancaster after Henry VI. The Beauforts certainly had no right to it, as they did not descend from Blanche of Lancaster. Given the Henry IV exclusion clause, Exeter could claim to be heir-general to the King – provided of course you ignored York’s pesky claim from Lionel of Clarence.
The Wars of the Roses dealt with all these claimants one way or another. But after the Battle of Tewkesbury and the death of Henry VI in 1471, matters were greatly simplified. Edward IV was both heir general (through Lionel of Clarence) and heir male (through Edmund of Langley) of Edward III, and his hereditary claim was unimpeachable.
The surviving Beaufort was Margaret, Lady Richmond. Had she been a man, she might have been able to claim to be heir male of Edward III, although Henry IV’s exclusion would still have got in the way. As it was, she could only possibly claim to be heir general if all the legitimate descendants of Richard, Duke of York, male and female, ceased to exist. It really is as stark as that.
The alleged illegitimacy of Edward IV’s children and the bar of attainder against Clarence’s son only went a small way towards removing this queue of heirs. Moreover, it should be remembered that there were other Lancastrian claimants, the heirs of Gaunt’s daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth of Lancaster, who arguably had as good a claim as, if not better than, the one Margaret Richmond possessed.
It is small wonder then that admirers of Henry VII often state that he ruled by right of conquest, since he had no hereditary right whatsoever. What is odd is that they seem to think such a claim acceptable. It was not at the time, as lawyers were well aware of the disastrous effects of a claim by conquest on the rights of landowners. The truth is his thin claim was legitimated by Act of Parliament, an Act which did not touch on his antecedents at all, but made his rule as legal as was possible and ensured that property owners (save those who had fought for their lawful King at Bosworth) did not suffer from Henry’s accession.