According to Alison Weir, Henry VII was a little twitchy about his descent from John of Gaunt’s notorious mistress (and eventual wife) Katherine de Roët/Swynford. Between them, Gaunt and Katherine produced an illegitimate line of children, the Beauforts, which wasn’t/was/wasn’t legitimate/in line of succession, according to different monarchs. Henry VII was a Beaufort, so you can imagine which side of the argument he was on! Katherine might also have still been married to her first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, when she conceived the first Beaufort, which was something else to make Henry VII shift uncomfortably. I am only surprised that Henry did not attempt to claim Katherine was descended from King Arthur. Henry was very keen indeed to prove that he and his line were rightful Kings of England because they had Arthur’s blood in their veins.
Anyway, I quote (from Weir’s biography of Katherine):-
“. . .The epitaph on John of Gaunt’s tomb in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, which was lost in the Great Fire of 1666, described Katherine as eximia pulchritudine feminam – ‘extraordinarily beautiful and feminine’. This epitaph was not contemporary but was placed on the restored sepulchre in the reign of Henry VII, who was desirous of restoring the good reputation of this rather dubious ancestress. It is unusual to find words of this kind in an epitaph – the emphasis is usually on virtue and good works – but since Henry VII could hardly laud Katherine’s virtue, it is possible that he ordered reference to be made to her beauty because it was one of the things people did remember her for, and it may even have been referred to in the original tomb inscription, which had been destroyed in living memory. . .”
So, Henry Tudor was up to more of his usual meddling tricks? Making sure posterity was recorded as he wanted it recorded? What a surprise. BUT, in one thing Katherine herself signally failed. Her extraordinary beauty did not descend to Henry or his Beaufort mother!
Sources for the above illustration: The lost tomb of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche, old St.Paul’s Cathedral, London. From The History of St Paul’s Cathedral in London by William Dugdale, 1658. Originally from Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection at University of Toronto. Likeness of Henry VII from civ6customization.gamepedia.com
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.
Yet again, I tell you the old story of looking for one thing and happening on something else. This time an article that questions the ultimate effectiveness of Henry VII’s reign. Well, rather it raises questions that historians don’t seem to have asked before now. It is well worth reading, especially as there are links to other articles for those who follow our period.
John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, was the Duke of Lancaster, and his illegitimate children, the Beauforts, were barred from the throne by his legitimate, firstborn son, Henry IV. Clearly the latter wasn’t having any baseborn relative wearing the crown. Nevertheless, we eventually ended up with a Beaufort king, who claimed to be the last Lancastrian heir. He wasn’t.
Explanation is needed to sort out the intricacies of it all. The Beauforts were not true Lancastrians at all, because though they descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Edward III’s third son, it was a fact that Gaunt only had the title because of his first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. So Blanche’s descendants, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI, were proper Lancastrians. The baseborn Beauforts descended from Gaunt’s mistress and eventual third wife, Katherine de Roët. Their eventual legitimisation by the ill-fated true king, Richard II, son of the Black Prince, Edward III’s eldest heir, did not change this. The Beauforts were never true Lancastrians. Without Blanche’s blood, they couldn’t be. (1)
After Henry VI, if the proper Lancastrian line, i.e. from Blanche Lancaster, were to have been continued, it would have been through the Portuguese offspring of Philippa of Lancaster, Gaunt’s elder daughter by Blanche.
Except, of course, that the Lancastrian line had never been the true one in the first place. The House of Lancaster usurped Richard II’s throne and then murdered him. The rightful line after Richard II was that of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, who had been Edward III’s second son.
Gaunt was a hypocrite. He tried his damnedest to persuade Edward III to prevent the throne from ever descending through a woman. This was in order to exclude the descendants of Lionel of Clarence. Lionel left a single daughter, Philippa of Clarence, who married Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. Their only child, Anne, married Richard of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley, thus uniting the second and fourth line of descent from Edward III. Thus the true House of York, as we know it, was created.
Of course, as far as Gaunt was concerned, staking a claim to the throne of Castile through his own second wife, Constance of Castile, was another matter entirely. It was just and noble, and through her he considered himself to be the King of Castile. He even demanded to be known as that. Yet he wanted such claims through the female line to be eliminated in England. Yes, a hypocrite of the highest order.
I can understand Gaunt’s wish to legitimise his children by Katherine, whom he clearly loved. But I cannot forgive his two-faced, underhanded scheming to steal a throne that was not his to steal! His son did steal it—through usurpation and murder, and that’s how we ended up with the three kings of the House of Lancaster, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. But the House of York did ascend the throne eventually, in the form of Edward IV and then Richard III.
Back to Gaunt. In the name of Lancaster, he had raised an army and sailed off to take a (foreign) throne that was occupied by someone else. And he did this through the claims of a woman, no less. Fast forward to the aftermath of the sudden death of the Yorkist king, Edward IV, and we have scheming Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry Tudor, neither of whom truly represented the Lancastrian line. But they posed as such. Throughout the tragically short reign of Edward’s last brother, Richard III, they plotted against him. Their treachery, in the name of Lancaster, led to Henry’s foreign invasion and Bosworth, where Richard was betrayed and killed.
Henry Tudor promptly stepped up to the throne. Um, perhaps not in the name of Lancaster, more for himself. He was careful to claim victory through conquest, not blood line. Which tells me that he was well aware that his mother’s Beaufort descent was a very doubtful blessing. The Beauforts had been barred from the throne by an only too Lancastrian monarch, Henry IV.
Henry Tudor knew he had defeated and ended the life of the last true King of England. He, like Henry IV before him, was a regicide. (Yes, yes, I am aware that the same charge can be laid at Edward IV’s door, regarding Henry VI, but that is another story entirely.)
So, to sum up. No Lancastrian, of any degree, should ever have been king. From Richard II, the line should have descended through Lionel of Clarence, the Mortimers and York. Richard III did thus descend. The crown of England was his by right of birth. That could never be said of Henry Tudor, whose sole right was based upon foul treachery.
(1) See also: The Lancastrian claim to the throne, Ashdown-Hill, pp.27-38, Ricardian 2003
The Wars of the Roses did not commence, à la Bard, with white and red roses snatched and brandished in a garden by opposing lords, but they were foreshadowed at the turn of the fifteenth century when Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, usurped and murdered Richard II.
Bolingbroke was the son and heir of Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, through Gaunt’s first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. It was through Blanche that the dukedom came to Gaunt. Bolingbroke was therefore the undisputable heir of the House of Lancaster.
But Gaunt had other children by other women, especially a nest of illegitimate Beauforts by his liaison with Katherine de Roët/Swynford, who had been governess to his children by Blanche. Gaunt wanted the Beauforts to be legitimized, and Richard II eventually agreed. Letters Patent were issued in 1397.
When Bolingbroke stole the throne and murdered Richard, he also made sure that his half-siblings, the Beauforts, could not succeed to the throne. He did this by adding a clause to the original Patent of legitimation. This was popularly regarded as valid, but maybe it was not, because the original patent had received parliamentary sanction.
The Lancastrian line held power until the reign of Bolingbroke’s grandson, the weak, ineffectual Henry VI. At first childless, Henry had to decide on an heir. If the Beauforts were set aside, the next legitimate heir to the throne was Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who descended from Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. But, York was also descended, through his Mortimer mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who was an older brother of Gaunt’s. Not the oldest, of course. That honour went to the Black Prince, father of Richard II.
Gaunt and the Lancastrians did their utmost to insist that rights to the throne could not descend through a female line. They were wrong. For instance, Henry II’s claim came through his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose opponent, Stephen, also claimed through his mother. So, the Lancastrians were good at dealing from the bottom of the pack. Gaunt himself laid claim to the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! And he had gained the incredibly wealthy and important dukedom of Lancaster through his first wife. But that was different, of course. Oh, of course. So, they were hypocrites.
This was the situation when Henry VI needed an heir. York felt, rightly, that he was the legitimate heir. He did not claim that the House of Lancaster had no right to the throne, only that he was the next heir. Then, miraculously (or by the divine intervention of the Beaufort Earl of Somerset) Henry VI’s queen provided the much-needed son. In the nick of time, eh? Poor Henry believed he was the father, but a lot of people saw hanky-panky at work…and Somerset’s Beaufort fruitfulness.
York’s claims went quiet again. But as the years passed, Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, grew fearful that York’s designs on the crown would be at the expense of her son. She was aided and abetted in this by the powerful Duke of Somerset. York realized that he and his House were in danger of extinction, and chose to stand up for his rights.
Thus began the Wars of the Roses, a tussle that went on for decades and resulted in the crown going from Lancaster to York, and then back to Lancaster….if Henry Tudor can be described as a Lancastrian. He was descended through the Beauforts, who, according to Henry IV, could not succeed to the throne. But that is yet another story. So, too, is the fact that if the claim to the throne could descend through the female line, then Philippa, one of Gaunt’s daughters by Blanche of Lancaster, and thus full sister of Henry IV, had to be considered. She had married the King of Portugal, and had sons. Philippa’s younger sister, Elizabeth, had married the Duke of Exeter, but their line was not considered either. Besides, Philippa was the older sister, and her line not only legitimate, but secure. However, as far as I can ascertain, her claim does not appear to have been even vaguely considered.
By this time York was the father of four sons: Edward, Earl of March (Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). The first two were old enough to fight. Another of York’s great assets was the Earl of Warwick, who is now known to us as the “Kingmaker”.
With Margaret determined to protect her son’s rights, battles commenced, and fortunes swung. Then York and his second son, Edmund, were slain by treachery (the same fate as that suffered by the last of the sons, the brave Richard III) at the Battle of Wakefield. York and Edmund’s heads were displayed on the gate of York city. At least Richard III did not suffer that.
Now York’s eldest son, Edward, the new Duke of York, became the figurehead of the Yorkist cause. Bitterly angry about the fate of his father and brother, he took up the cudgels and, with Warwick at his side, triumphed over the Lancastrians to take the throne. He was proclaimed king on 4th March 1461. After a few years there was a hiccup, and he was forced to flee the country with his younger brother, George and Richard. Henry VI was reinstated. Edward returned, and after another bout of battles (and quarrelling with and alienating Warwick, to say nothing of having George switch sides more than once) Edward finally demolished Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. He gained victory with his brothers fighting at his side. Somerset was captured and beheaded. Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Prince of Wales, was also slain, and Margaret’s will finally broken. Days later, Henry VI, died in the Tower of “melancholy”. Hmm. Let’s just say that his survival would have been inconvenient to Edward, who wouldn’t want him returning to the throne again.
And so England had her first Yorkist king for the second time. If you see what I mean. The above is clearly somewhat condensed, and many of the finer points have had to be omitted, but it’s the gist of how handsome, dashing, charming Edward, Earl of March, became King Edward IV.
The Duke of Buckingham is rather a ‘dark horse’ figure in the history of Richard III. No one knows for sure why he aided Richard to take the throne only to turn upon him in rebellion a few months later. Simplistic ideas such as ‘he repented of his ways after the princes were murdered’ don’t stand scrutiny, especially when he was the first one to suggest that Edward V be housed in the Tower, and also when the number of documents naming him as their potential killer (if indeed they were killed at all) is taken into account. Whatever happened to Edward IV’s sons, no doubt Buckingham knew…
A MAN WHO WOULD BE KING by J.P. Reedman is a new novel written from Buckingham’s first person perspective. He is certainly no ‘hero’ and the character flaws that appear even in cotemporary accounts are visible, but the addition of wry humour makes the character palatable to the reader, even amusing in his pomposity. His life is covered from his birth at Abergavenny Castle in Wales to his death on the scaffold in Salisbury. Essentially it shows what must have been the life of many a young noble in this period–a childhood full of deaths and seperations and disappointment–which was later reflected in his emerging character.
The ancestry and background of the Staffords was heavily researched for the novel too, and it becomes very clear how ‘Lancastrian’ they were. Not only did Buckingham’s grandfather die attempting to protect Henry VI in his tent as the Battle of Northampton, but his mother was Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund Duke of Somerset who was killed at St Albans. The other Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor’s mother, was Buckingham’s aunt by marriage. Several other uncles on the Beaufort side lost their lives at Tewkesbury, fighting for Lancaster.
Henry, called Harry in the novel, is intensely proud of his heritage, harkening back tiomes and time against to his ancestry from Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of Edward III–who seems, from the descriptions to be similar in temperament to Buckingham, being named in one popular history as the ‘Bully of Woodstock.’ Buckingham also had a copy of the document legitimising the Beauforts–only it was the early document without the addenda barring them from the throne. Between owning that and applying to wear the Arms of Thomas of Woodstock unquartered, it seemed Harry Stafford was very aware of his royal lineage. (This awareness and the classic ‘Stafford personality’ brought his son Edward to doom in the reign of Henry VIII.)
In the novel, Harry meets Richard intermittently over the years (I have come to believe they knew each other more than what is sometimes suggested by both fiction and some historians, although they do not appear to have been close friends) and attempts from the start to use him to gain favour with Edward, who never gave Buckingham any high positions save one–High Steward at George of Clarence’s trial. He begins a subtle manipulation, which changes entirely in its focus when Edward dies suddenly in 1483.
The following article is necessarily filled with supposition, inference and sneaking suspicion. The result of smoke and mirrors, you ask? Well, I think it is all much more substantial than that, as I hope to explain in the coming paragraphs.
Today (25th June) in 1545, died a man by the name of Roland de Velville (or Vielleville, Veleville, Vieilleville, and other variations). He crops up at regular intervals in connection with the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Why? Because of a persistent whisper that Roland was Henry’s illegitimate son. Well, his son, but no one can really categorically state he was illegitimate. All that can be claimed is that he was born sometime during Henry’s exile in Brittany between 1471 and 1485, and that when he arrived in England he was soon rumoured to be Henry’s unacknowledged child, born any time from about 1472 on, when Henry himself was only fourteen or fifteen.
It needs to be mentioned here that medieval kings usually acknowledged any offspring fathered before their official royal marriages, so there would not appear to be any reason why Henry would not admit to Roland. (I can think of at least one very good reason, but will save that until the end of this article.)
Roland was a member of the Breton nobility, an écuyer or esquire who may have accompanied Henry on the invasion of 1485. It is not known whether or not the boy fought at Bosworth, but my guess would be that he was probably too young. However, in 1489 he was certainly old enough to be in Sir John Cheyne’s retinue for the Breton expedition commanded by Sir Robert Willoughby.
The comment has been made that Roland was an ‘almost obsessive’ jouster, and was closely involved with the king’s falcons. It seems probable that he accompanied Henry VII when he went hunting and hawking. He appears to have been tolerated by English aristocrats, who must have been aware that he was favoured by the king. If that were not the case, I doubt Roland would have come even close to tournaments and the like. Roland’s life style would have been expensive, but Henry supported him, granting occasional gifts and allowing him an income from the royal revenues. Roland held no official position, he was simply there, enjoying himself, participating in royal pastimes and generally floating along. As we would all like to, given the chance.
Conjecture about him must have been rife, but that was all it amounted to. Conjecture. Because no one was party to the facts, not even Roland himself. Or so I guess, because his character was such that I doubt he’d have held his tongue and been discreet. He appears to have been of an unruly temperament, headstrong, irksome, arrogant and inclined to indulge in slander. Not at all like his subtle father. Well, rumoured father.
Might Roland have been named after the great 11th-century hero, Roland of Roncevaux? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland) If Henry Tudor really was his father, it strikes me as very much in keeping with Henry’s grand ideas concerning his legendary ancestry. After all, did he not give the name Arthur to his first son by Elizabeth of York?
It was not until the reign of his “half-brother”, Henry VIII, that Roland received any real advancement. From Henry VII he had been given this and that in the way of minor money, and had been kept at royal expense, but there was nothing worthwhile. Except, of course, for being knighted at the Battle of Blackheath in June 1497. But he was still Breton, not English. It was to be 1512 before he received that acknowledgement.
Battle of Blackheath
On the death of Henry VII on 21st April 1509, the new 17-year-old king Henry VIII did not exactly shower Roland with brotherly goodies. Within weeks (3rd July 1509) Roland was appointed Constable of Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey, and was given, during pleasure, an annuity of £20. After twenty-five years or so of luxury at court, Roland was on his way to Wales pdq, as the jargon goes. Young Henry clearly did not want his awkward kinsman around. Tudor angst required being rid of anyone of dangerous royal blood, and Roland, if he was indeed a half-sibling, would almost certainly make Henry VIII twitchy. Send him away to the sticks, and if he became a problem, an accident might befall him. At least, that is how I interpret it. Especially, perhaps, as Roland was said to greatly resemble Henry.
Hmm, the above portrait of Henry VIII at eighteen (right) doesn’t look like the ogre we now know and, er, love. Indeed, he looks almost identical to his father at that age (above left). But while we know how Henry VII changed as he grew older, remaining lean and almost gaunt, it has to be said that Henry VIII changed a whole lot more, becoming the odious, gross King Hal who was so obsessed with producing male heirs that he was prepared to get through six wives in the process. Did Roland change in the same way? Not the six wives part, of course, but might the Constable of Beaumaris Castle become as awful and bloated as his half-brother the king?
This latter point raises an interesting question. Let us imagine that Roland and Henry were indeed half-brothers. It is generally accepted that for looks Henry VIII took after his maternal grandfather, the Yorkist king Edward IV (who was also tall and handsome, but became gross in his later years). If this were so, how could Roland also look like Edward IV? There was no blood connection. If the resemblance between the two half-siblings were that pronounced as to cause comment, then it has to be wondered if, perhaps, similar tall, handsome, “reddish-golden” looks were also to be found on Henry VII’s side? To my eyes, the first Tudor king and his mother have “Beaufort” stamped upon them. Some of Henry VII’s portraits are interchangeable with his mother. Both have high foreheads and cheekbones, small chins, hooded eyes and a general resemblance to the weasel. Put him in a wimple, and there she is!
What we do not know, of course, is what the earlier Tudors looked like. There are no portraits of Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, only a reproduction tomb engraving(below left). Nor are there portraits of his father, Owen Tudor. If, indeed, Owen had anything to do with fathering Edmund, there being yet another scandalous royal whisper that Owen’s “wife” (there is no solid evidence that she and Owen ever married) Queen Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, had actually been enjoying some hanky-panky with another Beaufort, who for whatever reason declined to marry her. Owen stepped in to make things less embarrassing for her. Tangled webs in every shadow. But let’s suppose that the earlier Tudors were indeed Henry VII’s forebears. They might have been tall and reddish-blond. Well, they could have been, so do not wag your fingers at my screen! The Vikings did NOT steer clear of Wales.
Whatever the reason for Roland and Henry VIII sharing physical similarities—and maybe it was simply coincidence—it could have been with some relief that Roland scurried off to Beaumaris with his neck still attached to the rest of him. Better to be alive, than meet some dark Tudor death because of being regarded as an awkward presence at court. On the other hand, he may well have resented Beaumaris for taking him away from luxury. It was said in 1534 (the year before Roland’s death) that the never-completed castle had deteriorated so that “there was scarcely a single chamber in Beaumaris Castle where a man could lie dry”.
Given Roland’s character, it will come as no surprise that he was a troublesome constable, making all the capital he could from his privileges. Twenty-five or so years at court had undoubtedly given him expensive tastes. But whether he liked it or not, the rest of his life was to be spent at Beaumaris where he began to live (scandalously, of course) with widowed Agnes Griffith, whom he would eventually make his wife. She was a member of the most powerful family in Gwynedd, and had children with Roland. Their descendants were numerous, and included his famous granddaughter, Catherine of Berain, known as the ‘Mother of Wales’. Roland de Velville certainly left his mark in his wife’s homeland.
Roland died at Beaumaris Castle on 25th June 1535, and was buried at the Church of St Mary’s and St Nicholas, Beaumaris. If he was indeed buried there, I cannot find anything about his actual resting place. I have not been to the church, so it does not signify that he is no longer there, just that he’s escaped me. How intriguing it would be (the discovery of Richard III’s DNA being so fresh in the mind) to see if Roland’s DNA could be obtained. That would indeed help to ascertain if he was Henry VII’s offspring.
There is a lot of conflicting information about Roland. Was he of royal blood? Or wasn’t he? Who said what, and when? To whom? Can a Welsh elegy to him, by Daffyd Alaw (1535), be given any credence whatsoever? Well, it claims that Roland was ‘A man of kingly line and of earl’s blood’, which would certainly fit Henry VII, who had been born Henry, Earl of Richmond (he was born posthumously). So yes, Roland could well have been Henry’s son. Why else was he brought to the English court and supported in the way he was? And those who say that such bardic traditions should be ignored as highly improbable should perhaps remember that bardic tradition was how Welsh history was recorded. It was committed to memory and and passed down through the generations. The Welsh are clever enough to train their grey cells!
Historians have been rude about each other where this mysterious Breton écuyer is concerned. That is, if he was even Breton. Yes, I fear the conflicting ‘evidence’ even calls this basic fact into question. Maybe his mother’s family hailed from a corner of France. You see, we do not know her identity either.
It seems that Roland was granted arms that were quartered, indicating the families from whom he was descended. They do not, of course, include Henry. But although these families can be hazarded, they cannot be identified for certain, So, who was his mother? Did she marry someone called de Velville (or other variations of the name in both French and Breton)? Maybe this man believed the boy was his. He wouldn’t be the first to have another man’s child foisted upon him. But, yet again, it’s guesswork. All is vague and uncertain.
To read an intricate account of it all, with far more small detail, go to http://www.happywarrior.org/genealogy/roland.htm
And now I will tell you why I think Henry VII did not acknowledge Roland. No, it’s not that Roland simply wasn’t his son, what a boring conclusion to come to. Far more interesting to make the two father and son. What if (ah, those words beloved of fiction writers) a teenaged Henry had fallen passionately, lustfully in love with, and impetuously married, a young, equally passionate and lustful Breton noblewoman? What if it was a secret wedding that never came to light and was soon regretted on both sides? What if Henry was moved elsewhere in Brittany (he was a prisoner under house arrest) and his bride (frightened by her important male relatives, who knew nothing of the secret marriage, was forced to bigamously marry someone “suitable”. Pregnant with Henry’s child, she allowed her new husband to believe the child was his.
Are you still with me? Right, move on to 1485. Henry is going to invade England to challenge Richard III for the throne. To be sure of much-needed Yorkist support, he vows to marry Elizabeth of York, Richard’s niece and the senior unmarried Yorkist princess. He wins at Bosworth and has to honour his vow. Sooo…knowing he is already married, he weds Elizabeth. Another bigamous match, but one that could have catastrophic consequences. Not least bloody rebellion and the chopping of Henry’s slender neck.
Then Roland enters his life much more immediately. The boy’s mother is on her deathbed and fears for his life at the hands of her second husband. She implores Henry to take Roland under his protection. And so he comes to court but cannot possibly be acknowledged by his royal father, who, understandably, doesn’t want any enemies poking around in what happened when he was a young prisoner in Brittany. Nor does Roland even know Henry is his father.
Thus history repeats itself, with Henry VII following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Edward IV. Another secret wife, a second deceived bride, and heirs who are all illegitimate. Roland de Velville is his legitimate son. The rightful King of England? But can even Henry contemplate disposing of this inconvenient boy…? His own child?
There, is that not a half-decent plot for a historical novel? I thought so too, so I made it the main theme of the fourth book in my Cicely series. The book is called Cicely’s Sovereign Secret.
One thing of which we can be certain is that Richard III never played snooker. It was not invented until 1875 in Jabalpur by a Colonel Chamberlain (1). Nevertheless, it is an excellent vehicle for demonstrating the laws of probability with particular reference to the descent of the Plantagenet Y-chromosome from Edward III.
Imagine that you have walked into a snooker club where a member lends you four white balls and fifteen reds, the white balls obviously from more than one set, but in a drawstring bag. The cue balls represent the paternal links from Edward III to Richard III and the reds represent the descent from Edward III to Henry, 5th Duke of Beaufort (2). We already know that the 5th Duke’s living putative descendants have a different Y-haplogroup to Richard III, indicating that there is at least one “false paternity event” in one or both lines, but “Somerset 3” has a different Y-chromosome to his putative cousins, showing that another such has occurred at some time since 1760.
The bag is now held towards you and you are invited to insert your hand and withdraw a ball but you cannot discern its colour until you are holding it outside the bag – we are assuming randomness a priori. The probability of one random ball being red is 15/19 or approximately 79%. If you withdrew two balls, the probability of both being red is 15×14/19×18 or about 61%. The probability of three balls all being red is 15x14x13/19x18x17 or about 47%.
The probability of any paternal link in these chains being false is the same as stated above. We only know that there is one such event and it is 79% likely to have been in the descent to the 5th Duke but 21% to Richard. We cannot yet assume there to be more than one broken link in either chain and it would take three “milkmen” for the red ball (Beaufort) probability to fall below 50% and for a York false paternity event to be probable.
To my mind, it adds up to two very similar situations that are two centuries apart.
Let us begin in the 12th century. On his deathbed, Henry I of England named as his successor his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda. He obliged the nobility to agree. They reneged, of course. A woman as queen in her own right? Cue mass hysteria among the male upper classes and uncontrollable fits of the vapours in the Church. And cue a sharp move by her cousin, Stephen, who promptly had himself crowned before she could even return to England.
To cut a long story short, Matilda fought first for herself, supported by her powerful half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. When it became clear she would never be accepted because she was a woman, Matilda fought on behalf of her eldest son. He, thanks to her tireless efforts, eventually became Henry II—and yes, he is one of the two Henrys.
There was nothing Matilda would not have done to see her son on the throne, and her aim came to fruition. And when he was crowned, she became the highest woman in the realm. She wasn’t monarch in the own right, but came darned close!
Then came the time when Henry II chose a queen. Not just any queen, but beautiful, spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a powerful, troublesome lady with a mind very much of her own, but was also prepared to scheme and manipulate on behalf of her sons by Henry. Against Henry.
Eleanor’s reputation was not squeaky clean. She had been married to the King of France, only for the marriage to be annulled and custody of their two daughters given to Louis. She had been on a Crusade with her husband, and halted at Antioch, where she encountered her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was described by William of Tyre as “a lord of noble descent, of tall and elegant figure, the handsomest of the princes of the earth, a man of charming affability and conversation, open-handed and magnificent beyond measure“. There were whispers because Raymond and Eleanor spent such a great deal of time together and seemed so very intimate. She quite clearly found her uncle preferable to her husband. The whispers increased when she declined to leave Antioch with said husband, who eventually took her away by force. She was a lady to whom scandal seemed drawn, but it is only her ‘acquaintance’ with Raymond that is of interest for this article.
The difficulties between Henry and Eleanor commenced when the latter came up against Matilda, who was not about to surrender the position of First Lady. As far as Matilda was concerned, Eleanor was simply Henry’s wife, with no claim to any power. A baby-making machine, no more or less. Open warfare threatened.
Was Henry caught in the middle? Well, in a way, but he loved his mother because of all she had done to put him on the throne. Then (so the story goes) he fell for one of his many mistresses, a lady known as Fair Rosamund Clifford. It was too much for Eleanor. Already furious about playing second fiddle to Matilda, she now had to endure his immense infatuation for younger woman. Eleanor stormed off to her lands in Europe, there to plot with her sons against their father.
If you have seen the film The Lion in Winter, you will know that Eleanor and Henry were played by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Oh, how the sparks and flames flew when they were on screen together. Eleanor was indeed very beautiful, but I don’t think Henry resembled O’Toole. According to Gerald of Wales [he had} “a reddish complexion, rather dark, and a large, round head. His eyes were grey, bloodshot, and flashed in anger. He had a fiery countenance, his voice was tremulous, and his neck a little bent forward; but his chest was broad, and his arms were muscular. His body was fleshy, and he had an enormous paunch, rather by the fault of nature than from gross feeding.” Definitely not the gorgeous Peter.
* * *
Now we must fast forward to the fifteenth century, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, yet another mother who would stop at nothing to see her son on the throne. Meet that son, Henry VII, the second Henry concerned in this article. Unlike Henry II, who was a direct blood heir, Henry VII’s forebears descended through a rather convoluted and weak line that included the bastard strain of the Beauforts (illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine de Roët.
When Henry, taking for himself the role of legitimate heir of the House of Lancaster, was helped to Richard III’s throne by traitors, his formidable mother became First Lady—she was known as the King’s Lady Mother. Like Matilda, Margaret also had a helpful half-brother, John Welles, Viscount Welles, but he was hardly in the same class as the mighty Robert of Gloucester.
Henry always supported whatever Margaret did. She was, perhaps, the only person he ever trusted completely. His was a suspicious, secretive, paranoid character. He was not a mother’s boy, but came pretty close.
Then he too took a wife. He had to, he’d promised it in order to win the support of discontented supporters of the House of York (to which his defeated predecessor, Richard III, had belonged). If Henry had tried to wriggle out of it, there would have been uproar, because the promise entailed marrying the eldest Yorkist princess, Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth. Henry VII did not like having to do as he was told, but wasn’t given much of a choice.
It is hard to imagine anyone less like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Elizabeth of York was reportedly lovely, but was mostly so quiet and apparently inactive that she barely offered a defiant squeak when Henry and his mother belittled her. She must have loathed Margaret, who swanned around almost as if she were the king, not Henry.
However, like Eleanor before her, Elizabeth had also been caught up in a scandal. It too involved an uncle, Richard III. There were strong rumours that something went on between uncle and niece—so strong that Richard was forced to deny it all in public. Whether there was any truth in it all will never be known, although I doubt very much that Richard returned any incestuous affection. That falls into the realm of fiction. He was intent upon arranging a foreign match for her. But the story clings to Elizabeth’s memory. Maybe she did love Richard, who, unlike his Shakespearean namesake, was actually a handsome young widower at the time in question.
Henry VII may have come to feel affection for his queen (perhaps because she was so unlike his domineering mother!) but she always took second place to Margaret. There is no known equivalent of Fair Rosamund in Henry’s life, so Elizabeth was never challenged on that score. Even if she had been, I doubt if she would have flounced off in a fury as Eleanor did. Perhaps Henry’s problem with his marriage was that he could not forget the rumours about Richard.
Maybe Elizabeth was one of those people who work quietly in the background, getting her own way when she wanted, but never openly defying either Henry or Margaret. Well, she did once, and Henry was so startled at the unexpected stamping of her Yorkist foot, that he backed down. I’d love to have been there, just for the joy of seeing his face.
So, there we have it. Two grimly determined mothers-in-law, two daughters-in law touched by rumours of incest and consigned to second place. And two Henrys who were loath to take on their mothers. Two M’s, two E’s and two H’s!
Matilda and Margaret could not have the throne in their own right, but were prepared to fight tooth and nail to put their sons there. Eleanor was another in the same mould, but Elizabeth of York was not. Neither daughter-in-law was afforded proper prominence in the eyes of her husband.
As for the Henrys, well, while their mothers could not rule alone as the true monarch (heaven forfend!) these sons were quite happy to lay claim the throne through the female line. So, a woman’s blood was good enough pass on to a son who would be crowned, but was next to worthless if she tried to assert herself by becoming “king”.