Today in 1367, Henry IV was born:
As we said five years ago, it is unclear whether John, Marquess of Somerset and Dorset, really was the son of John of Gaunt or of Sir Hugh Swynford. Furthermore, the common law answer to that question may be different to the genetic answer, as we revealed that Swynford could well have died after the conception, or even the birth of John “Beaufort”.
As hathawaysofhaworth reminded us in a comment here, the mediaeval year commenced on Lady Day, 25 March. Thus January, February and most March dates fall later in the same year as do 25 March to December. This gives more scope for Swynford’s life to have overlapped with the life, or gestation (“pre-life”) of Catherine de Roet’s middle child of seven.
Whilst Somerset’s (half-?) brother, Henry Beaufort, was a Cardinal, he did have an illegitimate daughter, unlike Thomas, Duke of Exeter. As Jane married Sir Edward Stradling in about 1423, according to the Cardinal’s will, we are still faced with the strong possibility that all those still surnamed Beaufort after his 1447 death were descended from Sir Hugh Swynford.
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 above painting by William Bell Scott depicts Chaucer reading to an aging John of Gaunt. The ladies are the two men’s wives, Philippa and Katherine, born de Roët.
Everyone knows that John of Gaunt (1340-1399) had three wives, the last of whom was Katherine Swynford (nee de Roët, 1350-1403), who had been his children’s governess. She then became his mistress (during his second marriage to Costanza of Castile) and finally, in 1396, his third duchess. The last move, was very unpopular at the time, for it was felt Gaunt, a king’s son, had demeaned himself by marrying well below his station…and that she had reached up well above hers.
Katherine, married at twelve to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, had a sister, Philippa (c. 1346–c. 1387) who was a damoiselle of the queen, and who by the end of 1366 had been married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, the Geoffrey Chaucer, who was a very close friend of John of Gaunt. Was the Chaucer marriage a love match? After all, at the time he was a mere squire, whereas she was relatively highborn, the daughter of a prominent Hainault family of rich landowners, or so I understand the de Roët sisters’ background to be. The Chaucer union is subject to a lot of speculation.
Let us go back before 1366, before Philippa became Geoffrey’s bride. John of Gaunt is renowned for his interesting private life, as described above, and seems to have been a Plantagenet charmer par excellence. By inheriting the huge wealth and status of the Duchy of Lancaster (through his first wife, Blanche) he was the richest, most influential man in England, especially when his father, Edward III, began to descend into senility. Gaunt had an eye for a beautiful woman, and the suggestion is that the de Roët sisters were both beautiful. I don’t know if they warranted the description, but I doubt very much that they were plain, stodgy dumplings. Men like Gaunt are not drawn to the nondescript.
So, Katherine Swynford was governess to his daughters. At this time her sister Philippa was unmarried, and also the queen’s lady. The queen, another Philippa, was from Hainault too, so I imagine this was a very good reason to have Philippa de Roët close to her. And then there was John of Gaunt, master seducer. The suspicion is that his eye fell upon Philippa first. It wasn’t the done thing to deflower unmarried ladies, and maybe this precluded such an affair in his eyes, except that there are suspicious signs that he broke the rule.
He was not a dishonourable man, and took his responsibilities seriously. Dates fit for him to have bedded Philippa and got her in the family way. In September 1366, before leaving for a campaign in Spain, Gaunt granted Philippa a lifetime annuity. It was very generous, and surely he had no reason for doing such a thing. Some present-day thinking is that Gaunt protected her by paying his good friend Chaucer a great deal to marry her. She was to give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, the appropriate number of months later. Elizabeth would become a nun and enter the prestigious royal Abbey of Barking.
For the rest of his life, Gaunt was especially kind to Elizabeth, who might well have been his daughter. His particular favour to her suggests he knew she was. There were also more gifts, opportunities and annuities to the Chaucers.
Was Gaunt Katherine Swynford’s lover at the same time he was bedding Philippa? That we’ll never know, just as we will never know the truth about his dealings with the latter. All those gifts and favours are suspicious though. Why would Gaunt bestow such bounty upon Philippa? Why continue to be so concerned about her? She was by then a married women. Did the affair continue after she became Chaucer’s wife? Was Chaucer a complacent husband, paid well enough to say nothing and just let his wife get on with it?
Or, as some of you will no doubt tell me, Gaunt did no such thing. The Chaucer marriage was a love match and Gaunt was merely a generous lord. Possibly. Possibly, too, Elizabeth Chaucer was of royal blood.
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”.
Anyway, given the fact that Henry VII, whether Tudor, Beaufort or Swynford, is not descended from Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster in suo jure but from her husband’s mistress and later wife, Katherine de Roet, he wasn’t a true lineal Lancastrian. Carson has listed thirty individuals, some mentioned here, who were alive on 22 August 1485 and were descended from Blanche, therefore having better claims than Henry.
Now duRose mentions that Henry VII was descended from Blanche’s paternal aunt, therefore he was a lineal Lancastrian. This is actually true but very counter-productive. As you can see below, Blanche had no brothers but an elder sister, whose only child died in infancy. Her father, Henry of Grosmont, had no brothers but five sisters, one of whom was a prioress but the other four all had issue and descendants alive in 1485.
You can see quite clearly that Henry’s ancestress was Mary, the youngest of the quintet. Eleanor, the fourth sister, leads to Richard III et al whilst there are three lines to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk and a lot of other famous people are listed.
Here is the evidence that there are now HUNDREDS of people with a better lineal Lancastrian claim than Henry VII in 1485.
Here is the scene. The mother with her newly born child, her ladies, the air of relief and happiness. But presumably she is a faithful wife, and her delighted husband will soon be summoned to see his new offspring. No doubt he hopes for a son.
But what if she isn’t a faithful wife, and the sire of her baby isn’t her late husband. What’s more, the father is a royal prince?
The following article must be viewed against the 14th-century background of the Hundred Years War, the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, the plague and the convoluted private life of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster . . . forebear of Margaret Beaufort, and therefore of Henry VII and the Tudors.
Just when did Gaunt (b. 6 March 1340 – d. 3 February 1399) become the lover of his children’s married governess, Katherine, Lady Swynford (b. 1349/50, d. 10 May 1403)? And was he first the lover of her sister, Philippa, who was married to Geoffrey Chaucer? In fact, were all the children born to Chaucer and Philippa actually Gaunt’s offspring? (See John Gardner, The Life and Times of Chaucer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, INC., 1977), 158-162.)
I do not place much faith in this claim about Gaunt and Philippa, but if it were true, it raises an interesting point. Here is an extract from The Duchesses of Lancaster: an examination of English noblewomen’s exercise of power and influence during the fourteenth century, a thesis by Amanda Elizabeth Sanders.
“. . . Gaunt and Katherine confessed to having an affair during his marriage with Constance and that he was godfather to her eldest daughter with Hugh Swynford, which was seen as incest . . .”
Why was it considered incest? Because in the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 it was recorded that anyone’s wife, or sexual partner, is related to her sisters in the first degree, which is incest. It was considered incest up to the fourth degrees of affinity. (See Harry Rothwell, English Historical Documents, 1189-1327,” in Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Middle Ages: A Sourcebook, ed. Conor McCarthy, (London: Routledge, 2004), 68-69.) Gaunt, being Philippa’s lover first and godfather to Katherine’s daughter Blanche Swynford, would have been considered to commit incest with Katherine, because she was within the degrees of affinity.
Well, I think I follow all that. My education stopped at GCE ‘O’ level in 1960, and I did not take history or religious education. A vital part of Henry VII’s ancestry was that his mother, Margaret Beaufort, could claim descent from John of Gaunt, and therefore Edward III . . . but it just might be that Gaunt had nothing whatsoever to do with John Beaufort’s conception, except to later claim fatherhood. (Note for those who do not know: Beaufort is the name granted to all of the children of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.)
Disregarding any possible incest, the point of interest for me is that Gaunt and Katherine confessed to being lovers during his marriage to Constance of Castile. Call me Doubting Thomas, but I think it more likely they were lovers before that marriage, a conclusion I have reached while in pursuit of the all-important dates for the start of the affair with Katherine.
These matters are of great consequence to Ricardians (and Tudorites) because the parentage of Gaunt and Katherine’s eldest son, John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, can be called into question due to his actual date of birth not being known. The event is generally stated to be ‘circa 1373’, and anything ‘circa’ in mediaeval terms can stretch quite a way in either direction. Certainly to the middle of 1372, which is the date I believe.
To explain why, it is necessary to tell something of Katherine Swynford’s marriage to Sir Hugh Swynford (1340-September 1371), a fairly lowly knight of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, whose only claim to distinction, apart from the identity of his wife, was being “small, stocky and known by his fellows as ‘the battling Saxon ram’!” He was a fierce and shrewd warrior, and clever battle tactician, with a beautiful but unfaithful wife from a lowly background in Hainault. But Katherine Swynford had been raised in the household of Queen Philippa, also from Hainault, and had the formal education and knowledge of court that made her ideal to become the governess of the queen’s grandchildren, Gaunt’s brood by his first duchess, Blanche of Lancaster.
In 1369, while Gaunt was away fighting the war on the continent, Katherine was called to Bolingbroke to spend Christmas with Blanche. But she arrived to find the duchess dying of the plague. Katherine took care of her, and managed to find a priest to administer the Last Rites. Katherine’s loving attentions were appreciated, and on his return to England, Gaunt invited her to come south to London to attend Blanche’s funeral. When she eventually went home to Kettlethorpe, he had rewarded her ‘for the care shown to the late Duchess and for the Lancastrian children after their mother’s death’. She had been granted her own blazon, consisting of three Catherine wheels, which Gaunt had designed, bestowed and registered himself. She also received, as a pension, ‘all issues from, and profits from his towns of Waddington and Wellingere to be paid yearly’.
Lavish rewards indeed! If I were Hugh, I’d be highly suspicious about the nature of the attentions Katherine had paid. And to whom! But there is no proof that anything had yet gone on between Katherine and the duke. Just a very strong hint, in my opinion.
There aren’t any known contemporary portraits of Gaunt and Katherine, so (to give a flavour) here is a rather romanticised view, taken from the cover of an edition of Anya Seton’s excellent novel, Katherine. Fiction maybe, but Katherine was very lovely, and Gaunt was indeed a royal prince.
Next, Hugh went to France to fight in a company led by Sir Robert Kindles, from whom Gaunt would take over command. In 1371 Hugh was seriously wounded and taken to Bordeaux in Gaunt’s train. The duke found him suitable lodgings and instructed his own personal physician, Brother William Appleton, to care for him. A certain Nirac de Bayanne, the duke’s servant (and Hugh’s enemy of old) is mentioned at this juncture, although he had actually entered the story a little earlier because he (and therefore Gaunt?) figured quite considerably in Swynford affairs.
“ . . . May 1367 . . . when the registers note that John of Gaunt appointed his servitor, Nirac de Bayanne, as Steward over Kettlethorpe until Hugh could be sent home. They also record that he stood sponsor to Blanchette, Hugh and Katherine’s daughter born in May 1367 and ordered for her the silver and gilt cup as a baptismal gift . . .”
Hugh and Nirac did not get on at all, and I imagine Hugh resented the man’s presence on his land and in his house. Especially when Katherine was there and gave birth to their daughter.
Now we come forward to Bordeaux again, September 1371, and Hugh recovering from his wounds (or from dysentery, or both, according to opinion). Katherine arrived to be among the English ladies of Gaunt’s forthcoming second duchess, the Infanta Costanza (Constance) of Castile. Gaunt had sent that same Nirac de Bayanne to be Katherine’s escort, and was apparently highly annoyed when she went straight to tend her ailing husband.
The following has been gathered (not word for word) from http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=ancestorsearch&id=I920.
. . . Less than a week after Katherine’s arrival, Hugh was dead. His death surprised everyone as he had been making a good recovery. [It was thought he had been poisoned by the hate-filled Nirac de Bayanne, either from personal dislike or on the duke’s instruction.] Katherine seemed to have been genuinely shocked and upset by her husband’s passing. Aided by Brother William, she arranged for Hugh’s body to be returned to England and Kettlethorpe for burial. Unusually, she returned to court in Bordeaux, rather than accompany the body home. Hugh was buried, and faded into obscurity, leaving Katherine free to enter into a liaison with John [Gaunt] . . .
. . . Nirac was posthumously implicated in Hugh’s death. He is reputed to have confessed to poisoning Hugh, and on his deathbed repeatedly stated that neither John nor Katherine was aware of what he had done. (Hmmm. Maybe she didn’t, but I’d hazard Gaunt knew full well. Hugh was an inconvenience with a husband’s rights, and Katherine had just miffed the duke by putting her husband first. Were those conjugal rights being enjoyed? Might ducal jealousy have raised its head?) . . .
. . . It is known that John and Katherine disappeared for several weeks prior to his second marriage (which took place on 21st September 1371 near Bordeaux). She returned to England and was obviously pregnant because (in the summer of 1372?) she gave birth to John, later John Beaufort. It was assumed that John was Hugh’s posthumous child, but when Henry (My note: second Beaufort son) was born to [Gaunt] and Katherine, they acknowledged John as theirs . . .
Back to my narrative. So, September 1371 was a vital month in this story. Hugh probably died in about the first week, and Gaunt married Constance of Castile on 21st. Between the death and marriage, Gaunt and Katherine disappeared together . . . and they were not intent upon needlepoint, I’ll warrant. Katherine was not pretending to be a grieving widow, nor was Gaunt being much of a bridegroom. Given this conduct, I strongly suspect them of hanky-panky while poor old Hugh lingered.
When Gaunt returned to England not long after his wedding, he did not bring his new duchess with him. Going straight to the Savoy, he spent Christmas with his children by Blanche of Lancaster . . . and their widowed, pregnant governess was there too. If tongues did not wag into a thunderous racket, I would be absolutely amazed!
How intriguing is the whole scenario, because if it was thought Katherine’s child could be Hugh’s posthumous offspring, then presumably everyone in Bordeaux believed he had recovered enough to be capable of siring it! Maybe he would have survived had fate, or Nirac de Bayanne, not intervened.
So . . . was Hugh the real father of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset? He was still alive for the likely period of the earl’s conception. Might Katherine have warmed her husband’s bed and Gaunt’s during the same week? Should John Beaufort have actually been named John Swynford? His date of birth is unknown, and is given as ‘circa 1373’, which certainly could have encompassed the middle of 1372, which is nine months or so from September 1371.
And on top of all this, we have the interesting point mentioned at the very beginning. If Gaunt had been the lover of Philippa Chaucer before he tumbled into bed with Katherine, the latter relationship would have been regarded as incestuous, as well as adulterous. Their Beaufort children were subsequently legitimised, and specifically excluded from any claim to the throne, but I can’t imagine that, according to the then rules, they could be freed from the stigma of incest. Could the Pope have done that? I don’t know. (An aside: Presumably this means that Henry VIII’s activities with the Boleyn sisters was incestuous too?)
Oh, to get to the truth of it all, for the possibility exists that Margaret Beaufort, the scheming mother of the first Tudor king, might have only been the granddaughter of the obscure Kettlethorpe knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, not any offspring of Gaunt.
But there was more scandal, because when it came to blood descent, the man she took as her first husband, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, father of Henry VII, was most likely not a Tudor at all, but a Beaufort/Swynford by a son of the same John who had been conceived in Bordeaux in September 1371!
How could this be? Well, according to entirely different and equally salacious whispers, Edmund Tudor’s father wasn’t Owen Tudor (the supposed second husband of Queen Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V) but was sired by one Edmund Beaufort, third son of the Bordeaux John Beaufort/Swynford. Catherine of Valois was widely rumoured to have had an affair with this Edmund Beaufort, who would not/could not marry her, but got her with child anyway. Catherine swiftly married Owen Tudor, maybe for love, maybe for protection. (Note: It cannot be proved that they actually did marry, but tradition has it they did.) The baby was born a Tudor, but naming him Edmund certainly fanned the rumours.
So, Margaret was Beauchamp on her mother’s side, but either Beaufort or Swynford on her father’s. Edmund Tudor was half Valois, and either Beaufort or half Swynford, but most likely not Tudor. Poor old Henry, all that playing upon his Welshness, and even naming his son and heir Arthur, when all the time there was most likely no proud descent from great Welsh heroes, both mythical and real, and certainly no link to Camelot. Or to Gaunt and Edward III. I would love to have seen the faces of Margaret and Henry had they discovered all this to be true.
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?
Whilst researching my biography of Richard, Duke of York I found myself drawn by a bitter feud that lasted for years and which in many ways was a kind of prequel to the Wars of the Roses. The more I learned about the acrimonious dispute between Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester the more it fascinated me and the more I began to see it as a pre-cursor to the troubles that followed. I found it almost impossible to tell Richard, Duke of York’s story without reference to the context provided by this relationship. It has been largely forgotten in the violent civil war that followed its shocking end but without the fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester there may never have been a Wars of the Roses.
Cardinal Henry Beaufort was born around 1375, the second son of John of Gaunt by his mistress (and later third wife) Katherine Swynford. His older brother was John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, whose descendants would become the infamous Dukes of Somerset who would rise to fame in the fifteenth century. His younger brother was Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, a very capable soldier, and Joan Beaufort, his younger sister, married Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland and became the matriarch of the Neville clan that rose to prominence as opponents of her brother’s Somerset descendants. Henry was half-brother to Henry IV, uncle to Henry V and great-uncle to Henry VI. As Bishop of Winchester he held the richest see in England and this made him invaluable to a Lancastrian crown perpetually short of money.
Henry Beaufort acted as Chancellor to his half-brother before they fell out, returning to influence under his nephew Henry V, who was close to his uncle. In 1417 Beaufort was created a Cardinal and papal legate, only for his nephew to place pressure on him to give up the Cardinal’s hat. The king feared the encroachment of papal influence but needed to keep his uncle, and not least his money, close. Henry Beaufort (no doubt grudgingly) agreed but in 1426, shortly after the accession of the young Henry VI, he was once more appointed Cardinal. This apparently conflicting role as Papal representative and senior royal counsellor would attract criticism, most notably from Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.
Humphrey was born around 1391, the fourth and youngest son of the man who would become King Henry IV. Created Duke of Gloucester by his brother Henry V in 1414, Humphrey took part in several campaigns in France, most notably fighting at the Battle of Agincourt. On his brother’s death Humphrey served as Regent in England for his nephew, though his power was severely limited by the Royal Council and was always subservient to the position of his brother John. Often viewed as reckless and bitter, Humphrey was almost permanently at odds with his half-uncle Cardinal Beaufort – and his behavior may have had another explanation as we shall see later.
After the annulment of his first marriage to Jacqueline of Hainult, Humphrey married Eleanor Cobham around 1430. The couple were popular and well liked, their court becoming a centre of poetry and learning. A part of Humphrey’s library was bequeathed to Oxford University and formed the basis of the Bodleian Library. When John died in 1435 it left Humphrey as heir presumptive to his childless young nephew and removed the one control on the rivalry between the duke and Cardinal Beaufort. From this point onwards the feud became ever more bitter and personal.
The first point of conflict came with the decision that had to be made quickly as to the identity of John’s replacement in France. The Cardinal wanted the prestigious position for his nephew John Beaufort, son and namesake of his older brother, as he sought to use his substantial influence to promote the position of his family in Lancastrian England. Humphrey was equally determined not to allow the Beauforts such power and promoted his closest legitimate royal relative, the young and powerful Richard, Duke of York. Humphrey won the argument and York was dispatched to France but the battle was only intensified.
When Parliament opened in November 1439 it was flabbergasted to hear a tirade of complaint from Duke Humphrey against his uncle Cardinal Beaufort just before Christmas. After Christmas the articles were presented in writing, nominally addressed to his nephew but clearly meant for a wide audience. Beginning by complaining about the release of Charles, Duke of Orleans, who had been taken prisoner at Agincourt and whose release Henry V had forbidden, Humphrey quickly launched into a sharp berating of his uncle’s actions over the last decade or so, not least his conflicted role as Cardinal and royal councilor. Charges rained from Humphrey’s pen but, perhaps reflecting the balance of power that was driving him to make his complaints, nothing came of his accusations and Cardinal Beaufort was not even investigated. Instead, the next strike would be made by the Cardinal’s faction.
Humphrey’s wife Eleanor Cobham was arrested and tried for treasonable necromancy in 1441, accused of having engaged the well-known ‘Witch of Eye’, Margery Jourdemayne, to predict the death of Henry VI that would give her husband the throne. Eleanor claimed that she had only sought help to conceive a child but it is unlikely that any defense would have saved her. Although she escaped a death sentence Eleanor was forced to perform a public penance, divorce Humphrey and remain imprisoned for the rest of her life. She eventually died at Beaumaris Castle in 1452, still a prisoner, but the scandal of her arrest, trial and conviction forced Humphrey to retire from public life. It seemed that Cardinal Beaufort had won the war, but Humphrey remained a popular man, well loved by the general populace, viewed as a champion of their cause against a disinterested king and court party.
By 1447 the English conquests in France were in the final throws of a prolonged and painful demise. Henry VI’s government, by this point headed up by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was trying to hand back vast swathes of land won by Henry V and to the preservation of which John and Humphrey had dedicated their lives. There is little doubt that the government feared a backlash from Humphrey that could gather popular support and become dangerous. On 14 December 1446 Parliament was summoned to meet at Cambridge on 10 February 1447 but on 20 January the location was suddenly changed from Cambridge, where Humphrey was popular, to Bury St Edmunds in the heart of Suffolk’s power base. This clearly suggests that at some point over the Christmas period a plot to deal with Humphrey once and for all was crystalizing.
An English Chronicle recorded that Humphrey arrived after the opening of Parliament, was met outside the town and that before ‘he came fully into the town of Bury, there were sent unto him messengers commanding him on the king’s behalf’. He was ordered to go straight to his lodgings and not to try to see his nephew the king, who seems to have been convinced that his fifty-six year old childless uncle was actively plotting to seize the throne, a notion probably promoted by Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort, who spied a final end for his longtime nemesis. Humphrey was arrested on 20 February by Viscount Beaumont, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, the Marquis of Somerset (Edmund Beaufort), the Earl of Salisbury and Lord Sudeley. Either that day or the following Humphrey suffered what was reported to be a devastating stroke. He lingered until 23 February when he finally died. His body was placed on public display before being buried at St Albans Abbey but rumours quickly sprang up that he had been murdered, perhaps poisoned. There is no evidence to support this and a natural cause is entirely possible, but the belief that Humphrey had been wronged lingered for years and his death was undoubtedly convenient to the government.
Humphrey is often remembered as a reckless, petulant, unreliable and belligerent man who resented his lack of power compared to his brother and the Council. This reading of events is not entirely fair to my mind. At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 Humphrey had been injured and knocked to the muddy ground. As French knights raised their weapons to finish him off an armoured figure stepped across his prone body and beat the attackers away. So close was the combat that the man defending Humphrey had a fleur de lys cut from the crown atop his helm. Humphrey’s life had been saved by his brother, King Henry V. For the rest of his life Humphrey would devotedly try to see his brother’s aims in France realised, perhaps because he owed his life to the famous warrior. Watching the floundering of English fortunes must have been painful and seeing the Beauforts attempting to use the Cardinal’s wealth to benefit themselves in a way Humphrey probably felt did not benefit England may have been behind his animosity to the Cardinal.
Cardinal Henry Beaufort would appear to have won the long war with Humphrey, though his victory was short lived. He died on 11 April 1447, less than two months after Humphrey. A legend sprang up, probably originating from the Tudor antiquarian Edward Hall and embellished by Shakespeare, that Cardinal Beaufort became delirious on his deathbed and offered Death all of his treasure for a longer life, though the contemporary Croyland Chronicle records simply that he died ‘with the same business-like dignity in which for so long he had lived and ruled’. In his early seventies, he had lived under four kings and amassed huge wealth and influence, a basis from which the Beauforts would flourish further.
Perhaps the real impact of the feud between Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester lies in what was to come after both of their deaths. The Beaufort family were set on an upward trajectory and enjoyed the favour of the king that the Cardinal’s influence had won for them. Richard, Duke of York had been promoted by Gloucester as a legitimate member of the blood royal and was widely viewed as the successor to Humphrey’s position opposing the peace party at court, meaning that whether he wished it or not he became an opponent to the Beauforts, perpetuating the feud of a previous generation. This rift would eventually widen until civil war broke out. Humphrey’s name would be closely associated with York’s cause for more than a decade after his death, his rehabilitation promoted by Cade’s Rebellion and his name finally cleared in Parliament when York held power.
The House of York and the House of Beaufort appear to have been set on a collision course by the disputes between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Henry Beaufort. Henry VI’s inability to force a closure to the rifts at his court meant that the bitterly opposed factions caused a rupture in the nation that we remember as the Wars of the Roses. It is because of the course that Richard, Duke of York was set upon by these events that I found it impossible not to tell this story in order to explain his actions and the events that surrounded him. Although it is lost in the vicious war that followed, the long battle between Humphrey and Cardinal Beaufort laid the foundations for the Wars of the Roses that followed their deaths and Humphrey’s fall marked the implosion of the House of Lancaster in a manner usually believed to be the preserve of their successors in the House of York.
Humphrey was a well-liked figure who was popular with the common man and retained sympathy for the House of Lancaster as the government of his nephew became increasingly unpopular and out of touch with the country. The policy of eliminating those closest to the throne thrust Richard, Duke of York to prominence as Humphrey’s natural successor, caused those who had looked to Humphrey for a lead to turn their focus from the House of Lancaster and made York, not unreasonably, frightened of meeting the same fate simply by reason of his position. Perhaps paranoia was a part of the makeup of Henry VI’s mental issues even at this early stage, perhaps the Beauforts were manipulating him to improve their own prospects or perhaps it was a little of both. Whatever the reason, it backfired on Henry and the Beauforts, dragging England into a bitter and prolonged civil war.