This article may be about how the Tudors came to power, but it sits carefully (and, in general, sensibly) on the fence. By that I mean it doesn’t overload them with ‘golden’ praise. Thank goodness.
However, the typos run thick and fast. For instance, The widowed Catherine of Valois is referred to as a ‘window’, and Owen Tudor becomes ‘Owen Henry’ and then ‘Owner Henry’.
It’s an interesting potted history of the events that followed the end of Richard II’s reign and it ends with the reign of Elizabeth I. Richard III is described as follows: “….Richard III became King – the most evil King of England as he would become known….” The as he would become known is fair comment…and a saving grace. But it is not fair comment that Richard had a second coronation before Bosworth. He had no such thing.
I’m sure that most articles about the Tudors would word the remark about Richard’s reign rather differently. For example: “…Richard III became the most evil of England’s kings….” Although how anyone could think he was more evil than Henry VIII I really don’t know. Instead Henry is referred to as “one of Britain’s most popular figures in history”. Um, well, I doubt if his wives would relish hearing him so described! Or the Catholic Church! Or all the thousands of people he despatched to the hereafter.
But, the article does give a reasonably fair gist of how we were inflicted with the darling House of Tudor.
When reading the Yorkshire post I came upon the following sentence: “It’s thought that the white rose was adopted as a symbol in the 14th century, when it was introduced by Edmund of Langley, the first Duke of York and founder of the House of York, a dynasty related to the Plantagenet kings.”
Related to the Plantagenet kings? Well, yes, they were all related, but the implication seems to be that they weren’t Plantagenets themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the House of York was Plantagenet, as was the House of Lancaster. They were two parts of the House of Plantagenet, fighting each other.
But there is a school of thought that considers the true House of Plantagenet to have ended with the death of Richard II, who was, of course, the last king of the senior line of descent. He was the only surviving son of the Black Prince, who was himself the senior son and heir of Edward III, who was in turn the senior son of Edward II, etc. etc. It begins to sound like the Bible, with all the “begats”.
The Black Prince pre-deceased his father, and his brothers startled jostling for control of Richard, who was only a boy at that time. When Richard was married to Anne of Bohemia it was expected that he would produce an heir, thus continuing the senior line. But he and Anne were childless, Cue more jostling from the increasingly ambitious uncles. Especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who out-ambitioned the lot of them. Because he married the elder daughter of the King of Castile, Gaunt thought he had a right to the throne of that land, and demanded that he be addressed as “My Lord of Castile”. Gaunt also wanted the English succession to go to him and his line, should Richard die without issue, and he is believed to have persuaded/cajoled/forced the senile, failing old Edward III into agreeing to an entail that would ensure this. It is also believed that in due course Richard II disposed of this entail.
Then Anne of Bohemia died, and instead of taking another wife of a suitable age to have children, Richard married a little girl, Isabella of France. Not a wise move, because it would be years before she’d be considered old enough to consummate the marriage. Richard put peace with France above his own succession.
Richard’s rule was not popular among the nobility, and when Lancaster died, his son Henry Bolingbroke became duke. Well, Richard and Henry had never got on, in fact they loathed the sight of each other (or so it seems to me, even though they were thrown together as boys) and Richard banished Henry into exile (a long story). Richard then confiscated the entire Lancaster inheritance, which was yet another very unwise move, because Henry came back with an army. He caught Richard (whose next exceedingly unwise move had been to go off to Ireland with all his friends – he specialised in being unwise) on the hop, and disposed of him. Henry then usurped the throne as Henry IV. Thus the House of Lancaster took the crown.
Henry IV’s coronation sealed the moment the Plantagenets split, but they all remained Plantagenets. There were plenty of people in England who didn’t believe Henry, descended from Edward III’s third son, had any right to the throne, because there were descendants (the Mortimer Earls of March) from Edward III’s second son, Lionel of Clarence. Lionel had passed away some time before, leaving a daughter. The Mortimers would eventually be blood descendants of Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. Therefore the 5th Earl of March, who was a mere child, was deemed to have a stronger claim than Henry IV, who had usurped Richard II’s throne and probably seen to that unhappy king’s murder, and was only descended from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt. But slick Henry could easily see off an opponent who was less than ten years old!
And so the rebellious rumbles began and did not go away. They were still around when the House of Tudor eventually held the throne.
But did this dichotomy in the Plantagenet family make Henry IV any less of a Plantagenet than Richard II had been? I think not. They were both grandsons of Edward III as well as being first cousins, I cannot see that Henry suddenly ceased to be a Plantagenet and became solely a Lancastrian. The bloodline remained the same, the difference being that Henry was from Edward III’s third son, whereas Richard had been from the first and senior line.
Then, in due course, Henry IV died and his son Henry V came and went, until his son, Henry VI, a mere baby, ascended the throne. Henry VI reigned a long time, but was a disastrous king, far too weak and impressionable to rule England. He drifted in an out of mental illness, eventually requiring a Protector to be appointed to safeguard the realm. Along came the 3rd Duke of York, who was directly descended from the fourth son of Edward III, but also from the second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, through Lionel’s only child, a daughter. It was from her marriage to a Mortimer that in many eyes made the then Earl of March the rightful king when Henry IV usurped the throne. A subsequent marital union between York and March thus gave the 3rd Duke of York a very strong case indeed.
York felt (rightly in my opinion) that he had a better claim to the throne than Henry VI, but his ambitions were thwarted by the convenient (after years of barren marriage to Margaret of Anjou) arrival of Henry VI’s son. It was widely believed that Henry (who had been mentally ill at the time of the child’s conception) was in reality made a cuckold by his wife’s affair with Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Somerset was also descended from John of Gaunt, albeit through an originally illegitimate line, the Beauforts. Perhaps he and Queen Margaret decided he was close enough in blood for it to be OK? Who knows. Perhaps it was just passion.
York therefore encountered effective opposition from Margaret, Somerset and others at the Lancastrian court, even though he was better qualified for the crown. Thus he rebelled, and the so-called Wars of the Roses began. You either supported York, or Lancaster, or kept your head down and hoped to survive unnoticed.
The above paragraphs illustrate the very basics of what prompted the Wars of the Roses: the white rose for York and the red rose for Lancaster. We had three Lancastrian kings, then two (three if you count Edward V) Yorkist kings in Edward IV and Richard III.
Then came Bosworth, in which Richard III was cruelly betrayed by the Stanleys, who turned traitor mid-battle to support Richard’s opponent, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), whose actual blood claim to the crown of England was dodgy to say the least. Little more than right of conquest. His descent came through the Beauforts, who were the result of John of Gaunt’s extra-marital affair with Katherine Swynford and thus baseborn. Well, Gaunt managed to persuade Richard II to legitimize them, but when their half-brother Henry IV swiped the throne from Richard, he made sure to exclude the Beauforts from any claim to the throne. The line of succession would descend through his offspring, not his half-blood siblings.
This made Henry VII a mere Beaufort through his mother Margaret Beaufort, whose father was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, the eldest of Gaunt’s Beaufort brood. But, it is thought Henry VII was probably also a Beaufort on his father’s side. There had been an affair between Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois (who died today in 1437), and the self-same Edmund Beaufort (third son of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset) who was thought to have fathered Henry VI’s son and heir! Edmund was a busy boy between the sheets. I know that posterity has Owen Tudor as Catherine’s only love after the death of Henry V, but Edmund Beaufort is far more likely, as Harriss and Ashdown-Hill , inter alia, both said. It was also thought so at the time, and hasty moves were made in Parliament to regulate remarriages for queens of England. And Catherine’s first son, supposedly by Owen Tudor, was named Edmund. A coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
Let’s face it, Henry VII’s probable total descent through the Beauforts wasn’t much to brag about when it came to parking his behind on the throne with any real authority. He was not a Plantagenet, and that particular parking lot was not built on solid, unchallengeable ground. So he married Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, who was a Plantagenet, and thus managed to make himself more secure on the throne by “uniting” the two warring Plantagenet houses. Not entirely secure, for there were pretenders throughout his reign, but he survived, dropped the pretence of being a Beaufort/Lancastrian, and instead set up the House of Tudor, which gave us a truly charming sequence of monarchs, I think you’ll agree. The only one worth her salt was Elizabeth.
So there you have my version of the bare bones of English Plantagenet history from Richard II to Richard III. To my mind, all the kings (between and including those two) were Plantagenets. They didn’t cease to be Plantagenet and suddenly morph into York or Lancaster. They all claimed direct descent through the many sons of Edward III, and thus to all the Plantagenet and Angevin Kings of England who’d gone before.
There’s a new book on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou coming out, in which historian Lauren Johnson surmises that the over-pious Henry VI may have had a few problems in the bedroom department and hence had attendants who would ‘guide’ him in the ways of love. Henry was a notably prudish man who once erupted in shocked fury when some female dancers arrived at court wearing gowns that ‘exposed their bosom.’ He also suffered some kind of serious mental health issues, even becoming catatonic for an extended period, an illness inherited through his mother, Catherine of Valois, whose father Charles had also suffered severe mental illness (he thought he was made of glass), as did several other members of the extended family.
It was about 8 years before Henry and Margaret produced a child, Edward of Westminster, and the baby was born during one of the King’s bouts of illness; the monarch did not respond or acknowledge his child, even when the Duke of Buckingham placed the baby in his arms. Later, he did come round but promptly exclaimed that the baby must have ‘been brought by the Holy Ghost’.
In his play Henry VI, Shakespeare had Margaret have a passionate fling with William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk but that does not seem to have been a contemporary rumour–however, it is interesting to note that one of the figures who was supposed to be helping Henry out in the ‘bedroom department’ was none other than the…Duke of Suffolk. Maybe the Duke decided to be a little TOO helpful on occasion… The other ‘attendant’ of note happens to be Ralph Botiller–that would be Eleanor Talbot‘s father-in-law, Lord Sudeley–although no one has ever accused him of having an affair with Margaret of Anjou. Her image, however, is on the exterior of the chapel he built at Sudeley, along with that of Henry.
It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.
At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.
The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.
That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.
Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.
It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.
After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.
As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.
Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.
The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.
Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.
Catherine de Valois wooden funeral effigy on the left and the stone head thought to represent her on the right.
Westminster Abbey is the home to a collection of unique and wonderful medieval wooden funeral effigies. These are to go on show once again in June 2018 with the opening the Abbey’s new Jubilee Galleries. Some of them are definite death masks such as those of Edward III and Henry VII although there is very little doubt that they are all portraits of those they represent (1). The one I am focussing on here is that of Katherine de Valois, wife to Henry V. There are few if any surviving portraits of Katherine so her effigy is especially interesting as to how she actually looked. To give a brief résumé Katherine’s remains were removed from their original burial site in the old Lady Chapel when it was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new Chapel. They were then left above ground, next to her husband’s monument for the next two hundred years. Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary on visiting the abbey he was able to take Katherine in his arms and kiss her on the lips. Poor Katherine. Eventually in 1778 Katherine was placed in a vault. Finally in the 19th century, Dean Stanley had her reburied beneath the alter in her husband’s chantry. Thank goodness for that!
Now fresh interest has recently been ignited by the discovery of a stone head in Meath, Ireland, which is believed to represent Katherine. Here is an interesting article covering the story.
Take a look at the wooden effigy and the stone head, compare and judge for yourselves.
Katherine’s effigy in Westminster Abbey
Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary Lawrence Tanner p138
It is generally acknowledged by historians that Henry Tudor, who defeated Richard III, the last Yorkist king, at Bosworth and went on to be crowned Henry VII, wasn’t the Lancastrian heir to the throne of England he claimed to be. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was descended from John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of […]
Well, my opinion only, of course, but where are John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford/de Roët? I don’t believe his first wife, Blanche, was his greatest love. That honour went to Katherine, for love of whom he went to extraordinary lengths, enduring scandal and opprobrium, but eventually making her his third duchess. And managing to legitimize his Beaufort children by her.
As for Edward II and Piers Gaveston. No, they don’t warrant inclusion, I’m afraid. Not because it was gay, but because it became dangerously spiteful, petty, posturing and not a little ridiculous. It ultimately destroyed all concerned. Then Edward II showed even less judgement by moving on to the dreadful Despensers. There was nothing great or romantic about his conduct in allowing his favourites such enormous power. I find his reign fascinating, but always want to shake him until his royal teeth rattle.
Edward with Gaveston
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? Hmm. That gross man always thought with his codpiece, not his heart. The same goes for his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, the contents of whose codpiece appear to be overactive in the extreme.
Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor? I have grave misgivings about this one. I believe she was more interested in Edmund Beaufort, 4th Earl of Somerset, and that when she became pregnant and he wouldn’t/couldn’t marry her, lowly Owen Tudor was hastily drummed up to “do the honours” of claiming to be the unborn child’s father. Maybe Owen already had a good and understanding relationship with Katherine? This might have made him acceptable to her in her hour of need. I may be wildly wrong about this, of course, but (once again) it’s my opinion.
Edward III and Philippa of Hainault? Yes. The Black Prince and Joan of Kent? Yes. Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville? Yes. Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon? Yes. Edward I and Eleanor of Castile? Yes.
Who else is missing, apart from Katherine Swynford? Well, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Theirs was another political royal match, but they fell deeply in love. He was utterly distraught when she died suddenly.
Richard III and Anne Neville
Richard III and Anne Neville? George of Clarence and Isabel Neville? I think both couples are strong contenders. Whatever else may be said, about the brothers only wanting the Warwick inheritance, and so on, it seems to be an irrefutable fact that the Neville sisters won their York husbands’ hearts. Maybe it can be argued that their father’s inheritance was a great big carrot to both men, but the fondness/love that eventually came into being was real enough. Both men were heartbroken by their wives’ deaths, and George could not cope with Isabel’s loss. Richard, perhaps stronger emotionally, was equally as broken, but did not fall apart as George had done. Am I misjudging these marriages as well? No. I stick to my opinion!