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Edward IV, Dame Eleanor and the Phantom Web of Impediments


The precontract (i.e. prior marriage) between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, has long been a subject of debate, but what has not previously been claimed is that Edward and Eleanor were so closely related as to have been unable to make a valid marriage without a special dispensation from the Pope.  Recently, however, a writer using the pen name of Latrodecta has claimed (  that they shared a relationship within the prohibited degrees, viz. “3rd degree consanguinity, 3rd degree affinity”.

Latrodecta has identified this impediment as arising from Edward’s mother Cecily Neville being the first cousin of Maude Neville of Furnivall, the first wife of Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and the mother of Eleanor’s older half-siblings. The claim is apparently that – despite the relationship involving no blood tie between Edward and Eleanor – it counts as an impediment of both consanguinity and affinity because half-siblings are included in the prohibited degrees of kinship. The author further claims that “Corroboration can be found in the dispensation granted for the marriage of his son [i.e. Edward IV’s younger son] and her niece [i.e. Anne Mowbray] – the relationship between her sister [i.e. Elizabeth Talbot Duchess of Norfolk] and Edward would have been the same” (that is to say, the same as between Edward and Eleanor herself).

I shall return to these claims, but first it will be necessary to explain these two types of impediment, what they are and how they were calculated at the period under consideration.

Consanguinity and Affinity

Consanguinity and affinity are the chief types of relationship that, under canon law, can produce a diriment (nullifying) impediment to a marriage. Of these, consanguinity is the easiest to understand as it is a simple blood tie: where there is no common ancestor, there can be no impediment of consanguinity. Impediments of affinity arose in those days from sexual intercourse (now only from marriage).[1] The two sexual partners were deemed to have become, as it were, ‘one flesh’. Latrodecta should therefore not have been the least bit surprised to have ‘seen a case where the bridegroom had to obtain a dispensation because he’d already slept with his future mother-in-law’.

It is a common, indeed almost ubiquitous, misconception amongst ordinary historians that the relationship thus formed barred the couple’s respective blood relatives from marrying each other, but this is not so.[2] Prior to 1215, the impediment of affinity had, it is true, been slightly complicated by the rule that a person’s second partner contracted affinity not only with the consanguines of the spouse but also with his or her closest affines (i.e. their new step-kin); at no time, however, had any couple shared a relationship of affinity without one of them having had a prior sexual relationship to cause it; two virgins could never be each other’s affines. Hence, when St. Augustine asked of Pope Gregory: ‘Is it permissible for two brothers to marry two sisters, provided there be no blood ties between the families?’ the great pontiff had replied: ‘This is quite permissible.’[3] The rules had been further simplified by the Fourth Council of Lateran (1215 AD), which had abolished the impediment between certain blood relatives of a person’s two spouses.[4] The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).[5]

By the 15th century, therefore, there were no longer any step relationships that created impediments other than those (such as stepfather and stepdaughter) that just happened to involve direct affinity. In fact, it was almost de rigueur at this period for a widow and widower to cement their own union with at least one marriage between the offspring of their former marriages.

In the late Middle Ages, both consanguinity and affinity created an impediment to marriage up to the level of third cousins (another rule brought in by the Fourth Lateran Council).[6] The method of calculation in use at the time – the so-called Germanic method – is extremely simple to use.

Edward and Eleanor: Consanguinity

To check for an impediment of consanguinity, one simply draws up two direct-ancestry trees, one for each party to the proposed marriage, with the prospective bride/ groom at one end, their parents (1st-degree consanguines) in the next row, after them their grandparents (2nd-degree consanguines), then their great-grandparents (3rd-degree consanguines), and lastly their great-great-great-grandparents (4th degree consanguines).[7] Then one stands back, looks for any names common to both trees and counts the generations from each partner up to the closest match in any given line. Most often, the common stock, as it is called, (stirps in Latin) will be a couple, but it can also be a single individual, as would occur if an ancestor had married twice and the bride was descended from one of those marriages and the groom from the other. This is what is meant, and all that is meant, by half-siblings counting in the same way as full siblings: the only relevant half-siblings are those who link the couple via their shared ancestor.

I have carried out this very exercise for Edward and Eleanor, highlighting any common ancestors in red. As can be seen, there are none.

Note that Maud Furnivall, identified in the above article as the route to the alleged 3rd-degree impediment, appears on neither Edward’s nor Eleanor’s table; this is because she was only a collateral relation of Edward and no blood relation of Eleanor at all.

Let us now turn to the assertion that the dispensation for Anne Mowbray and Richard of Shrewsbury corroborates this alleged 3rd-degree consanguinity. There are, I fear to say, two problems with this, one of them terminal. First (to be picky) the Anne Mowbray dispensation is for consanguinity in the 3rd and 4th degrees (i.e. one of them was 3 degrees removed from the common stock, and the other, 4 degrees),[8] whereas an even 3rd-degree consanguinity between Edward and the Talbot sisters would have resulted in an even 4th-degree consanguinity between little Richard and Anne. But rather more seriously, Latrodecta has overlooked the salient fact that all children have two parents. As the following consanguinity chart for Richard Duke of York and Anne Mowbray clearly shows, they were indeed related in the 3rd and 4th degrees but Anne’s relationship to Edward’s family lay on her father’s side and in no way involved her Talbot ancestry.

Edward and Eleanor: Affinity

Now let us turn to affinity. By sexual union, the consanguines of the one partner become the affines of the other. So, for instance, if Harry’s previous partner was Sally’s second cousin, then Harry and Sally would be related by affinity in the 3rd degrees. The check for affinity therefore works on the same principle as for consanguinity,[9] except that the bride/groom needs to compare her/his consanguinity tree with that of the prospective spouse’s previous partner(s). This exercise I have carried out for Edward and Eleanor by drawing up this chart showing Sir Thomas Butler’s ancestry. Unfortunately Thomas’s chart is not complete in all areas, and not 100% verified in others, because much of his ancestry is relatively humble and not recorded, but it is highly unlikely that any of these obscure Cheshire ancestors would feature on the table of Edward of March. In short, there was no affinity between them either.


There was no relationship preventing Edward Plantagenet and Eleanor Butler from marrying each other.  Readers do not need to take my word for this: there are plenty of sources available online that set out the different prohibitions and methods of calculating degrees of relationship in use by the Catholic Church at different periods. To be sure one has the correct understanding, all that is needed is to perform a few test calculations on couples whose ancestry and marriage dispensations are both known. Or some may wish to begin, as Edward IV’s councillors must have done in 1464, by checking for (non-existent) common ancestors on the trees of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Sir John Grey.  

[1] The impediment of affinity arising from extramarital relationships was also to be gradually abolished.  The first step was taken in the 16th century by the Council of Trent, which limited its effect to the 2nd degree (first cousins), but it was not until 1917 that this impediment was wholly confined to the consanguines of previous spouses. 

[2] The most notable recent intrusion of this error into late-fifteenth-century English history is Michael Hicks’ claim that Clarence’s marriage to Isabel Neville prohibited Richard’s marriage to Isabel’s sister.

[3] Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.

[4], canon 50.

[5] Thomas de Charmes, Theologica Universa ad Usum Sacræ Theologiæ Canditatorum, vol. 7 (1765), p. 357.

[6], canon 50.

[7] A particularly clear explanation is given in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia under ‘Consanguinity (in Canon Law)’: ‘Mode of Calculation’ (

[8] ‘Dispensation . . .  notwithstanding that they are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred’ (Calendar of Papal Register Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, ed. J. A. Twemlow, vol. 13 [London, 1955], p. 236).

[9] Again, The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a useful summary under ‘Affinity (in Canon Law)’ (

Heading for a new record?

This is Richard Dunne, the player who has scored the most top flight own goals (ten in twenty seasons) since the beginning of the Premier League.

“David” is already challenging that total in a shorter time frame. Here are some of his career highlights:
1) Claiming that “Perkin” confessed his imposture to a Scottish Bishop, many years before that cleric was born.
2) Claiming that Henry VII was a senior Lancastrian, when he was junior to Richard III in that respect, being descended from a younger sister of Richard’s ancestress.
3) Claiming that the “Lincoln Roll” detailed Edward IV’s sons to have died as children, when it didn’t.
4) Claiming that Edward V and his siblings were legitimate because secret marriages were automatically illegal, except that his parents also “married” in secret. This part of the Fourth Lateran Council’s findings was frequently ignored – thankyou to Esther for locating it.
5) Claiming that Henry VII was Earl of Richmond from 1471-85, when the Complete Peerage shows him to have been under attainder.
6) Claiming that Catherine de Valois spoke in Parliament about her “marriage” to Owain Tudor after her death and centuries before any woman addressed an English or British Parliament.
7) Claimed that Henry VII’s supposed descent from Owain Glyn Dwr’s servant was as valid as Richard III’s descent from Llewellyn Fawr.
8) Claimed that “Perkin” directly accused Richard III of killing Edward V, whilst the transcript shows that he did not and had many uncles.

9) Claiming that Henry VI arranged Margaret Beaufort’s 1455 marriage to Edmund “Tudor” because there was no Lancastrian heir, even though his own apparent son had been born two whole years earlier.
10) Claiming that the “Lincoln Roll” was compiled for the eponymous Earl, who died in 1487, yet it frequently mentions much later dates.

While we are at it, we hereby confirm that we did not invent “David” to make counter-productive Aunt Sally comments. Does his Tardis need a service?


Which man fathered the first Beaufort….?


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

. . . 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.




To avoid any confusion:

When Edward IV married Lady Eleanor Talbot in spring 1461, they were not more closely related than fourth cousins, through her mother, Margaret Beauchamp (see Eleanor, fig.11). Under the rules of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (p.112), such distant blood relations were permitted to marry without a dispensation. It no longer amounted to consanguinity.

Fig. 12 can be misread by those who see “Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick” at the top with Lady Eleanor as the first cousin of Isobel and Anne. Of course, this Richard was not Richard III’s father-in-law the “Kingmaker”, who was Richard NEVILLE Earl of Warwick in jure uxoris, but his grandfather-in-law. The Beauchamps and Nevilles were unrelated until Richard Beauchamp’s younger daughter, Anne, married Richard Neville, after which her elder brother, Henry Duke of Warwick, died without issue.

Richard Neville’s marriage would not, in the eyes of the Church, make his wife’s niece into his blood niece, any more than Anne Neville would be the Duke of Gloucester’s sister because their siblings had married each other. Barnfield’s article in the 2007 Ricardian ( conclusively demonstrates this point. “Affinity does not beget affinity”.

Of course, if it did, then Jacquetta’s first marriage to the Duke of Bedford would make Elizabeth Woodville an effective great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, thus Edward IV’s undispensed second cousin. So, whether you understand Barnfield’s point or not, the second “marriage” is scotched.

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