Edward IV was not the only British late mediaeval king to play fast and loose with canon law. The other case dates from a century and a quarter before 8 June 1461 and had consequences for that king’s heirs; in particular his grandson:
Today in 1337, a first son, John, was born to Sir Robert Stewart, the Paisley-born High Steward of Scotland, and Elizabeth Mure at Scone. Sir Robert was heir presumptive to his uncle, David II, but David was eight years younger and widely expected to have children of his own. He was, indeed, to marry twice but failed to leave any heirs – although being imprisoned in the Tower for eleven years after the 1346 battle of Neville’s Cross didn’t help much, Sir Robert couldn’t have predicted this in 1336, when he undertook a marriage of sorts to Elizabeth Mure.
In the aftermath of Neville’s Cross, as Guardian of the Realm to his absent uncle, Sir Robert and Elizabeth sought to regularise their position under canon law through a dispensation and married properly in 1349. By this time, many of their four sons and six daughters had already been born and they were, arguably, legitimised by the marriage, which ended six years later when Elizabeth, now formally Lady Stewart, died. Sir Robert swiftly married Euphemia Ross, by whom he had two more sons and two daughters and is reckoned to have had eight illegitimate children as well. Jean Stewart, a daughter from his first marriage, married Sir John Lyon of Glamis, from whom the late Queen Mother was descended.
Shortly after this second marriage, David II was ransomed under the Treaty of Berwick, which was a Scottish town until Richard of Gloucester’s 1482 invasion. Joan “of the Tower”, his first wife and Edward III’s sister, died in 1362 and David married Margaret Drummond in 1364, whom he “divorced” in 1370 although this was reversed by the Pope. Although they had been on bad terms, David II died in 1371 and Sir Robert succeeded him as Robert II, to reign for nineteen years.
John, the eldest of his fourteen children, was created Earl of Carrick and was influential during his father’s reign and succeeded him as Robert III in 1390, to be crowned on his birthday. His reign was largely dominated by his brothers, Robert Duke of Albany and Alexander Earl of Buchan. His elder son, David Duke of Rothesay, died in 1402 in Albany’s custody at Falkland Palace. In 1406 he sent his younger son, James, to France only for English pirates to capture him.
Robert III died when he heard this and the new prisoner in the Tower succeeded as James I. He was held there for about seventeen years and returned with Joan “Beaufort”, Henry V’s apparent cousin, as his queen. Albany’s son and successor, Murdoch, two of his sons and his father-in-law were executed for delaying James’ release and the Lancastrian policy of religious persecution was adopted.
From 1436, a plan to depose or kill James was formulated and it involved Walter, Earl of Atholl and Caithness, a septuagenarian son of Robert II’s Ross marriage. It seems highly likely that he was motivated by a disbelief in the validity of the Mure marriage and thus the legitimacy of the offspring of it. The “Avignon” conspirators killed James I at the Blackfriars in Perth during February 1436/7 but his son was crowned and the House of Stewart survived. The surviving plotters, including Atholl, were tortured and executed.
So were John of Carrick, his siblings and descendants legitimate? It seems never to have been determined by the Church except through the 1347 dispensation. Carrick’s line has ruled Scotland ever since and England from 1603, except for the interregnum whilst Henry VII, a scion of bastardy himself, married his daughter Margaret to the senior Mure-Stewart: James IV.
“The kings of France and Scotland, bishops William of St. Andrews, William of Glasgow, William of Aberdeen, Richard of Dunkeld, Martin of Argyle, Adam of Brechin, and Maurice of Dunblane. Signification that although Elizabeth Mor and Isabella Boutellier, noble damsels of the diocese of Glasgow, are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred, Robert Steward of Scotland, lord of Stragrifis, in the diocese of Glasgow, the king’s nephew, carnally knew first Isabella, and afterwards, in ignorance of their kindred, Elizabeth, who was herself related to Robert in the fourth degree of kindred, living with her for some time and having many children of both sexes by her; the above king and bishops therefore pray the pope that for the sake of the said offspring, who are fair to behold (aspectibus gratiose), to grant a dispensation to Robert and Elizabeth to intermarry, and to declare their offspring legitimate.
To be granted by the diocesan, at whose discretion one or more chapelries are to be founded by Robert.
Avignon, 10 Kal. Dec. 1347“