There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.
The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.
Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.
In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.
Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.
For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.
For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.
The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?
Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.
Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.
Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.
Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?
There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).
It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.
The House of York always had a strong connection with Ireland. Richard Duke of York and his family lived there from a while, sometimes at the imposing Trim Castle (beloved of movie makers from Excalibur to Braveheart) and sometimes at Dublin Castle where George of Clarence was born. Later, after the battle of Ludford Bridge, the Duke fled to Ireland with his second son, Edmund, while the elder, Edward, hurried to Calais with the Earl of Warwick.
When Edward IV came to the throne, he kept up the connection, and established a mint at Waterford in Reginald’s Tower. Richard III also wanted to strengthen ties with Ireland, sending a letter to Thomas Barrett, Bishop of Annaghdown, with instructions as to what sentiments the Bishop must impart in a planned meeting with James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Desmond. In his letter to the Bishop, Richard commended the actions of Desmond’s father in assisting the Duke of York, saying he felt ‘inward compassion’ for the fate of the elder Desmond, who had been executed ‘by certain persons having the rule and governence there’.
The Irish remained favourable to the Yorkist cause even after Bosworth Field, with the uprisings connected with Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck both having connections to Ireland. Many of the soldiers who fought and died at Stoke Field were Irish.
Ireland still retains some ceremonial items given to the town of Waterford by Edward IV, including a sword and maces. These, along with a charter regarding the mint, can still be viewed in the ‘Medieval Treasures Museum’ in Waterford.
(I feel there could be a trip to the Emerald Isle on the cards sometime soon!)
He lost his head at Pontefract so what was he doing on sale in Colchester?
This Kathryn Warner post gives a lot of detail about Thomas Earl of Lancaster’s life, rebellion and execution six days after the Battle of Boroughbridge. Here we explained the circumstances in which John Ashdown-Hill is seeking his remains, to solve the York/ Beaufort Y-chromosome mystery.
Incidentally, the other Thomas of Lancaster you may encounter in a search engine was Henry V’s brother and Duke of Clarence but died at the siege of Bauge, a few months before his King and exactly 99 years after his namesake.
7 books 60 hours + of TV 1 year of history Warning: Massive spoilers!!! Game of Thrones is perhaps the most epic novel and TV series ever created. George RR Martin has woven a world Tolkien would have been proud of, managing to be filled with fantasy, but just recognisable enough to pull us in, to […]
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck (RWS) is arguably the most famous of 20th-century Tarot decks. For decades, I’ve been using the RWS as an aid to developing fictional characters. Only recently did I notice the Death card in the Major Arcana features a skeletal knight carrying a banner on which is imprinted the White Rose of the House of York. As far as I can tell, the image of the Yorkist Rose does not appear on any Tarot deck – medieval or modern – preceding the RWS.
Who Designed the RWS?
Arthur Edward Waite (2 October 1857 – 19 May 1942), commonly known as A. E. Waite, was an American-born British poet and scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on Masonic, occult and esoteric matters. Coincidentally or not, he shared the same day of birth as Richard III. Waite was a member of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, along with such Victorian notables as Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats, and Constance Wilde (wife of Oscar Wilde). Waite co-created the deck with illustrator Pamela Coleman Smith.
Pamela Coleman Smith (16 February 1878 – 18 September 1951) was an English-American artist, illustrator, and writer. Among her first projects were The Illustrated Verses of William Butler Yeats and a book on the actress Ellen Terry, written by Bram Stoker. Yeats introduced Smith to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waite was already a member, and Smith met him in 1901 when she joined the Order.
The Golden Dawn splintered in the early 20th century due to a number of its members having…let’s call them personality conflicts. At that time, Smith and Waite both moved to the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn (aka The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn). In 1909, Waite commissioned Smith to produce a Tarot deck meant to appeal to the world of art.
Regarding who designed what for the deck:
Waite is often cited as the designer of the Waite-Smith Tarot, but it would be more accurate to consider him as half of a design team, with responsibility for the major concept, the structure of individual cards, and the overall symbolic system. Because Waite was not an artist himself, he commissioned the talented and intuitive Smith to create the actual deck.[i]
It is likely that Smith worked from Waite’s written and verbal instructions rather than from sketches; that is, from detailed descriptions of the desired designs. This is how illustrators often work, and as a commercial illustrator, Smith would probably have been comfortable with such a working process. It appears that Waite provided detailed instructions mainly or exclusively for the Major Arcana.[ii]
The deck was called Tarot Cards when it was first published in December 1909 by William Rider & Son of London. It’s been said that Waite and Smith borrowed heavily from the Tarot of Marseilles, but the RWS’s Death card is very different from the Death card in the Tarot of Marseilles.
It’s more likely that Waite and Smith took much of their inspiration from the Sola-Busca Tarot deck, which originated in Northern Italy around 1491. The Sola-Busca was displayed to the public shortly after it was acquired by the British Museum in 1907. This deck was the first and only fully illustrated Tarot deck available before the RWS was published, but the Death card of the Sola-Busca deck also bears no resemblance to the Death card in the RWS deck.
After examining these and other examples of Death cards in old Tarot decks, I can only conclude that A.E. Waite was the first to deliberately include the White Rose of the House of York in the Death card.
What Did Waite and/or Coleman Meeeeeean by Featuring the White Rose of York in a Tarot Deck?
What follows is only the smallest of attempts to begin unraveling Waite’s possible intent(s) when he chose to have Death carry a banner featuring the White Rose of York. Every Tarot deck overflows with symbolic meaning, and the RWS is no different. The problem with and the joy of all symbols is that their meaning is always subjective: what a White Rose of York means to me likely isn’t what it means to you, and every meaning is valid to the person holding it.
A.E. Waite included illustrations from the RWS deck in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which was meant to explain the deck, but Tarot and Golden Dawn scholars know that his summaries are deliberately incomplete.[iii] In addition to this, the history and meaning of the Tarot in general are hidden in the mists of medieval time, so you can spend months, if not years, researching both and make very little headway. Along the way, you discover there are Tarot references not only in medieval grimoires and royal courts, but far beyond – for example, in Marlowe and Shakespeare and Yeats. In the end, you come to realize that a Tarot deck is a tool meant to put the reader of a card spread in touch with his or her subconscious, so in the end the objects in the cards symbolize whatever they mean to the reader.
This is a long way of saying that if someone wants to do in-depth research as to why the White Rose of the House of York was chosen by Waite, he or she is going to have to set aside what that particular rose symbolizes for them. In order to discern what it might have meant to Waite, the researcher will need a firm knowledge of:
A better scholar than I regarding Alle Thinges Tarot and Yorkist is going to have to follow up on this…if they want to, and they have the time. All I can offer are the tiniest of tidbits and possibilities.
What Did Waite Say?
This is all Waite wrote about the RWS Death card in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot:
End, mortality, destruction, corruption also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects.
Divinatory Meanings – Reversed
Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.
The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.
There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card [i.e., The Hanged Man] is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.
[Card number] 13. Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.[iv]
Waite doesn’t point out that the rose is the White Rose of the House of York. Instead, he calls it a “Mystic Rose which signifies life.” Remember that Mystic Rose, we’ll be returning to it.
Waite does state that his Death card is “a card of the death of kings,” and the card does feature the body of a king and his upside-down crown laying behind the left hoof of Death’s warhorse. As far as I can discern after examining other medieval and modern Death cards, Waite’s design is the only one illustrating/symbolizing “the death of kings.” All the other Death cards – unless the deck is based on Waite’s design – feature a variation on the classic medieval image of skeletal Death on foot and scything a field (as in the Marseilles example above), or on horseback a la archetypal Death as a Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Whether Waite had the death of King Richard III specifically in mind when he designed his Death card is anyone’s guess. Still, a strong argument might be made that, given the fallen king on the ground whose crown has tumbled from his head, and the presentation of a medieval knight on a warhorse (however skeletal the knight may be), Waite may have had in mind the last English king to die in battle.
I’ve a number of other books analyzing the Tarot, and 95% of them use RWS illustrations to accompany their text. None of the authors comment on Death’s rose being the White Rose of the House York, so I’m left to ask: Why in the world does Waite have his Death waving a banner prominently featuring what’s obviously the White Rose of York, and why did he call it a ‘Mystic Rose’?
What the heck is a Mystic Rose?
Mystic Rose #1
Sometimes what someone doesn’t say speaks loudest of all, so it may be important to remember all Waite says about the Yorkist Rose in his Death card is that it is a “Mystic Rose.”
Throughout history, the rose has been a symbol of love, purity, virginity, sexuality, fertility, regeneration…and secrets. The White Rose of the House of York is white because, in the liturgical symbolism of the medieval Church, white symbolizes light, innocence, purity, joy, and glory.
Waite’s mother converted to Catholicism and took her children with her. To the medieval and modern Catholic church, the “Mystic Rose” is Mary, the mother of Christ. Among her many titles are the “Mystical Rose of Heaven” and the “Rosa Mystica,” but it doesn’t follow that, to Waite (who ended up a devout Rosicrucian), the White Rose of the House of York symbolized Mary. It does follow that, to Waite, a rose symbolized Mary, for he wrote about the Rose and the Cross in Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross:
“Thus the Rose is a symbol of Mary because of her motherhood, but in relation to her it belongs to divine things, even as she herself stands on the threshold of Deity, being Spouse of the Divine Spirit and bearer of the Divine word made flesh. So also is the Rose of Shekinah, a Divine Rose, as she whom it typifies is Divine Mother of souls.”[v]
The rose in general – not just a white rose – has also been a symbol for silence and secrecy in many secret societies. An ancient custom was to hang a rose over a council table to indicate that everything spoken during the meeting was to remain secret. This custom may have derived from an ancient Egyptian image of Horus, the divine son of Isis, sitting inside a rose and holding a finger to his lips, admonishing silence when it came to the Egyptian mysteries.
Horus was called Harpocrates by the ancient Greeks, and Harpocrates was the Greek god of silence. In Greek myth, Eros presents a rose to him. This is where the term “sub rosa” comes from, meaning “under the rose” or “the keeping of a secret.” As an aside, the rose is also the national flower of England…and Waite’s mother was English.
George Knowles writes:
“After his sister’s death in 1874, Waite lost interest in the Roman Catholic Church, but retained a great love for its ritual ceremony.
“Waite had formulated the theory that all esoteric practices and traditions, whether Alchemy, Hebrew Kabbalah, Legends of the Holy Grail, Rosicrucianism, Christian Mysticism or Freemasonry, were secret paths to a direct experience of God. He was convinced that the symbolism in each of these traditions had a common root and a common end, and that their correct interpretation would lead to a revelation of concealed ways to spiritual illumination.”[vi]
However interesting this esoteric labyrinth might be, the tangled path doesn’t lead us any closer to explaining why the White Rose of the House of York specifically was included on the Death card of the RWS Tarot deck.
Mystic Rose #2 and #3
Both the Yorkists and Waite would both have been familiar with Dante (1265–1321). The Italian poet depicted Paradise as a White Rose or Mystic Rose in which God was at the center with the saints surrounding Him. In his Divine Comedy, Dante also described Mary as the mystic rose: “Behold the rose, where in the divine word was made incarnate.”
Gustav Dore illustrated Dante’s Mystic Rose in 1868. Dore’s illustration has more in common with the mathematician’s Mystic Rose, which is defined as, “A beautiful image created by joining together points that are equally spaced around a circle.” Any child who has played with a Spirograph knows what that’s all about, and an online animation lets you change the number of points around a circle to construct your own Mystic Rose. (The Mystic Rose poster illustrated below is available from nrich.maths.org as a PDF.)
My Conclusion is Sub Rosa
I know that a fitting conclusion to this article would be a pronouncement along the lines of:
“It’s obvious the Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck features a deliberate depiction of King Richard III as both corpse and Death. A.E. Waite and his illustrator, Pamela Coleman Smith, lays before us a magnificent archetypal image of the skeletal king encased in black armor, riding a white charger, and carrying a black banner on which is emblazoned the White Rose of the House of York.
The white charger is obviously White Surrey, which symbolizes change, for the dead king’s power in our modern world has come to him through the mightiest of all changes – death.
“Richard’s skull peering at us from his helm symbolizes permanence as well as impermanence. Through the triumphant return of the dead king, Waite succeeds in reminding us of the impermanence of life, yet Richard’s soul (symbolized by his skull, which does not dissolve) remains visible to those of us still loyal to him and worthy enough to sense it.
“The inclusion of the White Rose of York obviously conveys the pure, white rose of Richard’s spirit – he has no body but thrives with life-force as we remember him. The ten petals of the White Rose of York indicate completion, for the House of York did not fall on Bosworth’s battlefield, rather it was completed and raised to a higher, mystical level.
“This card bears even more meaning now that Richard III’s remains have been found and reinterred….”
I could go on in this vein, but you get my drift.
I don’t know why A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith included the White Rose of the House of York in their Death card. I do know it’s up front and center, and the eye is drawn there first. Knowing Waite and his esoteric leanings, his inclusion of the White Rose of York on a black banner means something. I just don’t know what it is.
Sub rosa…under the rose…to keep a secret. I’m led to think of the debatable reasons why Richard chose a boar as his personal emblem, alongside the precise symbolism inherent in medieval heraldry and stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, and other medieval art. Medievals were attached to their symbols in ways we can’t completely understand at this distance. So are modern-day mystical scholars.
In the end, I must leave it to others to ferret out the myriad symbols behind Death’s banner emblazoned with the White Rose of the House of York. In the meantime, what does it mean? Anything you want it to mean.
(Reblogged from Merlyn MacLeod)
[i] Waite, Arthur Edward. Shadow of Life and Thought. Kessinger Publishing, page 184.
[v] Waite, A.E., Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, Kessinger Publishing, 2010, page 92.
[vi] http://www.controverscial.com/Arthur%20Edward%20Waite.htm (sic) George Knowles doesn’t cite his source, but I suspect it’s A.E. Waite’s autobiography, Shadows of Life and Thought (1938).
The crown of England, among others, has often been claimed in battle or by other forceful means. However, to exercise such a claim, it is necessary to persuade a challenger’s military followers that he has a dynastic claim of sorts, even when this is greatly exaggerated or totally spurious.
Thus William I, the Conqueror or Bastard, was the great-nephew of Emma of Normandy, wife of two earlier English kings ( Ethelred II and Cnut) and there was arguably no suitable adult male from the House of Wessex. Stephen (of Blois) was Henry I’s cousin when the latter had died without a legitimate male heir. Henry IV wrested the crown from Richard II when the latter was childless with a pre-pubescent second wife, whilst the Mortimer who was Richard’s heir had died the previous year allowing his young son to be leapfrogged. Edward IV was the senior Mortimer descendant and thus Richard II’s heir, whilst Henry VII’s claim is far more difficult. Jane (Grey), supported by her father and father-in-law, was nominated in Edward VI’s will, even though Henry VIII’s legislation trumped this, preferring Mary I. William III was both nephew and son-in-law to James VII/II before he caused the latter to lose his nerve completely and flee.
Two of these cases deserve further scrutiny. At his 1413 death, Henry IV must have thought he had accomplished his mission. He left four healthy sons and he could reasonably have expected them to have families of their own but two of these lines failed completely, a third possibly had two children legitimised and the fourth left a baby to reign as Henry VI. The mental instability and total unsuitability of the latter to his royal duties would not have been a problem in a larger legitimate family but it was. By the time that he and his son died in 1471, the House of Lancaster proper (descended from Blanche, Duchess in suo jure and Henry IV’s mother) was extinct save for the mainly foreign offspring of its heiresses.
So, in the absence of any true Lancastrian heirs in England, the claim somehow devolved upon the great-grandson of the first Earl of Somerset, conventionially recorded as Henry IV’s half-brother, who was also the grandson of Henry V’s widow. The future Henry VII’s royal descent has been open to question on two counts recently. It was certainly inferior to that of the House of (Mortimer) York and to the Portuguese royal house of the time. There is no doubt, however, that he, his father and uncle were Lancastrian-inclined in a political sense whatever their lineage and that this thin or non-existent lineage was spun continually, representing him as a son of Henry VI at one stage.
Ironically, the 13th Earl of Oxford, the commander to whom Henry owes his victory, was of unquestionable royal ancestry – through Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I.