Today in 1367, Henry IV was born:
Certain ‘books’ (ahem) often go on about Richard III’s supposed unpopularity and describe his brother Edward IV in glowing terms, putting him forth as a universally loved and admired monarch. (Even worse are those writers who make the brave, ruthless, warrior-King Edward into some kind of hapless old duffer, totally cowed and pushed about by his little brother, and seemingly hardly aware of his supposedly ‘evil machinations.’)
However, I came across this reference to someone from 1461 who was DEFINITELY not best pleased at the crowning of the handsome young Edward. A certain London notary got in hot water with the authorities for saying in public, ‘twutte and tourde for hym! I [would rather see] the hunting of a duck as him’ [KB 145/7/1]’
It is an extraodinary statement, not only because he was insulting a new King who had just won a very bloody battle indeed, but for his liberal usage of the profanities ‘twutte’ and ‘tourde’. Other than the spellings, how very modern his outrage (and bad language) seems!
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.
Here is a picture you may well have seen.
It shows, from Carry On Henry, Kenneth Williams as Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal to Henry VIII and briefly Earl of Essex.
In fact, Cromwell’s sister married one Thomas (or Morgan) Williams, although their descendants took the Cromwell surname.
On the right is Mary I, the penultimate “Tudor” monarch. Her brief reign was a reaction to the Reformations of her father and brother, reintroducing the Catholicism that prevailed until twenty years earlier but she died without issue and her religious policy was reversed by her half-sister.
On the left is the Roman Emperor known as “Julian the Apostate”, the last of the Constantian dynasty to hold that title. Succeeding his cousin Constantius II in 361, he sought to restore Rome’s pagan gods that had prevailed until the 312 conversion of his uncle Constantine I, but died in battle within two years and his successors restored Christianity.
A while back, Sunday, December 3rd, 2017, to be exact, I was looking through The New York Times Book Review section when I came across playwright Alan Bennett’s new book called “Keeping On Keeping On.” It was a mildly interesting review of his diary (ODD SPOILER ALERT: he once shared the same doctor as Sylvia Plath) until I got to this: “He’s so upset at what the Richard III Society has done to an old church that he rips down their banner and ‘would have burned it, had I had a match.'” Brow knitted, I wondered: what have those wild-eyed, tweedy academic types been up to this time??
Well, a brief Google search provided a hint in yet another book review, this time from the London Review of Books. In published excerpts from 2014, Bennett dismisses the significance of finding Richard the Third’s remains although admitting that the reconstructed head looks astonishingly like his famed portrait. Comparing Ricardians to those who believe Edward DeVere was a genius while William Shakespeare nothing more than the dim-bulb son of a rural glove-maker, he goes on to say this:
“Just east of Leeds and not far from Towton and its bloody battlefield is Lead Church, a medieval cell of a chapel which possibly served as a refuge or a dressing station after the battle in 1461. I have known the chapel since I was a boy when I used to go out there on my bike. It stands in the middle of a field, the grass grazed by sheep right up to the south door and has latterly been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It was untouched as late as 2000 when it figured in an article I wrote for The World of Interiors. However, calling there a few years ago we found that the grass outside the south door had been replaced or supplemented by a patio not even in York stone but in some fake composition. Inside, draped in front of the altar was a gaudy banner advertising the Richard III Society. This I rolled up and had I had the means would have destroyed. I wrote to the CCT, who generally do a decent job but was told the patio had been there for many years. It hadn’t and I suspect the culprits were the Richard III Society, who see the church as a Yorkist site…”
According to Mr. Bennett, not only have Ricardians managed to rehabilitate the name of the last Yorkist king but apparently have gone into the concrete, paving and masonry business! Of course, he offers no proof that the Society had anything to do with building a bad-taste deck on the back of a medieval church but when it comes to the world of denialists, I suppose any insult will do.* Luckily for them, while we Ricardian hard hats may be expert at mixing concrete along with our metaphors, we no longer prepare “Chicago overcoats” or cement shoes for those who have differing opinions…
*The website of St. Mary Lead reports only that it received a grant from The Richard the Third Society for renovations. It says nothing about the Society directing or instructing or approving the work.
This fascinating book follows the life and career of the medieval King Edward IV’s personal doctor, brings to life so much of the era and in particular explains the medical knowledge, practices and advances of the times.
Many commonly believed myths and mistakes regarding historical events and characters are covered and smoothed over with clarity and expertise.. There are also now many confusions regarding the medical understanding during this period, and certainly some ludicrous and strange habits did exist back then- but here we have an author with his own expertise who can shine an insightful light on the developing situation and the knowledge of the more advanced doctors and surgeons of the late medieval..
Extremely well written, we are taken into the minds of many of the prominent figures of history, and both Hobbys and King Edward IV really spring to life. Richard of Gloucester/ Richard III is beautifully portrayed. Immensely believable on all levels, this is a delightful read, thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly original in its outlook.
Humorous, and clever I believe it is a book which deserves to receive more notice than it has yet gained, and I strongly recommend it to others who are interested in the late medieval period in England.