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How and why the House of York laid claim to the throne….

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

Here is an article from English Historical Review, 1st June 1998, telling of how and why Richard, 3rd Duke of York, laid claim to the throne of England. The root cause was an entail to the will of Edward III, who was admittedly in his dotage at the time. The entail, which excluded a female line from ascending the throne, spoils that otherwise excellent king’s legacy as far as I’m concerned. But then, I’m a modern woman who doesn’t hold with the denying of rights simply because the ones being denied are the female of the species! Or the denial of anyone’s true and honest rights, come to that. True and honest being the operative words.

The mastermind behind this entail was Edward’s 3rd son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who sought to eliminate any claim from the descendants of his 2nd eldest brother, Lionel. Those descendants were, of course, through the female line, which line happened to be the one from whom Richard, 3rd Duke of York, was descended. Gaunt’s purpose was to see that his own line took precedence. It did in the end, but not in a way old Edward III could have foreseen, and not through the entail. Instead it took the form of Gaunt’s son and heir usurping and murdering his first cousin and rightful king, Richard II, heir of the great Black Prince. Gaunt’s son took the throne and became Henry IV, the first Lancastrian monarch.

John of Gaunt

So it seems that gallant Gaunt leaned on his dying father to achieve his own ambitious ends. But that’s the House of Lancaster for you! And it was Gaunt’s double-dealing chicanery that eventually led to Richard, 3rd Duke of York, claiming the throne that was his by right. And it all led to what we know as the Wars of the Roses.

However, there just might be some doubt about the entail’s existence. According to Penny Lawne’s biography of Joan of Kent: “…In preparation for his [Edward III’s] death he drew up his will, one of the witnesses being Sir Richard Stury, and in an entail specifically designated Richard (II) as his successor…” There is no mention of excluding any female line, but then, Lawne is very pro-Gaunt throughout, so I suppose the nitty-gritty of such an entail was better omitted. Unless, of course, all the entail ever really did was designate Richard of Bordeaux as the old king’s successor. In which case, where did the story of Gaunt’s pressure and interference come from? Ah, well, later in her book, Lawne lays the blame at the feet of Walsingham, who “held Gaunt in particular contempt, convinced he wanted the throne for himself, and repeated virulent gossip and rumours current about the duke…” Walsingham, it seems, even went so far as to portray Gaunt trying to persuade the Commons to discuss the succession, and was so intent upon removing opposition that he requested a law be passed to forbid a woman from inheriting the throne, “which would obviate the claim of Lionel’s daughter Philippa, who arguably held the most legitimate claim to the throne after the prince’s son”. So, this business of excluding females’ claims was due to Gaunt browbeating the Commons, not to Edward III’s entail?

Well, not being a fan of John of Gaunt, I am quite prepared to believe he put the screws on his dying father, in order to ensure the House of Lancaster becoming heir to Richard II’s throne, in the event of Richard childless demise. But I can also believe he’d go to work on Parliament. Gaunt was ruthless when it came to furthering his own family, and how better to achieve this than paving the path to the throne? Either way, he tried to see the succession go to the House of Lancaster.

Richard, 3rd Duke of York, quite rightly, did not think the House of Lancaster had any business wearing the crown. He was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and truly believed his (senior) line had precedence. I believe so too. Maybe it was through the female line, but it was perfectly legitimate, and until the demise of Edward III and that pesky entail (or Gaunt’s other forceful activities), there had not been a bar on women taking the throne. Yes, they had to stand back while their brothers took precedence, but if those brothers died, then they themselves had every right to be crowned. Lionel of Clarence only had one child, a daughter. His right passed to her, not to his conniving next brother, Gaunt.

Richard of York WAS the rightful king.

Now, of course, it has all been changed, and women can take precedence even if they have a younger brother(s). The line goes through age, not gender. And about time too!

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Who was the first bastard slip to grab hold of the crown of all England….?

simple-blue-question-mark-icon-9

Bearing in mind that I am  NOT a historian, here is a little teaser to pass the time. We all know the texts from the Bible about bastard slips not taking root, and the sins of the fathers being visited on subsequent generations. Right, so what happens if we apply that literally to the throne of England? Just how far back do we have to go to find the first illegitimate person to sit on the throne of all England?

Charlemagne_and_Pope_Adrian_I

Pope Adrian I and Charlemagne

In 786, Pope Adrian I announced that a king could not be begotten in adultery or incest, and if he wasn’t either of those but illegitimate anyway, he still couldn’t have the throne of any kingdom. Should this decree be my quest’s starting point? There were different kingdoms within England, but they were Christian, and if the Pope decreed, then he ought to have been abided by. Right?

Egbert of Wessex - Ruler of England

Egbert of Wessex – Ruler of England

The first king to be known as the Ruler of England was Egbert III of Wessex, 827-839, but the one to be truly the King of all England was, apparently, Aethelstan, August 924 – 27th October 939.

wessexaethelstan

Athelstan

Harold I - Harefoot

Harold I – Harefoot

There is an interesting timeline of our early kings at http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/KingsQueensofBritain/ and if I follow it, the first mention of an illegitimate king (after the all-important 786 date) is Harold I, 1035–1040, known as Harefoot. The English line of kings had been ousted by the Danes, led by Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn’s son Canute had succeeded him, and Harold Harefoot was Canute’s baseborn offspring.  

Tut, tut, Harold Harefoot. You broke the Bible’s rules, because on Canute’s death you sneaked the throne from behind the back of your legitimate half-brother, Harthacanute, who was abroad at the time. BUT—big but—Harthacanute took the throne back, had the by-then-dead Harold dug up, beheaded, and chopped into bits to be thrown in the Thames. There’s nothing like making absolutely sure someone ain’t gonna come back!

Harthacanute

Harthacanute

So, illegitimate Harold Harefoot was a mere blip. But he had been crowned king, which was one in the eye for Pope Adrian. We have to ignore the fact that coronation vows and anointing make a man a king regardless. We’re talking the Bible’s texts mentioned at the beginning of this article. And because we’re talking the Bible, if Harold I had sons, legitimately born or not, they could not have succeeded. So any line that might have descended from him would be illegitimate, to the whatever generation.

Next the throne zipped back to the English line. Harthacanute had been the Danish-line son of Canute by Emma of Normandy. Emma had been married before, to English-line Aethelred the Unready, by whom her eldest son was Edward. The Danes had pushed Edward aside, but now his half-brother Harthacanute declared him to be his heir.

Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy

Aethelred the Unready

Aethelred the Unready

Edward, who became known to posterity as  St Edward the Confessor, became king and was married, but died childless. Dang! Another crisis.

Edward the Confessor's death

Death of Edward the Confessor

After the Confessor, the throne went to someone who was elected by the Witan, Harold Godwinson, who was, of course, the King Harold who was defeated at Hastings in 1066.

Harold - Bayeux

Harold Godwinson

And who conquered him? Why, someone known as William the Conqueror, and also as William the Bastard! Oops! We have to stop right there, because the Bible says that anyone, anyone, who descended from William would be forbidden to ascend the throne.

William of Normandy

William of Normandy – the Bastard

Which brings me to the next question. Let’s imagine Hastings went the other way, and William escaped back to Normandy, or died in battle or was captured and executed. Who should have been king after Harold Godwinson? Well, he was famously connected with Edith Swan Neck, who was judged by the Church to be merely his mistress because they only married according to Danish law. So their six children were all barred. It was Edith Swan Neck who was said to have identified Harold’s mutilated body after Hastings, recognising it by a mark only she knew.

Edith Swan Nack identifies Harold after Hastings

Edith Swan Neck recognises Harold’s mutilated body by a mark only she knows.

But in January 1066 (presumably because he needed an undeniably legitimate heir) Harold had married another Edith, the widow of the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. In church this time. One wonders if Edith Swan Neck really was the only one who knew his body that intimately. Perhaps this second Edith had spotted the mark too! Anyway, by Edith II he had two sons, another Harold and Ulf, who might have been twins, given that their father died at Hastings in the September.

Both boys survived into adulthood, and in all likelihood sired offspring of their own. Mind you, the legitimacy of said offspring remains unknown. They too could have hooked up with unacceptable partners like Edith Swan Neck! Or become monks, been gay, or not interested in anything. It’s all annoyingly shrouded in mystery.

So, is it at this point that the true line of the Kings of England disappears into the mist?

You’ll no doubt be pleased to know I don’t intend to investigate further, but it does make me wonder just who might be on the throne now if those texts from the Bible had been followed to the letter. The history of England would have been so different as to be unrecognisable. No Plantagenets. No House of York! No House of Lancaster. And forget the Tudors. The who? Never ‘eard of ‘em. Also no Stuarts, Commonwealth, Hanoverians or Windsors…

Of course, my reasoning above is almost certainly dodgy, as I do not doubt someone out there knows and will say. But in the meantime, might there be a busy, diligent soul somewhere (someone who only dreams in Latin!) delving into ancient records and manuscripts, trying to trace the heirs of Harold and Ulf…? How interesting if that diligent person were to discover the real present-day King (or Queen) of England.

Hmm. Would anyone dare announce such a thing? After all, William the Bastard’s White Tower still stands, and those Tudor-garbed Beefeaters still rattle lots of ominously big keys.  All I know is that I’m certainly not the rightful Queen of England – so don’t come knocking on my door in the middle of the night to haul me off to Tower Green.Imperial-State-Crown

 

The succession to Richard II

There was no ‘constitutional’ arrangement in place in the 14thcentury. For many years, father had been succeeded by son, and there had been no need to set out any arrangements for any other contingency.

Late in Edward III’s reign, the king, who was losing his faculties and very much under the influence of Gaunt, produced a document which purported to settle the crown on Gaunt in the event of Richard II’s death. Richard was, of course, only a boy at the time. The arrangement was not binding on Richard II, or on Parliament, and it seems to have been forgotten. Surprisingly, Henry IV did not use it as one of the supports of his claim.

Of course, everyone expected Richard to have a son, and it was only when it became clear he wasn’t going to have one – at least by Anne of Bohemia – that it became an issue. Richard appears to have nominated Roger Mortimer, Earl of March as his heir and this is stated as outright fact by the Westminster Chronicler, writing at a time when all these people were alive. Mortimer was the ‘right heir’ by the standards we use today, but his claim came through his mother, who was Gaunt’s niece.

The snag was that Gaunt was incredibly powerful. He had vast lands, a whole army of retainers – originally recruited, in many cases, to help him conquer Castile, and an almost unlimited amount of cash. He made Warwick the Kingmaker look like a country squire.

Hence the politics of the 1390s began to get interesting. Had Richard died in (say) 1395, there might well have been a civil war.

Then several things happened in quick succession. Richard, to secure peace with France, married an eight year old girl, meaning that there was no hope of a direct heir for 7-8 years at best. Bolingbroke, Gaunt’s heir, was banished. March died in Ireland, leaving a young son to succeed him. Gaunt died. Richard appears to have nominated Edmund of Langley his heir, and after him Edward of York ‘the King’s brother’ – later 2nd Duke of York. Richard toddled off to Ireland, leaving Langley in charge of the shop. Bolingbroke invades England – collapse of stout party.

Only two earls (Northumberland and Westmorland) backed Bolingbroke, but the vast army of Lancastrian annuitants, retainers and general hangers-on crushed all organised resistance. After some acts of terror that make Richard of Gloucester seem perfectly moderate by comparison, Henry captured Richard and his remaining supporters. In the circumstances it was inconceivable that anyone but Henry would be chosen by the Parliament as the new King. His armed supporters outside, and the backing of the majority of the Londoners made sure of that; his actual claim though was based on inheritance, and although Ian Mortimer has attempted to spin it otherwise it appears he relied mainly on his descent through his mother from Henry III. (Because in Henry’s fantasy world, Edmund ‘Crouchback’ was older than Edward I.) In other words Henry himself claimed through the female line! At no point (bewilderingly) did he claim to be the heir male of Richard II. Though on the face of it, he was just that, and many peerages were inherited on heir-male terms, so it would have been a perfectly reasonable argument.

He then spent the next eight years or so fighting an intermittent civil war against the assorted people who thought his claim was invalid. Some believed (or pretended to believe) that Richard II was still alive. The rest were for Mortimer.

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