1453: The Lancastrian Heir

NPG D23753; Edward, Prince of Wales by Sylvester Harding, published by  E. & S. Harding

Picking up where we left off on Tuesday, let’s move into 1453 and the events leading into the first half of the “Wars of the Roses.” For a broader analysis of this period, you can read an earlier piece on Henry VI’s mental health and the struggle for the regency here.


On January 5, Edmund and Jasper Tudor are formally invested as the earls of Richmond and Pembroke. On the 20th, they attend Parliament for the first time. Rumors swirl through court that Henry VI means to name them Edmund his heir.

Over in France, John Talbot is sweeping through Bordeaux, capturing town after town.


Marguerite of Anjou’s mother, Isabelle of Lorraine, dies. The Queen wears dark blue in  mourning for her.


Parliament meets at Reading and it’s heavily concentrated with loyal royalists – none of the Duke of York’s allies are present. The House of Commons formally asks Henry to acknowledge his Tudor half-brothers as his legitimate, full brothers, and Henry agrees. Marguerite, meanwhile, is awarded more dower land.

In the midst of this, Talbot writes and requests more money to keep his momentum in Bordeaux going. Parliament hesitates to provide him with the necessary supplies, a response with which he is disgusted.

On March 24, Lady Margaret Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset’s niece, is made a ward of Edmund Tudor. Her marriage to John de la Pole, son of the late Duke of Suffolk, has been dissolved. It seems clear that Henry’s plan is for Edmund to marry Margaret and access her enormous Beaufort/Beauchamp inheritance.


Marguerite learns that finally, after eight years of marriage, she is pregnant. She informs Richard Tunstall, who then delivers the news to an overjoyed Henry. In response, Henry awards the man a 40-mark annuity. He then commissions a demi-cent with his jeweler to give Marguerite.


Taking advantage of Talbot’s lack of funds, Charles VII deploys the French army to make up the lost ground. By June, his forces are as far as Castillon, undoing all of Talbot’s recent success.


Hearing a message that the French army is finally retreating, Talbot leads his men on a chase. It was a trap, and the French make an abrupt about-face to confront the English forces. They are pushed back to River Dordogne and Talbot is killed with a battle-axe. His remaining men surrender.

When news of this fiasco reaches England, Marguerite hurriedly prompts Parliament to provide the funding for fresh men. They offer up the financing for 20,000 archers, but no one enlists. England has officially lost its appetite for war in France.


Court moves to Clarendon, one of Henry’s hunting lodges. At dinner on the night of the 15th, Henry complains of being tired and retires early from the table. By the next morning, he has lost his senses, unable to move, talk or properly control his appendages.

Terrified with what was happening with Henry, Marguerite and his closest councilors conspire to keep the King’s state a secret. She and Somerset secretly move him back to London and lodge him within Westminster. They hope that he will be well in time for October, when Parliament will re-open and Marguerite is due to give birth.


Marguerite retreats into her birthing chamber and on the 13th, gives birth to a son. He is named Edward after Edward the Confessor, Henry’s favorite saint. News of the birth spreads through England the following day and a Te Deum is sung. The Prince is baptized within Westminster Abbey with Somerset, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham.

On the 19th, Charles VII enters Bordeaux victorious – save Calais, the last English-held territories in France have fallen. The French King benevolently allows the English garrison to sail home. The influx of citizens living abroad and soldiers are not provided with financial support or payment from Parliament.

Five days after the fall of Bordeaux, Somerset summons Parliament in Marguerite’s name, but York isn’t invited. By now, news of Henry’s state is known by court and government and the debate will centered around the necessity of a regency. Unfortunately for the Lancastrians, Marguerite is still in her birthing chamber, and so excluding York is considered a safety precaution – her party is terrified he will use this a means to seize control.

Somerset is roundly criticized for the move, particularly by John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. He is forced, then, to extend an invitation to York.


On November 18, Marguerite is churched in Westminster Abbey, surrounded by the leading women of the land. Among them are the Duchesses of York, Bedford (Elizabeth Woodville’s mother), Norfolk, Somerset, Exeter (York’s daughter) and Suffolk, eight countesses, including the Countess of Warwick, and seven baronesses.

Meanwhile, in Parliament, the lords argue over whether the infant Prince can be named Henry’s heir since he has yet to formally acknowledge him as his son – obviously, he can’t.

Almost immediately, rumors begin swirling that Edward is not in fact Henry’s son, but rather the illegitimate love child of Marguerite and any number of Lancastrian men, the favored contender being Somerset. It’s an issue we’ve delved into more deeply here.

And with that, we’ll resume with 1454 shortly.

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