A Highly Convenient Match: Thomas of Clarence & Margaret Holland

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On March 16, 1410, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset passed away at the Hospital of St Katherine’s near the Tower of London. Half-brother to King Henry IV, he was the eldest son born from the union of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his third wife, Katherine Swynford. He left behind a widow, Margaret Holland, Countess of Somerset, and six children who spanned the ages (roughly) of nine to infancy. His parents already deceased, the protection of John’s heirs and the success of the Beaufort name fell to his two younger brothers, Henry and Thomas Beaufort, who had already forged successful careers in the Church and military, respectively, and were deeply enmeshed in the King’s government.

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The Original Beaufort Children

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Depending on how well you know your English history, the name “Beaufort” is probably familiar to you. The most famous figure within that family was Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), best-known as the mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII. In other words, she was the true matriarch of the House of Tudor. A generation before and alongside her, the Beauforts were known as loyal supporters to the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses, their patriarchs rising to the rank of “Duke of Somerset.”

This grandeur – or rather, the possibility of accessing this level of status – is thanks to four siblings born in the second half of the 14th century. Neither of their parents shared their surname – it was in fact chosen – and they were born on the wrong side of the blanket, as they say. Their mix of illegitimacy and royal blood positioned them for a strange half-life, one in which they were allowed close to the crown itself, but never held it. That they ended up not only legitimized but intertwined with their royal relations speaks to both the grace of their parents and their own abilities, which were remarkable.

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Margaret Beaufort & Her Four Husbands

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Margaret Beaufort is arguably the great winner of the Wars of the Roses. Certainly she is one of the few to have lived through the war in its entirety and, as such, became the matriarch of the House of the Tudor. Mother to Henry VII, she is an ancestor to every English/British monarch since Henry VIII (as well as Scotland’s James V and Mary Stuart). But though she existed in the same world as Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, she is rarely seen as exciting as them – she never wore a crown and by the time she held substantial power, she was a woman in 50s. Instead, she is usually depicted as the mother-in-law from hell, a meddler and a jarring mix of pious and power-hungry.

To some, she is even a contender as the true killer of the Princes of the Tower.

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When Marguerite of Anjou Arrived in England

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Marguerite of Anjou is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting queen consorts in England’s history. Her marriage, however, started as a glorified insurance policy for her uncle, Charles VII, and resulted in one of the most controversial and dramatic public careers a woman in 15th century Europe ever held. We’ve covered Marguerite on this site a few times, from rumors of her infidelity to her political maneuvers when her husband “went mad” to her mysterious childhood prior to joining French court as a teenager, to name but a few. Today we’re going to get into how it was that she became Henry VI’s wife and the very direct way in which that led to the later civil war that toppled them from their thrones.

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The Most Successful Mistress: Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

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It’s about time we got to Katherine Swynford given the number of times I’ve referenced her and the Beauforts in other posts. I deem her the most successful royal mistress for three reasons: 1) the longevity of her relationship with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, 2) the fact that said relationship ended in marriage and 3) all monarchs since Henry VII have been descended from her. That’s a pretty good career for a woman who was certainly never queen and, quite frankly, had little business being a duchess in the opinion of many.

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Henry IV’s First Wife, Mary de Bohun

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Mary de Bohun was the wife of one king and the mother of another, but she never knew it. Her premature death in her mid-20s meant she missed the usurpation of 1399 that brought the House of Lancaster to the throne, but even so her short life was a notable one, which illustrated well the trials and tribulations of young heiresses in the 14th century.

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The Loss of Blanche of England

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Blanche, her husband and her husband’s second wife

Henry IV’s daughters are completely overshadowed by their brothers and that’s mostly fair, for the Lancastrian men played a much more important role in shaping England’s trajectory. We have, however, covered Henry’s youngest daughter, Philippa, and the important role that she played in Scandinavia as the queen consort of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Today, we’re going to focus on the elder of the two, Blanche, who, like her brother, Thomas, also happened to be her father’s favorite.

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Did Henry IV Repent?

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I think it’s safe to say that March became the month of Henry IV here. After covering the usurpation of 1399 and its implications in the Wars of the Roses compared to Edward III’s 1376 entail, today we’re going to skip forward to 1413, the year Henry IV died. The moment was captured most famously by William Shakespeare when young Prince Hal picks up his father’s crown before he’s dead, but the real King’s illness in his last years, his increasing isolation and hibernation and his tumultuous relationships with his sons – particularly the future Henry V – has long led to speculation that Henry grew to regret his actions against Richard II.

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The Dynastic Dispute

Payne, Henry Arthur, 1868-1940; Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens

Two days ago, we covered the usurpation of 1399 and the events leading up to it. Today, we’re going to examine the issue raised at its end, which dealt with the supposed dynastic crime against nature that the accession of Henry IV rendered. This, of course, links the beginning of the royal House of Lancaster with its end, when Henry IV’s grandson, Henry VI, was deposed in favor of his cousin, Edward IV.

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The Usurpation of Henry IV

Henry IV

The usurpation of the English throne by Henry IV in 1399 is an issue we’ve touched upon a number of times, but never directly covered. It’s a significant one, for it not only brought about an abrupt end to the House of Plantagenet, but it arguably set into motion the dynastic divide that would later feed into the Wars of the Roses half a century later. The latter question is one that we’ll delve into in a bit more detail later this week, but for the purposes of today I want to cover the events of the actual usurpation, from its causes to its immediate impacts.

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