Long before England and Scotland were “united” under the rule of James Stuart, and even before the more famous match of James IV and Margaret Tudor, there was another alliance between these two countries that provided an important dynastic link…though not necessarily in a helpful way. In 1424, James I of Scotland married Joan Beaufort, a non-royal Englishwoman, but one whose family was critical to physically restoring her husband to his throne. The union, while successful, did little to help diplomatic ties with England.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Elizabeth of Lancaster, granddaughter of Edward III and sister of Henry IV, was a bit of a royal rebel back in her day. Married three times, she has garnered herself a reputation for being a headstrong and difficult young woman whose character was reportedly the complete opposite of her elder sister, Philippa. But as one must ask themselves when a historical female figure is brandished “problematic,” is this unfair?