Guest Post: Was Henry IV A Usurper? By Michele Morrical

170px-king_henry_iv_from_npg_(2)Some medieval English kings have unfairly gotten a bad rap. Others are deservedly vilified (Richard III, I’m talking to you).

Our modern-day perception of English kings is largely constructed from only a few sources. Of course, we have the writings of Shakespeare which were generally based on the real events of English monarchs but had lots of extra drama added in to spice things up. We also have the writings of chroniclers who actually lived in the middle ages, but they aren’t always reliable. Just imagine if you were hired by Henry VIII to write the history of his reign. You would definitely write it in a way that reflected very well on the king. And we have modern-day historians who try to bring the past to life with new interpretations of English monarchs and their new explanations of their controversial actions.

One of the English kings who has received very little attention over the years is Henry IV, also known as Henry of Bolingbroke and Henry of Derby. The common perception is that Henry was a usurper, but was he really? Did he seize the throne from Richard II illegally or was he the rightful heir?

What was Henry IV’s claim to the throne?

To answer this question, we must go back a couple of reigns to Henry’s grandfather, King Edward III, a Plantagenet king that ruled England from 1327 to 1377. King Edward was also the nephew of King Charles IV of France through his mother Isabella. When Charles IV died childless, Edward asserted his right to the French crown as Charles’ nearest male relative. The French overruled him citing Salic Law which said inheritance could not be passed through a female line. So the throne went instead to Philip of Valois, Charles’ cousin through a completely male line. As if losing his claim to the kingdom of France wasn’t enough of a blow to Edward, Philip also confiscated Edward’s land in France. Edward was not one to take things lying down so he took military action against France and initiated the Hundred Years War.

One of King Edward’s best military commanders was his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince. The king’s son was raised and educated in preparation to be the next king and he was perfectly suited to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, there was a major problem. His repeated military expeditions around Europe caused him to become quite ill, including a raging case of dysentery. He died in 1376 at the age of 45. He had not outlived his father, therefore he never got the chance to fulfill his destiny as King of England.

After the death of the Black Prince, King Edward wrote his will and “Act of Entail” in which he named his heir. Rather than naming his eldest living son (John of Gaunt) to be the next king, he did something unusual. He instead named his grandson, Richard of Bordeaux, eldest living son of the Black Prince, to be next in the order of succession using a device called “Right of Substitution”. Essentially since the Black Prince died prematurely, his son Richard was accepted as a substitute.

After Richard, he named the next in line for succession to be John of Gaunt and the male heirs of his body, followed by his other living sons, Edmund, Duke of York, and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Interestingly enough, the “Act of Entail” document was kept secret from the public. The only people who knew about it were those named in the entail and the king’s closest confidants. It was never introduced to Parliament to put into law. Many rulers were hesitant to publicly name their heir because that gave any discontented subjects someone to rally around and overthrow the king.

If King Edward had followed traditional Salic Law rules, his eldest living son, John of Gaunt, would have been named his heir followed by Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, which would have left Richard completely out of the succession. Imagine how different the course of English history would have been if Edward had not made this decision to use the uncommon right of substitution. The inheritance would have been strictly through the house of Lancaster, cutting out the house of York. The Wars of the Roses may have never even happened.

Henry of Bolingbroke would have known about King Edward III’s act of entail and that he had been named third in line for the throne (after Richard and John of Gaunt) rather than second in line after Gaunt. Even so, being third in line to the throne wasn’t so bad for Henry. He lived a relatively comfortable life as a royal heir and spent his youth preparing to be a successful ruler like his grandfather. Henry became one of the most respected knights in Europe, he traveled abroad on crusades, and he learned it was better to work with the nobles and forge alliances rather than trying to control them. There was only one problem…Richard absolutely hated Henry. Richard was none of the things that Henry was. Richard was not strong and athletic, he did not joust, and he was not an experienced military leader. He was basically the antithesis of Edward III. Richard was terribly jealous of Henry and felt threatened that Henry or his father might one day try to wrestle the crown from his head.

Richard’s Revenge

For the first 10 years of Richard’s reign, it was assumed that Edward’s entail would be upheld by Richard but in the Parliament of 1386, Richard did something shocking. He threw out his grandfather’s entail and instead declared that his heir would be the twelve-year-old earl of March, Roger Mortimer, great-grandson of King Edward III. Roger’s mother Phillipa was the daughter and only child of King Edward’s second-born (yet deceased) son Lionel of Antwerp. Even though Lionel was deceased, Richard used the right of substitution in selecting Roger, just as Edward III had done in selecting Richard as the Black Prince’s substitute. However, it was highly unusual to name an heir through a female line, especially when there were plenty of other male heirs to choose from. Richard selected the Mortimers so that John of Gaunt, Henry of Bolingbroke, and the entire Lancastrian line would be excluded from the succession. He was putting them on notice that they better work for him instead of against him.

Richard’s declaration was met with great resistance from the lords of his realm who were already disgruntled from enduring years of his tyrannical treatment. They had been terribly unhappy about Richard’s style of kingship, lack of military experience, misguided attempts to negotiate with France, reckless financial spending, attempts to degrade the power of Parliament, and general misrule resulting from Richard’s circle of favorites. Threatening civil war and deposition, the Lords were successful in pressing Richard to exclude the minor Roger Mortimer from succession and to reinstate King Edward III’s entail naming John of Gaunt and his son Henry as the next in line to the throne.

Richard was a very spiteful and vengeful man. He would agree to a deal when he was face-to-face with the nobles, but behind their backs, he would plot to punish them for any sign of disloyalty. Over the next 10 years, he continually threatened the lords and nobles with arrest, confiscation of lands, titles, goods, and even exile if they didn’t bend to his every whim. Richard again changed the order of succession, throwing out John of Gaunt, Henry, and the Mortimers. He decided that the person who would be the least threatening to his reign would be Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was an arthritic invalid.

Henry of Bolingbroke was always at the top of Richard’s hit list but since he was such a close royal relative, Richard couldn’t afford to take him out. His reputation would have been destroyed if he used force to get the likable, respected knight out of the picture. So instead of using force, he used a 1397 civil dispute between Henry and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, as the mechanism to remove him. Richard ruled both men guilty and sentenced them both to exile: Henry for 10 years and Norfolk for life.

As if exile wasn’t punishment enough, just one year later when John of Gaunt died, Richard delivered the knock-out punch. Despite his promise to Gaunt, Richard revoked Henry’s entire Lancastrian inheritance and confiscated all of his lands and assets. Furthermore, Henry was to be considered a traitor to England. Henry of Bolingbroke had nothing left. To fall so far from being the heir to the throne down to a penniless vagabond was untenable for Henry. And there was only one person at fault: his cousin, King Richard II.

Henry’s Return to England

As Henry lived in exile, he thought about his situation and strategies for getting back what was rightly his. There weren’t many options. There was certainly no chance now at reconciliation with Richard, things had simply gone too far. The only way he would be allowed to return to England and be restored to his rightful inheritance would be if Richard was no longer the king of England.

Removing King Richard II from the throne is not something Henry could do by himself. Luckily, he had friends in high places who had also been unfairly treated by Richard. Together with several dukes and earls, Henry planned an uprising against Richard to protest his tyrannical rule. Henry landed in England on July 4, 1399, at Ravenspur in Yorkshire with only 300 men. As he traveled towards the safety of the Lancastrian stronghold, Pontefract Castle, his army grew into the thousands. Henry had become the leader of the revolution. He swore to his followers that his only intent was to defend England from Richard’s tyranny and to reclaim his Lancastrian inheritance. He promised that he would not take the throne for himself by force.

King Richard was with the royal army in Ireland at the time of Henry’s invasion. The Keeper of the Realm during his absence was his 58-year-old heir, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. Edmund knew that his nephew was a cruel despotic ruler and he instead threw in his lot with Henry. Edmund agreed to support his uprising and would not take measures to suppress his army. Edmund also believed that Henry had been treated unfairly and was perfectly within his rights to reclaim his inheritance.

So Henry’s army moved across the country unchallenged until he came to Conway Castle where King Richard was hiding. Rather than fighting, they negotiated. Henry demanded that he be allowed to return to England and that his lands be restored to him. Richard agreed but then shortly thereafter declared he had no intent to keep his promise. In fact, he was more determined than ever to see Henry dead. Henry’s army arrested Richard and took him into their possession.

While Richard was kept under lock and key in a variety of royal castles, Henry was working with English lawyers to legally reinstate his claim to the Lancastrian inheritance. They determined that the best course of action would be for Richard to sign a written resignation which would then be ratified by Parliament. After much resistance, the king finally relented and signed the document. In doing so, he stepped down from the throne and agreed to Henry’s accession, just as King Edward III’s act of entail had outlined nearly twenty-five years earlier.

The Rule of Succession in England

Was Henry right to overthrow Richard II in an attempt to restore justice to the kingdom of England? Or did he take advantage of the circumstances by claiming the throne for himself?

It all comes down to this. Were any laws broken when Edward named his grandson Richard as his heir instead of his eldest living son John of Gaunt? Likewise, did Richard break any laws when he bypassed Edward’s entail and named Edward of Langley as his heir? Did Henry break any laws when he accepted the crown for himself and deposed his cousin Richard? Should kings have to uphold entails from their predecessors or was it legal for them to change it to their own personal liking?

We cannot judge these decisions as morally right or wrong, rather we can only judge them in terms of the law or the absence of law. In England during the Middle Ages, there was no law that strictly defined the order of succession. Other European kingdoms, such as France, observed Salic Law which prohibited women from being crowned as well as their sons. Germanic kingdoms followed the semi-Salic rule which allowed a woman to inherit but only if all the men in the royal bloodline were dead.

England was a kingdom heavily influenced by their different European neighbors so England’s laws and customs were a mish-mash of the various customs immigrants had brought with them to England. Since England had never put the order of succession into a legal act, it was basically up to the current ruler to choose the next heir to the throne.

Is it any wonder England had so many disputes over control of the kingdom during the Middle Ages? With no legal rules governing the order of succession, it became open to interpretation and that’s when the royal heirs and nobility used it to their advantage. It made it much more possible to maneuver their own royal relatives into positions where they might someday have a shot at the throne themselves.

Was Henry IV a Usurper?

It is my judgment that Henry IV was not a usurper. To be a usurper, one has to either seize authority illegally or by force.

Although Henry did amass a sizable army, they did not resort to violence to solve the conflict. The army was merely a show of force so that Richard would take them seriously and understand the gravity of the situation.

Henry was careful to use lawyers to find a legal way to depose King Richard II and thus overturn his previous statute naming Edmund of Langley as his heir. With Richard deposed and all of his previous acts of Parliament voided, the order of succession had to revert back to the previous king. That would make King Edward III’s act of entail valid again and Henry of Bolingbroke next in line to the throne.

 About the Author

Michele Morrical is a writer, blogger, and amateur historian on all things Tudor and Wars of the Roses. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband, son, daughter, and many pets. You can find her writings at michelemorrical.com.

My journey into Tudor history began about 10 years ago with the TV show “The Tudors” from Showtime. As I watched the show, I wondered how much of it was really true because the storylines were more dramatic and shocking than any soap opera I had ever seen. I picked up Margaret George’s autobiography of Henry VIII and I was hooked. I’ve since read over 100 books on the Tudor period and I’m currently writing my own book about the Wars of the Roses

Biography: Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

Quartered_arms_of_Sir_Thomas_Stanley,_1st_Earl_of_Derby,_KG(Born 1435- Died July 29, 1504). Son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and Joan Goushill. Married to Lady Eleanor Neville and Lady Margaret Beaufort. Father of George Stanley, 9th Baron Strange, Sir Edward Stanley, James Stanley, Bishop of Ely.  Thomas Stanley was a wealthy landowner who was able to find favor with successive kings during the Wars of the Roses, until his death in 1504.

Thomas Stanley was born around 1435 and he was the eldest son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and his wife Joan Goushill. The Stanleys supported Henry Bolingbroke and the Lancastrian cause until the reign of Henry VI. Stanley was a squire for King Henry VI in 1454, but then the king fell mentally ill. In 1455, the Wars of the Roses broke out between the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset. Somerset was killed at the first battle of St. Albans, which should have ended the conflict, but it only embroiled it. In the late 1450’s, Stanley decided to marry Eleanor Neville, the sister of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, aligning himself with the Yorkist cause. In 1459, after a lull in the fighting, Margaret of Anjou marched against the Yorkist army, which included Warwick, Stanley’s brother in law. At the Battle of Blore Heath in August 1459, Margaret of Anjou ordered Stanley to raise an army to stop Warwick, but Stanley refused to fight; Stanley’s brother William was firmly on the Yorkist side and he was attainted.

In 1460, Stanley saw that the Yorkist cause was coming into power and so he decided to side with York and his cause. Stanley fought alongside his brother in law Warwick against the Lancastrian army. Edward placed Stanley in charge of maintaining the peace in north-west England, which he did. After the death of his father in 1459, Stanley inherited his father’s titles, including those of Baron Stanley and “King of Mann” as well as his extensive lands and offices in Cheshire and Lancashire. Stanley was the last person to call himself “King of Mann” as his successors would style themselves as “Lord of Mann”.

When Warwick decided to revolt against the king between 1469 and 1471, Stanley was torn on who to support, his king or his brother in law. In 1470, when Warwick fled to France to join the Lancastrian cause, Stanley made his choice and decided to go to Manchester to seek aid and support. When Warwick made his way back to England, Stanley joined forces with him to restore Henry VI to the throne. Edward came back in 1471 and Warwick was killed. Stanley was forgiven for his disloyalty and right after Edward was restored to the throne, Stanley was appointed steward of the king’s household and thereafter became a regular member of the royal council. Stanley’s wife Eleanor Neville died around this time, cutting his ties with the Warwicks and the Nevilles.

Stanley was looking for another wife and in 1472, he married Lady Margaret Beaufort, dowager Countess of Richmond and the mother of Henry Tudor. In 1475, Stanley led an expedition to France and in 1482, he helped Richard Duke of Gloucester in Scotland, playing a large role in capturing Berwick upon Tweed.

On April 9, 1483, Edward IV died, leaving his son Edward V king, Stanley was among those who sought to maintain a balance of power between the young king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was now Lord Protector, and his maternal family, the Woodvilles. When the Duke of Gloucester attacked this group at a council meeting in June 1483, Stanley was wounded and imprisoned but was not executed like Hastings. That month, Parliament declared Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York illegitimate on the grounds that their father Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid , by way of a prior pre-contract of marriage with Eleanor Butler. The Duke of Gloucester was therefore declared king Richard III and it was confirmed through the act of Parliament called Titulus Regius.

Richard III decided not to isolate Stanley so he let Stanley to keep his position at court and allowed Margaret Beaufort to carry Queen Anne’s train at her coronation. Shortly afterward, Margaret’s properties and titles were given to Stanley and she was placed under house arrest instead of being executed for treason for aiding her son to overthrow Richard III. After the failed Buckingham rebellion in 1483, Stanley was given more forfeited properties and he was made Lord High Constable of England. Margaret was one of the conspirators in this plot and the one who arranged the marriage between her son Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. Stanley, in 1485, asked to leave court to go to his estates in Lancashire. Richard III , being very suspicious, agreed that he could if Stanley would allow his son George Stanley Lord Strange to stay at court. In reality, Lord Strange was a hostage.

The Stanleys were in constant communication with Henry Tudor and they were helping him with his landing in Wales and his invasion into England. Richard, hearing about this plan, ordered Stanley to raise an army and join him without delay. Stanley decided to fake an illness. Richard knew that Stanley had switched sides and the morning of the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard said that he would kill Lord Strange if Stanley didn’t side with him. Stanley and his brother William decided to sit on the sidelines. Stanley did not fight, but it was his brother William who decided to intervene on Henry Tudor’s behalf, which helped Henry win the crown. Even though Stanley did not participate in the fighting, it is said that he is the one who placed the crown on Henry’s head after the battle was won. Henry VII was grateful to Thomas Stanley and made him the 1st Earl of Derby. William Stanley would foolishly side with Perkin Warbeck and would be executed for treason in 1495.

Stanley died at Lathom, Lancashire on July 29, 1504, and was buried in the family chapel in Burscough Priory, near Ormskirk in Lancashire. His son Lord Strange would die shortly afterward so the earldom of Derby was passed onto Stanley’s grandson Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby.

Biography: King Henry IV (aka Henry Bolingbroke)

(Born April 3, 1367- Died March 20, 1413). Son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of mw03072Lancaster. Married to Mary de Bohun and Joan of Navarre. He had 7 children with Mary, including the future Henry V. He was the 1st king from the house of Lancaster.

Henry was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster and was born at Bolingbroke Castle on April 3, 1367. Early in his life, he became one of the Lords Appellant who were opposed to the rule of Richard II. He stepped down from this role in 1389 and in 1390, went on his first adventure, journeying with the Teutonic Knights to Lithuania. Two years later, he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During this time, he visited numerous courts in Europe and was held in high regards. He was a handsome young man, but it was early in life where Henry’s ill health that plagued him during his reign started to appear.

Henry was a good person to help the king, however the only one who failed to realize this was Richard II. He banished Henry in 1398 for ten years, but when John of Gaunt died the following year and Henry became the next Duke of Lancaster, Richard II took all of his lands and banished him forever. This was the last straw for Henry. While Richard was occupied with unrest in Ireland, Henry took his chance and invaded England, forcing Richard to abdicate. The next one in line to the throne was Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, but he was only eight years old, so Parliament agreed that Henry would be a better choice to be king. His reign as Henry IV began on September 30, 1399.

However, not everyone was happy with Henry as king. Henry IV’s first rebellion that he had to deal with was by the earls of Kent, Salisbury and Huntingdon, just a month after he became king. Henry took care of this rebellion quickly and violently. It is also believed that this was around the same time that Henry ordered the death of Richard II. A few months after the first rebellion, Henry IV had to deal with a second rebellion in Wales, where Owain Glyn Dwr was declared Prince of Wales in September 1400. This revolt was quickly put down, but Owain evaded capture for several years, leading to guerrilla style warfare.

Owain’s supporters grew not only amongst Welsh barons, but English ones as well, including the Mortimers who were upset that Henry was king and not Edmund, who was Owain’s son in law after he married Owain’s daughter. Another supporter was Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the son of the earl of Northumberland who believed that he did not get the recognition that he deserved after he fought against the Scots. These forces came together and fought against Henry at the battle of Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403, where Henry defeated Hotspur easily and killed him. Henry was not going to let the rebel army get away and by 1408, they were all but eliminated.

Two years before this, in 1406, Henry IV took James I of Scotland hostage and his young heir was sent to France. James was in the English court for 17 years as a hostage and for that time, the relationships between England, Scotland and France were good. Things were looking up for Henry IV, except for his health. Starting in 1406, his health was in decline and there was a serious concern for his life. He tried to govern, but he became more reliant on his Parliament. In 1409, Henry’s son Prince Henry was made chancellor over Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury. Arundel returned in 1411 when Henry and his council were debating if he should step down in favor of Prince Henry, which Henry refused to do. Henry died in 1413 from some sort of wasting disease at the age of 45. His son Prince Henry would succeed him as Henry V.

Biography: King Richard II

mw05302(Born January 6, 1367- Died on or about February 14, 1400). Son of Edward the Black Prince and Joan 4th Countess of Kent. Married to Anne of Bohemia and Isabella of Valois. He had no children.

Richard II was the second son of Edward the Black Prince, but when his older brother Edward died when Richard was three, Richard became second in line to the throne after his father. When Edward the Black Prince and Edward III died, Richard II became king at the tender age of 10. There was no formal regent that could help guide Richard II, but his uncle John of Gaunt did the best that he could, taking a more active political role.

Richard II and his government decided to start taxing the people with poll taxes to pay for the wars in France and the campaigns in Scotland. At first, they were tolerated, but then the people got mad. In June 1381, a man named Wat Tyler had enough and killed a tax collector and raised a force of around 100,000 to march against the king. When the two forces finally met, Wat Tyler was killed by the Lord Mayor of London William Walworth. Richard at the age of 14 stopped the Peasants’ Revolt by promising the people reforms that he, in the end,  did not fulfill the reforms.

He was the champion of England, but inside his court, things were more divisive. Richard II had two very close advisors, Robert de Vere earl of Oxford and Michael de la Pole. He granted favors upon the two men, causing anger in the court. Richard also sought military glory in Scotland, which ended up being a disaster. To top it all off in 1386, Richard made Robert de Vere duke of Ireland and Michael de la Pole was made a chancellor, without consulting Parliament first. This was the last straw for those who opposed Richard II. They decided to act. Five of his strongest opponents; Thomas duke of Gloucester,  the earl of Arundel, Thomas Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, Thomas Mowbray, and Henry Bolingbroke the son of John of Gaunt, became known as the Lords Appellant. They took over the country and they tried to convince Richard to give up his courtiers.

He did comply for a little while, until he became of age. His first wife Anne of Bohemia died in 1394 from the plague, leaving Richard heartbroken. He married his second wife Isabella of Valois as part of a peace treaty with France, strengthening his position in his own country. He went after the Lords Appellant. Most of them were killed, except for Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke. Mowbray was exiled for life while Henry was exiled for ten years. During his reign “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer was published and literature was on the rise.

In 1399, John of Gaunt died and instead of pardoning his son Henry Bolingbroke, Richard banished him for life. Richard left later that same year to quell the unrest in Ireland and Henry Bolingbroke took his chance to invade. Richard’s support dwindled and on August 19, 1399, Richard II forfeited to Henry and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The next in line for the throne, since Richard II had no children, was Edmund Mortimer earl of March, who was only 8 years old at the time. Parliament did not want a similar situation than the one that they were in, so they forced Richard II to abdicate and on September 29, 1399, Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV. Richard II was moved to Pontefract Castle and on or around February 14, 1400, he died. Some believe that he starved to death as there was no evidence of a physical murder.

With Richard II’s abdication and Henry IV’s accession came the rise of the House of Lancaster.

 

Book Review: “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir

911GmwfEpdLThe Wars of the Roses was a series of wars from 1455 until 1487 for the throne of England. It is traditionally taught that it was between the houses of York and Lancaster, yet there were a lot more players involved than these two families. In fact the conflict started much earlier with the children of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. The Lancasters were the descendants of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche of Lancaster while the Yorks were descendants of Edmund of Langley Duke of York. This was a series over the question of who had the strongest claim to the throne. This question and the series of wars that would try to answer it is explored in depth in Alison Weir’s book “The Wars of the Roses”.

Alison Weir explains the struggle of studying this time period and what she is trying to accomplish in her book:

Sources for this period are meagre and often ambiguous, yet much research has been done over the last hundred years to illuminate a little for us what is often described as the twilight world of the fifteenth century. Many misconceptions have been swept away, yet even so the dynastic conflict still confuses many. My aim has been throughout to eliminate that confusion and try to present the story in chronological sequence, clarifying the problems of the royal succession in an age in which no certain rules of inheritance applied. I have also tried to bring the world of the fifteenth century to life by introducing as much contemporary detail as space permits, in order to make the subject relevant to any read, academic or otherwise. Chiefly, however, I have tried to re-tell an astonishing and often grim story of power struggles in high places that involved some of the most charismatic figures in English history. (Weir, xix).

Weir begins her book by explaining  what England in the fifteenth century was like before diving into the history of Edward III and the Plantagenets in the late 1300s. This may seem a little complex since there were many sons of Edward III, but the throne first went to Richard II, but when he was forced to abdicate, the throne went to Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was the son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his third wife Katherine Swynford had children who would become known as the Beauforts. They would become important later on.

Henry IV’s son would become Henry V who was married to Katherine of Valois. When Henry V died, their son Henry VI became king; he was a baby. His mother would remarry a Welsh man named Owen Tudor and they would have a few children, including Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Henry VI would marry Margaret of Anjou. Richard Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edmund of Langley, would have a son with his wife Anne Mortimer named Richard Plantagenet Duke of York. He would marry the “Rose of Raby” Cecily Neville and they would be the parents of Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

This all may seem a bit complex, but it is important to understand how all of the players in the Wars of the Roses were connected. Henry VI was a weak king who was known for his madness and so someone had to lead the government. Richard Duke of York believed that he should have been Lord Protector, however Margaret of Anjou and her party at court had other ideas. The beginning of this conflict was a battle between court factions, but eventually it escalated rather quickly into a full on rebellion by Richard Duke of York. This was now a battle between the Yorks and the Lancasters. When Richard Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460, his son Edward took on the Yorkist cause and would become king after the battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil. After Towton, it was a battle between Edward IV and those who supported Henry VI, until 1471 when Edward IV ultimately won, thus ending the conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.

Weir chooses to end her book here at 1471 even though the Wars of the Roses will pick back up with the death of Edward IV in 1483 when his brother Richard becomes Richard III. Weir truly brought this time period to life. I have been studying the Wars of the Roses for a few years now and I have to say this book really simplified this complex family struggle in a way that makes sense. I love this book and I have read it several times. If you really want a great book that explains the causes of the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend this book, “The Wars of the Roses” by Alison Weir. It is a fantastic introduction to this tumultuous time period.

Book Review: “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor

the-last-knight-9781439137581_lgWhen we think of knights, we often think of shining armor, King Arthur and his fabulous court, fair maidens, and of course chivalry. These are considered to be literary ideals, almost too fantastic to be real. However, knights did live in the Middle Ages into the 14th century where some of the greatest knights lived. One is known as The Black Prince; the other was John of Gaunt. Both were brothers, sons of Edward III, the one who helped launch the Hundred Years’ War with France. The Black Prince might have a pretty cool nickname, but the one who really stole the show was John of Gaunt. The subject of Norman F. Cantor’s book “The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era” is none other than the third son of Edward III, John of Gaunt.

Now I know what you are thinking, why do a book review for about someone who lived in the 1300s when this blog is focused on the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. The answer is simple. It is because John of Gaunt and his children with his third wife and mistress Catherine Swynford would create the Beaufort line, the same family of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty. It was also with John’s first wife Blanche of Lancaster, that the line of Lancaster was formed. He may have only been a third son but he became one of the wealthiest men in Europe and his family would shape the future of England forever.

Cantor, in this book, explores the world that John of Gaunt called home. What was it like in not just in England but in all of the medieval world? What about religion and literature? What was life like for women and knights in court? All of these aspects are explored throughout this book as well as elements in John of Gaunt’s life that made him unique, including his wealth and becoming King of Castile after he married his second wife Constance. Through wars and plagues, politics and rebellions, exploration and the beginning of the Renaissance, John of Gaunt navigated through it all.

It sounds like a very complex time, however, Cantor has a way of explaining it all in such a way that is both engaging and educational. Cantor through his writing style makes it easy to understand John of Gaunt’s legacy, not only is his time but how his legacy affected even our time. It was through his patronage that men like Chaucer and John Wyclif were able to complete their best works.

Shakespeare gave John of Gaunt a very patriotic speech, “this sceptre’d isle…This other Eden, demi-paradise”. Shakespeare was speaking as though John of Gaunt was an old man, reminiscing about the good times as the younger generation was taking over like Henry Bolingbroke and Henry the Navigator. Cantor brings to life the legend of John of Gaunt. Towards the end of his book, Cantor nicely sums up John of Gaunt’s life:

Above all, Gaunt’s taste for war, his frenetic energy, and his physical strength, as well as his love of women and his wealth and lifestyle, set the model for European aristocratic behavior, which went unchallenged until the nineteenth century and is still the pattern for all effective and durable social elites. (Cantor, 239).

John of Gaunt was a Renaissance man of his times. He wasn’t just some old man of Shakespearean lore. Cantor makes John of Gaunt and his world of the Middle Ages come alive. If you want to learn more about John of Gaunt, his family, and his world, Norman F. Cantor’s book “The Last Knight” is the book for you.

 

Sources

Cantor, Norman F. The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.