I’ve been having some – interesting debates with Ricardians recently on social media and blogs. Bless them, they’re so dogmatic, and so utterly convinced that everything they say is correct. Beyond that though, there are certain common ‘facts’ that I keep hearing from them in diverse places. When one hears the same thing repeated over and over again by people who are not connected to each other, one gets the impression that there is something fishy going on. Either they’re copying each other, or they’re all getting it from the same source, and repeating what they have read or heard elsewhere.
One of these claims is that Henry Tudor was not a ‘true Lancastrian’, because the term can only be applied to the descendants of one particular individual. Not John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, but his wife, Blanche. Apparently, the only ‘true Lancastrians’ are those descended in this approved bloodline. What qualifies certain persons to determine the ancestral ‘right’ of distant Plantagenets is not certain.
Why the emphasis on the Great Lady? Allegedly because after 1471 there was only one specific line of ‘true Lancastrians’ left, which was conveniently represented in Juana, a Portuguese Princess distantly descended from Blanche who was ‘going to marry’ Richard III. Even though they weren’t formally betrothed, and the plans for marriage don’t seem to have got beyond the negotiation stage, Ricardians speak about Juana as if she and Richard were already husband and wife.
This selective cherry-picking of ancestry is problematic for two reasons. The first being that it is just plan wrong. Juana was not the last descendant of Blanche of Lancaster left alive after 1471. The sons and King Henry IV, and his grandson Henry VI were all gone, but Henry IV had a full-sister named Elizabeth, and she had descendants who were very much alive after that date. The most prominent of them were the Holland Dukes of Exeter, of which the male line died out with Henry Holland the 2nd Duke in 1475. However, the descendants of Elizabeth’s other children and grand-children lived well into the sixteenth century and beyond. They included the Grey Earls of Kent, and a junior branch of the famous Neville family who sprang from her daughter’s marriage to John, 1st Lord Neville. So there were actually a lot of Lancastrian descendants around in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.
More troublesome, however, is the insistence that only descendants of Duchess Blanche ‘count’. Why? The estates, title and royal blood of the Earls and later Dukes of Lancaster did not originate with her. They actually came from her great-grandfather Edmund ‘Crouchback’ first Earl of Lancaster, younger brother of Edward I. Earl Edmund was married to another Blanche, Blanche of Artois, the first Blanche of Lancaster. Their other descendants were many and, as we shall see, attained high rank and prominence.
Their grandson, Henry de Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster passed on his title to his son-in-law John of Gaunt, but Henry had six sisters. One was Eleanor, born in 1318, and married to one of the many Fitzalan Earls of Arundel. She had seven children with him, including two daughters called Joan and Alice. Joan, the elder, married Humphrey de Bohun 7th Earl of Hereford, and their daughter was none other than Mary be Bohun, the mother of King Henry V and his brothers. The redoubtable Lady Joan outlived her daughter by many years surviving until 1419, the sixth year of the reign of her grandson.
Joan’s younger sister Alice FitzAlan also made a good marriage, to Thomas Holland the half-brother of King Richard II. One of her daughters, Margaret Holland married John Beaufort. Yes Beaufort, as in the son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. John and Margaret’s grand-daughter was one other than Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. So Henry Tudor was in fact a descendant of the original Earls of Lancaster, just not in senior male line. Yet this ancestry still made him a descendant of Henry III. His aforementioned great-grandmother Margaret Holland was also a descendant of Joan of Kent, the daughter of Edward I’s younger son, Thomas of Woodstock. So it turns out that Tudor was so much more than ‘just a Beaufort’ or ‘the son of a servant’. He was actually descended from no fewer then three Plantagenet Kings.
Is a pity this branch of his family line is not well-known or publicized. Some of course will still assert that it ‘does not count’. Yet it does reveal how a little digging can sink the assumptions of popular wisdom favoured by certain interest groups.
All geneaological information from http://www.thepeerage.com which uses various respected and recognized geneological sources, including Burke’s Peerage and the Royal Geneaologies Website.