Saturday, January 10, 2015

Question from Rachel - Henry VII's heir before Arthur's birth

Who was the heir of Henry VII the time between the Battle of Bosworth Field and Arthur's birth?


PhD Historian said...

That depends on your perspective.

Had he not made himself king by seizing the Crown from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor’s heir in 1485/6 under the common-law principle of primogeniture would have been his paternal uncle, Jasper Tudor. After Jasper, his heirs would have been his distant paternal male cousins (if any existed) that descended from his great-grandfather Maredudd ap Tudur (the intervening generations being extinct of legitimate heirs).

But since your counter-factual scenario assumes that Henry Tudor was indeed King after Bosworth, the answer depends on the exact timing of his supposed early death.

The Battle of Bosworth Field occurred in August 1485. Henry Tudor married Elizabeth of York in January 1486, and she conceived immediately (Arthur was born in September). Her pregnancy could have been confirmed as early as April, and certainly by May or June. If Henry Tudor had died after Elizabeth was known to be pregnant, or after about April to June 1486, the crown may well have been placed in a regency, with the pregnant Elizabeth as Regent (since she was the widow of the late king, mother of the unborn monarch, and herself the senior surviving heir of Edward IV). The unborn child of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York would potentially have been Henry’s heir.

If, however, Henry Tudor died before Elizabeth was known to be pregnant, or (more probably) if anyone asserted a counterclaim against that of Henry’s unborn child, the Wars of the Roses would undoubtedly have resumed, there being no close and obvious heir to the Crown (other than, perhaps the female children of Edward IV). But if we boldly assume an ideally peaceful late-fifteenth-century world in which the modern rules of Crown inheritance were strictly observed (and in which Edward IV’s female children were barred on account of their father’s supposed treason in seizing the crown from Henry VI in 1461), the crown would have passed from a childless (and sibling-less) Henry Tudor to the heirs of his grandfather John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. But the paternally-descended male line of John Beaufort was already extinct by 1485. The Beaufort claim to the crown would therefore have shifted (assuming Henry VII died without issue) to the descendants in the female line of John Beaufort. In 1485, the senior claimant in that line was actually James III of Scotland, he being the grandson of Joan Beaufort, herself the eldest daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. This assumes, of course, that the prohibition against foreigners inheriting the crown of England would be overlooked, as it eventually would be over a century later when James VI of Scotland inherited the English crown from Elizabeth Tudor.

More probably, the traditional enmity between England and Scotland would have prevailed and the prohibition would have been observed, and Joan Beaufort’s heirs would have been set aside. In their place, the descendants of John Beaufort’s second daughter Margaret Beaufort Courtenay would have held the senior English-born claim. Margaret’s three sons all died in the conflicts between Henry VI and Edward IV, leaving only her daughters. Eldest daughter Joan married Roger Clifford, but he was executed for treason after Bosworth, eliminating that line from claiming the crown. Joan’s many younger sisters all married humbly, and it seems unlikely that any of them could have successfully pressed a claim to inherit from Henry VII.

PhD Historian said...

So ... if Henry VII had died after the Battle of Bosworth Field in August 1485 but before Elizabeth of York was known to be pregnant (before April 1486), and if the lines of descent from John Beaufort were either extinct due to lack of issue (Beaufort Earls of Somerset), or passed over for being foreign-born (all descendants of Joan Beaufort), or eliminated in the wake of an attainder for treason (male descendants of Margaret Beaufort Courtenay), or too humble to effectively assert a claim (female descendants of Margaret Beaufort Courtenay), the crown would rightly have passed to the senior claimant- heirs of John Beaufort’s paternal uncle, Thomas of Woodstock (youngest son of Edward III). In 1485, that line was represented by the fifteen-year-old Edward Stafford, 2nd Earl of Wiltshire. He was the great-grandson of Anne of Gloucester, eldest daughter of Thomas of Woodstock.

Interestingly enough, Edward Stafford’s paternal second cousin, also named Edward Stafford (3rd Duke of Buckingham), would later be executed for plotting to assert his Plantagenet claim to the crown against that of Henry VIII in 1521.

Apologies (again) for the length of this, but I do love genealogy!

Rachel said...

Thank you very much for your answer, PhD Historian :)

History Chick said...

What about Ralph Neville, 3rd Earl of Westmorland? He was alive in 1485/1486, he was highly titled (inherited Earlship in 1484 so he was an Earl in 1485/6), and he was a descendant of John of Gaunt. (John of Gaunt > Elizabeth of Lancaster, Duchess of Exeter > John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter > Lady Anne Holland > Ralph Neville, 3rd Earl of Westmorland). Surely a titled male descendant of John of Gaunt would come before the descendants of his young brother Thomas Woodstock? And better yet, Elizabeth of Lancaster wasn't even a Beaufort so her descendants didn't have to deal with that pesky law that said Beauforts couldn't inherit the crown. She was the daughter of John of Gaunt and his first wife, Blanche.

Or am I missing something?

PhD Historian said...

Ralph Neville, 3rd Earl of Westmorland, was the son of John Neville, Baron Neville and Anne Holland. Through his mother, he was indeed descended from John of Gaunt. But his father had been attainted of treason in 1461 for supporting Henry VI against Edward IV. The attainder was reversed a decade later, and the younger earl's own son (also named Ralph) was raised at the court of Henry VII. So you are correct, History Chick, Ralph Neville's claim would probably have been superior, assuming the reversal of his father's attainder also restored his succession rights. Not sure how I missed him, other than that he simply go lost among the dozens and dozens of intertwined descendants of Edward III!

kb said...

Any thoughts on other York options? If Elizabeth of York was not delivered of a son, and Henry 7 had died, and it was before 1499, what about Edward Plantagenet son of George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville? Couldn't he have made a strong claim? Or did I miss something in the question? Although, of course, Henry 7 would never have acknowledged the rival as an heir. . . and isn't this one of the alleged reasons that Henry 8 executed Margaret Plantagenet countess of Salisbury?

PhD Historian said...

You did not miss anything, KB. But as you noted, any Yorkist claimants were all of the rival faction and, if they asserted their claim, it would likely have precipitated a resumption of the Wars of the Roses. I assumed Rachel was envisioning a peaceful, orderly succession rather than a contested one. that would seem to me to leave the Yorkists out of the picture.

kb said...

Got it! That pesky peaceful thing! Yes, had the Yorkists made a play for the throne civil war would likely have broken out again. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting question. Henry 7's claim to the throne came through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was the sole heir to her father, the Duke of Somerset. The Beaufort claim could have been inherited by the children of her father's younger brother , Edmund Beaufort [the 1st or 2nd ] Duke of Somerset killed in 1455. The latter's sons were all killed without leaving heirs themselves but Edmund had daughters who married and had heirs themselves including the subsequent Dukes of Buckingham and Earls of Northumberland. The eldest daughter, Lady Eleanor Beaufort, had children by a knight.
The reality is that none appear to have had any support and apart from the 2nd duke of Buckingham ex 1483, not one of them appears to have supported the Beaufort claim, probably wisely. Certainly Henry 7 did nothing prior to his marriage to indicate where he thought the succession should go pending the birth of any children by his wife.