A consequence of the first half of the Wars of the Roses, or Wars of the Cousins to give its contemporary term, is that Henry Tudor was recognised as an heir of the House of Lancaster after 1471 and was able to use such an acknowledgement to help propel himself onto the throne in 1485. It is often recorded that his hereditary claim was so weak that he astutely claimed his crown through an act of conquest, ensuring he was crowned in Westminster Abbey before parliament convened and before his marriage to Elizabeth of York who was considered to hold a greater claim on behalf of her father Edward IV. The process through which Henry Tudor attained this mantle of Lancastrian heir is fascinating particularly in light of other potential claimants during the late 15th century. It is commonly believed that Henry was the only viable alternative for those of a Lancastrian persuasion whom wished to see the House of York removed from the throne but is this truly the case? It is understood that when the Tudors came to the throne there were a legion of nobles whom were able to demonstrate a stronger general claim to the throne through blood but what about those specifically with Lancastrian blood?
The House of Lancaster was a cadet branch of the Royal House of Plantagenet, founded by King Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In 1399 John’s son Henry Bolingbroke usurped the crown of the controversial Richard II and elevated the Lancaster’s to the throne in the process becoming King Henry IV. His son and grandson became Henry’s V and VI respectively before this direct line died out in 1471 with the killing of Henry VI and his son Prince Edward during the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury which confirmed the rival House of York on the throne, descendants of Edward III’s second and fourth sons. Henry V’s brothers Thomas, Duke of Clarence, John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had no heirs whilst his sisters Blanche and Philippa also died childless. Henry VI meanwhile had been an only child who in turn only had one child. This line of Henry IV was thus considered literally to be a dead end. Supporters of the Lancastrians turned to other descendants of John of Gaunt in order to combat the Yorkists and it was thus that the previously unheralded fourteen year old Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, came to prominence. There were others with the blood of the Red Rose in their veins however, in spite of how unrealistic their intentions to seize the crown would have been in reality from 1471.
House of Aviz
John of Gaunt’s first child by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, from whom he initially derived his Lancaster title, was Philippa whom became Queen Consort of Portugal through her marriage to John of Portugal. This instilled the Lancastrian blood into the Royal family of Portugal and their descendants. Philippa’s eldest son and heir was Edward whom became King of Portugal between 1433-38 and was ostensibly named in honour of his great grandfather Edward III. Edward’s son was Afonso V who lived until 1481 and therefore could have been considered a Lancastrian heir during the 1470’s whilst his son John II was ruling at the time of Bosworth. King John of Portugal was thus a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Another notable scion of the House of Aziz through which this Lancastrian blood passed to was the Tudors great rival and ally Maximilian, Holy Roman Emperor who was the grandson of King Edward through his mother Eleanor. Maxmilian was thus also a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Another inheritor of the Portuguese-Lancastrian claim was Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, maternal nephew of King Edward of Portugal and thus great-grandson of John of Gaunt. Duke Charles was maritally tied to the House of York during the 1470’s through his marriage to Margaret of York, a woman whom would become a thorn in the side of Henry Tudor with her attempts to remove them from the throne in favour of any pretender willing to put themselves forward. He would marry his heir Mary to Emperor Maximilian thus merging their respective claims in the personage of later Tudor allies and rivals Phillip of Castile and his son Charles V. One final descendant of John of Gaunt through his daugher Philippa was Queen Isabella of Castile who was the daughter of Isabella of Portugal, who in turn was the daughter of a younger son of Philippa, Prince John.
House of Holland
John of Gaunt’s second daughter with his first wife Blanche was Elizabeth of Lancaster who married three times and had seven children. Her eldest child with her second husband John Holland, Duke of Exeter, was Constance Holland. Constance married Sir John Grey and their eldest child was Edmund Grey who was thus a great-grandson of John of Gaunt. During the Wars of the Roses Grey turned on his Lancastrian cousin by switching allegiance to the Yorkists, rewarded for his treachery by briefly becoming Treasurer of England in 1463 and Earl of Kent in 1465. He carried a sword at the coronation of Richard III but became reconciled with Henry Tudor, dying in 1490. Elizabeth of Lancaster’s fourth survivng child with her husband the Duke of Exeter was their heir John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter. John was a nephew of Henry IV and cousin to Henry V and although his father had been executed for treason John served the Lancastrians throughout his life, given precedence above all nobles in the kingdom with the exception of Richard, Duke of York. His only son was Henry Holland who suceeded him to the Dukedom of Exeter in 1447. Henry Holland would become an ardent Lancastrian during the conflict and as an English great-grandson of John of Gaunt and a prestigious noble had as strong a claim as any Lancastrian, not to mention he also enjoyed a seperate descent from Edward III through his maternal grandmother Anne of Gloucester. Holland was a key Lancastrian commander alongside Jasper Tudor and won great victories at St Albans and Wakefield although he suffered defeat at Towton in 1461 and was forced into exile. After the defeat of the Lancastrians in 1471 he apparently became reconciled with his Yorkist brother-in-law King Edward IV although he mysteriously drowned returning from an expedition to France with the King in 1475. It is a possibility he was killed at the King’s command due to his Lancastrian bloodline. Holland’s sister Anne had one child with her husband Sir John Neville who also inherited a claim, Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland. Neville’s father was slain fighting for the Lancastrians at Towton and it wasnt until 1472 that Ralph was able to inherit his lands from the Yorkists, eventually becoming Earl of Westmoreland under Richard III in 1484. He was a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt.
House of Trastamara
John of Gaunt also had one surviving daughter by his second wife, Constance of Castile. Catherine of Lancaster married King Henry III of Castile in 1393 and had three children, the first two of which died without issue. Their only son was John II of Castile who similarly seemed incapable of rule much like his cousin Henry VI of England. He was suceeded to the throne by his son Henry IV who ruled from 1454-74. Henry had no heirs and was suceeded by his half-sister Isabella of Castile. With Lancastrian blood through her Aviz ancestors, Isabella was thus great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt. It is stated that her daughter Catherine of Aragon, future Queen Consort of England, was named for Catherine of Lancaster.
House of Beaufort
John of Gaunt’s long term mistress Katherine Swynford finally became his wife after the death of Constance of Castile and from this union was the Beauforts, an illegitimately born clan whom would play an integral part of the Wars of the Roses. Together they had four children, two of which, Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Thomas Beaufort of Exeter, died without issue. The eldest son John Beaufort was created Earl of Somerset and had six children who inherited his Lancastrian bloodline. After the death of his eldest son Henry, his second son and namesake John Beaufort inherited the Earldom which subsequently was raised into a Dukedom. John Beaufort had only one daughter, Margaret Beaufort who was born in 1443 and was therefore a great-grandaughter of John of Gaunt. She would marry Edmund Tudor and pass on her claim to her son Henry Tudor who realise this claim in 1485 with victory at Bosworth in lieu of his mother. The patriarch of the Beaufort family after the death of her father was her uncle Edmund Beaufort who became 2nd Duke of Somerset and was one of the principal characters of the Wars of the Roses as an ardent Lancastrian. His personal feud with the Duke of York helped fuel the descent into war and he was killed at St Albans in 1455. His heir Henry Beaufort was killed in 1464 after the battle of Hexham and his brothers Edmund and John Beaufort were killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. It was this battle, which saw the deaths of senior Lancastrian members Henry VI, Prince Edward and the Beaufort brothers which put the spotlight on their young cousin Henry Tudor. All three Beaufort brothers died childless. Their sister Margaret Beaufort married Henry Stafford, Earl of Stafford and their son was Henry, Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham enjoyed descent from Edward III through three of his four grandparents and this may have played a part in his allying with his cousin Henry Tudor in 1483 to attempt to overthrow Richard III. It would seem that Buckingham was attempting to put Henry on the throne but with such an illustrious pedigree it may be that he was using Tudor as a pawn to achieve his own ends.
House of Stewart
John of Gaunt’s grandaughter Joan Beaufort became Queen Consort of Scotland in 1424 due to her marriage to King James I. Together they had eight children of which many had their own issue which would have held a Lancastrian-Beaufort claim during the later fifteenth century. Princess Isabella Stewart became Duchess of Brittany upon her marriage to Francis I, having two daughters Margaret and Marie of Brittany. Princess Joan Stewart’s son John Douglas was a great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt and would die at the Battle of Flodden fighting against the army of his distant cousin Henry VIII whilst Joan was also the mother of James II of Scotland and grandmother of James III. The Stewarts would later claim the throne of England through their Beaufort descent through the Tudors but they had their own claim through Joan Beaufort.
House of Neville
The Neville’s are often considered to be loyal Yorkists after the role they played in defeating the Lancastrians during the first phase of the Wars of the Roses from 1455-1471 yet they were descended from John of Gaunt through his daughter Joan Beaufort who married Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland. Their first daughter Katherine Neville married into the Mowbray family and her grandson was John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, the great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt. The second daughter Eleanor Neville was married to the Percy Earl of Northumberland who curiously became involved in a deadly rivalry with the Neville’s during the Cousins’ War. Eleanor’s children were decimated during the war, with four of her sons dying during the various battles. Her brother Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick were leaders of the Neville faction and were Yorkists crucial to the cause of Richard of York. Not for nothing was Warwick known as the Kingmaker. The Earl of Salisbury had many children to pass on his Lancastrian blood as well as Warwick, including John Neville, Marquess of Montagu and Montagu’s son George Neville, Duke of Bedford. Salisbury’s younger brother was Edward Neville, Baron Abergavenny, who, together with his son George Neville, fought for the Yorkists at Tewkesbury.
House of Stanley
Eleanor Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, was a granddaughter of Joan Beaufort who was the first wife of Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. Their sons, George Stanley and Edward Stanley, therefore inherited a Lancastrian claim as great-great-grandchildren of John of Gaunt. They would instead become stepbrothers to another Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, after their father’s marriage to Margaret Beaufort.
House of York
Perhaps the most surprising inheritor of the Lancastrian claim was the House of York itself, which had shunted aside the Lancastrians to snatch the throne. The claim came from Cicely Neville, daughter of Joan Beaufort and therefore grandaughter of John of Gaunt. Married to Richard, Duke of York, she therefore united her Lancastrian claim with his Yorkist and Mortimer claims which passed onto their children whom included Kings Edward IV and Richard III.
It’s just as well Henry Tudor won a great military victory at Bosworth!