The War of the Roses, Part I

I’m on the Crimson side, by kin and by loyalty.

While it’s a tad frightening to see how many of my various 18th and 19th century ancestors in the Taylor clan are descendants of some de Braos or another, there’s way more information on some of our later, more famous ancestors:  the Plantagenets.

One of the reasons I find genealogy so interesting is that, as a modern person, I know that it’s partly fortune that determines whether boys or girls will be born.  Now, I know that there’s been some recent research indicating that several variables are involved in whether people have boys or girls.  I want to mention some of the proposed variables.

Men who have a disproportionate amount of brothers are more likely to have sons.  This would be passed along the male line if it is genetic as opposed to environmental or epigenetic.

Bolder, more assertive women are more likely to have sons.  Now this one seems like a long shot to me, but the theory would be that women’s bodies are more likely to host and keep a masculine pregnancy if they’re already rather more testosteronized.  Lots of assumptions there – and yet…well, who could have been bolder than Eleanor of Aquitane, maternal founder of the Plantagenets?  At the same time, she gave her first husband, Louis VII, King of France, only daughters.  Louis’s siblings were almost 50/50 in terms of sex ratio, but with each of his wives he had mostly girls.  Which is interesting.  But, if this one is true, then was Eva Marshall, wife of Black Will de Braos a timid woman?  Would love to know.  Anyway, she had only girls.

Older couples are more likely to have daughters.  Statistical fact, apparently, no one knows why.  Less support for Y-sperm from the man’s body?  I don’t know.

Men with high functioning “male brains” have more sons; women with high functioning “female brains” have more daughters.  This was reprinted from a set of studies in Psychology Today.  What they’re talking about is a broader hypothesis that in order for certain traits to take hold in a population, they must be passed on, so successful men must pass on traits that make men successful to boys, and the same for women.  Okay, makes sense.  But is it true?  In my family, it seems to me that lots of “successful” males and females were born, but only the men were given much opportunity to avail themselves of wealth, power or thrones.

Were you waiting for me to mention culture?  Because, in the end, that’s what I’m interested in.  What kind of system takes high functioning women like Eleanor of Aquitane and locks them up for 15 years for no other reason than that their husband wants to?  I realize he was a king and back then, kings attempted to get their way in all things and Henry II was definitely no pushover.  But it isn’t just Eleanor.  It’s so many women of that period – and onward – whose lives are hedged in, fenced in, boxed in, so that there’s virtually no room for them to breathe, much less be educated.  They’re having so many children, for one thing.

Religion is the linch pin of this system.   Not only does the church dictate male primacy, it also dictates legitimacy.  A man can only have one legitimate wife.  Until the Reformation, that wife had to be the one that the man married in the One Holy Apostolic Catholic Church – of Rome, if you were European.  Illegitimate children abound in my lineage (I’m one, myself, of course).  A very big deal was made of illegitimacy all the way down through the ages, in my family.  Is there some kind of gene for conventionality?  If so, some of my family members had it – and others delighted in flouting it.  Mostly, of course, it was the men who flouted convention by taking concubines regularly.  One can understand this in kings like Llewellyn Fawr and Henry II, whose marriages had to bring political alliances, regardless of what their hearts or loins told them.

So, anyway, Henry II was very powerful.  He managed to run off with the King of France’s wife, and she had to leave behind her two small daughters, princesses Marie and Alys.  Marie’s lineage would eventually join with her mother’s descendants – some 8 generations later, when one of her great-grand-daughters married another descendant of Eleanor, but through Henry II, not Francis VII – a Plantagenet, but a Yorkist.   Both Marie and Alys are maternal ancestors of U.S. Presidents, contemporary British royalty, Churchill and Lady Diana.  Alys is a maternal ancestor of Louis XVII, even though for centuries, her descendants held no thrones.  They still kept in the game, so to speak.

So Eleanor, Queen of France and Duchess/Queen of Aquitane runs off with Henry II, who is about to become King of England after one of those big succession crises.

Henry II is not the son of a King.  He is the son of a daughter of a King.  When Henry I died, his eldest son had already died in the tragic, Titanic-of-its-Day, the wreck of the White Ship.  At least three of Henry Beauclerc I’s children were on that ship, which was supposed to be the best and fastest ship in the world, when it capsized off the coast of Normandy.

Henry Beauclerc (which means “fine scholar”) was an amazing man who outlived many of his children.  And he did have many children.  He was married in the Church twice, but he had an extraordinary number of illegitimate children.  I am descended both from his legitimate heir (Empress Maud), except that even though he named his eldest legitimate daughter as his heir, his contemporaries weren’t buying that.  No woman could reign in her own right.   Anyway, poor Empress Maud was driven out of her own country by her cousin, Stephen of Blois, who claimed to be the most direct male heir (I am also descended from him, but he blew it and lost the throne – he is perhaps the only English king whose father was not king and whose descendants did not rule).

Anyway, Empress Maud married roguish, handsome, virile and militaristic Geoffrey Plantagenet.  Her father arranged this marriage for her, perhaps thinking that Geoffrey was ambitious enough to make sure his wife retained the throne of England.  But Geoffrey was far more concerned about preserving his own paternal heritage, back in Normandy, where he was Count of Anjou (love their pears) and Maine.  He later achieved his own ambition of becoming Duke of Normandy.  He also didn’t like Maud very much.  Geoffrey’s nickname was “the Fair” and he was apparently very handsome and quite the womanizer.  He liked wearing personal adornment and the nickname “Plantagenet” refers to a sprig of yellow flowers that he wore in his hat.  Maud was rather serious, perhaps a bit mopey and imperious.  Before being married off to Geoffrey, Maud had already been married off at a very young age to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, who was basically the King of Germany.  He was 21 years older than herself.  When she was called back from Germany to marry the Norman count, Maud spoke German and had to leave her children from that marriage behind.  Perhaps she was not a happy camper.

But one thing is clear, she fought hard to get that throne away from her childhood playmate and cousin, Stephen of Blois.  A big war ensued.  Maud gave birth to 4 sons from Geoffrey, one of whom died in infancy.  Henry II was her eldest son, a precocious boy who loved both his parents, despite their antipathy towards each other.

Maud raised Henry to be King.  In order to become King, he had to perform a military conquest of England, which he attempted for the first time at the age of 14.  Henry Curtmantle II of England was well-connected.  His father was the Duke of Normandy (Stephen of Blois claimed that title but was unable to defend it).  His great-uncle was King David of Scotland, who became an ally against King Stephen.

Henry did not lack for confidence and he and Eleanor, for a long time, were good partners and together, they had four sons who survived to adulthood and two that did not.  The fact that Maud had been birthing all those boys, that Henry had only brothers, and that Eleanor had sons with Henry and only daughters with Louis VII is interesting.  Eleanor also had daughters with Henry, though.  Altogether, Eleanor produced 12 children, 10 with Henry, 6 of them boys.  Richard the Lion-Heart is perhaps the most famous, and King John the most infamous.

For a long time, Plantagenets ruled in England.  King John begat Henry III Plantagenet, King of England, along with many other children who have surviving descendants today.  Henry III was the father of Edward I Plantagenet, King of England, a great warrior and energetic King.

It is with Edward I that more dynastic troubles begin.   Like a true Plantagenet (or a true descendant of Eleanor of Aquitane), Edward managers to produce four sons who survive past infancy (six total).   Unfortunately, three of the four predecease him and the fourth, as one chronicler has said, “was never worthy to be born.”  Poor Edward II.  He was a boy, a younger brother, and so became king even when he had some sisters (like Joan of Acre) who would have been fine rulers.  But his inability to rule was based largely on sex and gender.  Just as England was not ready for Queen Maud and believed a man, even though more distant from succession, should rule in her place, in the 13th century, England was not ready for a gay King.

King Edward II upset everyone by openly taking a lover (the charming Piers Gaveston).  The story has a tragic ending and I want to say more about it later.  But for now, just remember that Edward’s father, King Edward I Longshanks arranged a marriage for him, with the sister of the King of France, Isabelle – the “She-Wolf of France.”  She got that name because she got to England, was increasingly unhappy with her marital arrangements, and managed to take much more of an interest in actual government than her husband.  I think she also got that name because she insisted on reproducing with her somewhat reluctant husband, with whom she had at least two children before taking up with a lover (so the paternity of some of those royal Plantagenet kids was in doubt; indeed, perhaps all of them should be doubtful – who knows?)

Isabella’s eldest son, Edward III, did resemble his father physically, but his mother made sure he was raised apart from his father, and when the time was right, placed her son in open rebellion against his father.  By then, Edward II had taken a different lover, also handsome and brave. Hugh Despencer.  Isabella had taken herself back to France, where her brother put diplomatic pressure on Edward II to come to France to pay homage for the territory of Gascony.  Edward II sent his young son, instead, which was a huge mistake.  Isabella now had all she needed to essentially launch an invasion.  One of the groups who was opposing Edward II and in favor of putting Edward III on the throne was arranged around the Earl of Lancaster (who was a wicked and terrible man, in my view – but that will have to go in a different chapter if we are ever to get to the War of the Roses).

Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, invaded England and captured Edward II.  With her husband in prison, and public opinion strongly against him, Isabella became the de facto ruler of England, taking the Great Seal into her own hands.  No one was willing to actually kill a King, but life in prison for being gay seemed just to these people.  King Edward II’s trial made no mention of his sexuality, though, only claiming that he had listened to wrong advice, that he was incompetent as a king, and that he had “pursued occupations unbecoming to a monarch.”  This is pretty revolutionary stuff:  that a king could be deposed in this way.  Deposed he was, and his son, Edward III Plantagenet took the throne at the age of 15.

Only two of Edward II’s progency with Isabella ever had children.

Edward III’s rule was complex, but one thing he did was to punish the Earl of Lancaster who had gone against his father by removing the title from him and giving it to one of his sons, John of Gaunt, and elevating the title to Duke.

Had Edward III’s heir, Edward the Black Prince, Prince of Wales, not died young, the war between his brothers would not have taken place.

So we have the ever-lurking main principle:  death, especially infant death and early death, stalking these people’s attempts to keep the rules intact and a direct male heir on the throne.

In order to examine what happened more closely (because it’s a situation that comes up now and again, but is still unusual) we can think about what is supposed to happen with succession today.  In a future world, after King Charles dies, should Prince William die without an heir, then Prince Harry becomes the heir apparent.  Clear, right?

But what if Kate were pregnant or had a small infant?   Now that girls can sit on the throne, I suppose England would wait with baited breath to see if the infant was born alive (which it very likely would be, given modern medical care) and then name Baby as heir apparent instead of Harry.  If this all happened today, the succession would obviously still be Charles first, but if William were gone, then William’s baby.

And so it was with the Black Prince’s son, Richard II.

Richard II would seem an unlikely person to be King of England for 22 years, but he was.  He was the son of the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent, who died before taking the throne.  He had an older brother who was of course the heir apparent, but Prince Edward of Angouleme died when Richard was just four years old, making him heir to the Prince of Wales.

When Richard’s father died, he was 9 and so he became the heir apparent.  The old King Edward III died about a year later, and so Richard was crowned King Richard II (Lion-Heart was the first).

He was only ten.

Now age begins to play a role.  Richard II of course had to have regents.  John of Gaunt, the first Duke of Lancaster, became that regent.  By all accounts, John of Gaunt was a very intelligent, well-trained and able man.  Portraits of him show a dark, handsome man who strongly resembles his father, Edward III (son of the She-Wolf).

Now, this was the time of the Hundred Years War, which everyone has heard about.  It was started by Edward III and lasted slight more than a hundred years.  This conflict between England and France was over hereditary disputes dating back to William the Conqueror.  Both sides developed standing armies, and this was the first time since the Roman era that standing armies were kept.  

The war started largely because Isabella the She-Wolf’s brothers all died without male heirs.  Remember that whole thing about Louis VII having mostly girls?  Well, that particular problem did not befall Philip IV, King of France and Isabella’s father – he had three sons.   But only two of them managed to produce children, and all the children were girls.  In a reversal of fate and fortunate, Isabella the She-Wolf had, of course, managed to produce boys – and her boy was the King of England, Edward III, who therefore promptly made a claim on the throne of France when his grandfather and uncles were all dead.  This did not sit well with the French, who did not want a King of England on their throne.

In the end, the French won the war (surprised?  don’t forget – they had Joan of Arc on their side and she’s credited with that win, by me) but not before Edward III himself was long dead.  Richard II had tried to stop the war, but was unsuccessful.

Richard II wanted to stop the war for some very good personal reasons.  He wasn’t a warlike person, he preferred a courtly life.  He believed he had duties as a king, and he did not keep a tremendously lavish lifestyle, but he certainly didn’t want to be mucking about going to war.  The French were threatening to invade throughout his reign and he really wanted to negotiate peace and go on about his life.  Since the French were massing for an invasion, English Parliament wanted to raise taxes and Richard’s Chancellor, de la Pole (descendant of Normans) was at the forefront of pushing for an unprecedented levy of taxes not to lavish upon the King but to fill a giant war chest.  Since Richard II’s own father had gained the throne through the deposition of Richard’s grandfather, deposition was a buzzword.  Parliament threatened to depose Richard II (and they were serious) so Richard II fired de la Pole and was furious about being pushed around by Parliament.

Richard went on a royal circuit around England, appointing a new Chancellor who would attempt to raise a military loyal to the King, so that deposition wouldn’t be such a threat.  Richard did in fact manage to gain quite a bit of support, but at the same time, the anti-taxation, anti-de la Pole forces wanted to push their point by trying de la Pole for treason.  At some point, the young cousin of the King, Henry, Earl of Derby, joined the Opposition.  Henry was the son of Richard’s former regent and uncle, John of Gaunt.

Richard’s side did not win.  Some were executed, de la Pole fled the country (and was condemned to death in absentia).  Even some of Richard’s chamber knights were executed by a conglomeration of forces that now included his cousin.

Richard sought to mollify France (John of Gaunt helped him with that) and restore peace.  France once again demanded that the English King pay homage to France, which if he had done so, would have riled the English population that he had just succeeded in settling down a little.

Instead the King of France and the King of England arranged a 20 year truce based on marriage.

Richard was to marry the daughter of the King of France, a six year old child named Isabella of Valois.  Now, Richard was already married, to Anne of Bohemia.  For whatever reason (one always wonders), Anne had no children.  The marriage was somehow put aside (the wealthy are usually able to get divorces when they are keen on them, Henry VIII wasn’t the first with this problem).  So Richard marries the 6 year old, and everyone understands that this is a real roadblock to him producing an heir any time soon.

Richard was able to go back to his main interests with the truce underway.  He developed a court of art and culture, and banished militaristic, frat boy behavior to the margins of his world.   He was 31, his new wife was 6.  She was in the care of her own ladies within his court.

Somewhat stung by claims that he was too peaceful to be a King (people were apparently calling him a wuss) and with the English still very focused on being irritated with France, Richard chose to head off to Ireland to quell rebellions there.  Now, as everyone knows, the Irish can be rebellious, but they are a smaller island than Britain and the English Crown at that time now had a standing army (prepared for France, but chomping at the bit to be paid in spoils and also, either needing to be disbanded or put into use).  So Richard takes this massive army, geared and kitted up to deal with France over to Ireland, for one of Medieval history’s most infamous and unequal wars.  You might say that Richard only wanted to go to war when he knew he could win.

Needless to say, this was a great military success.  The Irish were still organized along the lines of tribal chiefdoms, fierce and combative, but no match for 8,000 Englishmen with cavalry.

Also, needless to say, as soon as Richard went home to enjoy his glory, the Irish were resistant again.

Riding on his feelings of military triumph, Richard went home and had large parts of his former opposition arrested and placed in prison.  Some were tried fairly quickly and executed.  But Richard couldn’t really put Uncle John of Gaunt nor cousin Henry, Earl of Derby in prison and they had allied themselves with the Opposition.   I probably do have to say that throughout English history (and the history of many peoples), leaders acting like tyrants upsets people even if they previously liked the leader.  That’s another reason I’m very interested in all of this.

John of Gaunt apparently abandoned all allegiance to his former comrades and stuck by the King, even as the King began to levy fines against the lesser members of the opposition and enrich the Crown.  Richard was getting the hang of being a ruler.  He took money away from his enemies and elevated men closer to himself, like the de Hollands, who were his half-brother and nephew, whose only certainty of rank involved allegiance and kinship to Richard.  A series of my male ancestors were in this little gaggle of King-followers, whose children intermarried amongst themselves while the party was still going strong.

Nevertheless, John of Gaunt was the richest man in England.  And Richard had no children.  Who would reign after him?

If Prince William were to be Prince of Wales, but Kate never had children, then Harry would reign after him – right?  So, if Richard has no children – and no brothers – doesn’t his uncle get to rule?

The King’s gaggle of loyalists saw the threat.  What if the King died and an opposition member (either John of Gaunt or his son) became King?  That wouldn’t be good for them and their newly found wealth and power.  One of the loyalists managed to get into a quarrel with young Henry (also known as Bolingbroke) and a parliamentary committee at first wanted the two to to settle their differences by battle.  The King intervened, banishing Henry for 10 years, the other man for life.

Not long after, John of Gaunt died, I think, of a broken heart.  Or stress.  The banishment of his son, his son’s managing to get into conflict with the King’s men, after all John had done to be diplomatic and keep things peaceful, was too much for him.

Richard was quick to react (although in retrospect, it was a stupid move).  Fearing that Henry would come back as his father’s heir and manage to wield all that wealth, he extended the banishment to life and disinherited Henry (he could have confiscated John of Gaunt’s lands, but he did not).

Henry went on living in Paris, with funds from his family.  Richard went back to fight in Ireland some more.

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathryn
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 13:20:02

    Very interesting post! I hope you don’t mind if I link to a blog post of mine about the four children of Edward II and Isabella of France – there is really no doubt that all the children were Edward’s, and he also fathered an illegitimate son called Adam. edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2011/02/edward-ii-and-his-children-and-why.html Isabella’s relationship with Roger Mortimer didn’t begin until about four and a half years after the birth of her youngest child, and when her eldest son was thirteen. The notion that Edward II’s children weren’t really his children is an entirely modern invention popularised by Braveheart and several sensationalist novelists, and is based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Additionally, Isabella certainly did not ‘make sure that her son was raised apart from his father’, for the simple reason that Edward II, not Isabella, was the legal guardian of their children and entirely in charge of their households and education.

    I’m a little confused about your statement about the earl of Lancaster in 1327 being a ‘wicked and terrible man’. This earl was Henry of Lancaster, Edward II’s first cousin, who died in 1345 and was popular and respected. His son the even more popular and respected Henry, who died in 1361, was the first duke of Lancaster (in 1351) and John of Gaunt’s father-in-law – Gaunt inherited the dukedom on Henry’s death – it certainly wasn’t taken away from Henry by Edward III, who was very close to his cousin. I wonder if the ‘wicked and terrible’ earl of Lancaster you’re thinking of was the elder Henry’s brother Thomas, who was executed by Edward II in 1322, having rebelled against him?

    Reply

    • L. Kamaila
      Sep 18, 2012 @ 03:45:29

      I have a lot more work to do on this blog. I would love to have all the genetic evidence I think is about to come. I do need to make it clearer exactly who I’m talking about!

      Henry IV should have inherited John of Gaunt’s estate, but Richard II (I’m sure you know this) denied him.

      I’d like to publicize projects like this:

      http://www.freewebs.com/plantagenetdna/

      Reply

  2. BRAOS Camille
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 09:54:32

    Bonjour,
    Qui peut me trouver des renseignements sur mes ancêtres ?
    La Famille De BRAOSe
    Merci d’avance
    Cordialement
    Mr Camille BRAOSe

    Reply

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