The War of the Roses, Part Two

Richard II might have gone on with his peace plans (except for attacking Ireland) if things had not deteriorated in France. First, the French King, Charles VI, was apparently insane.

Remember, first, that a couple of generations back, King Philip IV, the Fair, of France had three sons and a daughter (Isabella the She-Wolf). All three sons died either without issue or with only female children, setting off Edward III’s claim on the French throne.

The last of those sons to reign, Charles IV was, like his father, known as “the Fair.” When he died, his wife actually was pregnant, and a regency was set up in case the child was a boy. Charles of Valois, Charles IV’s uncle, Philip VI’s grandson, was the regent. When the child failed to be a boy, Charles of Valois became King Charles V of France. The Capetian dynasty was no more. The Valois dynasty began. It is Charles V’s son, Charles VI of Valois who was King while Richard II was attempting to settle things with the French.

Charles VI is also known as Charles the Mad. So, illness is another factor that these lineages have to deal with, both physical and mental. Charles’s first psychotic episode apparently occurred after the attempted murder of a good friend. While attempting to raid Brittany, where the assailant was hiding out, he appears to have lost contact with reality and attacked his own companions. They subdued him. During some of his episodes, he was unable to respond when asked his name. The exits to his primary residence in Paris had to be walled up or he’d run screaming through the streets.

Sometimes, he believed himself made of glass and made frantic attempts to avoid breakage.

Charles VI’s younger brother watched all this (and more) with some perplexity. You can probably imagine how the younger brother of a King feels about fate, when the King is mad.

It is this same Charles who gave his 6 year old daughter to King Richard II as part of a peace treaty.

When we last mentioned him, Richard II had banished Henry Bolingbroke for life and disinherited them, then gone off to wage more war against Ireland. Henry lost no time in finding an advisor, a former Bishop of Canterbury and returning to England where he used his wealth raise and army and defy Richard. Henry laid waste to Cheshire, which made other areas (many of them already opposed to Richard) very prone to cooperating with him.

By the time Richard II got back from Ireland, Henry had consolidated an army and power, and had no trouble defeating Richard and imprisoning him. This can be seen as the mark of a “true Plantagenet” as it’s the kind of thing Geoffrey did constantly, at which Henry II excelled, and which King Richard the Lion-Heart, King John and Edward I also reveled in. Naturally, Richard II no longer considered Henry IV to be the best choice of an heir.

Without any offspring, what was Richard’s approach to choosing an heir? According to his grandfather’s entailment on the throne, designed to keep the youngster from making errors, only the male line could be considered. But meantime, Philippa, daughter of Lionel, had married a Mortimer and had a son. Edward III had specifically banned any such line of succession; only the male lines could be considered. If Edward III”s will was followed, then Henry was the rightful heir.

But Richard II was a King, himself. Whether or not he ever formally renounced the entailment of his grandfather, he certainly decided to pass the crown to grandson of Lionel even though that boy, Edmund, inherited his rights through the female line. It had been done before (Henry II claimed the throne of England via his mother, Empress Maud). Did it make a difference that Maud was an Empress (the dowager Holy Roman Empress)? Maybe. Philippa was merely Duchess of Ulster.

In every generation of medieval British royalty there are always nobles and hangers-on who are attempting to be ennobled. People do favors for Kings, they put their eggs in one basket so to speak, and through showing loyalty that is often brutal to others, they attempt to protect the King and insinuate themselves into his favor. The Mortimers were experts at this (as were the de Braoses, the de Lucys, the Staffords and many others). Remember that Isabella the She-Wolf had allied herself with Roger Mortimer, her lover and staunch supporter. The entire Mortimer clan benefitted from high marriages, including the marriage of

While Henry would have been Richard II’s closest and most likely male heir, considering the circumstances, Richard II had chosen a more distant cousin – but still a child – as his heir apparent. When Richard II died (mysterious circumstances) in prison, Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby, swept the little heir apparent aside and had himself crowned Henry IV of England, Plantagenet.

As the son of the first Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, Henry IV Plantagenet was known as a Lancastrian Plantagenet.

Let’s remember that John of Gaunt was regent for the little boy Richard II, whose father was John’s elder brother. Had little Richard not been born, John might have been King John II. He remained relatively loyal and certainly showed more than simple self-interest in his life, but of course, he loved his own son and was devastated by claims that Henry IV was a traitor.

In the end, this turns out to be a tragic tale of too many sons. Edward, the Black Prince, beloved, heroic and masterful, dies before he can become King. His small son takes over the job while his brothers have to play entirely different roles than they would have played as brothers of a King. John must have been consigned to a minor role in history as the third son of a King (after Edward, the Black Prince, would have come Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Plantagenet, the second son of the King to survive infancy). So what happened to Lionel? Why wasn’t he regent and why was it John’s son who eventually became King?

As befitted a second son, Lionel was given a great marriage and a great patrimony: Ireland. He was Duke of Ulster. He moved to Ireland to oversee its affairs (and received military aid from his nephew, Richard II). He paid up tribute to Richard from Ireland and made himself rich and powerful on his own island. His noble Irish wife died young, leaving him with just one daughter, Philippa of Clarence and Ulster. So, poor Lionel had no son to contribute to the throne of England. John of Gaunt, who was at home and had a son, was positioned to make a move on the throne.

But there were two more sons of Edward III. Once the hereditary schema fell apart at the death of Richard II, one might suppose that the next in line would be…Lionel. Lionel had, however, meantime died. John was rightfully next after Lionel, but he too had died. So, using the same logic as was applied when Richard II’s father died without taking the throne, Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt seems to be a good claimant for the throne in any case. His two younger brothers didn’t see it that.

To the younger brothers, the two eldest brothers, Edward and Lionel, were both out of the picture and it seemed that all ordinary lines of succession were ignored and the throne was in freefall.

The fourth son’s name was Edmund, Duke of York, Earl of Surrey and Earl of Cambridge. Only a year younger than John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley was sent to the Earl of Surrey for fostering, as was common in those days. He saw military service in France and was wounded there. His first wife was the daughter of King Pedro of Castille. When she died, he married one of those Hollands, who had ingratiated themselves so well into the reign of Richard II. With Isabella, Princess of Castille, he had two sons and a daughter. The eldest, Edward, died in the Battle of Agincourt (part of the Hundred Years’ War; a British victory over the French). So unlike Lionel, as things got more tangled in the succession, Edmund did have sons – the second of whom, Richard of Conisburgh, would attempt to claim the throne from his cousin, Henry IV.

Richard of Conisburgh was an ambitious young man. He was married to his first cousin, twice removed, Anne Mortimer. Now pay attention here, because in addition to being part of the Mortimer clan of constant ambition, she was also the granddaughter of Lionel. Lionel’s daughter, Philippa was her mother.

Now, Philippa, had she been a man, would have had a much stronger claim to the throne than Henry. Now her daughter, who might have been a Princess of England, is married to a man just one step away from being King. This is a volatile mixture when so much is at play and at stake. This is why Lionel’s side of the family is “Yorkist” (they joined with Richard of Conisburgh, son of the Duke of York). They had to get a papal dispensation because they were too closely related.

Richard, 2nd Duke of York, and Anne Mortimer had two sons, one of whom died young, and a daughter, Isabel. The surviving son, also named Richard, became the 3rd Duke of York.

Meanwhile, many people felt that Henry IV had killed Richard II (which sounds about right) and grabbed the throne. Even though he had a strong and rightful claim to the throne, the whole part about imprisoning the King and then the King dying while imprisoned was not good. Uprisings began, chief amongst them was a new uprising in Wales, which had been denied its independence thoroughly since the time of Edward I. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland also refused to serve King Henry IV.

But Henry IV had an army, and he trained his own eldest son, Henry, in the arts of war, so as to have a loyal co-commander, in the style of a good King. He was able to use young Henry and an army of about 400 to quell both the Welsh and the Northumbria uprisings. He also suffered a good deal from health problems.

The health problems would prove significant. For more, you’ll have to wait until I write Part Three.

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