Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Is the Tudor Dynasty Illegitimate at the Beginning of Henry VIII’s Reign?

Importance of the male ancestral line in medieval England

Medieval England was a male-dominated society in which each head of household was like a little king in his own right, ruling over his wife and children. If the man of the house was wealthy enough to have servants, it only added to his position as a mini sovereign. The importance of ancestry in this arrangement cannot be understated. Claims to a strong genealogy dating back deep into time provided desired legitimacy to authority regardless of how substantial those claims were. In order to validate the Tudors’ legitimacy to the throne, that dynasty’s historians have made such claims of lineage dating back to legendary kings like Arthur. Henry VII made his dubious claim to the throne through his mother and the illegitimate Beaufort line, which brought the Tudor line into question even after the family no longer ruled.[1]

Overview of the Tudor Dynasty

There were five sovereigns of the Tudor dynasty who, though their combined reign only equaled 118 years, became some of the most well-known Royal figures in history. Henry VII, of Welsh origin succeeded in bringing the War of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York to a close and founded the successful Tudor house. He, his son Henry VIII, and his three children, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth followed.[2]

Henry VII’s Questionable Legitimacy

            Henry VII has been regarded by posterity to be England’s first Welsh monarch. However, he was only one-quarter Welsh. If blood-line is considered, he might just as easily have been considered a French monarch. It is not surprising that many throughout the centuries have questioned his legitimacy to the throne.
           On his father’s side, there was no royal blood at all. The Tudur family had come to prominence in Wales through service to the “most constructive and ambitious of Welsh princely houses.” They served three princes of the Gwynedd family as councilors, diplomats, and soldiers.[3] The Tudur family, possibly out of self-preservation, sided with King Edward I in 1282 when he completed his conquest of Wales. This assured them of their continued prominence. Many of them later served in the household of Richard II.
           When Henry IV deposed Richard, most of them supported Owain Glyndwr in his uprising against the English. The family was dispossessed and the youngest member, Maredudd fled with his son Owen who was Henry’s grandfather.[4]
            Owen married the widow of King Henry V, Katherine of Valois and the couple had four children, including three sons. King Henry VI had an excellent relationship with his Welsh stepfather and stepbrothers and made all three of them earls, promoting the eldest two above all other earls in the realm. The eldest, Edmund married Margaret Beaufort in 1455 who gave birth to Henry in the same year.[5] Margaret’s great-grandfather was King Edward III. This, however, was tarnished because Margaret’s grandmother Katherine Swynford had given birth to her father John out of wedlock. Synford was the mistress to Edward’s third son John of Gaunt for years and had children with him before the two were married. It was this illegitimacy that hung a cloud over the Tudor dynasty.
           Both kings, Richard II and his deposer, Henry IV had issued writs declaring the Beauforts legitimate, but each of these contained stipulations stating that the Beauforts were ineligible for the throne. The marriage of Owen and Katherine after Henry V’s death had not provided strong enough ground on which to claim kingship, and Henry VII never tried. But with the Beaufort line providing direct descent to an English king, Henry Tudor had a stronger case than simple conquest to begin a dynasty in his own name.[6]
            Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham rebelled against Richard III in 1483, no doubt considering himself more suited to the throne by lineage.[7]
            Henry then made the unprecedented move of proclaiming himself the rightful heir to the throne before he was even crowned.[8]
            Henry drew liberally from his mother’s bloodline to legitimize his reign. When this proved to be a weak link, he tried to show that his lineage from his father’s side stretched back to the legendary King Arthur, a claim that held special significance with his Welsh subjects and relatives. This, however, was even weaker than his claim to the throne from his mother’s side. His propaganda was successful, though, and the English came to consider him the legitimate heir of the Lancastrian line.[9]

Griffiths, R. A. “Henry Tudor: The Training of a King.” Huntington Library Quarterly 49. 3
(1986): 197-218. Accessed January 23, 2016.

[1] Alison Findlay, Illegitimate Power: Bastards in Renaissance Drama, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), 2.
[2] “The Tudors,” The Official Site of the British Monarchy,, accessed January 19, 2016.
[3] R. A. Griffiths, “Henry Tudor: The Training of a King, Huntington Library Quarterly, 49. 3. (1986): 199.
[4] Griffiths, 200.
[5] Griffiths, 202.
[6] Griffiths, 202.
[7] Griffiths, 205.
[8] Griffiths, 197-218.
[9] Griffiths, 213.
[10] Griffiths, 207.

No comments:

Post a Comment