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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Surviving the Birth of a Dynasty

Henry VII crowned at Bosworth
Few who had fought in the Wars of the Roses could have foreseen Henry Tudor's rise to the throne of England. He was not even born when the first battles broke out between Richard, Duke of York, and Henry VI. While Tudor may have been viewed as the last hope of the Lancastrians to those who had witnessed the deaths of most of that Plantagenet branch, history has come to view him as the father of a dynasty.

Several key players had to determine how they were going to survive in this new world after years, sometimes decades, of loyalty to York kings and princes. 

One person Tudor was quick to obtain control of was the last of those York princes, Edward of Warwick. His father, George of Clarence, had been convicted of treason and executed by his own brother, King Edward IV, and Edward was only a boy when Tudor became king. Still, the new king understood what a threat Edward and those who might use him for their own purposes posed. Soon after Tudor's arrival in London, he had Edward of Warwick imprisoned in the Tower, where he remained for the remainder of his life.

Henry VII seemed not as concerned about female Yorkists and their descendants. Edward's sister, Margaret, not only remained free, she became a royal ward until Henry had her married to his loyal follower and distant relative, Richard Pole. One of Margaret's sons, Reginald Pole, found particular favor with the king and was supported in his quest for higher education, despite the fact that his claim to England's throne was probably stronger than Henry's was. It was a claim Reginald never tried to press, but the Pole family did later experience more than their fair share of drama under the second Tudor king, Henry VIII.

The greater concern for Henry VII was the daughters of Edward IV. Richard III, the last York king, had died childless (at least without legitimate children), but his brother had left a passel of heirs to worry about. His sons, Edward and Richard (yes, all men in the late 15th century were either Edward, Richard, or Henry), had disappeared/died during the reign of their uncle, and we will not discuss that controversy here. Instead, we will look at what Henry Tudor had to deal with: Edward's five surviving daughters.

Elizabeth of York and her sisters
A solution for the eldest of these daughters had already been proposed. On Christmas Day in 1483, almost two years before his victory at Bosworth, Henry had vowed to marry Elizabeth of York. On January 18, 1486, he made good on that promise, gaining a valuable wife and ally in bringing peace to his kingdom.

Elizabeth's next oldest sister, Cecily, had been married to Ralph Scrope during Richard III's short reign, but Tudor had that marriage annulled in order to match her with loyal Lancastrian (and again distantly related) Viscount John Welles. Cecily did not challenge the king or try his patience until she married without his permission after the death of Welles. He stripped her of her lands and titles, leaving Cecily to survive the birth of the dynasty but live it out in obscurity.

The next York princess, Anne, married Thomas Howard, but died childless. Edward's youngest daughter, Bridget, also posed no threat to the Tudors when she became a nun at a very young age.

Catherine, was the only female of the York line, besides Margaret Pole, to go on to have children who would challenge the Tudor kings (and at least one queen). She was married to William Courtenay whose close relationship to Edmund de la Pole earned him a long visit to the Tower. The de la Poles, Richard, Edmund, and John, were sons of another Elizabeth of York, this one Edward IV's sister rather than his daughter. John de la Pole died fighting against Henry VII at the Battle of Stoke, and Edmund was imprisoned then executed. Only Richard escaped the Tudors to make a life for himself on the Continent. As for the Courtenays, William died shortly after finally being released by Henry VIII, and his son, Henry Courtenay, was executed as part of the alleged Exeter Conspiracy.

The Exeter Conspiracy was also Henry VIII's excuse for ridding himself of Henry Pole, Margaret's oldest son. By then, 1538, Reginald was safely in Rome and her other remaining son, Geoffrey, joined him there after their brother's execution.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Henry Courtenay left a surviving son behind, who was imprisoned but not executed. Edward Courtenay remained in the Tower until the reign of Queen Mary I. She had him released but refused to marry him, so he became the joint focus of rebellions that hoped to place he and Princess Elizabeth on the throne together in place of the Catholic queen. Edward was sent into exile where he died, possibly of poisoning.

Reginald Pole became the most significant member of the York family tree to survive the Tudor dynasty (his sister Ursula also survived, remaining far from court with her husband, Henry Stafford). After outrunning assassins sent after him by Henry VIII, he almost became pope in 1550 and served as Queen Mary's Archbishop of Canterbury during her attempt at counter reformation. He and Mary died on the same day, November 18, 1558.

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