Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Beaufort Dynasty?

Margaret Beaufort Coat of Arms
When Henry Tudor won the crown of England in 1485, he likely did not think he was beginning a new dynasty the way we cleanly divide the Plantagenets from the Tudors. In fact, one might wonder if he or his formidable mother might have named it a Beaufort dynasty were they to give it any label besides Lancastrian.

While Henry had inherited his Welsh surname from his father, Edmund Tudor, his claim to the English throne came through his mother, Margaret Beaufort. She was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt through his children with Katherine Swynford who had been given the name Beaufort. During John of Gaunt's lifetime, his Beaufort children were raised up and even legitimized after he married their mother. In 1396-7, he obtained papal consent to the legitimization and convinced the king, his nephew Richard II, to recognize them by law. The Beaufort children were officially 'sprung from royal stock' and recognized as able to 'receive, hold, enjoy, and exercise, as fully, freely, and lawfully as if you were born in lawful wedlock' any 'honours, dignities, pre-eminencies, status, ranks, and offices, public and private, perpetual and temporal, feudal and noble.'

By the time Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven, his mother was the sole remaining Beaufort heir, the male branches of the family having been rather thoroughly pruned during the Wars of the Roses. Henry claimed the crown through conquest, but his right to challenge the previous king was based upon the royal blood he inherited from his Beaufort mother.

The Beauforts had always been close to the crown - too close indeed for the York challengers to the Lancastrian throne (who incidentally also had some Beaufort blood through family matriarch Cecily Neville). After their legitimization, John of Gaunt saw his oldest Beaufort son created Earl of Somerset. However, Henry IV, though he was close to and depended heavily upon his Beaufort half-siblings, perceived that it was in his interest to limit their ability to rise. A clause was inserted into the original statute: 'excepta dignitate regali.' The Beauforts could receive, hold, and inherit titles, but not The Title. Was this amendment a legal addition to the law? At the time, it did not seem to matter. The Beaufort's loyally served their royal half-brother and his son after him, making no claim to the throne of their own though they did collect plenty of other titles and honors.

Then Henry VI was crowned as an infant after the death of his legendary father, Henry V. Then Henry VI lost everything his father had gained in France and eventually proved unable to rule a country desperately in need of a ruler. In a turn of events Henry IV could not have imagined when he stole the throne from his inept cousin, Henry VI's cousins sought to do the same.

By 1485, with royal and noble bloodlines decimated by war, Henry Tudor's Beaufort blood suddenly made his family tree one of the most prominent in the land.

If you believe rumors of Edmund Beaufort being the true father of Edmund Tudor, the argument for the Beaufort dynasty increases exponentially. When Katherine Valois became a young widow upon the death of her husband, Henry V, the infant king's council was quick to realize that anyone who married her would gain astounding power. Therefore, a fledgling romance with Edmund Beaufort was halted by sending Edmund to serve in France. Katherine soon married Owen Tudor instead, but rumors persist to this day that Edmund, not Owen, was the father of Edmund Tudor, Katherine's eldest son after King Henry.

While this makes a great case for renaming the Tudors as Beauforts, it takes more than a little hope and imagination to believe that Edmund Tudor was recognized by all of the highest ranking men of the land as a Tudor and never believed to be a Beaufort if he really was one (unlike Henry VI's son who some did claim to be a Beaufort bastard rather than royal prince). Surely, someone - for example Margaret Beaufort's acquisitive mother - would have pointed out that Edmund was of Beaufort stock if there was any reason to think that he was.

Henry's mother was justifiably proud of her Beaufort heritage and her son's relationship to King Henry VI through her Tudor husband, who was his half-brother. Margaret was a staunch Lancastrian, striving for years to see Henry receive his birthright from York kings who left him in exile, so she likely would have considered his reign a return to the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenet royal family. It did not take long, however, for the name Tudor to go down in history.

Additional Reading:
Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton
The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin