Or, the spastic ramblings of a caffeinated, bored, super-nerd
I’ve always been interested in British history. I could list off Henry VIII’s six wives since I was ten, and I had the years 1066 (William the Bastard invades), 1215 (John signs the Magna Carta), and 1485 (Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at Bosworth) stuck in my head for ages. A few months ago I challenged myself to memorize every monarch from William the
Bastard Conqueror to Elizabeth II, and from there I wanted to memorize the family tree. The family tree bounced around a ton, and whereas a normal family tree branches out, the British royal family tree kept circling back on itself. In short, keeping track of the whole thing is not an easy task. Triangles indicate crowned monarchs, and I’ve included numerical titles as well (Henry I, Henry II, etc.).
Most lists start at William the
Bastard Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. He overthrew Harold Godwinson (who had overthrown the main line of Saxon kings) in 1066. This started the line of the Dukes of Normandy. His son, William II, came after him but died in a sketchy hunting accident that included his younger brother, Henry I. There were actually several other brothers who all got into brawls over a bunch of lands held by their father, but it all settled down with Henry I the victor. He had two legitimate children, William Adelin and Maude. Adelin was the Norman version of the word “aetheling,” which is the Saxon word for the next person in line for the throne.
William Adelin died in a drunken boat accident, leaving Henry with no male heir. He forced all of his barons to swear fealty to his daughter, Maude, but upon his death, they all abandoned her. Henry’s nephew, Stephen, took up the cause and crowned himself king. Maude and Stephen drew the entire country into what would become known as The Anarchy, which was a civil war that spanned over a decade. Eventually, the two agreed that Maude’s son by Geoffrey, Count of Anjou (called Plantagenet after a plant he liked to carry in his hat), Henry, would inherit after Stephen.
When this Henry was crowned as Henry II, the reign of the Plantagenets started. Henry married the recently divorced wife of the king of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Between the two of them they built up what became known as the Angevin Empire, comprising England and a large portion of France. They had several children who all fought each other and rebelled against their father, earning them the moniker “The Demon’s Brood.” Also because Henry was supposedly descended from Melusine, a water spirit/the devil. In addition, Henry II was the king who got into a giant spat with Thomas Becket. He had his oldest son, Henry, pre-emptively crowned by the Archbishop of York (whereas normally the Archbishop of Canterbury – IE Becket – did the crowning) specifically to piss off Becket.
Eventually, after years of backstabbing and infighting, Henry and Eleanor were left with two sons – Richard and John. When Henry died, his son Richard was crowned. Richard let his mother out of prison, where she had been placed because she kept pushing her sons to rebel against her husband. Richard then went off on crusade, pretty much leaving the country to fend for itself.
On his way back from crusade, Richard was kidnapped by the Duke of Austria. Eleanor nearly bankrupted England raising her son’s ransom, and was eventually able to buy him back. Richard returned – very briefly – to England before returning back to France to protect the French part of the Angevin Empire.
Upon his death, his brother John became king. During his reign, he managed to lose nearly all of his Continental holdings, got his ass handed to him by his barons and was forced to sign the Magna Carta, got his ass handed to him by the Scottish and the Welsh, was excommunicated, and lost most of the Crown Jewels in quicksand. He was a walking disaster.
His son, Henry III, fought off a rebellion by Simon de Montfort, who married John’s daughter, Eleanor. The rebellion was largely fought by Henry III’s son, Edward I. He’s called The Hammer of the Scots. I’ll talk more about him later.
Edward II was a piece of garbage who was overthrown by his wife, Isabella of France. Their son, Edward III, laid claim to France and had a shitload of kids. His oldest, Edward the Black Prince, died before his father so his son, Richard, inherited the throne as Richard II. His death is generally where I draw the line as the start of the Wars of the Roses (although most historians start it later, the seeds that led to it begin here).
I’m not going to get very in depth into the politics behind these wars, because they’re extremely complicated. What you’re about to read is an EXTREMELY slimmed down version of real events.
Richard II was a terrible king, so his cousin, Henry (son of John of Gaunt), overthrew him, becoming Henry IV. This started the Lancastrian branch of the House of Plantagenets (he was older than Edmund of Langley but I have them reversed so it organizes better). His son, Henry V, defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt and arranged a treaty so he would marry the French princess, Catherine of Valois, and become king after Catherine’s father died. Instead, he died first so their son, another Henry, inherited England and France. Henry VI married another French princess, Margaret of Anjou. Henry VI was an infant when he became king and turned out to be very, very (VERY) bad at being king. He lost all of France and was eventually overthrown for being such a bad king. His son with Margaret may or may not have actually been his.
While Henry VI was king, his cousin, Richard Duke of York, tried to take control of the government to prevent the country going to shit. He started a rebellion and tried to crown himself king based on his descent from Lionel of Antwerp, who was an elder brother of John of Gaunt and therefore had a better claim to the throne. He died in battle but his son, Edward, took up the claim and won, being crowned Edward IV. This started the York branch of the House of Plantagenet. He pissed off most of the kingdom by marrying a commoner, Elizabeth Woodville.
When he died, his youngest brother (George had been executed for treason) had Edward’s children declared bastards, put the boys in the Tower of London, and crowned himself Richard III. The boys then disappeared. Depending on whom you ask, the boys were either killed by Richard, by Margaret Beaufort, or by the Duke of Buckingham. Margaret Beaufort was a distant cousin to Edward IV and the mother of Henry Tudor.
Margaret was descended from John of Gaunt through his third wife, Katherine Swynford. Margaret had married Edmund Tudor, a son of Catherine of Valois, who was the widow of Henry V. That made Henry Tudor the closest male relative of Henry VI, but not through the royal line. At one point, he had been declared Henry VI’s heir, but that was overturned when Edward IV became king (there was a brief period during his reign when Henry VI came back into power, but he was shortly killed, most likely by all three York brothers, and Edward IV reigned again).
Richard III reigned for about two years when Henry Tudor invaded England and had him killed at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was crap as he was descended from bastardy on both sides (the Beauforts were initially bastards and Catherine of Valois never officially married Owen Tudor), and because he overthrew the rightful king. Still, he based his claim on the same principle as William the Bastard – that of Conquest.
The English aristocracy wasn’t buying it, so Henry was forced to marry Elizabeth of York, the beloved daughter of Edward IV. Thus started the House of Tudor. Throughout his reign, Henry swore he was the rightful ruler, but pretty much as soon as he was in the ground, everyone admitted that he had been ruling in his wife’s right.
Henry and Elizabeth arranged the marriage of their oldest son, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess who actually had a better claim to the throne than Henry. Arthur died shortly after his marriage, so his brother Henry became heir apparent. As soon as he became king, Henry VIII married Catherine himself. His story is pretty famous. He was a psychotic wife killer who married six times and only had three legitimate children. When he died, his only son, Edward, became king. Shortly before he died, Edward VI tried to subvert his father’s will and instead of having his Catholic sister Mary become queen, he had his cousin, Jane Grey, made heiress. Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VII’s youngest daughter, Mary. Instead, the country rose up in protest and put Edward’s sister Mary on the throne. She married Philip II of Spain and very unwillingly had Jane put to death.
When Mary died, her sister Elizabeth became queen. When Elizabeth died childless, the throne passed to James VI of Scotland (I of England), who was descended from Henry VII’s older daughter, Margaret. Thus began the House of Stuart.
After James I came his son, Charles I, who was executed when England decided to be a Commonwealth. After they decided they were done being a Commonwealth, England invited Charles’ family back to England and crowned his oldest son, Charles II. Charles II had a shitload of bastards but no legitimate children so the crown passed to his brother, James II. James had initially married a commoner, Anne Hyde, and his children with her were raised Protestant. He later converted to Catholicism and married Mary of Modena. They had a son, named James. When it became obvious that a Catholic would inherit the throne, England asked James II’s daughter, Mary, and her husband, William, the Prince of Orange, to invade and overthrow James II. They did, and James II ran away. Because William was the grandson of Charles I through his daughter Mary, Mary II and William III were considered dual monarchs. This was called the Glorious Revolution.
When both of them died without children, Mary’s sister Anne became queen. Despite 17 pregnancies, Anne was left with no surviving children. When it became obvious she would leave no heir, England reassessed whether it would ever put up with having a Catholic monarch again.
Anne had several Catholic relatives, but eventually decided that the throne would be restricted to Protestants. Her closest Protestant relative was her cousin Sophia, Electress of Hanover. Sophia was named heir, and Anne’s Catholic relatives were left out in the cold. It was also during Anne’s reign that Scotland and England were made officially one country, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
James II and Mary of Modena hung out in France with their son, James, called The Old Pretender. He had a son named Charles who was nicknamed Bonny Prince Charlie. They became involved in an uprising against the descendants of Sophia in what became known as the Jacobite Risings but were eventually defeated. The Jacobite claim to the throne then passed to the youngest daughter of Charles I, Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans. These pretenders still exist, occupying several different thrones today (but still not England).
Sophia, Electress of Hanover, died before Anne did, so upon Anne’s death, the throne passed to Sophia’s son, George. Thus began the House of Hanover. From George I it went to George II. George II’s son, Frederick, died before his father so the throne passed to his grandson, George III, who had a small role in the American Revolutionary War.
George III’s son, George IV, had one daughter named Charlotte. Charlotte died in childbirth, so when George IV died, the throne passed to his brother, William. When it was clear William IV would have no children, the rest of his brothers married and tried to have children. His younger brother, Edward Duke of Kent, was the first to have a child, a daughter named Victoria. So when William IV died, his niece became Queen Victoria. She married her first cousin Albert, and their son became Edward VII, the first king of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His son became George V. His older son ditched the throne for an American divorcee (and Nazi collaborator), Wallis Simpson, before he could be crowned Edward VIII. So the next king was George VI, who married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother when their daughter, Elizabeth, became Elizabeth II. When Elizabeth II dies (which will never happen because I’m pretty sure she’s immortal), the heir to the throne is her son, Charles. After him comes William, and after William comes George.
Back in 2011, The United Kingdom realized it was 2011 and it was time to get rid of primogeniture. Rules were officially drawn up so that the first child of the monarch, regardless of gender, will inherit the throne. This doesn’t change the order of succession, as William’s oldest child is a boy. But, assuming the monarchy isn’t abolished when Brexit destroys the UK, George’s first child will become monarch regardless of gender.
There are two love stories that I want to cover, stories of two people overcoming ridiculous odds to prove their loyalty and devotion to each other. The first story is of Llywelyn Fawr and Joan, Lady of Wales.
Back in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, Wales was still a (mostly) independent country. Llywelyn emerged as the most powerful prince, controlling most of northern Wales. King John wanted to cement an alliance with Llywelyn, so he offered his bastard daughter, Joan. At that time, Wales didn’t really care about bastardy. Bastards could marry and inherit land with the same rights as legitimate children. So, Llywelyn and Joan married and fell in love. Llywelyn’s mistress, Tangwystl (Welsh names are awesome) died shortly before he married, and Llywelyn put aside his other mistresses once he married. Joan ended up stuck between a rock and a hard place when John and Llywelyn went back to war, but she sided with her husband. Llywelyn built her a church specifically so she wouldn’t have to walk up a hill while pregnant to get to the other church. But the most remarkable event happened when Llywelyn found her in bed with another guy.
It was pretty much expected that a husband would sleep around. It was a necessary evil. But for a wife to sleep around was basically heresy. A man had every legal right to kill his wife if he found her in bed with someone else. So, Llywelyn had the other guy executed and banished Joan…for a year. After that, he completely forgave her and she returned to the Welsh court in full favor. When she died, he was heartbroken. He built another church just for her body and took a vow of chastity, retiring to a monastery. All of this can be read in Sharon K Penman’s novel Here be Dragons.
I discovered that both Elizabeth of York and Henry VII were descended from this beautiful love story. Through Llywelyn and Joan’s daughter, Elen, descended Joan of Kent. Joan of Kent married Edward the Black Prince, but before she did, she married Thomas Holland. It was a bit of a scandal because it was a secret marriage. Shortly afterwards, Thomas left on crusade and Joan’s parents made her marry someone else. When Thomas returned, Joan revealed that she married him first, so her second marriage was annulled. When she became a widow, she met and fell in love with Edward the Black Prince. People weren’t too thrilled about the Prince of Wales marrying such a scandalous woman, but they did it anyway and thus Richard II was descended from Llywelyn and Joan. However, Joan of Kent had several children with her first husband. These children went on to marry into both the Beaufort line and the Dukes of York, making both Henry VII and Elizabeth of York Llywelyn’s descendants.
I discovered a little later that Elizabeth of York was descended from Llywelyn a second way, through his daughter Gwladus. Historians aren’t sure if Gwladus was Tangwystl’s daughter or Joan’s, but the connection to Llywelyn is there.
The second story is of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. When Philippa of Hainault came to England with Edward III, she brought a bunch of knights and servants. One knight was Pan de Roet, who had two daughters, Philippa and Katherine. They were raised in Queen Philippa’s household, and Philippa de Roet went on to marry someone by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer. Yeah, THAT Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine married a knight serving John of Gaunt named Hugh Swynford.
John of Gaunt married the Duchess Blanche of Lancaster, making him one of the richest men in history. They had several children, including the future Henry IV. Katherine served as governess to the children, and brought her Swynford children with her to be raised in the same household. It was Thomas Swynford who starved Richard II to death, probably for his step-brother Henry IV. After Blanche died, John started sleeping with Katherine. But, she was a commoner and a foreigner, where he was a prince and the Duke of Lancaster. He went on to marry Constance, the exiled queen of Castile. He intended to take Castile back from Constance’s bastard uncle, and crown himself king. That didn’t work out, but his daughter by Constance, Catherine, married into the Castilian royal line. During his marriage to Constance, he kept up his affair with Katherine, eventually having four children with her. He gave them the surname Beaufort, after land he technically owned in France. I say technically because it was in name only and he never planned on actually taking control of it. Eventually, people grew too fed up with the fact that he was still sleeping with a commoner. A one night stand was understandable, but they’d been together for years. This obviously wasn’t some quickie, but an actual love match. The scandal grew so bad that Katherine had to leave court and break off the affair. They stayed close friends, though, and John was a great father to the Beaufort bastards. When Constance died, John approached the pope and King Richard II with a crazy idea. He wanted to marry Katherine, and through the marriage make the Beauforts legitimate. Richard II said sure, because he wanted to keep the loyalty of the one man who had stayed loyal through his shitty reign. The pope said sure because John had a stupid amount of money. So, in defiance of propriety and public opinion, John flipped off the public and married a commoner and a foreigner – a scandalous woman who became the Duchess of Lancaster, the most powerful woman in England at the time. To say the court was pissed is an understatement, but with the backing of the king and a stupid amount of money, they couldn’t do anything. John and Katherine lived (mostly) happily ever after, and their now legitimate Beaufort children made ridiculously successful marriages. Katherine was Edward IV’s great grandmother, and great great grandmother to Henry VII.
I mentioned that Henry VII had a shit claim to the throne. On his father’s side he descended from bastards, and he was descended from bastards on his mother’s side. In addition, when Henry IV became king, he inserted a clause in the ruling that made the Beauforts legitimate that neither they nor their descendants could claim the throne. This wasn’t repealed until Edward VI became king. So Henry VII had no decent claim whatsoever to the throne.
But what about Spain?
I mentioned that Catherine of Aragon had a better claim to the throne than Henry VII. She was descended from John of Gaunt and his first two wives. His daughter with Blanche married the king of Portugal, and Isabella (of Ferdinand and Isabella) was descended from her and from John and Constance’s daughter Catherine. Since Henry VIII was descended from the Beauforts, that meant that Mary I was descended from all three of John of Gaunt’s wives. Catherine of Aragon had no descendants after Mary I, but all Spanish monarchs, including the current ones, are descended from her sister Juana.
And now France.
Why did the English monarchs keep referring to themselves as the monarchs of England AND France?
The English followed agnatic primogeniture, with a few tweaks. Parliament could bypass male lines. It wasn’t until Jane Grey/Mary I that they really accepted a female monarch, but when Henry II became king, the English proved that they didn’t have a problem passing the throne through the female line. Actually, that would have happened regardless, because Stephen was the son of William the Conqueror’s daughter, Adela. So either way it was going to pass through a woman.
The numbers above names in this chart indicate the sequence of crowned French kings. I didn’t include triangles on the French kings, just on the English ones. Edward II married Isabella, the daughter of Phillip IV of France. When Phillip IV died, his son Louis X became king of France. He died, leaving a pregnant wife. The French decided to wait and see if the child was a male. He was, and so that John became the only French king to be king from birth. He died only five days later, though, so the French crown passed to Phillip V, and then to Charles IV. When Charles IV died with no children, the French decided to enact Salic Law, an ancient French law that said a woman could not pass down a right she herself could not hold. So by French law, the crown could not pass through Isabella to Edward III, the English king. Instead, the French crowned Philip VI, the son of Charles Count of Valois, who was the younger brother of Philip IV. By English law, meanwhile, Edward III could have inherited the French crown. He didn’t pursue it at first, but any time the French pissed him off, he pulled the mommy card and called himself King of France. This continued all the way down to Henry V, who conquered France and whose son became King of France. At least until the French crowned Charles VII. But the English monarchs kept calling themselves monarchs of France until France didn’t even have a monarchy anymore.
Lasting peace didn’t exist between England and France until Victoria’s son, Edward VII became king. Edward had a thing for French prostitutes, and thought it was kind of unseemly to sleep with hookers from a country he was sort of supposed to be at war with. So he brokered a lasting peace. For the hookers. That peace continues today, with English people changing their twitter profile pictures to have the French flag.
Thanks for sticking with me! Check back later for more European drama.