‘The Only True Lancastrians’: or a Tale of Two Ladies named Blanche

There is a claim that is frequently put forward on social media, and even now on Television with the renewed interest in all thing relating to the Wars of the Roses. This is that Henry Tudor was not a ‘true Lancastrian’ or indeed a ‘true Plantagenet’. Some even take it as far as to suggest he was the illegitimate descendant of a servant with no claim the throne. Many who make such claims are – partisan to say the least. When one examines the historical and genealogical evidence on its own terms an interesting and rather different picture emerges. 

The term ‘Lancastrian’ applies not only to a political faction in the Wars of the Roses, but also the members of a particular royal bloodline descendants of one particular individual. Not John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, but his wife, Blanche.  Apparently, the only ‘true Lancastrians’ are  those descended in this approved bloodline. What qualifies some people  to determine the ancestral ‘right’ of distant Plantagenets is left unsaid.

Why the emphasis on the Great Lady? Allegedly because  after 1471 there was only one specific line of ‘true Lancastrians’ left, which was conveniently represented in Juana, a Portuguese Princess distantly descended from Blanche who was ‘going to marry’ Richard III.  Even though they weren’t formally betrothed, and the plans for marriage don’t seem to have got beyond the negotiation stage, some speak about Juana as if she and Richard were already husband and wife.

This selective cherry-picking of ancestry is problematic for two reasons. The first being that it is just plain wrong. Juana was not the last descendant of Duchess Blanche  left alive after 1471. The sons of King Henry IV,  and his grandson Henry VI were all gone, but Blanche had two daughters, and descendants of her youngest,  Elizabeth,  were very much alive after that date. The most prominent of them were the Holland Dukes of Exeter, of which the male line died out with Henry Holland the 2nd Duke in 1475. However, the descendants of Elizabeth’s daughter and grand-daughter lived well into the sixteenth century and beyond. They included  the Grey Earls of Kent, and a junior branch of the famous Neville family who sprang from her daughter’s marriage to John, 1st Lord Neville. So there were actually a lot of Lancastrian descendants around in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.

More troublesome, however, is the insistence that only descendants of Duchess Blanche ‘count’. Why? The estates and title of the Dukes of Lancaster did not originate with her. They actually came from her great-grandfather  Edmund ‘Crouchback’ first Earl of Lancaster, younger brother of Edward I. Earl Edmund was married to another Blanche, Blanche of Artois, the first Blanche of Lancaster. Their descendants were many and, as we shall see, attained high rank and prominence.

Lancastrian Family Tree

Their grandson, Henry de Grosmont, was raised to the title of 1st Duke of Lancaster. When he died,  because he had only daughters who could not become Duchesses in their own right unless they married, the title was then settled on his son in law, John of Gaunt. The descendants of this union are well-known, but Henry himself came from a large family with six sisters. One was Eleanor, born in 1318, and married to Richard (III) Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. She had seven children with him, including two daughters called Joan and Alice. Joan, the elder, married Humphrey de Bohun 7th Earl of Hereford, and their daughter was none other than Mary be Bohun, the mother of King Henry V and his brothers. The redoubtable Lady Joan outlived her daughter by many years surviving until 1419, the sixth year of the reign of her grandson.

Joan’s younger sister Alice FitzAlan also made a good marriage, to Thomas Holland the half-brother of King Richard II. One of her daughters, Margaret Holland married John Beaufort. Yes Beaufort, as in the son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. John and Margaret’s grand-daughter was one other than Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. So Henry Tudor was in fact a descendant of the original Earls of Lancaster (the title they hed before Henry de Grosmont was promoted to Duke) , just not in senior male line. Yet this ancestry still made him a descendant of Henry III. His aforementioned great-grandmother Margaret Holland was also a descendant of Joan of Kent, the daughter of Edward I’s younger son, Thomas of Woodstock. So it turns out that Tudor was so much more than ‘just a Beaufort’ or ‘the son of a servant’. He was actually descended from no fewer then three Plantagenet Kings, and was the Second Cousin, twice removed of Henry V.

Is a pity this branch of his family line is not well-known or publicized. Some of course will still assert that it ‘does not count’. Yet it does reveal how a little digging can sink the assumptions of popular wisdom favoured by certain interest groups.

All genealogical information from http://www.thepeerage.com which uses various respected and recognized genealogical sources, including Burke’s Peerage and the Royal Genealogies Website.

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