With the accession of Henry III in 1216 the succession to the English throne passed smoothly in the preceding generations until 1399. Henry III was succeeded by his eldest son Edward Longshanks, Edward I, in 1272. Edward I passed the crown uncontested to his son, Edward II in 1307. It was during this relative stability that the principle of male primogeniture took hold.

The movie Braveheart depicted Edward II as a timid indecisive homosexual. While historians agree that Edward II was bi-sexual he also had a strong intimidating presence like his father. However, he did lack confidence and was an inept king. The movie depicts William Wallace as the true father of the future King Edward III of England and this is nothing but pure Hollywood fiction. Wallace died in 1305 and Isabella, who was never Princess of Wales, did not marry Edward until 1308 a year after he had become king. Historians are certain that Edward was the father of their children. The movie is very sympathetic toward Isabelle of France yet in England she was known as the She-Wolf of France. She eventually did take a lover, Roger Mortimer, and eventually had her husband deposed and replaced with their son, Edward III. Edward II was then imprisoned in the Berkeley Castle and brutally murdered. Despite Edward III coming to the throne via his father being deposed, I cannot consider him a usurper given that he was the legal heir to the throne.

Edward III claimed the throne of France, but that is a topic for another blog entry. Edward also had a son named Edward, later called the Black Prince, who was turning out to be a strong and capable warrior himself and had the potential to be a great king. sadly he died the year prior to his father. When Edward III died in 1377 with the principle of male primogeniture was set and instead of one of Edward’s other sons succeeding to the throne, the Crown went to the Black Prince’s grandson, who became King Richard II of England.

Richard II married twice. His first wife was Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Karl IV, one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe at the time. They were married for 12 years and she was much-loved in England despite the fact that the marriage did not produce any children. In 1394 Queen Anne died from the plague.

The second marriage for Richard II was a political move. He married Princess Isabella of France, the daughter of King Charles VI of France and Princess Isabeau of Bavaria. At the time of the marriage Isabella was only 6 years of age and Richard was 29. The marriage was never consummated.

In 1399 Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, died. John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, and first cousin of the king, was denied the succession to his fathers titles unless he formally requested his lands from the king. While Richard was in Ireland Henry, along with Thomas Arundel Archbishop of Canterbury, gathered forces to oppose the king. Henry gained support through England and confiscated the lands of those who opposed him. Henry declared himself as King Henry IV of England. This is a clear usurpation. Richard’s legal heir was his 7-year-old nephew, Edmund Mortimer.

Richard was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle and it seems Henry was going to allow the former king to live. However, once the earls of Huntingdon, Kent, Somerset and Rutland, and Thomas Despenser planned to kill Henry IV and replace him with Richard, Henry allowed Richard to die of starvation on February 14, 1400 at the age of 33.

The interesting fact about Henry usurping the throne is that he actually claimed to not be a usurper and that he was the legitimate male heir to the throne, even though there were about 8 people ahead of him in the line of succession. Henry claimed his descent through his mother, Blanche of Lancaster, a direct descendant of Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, the second son of King Henry III of England. Henry IV put forth the ridiculous claim that the marriage between Edward I and Eleanor of Castile was illegal and therefore all kings after Edward I were illegitimate and therefore had no legal claim to the throne. This was a grand conspiracy theory that existed only in his mind.

To conclude: Henry IV was a usurper and although he did have a blood claim to the throne, he was way down the list. Here are those that came before Henry in the line of succession.

  • Roger Mortimer (died young c. 1411)
  • Anne de Mortimer (1390–1411) (Anne was King Edward IV‘s grandmother.)
  • Eleanor (d. 1418)
  • Henry IV of England (1367–1413)
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