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To understand how the House of York wrestled the throne from the House of Lancaster let me back track the claims of the House of York. By the reign of Henry VI the claimant to the throne from the House of York was Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, 6th Earl of March, 4th Earl of Cambridge, and 7th Earl of Ulster.

The House of York was descended in the male line from Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, the fourth surviving son of Edward III. The House of York also represented Edward III’s senior line, as heir general of Edward III through cognatic descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second surviving son. Being descended from two sons of Edward III gave the house of York the superior claim to the throne over the House of Lancaster, although according to cognatic primogeniture the House of York had the senior claim and junior claim according to the agnatic primogeniture.

As I stated last week Richard, Duke of York was made Lord Protector of the realm during the incapacity of Henry VI. However, once Henry recovered the Duke of York lost that position and John Beaufort, Duke of Sommerset (another descendant of Edward III) and Queen Margaret of Anjou had many of his statues and reforms overturned.

By 1455 the conflicts between the Houses of York and Lancaster reached fever pitch and with the First Battle of St. Albans the Wars of the Roses had commenced. The Yorkists were victorious in this first salvo of the war. The Duke of York, along with his ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick killed Edmund, Duke of Somerset and captured King Henry VI. What is interesting to note is that Henry VI had been under control of Somerset and the Queen. Instead of taking the throne for himself at this point, the Duke of York restored King Henry VI to full power and authority.

With Henry VI in full power and the Yorkists in control, the Lancastrian faction still plotted to take back control of the king. Despite  Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s attempts to reconcile both parties conflicts arose once more in 1459. The Lancastrians got the upper had in the Battle of Blore Heath but after a Yorkist victory in 1460 at the Battle of Northampton a strange even occurred.

Richard, Duke of York, along with his wife Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (aunt of York’s ally The Earl of Warwick) marched on London and was well received with all the pomp and circumstance due a reigning monarch. Parliament was in session and when The Duke of York declared that he was the rightful and legal king based on primogeniture he was met with stunned silence. Even the Earl of Warwick did not support the Duke of York taking the throne and even Parliament, who agreed that Richard had the best hereditary claim, did not want to over thrown the king. What Warwick wanted, at this time, was to remove the Lancastrian control over the king.

This tense moment was resolved peacefully with the Act of Accord which recognized the Duke of York as heir to King Henry VI even though this displaced the 6-year-old Edward, Prince of Wales in the line of the succession.

I will continue this examination of the rivalry for the throne between the Houses of York and Lancaster in my next post on Wednesday.

What I want to focus on is the issue of legality. Henry IV was a usurper as we mentioned recently. Does that mean the entire House of Lancaster which reigned from 1399 to 1461 was also illegally on the throne? Apparently not. Once in power his rule was accepted by Parliament, a body itself that was gaining in power and authority, and this established the legality of the Lancastrian line. The 1460 Act of Accord also demonstrates the growing role Parliament was playing in regulating the legal succession to the throne.