I have been interested in European Royalty since about 1978. That was 35 years ago. Now what I am about to say hopefully will not come across as arrogance but I do find myself surprised when I learn something new. I am not saying I know everything it is just that when I discover something that I thought I would have known, and didn’t, it does surprise me a bit. Sometimes I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t know something. This is the case with today’s blog.
In my study of British royalty I have neglected the aristocracy to some extent. In my research I have discovered that the House of Plantagenet still exists in the male line. I had been under the impression that the House of Plantagenet had died out in the male line. Now the living male line Plantagenet descendents are from an illegitimate line, or the “wrong side of the sheets” as they say, and they no longer bear the Plantagenet name, so to some that may mean the line has ended. I myself on the other hand, am not so sure.
Who were the last legitimate male-line Plantagenets? Richard III was the last Plantagenet King of England and he was from the House of York. His brother, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, 1st Earl of Salisbury, 1st Earl of Warwick, was “privately executed” at the Tower on 18 February 1478. He left one son, Edward, Earl of Warwick, who himself was executed in 1499 during the reign of Henry VII. When the Earl of Warwick died he had been the last legitimate male-line member of the House of Plantagenet. The first King of that line had been King Henry II of England who died in 1189.
However, an illegitimate line of the Plantagenet dynasty lives today. The representative of that line is His Grace, David Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort. To trace his line back to the Plantagenet dynasty one has to go back to the reign of King Edward III of England. As stated in my Legitimate Succession series (still on going) Edward III and Philippa of Hainault had many children that survived to adulthood. The one we concern ourselves with now is the third surviving son, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. To find the line of Plantagenet descendents we must go to the third marriage of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford née (de) Roet.
(This next section is a repeat from my blog dated 25 February 2013)
Initially Katherine was the governess to Gaunt’s daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth. After the death of Gaunt’s first wife, Blanch, John and Katherine entered into a romantic relationship which produced 4 children, all illegitimate being born out-of-wedlock. However, two years after the death of Constance of Castile, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford legally married at Lincoln cathedral 1393. Subsequent Letters Patent in 1397 by Richard II and a Papal Bull issued by the Pope Eugene IV legitimized the adult children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford with full rights to the throne. However, an Act of Parliament in the reign of Henry IV confirmed their legitimacy but barred the children from having rights to the throne.
The line from John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford took the surname Beaufort. Thier eldest son, John Beaufort, became the 1st Earl of Somerset and married Margaret Holland the daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent, and Lady Alice FitzAlan. Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent was the son Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent and Joan “the Fair Maid of Kent” (granddaughter of Edward I of England, wife of Edward the Black Prince and mother of Richard II of England). John Beaufort 1st Earl of Somerset and Margaret Holland had 6 children among them Henry Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and John Beaufort, who became the first 1st Duke of Somerset and Edmund Beafort who became the 2nd Duke of Somerset. John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso and had one daughter, Margaret Beaufort who became the mother of King Henry VII of England.
Since the first Duke of Somerset died without male issue the title Duke of Somerset passed to his younger brother, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Edmund married Eleanor Beauchamp and had 10 children. Edmund’s eldest son, Henry Beaufort, became the 3rd Duke of Somerset in 1455 and died in 1464 without a legitimate heir. His brother, Edmund became the 4th Duke of Somerset and died in 14?? also without an heir and with him the main Beaufort line became extinct.
The Beaufort line was a legitimized line from the House of Plantagenet and despite the extinction of the legitimized Beaufort line, this line also continued from an illegitimate offspring. Although Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset, died without a legitimate heir he did leave an illegitimate son from his union with Joan Hill. His son Charles, took the surname Somerset and was created first Lord Herbert and then 1st Earl of Worcester and was Lord Chamberlain of the Household of Henry VIII of England. As Lord Chamberlain, Somerset was largely responsible for the preparations of the Field of Cloth of Gold between Henry VIII and Francis I of France in 1520.
This line continued until Henry Somerset, son of Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester (1568-1628) was created 1st Marquess of Worcester. His grandson, Henry Somerset, 3rd Marquess of Worcester, was created 1st Duke of Beaufort (an homage to their origins) by King Charles II of England and Scotland in 1682. This line has continued to the present day with His Grace, David Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort and is a male-line descendent of the House of Plantagenet, albeit through two illegitimate lines.