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On June 30th I did a post on King Charles VIII of France who married Anne of Brittany. In my research I discovered that her father, François II, Duke of Brittany, had a strong connection to the English Royal Family.

François II of Brittany

François II of Brittany (June 23, 1433 – September 9, 1488) was Duke of Brittany from 1458 to his death. He was the grandson of Jean IV, Duke of Brittany.

François II was born to Richard of Brittany, Count of Étampes (1395–1438) and his wife, Margaret of Orléans, Countess of Vertus (1406–1466), the daughter of Louis I, Duke of Orléans, and Valentina Visconti. Richard of Brittany was the youngest son of Duke Jean IV of Brittany. Richard’s older brothers, Jean V and Arthur III, both succeeded their father as duke, but upon Arthur’s death in 1458 (Jean V’s sons François I and Peter II died in 1450 and 1457 respectively, without sons), the only legitimate male heir was his nephew François II.

Relationship with English royalty

Coat of Arms of King Henry VI of England

Protector of the House of Lancaster

Duke François II unexpectedly became the protector of England’s House of Lancaster in exile from 1471–1484.

During the latter half of the 15th century, civil war existed in England (Known as the Wars of the Roses) as the House of York and House of Lancaster fought each other for the English throne. In 1471, the Yorkists defeated their rivals in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. The Lancastrian king, Henry VI of England and his only son, Edward of Westminster, died in the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury.

Their deaths left the House of Lancaster with no direct claimants to the throne. Subsequently, the Yorkist king, Edward IV of England, was in complete control of England. He attainted those who refused to submit to his rule, such as Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (later King Henry VII of England), naming them as traitors and confiscating their lands.

The Tudors tried to flee to France but strong winds in the English Channel forced them to land at Le Conquet in Brittany, where they were taken into the custody of Duke François II. Henry Tudor, the only remaining Lancastrian noble with a trace of royal bloodline, had a weak claim to the throne, and King Edward IV regarded him as “a nobody”. However, François II viewed Henry as a valuable tool to bargain for England’s aid, when in conflicts with France, and therefore kept the Tudors under his protection.

François II housed Jasper Tudor, Henry Tudor, and the core of their group of exiled Lancastrians at the Château de Suscinio in Sarzeau, where they remained for 11 years. There, François II generously supported this group of exiled Englishmen against all the Plantagenet demands that he should surrender them.
In October 1483, Henry Tudor launched a failed invasion of England from Brittany. Duke François II supported this invasion by providing 40,000 gold crowns, 15,000 soldiers, and a fleet of transport ships. Henry’s fleet of 15 chartered vessels was scattered by a storm, and his ship reached the coast of England in company with only one other vessel.

Arms of Duke François II of Brittany

Henry realized that the soldiers on shore were the men of the new Yorkist king, Richard III of England, and so he decided to abandon the invasion and return to Brittany. As for Henry’s main conspirator in England, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, he was convicted of treason and beheaded on November 2, 1483, way before Henry’s ships landed in England. For Henry’s conspiracy against King Richard III had been unravelled, and without the Duke of Buckingham or Henry Tudor, the rebellion was easily crushed.

Survivors of the failed uprising then fled to Brittany, where they openly supported Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne. On Christmas Day in 1483 at the Rennes Cathedral, Henry swore an oath to marry King Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, and thus unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster. Henry’s rising prominence made him a great threat to King Richard III, and the Yorkist king made several overtures to Duke Francis II to surrender the young Lancastrian.

François II refused, holding out for the possibility of better terms from the King. In mid-1484, François was incapacitated by one of his periods of illness, and while recuperating, his treasurer, Pierre Landais, took over the reins of government. Landais reached an agreement with King Richard III to send Henry and his uncle Jasper back to England in exchange for a pledge of 3,000 English archers to defend Brittany against a threatened French attack.

John Morton, a bishop of Flanders, learned of the scheme and warned the Tudors in time. The Tudors then managed to separately escape, hours ahead of Landais’ soldiers, across the nearby border into France. They were received at the court of King Charles VIII of France, who allowed them to stay and provided them with resources. Shortly afterwards, when François II had recovered, he offered the 400 remaining Lancastrians, still at and around the Château de Suscinio, safe-conduct into France and even paid for their expenses. For the French, the Tudors were useful pawns to ensure that King Richard III did not interfere with French plans to acquire Brittany. Thus, the loss of the Lancastrians seriously played against the interests of Francis II.

Titular Earl of Richmond

Circa 1136, King Stephen of England named Alan of Penthièvre of Brittany (also known as Alan the Black) the 1st Earl of Richmond. After Alan, the title and its possessions (the Honour of Richmond) were typically bestowed upon the Dukes of Brittany, with a few interruptions, through the ducal reign of Jean IV, which ended in 1399. After Jean IV, the English kings would bestow the title Earl of Richmond on nobles other than the Dukes of Brittany, including Edmund Tudor, Henry Tudor’s father. However the dukes of Brittany from Jean V through François II would continue to use the titulary Earl of Richmond.

It is possible that François willed whatever remained of his claims to the earldom and the Honour of Richmond to Henry Tudor. On successfully gaining the English crown after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Henry VII merged the earldom and its possessions into the crown.