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One of the initial problems King Henry IV had to face after his usurpation of the throne from King Richard II was to manufacture the illusion that his coming to the throne was lawful and legitimate.

Adam of Usk was a medieval canonist, clergyman and historian of Welsh origin who used pro-Lancastrian propaganda with bias against Richard II to justify why the throne was empty in order to promote Henry as a legitimate ruler. Usk also used the elements of Biblical prophecy and rumour to further that legitimation.

Parliament was still in its early stages of development and this body was not seen as a means to legitimize Henry’s reign. After 1399 there is no clear sign that Henry IV thought that he owed his position to a Parliament that had cooperated in the downfall of King Richard II.

King Henry IV of England and Lord of Ireland

In 1406 Parliament simply recorded the fact that the descent of the crown was now in the hands of the Lancasterian family. This recording of the was fact was not establishing the legitimacy of Henry IV’s reign it was merely establishing where the hereditary succession to the crown now resided.

Despite Henry IV not viewing his crown as coming from Parliament he did try to use that institution to his advantage. The first Parliament called during his reign found it necessary, in the best interests of the Lancastrian party, to tweak the narrative to emphasize that Richard II had renounced the crown of his own free-will. They did so quite effectively through both the Record and Process and the rolls of Parliament, which were to be taken as the official word on the matter.

King Richard II of England surrendering the Crown to Henry Bolingbroke 2nd Duke of Lancaster

However, the nature of kingship in fourteenth and fifteenth century England was viewed as sacred and in the spirit of the divine right of kings it was believed by the vast majority that who sat on the trine was ordained by God himself. This meant that Richard II most probably never ceased to believe that he was the true king and would have fought for his title, shattering the Lancastrian illusion of a voluntary abdication.

However, the question of the succession never went away. The problem lay in the fact that Henry was only the most prominent male heir, but not the most senior in terms of agnatic descent from Edward III.

Although he was heir to the throne according to Edward III’s entail to the crown of 1376, Dr. Ian Mortimer has pointed out in his 2008 biography of Henry IV that this entail had probably been supplanted by an entail made by Richard II in 1399 (see Ian Mortimer, The Fears of Henry IV, appendix two, pp. 366–9). Henry thus had to overcome the superior claim of the Mortimers in order to maintain his inheritance.

The heir presumptive to King Richard II was Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, great-grandson of Edward III’s second surviving son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence.

Henry IV’s father, John of Gaunt, was Edward’s third son to survive to adulthood. One way to solve the problem of Henry’s place in the succession was solved by emphasising Henry’s descent in a direct male line, whereas Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March’s descent was through his grandmother, Philippa of Clarence.

Philippa of Clarence the only child of Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, and Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster. As mentioned her father was the third son, but second son to survive infancy, of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. She was the eldest grandchild of King Edward and Queen Philippa, her namesake.

Henry IV furthered his right to the throne in the direct male line further back in history by not just claiming his descent from John of Gaunt the third surviving son of King Edward III, Henry rather ridiculously claimed the throne as the right heir to King Henry III by direct male descent.

Henry IV claimed that Edmund Crouchback was the elder son of King Henry III and not the younger son of King Henry. He asserted that every monarch from King Edward I was a usurper, and he, as his mother Blanche of Lancaster was a great-granddaughter in the male line from Edmund Crouchback, was the rightful king.

Despite attempts to legitimize his reign through Parliament, propaganda or hereditary descent, Henry IV of England was clearly a usurper.