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With the usurpation of the throne of England by Henry Bolingbroke as King Henry IV of England and Lord of Ireland this event brought instability to the Monarchy and planted the seeds for further usurpations during the period of the Wars of the Roses.

To get to the reign of King Edward IV of England we need to examine the complex genealogy of the descendants of King Edward III of England and the ancestry of King Edward IV.

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

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, was born at New Forest, Westmeath, one of his family’s Irish estates, on November 6, 1391, the son of Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland. He had a younger brother, Roger (1393 – c. 1413), and two sisters: Anne Mortimer; and Eleanor, who married Sir Edward de Courtenay (d. 1418), and had no issue.

Edmund Mortimer’s mother was Alianore Holland, born October 13, 1370 in Upholland, Lancashire, as the eldest child of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent, and Lady Alice FitzAlan, who herself was the daughter of Richard de Arundel, 10th Earl of Arundel, and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster, daughter of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, grandson of King Henry III.

Alianore Holland’s paternal grandparents were Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent, and Joan of Kent, mother of King Richard II by her third marriage to Edward, the Black Prince. As such, Alianore’s father was a maternal half-brother to King Richard II.

Incidentally, Joan of Kent, was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent (1301-1330), by his wife, Margaret Wake, 3rd Baroness Wake of Liddell. Edmund of Woodstock was the sixth son of King Edward I of England by his second wife, Margaret of France, daughter of King Philippe III of France.

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March was thus a descendant of King Henry III and King Edward I and a half-great-nephew of Richard II through his mother, and more importantly a direct descendant of King Edward III through his paternal grandmother Philippa of Clarence, the only child of King Edward III’s second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence.

Because King Richard II had no issue, initially Edmund’s father, Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, was heir presumptive during his lifetime, and at his death in Ireland on July 20, 1398 his claim to the throne passed to his eldest son, Edmund, 5th Earl of March.

Thus in terms of male primogeniture, Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March was heir to the throne over and above the House of Lancaster, including the children of Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

However, on September 30, 1399, when Edmund Mortimer was not yet eight years of age, his fortunes changed entirely. King Richard II was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Lancaster, who became King Henry IV and had his own son, the future King Henry V, recognized as heir apparent at his first Parliament.

The King put the young Edmund, 5th Earl of March and his brother Roger into the custody of Sir Hugh Waterton at Windsor and Berkhamsted castles, but they were treated honourably, and for part of the time brought up with the King Henry IV’s own children, John and Philippa.

The White Rose, Symbol of the House of York

Edmund Mortimer’s claim to the throne was the basis of rebellions and plots against Henry IV and his son Henry V, and was later taken up by the House of York in the Wars of the Roses, though Edmund Mortimer himself was an important and loyal vassal of Henry V and Henry VI.

Edmund Mortimer’s sisters, Anne and Eleanor, who were in the care of their mother until her death in 1405, were not well treated by Henry IV, and were described as ‘destitute’ after her death.

On his accession in 1413, King Henry V set Edmund Mortimer at liberty, and on April 8, 1413, the day before the new King’s coronation, Edmund Mortimer and his brother Roger were made Knights of the Bath.

King Henry V was succeeded by his nine-month-old son, King Henry VI, and on December 9, 1422 Edmund Mortimer was appointed to the Regency Council of the regency government, 1422–1437.

On May 9, 1423 he was appointed the King’s lieutenant in Ireland for nine years, but at first exercised his authority through a deputy, Edward Dantsey, Bishop of Meath, and remained in England.

However, after a violent quarrel with the King’s uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and the execution of his kinsman, Sir John Mortimer, Edmund Mortimer was “sent out of the way to Ireland”. He arrived there in the autumn of 1424, and on January 18 or 19, 1425 died of plague at Trim Castle.

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March left no issue and his nephew, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, the eldest surviving son of his sister, Anne Mortimer and her husband, Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, had a better claim to the throne of the English kings of the House of Lancaster.

It was her line of descent which gave the Yorkist dynasty its claim to the throne. Anne was grandmother of kings Edward IV and Richard III.

Her dynastic marriage with Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, another descendant of King Edward III, increased her family’s claim to the throne of England. That will be addressed in the next entry.