Saturday, May 25, 2013

Was Edward of Westminster Really the Son of Henry VI? (1453)

Marriage of Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI (1445)

Margaret of Anjou (1430 - 1482) was the queen consort of England's Henry VI of England (1421 - 1471). Henry's father, Henry V, died when the son was only nine months old. Henry VI was raised with considerable influence of his regents. Even before Margaret, at 15, married Henry in 1445, there were rumors he'd been afflicted with bouts of mental instability. Henry's mother, Catherine of Valois, was the daughter of Charles VI of France, known to have struggled with insanity. (Henry also inherited the crown of France through his mother when he was eleven months old, when that grandfather died; he never ruled France as the throne was taken by Charles VII Valois in 1429.)
Even after he assumed power, Henry seemed mostly interested in religion and statecraft, not in his wife. Margaret did not become pregnant until 1453. About that time, Henry slipped into a serious mental breakdown, and was unaware of what was happening, including the birth of his son, Edward, in October 1453. When he came out of the breakdown, he acknowledged paternity of his son, and had him invested as Prince of Wales in 1454.
However, there were rumors that, given the long period before the queen became pregnant, and his insanity around the time of conception, the son had a different father. Two men were the primary suspects of being the real father:
  • Edmund Beaufort, second (or first) Duke of Somerset (1406 - 1455). He was a younger son of John Beaufort, whose parents were John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Katherine Swynford. He was a cousin of Henry VI, and a favorite of Henry. Edmund Beaufort had considerable power from 1451 through 1453, when the king's insanity made him vulnerable; the king was imprisoned in the Tower of London, released only when he recovered his wits. Edmund Beaufort was killed in 1455 at the First Battle of St. Albans, known as the first battle of the Wars of the Roses. The rumor of his adultery with the queen may have been part of a campaign during the king's insanity to destroy his reputation and reduce his power. His marriage in the early 1430s was unlicensed, and had to be later pardoned (1438), so he was already the subject of marital scandal. His wife, Eleanor Beauchamp, lived until 1467.
  • James Butler, fifth Earl of Ormond and first Earl of Wiltshire (1420 - 1461). He was a strong supporter of the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses, and was an advisor to the young Prince of Wales, his alleged illegitimate son. When the York party prevailed at the Battle of Towton, Butler was beheaded. Butler was married in 1458 to the daughter of Eleanor Beauchamp and Edmund Beaufort, the latter being the other suspect in Margaret's alleged adultery.
As with other accusations of infidelity and illegitimacy, these were leveled by those who had an interest in destroying the reputation of the prince and his claim to the throne, and countered by those who had the contrary interest. Few have taken these claims seriously, however.

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