1902 Encyclopedia > House of York

House of York

HOUSE OF YORK. Richard, duke of York, who claimed the crown of England in opposition to Henry VI., though he never succeeded to the throne himself, was, nevertheless, the founder of a royal line. It may be said, indeed, that his claim, at the time it was advanced, was rightly barred by prescription, the House of Lancaster having then occu-pied the throne for three generations, and that it was really owing to the misgovernment of Margaret of Anjou and her favourites that it was advanced at all. Yet it was founded upon strict principles of lineal descent, and was certainly a strong one, if it could only be maintained that hereditary right did not suffer from interruption. For the duke was descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, the third son of Edward III., while the House of Lancaster came of John of Gaunt, a younger brother of Lionel. The House of Lancaster, therefore, had been clearly in wrongful posses-sion of the throne, and Richard, duke of York, claimed it as the true heir. One thing which might possibly have been considered an element of weakness in his claim was that it was derived through females,—an objection actually brought against it by Chief-Justice Fortescue. For Lionel, duke of Clarence, left only a daughter, Philippa, who married Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March ; and the male line of the Mortimers also failed on the death of Edmund, the fifth earl, whose sister, and ultimately his sole heir, Anne, married Richard, earl of Cambridge, and became by him the duke of York's mother. But a suc-cession through females could not reasonably have been objected to after Edward III.'s claim to the crown of France ; and, apart from strict legality, the duke's claim was probably supported in the popular estimation by the fact that he was descended from Edward III. through his father no less than through his mother. For his father, Richard, earl of Cambridge, was the son of Edmund, duke of York, fifth son of Edward III.; and he himself was the direct lineal heir of this Edmund, just as much as he was of Lionel, duke of Clarence. His claim was also favoured by the accumulation of hereditary titles and estates. The earldom of Ulster, the old inheritance of the De Burghs, had descended to him from Lionel, duke of Clarence ; the earldom of March came from the Mortimers, and the dukedom of York and the earldom of Cambridge from his paternal ancestry. And in addition to all this his own marriage with Cecily Neville, though she was but the youngest daughter of Balph, first earl of Westmoreland, allied him to a powerful family in the north of England, to whose support both he and his son were greatly indebted.

The reasons why the claims of the line of Clarence had been so long forborne are not difficult to explain. Boger Mortimer, fourth earl of March, was actually designated by Bichard II. as his successor ; but he died the year before Richard was dethroned, and his son Edmund, the fifth earl, was but a child at Henry IV.'s usurpation. Henry took care to secure his person; but the claims of the family troubled the whole of his own and the beginning of his son's reign. It was an uncle of this Edmund who took part with Owen Glendower and the Percies; and for ad-vocating the cause of Edmund Archbishop Scrope was put to death. And it was to put the crown on Edmund's head that his brother-in-law Richard, earl of Cambridge, conspired against Henry V. soon after his accession. But this was the last attempt made in favour of the family for a long time. The plot was detected, being revealed, it is said, by the earl of March himself, who does not appear to have given it any encouragement; the earl of Cambridge was beheaded. The popularity gained by Henry V. in his French campaigns secured the weak title of the House of Lancaster against further attack for forty years.

Richard, duke of York, seems to have taken warning by his father's fate; but, after seeking for many years to correct by other means the deplorable weakness of Henry VI.'s government, he first took up arms against the ill advisers who were his own personal enemies, and at length claimed the crown in parliament as his right. The Lords, or such of them as did not purposely stay away from the House, admitted that his claim was unimpeachable, but suggested as a compromise that Henry should retain the crown for life, and the duke and his heirs succeed after Henry's death. This was accepted by the duke and an Act to that effect received Henry's own assent. But the Act was repudiated by Margaret of Anjou and her followers, and the duke was slain at Wakefield fighting against them. In little more than two months, however, his son was proclaimed king at London by the title of Edward IV., and the bloody victory of Towton immediately after drove his enemies into exile and paved the way for his coronation.

We need not follow the vicissitudes of Edward's reign, of which a brief account will be found under EDWARD IV. (vol. vii. p. 684). After his recovery of the throne in 1471 he had little more to fear from the rivalry of the House of Lancaster. But the seeds of distrust had already been sown among the members of his own family, and in 1478 his brother Clarence was put to death—secretly indeed, within the Tower, but still by his authority and that of parliament—as a traitor. In 1483 Edward himself died o and his eldest son, Edward V., after a nominal reign of two months and a half, was put aside by his uncle, the duke of Gloucester, who became Bichard III., and then caused him and his brother Richard, duke of York, to be murdered. But in little more than two years the usurper was defeated and slain at Bosworth by the earl of Bich-mond, who, being then proclaimed king as Henry VII., shortly afterwards fulfilled his pledge to marry the eldest daughter of Edward IV. and so unite the Houses of York and Lancaster.

Here the dynastic history of the House of York ends, for its claims were henceforth merged in those of the House of Tudor. But the family history has still much to do with the story of those reigns. For, although the union of the Roses ought to have extinguished controversy, a host of debatable questions and plausible pretexts for rebellion still remained. The legitimacy of Edward IV.'s. children had been denied by Richard III. and his parlia-ment, and, though the Act was denounced as scandalous, the slander might still be re-asserted. The duke of Clarence had left two children, a son and a daughter, and the attainder of their father could not be a greater bar to the crown than the attainder of Henry VII. himself, Seeing this, Henry had, immediately after his victory at Bosworth, secured the person of the son, who was named Edward, earl of Warwick, and kept him a prisoner in the Tower of London. Yet a formidable rebellion was raised in his behalf by means of Lambert Simnel, who, personating the prisoner in the Tower, professed to have escaped, went to Ireland, and,

after being actually crowned as king in Christcburcli cathedral, Dublin, came over with a host of Yorkist sympathizers into England, where he was defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Stoke in 1487. The earl of Warwick lived for twelve years later in unjust confine-ment, and was ultimately put to death in 1499 because he had consented to a plot for his own liberation. As to his sister Margaret, she was married to one of Henry YII.'s Welsh followers, Sir Bichard Pole (or Poole), and could give no trouble, so that, when Henry VIII. came to the throne, he thought it politic to treat her with kindness. He made her countess of Salisbury, reversed her brother's attainder, created her eldest son, Henry, Lord Montague, and caused one of her younger sons, Reginald, who displayed much taste for learning, to be very carefully educated. This, however, was the very thing which involved the whole family in ruin. For Henry looked to the learning and abilities of Reginald Pole to vindicate before Europe the justice of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; and, when Pole not only was unable to comply but was conscientiously compelled to declare the very opposite, the king's indignation knew no bounds. Pole himself was safe, having secured some time before a retreat in Italy. He was even, for his great merits, made a cardinal by the pope. But this only made matters worse for his family at home : his brother, Lord Montague, and even his mother, the aged countess of Salisbury, were beheaded as traitors because they had continued to correspond with him. Cardinal Pole, however, came back to his own country with great honour in the reign of Queen Mary, and was made archbishop of Canterbury on the deprivation of Cranmer.
Two nephews of this cardinal, named Arthur and Edmund Poole, are the last members of the family whom it is needful here to mention. Early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, being ardent young men, they conspired to go over to the duke of Guise in France, hoping to return with an army into Wales and so promote the claims of Mary Queen of Scots to the crown of England, for which service the elder, Arthur, expected to be restored to the dukedom of Clarence. The result was that they were condemned to death, but were, only imprisoned for the rest of their days in the Tower, where they both carved inscriptions on the walls of their dungeon, which are still visible in the Beauchamp tower.
There was yet another branch of the House of York which might have given trouble to the Tudors, if they had not been very narrowly watched and ultimately extin-guished. Of the sisters of Edward IV. the eldest, Anne, who married the duke of Exeter, left only one daughter by her second husband, Sir Thomas St Leger ; but the second, Elizabeth, married John de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, and had several children of both sexes. Their eldest son was created earl of Lincoln during his father's life, and Richard III., after the death of his own son, had designated him as his successor. Disappointed of a kingdom by the success of Henry VII., he joined in Simnel's rebellion and was killed at the battle of Stoke. His brother Edmund thus became heir to his father ; but in the reduced circumstances of the family he agreed to forbear the title of duke and take that of earl of Suffolk. He continued for some years in favour with the king, who made him a knight of the Garter ; but, having killed a man in a passion, he fled abroad and was for some time entertained at the court of the emperor Maximilian and afterwards of Philip, king of Castile, when resident in the Low Countries, before his departure for Spain. But Philip, having been driven on the English coast when going to take possession of his Spanish kingdom, was entertained at Windsor by Henry VII., to whom he promised to deliver up the fugitive on condition that his life should be spared. Edmund de la Pole accordingly was brought back to his native country, to be lodged in the Tower for the remainder of his days. And, though the pro-mise to spare his life was kept by the king who gave it, his son Henry VIII. caused him to be executed in 1513, when war broke out with France, apparently for treasonable cor-respondence with his brother Bichard, then in the French service. After his death Bichard de la Pole, remaining in exile, called himself earl of Suffolk, and was flattered occa-sionally by Francis I. with faint hopes of the crown of England. He was killed at the battle of Pavia in 1525. There were no more De la Poles who could advance even the most shadowy pretensions to disturb the Tudor dynasty.

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