The House of Lancaster

The House of Lancaster is a branch of the Plantagenet family and ruled over England from 1399 to 1461 and briefly in 1470-71. Origins of the house go back to Edmund "Chrouchback," 1st Earl of Lancaster (1245-1296), a younger son of King Henry III and brother to King Edward I. Upon Edmund's death, the earldom was inherited by his eldest son and heir, Thomas, the 2nd earl (c. 1278-1322), who would rebel against, and subsequently be executed by, King Edward II. Four years after the 2nd earl's death, his brother Henry, the 3rd earl (1281-1345), was permitted to succeed to his brother's title. After Henry's death, his son, also named Henry, the 4th earl (c. 1310-1361), succeeded to the title and was upgraded to Duke of Lancaster by King Edward III in 1351. When Henry died without male issue, the dukedom was inherited by his son-in-law, John of Gaunt (1340-1399), third surviving son of Edward III, who had married his daughter Blanche. The marriage between John and Blanche would produce Henry Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV. After Blanche's death in 1369, Gaunt would marry two more times: First, to Constanza of Castile, the marriage would produce only one daughter; and finally, to Katherine Swynford in 1396. Katherine was Gaunt's long-time mistress and their affair resulted in the birth of four illegitimate children (who were later legitimized), surnamed Beaufort, after their birthplace in France (for more information on the House of Beaufort, see here). When Gaunt died, his lands and titles, including the Duchy of Lancaster, were siezed by his nephew, King Richard II, in order to fund his Irish expedition. Bolingbroke, who had been exiled the year prior to Gaunt's death, was disinherited. However, he would not accept this treatment from his cousin and returned to England (supposedly to only recover his inheritance) and deposed the king and had himself crowned as Henry IV. In 1400, Richard II died while in prison, most likely under orders from the new king, and the House of Lancaster was officially seated on England's throne.

Henry IV ruled over England from 1399 until his death in 1413 after a reign plagued by civil rebellions as a result of his deposition and murder of the rightful sovereign. He was succeeded to the throne by his eldest son, Henry V, who would prove to be a much more stable monarch and who conquered large portions of France, showing that he was a brave warrior as well as a strong leader. Henry V, however, would die young, in 1422, and was succeeded by his nine-month-old son as King Henry VI. The new king, even when he reached maturity, would prove to be no where near the man his father was. Later in his reign, a civil war would begin between the house of Lancaster and their rivals, the house of York (those descended from Edmund of Langley, forth surviving son of Edward III, on the paternal side, and Lionel of Antwerp, second surviving son of Edward III, on the maternal side, giving them a possibly stronger claim to the throne than the house of Lancaster). Although the Duke of York himself was killed in battle in 1460, his son, the Earl of March, took up the Yorkist cause and had himself crowned as King Edward IV in 1461 after chasing away the Lancastrians. Henry VI was captured in 1465 and remained a prisoner of Edward IV until 1470 when he was briefly placed back on the throne with the help of Warwick the "Kingmaker." However, Edward IV returned from his exile to, once again, depose Henry VI. In the resulting battles, Henry VI's son, Prince Edward, was killed and the house of Beaufort was annihilated with the deaths of the Duke of Somerset and his younger brother. Shortly after these bloody battles, Henry VI was executed, most likely under orders from Edward IV, officially ending the house of Lancaster in the legitimate male line. The last member of the house of Lancaster was Margaret Beaufort (who would survive until 1509), mother of the future King Henry VII, the man who ultimately depose the house of York.

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