When Henry of Richmond was hailed king of England on Bosworth Field, the principles and the practice of succession to the English throne were in a state of chaos; as far as hereditary right is concerned, his claim could hardly have been weaker. The titles both of his son and grandson were indisputable. Those of Mary and of Elizabeth were both questionable. From Elizabeth's accession to her death, it was uncertain who would succeed her. Accordingly, in the reign of Henry VII. we find actual pretenders put forward, and potential ones suspected and punished. No attempt was ever made to challenge Henry VIII. or Edward VI.: but there were sundry executions on the hypothesis of a treasonous intent to grasp at the crown, in the reign of the former. Lady Jane Grey was set up against Mary, and Elizabeth herself was under suspicion in that reign. Against Elizabeth, Mary Stewart's title was constantly urged; after the death of the Queen of Scots, Philip of Spain set up a claim on his own account; and at different times, the claims to the succession of a large variety of candidates were canvassed. It has seemed advisable therefore to give a complete genealogical table, which appears at the beginning of this volume: and the following summary, for convenient reference.


It was perfectly certain that whoever was rightful king or queen of England in 1485, Richard III. was personally a usurper who had secured the throne by murdering the king and his brother, and setting aside his other nieces and nephew, the children of his elder brothers of the House of York. They however were not in a position to assert themselves. If therefore the representative of the rival House of Lancaster could succeed in deposing the usurper, he would thereby create a claim for himself, beyond that of heredity, as the man who had released the nation from the tyrant; as Henry IV. had done. If he married the heiress of York, the two would unite the hereditary claims of the rival Houses, and the title of their offspring would be technically indisputable.

Through his mother, Henry Tudor was now the acknowledged representative of the House of Lancaster. On the assumption - for which there was no indisputable precedent - that a woman could succeed in person, his mother had the prior title, but since she did not appear as a claimant that technical difficulty could be passed over. On the like assumption, the Princess Elizabeth represented the House of York. Henry thus stood for the one House, the Princess Elizabeth for the other. Henry deposed and killed Richard. As soon as Elizabeth was his wife, and while both he and she lived, no one living could with much plausibility assert a prior claim. Henry's own personal claim however would continue disputable (though not his children's) in the event of his wife's demise; therefore, to strengthen his position, he sought and obtained the ratification of his own title by parliament before marrying Elizabeth, so as to have a sort of legal claim independent of her.

Still, until the sons of this union should be old enough to maintain their own rights in person, there remained the obvious possibility that the claims of a male member of the House of York might be asserted: the male members living being Warwick, and, through their mother, his De la Pole cousins.

Now the hereditary claim of the House of Lancaster, descending from John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward III., required ab initio the assumption that descent must be in direct male line; for if succession through the female line were recognised, the House of York had the prior claim, as descending through females from Lionel of Clarence third son of Edward III. But when Henry VI. and his son were both dead, there was left no representative of John of Gaunt in direct male line. The only male Plantagenet remaining was young Warwick, son of George of Clarence, of the House of York; Plantagenet in virtue of his descent, in unbroken male line, not from Lionel of Clarence but from Edmund of York, fifth son of Edward III.

Thus, except on the hypothesis that the settlement of 1399 had excluded the entire House of York from the succession, no Lancastrian claim could hold water, technically. Granting succession through females, Elizabeth was the heir; denying it, Warwick was the heir.

Although accepted as the sole possible representative of John of Gaunt, and therefore of the House of Lancaster, Henry Tudor's claim to that position lay only in the female line, through his Beaufort blood. This title was the more ineffective because the Beauforts themselves were the illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt by Katharine Swynford, and had only been legitimated by Act of Parliament under Richard II.; while even that legitimation had been rendered invalid, as concerned succession to the throne, by the Act of Henry IV. which in other respects confirmed it.

Nevertheless although there were other indubitably legitimate descendants of John of Gaunt living, no claim on behalf of any of them was put forward till a full century had elapsed. The royal House of Portugal sprang from the second and that of Castile from the third daughter of Lancaster; so that after the death of Mary Stewart, Philip II. of Spain, posing as their representative, claimed the inheritance, ignoring the superior title of his cousin Katharine of Braganza. But in 1485, the title of any alien would have been flatly repudiated by the whole country. There remained only in England, descending through his mother from John of Gaunt's eldest daughter, a young Neville who had just succeeded to the Earldom of Westmorland; whose line was extinguished in the person of the Earl who took part in the Northern rising of 1569. This branch however appears to have been completely ignored from first to last.

The vital fact remained, that Henry was the representative, acknowledged on all hands, of the House of Lancaster. He claimed the throne on that ground, ratified the claim on the field of Bosworth, and confirmed it by a Parliamentary title. The Plantagenet Princess, he married: their offspring combined the titles of the two Houses. The Plantagenet Earl was shut up in the Tower, and finally perished on the scaffold without offspring.

The accession of Henry was bound politically, in spite of his marriage, to have the effect of a Lancastrian victory. The extreme Yorkist partisans, who could always find asylum and encouragement with Margaret of Burgundy, were not likely to be satisfied with such a result; but they had nothing approaching a case for anyone except the young Earl of Warwick, a prisoner in the Tower. Hence the first attempt was to put forward a fictitious Warwick, Lambert Simnel. This scheme collapsed at the battle of Stoke. Then it was that the Yorkists fell back on the resuscitation of Richard of York, murdered in the Tower with Edward V. If he was alive, his title could not be seriously challenged. So he was brought to life in the person of Perkin Warbeck. When Warwick and Perkin were both dead, there was no one to fall back on but the De la Poles of Suffolk; since at this stage the two senior Yorkist branches - the Courtenays of Devon, and the Poles (a quite different family from the De la Poles) could not be erected into dangerous candidates. [See Frontispiece.] The claims of the Courtenays would derive from the younger daughter of Edward IV.: those of the Poles from the Countess of Salisbury, Warwick's sister: those of the De la Poles from Elizabeth, sister of Edward IV.


Under Henry VIII., there was no claim which could stand against the king's own. But in the course of his reign, he found it convenient to put out of the way Buckingham, who was not only (like the Tudors) of Beaufort blood but also traced descent from Thomas, sixth son of Edward III.; and twenty-five years later his grandson Surrey: also the heads of the De la Poles, the Poles, and the Courtenays.


Edward succeeded his father as a matter of course, being his one indubitably legitimate son. But who was to follow Edward? Henry had two daughters, born ostensibly in wedlock. But the marriages of both mothers had been pronounced void by the courts. Prima facie therefore, the succession went first to the offspring of Henry's eldest sister Margaret; but these might be ruled out as aliens. Next it would go to the offspring of his younger sister Mary, the Brandons, of whom the senior was Frances Grey; who however gave place (as Margaret of Richmond had done for Henry VII.) to her daughter Lady Jane. It will thus be seen that Lady Jane had technically a respectable title. It left out of count however that the Lennox Stewarts, the offspring of Margaret Tudor by her second marriage, were English as well as Scottish subjects and therefore not barred as aliens.

But, in spite of the ruling of the Courts, no one who believed in the Papal authority could admit that Mary Tudor was illegitimate. Again both she and Elizabeth were the children of unions entered on in bona fides, and only invalidated subsequently on technical grounds: grounds, in the one case, inadequate in the eyes of the Roman Church, and in the other never made public. Hence; although it is perfectly clear that if Katharine was Henry's lawful spouse, the marriage with Anne was bigamous and its offspring illegitimate, whereas, if Anne was Henry's lawful spouse then the marriage with Katharine was void from the beginning and its offspring illegitimate - that is, while both Mary and Elizabeth might be illegitimate, it was quite impossible that both should be legitimate - yet the advantages of setting the whole problem on one side by acknowledging the right of each to the succession, in order, were obvious. And this was done by the Will of Henry VIII. to which Parliament by anticipation gave the validity of a statute.

Mary then succeeded Edward, and Elizabeth succeeded Mary, in virtue of their recognition under Henry's will.


On Elizabeth's accession then; the validity of Henry's Will being admitted, no other title could stand against that instrument, and the Brandon branch would succeed in priority to the Stewarts. But evidently it could be argued that no instrument whatever could confer priority on an illegitimate heir over a legitimate one; or on a junior over a senior branch; and since no secular authority had power to annul the marriage between Henry and Katharine, nothing after Mary Tudor's death could set aside the title of Mary Stewart. Mary might accede to an arrangement as a matter of policy, but she could not abrogate her right, or admit that she was barred as an alien. On the other hand, the Greys might be pushed forward under the Will as heirs, in opposition to Mary; but they could not be seriously upheld as rivals to Elizabeth herself; and the same applied to the living representatives of the Poles, the Earl of Huntingdon and Arthur Pole. There were now no De la Poles, nor Courtenays.

With Mary Stewart as the only possible figure-head for a revolt, Elizabeth had no disposition to strengthen her position by acknowledging her as heir presumptive, since that would be an immediate incentive to her own assassination by Mary's adherents, who would be anxious to secure their candidate against the possible appearance of an heir apparent. It was safer to leave the question of her successor an open one, so that any overt act in favour of any particular candidate would be tolerably certain to recoil on that candidate's head. Therefore Elizabeth would acknowledge neither Mary nor another, though it can hardly be doubted that she did herself look upon the royal Stewarts as the rightful claimants, throughout her reign.

But when the Queen of Scots was dead, the Catholics were at once in want of a Catholic candidate. James of Scotland was a Protestant: so was Arabella, representing the Lennox Stewarts; so were Katharine Grey and her husband Lord Hertford (the son of the old Protector Somerset); so was their son. Lord Beauchamp; Huntingdon, the Pole representative, was a Protestant too. The Countess of Derby, like Katharine Grey, was a grandchild of Mary Brandon; but the Stanleys, though Catholics, rejected all overtures. As Elizabeth's end approached, various schemes were no doubt propounded for marrying Arabella to a Catholic, even to Beauchamp on the understanding that both were in due time to declare themselves Catholics. But the immediate result of Mary Stewart's death was that Philip of Spain entered the field as the Catholic candidate, as tracing descent from John of Gaunt through both his father and his mother. Later, his daughter Isabella was put forward.

From the legitimist point of view however the title of James of Scotland was indisputable. The stroke of deliberate policy by which Henry VII. had mated his eldest daughter to the Scots King James IV. bore its fruit when, precisely a hundred years later, the crowns of England and Scotland were united by the accession of Margaret's great-grandson to the southern throne.