Today is the birthday of Edward of Westminster (or Lancaster), the son of king Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. He was the touchstone for the War of the Roses and the only heir apparent to the English throne to be killed in battle. Edward of Lancaster should have been king Edward IV when his father died, but another Edward took his place on the throne; his cousin Edward, the 4th Duke of York and the eldest surviving son of Richard Plantagenet 3rd duke of York), became king Edward IV following a political coup against Henry VI and the death of the Prince of Wales during the Battle of Tewkesbury.
Susan Higginbotham wrote an excellent novel about Margaret of Anjou, entitled The Queen of Last Hopes, which covered the historical high points of Prince Edward’s life and death. Higginbotham’s book, told from his mother’s point of view, is amazingly historically accurate and leaves the reader with a decided bias in favor Lancastrians.
According to Higginbotham, Margaret of Anjou “continues to be so maligned by novelists and even some writers of nonfiction is that much of the material that is available about her (especially online) is out of date or based on dated or discredited sources.” For one thing, her reputation was besmirched by allegations that Edward of Lancaster was not the legitimate son of Henry VI, but there is no evidence to support these rumors. Moreover, the people behind the scandal needed an excuse to steal the throne from her son. Margaret fought back, with vigor and determination, and Higginbotham points out that “the loyalty of Margaret to her husband and to her son is depicted as the power-mad reaction of a vengeful woman. Evidently her modern-day detractors feel that she should have settled back and worked on tapestries while her son was being deprived of his crown.”
Her son, whose birthright was stolen from him by the men who killed him, has also been falsely depicted as bloodthirsty. He was certainly eager to fight the men who were holding his mentally ill father as a captive and ruling England in his stead, but this is perhaps understandable. Henry VI was in the throes of hallucinations and perhaps schizophrenia when Edward of Lancaster was born on October 13, 1453. Until the birth of the prince, Richard Plantagenet had been Henry’s heir. Richard was unhappy about being displaced; he and his followers quickly made accusations of bastardy against the newborn. Prince Edward was only six when his father was taken prisoner by the Earl of Warwick, one of York’s allies. Richard then ruled in the King’s place. Margaret marshaled her forces and a few months after her son turned seven she rescued her husband from Warwick and killed Richard Plantagenet. Nonetheless, her army could not take London from Plantagenet’s son Edward of York. With his access to the Tower of London, Edward of York had himself crowned king Edward IV in March of 1461. Prince Edward’s parents were forced to flee to Scotland with their young son. Prince Edward spent the next nine years in exile and learning to fight so that he could one day reclaim his throne. Before Prince Edward could do that, however, Edward IV’s allies and brother turned against him and Henry VI was restored to the throne in 1470. It didn’t last long. Henry was a puppet king and his wife and son were banished to France. Soon, Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London by his enemies once again. Margaret and Prince Edward brought an army from France to rescue Henry and reclaim the throne. The Yorkists and Lancastrians fought on May 4th, 1471 and Prince Edward was slain. He was only 17 years old. With nothing left to fight for, Margaret surrendered. Henry VI conveniently died shortly there after, and Edward VI ruled England until his sudden death in 1483.
Now it was Edward’s young sons, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, who were left to try to hold the throne while greedy nobles circled around them like sharks. The boys, known better as The Princes in the Tower, were declared illegitimate (just like Prince Edward of Lancaster has been) their uncle was declared to be the ‘real’ king and crowned Richard III. His queen was Prince Edward’s widow, Anne Neville. The boys disappeared shortly thereafter, most likely murdered by Richard’s allies and possibly at his command.
Margaret of Anjou didn’t get to see the karmic irony of Edward’s teenage heir being killed by relatives who wanted the throne, since she had died a year earlier. Nor did she get to see that Richard III’s son, another Prince of Wales named Edward, would die in less than a year after Richard took the crown. Richard himself would be killed by Henry Tudor’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII and married Edward VI’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, uniting the York and Lancaster factions. Elizabeth was the direct descendant of Edward III via his third son John of Gaunt’s legitimate offspring. Henry Tudor was also a direct descendant of Edward III via John of Gaunt’s illegitimate son John Beaufort. Neither of them had as much legal claim to the throne as Prince Edward of Lancaster, who was descended legitimately from John of Gaunt’s first born son.