Happy Birthday to Richard, 3rd Duke of York

Richard Plantagenet, the 3rd Duke of York and the father of King Edward IV and King Richard III, came into the world on 21 September 1411.

richard 3rd duke of york

The 3rd Duke of York’s lineage was impeccable and his blood was as blue as the sky. He was descended from King Edward III on both sides of his family. His mother, Anne de Mortimer, was the great-granddaughter of Edward III’s second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp. On his father’s side the duke was the grandson of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York the fourth surviving son of King Edward III. It could be argued (and it was!) that as a direct descendant of Edward III’s second son the duke was more rightfully heir to the throne than King Henry VI, who was the great-grandson of King Edward III’s third surviving son, John of GauntThat is why Richard Plantagenet was heir to King Henry VI  before the king’s son was born. 

Richard of York was born under the reign of a usurper, Henry IV, who had stolen the throne from their cousin Richard II, and the future duke would one day attempt to usurp the throne from that usurper’s great- grandson, the often maligned (with little evidence) son of Henry VI, Edward of Westminster. Although Richard claimed to he was NOT trying to take the throne from his cousin Henry VI, he was obviously trying to rule the kingdom and prevent Edward of Westminster from getting the crown after Henry VI died. That’s usurpation once removed and it still counts.

Some people like to blame Edward’s mother, Margaret of Anjou, for “causing” the Wars of the Roses when she ordered Richard executed after the Battle of Wakefield, but 1) there are reports he was killed in the battle rather than executed so no one knows what really happened for sure and 2) he was a direct and dire threat to her child. Women, on the whole, will lie, steal, cheat, and kill for their children. We’re such bitches that way.

While it is true that Margaret of Anjou would have the duke’s head displayed on a pike, this was not exactly an uncommon event for traitors. And he WAS a traitor to the crown. He was trying to displace the king’s heir. However, there is no evidence Margaret had anything to do with the battlefield execution of York’s second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland. He was probably killed by men who were angry at the Yorks for Lancastrian deaths in other battles, or for starting a civil war that was getting everyone killed.

In time, the duke’s eldest son, Edward, (who beheaded Henry VII’s grandfather Owen after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross ) would finish the job of usurping the crown by killing Edward of Westminster at the Battle of Tewkesbury and then murdering Henry VI in the Tower.  The eldest son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, was now King Edward IV. Posthumous victory for the duke, no?


The duke’s youngest son, Richard IIIwould usurp the crown in turn from Edward’s sons. Richard’s own son would then die young, and the 3rd Duke of York had no grandsons left — no male heirs to carry on his lineage.  Nevertheless, the duke’s bloodline would continue on the maternal path. With what could be further karmic irony, Richard III was usurped by the grandson of Henry VI’s maternal half-brother, who was crowned Henry VII. Henry VII married the 3rd Duke of York’s granddaughter, Elizabeth of York, and thus the commingled bloodlines the usurper Henry IV and the usurper Edward IV — bloodlines that would then rule together as Henry VIII.

The rules of inheritance for monarchs in later Medieval England seems as much “what comes around goes around” as it was based on lineage.

Of course the real heir to Edward III’s throne by his eldest son, Richard II, had died (suicide or murder; no one knows for sure) when Henry IV grabbed the throne … so the entirety of the Ward of the Roses was a squabbling among usurping wannabe’s.

The fight for the crown among King Edward III’s descendants was as bloody, merciless, and self-interested as the fight to be Alpha Male in a troop of chimpanzees. No wonder Game of Thrones was modelled after the Wars of the Roses.  Except with fewer dragons and terrifying creatures north of the Wall.

Unless you count Wales and Scotland.


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