King Edward III is my 20th great-grandfather on my mother’s side of her family. My mother’s maternal grandfather Charles Berdeaux Griner (1889-1964) was one the 5th great-grandson of Priscilla Burnett of Leys of the House of Burnett with royal ancestry.
Priscilla Burnett of Leys was the member of Burnett of Leys family and one of great-granddaughters of Alexander Burnett, 11th Laird of Leys and the Hon. Katherine Arbuthnott of Fiddes their ancestral home was at Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Both Alexander Burnett, 11th Laird of Leys and his wife, Lady Katherine Arbuthnott of Fiddies were first cousins and both of them were the grandchildren of Alexander Burnett, 9th Laird of Leys of Leys and Lady Janet Hamilton of the House of Hamilton.
Edward III, the eldest son of Edward II and Isabella of France, was born in 1312. Edward was only fourteen when his father was murdered and for the first three years of his reign was under the influence of his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer. This ended in 1330 when Edward had Mortimer executed and his mother removed from the royal court.
Edward III married Philippa of Hainault. The couple had twelve children, nine of whom survived: Edward, the Black Prince, Isabella, Joan, Lionel (Duke of Clarence), John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster), Edmund (Duke of York), Mary, Margaret, and Thomas (Duke of Gloucester).
A good leader of soldiers, Edward III was soon avenging the defeats suffered by his father in Scotland. In 1333 Edward defeated David II of Scotland at the Battle of Halidon Hill. Five years later Edward invaded France (the start of the Hundred Years War). Edward wanted to win back land lost by King John and victories at Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) turned him into a military hero. His eldest son, Edward, the Black Prince, also gained a reputation for being a great soldier.
Edward had to deal with the economic problems caused by the Black Death. Attempts to control wage levels by introducing the Statute of Labourers Act made him unpopular with the people.
By 1360 Edward was able to negotiate a deal that gave him control over nearly a quarter of France. However, the king’s wars proved expensive and when English forces suffered defeats in France during the next few years, Edward began to lose the support of the people. In 1376, Parliament rebelled against the cost of the war and refused to grant the king the money needed to continue fighting in France.
Heart-broken by the death of his son, the Black Prince, Edward’s mind began to go during the last years of his reign. John of Gaunt, took over much of the responsibility of government until Edward III’s death in 1377.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, my 19th great-grandfather was the 4th son and 3rd surviving son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.
John was born at Ghent in 1340 – his birthplace supplies his name. He was tall, athletically built, appropriately gaunt of visage, clever and ambitious. His father Edward married him to Blanche, daughter and heiress of Henry, Earl and Duke of Lancaster, who was richer than the king. When Henry, who had served the monarchy dutifully died in 1362, John became Duke of Lancaster. He also became very rich indeed because of the marriage laws of that period.
His house called The Savoy stood on the banks of the Thames and was every bit as grand and luxurious as the king’s palace at Westminster. As he owned thirty castles as well he could have divided the days of the year by thirty-one and spent approximately twelve days in each of his homes – if he had so wished.
Instead, he went with his brother the Black Prince to Spain, and began his wrong but romantic association with that extraordinary country (Spain). The older brother was sick, and John replaced him as the overlord in Gascony As governor he did not achieve much, but this might well be a result of ill-planning and unrealistic expectations on the part of his father.
From the middle of the 1370s, as King Edward III became senile, and the Black Prince’s illness ended in death (1376), John of Gaunt became the virtual ruler of England, though not a popular one. During one of the mass uprisings the people of London burnt his beautiful home. On the site was eventually built a luxury hotel with the same name – The Savoy.
John’s supporters were accused of fraudulent transactions, and his attempts to regain popularity with the nobility by supporting the reformer Wycliffe only succeeded in making John even more unpopular with powerful churchmen.
It is an odd fact, given the history of England as we know it, that Gaunt never sought the throne, and he served the new young king Richard II as faithfully as he had served the old one. The fact was that he wanted the throne of Castilla, known to English historians as ‘Castile’ which is French, though Castilla and Aragon were two of the largest and most important regions of Spain (with Portugal) and had no connections with France apart from the odd marriage. Gaunt’s reasoning was solid enough for the time: poor Blanche had died of the plague in 1368, leaving a son, Henry of Bolingbroke and two daughters; Gaunt had married as his second wife Constance (or Constanza) daughter of the exiled Pedro I (el Cruel), king of Castilla. For years John claimed the throne in his wife’s name, but in vain. But he did marry his daughter Catherine (by Constance) to Henry III of Castilla, which should have meant something. His daughter Philippa married Juan (son of Pedro I of Portugal) who also became king, and thus the purest Plantagenet blood entered the bloodlines of both Spain and Portugal.
Now John was also a womaniser (who wasn’t in the fourteenth century, except Edward II, who preferred a Gascon knight). Throughout Gaunt’s marriage with Constance he was carrying on an affair with an English lady of the Court called Katherine Swynford, who was in fact governess to the daughters of his first marriage – Elizabeth and Philippa (mentioned above).
This lady had four illegitimate and recognised children by John of Gaunt who were given the surname Beaufort. This was the name of one of Gaunt’s estates in France. When the second wife Constance died the children were made legitimate by Law, but on the understanding that neither they nor their issue held any right to claim the English throne. Here is the reason why so many eminent historians doubt the constitutional legality of the crowning of Henry VII after the battle of Bosworth Field. He was the first Tudor, an Earl of Pembroke, descended from John, Earl of Somerset, the eldest of the Beauforts. Henry became king via an act of war, not because he had a legal right to the monarchy. This means that in practice Henry had usurped the throne just as Richard III had. A usurper had replaced a usurper.
John of Gaunt died in his bed in 1399; he was just fifty-nine
The four children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster by his third wife, Katherine Swynford (ńee Roet) are:
- John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373–1410) m. Margaret Holland, Duchess of Clarence (they had six children) (my 18th great-grandparents)
- Henry Beaufort, Cardinal (1375–1447) (never married)
- Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (1377–1426) m. Margaret Neville of Hornby (had one child, a boy called Henry Beaufort, but died young.)
- Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland (1379–1440) m. Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland (they had fourteen children)
John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (my 18th great -grandfather), the eldest son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford married Margaret Holland, Duchess of Clarence. Margaret was the daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and Lady Alice FitzAlan, later the Countess of Kent.
John and Margaret had six children they are:
- Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset (1401–1418)
- Lady Joan Beaufort (d. 1445), who married James I of Scotland and Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorn (my 17th great-grandmother) i descend from her first husband, King James I of Scots
- John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset (1404–1444)
- Thomas Beaufort, Count of Perche (c. 1405–1431)
- Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset (c. 1406–1455)
- Lady Margaret Beaufort (c. 1408–1449), married Thomas de Courtenay, 5th Earl of Devon
James I of Scotland (17th great-grandfather) was the son of King Robert III and Lady Annabella Drummond. He reigned 1406-1437, though from 1406 til 1424, he was king in name only. When his father sent him away as a child for his own protection, he was captured by the English and held in the Tower of London for 18 years. During his imprisonment, he fell in love with Joan Beaufort, and the two were married on February 2, 1424 in Southwark. They had 8 children together. James returned to Scotland to find his country in chaos. He was formally crowned on May 21, 1424 at Scone. He took immediate action to regain his authority and control, including executing the Albany family, his fiercest opponents. He ruled with a firm hand, achieving numerous legal and financial reforms, including remodeling the Scottish parliament after its English counterpart, and renewing the Auld Alliance with France. His actions, although very effective, upset many, namely the descendents of his grandfather, Robert II’s second marriage (James was descended from the first marriage). Conflict arose between the two factions over who should be on the throne. The problems came to a head when James was murdered by his uncle Walter, Earl of Athol, at Friars Preachers Monastery in Perth. The king was 42. James was a handsome, accomplished man, being a poet, singer, and musician as well as a talented athlete, excelling at shotput and hammer throw.
Lady Joan Beaufort and King James I of Scotland had eight children together they are:
- Margaret Stewart, Princess of Scotland (1424–1445) married Prince Louis, Dauphin of Viennois (later King Louis XI of France)
- Isabella Stewart, Princess of Scotland (1426–1494) married Francis I, Duke of Brittany
- Mary Stewart, Countess of Buchan (c.1428-1465) married Wolfart VI van Borsselen
- Joan of Scotland, Countess of Morton (c. 1428–1486) married James Douglas, 1st Earl of Morton
- Alexander Stewart, Duke of Rothesay (born and died 1430); Twin of James
- James II of Scotland (1430–1460) (my 16th great-grandfather) married Mary of Guelders in 1449
- Annabella Stewart, Princess of Scotland (c.1436-1509) married and divorced 1. Louis of Savoy, and then married and divorced 2. George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly
- Eleanor Stewart, Princess of Scotland (1433–1484) married Sigismund, Archduke of Austria.
King James II of Scotland is my (16th great-grandfather), he was the only son of King James I of Scotland and Lady Joan Beaufort, Queen consort of Scotland. King James II succeeded to the throne at the age of six upon his father’s death. James’ father was assassinated on 21 February 1437 at Blackfriars monastery in Perth. His mother, Queen Joan, although hurt, managed to get to her six-year-old son, who was now king.
On 25 March 1437, he was formally crowned King of Scots at Holyrood Abbey. The Parliament of Scotland revoked alienations of crown property and prohibited them, without the consent of the Estates, that is, until James II’s eighteenth birthday. He lived along with his mother and five of his six sisters at Dunbar Castle until 1439. The oldest sister, Margaret, had left Scotland for France in 1436 to marry the Dauphin Louis (later King Louis XI of France).
From 1437 to 1439, the king’s first cousin Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas, headed the government as lieutenant-general of the realm. After his death, and with a general lack of prominent earls in Scotland due to deaths, forfeiture or youth, political power became shared uneasily among William Crichton, 1st Lord Crichton, Lord Chancellor of Scotland (sometimes in co-operation with the Earl of Avondale), and Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar, who had possession of the young king as the warden of the stronghold of Stirling Castle. Taking advantage of these events, Livingston placed Queen Joan and her new husband, Sir John Stewart, under “house arrest” at Stirling Castle on 3 August 1439. They were released on 4 September only by making a formal agreement to put James in the custody of the Livingstons, agreeing to the queen’s relinquishment of her dowry for his maintenance, and confessing that Livingston had acted through zeal for the king’s safety.
In 1440, in the king’s name, an invitation is said to have been sent to the 16-year-old William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas, and his younger brother, twelve-year-old David, to visit the king at Edinburgh Castle in November 1440. According to legend, they came and were entertained at the royal table, where James, still a little boy, was charmed by them. However, they were treacherously hurried to their doom, which took place by beheading in the castle yard of Edinburgh on 24 November, with the 10-year-old king pleading for their lives. Three days later Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, their chief adherent, shared the same fate. The king, being a small child, had nothing to do with this. This infamous incident took the name of “the Black Dinner”.
Negotiations for a marriage to Mary of Guelders began in July 1447, when a Burgundian envoy came to Scotland, and were concluded by an embassy under Crichton the chancellor in September 1448. Her great-uncle, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, settled sixty thousand crowns on his kinswoman, and her dower of ten thousand was secured on lands in Strathearn, Athole, Methven, and Linlithgow. A tournament took place before James at Stirling, on 25 February 1449, between James, master of Douglas, another James, brother to the Laird of Lochleven, and two knights of Burgundy, one of whom, Jacques de Lalain, was the most celebrated knight-errant of the time. The marriage was celebrated at Holyrood on 3 July 1449. A French chronicler, Mathieu d’Escouchy, gives a graphic account of the ceremony and the feasts which followed. Many Flemings in Mary’s suite remained in Scotland, and the relations between Scotland and Flanders, already friendly under James I, consequently became closer.
In Scotland, the king’s marriage led to his emancipation from tutelage, and to the downfall of the Livingstons. In the autumn Sir Alexander and other members of the family were arrested. At a parliament in Edinburgh on 19 January 1450, Alexander Livingston, a son of Sir Alexander, and Robert Livingston of Linlithgow were tried and executed on the Castle Hill. Sir Alexander and his kinsmen were confined in different and distant castles. A single member of the family escaped the general proscription—James, the eldest son of Sir Alexander, who, after arrest and escape to the highlands, was restored in 1454 to the office of chamberlain to which he had been appointed in the summer of 1449.
Together James and Mary had seven children:
- Unnamed Son (b. and d. 1450) (stillborn)
- James III of Scotland (1451-1488) (heir to the scottish throne and ancestor of Mary, Queen of Scots)
- Princess Mary Stewart, later the Countess of Arran and Lady Hamilton (b.1453-d.1488) married 1st to Thomas Boyd, 1st Earl of of Arran and 2ndly to James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton (15th great-grandmother). I descend by her 2nd husband, James Hamilton, 1st lord Hamilton
- Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany (b. 1454 and d. 1485)
- David Stewart, Earl of Moray (b.1455-d.1457)
- John Stewart, Earl of Mar (b.1456-d.1479)
- Princess Margaret Stewart (b.1457-d.unknown)