The Beaufort family descended from the children of John of Gaunt by his third marriage with Katherine Swynford. They were literally bastards, all born during Gaunt’s long liaison with Swynford before their marriage in 1396. After the knot was finally tied, they were legitimized and given the surname Beaufort, after a French castle that their father had once owned. The men were counselors and advisors to their half brother, King Henry IV. But despite their support, Henry was not about to let his own offspring’s royalty be compromised by a line of bastards—he issued a decree that no Beaufort could ever inherit the throne.

Little did he know. If there is a lesson in what happened, it is Watch Out for the Women.

There were three Beauforts who became important to English history.

The Line of John

The eldest Beaufort was John, Duke of Somerset. He begat at least 6 children. Of these, the most interesting was Edmund, who became Duke of Somerset after his two elder brothers died. Edmund was a Lancastrian in the Wars of the Roses and was killed at the first battle of St. Albans after his rivalry with his cousin, Richard Duke of York, led to major losses in England’s war with France.

Edmund’s sister Joan married James I of Scotland. From her, five Scottish James’s later and through another woman, Mary, Queen of Scots, came James I of England and the Stuart kings.

But wait, there’s more:

John’s son John Jr. had only a daughter, Margaret, but she was another who put paid to Henry IV’s attempt to keep the kin off the English Throne. She married Edward Tudor, the son of Owen Tudor and his wife Katherine of Valois. Katherine was widow of Henry V (the Prince Hal of Shakespeare’s plays) and also mother of Henry VI.

And from the marriage of Margaret Beaufort and Edward Tudor came Henry Tudor, or Henry VII, the father of Henry VIII with all his wives and grandfather of Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I. (Henry VII also fathered Margaret Tudor, who also married a James of Scotland, the IV, and was grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots).

So Katherine of Valois, bless her forgotten heart, was mother of one king and, after causing a scandal by taking a commoner as a second husband, became through a Beaufort woman the grandmother of the founder of the Tudor Dynasty, perhaps the most well known of the English royal families.

So much for Henry IV’s attempts to block the bastards from the throne.

Henry, Cardinal Beaufort

If the Beaufort son Henry had children, they have stayed anonymous. He is known to have kept mistresses. In fact, the Beauforts may have been barred from the throne through the influence of Archbishop of Arundel, whose niece Henry had knocked up. But officially he was a churchman and major power-broker in the games of the Henrys and their foes. When he was first named cardinal, his half-uncle Henry V (prince Hal, remember) objected that he had accepted the title without consulting him and he had to give it up (1417). But when Henry V died he accepted the cardinal’s hat (1427) and left his fingerprints all over the intrigues of the time.

The Line of Joan

From Joan Beaufort, the youngest bastard, came both the Yorks and the man who made them king, Richard Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker.”

As with almost all women of the time, Joan made it through marriage. She married Richard Neville. Her oldest son Richard, Earl of Salisbury, was father to Richard Earl of Warwick (who got his title, let it be said, through his wife). Warwick was the ultimate power broker of the 15th century. It was through his efforts that the York dynasty came to the throne; when he felt betrayed by the Yorkist King Edward IV he turned sides and died trying to get the Lancastrians back in power. His daughters married Edward IV’s brothers, George and Richard, the latter known to conspiracy theorists around the world as Richard III, the crookback, the possible murderer of the Princes in the Tower.

Joan’s daughter Cecily led straight to the Yorks. She married Richard duke of York (grandson of John of Gaunt’s younger brother Edward and the one whose fights with the Duke of Somerset, see above, started the really bloody part of the Wars of the Roses). Her sons were Edward IV and Richard III. Her daughter married the 2nd Duke of Suffolk who, those who’ve read my other nodes know, was the great grandson of Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet.

So: you can’t keep a good she-bastard down. The Beauforts, barred from the throne by the royal decree of their half-brother, ended up through their women as the ancestors of the York, Tudor and Stuart dynasties and, through family relationships too convoluted to enter into here, the present Royals.

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