Online Encyclopedia

YORK (HOUSE OF)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 925 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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YORK (HOUSE OF), a royal line in England, founded by Richard, duke of York (q.v.), who claimed the crown in opposition to Henry VI. It may be said that his claim, at the time it was advanced, was rightly barred by prescription, the house of Lancaster having then occupied the throne for three generations, and that it was really owing to the misgovernment of Margaret of Anjou, and her favourites that it was advanced at all. Yet it was founded upon strict principles of lineal descent. For the duke was descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, the third son of Edward III., while the house of Lancaster came of John of Gaunt, a younger brother of Lionel. One thing which might possibly have been considered an element of weakness in his claim was that it was derived (see the Table) through females—an objection actually brought against it by Chief-Justice Fortescue. But a succession through females could not reasonably have been objected to after Edward III.'s claim to the crown of France; and, apart from strict legality, the duke's claim was probably supported in the popular estimation by thefact that he was descended from Edward III. through his father no less than through his mother. For his father, Richard, earl of Cambridge, was the son of Edmund, duke of York, fifth son of Edward III.; and he himself was the direct lineal heir of this Edmund, just as much as he was of Lionel, duke of Clarence. His claim was also favoured by the accumulation of hereditary titles and estates. The earldom of Ulster, the old inheritance of the De Burghs, had descended to him from Lionel, duke of Clarence; the earldom of March came from the Mortimers, and the dukedom of York and the earldom of Cambridge from his paternal ancestry. Moreover, his own marriage with Cecily Neville; though she was but the youngest daughter of Ralph, 1st earl of Westmorland, allied him to a powerful family in the north of England, to whose support both he and his son were greatly indebted. The reasons why the claims of the line of Clarence had been so long forborne are not difficult to explain. Roger Mortimer, 4th earl of March, was designated by Richard II. as his successor; but he died the year before Richard was dethroned, and his son Edmund, the 5th earl, was a child at Henry IV.'s usurpation. Henry took care to secure his person; but the claims of the family troubled the whole of his own and the beginning of his son's reign. It was an uncle of this Edmund who took part with Owen Glendower and the Percies; and for advocating the cause of Edmund Archbishop Scrope was put to death. And it was to put the crown on Edmund's head that his brother-in-law Richard, earl of Cambridge, conspired against Henry V. soon after his accession. The plot was detected, being revealed, it is said, by the earl of March himself, who does not appear to have given it any encouragement; the earl of Cambridge was beheaded. The popularity gained by Henry V. in his French campaigns secured the weak title of the house of Lancaster against further attack for forty years. Richard, duke of York, seems to have taken warning by his father's fate; but, after seeking for many years to correct by other means the weakness of Henry VI.'s government, he first took up arms against the ill advisers who were his own personal enemies, and at length claimed the crown in parliament as his right. The Lords, or such of them as did not purposely stay away from the House, admitted that his claim was unimpeachable, but suggested as a compromise that Henry should retain the crown for life, and the duke and his heirs succeed after his death. This was accepted by the duke, and an act to that effect received Henry's own assent. But the act was repudiated by Margaret of Anjou and her followers, and the duke was slain at Wakefield fighting against them. In little more than two months, however, his son was proclaimed king at London by the title of Edward IV., and the bloody victory of Towton immediately after drove* his enemies into exile and paved the way for his coronation. After his recovery of the throne in 1471 he had little more to fear from the rivalry of the house of Lancaster. But the seeds of distrust had already been sown among the members of his own family, and in 1478 his brother Clarence was put to death—secretly, indeed, within the Tower, but still by his authority and that of parliament—as a traitor. In 1483 Edward himself died; and his eldest son, Edward V., after a nominal reign of two months and a half, was put aside by his uncle, the duke of Gloucester, who became Richard III., and then caused him and his brother Richard, duke of York, to be murdered. But in little more than two years Richard was slain at Bosworth by the earl of Richmond, who, being proclaimed king as Henry VII., shortly afterwards fulfilled his pledge to marry the eldest daughter of Edward IV. and so unite the houses of York and Lancaster. Here the dynastic history of the house of York ends, for its claims were henceforth merged in those of the house of Tudor. But, although the union of the Roses ought to have extinguished controversy, a host of debatable questions and plausible pre-texts for rebellion remained. The legitimacy of Edward IV.'s children had been denied by Richard III. and his parliament, and, though the act was denounced as scandalous, the slander might still be reasserted. The duke of Clarence had left two
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