Thursday, 24 July 2008

Changing Times and All That

I've not managed to post much in July - sorry about that, no particular excuse, just been feeling even more idle than usual. I've been doing a lot of thinking about the Richard III novel, and hope to make some actual progress soon. I've decided to strip the thing down to the bare essentials and ship some of my spare characters off to the Norfolk Novel that I've also got on the stocks. (To be honest I've got an awful lot on the stocks, and very little I could launch tomorrow.)

Anyway, back to the York family circa 1398.

It's highly likely that Richard II expected John of Gaunt to live for several years. Gaunt was only in his fifties, not the near-skeleton of Shakesperean myth. OK, I don't suppose he got too many offers of life insurance, but there's no reason to think he was in particular ill-health. Richard allowed Bolingbroke to appoint proctors to receive his inheritance if Gaunt were to die during the time of his son's banishment.

When Gaunt did die, in February 1399, it threw onto Richard II's plate one of those awful quandries that every government has to face at some time or another. He could either let Bolingbroke inherit (in which case he would have a dangerously over-mighty subject coming home in a few years) or he could block the inheritance, grab the Lancastrian estates and resources, and, with a bit of luck, keep Bolingbroke permanently excluded.

Richard jumped for the latter option, and it was to prove fatal. However, it's worth noting that the alternative might have proved equally fatal in the long run.

From the point of view of the York family, it seems that at this time they were suddenly shot up in the pecking order to heirs to the throne. Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, had died in Ireland, out of royal favour and apparently in danger of arrest; his heir was a child. Bolingbroke was crossed off the list. Had Richard II been run over by a horse that weekend, it appears likely Edmund of Langley would have succeeded. Or maybe Edward of York, given that Richard had apparently told Bagot that Edward was the man for the job!

Both Edmund of Langley and his elder son were among those who received grants of Lancastrian lands and offices. It's worth mentioning though that the grants were not absolute but had a saving clause - until Henry, Duke of Lancaster shall sue for the same. Which is a bit odd, if Richard envisaged outright confiscation.

No comments: