Many feel that Henry VI was a pious man, and that to imagine him having an affair, and a series of children with his most bitter rival’s wife is ridiculous, scandalous even. Henry VI certainly seems in many ways to have been a good man. My heart warms strongly to anyone in those days, who would recoil on seeing a quarter of someone who had been horribly punished for some real or imagined crime, and then denounce it. We are told that he declared he never wanted such a thing ever done again in his name.

I have no reason to believe that he was not pious. None. But he was also a King, and had to do what Kings had to do to maintain their line. Whatever feelings he may have developed for Elizabeth, I don’t think his main reason in bedding her was mere pleasure. As we will see, he had something more desperately vital for his family in mind than that. Furthermore, he is known also to have commented on the strong desires that a bare neck might inspire, and he was human. Being pious does not mean that we always do what we should. The world is full of people who vociferously exhort us to morality, and even those who really try to practice what they preach in public, while failing dismally in private. 

Another well founded worry was whether Henry VI was sane enough to make so many babies with Elizabeth Woodville. He did on occasion have serious problems, poor guy. The mental disturbances are recorded, though, as having happened primarily from August 1453 to 1461, that is to say, while he was still King, and before Edward and Elizabeth married. So yes, from the point of view of his sanity, it was possible that Elizabeth carried out her duty to the Lancastrian cause by ensuring the first born – Elizabeth of York – was a Lancastrian, not a Yorkist. There were then more babies made while he was in the Tower, and yet more after he was recorded as having ‘died’. There’s no evidence I know of that he was mentally incapacitated during this period.

And physically? Was contact possible? As Queen in a realm of many disenchanted Lancastrians it would have been far from impossible… all it needed was a visit once or twice a year, and with such limitations on affection, Henry could certainly be forgiven for enjoying a hug, and a kiss and whatever that led to. But we are missing an important factor in Elizabeth’s motivation. There was more to it than trying to get a Lancastrian back on the throne, or to spite Edward for his other women. What if she believed that Edward was not only a philanderer, but also illegitimate, and not the son of a Plantagenet? What would she have felt then about bearing his babies?

Edward IV is recorded in our history books as the son of Richard of York (1411-1460), and his wife Cecily Neville (1415-1495), along with six other siblings. Their first is said to have been Anne, Duchess of Exeter, born in 1439. She would have been conceived around 10 November 1438. At this time Richard was away, having been appointed Lieutenant of France.

Monumental brass in St George's Chapel, Windsor depicting Anne and her second husband.

Monumental brass in St George’s Chapel, Windsor depicting Anne and her second husband. Click to enlarge.

Cecily was perhaps with him in France, but seemingly not at the time of Anne’s conception, because the only image I could find referring to her – a brass plate in Windsor – says she was a bastard. Things have not started well.

Maybe they finish better, I thought, and so headed for the other end of the progeny, to their last child, King Richard III. I won’t spoil it, just let you read what it says:

Earliest known portrait of Richard III c.1520

Earliest known portrait of Richard III c.1520. ‘Figlio de’ means ‘Son of’.

If Richard was the real thing, then what of George Duke of Clarence, the next youngest?

George of York, Duke of Clarence

George of York, Duke of Clarence

Seems Cecily was behaving herself… it says that his dad, too, was Richard of York.

What then of the next youngest, Margaret of York, married to Charles the Bold of Burgundy? In the conventional place for the dad’s name, on the cheek, it says ‘Richard’, but with a question mark, and elsewhere, seemingly with no ‘?’…it says she was the bastard of Edmund Beaufort.

Jean Fouquet 'Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy'

Jean Fouquet ‘Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy’

The painting is unattributed, but actually if we lighten the darkness of the backdrop we can read that the painter was ‘Fouquet’, the leading court painter of the French court. He sarcastically painted a ‘B’ on her head dress, which everyone would assume meant ‘Burgundy’, but again if one lightens the darkness there, it actually says ‘Beaufort’. How rude! But who was Beaufort?

Richard of York had again been Lieutenant of France from 1440 to 1445, and his replacement, the new Lieutenant was called Edmund Beaufort. He handed over power and left for England on 20 October that year. Not soon enough, though, because it seems Edmund had already made his wife, Cecily, pregnant. Margaret was conceived around 3 August 1445.

What then of Edward himself? There was a rumour that he was the son of a bowman in Rouen (by the name of Blaybourne), and that Cecily had a fling with him while her husband Richard was away fighting. Apparently he was away from Rouen on the Pontoise campaign from 14th July to the 21st August 1441, while Edward was conceived around the 28th July that year. Sharon Connolly, though, reports that she translated an article from the French records, suggesting that there was a lull in the fighting, and Richard returned to Rouen around August 1st for ten days. If so, when he returned was there a moment of passion that resulted in Edward IV, or did he really return because he heard about Blaybourne?

British government archives have the following to add: “There is evidence that by 1469 Cecily had declared Edward to be illegitimate and, with Warwick, was pushing for the crown to pass to her second [surviving] son, George, Duke of Clarence. (See M.K. Jones, Bosworth: Psychology of a Battle (Stroud, 2002), 73-78.) This development permanently damaged her relationship with Edward, so from 1471 until after his death in April 1483 she avoided the royal court and concentrated on her private interests.” (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/citizen_subject/neville.htm).So what did the painter of Edward’s portrait think? I guess we shouldn’t delay any longer in taking a look…

King Edward IV

King Edward IV

Alas for his supporters, it says he was the son not of Richard of York, but the bastard of (if I read it right) a ‘flettiero’. I’m not sure what that medieval Italian word means, but roughly, ‘a bender’. Could it be slang for a bowman? Or the ancient form, or dialect of the word ‘frecciero’, one who makes arrows? I don’t know, but I rather think I see the word ‘arciere’ (archer) on one of his buttons. The bad news is that it says who killed him, too. Quite possibly not true, but seemingly what the artist thought – he says ‘assassinato per RIII’.

So if Edward was the son of a bowman, then it seems pretty sure that Henry VI would have known, and as capo of the Lancastrian clan, he would certainly have told Elizabeth Woodville. Why? Because she was his cousin, and a Lancastrian, and because she alone could save the Plantagenet line. If she gave Edward babies, the deception could be continued forever… the fact was that Edward did not have the royal blood that most everyone thought. To save the dynasty, she had to do it with Henry, not Edward.

Puts her in a new light, no?! Not promiscuous. Not of deplorable morals. From her point of view someone who knew she was key to continuing the Lancastrian line, and preventing the continuation of the line of an illegitimate usurper.

But wait, even if we accept all this, isn’t it crazy to suggest that Henry VI didn’t die in 1471? According to reports, he was paraded through the streets to St Paul’s and he then lay with his face uncovered before being buried. If it wasn’t him, people would have known, no? In fact, most would not – he lasted only six months after being restored, and those who didn’t see him close up then would be remembering him as he was ten years before, when he first lost the throne. Further, when his remains were examined back in 1910, investigators reported that he had died of a fractured skull. But it was no simple fracture: they said the bones of his head were ‘unfortunately much broken’, and that there was dark material matted in his hair that was thought to be blood. It is sadly the case that people who have died of severe head injuries may not be recognizable even to family, so displaying his face could have been a safe bluff.

I understand people’s concerns about this radical new version of history, understand it well. I too was amazed at what I saw, and what I am expressing here is not my opinion – I have an open mind about it, most of it, anyway. What we see here is the opinion of the various artists – it is what they honestly believed, and what they were sharing with God: I don’t think they would have thought for one moment that anyone else would ever read what they wrote, except Him. But what they believed could have been wrong. The question is – was what we have believed up to now all just a cover story that we were fooled into believing – or is the tale that we saw emerging here someone else’s cover story that the artist was fooled into believing?