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Shakespeare’s history plays

<poem> "This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house Against the envy of less happier lands; This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England... </poem>

—John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II,
Act II, Scene I, 40–50<ref>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>

It is a source of irritation to historians that Shakespeare’s influence on the perception of the later medieval period exceeds that of academic research.<ref>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> While the chronology of Shakespeare's history plays runs from King John to Henry VIII, they are dominated by eight plays in which members of the House of Lancaster play a significant part, voicing speeches on a par with those in Hamlet and King Lear.<ref>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> These plays are:

According to the historian Norman Davies, the plays were constrained by the political and religious requirements of Tudor England. While they are factually inaccurate, they demonstrate how the past and the House of Lancaster are remembered in terms of myth, legend, ideas and popular misconceptions. Shakespeare avoided contentious political and religious issues to dubiously illustrate Tudor England as having rejected medieval conflict and entered an era of harmony and prosperity. The famous patriotic "sceptr'd isle" speech is voiced by John of Gaunt, a man who spent the majority of his life in Aquitaine, and is a piece of poetic license that illustrates English prejudices. Henry V is one-sided with little sympathy for the French.<ref>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> Many of these historical lines illustrate historical myth rather than realism.<ref>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>

Succession

Lancastrian cognatic descent from John of Gaunt and Blanche's daughter Phillipa continued in the royal houses of Spain and Portugal.<ref name=Phillipa>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> The remnants of the Lancastrian court party coalesced support around Henry Tudor—a relatively unknown scion of the Beauforts. They had been amongst the most ardent supporters of the House of Lancaster and were descended illegitimately from John of Gaunt by his mistress Katherine Swynford. Although later legitimised by Richard II, Henry IV had formally and permanently debarred them from the succession to avoid competition with the House of Lancaster’s claims to the throne. By some calculations of primogeniture, there were as many as 18 people—including both his mother and future wife—with more right to the throne. By 1510, this figure had increased with the birth of an additional 16 possible Yorkist claimants.<ref name=Tudor148>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>

With the House of Lancaster extinct, Henry claimed to be the Lancastrian heir through his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort. His father was Henry VI's maternal half-brother. In 1485, Henry Tudor united increasing opposition within England to the reign of Richard III with the Lancastrian cause to take the throne. To legitimise his questionable claim, Henry married Elizabeth of York—Edward IV of England's daughter—and promoted the House of Tudor as a dynasty of dual Lancastrian and Yorkist descent.<ref name=Tudor>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>

Religion, education and the arts

The Lancastrians were both pious and well read. Henry IV was the first English king known to have possessed a vernacular Bible, supported the canonization of John Twenge, gave a pension to the anchoress Margaret Pensax and maintained close relations with several Westminster recluses. His household accounts as king record conventional payments to large numbers of paupers (12,000 on Easter day 1406) and the intercession for him of twenty-four oratores domini regis at 2d each per day. However, his reliance on the church was both personal and political. Archbishop Arundel gave the Lancastrians vital support and carried other bishops with him. In return the church required support for religious orthodoxy against heresy. Lollards were suppressed and heresy was made a capital offence in England under the statute of De haeretico comburendo even though Henry could not afford to overly antagonize his supporters with Lollard sympathies, including those among his Lancastrian retainers.<ref name=Brown2010>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>

According to the author of the Gesta Henrici quinti, Henry V aimed ‘to promote the honour of God, the extension of the Church, the deliverance of his country and the peace and tranquillity of kingdoms’. He was deeply religious, engaged with ecclesiastical issues and saw that his role as king was to honour God, extend the church, fight heresy and defend the established social order. All his victories, especially Agincourt, were attributed to divine intervention. Henry V founded Syon Abbey in 1415, as penance for his father’s execution of Archbishop Scrope, and three monasteries in London: for Carthusian, Bridgettine and Celestine orders.<ref name=H5>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> The equally devout Henry VI continued the architectural patronage begun by his father, founding Eton College and King's College, Cambridge and leaving a lasting educational and architectural legacy in buildings including King's College Chapel and Eton College Chapel.<ref name=Eton>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>

The Lancastrian regime was founded and legitimised by formal lying that was both public and official. This has been described as "a series of unconstitutional actions" based "upon three major acts of perjury".<ref name=Sherbourne>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> The historian K.B. McFarlane found it hard "to think of another moment of comparable importance in medieval English political history when the supply of information was so effectively manipulated as it was by Henry IV on this occasion".<ref name=McFarlane>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref> The Lancastrians patronised poets for panegyric purposes for years before Henry IV ascended the throne, including Geoffrey Chaucer who dedicated The Book of the Duchess to Blanche of Lancaster around 1368. In 1400, poets in the pay of Henry IV were directed to propaganda purposes. John Gower based his Cronica Tripertita on the official Lancastrian accounts of the usurpation:"The Record and Process of the Deposition of Richard II" from 1399. Gower also produced a number of further favourable works including "In praise of peace" which was dedicated to Henry IV.<ref name=Brewer>{{#invoke:Footnotes|harvard_citation_no_bracket}}</ref>


House of Lancaster sections
Intro  Origin of the Earls of Lancaster  Duchy and Palatinate of Lancaster  Reign of Henry IV  Henry V and the Hundred Years' War  Henry VI and the fall of the House of Lancaster  Legacy  Earls and Dukes of Lancaster (first creation)  Dukes of Lancaster (second creation)  Lancastrian Kings of England  Family Tree  See also  References  Bibliography  External links  

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