Northumberlands and Somersets and Greys, oh my!

Henry Percy (1421-1461) was the 3rd Earl of Northumberland.  He was the grandson of Henry “Hotspur” Percy (1366-1403), a rebel who fought against Lancastrian king Henry IV.  Hotspur’s son, Henry Percy 2nd Earl of Northumberland (1393-1455), regained favor with Henry V, who reinstated the titles stripped of the 1st Earl of Northumberland; Earl number two was a loyal supporter of the Lancastrian claim (even though his uncle was Roger Mortimer, the father of Anne Mortimer, who was Richard Duke of York’s mother). he fought on the side of Lancaster at the first Battle of Saint Albans, where he was killed. Henry Percy 3rd Earl of Northumberland, followed his father’s Lancastrian leanings, fighting for the red rose in the Battles of Wakefield (1463) and Towton (1461), where he was killed.  He left behind a twelve year-old son, Henry Percy (1449-1489).

Since the Yorkists were victorious at Towton, they stripped the Percy family (and thus young Henry) of the Northumberland titles and lands.  Meanwhile, John Neville (1431-1471 and brother to Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick, and “Kingmaker”), was winning favor with Edward IV for driving back Lancastrian support in the northern portion of England, and as a reward for this, he was created Earl of Northumberland in 1465.

The adolescent Henry Percy swore loyalty to Edward IV in 1469.  The next year Edward forced Neville to give up the Northumberland title (granting him instead the title of 1st Marquess of Montague).  [You don’t think Neville’s brother Warwick’s support of a Lancastrian uprising in 1469 had anything to do with that decision, do you?  Both Montague and his brother the “Kingmaker” were killed fighting against the Yorkists at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.]  Parliament did not restore the titles of Northumberland back to Percy until 1473, however.

The Northumberland referenced in the first half of the play is Henry Percy 3rd Earl of Northumberland.  At the play’s end, when Edward is discussing all the enemies that his side has vanquished, he mentions “two Northumberlands–two braver men // Ne’er spurred their coursers at the trumpet’s sound” (V.vii.8-9).  Here, he’s referring to both Henry Percy 3rd Earl as well as John Neville Earl of Northumberland… two Northumberlands, both killed in battles against the Yorkist cause.


Let’s go back to The First Part and The Second Part.  The Somerset there was Edmund Beaufort 2nd Duke of Somerset (1406-1455), the nephew to The First Part‘s Exeter and both Parts’ Winchester.  When Richard Plantagenet outlined his case for succession back in the First Part’s Rose Briar scene, Somerset was the person who argued against him, and it was he who plucked the red rose for Lancaster.  A Lancaster loyalist, he fought bitterly against the Yorkist cause, finally dying at the First Battle of Saint Albans in 1455 (according to Shakespeare at the hands of crookback Richard).

Edmund had three sons, Henry (1436-1464), Edmund (1438-1471), and John (1455-1471).  Upon the father’s death, Henry became the 3rd Duke of Somerset.  He, too, fought in the First Battle of Saint Albans.  He commanded troops for the Lancastrian forces in the Battles of Wakefield (1460) and Second Saint Albans (1461), both of which were victories, as well as the Battle of Towton (1461), which was a defeat.  For a short period of time in 1462 and 1463, Henry aligned himself with Edward IV, but by 1464 was back with the Lancastrian forces, which he commanded at the Battle of Hexham on May 15, 1464, where he was captured and executed.

Since Henry died without heirs, Edmund then became the 4th Duke of Somerset, and youngest (now younger) brother John was named the Marquess of Dorset (the heir-apparent to the Beaufort line).  Both Edmund and John continued their fight for the Lancastrian line, with Somerset one of the Lancastrian commanders at the Battle of Tewkesbury on May 4, 1471, after which both brothers were captured and executed.

When Edward IV talks of the “Three dukes of Somerset” (V.vii.5), he’s referencing the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Dukes of Somerset, Edmund, Henry and Edmund Beaufort respectively.  And with their deaths, not only was “Somerset” killed, but the male line of the Beauforts ended as well.

Lady Grey, who becomes the Queen Consort to Edward IV, was born a commoner, her father being a squire for Henry V (who later knighted her father).  As we’ve noted before in this blog, Elizabeth’s first marriage was to Sir John Grey of Groby.  Her husband died in the Second Battle for Saint Albans, fighting with the Lancastrians; thus, his lands were confiscated.  She was renowned for her beauty, and this must have made Edward at least willing to listen to her petition.  Listening then lead to wooing, and finally, she wed him in secret in May of 1461.

Unlike the others we’ve discussed today, it’s not the look back at her lineage that is of interest here; instead, let’s see where her line leads.

As she mentions to Edward as part of her petition, she has children from her marriage to Sir John Grey; she bore him two sons, Thomas and Richard. Thomas Grey (1457-1501) 1st Marquess of Dorset, first married Anne Holland, daughter of Exeter and Anne of York, but when Anne Holland died young, Thomas then married Cecily Bonville (whose mother was Katherine Neville, brother of 16th Earl of Warwick…Richard Neville, the Kingmaker).  They had fourteen children, including Thomas Grey (1477-1530) 2nd Marquess of Dorset, who married Margaret Wotton.  Thomas and Margaret had eight children, including Henry Grey (1515-1554).  And we’ll get back to him in a moment.

Elizabeth Woodville, Lady Grey, then bore Edward IV ten children, including the “princes in the Tower” (more on them next month), and Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), who married Henry Tudor (remember Henry, Earl of Richmond from Act Four, Scene Seven?  well, he’s going to become Henry VII).  Elizabeth and Henry had eight children together, including (of course) Henry VIII and a daughter by the name of Mary Tudor (1496-1533).  Mary would become Queen of France, when she married Louis XII; after Louis’ death, she then married Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1st in the second creation of the title).  Mary bore Charles three children, including Lady Frances Brandon (1517-1559).

Now, this Frances Brandon married… wait for it… Henry Grey (you know, from two paragraphs back).  Frances and Henry would have three daughters, the oldest of which was Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), the disputed Queen of England… but that’s another story (and not one covered by Shakespeare).

So Lady Jane Grey’s great-great-great grandmother on her mother’s AND her father’s side was Lady Grey, Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort to Edward IV.

Kinda weird, no?

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