Edmund of Langley was the fourth surviving son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Isabella of Castile was a daughter of Pedro of Castile and María de Padilla. Roger de Mortimer was a son of Edmund de Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March and Philippa Plantagenet. Eleanor de Holland was a daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and Alice Fitzalan. Alice Fitzalan was a daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel and Eleanor of Lancaster.
Philippa Plantagenet was in turn the only daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence and Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster. Lionel of Antwerp was the second son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.
His father was executed for his part in the plot against Henry V of England on August 5, 1415. From his father he inherited neither land nor title. However his paternal uncle Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York was killed at the Battle of Agincourt (October 25, 1415). The Duke was childless and Richard was his closest male relative.
After some hesitation Henry V allowed Richard to inherit the title and (at his majority) the lands of the Duchy of York. The lesser title and (in due course) greater estates of the Earldom of March became his on the death his maternal uncle Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, on January 19, 1425. The reason for the hesitation of Henry V was the usurpation of Edmund Mortimer's right to the English throne; once Richard inherited the March, he became the foremost Yorkist pretender.
In October 1425, when Ralph Neville died, he bequeathed the wardship of York to his widow, Joan Beaufort. By now the wardship was even more valuable, as Richard had inherited the Mortimer estates on the death of the Earl of March. These manors were concentrated in Wales, and in the Welsh Borders around Ludlow.
Little is recorded of his early life. On 19 May, 1426 he was knighted at Leicester by John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford. In October 1429 (or earlier) his marriage to Cecily Neville took place. On November 6 he was present at the coronation of Henry VI of England in Westminster Abbey. He then followed Henry to France, being present at his coronation as King of France in Notre Dame on December 16, 1431. Finally, on May 12, 1432 he came into his inheritance and was granted control of his estates.
York's appointment was one of a number of stop-gap measures after the death of Bedford to try to retain French possessions until King Henry should assume personal rule. The fall of Paris (his original destination) led to his army being allocated to Normandy. Working with Bedford's captains, York had some success, re-capturing Fecamp and holding on to the Pays de Caux, while establishing good order and justice in the Duchy. His term was extended beyond the original twelve months, and he returned to England in November 1439. In spite of his position as one of the leading nobles of the realm, he was not included in Henry VI's Council on his return.
However, in 1443 Henry put the newly-created John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset in charge of an army of 8,000 men, initially intended for the relief of Gascony. This denied York much-needed men and resources at a time when he was struggling to hold the borders of Normandy. Not only that, the terms of Somerset's appointment could have caused York to feel that his own role as effective regent over the whole of Lancastrian France was reduced to that of governor of Normandy. Somerset's army achieved nothing, and eventually returned to Normandy, where Somerset died. This may have been the start of the hatred that York felt for the Beaufort family, that would later turn into civil war.
English policy now turned back to a negotiated peace (or at least a truce), so the remainder of York's time in France was spent in routine administration and domestic matters. Duchess Cecily had accompanied him to Normandy, and his children Edward, Edmund and Elizabeth were born in Rouen.
At the end of his five year appointment (he returned to England on 20 October), he must have had reasonable expectations of reappointment. However, he had become associated with the English in Normandy who were opposed to Henry VI's policy towards France, some of whom (for example Sir William Oldhall and Sir Andrew Ogard) had followed him to England. Eventually (in December 1446) the lieutenancy went to Edmund Beaufort, who had become Earl of Somerset on the death of his brother (see above). During 1446-7 York attended meetings of Henry VI's Council and of Parliament, but most of his time was spent in administration of his estates on the Welsh border.
His attitude toward Henry's surrender of Maine must have contributed to his appointment on 30 July as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In some ways it was a logical appointment. Richard was also Earl of Ulster and had considerable estates in Ireland. But it was also a convenient way of removing him from both England and France. His term of office was for ten years, ruling him out of consideration of any other high office during that period.
Domestic matters kept him in England until June 1449, but when he did eventually go, it was with Cecily (who was pregnant at the time) and an army of around 600 men. This suggests a stay of some time was envisaged. However, claiming lack of money to defend English possessions, York decided to return to England. His financial state may indeed have been problematic - by the mid-1440s he was owed nearly £40,000 by the crown, and the income from his estates was declining.
In June Kent and Sussex rose in revolt. Led by Jack Cade (taking the name Mortimer), they took control of London and killed John Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, Lord High Treasurer of England. In August, the final towns held in Normandy fell to the French' and refugees flooded back to England.
On 7 September York landed at Beaumaris. Evading an attempt by Henry to intercept him, and gathering followers as he went, York arrived in London on 27 September. After an inconclusive (and possibly violent) meeting with the King, York continued to recruit, both in East Anglia and the west. The violence in London was such that Somerset, back in England after the collapse of English Normandy, was put in the Tower of London for his own safety. In December Parliament elected York's chamberlain, Sir William Oldhall, as speaker.
York's public stance was that of a reformer, demanding better government and the prosecution of the traitors who had lost northern France. Judging by his later actions, there may also have been a more hidden motive — the destruction of Somerset, who was soon released from the Tower. Although granted another office (Justice of the Forest south of the Trent), York still lacked any real support outside Parliament and his own retainers.
In April 1451, Somerset was released from the Tower and appointed Captain of Calais. When the MP for Bristol, Thomas Young (one of York's councillors) proposed that York be recognised as heir to the throne, he was sent to the Tower and Parliament was dissolved. Henry VI was prompted into belated reforms, which went some way to restore public order and improve the royal finances. Frustrated by his lack of political power, York retired to Ludlow.
In 1452, York made another bid for power — but not to become king himself. Protesting his loyalty, he aimed to be recognised as Henry VI's heir, while also trying to destroy the Earl of Somerset (as a Beaufort descendant, Henry may have preferred him over York to succeed him). Gathering men on the march from Ludlow, York headed for London, to find the city gates barred against him on Henry's orders. At Dartford in Kent, with his army outnumbered, and the support of only two of the nobility, York was forced to come to an agreement with Henry. Allowed to present his complaints against Somerset to the king, he then was taken to London and after two weeks of virtual house arrest, was forced to swear an oath of allegiance at St Paul's Cathedral.
By the summer of 1453, York seemed to have lost his power struggle. Henry embarked on a series of judicial tours, punishing York's tenants who had been involved in the debacle at Dartford. His Queen consort Margaret of Anjou was pregnant, and even if she should miscarry, the marriage of the newly ennobled Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond to Margaret Beaufort provided for an alternative line of succession. Bordeaux had been re-captured the previous year. By July he had lost both his Offices - Lieutenant of Ireland and Justice of the Forest south of the Trent.
Then, in August, Henry VI suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown. Perhaps brought on by the news of the defeat at the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, he became completely unresponsive, unable to speak and having to be led from room to room. The council tried to carry on as though the King's disability would be brief. However, eventually they had to admit that something had to be done. In October, invitations for a Great Council were issued, and although Somerset tried to have him excluded, York (the premier Duke of the realm) was included. Somerset's fears were to prove well-grounded, for in November he was committed to the Tower. Despite the opposition of Margaret of Anjou, on 27 March, York was appointed Protector of the Realm and Chief Councillor.
York's appointment of his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, as Chancellor was significant. Henry's burst of activity in 1453 had seen him try to stem the violence caused by various disputes between noble families. These disputes gradually polarised around the long-standing Percy-Neville feud. Unfortunately for Henry, Somerset (and therefore the king) became identified with the Percy cause. This drove the Nevilles into the arms of York, who now for the first time had support among a section of the nobility.
"If Henry's insanity was a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster" . In January 1455 Henry lost little time in reversing York's actions. Somerset was released and restored to favour. York was deprived of the Captaincy of Calais (granted to Somerset) and of the office of Protector. Salisbury resigned as Chancellor. York, Salisbury and Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick were threatened when a Great Council was called to meet in Leicester (away from Somerset's enemies in London) on 21 May. York and his Neville relations recruited in the north and probably along the Welsh border. By the time Somerset realised what was happening, there was no time to raise a large force to support the king.
Once York took his army south of Leicester, thus barring the route to the Great Council, the dispute between him and the king regarding Somerset would have to be settled by force. On 22 May, the king and Somerset, with a hastily-assembled and poorly-equipped army of around 2,000 arrived at St Albans. York, Warwick and Salisbury were already there, with a larger and better-equipped army. More importantly, at least some of their soldiers would have had experience in the frequent border skirmishes with the Kingdom of Scotland and the occasionally rebellious people of Wales.
The First Battle of St Albans which immediately followed hardly deserves the term battle. Possibly as few as 50 men were killed, but among them were Somerset and the two Percy lords, Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland and Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford. York and the Nevilles had therefore succeeded in killing their enemies, while York's capture of the king gave him the chance to resume the power he had lost in 1453. It was vital to keep Henry alive - his death would have led, not to York becoming king himself, but to the minority rule of his two-year-old son Edward of Westminster. Since York's support among the nobility was small, he would be unable to dominate a minority council led by Margaret of Anjou.
In the custody of York, the king was returned to London with York and Salisbury riding alongside, and with Warwick bearing the royal sword in front. On 25 May, Henry received the crown from York, in a clearly symbolic display of power. York made himself Constable of England, and appointed Warwick Captain of Calais. York's position was enhanced when some of the nobility agreed to join his government, including Lord Fauconberg, who had served under him in France.
For the rest of the summer York held the king prisoner, either in Hertford castle or (in order to be enthroned in Parliament in July) in London. When Parliament met again in November the throne was empty, and it was reported that the king was ill again. York resumed the office of Protector, although he surrendered it when the king recovered in February 1456, it seemed that this time Henry was willing to accept that York and his supporters would play a major part in the government of the realm.
Salisbury and Warwick continued as councillors, and Warwick was confirmed as Captain of Calais. In June York himself was sent north to defend the border against a threatened invasion by James II of Scotland. However, the king once again became under the control of a dominant figure, this time one harder to replace than Suffolk or Somerset. For the rest of his reign, it would be the queen, Margaret of Anjou, who would control the king.
Although Margaret of Anjou had now taken the place formerly held by Suffolk or Somerset, her position, at least at first, was not as dominant. York had his Lieutenancy of Ireland renewed, and he continued to attend meetings of the Council. However, in August 1456 the court moved to Coventry, in the heart of the Queen's lands. How York was treated now depended on how powerful the Queen's views were. York was regarded with suspicion on three fronts: he threatened the succession of the young Prince of Wales; he was apparently negotiating for the marriage of his son Edward into the Burgundian ruling Family; and as a supporter of the Nevilles, he was contributing to the major cause of disturbance in the kingdom - the Percy/Neville feud.
Here, the Nevilles lost ground. Salisbury gradually ceased to attend meetings of the council. When his brother Robert Neville, Bishop of Durham died in 1457, the new appointment was Laurence Booth. Booth was a member of the Queen's inner circle. The Percys were shown greater favour both at court and in the struggle for power on the Scottish Border.
Henry's attempts at reconciliation between the factions divided by the killings at St Albans reached their climax with the Loveday on March 24, 1458. However, the lords concerned had earlier turned London into an armed camp, and the public expressions of amity seemed not to have lasted beyond the ceremony.
In June 1459 a great council was summoned to meet at Coventry. York, the Nevilles and some other lords refused to appear, fearing that the armed forces that had been commanded to assemble the previous month had been summoned to arrest them. Instead, York and Salisbury recruited in their strongholds and at Worcester met Warwick, who had brought with him his troops from Calais. Parliament was summoned to meet at Coventry in November, but without York and the Nevilles. This could only mean that they were to be accused of treason.
On 11 October, York tried by move south, but was forced to head for Ludlow. On 12 October, at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, York once again faced Henry just as he had at Dartford seven years earlier. Warwick's troops from Calais refused to fight, and the rebels fled - York to Ireland, Warwick, Salisbury and York's son Edward to Calais. York's wife Cecily and their two younger sons (George and Richard) were captured in Ludlow Castle and imprisoned at Coventry.
York's retreat worked to his advantage. He was still Lieutenant of Ireland, and attempts to replace him failed. The Parliament of Ireland backed him, providing offers of both military and financial support. Warwick's (possibly inadvertent) return to Calais also proved fortunate — his control of the English Channel meant that pro-Yorkist propaganda, emphasising loyalty to the king while decrying his wicked councillors, could be spread around Southern England. Such was the Yorkists' naval dominance that Warwick was able to sail to Ireland in March 1460, meet York and return to Calais in May. Warwick's control of Calais was to prove to be influential with the wool-merchants in London.
In December 1459 York (along with Warwick and Salisbury) had suffered attainder — his life was forfeit, and his lands reverted to the king — his heirs would not inherit. This was the most extreme punishment a member of the nobility could suffer, and York was now in the same situation as Henry of Bolingbroke in 1398. Only a successful invasion of England would restore his fortune. Assuming the invasion was successful, York had three options — become protector again, disinherit the king so that York's son would succeed, or claim the throne for himself.
On 26 June, Warwick and Salisbury landed at Sandwich. The men of Kent, always ready to revolt, rose to join them. London opened its gates to the Nevilles on 2 July. York remained in Ireland. Not until 9 September did he set foot in England, and when he did, he acted as a king. Marching under the arms of his maternal great-great-great-grandfather Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, as he approached London he displayed a banner of the Coat of Arms of England. By this time, Warwick had already defeated the royal forces at the Battle of Northampton (10 July) and captured the king. A Parliament called to meet on 7 October repealed all the legislation of the Coventry parliament the previous year.
On 10 October, York arrived in London and took residence in the royal palace. Entering Parliament with his sword borne upright before him, he claimed the throne of England. Once again, his narrow support among his peers led to failure. After weeks of negotiation, the best that could be achieved was that York and his heirs would be recognised as Henry's successor. However, Parliament did grant York extraordinary executive powers to protect the realm, and with the king effectively in custody, York and Warwick were the de facto rulers of the country.
While this was happening, the Lancastrian loyalists were arming. Faced with the threat of attack from the Percys, and with Margaret of Anjou trying to gain the support of new king James III of Scotland, on 2 December York and Salisbury headed north. With them went York's son Edmund, Earl of Rutland. They arrived at Sandal Castle on 21 December to find the situation bad and getting worse. Forces loyal to Henry controlled the city of York, and nearby Pontefract Castle was also in hostile hands.
On 30 December, York and his forces left Sandal, possibly to obtain supplies. Intercepted near Wakefield by a larger Lancastrian force, York and his son were killed. Salisbury was captured during the Battle of Wakefield and executed the following day. York was buried at Pontefract, but his head was put on a pike by the victorious Lancastrian armies. His remains were later moved to Fotheringhay Church.
There is no contemporary portrait of Richard of York. None of his affinity (or his enemies) left a memoir of him. All that remains is the record of his actions, and the propaganda issued by both sides. Faced with the lack of evidence, we can only infer his intentions from his actions. Few men have come so close to the throne as York, who died not knowing that in only a few months his son Edward would become king. Even at the time, opinion was divided as to his true motives. Did he always want the throne, or did Henry VI's poor government and the hostility of Henry's favourites leave him no choice? Was the alliance with Warwick the deciding factor, or did he just respond to events?
Richard's eldest surviving son finally succeeded in putting the House of York on the throne in 1461 as Edward IV of England. His youngest son later became Richard III of England. The grandchildren of Richard include Edward V of England and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth married Henry VII of England, founder of the Tudor dynasty and became the mother of Henry VIII of England, Margaret Tudor and Mary Tudor. After the reigns of the three children of Henry VIII, all English monarchs have been descendants of Margaret.
Richard was descended from English, French and Castilian royalty, as well as several major English aristocratic families.
His children with Cecily Neville include: