The Birth of Edward of Lancaster

On October 13, 1453, Margaret of Anjou gave birth at Westminster Palace to the boy who would prove to be her only child: Edward. At age twenty-three, Margaret had been married to Henry VI for eight years and must have despaired of ever producing an heir to the throne.

The eight-year wait has been taken as proof by some that Margaret must have resorted to another man to father her child, but then and now, women have gone for years without conceiving only to finally find themselves pregnant. (To take a contemporary example, Cecily, Duchess of York, was born in 1415 and had married before October 1429, but did not give birth to her first child until ten years later.) It is also possible that Margaret had conceived at earlier periods during her marriage, but had miscarriages that occurred so early that she never knew she was pregnant in the first place.

Edward would have been conceived during the Christmas/New Year’s season of 1452-53, when Henry VI is known to have resided at Margaret’s palace of Greenwich. This holiday season appears to have been a particularly festive one for the royal couple. Margaret paid Richard Bulstrode more than 25 pounds for his expenses incurred in connection with a disguising made before the king and queen at Greenwich. The festivities continued on January 5, 1453, when Henry VI knighted his younger half-brothers, Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor, who had recently been made Earl of Richmond and Earl of Pembroke. Perhaps this relaxed atmosphere at the court, following on the heels of what had been a period of political recovery for the king, had a beneficial effect on the king and queen in the bedchamber.

Unfortunately, Henry VI lapsed into madness in August 1453, leaving Margaret to face her pregnancy by herself. In the midst of this crisis, Margaret observed the usual rituals associated with a royal pregnancy. On September 10, 1453, the Dukes of Somerset and Buckingham, along with the mayor and aldermen of London, conducted her by barge to Westminster for her lying-in. J. L. Laynesmith, citing an exchequer record, writes that the canopy for Margaret’s bed was of crimson satin embroidered with gold crowns and that the room contained two cradles, the smaller of which bore an image of St. Edward.

Margaret gave birth on October 13, after which her butler, Giles St. Lo, brought the news to London. He received 10 marks from the common council for doing so. Bale’s Chronicle reports the reaction to the birth: “Wherefor the belles rang in every chirch and Te Deum solempny song.” The next day, the boy was christened by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester. His godparents were John Kemp, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, and Anne Stafford (nee Neville), the Duchess of Buckingham. Margaret was later reimbursed for an embroidered cloth called “crisome” for the baptism, for 20 yards of russet cloth of gold, and for 540 brown sable backs. She, of course, would not have been at the christening, but kept her chamber until her churching, the ceremony marking a new mother’s purification and return to society.

The cloth of gold and the sable backs probably were purchased for Margaret’s use at her churching, which took place on November 18, 1453, at Westminster. The great ladies of the land were duly summoned to attend: the Duchesses of Bedford, York, Norfolk the elder, Norfolk the younger, Buckingham, Somerset the elder, Somerset the younger, Exeter the elder, Exeter the younger, and Suffolk; the Countesses of Warwick, Arundel, Northumberland, Salisbury, Wiltshire, Shrewsbury the elder, Shrewsbury the young, and Oxford; the Viscountess Bourchier; and the ladies Grey, Ruthin, Roos, Lovel, Cromwell, Berners, Ferrers of Groby, Hastings, Bergavenny, Fitz Waren, Willoughby the younger, Latimer, Fitz Walter, Roos the elder, Botrcaux, and Souch. Many of these ladies would lose husbands and sons to war in the years to come; some, like Margaret herself, would lose both.

Some time before January 19, 1454, Margaret, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, brought Edward to his father in hopes of receiving the king’s blessing. They met with only the slightest response: “but alle their labour was in veyne, for they departed thene without any answere or countenance savyng only that ones he loked on the Prince and caste doune his eyene ayne, without any more.” A year later, however, Henry VI, restored to sanity, had a very different reaction to his son, as reported by Edmund Clere to John Paston on January 9, 1455:

Blessed be God, the King is wel amended, and hath ben syn Cristemesday, and on Seint Jones day comaunded his awmener to ride to Caunterbury with his offryng, and comaunded the secretarie to offre at Seint Edwards.

And on the Moneday after noon the Queen came to him, and brought my Lord Prynce with her. And then he askid what the Princes name was, and the Queen told him Edward; and then he hild up his hands and thankid God therof.


Bale’s Chronicle (in Ralph Flenley, ed., Six Town Chronicles of England).

Frederick Devon, ed., Issues of the Exchequer (on Google Books).

James Gairdner, ed., The Paston Letters.

R. A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI.

Joseph Hunter, Three catalogues; describing the contents of the Red book of the Exchequer (on Google Books).

P. A. Johnson, Duke Richard of York: 1411 – 1460.

Ian Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain: A Chronological Topography to 1558.

J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens.

Helen Maurer, Margaret of Anjou: Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England.

Bertram Wolffe, Henry VI.

4 thoughts on “The Birth of Edward of Lancaster”

  1. Great post, Susan!

    What I found fascinating about Margaret's churching is that many (most?) of the women you've mentioned were related, at least by marriage, and yet there must have been a good deal of simmering resentment under the silent surface. I've tried to make some sense of it – the alliances and enmities – but it's not an easy thing!

    Margaret must have vested a great deal in her son and while his death would have grieved her no more as a mother than, say the young earl of Rutland's, he represented a good deal more than that. I'm so looking forward to reading her story!

  2. Happy Birthday to Edward! I especially love the detail of Margaret's canopy of crimson satin embroidered with gold crowns. And like Ragged Staff, I'm really looking forward to reading Margaret's story!

  3. Very early miscarriages are extremely common; I haven't got figures to hand but I have a feeling that something like a quarter of embryos fail to implant and are lost before the woman knows anything about it.

    How comprehensive are the records? If Margaret had experienced a miscarriage that she was aware of in the eight years, is it possible that it might not have been recorded, or the record not survived?

  4. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Ragged Staff! That must have been an interesting churching indeed.

    Kathryn, thanks too! I would have loved to have seen that canopy.

    Carla, as far as I know, the surviving records are pretty sparse, so I think it's possible that there were prior known miscarriages that occurred before the pregnancy was far enough advanced to be made public. I'm a little more inclined to think that the 1453 pregnancy was the first Margaret knew of, though, since she went to Walsingham on pilgrimage fairly early in her pregnancy, which might not have been the case if she knew she had a history of miscarriages. Then again, she might have thought that going on pilgrimage would help persuade the Lord to let her finally carry a pregnancy to term.

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