As you might know, I have Google set to send me an alert when certain phrases, like “Edward II,” are mentioned. Today–rather to my irritation–I was notified of the following story from the Associated Press:
LONDON (AP)– Taking its cue from the success of the Genome Project, a group of revisionist historians, genealogists, and history buffs has formed the Illegitimacy Project, with the goal of proving through DNA testing that historical figures rumored to be illegitimate are in fact so.
“We’ve allowed traditionalist historians too much leeway here,” explained Rick Tertius, the founder of the group, which already claims five hundred members. “They’ve been far too willing to discount these rumors as propaganda, or to attribute them to the fanciful imagination of modern filmmakers and novelists, without giving them the proper consideration they deserve. The Illegitimacy Project believes that we shouldn’t be so complacent.”
Because fund-raising is still in its embryonic stages, the directors of the project plan to start on a modest scale. Their first goal is to exhume the bodies of Henry VI and Edward of Lancaster for DNA testing, which Tertius is confident will prove that Henry VI could not have been the father of Edward. “It’s true that Henry was sane at the time Edward was conceived, that he gave his queen generous gifts during her pregnancy, that he expressed delight when he saw his son after regaining his sanity, and that he showed affection toward the boy,” acknowledged Tertius. “But we also have Yorkist claims that he was illegitimate, and we can’t attribute them to propaganda, because that was first invented by Henry Tudor. If a Yorkist said something, it’s almost a hundred percent certain that it was the truth.”
Tertius is also hoping that DNA testing will allow him to pinpoint the real father of Edward of Lancaster. “The most likely candidate is Edmund Beaufort, first Duke of Somerset, and he has descendants living, who might well be delighted to submit to testing,” Tertius mused. “After all, it would be something interesting to put in the family newsletter.”
Tracking down Edward of Lancaster’s real father, Tertius acknowledged, might be an uphill battle if the Somerset theory doesn’t hold. “There were lots of men at court in 1453, and Margaret was known by all accounts, or at least by all Yorkist accounts, or at least by the accounts of twenty-first-century historical novelists, to have been a promiscuous woman,” he warned. “Finding this young man’s real father could be like finding a needle in a haystack, or a sperm in a haystack, if you prefer.”
If the Lancaster project is successful, the group plans to prove next that Edward IV was not the legitimate son of Richard, Duke of York. “It’s true that Cecily was a pious woman in later life, but during her youth she was quite a looker,” said Tertius. “And if you consider Richard, Duke of York’s behavior after Edward was born, I think you’ll find an elaborate attempt to cover up his wife’s infidelity. Trying to marry Edward to a daughter of the King of France, making him Earl of March, describing Edward as his son in the Act of Parliament making York the heir apparent to the throne—it’s all part of a rather pathetic ruse to present Edward as his own legitimate son. But I don’t blame the Duke of York, mind you. The truth might have just been too painful to face for him.”
Tertius bristled when asked if disproving Edward IV’s legitimacy could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Duke of York’s other children, such as Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and Richard III. “Of course not. Cecily learned her lesson after Edward, we can safely say.”
The project is also hoping to find proof that Edward III was fathered by another man instead of by his titular father, Edward II. “It’s true that Edward III’s legitimacy wasn’t questioned until very recently, but just because medieval people thought inside the box doesn’t mean that we should also,” said Tertius. “How do we know that Queen Isabella didn’t take a quick trip to Ireland to get, say, Roger Mortimer to father her child? Was anyone videotaping her every move? Of course not. There’s a lot of things a clever woman like Isabella could have done. Besides, she was French, just like Margaret of Anjou. That should be enough right there to show that she was up for a bit on the side.”
If the Illegitimacy Project is successful, Tertius hopes that the money it brings in will allow him to pursue a cherished personal goal: proving that Richard III’s bastard children John and Katherine were in fact his legitimate offspring by Anne Neville. “It’s a known fact—every Ricardian tells us so–that Richard was madly in love with Anne from the age of nine upward and couldn’t bear to think of being with another woman, so why would he have fathered children out of wedlock? It simply makes no sense,” Tertius said. “I suspect that the Woodvilles, and later the Tudors, engaged in an elaborate ruse to cover up the fact that these were Richard and Anne’s legitimate children by faking or altering various documents. Of course, since we don’t have John or Katherine’s bodies, proving that they were Anne’s children might be difficult, but psychic methods of proof might be sufficiently developed in the future to allow for this, so there’s hope. But in the meantime, we’ll concentrate on the real bastards.”
As he showed his interviewer out of his book-lined study, Tertius acknowledged that the Illegitimacy Project might have far-reaching consequences. “If we keep on with it, it could turn out that just about every monarch’s paternity is called into question. Who knows? The real Queen of England might be Sarah Palin.”
Asked to comment, Palin’s spokesperson responded, “Sarah has watched ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ several times and feels quite confident that she could be Queen of England if called to the task.”
For more about the Illegitimacy Project, visit its website.