Your RDA of Irony

Was There A Mumps Epidemic in 1400: the Blank Death?

Impotence can be hereditary. As if Henry IV had enough problems seizing a throne and suppressing the resulting civil wars, his children failed to understand the physical requirements of a dynasty. He had four adult sons and none of them had bothered to marry. (And, no, none of them went to a British public school.) At least Henry could coerce his daughters into marrying. In fact, the two girls had yet to reach puberty when they were bartered to husbands in Pomerania and Bavaria. That diplomatic brutality, however, gave Henry him his only legitimate grandchild. Six children, one grandchild–but in Bavaria: the Lancastrian dynasty was not exactly propagating. Even the number of illegitimate grandchildren was discouraging: four sons, two bastards—and they weren’t even healthy.

So when Henry IV died in 1413 at the age of 47, the Lancastrian dynasty seemed an oxymoron. Even then, his sons continued to avoid the marital necessities of monarchy; slaughtering the French was more fun. But the French did not think so; and in a peace treaty they offered Henry V a royal princess and the succession to the French throne. How could a romantic like Henry refuse? However, he now applied himself to domesticity with impressive diligence. Married in 1420, a father in 1421…and dead in 1422. (Perhaps it was too much of an exertion.) With the death of Henry V, and only an infant on the English throne, his two surviving brothers finally succumbed to the necessity of marriage.

(The Duke of Clarence managed to avoid the responsibility by getting himself killed; apparently, one Frenchman did know how to fight back). The Duke of Bedford married a duchess of Burgundy in 1423 and finally got her pregnant in 1432; but she died in childbirth. The Duke then married Jaquetta of Luxembourg in 1433; but he died two years later leaving no heirs. Don’t blame Jaquetta, she married again and had 16 children; and her descendants include the current pensioners living at Buckingham Palace.

The Duke of Gloucester at least had some heterosexual exercise. During his brother’s reign, the brother had sired an illegitimate daughter. Perhaps he was hoping to become Minister of Education because he named his daughter Antigone. The Duke became engaged to a Dutch countess, although her husband must have objected. Fortunately, the Pope could be bribed and an annulment was forthcoming. Their marriage occurred in 1423, and the Duke had a new mistress by 1425. In 1428, the Pope (the same one!) declared that the first annulment had been invalid, so the Duke married his mistress.

Strangely enough, the Duke was faithful to this wife; so people suspected that she was a witch. In fact, formal charges of witchcraft were eventually filed against her. (In a remarkable coincidence, the charges were leveled by political enemies of the Duke. And she was “persuaded” to admit her guilt, implicating her husband and causing his imprisonment.) Whatever her supernatural powers, her natural ones did not include fertility. Other than the uniquely named Antigone, Gloucester left no heirs.

As for the infant king, Henry VI grew up but in a chronic state of insanity. He did marry, and his wife had one child, but Henry’s participation in the conception is probably polite optimism. Neither Henry nor his “son” would survive the Wars of the Roses. Those prolific Yorkists knew how to make a dynasty.

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