Richard Duke of York’s claim to the crown, 1460

In 1460 Richard duke of York put forward a claim to the throne of England. The move was contrary to arguments that his supporters, the earls of Salisbury and Warwick, and his son, Edward earl of March, had presented to the common folk of the South East and London following their landing at Sandwich. Richard’s method of claiming the throne was quite unprecedented in English history, he did so before the assembled lords of the land, whilst there was a living king. 

Why did Richard Duke of York claim the crown in 1460?


The political reasoning for Richard putting forward a claim at this moment in time are quite clear. Factionalism had torn the country and government apart. The king’s own counsellors were acting contrary to the good of the people of England. Acts of Attainder such as those issued at the Parliament of Devils had been used without good cause. Throughout this, there had been ongoing violence which the king and the counsellors around him had not only done little to quash but that they were perceived by some as having caused. The people, of all ranks, had made the faults of the regime clear on several occasions. At each opportunity to reform, the chance to govern effectively had been spurned, due to the influence of people who had little right to influence the king’s policies.

Why did Richard Duke of York claim the throne in 1460?

Richard had, in simple terms, come to the conclusion that his foes would not reform and that the regime had to be changed. He also had reason to believe that the commons would welcome change, and seems to have believed that the nobility too had reached the conclusion that the regime of King Henry VI must come to an end.

Events in the period 1455 to 1460 also influenced Richard’s decision. The First Battle of St. Albans had been followed by Richard acting as Protector of England. In this role he imprisoned his main foe, the duke of Somerset. Reforms were made to the Royal Household. But once the king resumed personal control, the reforms were largely overturned and the Duke of Somerset was released. Additionally, the clash had St. Albans had added to the animosity between rivals and revenge was sought. Attempts at appeasing the two sides had been made, most famously through the Loveday Parade of 1458. Those had failed and violence had again erupted in the Battle of Blore Heath, followed by the rout at Ludford. The aftermath had seen the Yorkist lords attained by the Coventry Parliament of 1459 [The Parliament of Devils] whilst the Yorkists were in exile.

Richard, in Ireland, decided that the matter could only be resolved through his claiming of the crown. His allies and son, in Calais, had adopted a strategy of propaganda that reinforced the view that they were loyal subjects wanting effective and fair governance: thus many Yorkist supporters were taken aback by the Duke of York’s declaration that he was King by right.


What followed was a major Constitutional crisis. It saw an anointed monarch, King Henry VI, having his legitimacy questioned in front of judges, the assembled nobles of the Council, and in front of the commons of parliament. The arguments that the two men presented to the assembled nobles were their own assessments of customs, lineage, fealty, and right. Both men challenged the arguments put forward by the other.

In short, the arguments of the two men for their legitimacy as king were:

King Henry VI: descent from King Henry III and inheritance from his father, who in turn had inherited from his father. This had been accepted by the Duke of York and his predecessors as illustrated through swearing of oaths of loyalty to each of the Lancastrian kings.

Richard Duke of York: that under English custom the lineage that he had was the normal and accepted means of inheritance of the crown. He notes that this customary practice was considered the norm until King Henry IV issued rules regarding female inheritance in the seventh year of his reign. And as a result of that change it had been dangerous for his line to acknowledge their own superior right.

Richard Duke of York, claimant to the throne of England
Coat of Arms of Richard 3rd Duke of York

King Henry and Richard Duke of York debate their claims to the throne

The exchange between the King and Duke is described in the introduction to the Chronicles of the White Rose of York.

“My father was King; his father Henry IV was also King; I have worn the crown forty years from my cradle; you all have sworn fealty to me as your sovereign, and your fathers have done the like to my fathers. How then can my right be disputed?”

He then commended himself to their loyalty, and bid them “seek and find, as much as in them was, all such things as might be objected and laid against the claim and title of the said Duke.” The judges declined to be advocates for either party, and said the present question being above the law must be referred to the Lords of the King’s blood, and to the wisdom of parliament.

The result of the parliamentary enquiry contains the following objections to the Duke’s claim.

  1. That title. both he and the lords had sworn fealty to Henry, and of course he by his oath was prevented from urging, they by theirs from admitting, his claim.
  2. That many acts passed in divers parliaments of the King’s progenitors, might be opposed to the pretensions of the house of Clarence, which acts, ‘been of authority to defeat any maimer of title.’
  3. That several entails had been made of the crown to the heirs male, whereas he claimed by descent from females.
  4. That he did not bear the arms of Lionel the third, but of Edmund the fifth son of Edward III.
  5. And 5th That Henry IV. had declared that he entered on the throne as the true heir of Henry III.

To the three first objections the Duke’s counsel replied; that as priority of descent was evidently in his favour, it followed that the right to the crown was his; which right could not be defeated by oaths or acts of parliament, or entails. Indeed the only entail made to the exclusion of females was that of the seventh year of Henry IV., and would never have been thought of, had that prince claimed under the customary law of descents: that the reason why he had not hitherto taken the arms of Lionel was the same as had prevented him from claiming the crown, the danger to which such a proceeding would have exposed him ; and lastly that if Henry IV. pronounced himself the rightful heir of Henry III., he asserted what he knew to be untrue.

As, however, the principal reliance of his adversaries was on the oaths which he had taken, and which it was contended were to be considered as a surrender of his right by his own act, he contended that no oath contrary to truth and justice is binding; that the virtue of an oath is to confirm truth and not to impugn it; and that as the obligation of oaths is a subject for the determination of the spiritual tribunals, he was willing to answer in any such court all manner of men, who had any thing to propose against him.

Family Tree of the Plantagenet Family

The family tree below illustrates the genealogical points made by King Henry VI and Richard Duke of York. The image is sourced from Wikimedia and is available under a creative commons licence.

Family Tree of the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet Family from Edward III to Henry VII.
Family Tree of the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet Family from Edward III to Henry VII.

Source Material on Richard Duke of York claiming the crown

The events are recorded by contemporary sources.

Gregory’s Chronicle states:

[In September 1460] the Duke of York came out of Ireland, towards London, banners charged with the arms of England to trumpeters and, commanding his sword to be borne upright before him, rode to King Harry’s palace at Westminster, and there claimed the crown of England. He kept Harry there by force and strength until, at last, the king, for fear of death, granted him the crown: for a man who has little wit will soon be afraid of death. I trust and believe there was no man that would have done him bodily harm. However, the lords asked earnestly that King Harry should retain the crown during his life.

The Crowland Chronicle describes the Duke’s arrival at the royal palace:

[In October 1460] the Duke of York came over from Ireland to Westminster, at the same time of the beginning of Parliament, and soon as he had entered the upper chamber of the royal palace where the lords spiritual and temporal were sitting, he approached the royal throne and claimed the sole right of sitting on it, he then put forward a genealogy tracing his lineal descent from Lionel Duke of Clarence, to whose successors, he asserted, the kingdom of England rightly belonged, since he was the elder [son of King Edward III], rather than to the descendants of John Duke of Lancaster, the younger brother from whom Henry was descended; he also protested that he would no longer endure the injustices which the three Henry’s, who were usurpers, had for so long inflicted upon his line. Thereafter, he immediately entered the inner rooms of the palace, compelled King henry to remove to the queen’s apartments, and took over the king’s apartments himself. This disturbance continued, albeit without bloodshed or killing, for about three weeks, during which time the whole Parliament was occupied with discussion of the duke’s lineage and rights.

A letter to the Earl of Worcester, who was in Venice at the time, describes events:

“…The kyng whith lordes spiritualle and temporalle as the archbusshoppis of Cant and York, bishop is of Excetter Ely Lincoln London Worcestre and Chicestre, the Duke of Northefolk Erlyss of Marche Warwick Salisbury with many abbats and Baronys sittying in the parlement chambre except the kyng the commyens beyng in ther place accustomed in Westm’ ther cam my lorde of york with viij hundred horse and men harneysed atte x of the clok, and entred the paleis with his swerde born uppe right by him for thorowe the halle and parleament chambre. And under the cloth of estaye stondyng he gave them knowlich that he purposed nat to ley daune his swerde but to challenge his right and so toke his loggyng in the qwenys chambre… purposed no man shuld have denyed tge croune fro his hed.”

The Yorkist arguments prior to this are well documented. For example, the Earl of Warwick justified Yorkist actions in 1459.

The outcome of the Parliamentary sessions held in October of 1460 was the Act of Accord.

See also, Richard Duke of York 1411-1460, a detailed biography hosted on another of my websites.

Image Credits

Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York published by Edward Harding. Etching, published 1 March 1792. Source NPG D23789

Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York (Variant). The inescutcheon of pretence showing the arms of the House of Holland, Earls of Kent, represents his claim to represent that family, derived from his maternal grandmother Eleanor Holland (1373-1405), one of the six daughters and eventual co-heiresses to their father Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent (1350/4-1397) Image by Sodacan. Sourced from Wikipedia and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Plantagenet Family Tree. Drawn by Muriel Gottrop. Sourced from Wikipedia and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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