Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movies and the U.S. Constitution: The War of the Roses; Lancaster and York and Cognatic Descent: The White Queen

This is part of a series of posts following this summary of movies that provide a chronological history of the U.S. Constitution.  Here's the summary.

The War of the Roses; Lancaster and York and Cognatic Descent

5.    The White Queen (BBC Miniseries, 2013): 1464 and subsequent years
 A.            Rule of Law.  This is not addressed much in this movie, which was about the struggle for the throne.  The struggle is really a military one.  The issue of agnatic, or male-line, descent (the York position) or cognatic, or male and female line, descent (the Lancaster position) being dispositive is not a topic the Magna Carta or any legal authority had established.   On the continent, a "Salic Law" had been defined requiring agnatic descent.  The Salic Law would disinherit many daughters on the European continent.  In Britain, a different history ensued, however, as well shall see.
B.            Use of the Term "Person".  The main significance of this movie for the illustration of this issue is the focus on three women, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, and lies in the illustration of women holding power as mothers, but not in their own right, and in the illustration of all the children of a king becoming recognized as heirs, not just the sons and not just the children of his marriage.  Margaret Beaufort, of the House of Lancaster, was the descendant of an "illegitimate parenting" by John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, which gave her a direct line of inheritance via their son.  

Unlike Mathilda in the depiction in Pillars of the Earth, Margaret Beaufort did not try to rule in her own name, but sought to have her son recognized as the heir.  Margaret of Anjou (who is depicted in only a few scenes in the miniseries) also plays a role, leading the House of Lancaster into battle, standing in for her infirm husband, King Henry VI, and seeking to have her son Edward throned (he died in battle with the Yorks).  

Both Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaufort were known for their indomitably and their success at finding their agency when involved with powerful men.   Margaret Beaufort's father had been known for recognizing public roles for the women in the family, including his wife.  Margaret of Anjou led the House of Lancaster into battle and her son was killed at age 14 in battle.  In their actions, however, both women asserted themselves this under the view of protecting their sons' rights and sought status as mothers of sons who held status, rather than in their own name, with the son's status deriving therefrom.

Nonetheless, what was really going on was an effort to maintain cognatic descent again as had happened with Mathilda in the depiction in Pillars of the Earth.  This lineage of cognatic descent (or descent through both male and female parents) is in contrast with agnatic descent (descent through only male parents).  The Lancasters were arguing cognatic descent, the York's were arguing agnatic descent (even though they also had a claim of cognatic descent, but inferior to that of the Lancasters). 

The claim of cognatic descent was not "pure", i.e. it did not derive from the first cognatic descendant of the line in question, the children of John of Gaunt. This first cognatic descendant of John of Gaunt, Phillipa, had a number of descendants living during this time who could have asserted claims as well.

Elizabeth Woodville was the wife of Edward IV of the agnatic-descent-advocating York faction and the mother of his first children (he later had a number of children with other women); her son would later hold the throne as a child under regency as Edward V, as one of the "Princes in the Tower", but disappeared (presumably at the hands of his regent and York uncle, who then became Richard III).  Woodville is depicted embracing witchcraft, again as a reactive type of power women held in regimes where they were oppressed, as they would be more so under the agnatic descent of the York cause than the cognatic Lancaster cause. 

Margaret Beaufort's son, Henry Tudor (becoming Henry VII) would defeat Richard III in the decisive battle where the Lancasters defeated the Yorks, with Henry Tudor becoming King  Henry VII through the female line.  Henry VII married Woodville's daughter, Elizabeth, though, producing a cemented line of descent for the Tudor Kings through right to rule passing through daughters (a much later furtherance of Mathilda's son Henry II also inheriting through the female line).  Cognatic descent via the House of Lancaster also played a role in monarchies in Spain, and Catharine of Aragon, who would later marry Henry VIII, also held this cognatic Lancastrian descent through her mother, Queen Isabella of Castile (who married King Ferdinand of Aragon).

The irony that the paternity of a child could not be proven and that descent through the mother was the only line that could be proven is not highlighted in the miniseries, however, Richard III's body was recently located, buried under a parking lot, and the DNA of Richard III of the agnatic descent-advocating House of York has proven to be disconnected from the male line from which he supposedly inherited (the "false paternity" could be before or after Richard III).  

Marriage created a presumption of paternity, but was of course not definitive.

Today, paternity is 99% provable via DNA evidence, which has implications for the US Constitution, as we shall see.

Previous: Scottish Independence, William Wallace edition: Braveheart

Next up: The Tudors and The Age of Elizabeth: The Tudors [to be completed]

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