It can be a cold, unforgiving month and in British royal history there aren’t too many monarchs who have begun their regal journey as January unfolds. Those destined to reign were far more likely to make their debut in the summer when heat and food were in better supply. But two rulers arrived in the first month of the year. Neither was born to be monarch but both ended up as the January kings.
Henry VII was born on January 28th 1457 and became King of England in 1485
Richard II was born on one of the biggest feast days in the medieval calendar. The young prince made his first appearance on January 6th, Epiphany, which traditionally marks the visit of the three kings to Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem. At the time of his birth, in Bordeaux in 1367, Richard wasn’t expected to rule. His father was Edward, the Black Prince who was heir to the throne of England while his mother was the controversial princess called Joan of Kent. Ahead of Richard in the succession was a big brother – another Edward. Born on the day of the three kings, this little prince had little chance of a crown.
By the age of ten, he ruled England. His brother died in 1371, his father in 1376 and when his grandfather, Edward III, passed away in 1377 the young Richard became monarch. His reign was tumultuous, dramatic and ultimately disastrous. Early on he was personally involved in the resolution of the Peasants’ Revolt but as he grew into a young man he became more and more absolutist. By the time he was thirty dissent was growing and in 1399 he was deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who established the House of Lancaster. The prince born on January 6th still had some support and a group of nobles planned to overthrow the new king and restore Richard in a rebellion known as the Epiphany Rising. But it failed and in February 1400 Richard II was dead, the circumstances of his death a mystery.
If the first January king’s reign ended in deposition then the last monarch to be born in that month, so far, started his rule because of a violent change of power. Henry VII was born on January 28th 1457 at Pembroke Castle. And if Richard II’s chances of succeeding to the throne were slim on the day of his own birth, Henry Tudor’s were virtually non existent. And yet 28 years later he, too, was a January king.
Henry was the son of Edmund Tudor, who had died before his birth, and the great Lancastrian heiress, Margaret Beaufort, who was just thirteen when she gave birth to her son. The delivery was so difficult that, despite marrying again twice, Margaret never had another child. Young Henry would spend much of his youth in exile as his house, Lancaster, fell from power and the House of York ruled England. But his mother never gave up pressing her son’s fragile claim to the throne.
Henry Tudor became king after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. His marriage to the York heiress, Elizabeth, brought the two warring factions together and the House of Tudor established its grip on the throne. Henry gained a reputation for strong administration and financial acumen. However, by the time of his death in 1509 he was also seen as greedy and cold hearted by some.
These two descendants of Edward III were never meant to rule his kingdom. But both men ended up taking his throne, with very different approaches to their personal rule and ultimately very different legacies. They are rare in the royal history books and not just because they are two of the most unlikely candidates ever to end up as king. Richard of Bordeaux and Henry Tudor still stand alone as the only royal babies to become January kings.
And you can also read about the October Kings, the November Kings and the December Kings by clicking on the links.
Photo credit: Michael Sittow (circa 1469-1525) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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