Edward IV, family trees and the history of the universe

Genealogy of Edward IV

Edward IV took the throne for the first time in 1461. One of the things commissioned to mark the event was the Edward IV roll. It can be found in the Chronicle of the History of the World from Creation to Woden, with a Genealogy of Edward IV. The roll is a remarkable piece of work, tracing Edward’s ancestry to the origins of the Universe.

The full document, accessible here illustrates the family tree of Edward IV back to Adam and Eve. Either side of the main text are the insignia of Edward’s ancestors. The text, in Latin, states “By God this one was created.”

Sources like this aren’t seen much in history lessons at school. On a simple practical level, the artwork would fill a long infographic if the text is to be legible: thats 3 sides of A4. And it’s in Latin, not a language in which too many modern schoolchildren are fluent. But by ignoring such sources, are we doing students a disservice?

The concept of kingship is regularly addressed in school history lessons. Perhaps most frequently when assessing whether or not King John was a good or bad king. Not, however, should he, or in this case Edward IV, be king.

Medieval kingship wasn’t simple. Legitimacy was hugely significant. The king was anointed by god in the coronation ceremony. Only a rightful heir was deserving of this. When the monarch was usurped or there were mysterious circumstances surrounding the accession, a justification was fely neccessary.

We see it with William, justifying his claim in 1066. Both William Rufus and Henry I were challenged as Robert had the stronger claim. Stephen fought Matilda for virtually all of his reign as she was named heir and he had sworn to accept her as queen. John while named by Richard was not next in line by progeniture and challenged by the nobility of Normandy. Henry IV, V and VI faced questions about legitimacy questions as a result of overthrowing Richard II.

In short the majority of medieval monarchs, post conquest, had to justify their position. It is an area that, perhaps, ought to be taught more.

It is possible to look at sources, both written and art, that document the ways that such legitimacy is demonstrated and claims justified. They present interesting and engaging opportunities for deep thinking.


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