When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcome their second child in the new year, the world will celebrate once more. However, despite the happiness that a royal birth brings to the Royal Family and the public alike, unlike Prince George, this new child will not be brought up as the heir to the throne. And yet, he or she might well become the monarch someday. History tells us the story of many Kings and Queens who were not the first born children of their parents, but sat on the throne nevertheless, succeeding their older siblings. In fact, the instances of two children succeeding their father as Kings began quite early on, during the Norman reign:
King William II and King Henry I
When William the Conqueror died in 1087, his eldest son Robert was made the Duke of Normandy, leaving the throne of England for his next surviving son, William Rufus, who ruled as King William II. But less than 15 years later, William II was dead, and his younger brother Henry was King of England.
Henry was the fourth son of William and Conqueror and his wife Matilda. Yet, acceding the throne didn’t come as a surprise to Henry, because the instant his brother, William II, died, he rode to London and was crowned within three days. It has been suggested by historians that William II has been killed on the orders of Henry himself, in a bid to become King of England. No love lost there then it seems.
King Richard I and King John
Two generations later, and Richard Lionheart was King of England. He was the third son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Though his eldest brother William had died in infancy, his second brother, Prince Henry, survived until adulthood. So great was the expectation that Henry would succeed his father that he was known as “The Young King” and even crowned at Westminster – this was the only time in the history of the British monarchy that a King was crowned while his predecessor was still alive and on the throne. But when the Young King died before he could succeed Henry II fully, Richard, who was set to be the next Duke of Aquitaine, was the heir apparent, and became King following the death of his father in 1189.
Henry II and his Queen had five sons – and Prince John was the last of them. He, least of all, expected to become King, but his older brothers all predeceased him, and of them, only Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, had a son, twelve-year old Arthur. Arthur would have been King, had it not been for the fact that he was only a child, and later died in what many have believed to be suspicious circumstances. Richard I bequeathed the throne to his youngest sibling, John, who ruled for 17 years, before passing the throne onto his own son, who became Henry III.
John, Duke of Lancaster and Edmund, Duke of York
For over a hundred years after his death, claimants to the English throne would base their claim upon the fact that they were descended from King Edward III. However, their ancestry can be traced back, not to King Edward’s first child, but to his middle sons, John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, the Dukes of Lancaster and York respectively.
The King’s oldest son, Edward of Woodstock, died in 1376, a year before his father. As a result, the Crown passed to Prince Edward’s only son, Richard II. But Richard turned tyrant in 1397, and he exiled his cousin, and John’s oldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke. Two years later, Henry returned to England and, after forcing Richard to abdicate, had himself crowned King Henry IV, the first Plantagenet ruler of the House of Lancaster.
However, the dynasty wasn’t to last, and in 1461 his grandson, Henry VI, was deposed by Edward, Duke of York, the great-grandson of Edmund of Langley. This was only the beginning of the Cousins’ War – a disastrous series of battles between the descendants of John, Duke of Lancaster and Edmund, Duke of York, and the new Edward IV, who was the first King of the House of York.
More short-lived than their cousin Lancasters, the York dynasty ended when Richard III was defeated in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry Tudor, the victor, derived his claim to the throne from the fact that his mother was a descendant of John of Gaunt’s son from his third wife, Katherine Swynford. Even though John never became King himself, all future monarchs were descended from him – including the present Queen.
King Richard III
King Henry VIII
Queen Elizabeth I