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The House of York achieved its greatest success in England during the Wars of the Roses, the vicious civil war that occupied England during most of the 15th Century. This was a power struggle between descendants of different sons of the 14th Century Plantagenet king Edward III: chiefly the Lancastrian king Henry VI and his rival Richard, Duke of York. Richard was killed in battle, but two of his sons (Edward IV and Richard III) succeeded where he failed.

In the subsequent history of the Royal Family of England, the title of Duke of York came to be conferred upon the son of the reigning monarch who is second in line to the throne (the Heir Apparent, in contrast, usually receives the title Prince of Wales). It is a bit like being Vice-President of the USA: sometimes you will get the top job, but generally you won't.

The present Duke of York is Prince Andrew, second son of Elizabeth II: he married and later divorced Sarah Ferguson also know as 'Fergie'. He is a military sort of chap and fought in the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina, but is never likely to be King of England. This is probably a good thing. The historical legacy of his predecessors as Duke of York is not encouraging:

Earls of York

There have been no undoubted earls of York or Yorkshire and the dignity of York may properly be said to have only ever been created as a dukedom. But there are however, two gentleman who are sometimes put forward as candidates for the title Earl of York.

The first is William le Gros, Earl of Albemarle who may have been granted the earldom of York by king Stephen in 1138, based on the reference in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to William as the man "to whom the king had entrusted York", although this may simply indicate a military command in a time of civil war.

The second is Otto, whose parents were Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, and Matilda, daughter of Henry II, who fought with Richard I on crusade, and who is later said by some sources to have been made an earl of Yorkshire. This Otto later became the Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV in 1208, after which time he was undoubtedly far to busy with affairs in Germany to worry about the north of England.

Plantaganet see also House of York

Edmund of Langley was the fifth (and fourth surviving) son of king Edward III. Edmund, created Earl of Cambridge on the 13th November 1361, and later on the 6th August 1385 granted the title Duke of York by Richard II. Edmund's incompetence whilst he was keeper of the realm during king Richard's absence in Ireland in 1399, later contributed to the ease with which Richard was deposed by Henry IV.

His son Edward of Norwich who had held the title of Duke of Albemarle since 1397, was deprived of that title by Henry IV in 1399 and prevented from inheriting the dignity of York on his father's death in 1402. Four years later in 1406, the title Duke of York was finally restored to Edward. He later served under Henry V with distinction, was placed in command of the right wing at the battle of Agincourt which is where he was killed on the 25th October 1415.

As Edward of Norwich died without issue, he was succeeded by his nephew Richard Plantagenet, who duly became the 3rd Duke of York. The 3rd Duke not only inherited his uncle Edward's estates but also in 1425, those of another uncle, Edmund Mortimer 5th Earl of March, making him the largest landowner in England.

Richard was later prominent in instigating what has now become known as the Wars of the Roses, as he persued the objective of gaining the throne of England for himself in preference to the incumbent Henry VI. In this he was ultimately unsuccessful as he was killed at the battle of Wakefield in 1460. He was followed by his eldest son Edward who became the 4th Duke of York, which title became merged in the crown upon his accession as king Edward IV in March 1461.

Edward IV in turn made his second son Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York in 1474 shortly after his birth in 1473. Richard however died around the year 1483, very probably at the hands of his uncle and namesake Richard III, and the title became extinct once more.

Tudor and Stuart

Following the precedent set by Edward IV, British monarchs now followed the practice of bestowing the title of Duke of York on their second sons,

  • in 1495 Henry VII created his second son Henry later Henry VIII as Duke of York;
  • in 1604 James I awarded the title to his second son Charles who later became king Charles I;
  • on the 27 January 1643 Charles I in turn, created his second son James, later king James II as Duke of York.
In each of the above cases the title became merged with the crown when the holder became king.

Hanover

In a slight break with recent tradition George I created his brother Ernest Augustus Hanover Duke of York in 1716 (as well as Duke of Albany and Earl of Ulster) but Ernest died without issue in 1728 at which point his titles became extinct.

The next creation was by George II who in 1760, conferred the title on Edward Augustus Hanover, second son of Frederic Lewis Hanover the Prince of Wales (and therefore his grandson). Following on from the example previously set, Prince Edward was also created Duke of Albany and Earl of Ulster, but he never married and died in Monaco on the 17th September 1767 at he age of 28, when of course his various titles became extinct.

In 1784 George III (elder brother of Prince Edward) created his second son Frederick Augustus Hanover Duke of York (and also Duke of Albany and Earl of Ulster). Although he did marry (Fredericka, a daughter of Frederick William II of Prussia) he died without issue on the 5th January 1827. It was this Duke of York that is remembered as the 'Grand Old Duke of York' who enjoyed marching his troops up and down hills and has since immortalised in the nursery rhyme of that name.

Windsor

In 1892 queen Victoria created her grandson, George Frederick, the second son of Edward, the Prince of Wales (alias Edward VII) as Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney. With the death of his older brother, George Frederick duly became king George V when his titles became merged with the crown.

George Frederick was of course, really a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but changed his family name to Windsor due to the public prejudice against all things German that arose as a result of World War I. In 1920 George V created his second son Albert Frederick Arthur George as Duke of York, who later became king George VI when his elder brother Edward VIII was forced to abdicate in 1937.

George VI was succeeded by his eldest daughter Elizabeth II who created her second son Andrew Albert Christian Edward Windsor or Prince Andrew as he is commonly known, as Duke of York on his marriage to Sarah Ferguson in 1986. Since that marriage produced but two daughters before ending in divorce in 1996, the title of York will expire with the current holder unless Prince Andrew remarries and produces the required male heir. This is in accordance with the 'curse of York'; as since the first Plantagenet creation of 1385, no subsequent Duke of York has succesfuly transmitted his title to an heir.

Jacobite Creations

The Jacobite James III also bestowed the title 'Duke of York' on his second son Henry Benedict Maria Clement Thomas Francis Xavier Stuart shortly after his birth in 1725. Henry better known as Henry, Cardinal Duke of York later became recognised (by Jacobites at least) as 'Henry IX' and died unmarried on the 13th July 1807.


THE DUKES OF YORK

PLANTAGENET

Creation of 1385

Creation of 1474

TUDOR

  • Henry Tudor alias Henry VIII Duke of York (1495-1509)

STUART

Creation of 1604

Creation of 1643

HANOVER

Held the title in the dual form Duke of York and Albany as well as the title Earl of Ulster.

Creation of 1716

Creation of 1760

Creation of 1784

WINDSOR

Also held the titles of Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney

Creation of 1892

  • George Frederick Ernest Albert Windsor alias George V Duke of York (1892-1910)

Creation of 1920

  • Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor alias George VI (1920-1936)

Creation of 1986

  • Andrew Albert Christian Edward Windsor alias Prince Andrew (1986-to date)

SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for YORK_DUKES_OF
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see http://www.dcs.hull.ac.uk/public/genealogy/royal
  • RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • Duke of York http://www.burkes-peerage.net/Sites/Peerage/SitePages/page62-6e.asp

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