My kingdom for a horse in Australia

In his new book, The Brothers York: An English Tragedy, Thomas Penn patches over an important detail relating to Edward IV, who reigned from 1461 to 1483. Penn describes Edward as having been the legitimate son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and his wife Lady Cecily Neville. However, Edward’s legitimacy was a point of contention even in his own time and evidence discovered in 2003 goes a long way to proving, firstly, that Edward could not have been fathered by Richard, and secondly, that if the monarchical line had followed its true genealogical path through Edward’s younger brother, George, it leads eventually to rural Australia.

This story of this new evidence was first told in a 2004 BBC documentary. Let me review it and bring it up-to-date.

Nine months prior to the birth of Edward on 28 April 1442, the English were doing battle with the French at Pontoise and both Richard and Cecily were together at the English base at Rouen, five days’ march from Pontoise. It was rumoured, however, that during the period when Edward must have been conceived, Richard was in battle at Pontoise and that the man who intervened with Cecily was an English archer. Evidence of Edward’s illegitimacy includes, amongst other matters, a reported statement by his own mother, when angry at his choice of bride, that he was a bastard son. The King of France, Louis XI, is reported to have said, ‘His name is not King Edward ‒ everybody knows his name is Blaybourne’. Then over a century later Shakespeare put the allegation into the words of his character, Richard III, Edward’s youngest brother (half-brother), in Richard III:

Tell them, when that my mother went with child

Of that insatiate Edward, noble York

My princely father then had wars in France;

And, by true computation of the time,

Found that the issue was not his begot.

All of this evidence and more is explained in the 2004 documentary along with the discovery made the preceding year that, throughout the critical five-week period, the Register of the Rouen Cathedral shows prayers being continually offered for Richard’s safety in Pontoise, five days’ march from Cecily.

In his book, Thomas Penn says only that although Richard was at Pontoise, “much of the time he was within a day’s ride of… Rouen… and the couple found enough opportunity to be together” to conceive Edward. A five-day march equates to a one-day ride, certainly, but Penn’s failure to address any of the other evidence, particularly the new evidence indicating the unlikelihood of a return by Richard during the important period, is an omission that his reviewer, Marcus Nevitt in The Spectator for 2 November 2019, also fails to note. It is a significant omission given that the balance of the evidence clearly still favours the likelihood that Edward was illegitimate and that the monarchy should have followed the line of George, Duke of Clarence. 

Entitled ‘Britain’s Real Monarch’, the 2004 documentary is accessible online. It explains that from the time of Elizabeth I the family lost sight of its claim to the throne, although in 1633 the Scottish Peerage bestowed the Earldom of Loudoun upon the eldest male. The documentary then traces the family’s fluctuating fortunes through the generations, leading eventually to a family then living in Jerilderie. The family was headed at the time by sixty-two-year-old Michael Hastings, who was aware generally of his ties to the Plantagenets and knew of his title, but was an unpretentious man who had come to Australia as a teenager, married an Australian girl and had five children. The documentary makes good viewing as Michael is told of his hereditary right and his daughters are addressed as Princess Rebecca and Princess Mandy. “Over here, there is no class system”, Michael Hastings said in a separate interview in 2003. “In Australia, you are taken for what you are, not who you are”.

            Looking into this story in early 2018, I saw that Michael Hastings had died on 30 July 2012 and had been succeeded by his eldest son. I saw also that that son was living in Wangaratta and was contactable on social media. In this way I had the good fortune to meet with Lord Simon Abney-Hastings, fifteenth Earl of Loudoun, in Ringwood on Saturday, 25 March 2018.

He leads a life that marries British tradition and Australian egalitarianism to the best of their compatibility. Even his appearance resembles a Plantagenet king in a rural Australian’s build, complexion and clothing. He works full-time in Wangaratta and is otherwise committed to voluntary pubic duty as the Earl of Loudoun, with engagements as a Patron or Honourary Governor of various philanthropic organisations. His duties also take him regularly to England, such as in 2015 when it had been necessary to attend the belated funeral of an old relative, that of Richard III.

As for his lineage, the College of Arms in London designed his Coat of Arms. It depicts a woman holding a letter of challenge and it carries the motto, ‘In Veritate Victoria’ – In Truth Lies Victory. Provocative though this is, however, he says it is a truth only in the observance and that he has no plans to raise a garrison to storm Buckingham Palace. Indeed, such has been his long-standing disinclination to be seen as a claimant to the throne that in 2004, he says that when told of the BBC’s intention to produce a documentary about his family with the title ‘Britain’s Real Monarch’, he chose not to be part of it, which is why he is not seen in it other than in family photographs that are shown.

Could this be a man who the supporters of an Australian Republic would look upon with covetous eyes? If he were to become Australia’s first President, would he not represent the ideal compromise to the conflicting views on the Australian constitution, as an Australian citizen of an ancient royal bloodline? But it will never happen. He said he is opposed to an Australian Republic and that if the question is ever again put to the people will vote to preserve the status quo.

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