Richard III, his mistress, and his illegitimate children

Much has been written in fiction, and in some non-fiction, about the love between King Richard III and his wife, Anne Neville. But what if it isn’t true? What if Richard’s mistress was the great love of his life?

Richard had two illegitimate children whom he acknowledged: John of Gloucester and Katherine Plantagenet. The identity of the mother or mothers of these children is a mystery. She is not named in any historical record. Historian Rosemary Horrox has suggested that her name was Katherine Haute, who received a grant from Richard in 1477 of 100 shillings per annum for life.  She was the wife of James Haute, whose mother Joan Woodville was a cousin of the queen, Elizabeth Woodville. The reason for the annuity is unknown, but the fact that Richard’s daughter was given the same name, Katherine, has led to the suggestion that she could have been the mother of his child.

Another woman who was given an annuity in March 1474 was Alice Burgh. She received £20 per annum from Richard at Pontefract for ‘certain special causes and considerations’.  It would be helpful if the reasons for these awards were not so obtuse.  But as John of Gloucester was also sometimes named as John of Pountfreit (the Latin name for Pontefract) there could be a connection, but it seems more likely that she was a nurse as Alice later received another allowance for being a nurse to Edward of Warwick, the son of the Duke of Clarence.  However it strikes me that £20 is the equivalent of 400 shillings, four times the amount given to Katherine Haute. It puts Katherine Haute’s annuity into context. Would Richard really have given her only a quarter of what he gave a nursemaid if she had been the mother of his children?

We may not know much about the mother or mothers of John and Katherine but we do know a little more about them from contemporary records.

John of Gloucester:

  • John was knighted at York by his father on the 8th September 1483 as part of the celebrations to mark the investiture of Richard’s legitimate son, Edward, as Prince of Wales.
  • A patent dated 11th March 1485 granted to ‘ our dear bastard son, John of Gloucester’ of the offices of Captain of Calais, and of the fortresses of Rysbank, Guisnes, Hammes, and Lieutenant of the Marches of Picardy for his life. The patent also describes John as having ‘liveliness of mind, activity of body, and inclination to all good customs (which) promise us, by the grace of God, great hope of his good service for the future’. It is in the initial notice of this appointment to the Captaincy of Calais that John is referred to as John de Pountfreit Bastard, giving us the clue to his birthplace. 
  • A warrant to deliver clothing to ‘the Lord Bastard’ dated two days before on 9th March 1485, almost certainly refers to John and not to Edward V as has sometimes been suggested.
  • We know that John survived his father because Henry VII made him a grant on 1st March 1486: ‘to John de Gloucester, bastard, of an annual rent of  £20 during the King’s pleasure, issuing out of the revenues of the lordship or manor of Kyngestonlacy, parcel of the duchy of Lancaster, in co. Dorset’. (Those of you who have been following my history of the de Lacy family will be delighted to note that John’s annuity came from the revenues of Kingston Lacy in Dorset which had once belonged to Henry de Lacy.)
  • George Buck claims that John was executed in 1499 around the time of the executions of Perkin Warbeck and Edward, Earl of Warwick. He says: ‘There was a base son of King Richard III made away, and secretly, having been kept long before in prison.” He quotes the Grafton Chronicle as his source, but I can’t find it so I don’t think it can be relied upon. And if John had been kept in prison would he have been granted an annuity?
  • Although John disappears from public records after 1499, it is possible that he lived on.  He may even have had children, which is an interesting concept because it would mean that Richard III may have some direct descendants still living!

Katherine Plantagenet:

  • One thing we know for sure about Katherine is that she married William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon. On 29th February, 1484 he covenanted ‘to take to wife Dame Katherine Plantagenet, daughter to the King, before Michaelmas of that year’. This covenant does not really give us a clue as to her age as marriages were often arranged for children, but it’s probable that she was in her early to late teens. Richard agreed to bear the whole cost of the marriage and undertook to settle manors, lordships, lands and tenements to a value of 1000 marks per annum on them and the ‘heirs male of their two bodies’. This was a sizeable sum and it is thought that Richard wanted to reward William Herbert for his support.
  • Lands to the value of 600 marks were given to the couple on the day of their marriage. The remainder of the lands, worth 400 marks, would pass to them after the death of Lord Thomas Stanley. During his lifetime they were to have an annuity of 400 marks drawn from the revenues of the lordships of Newport, Brecknock and Hay. These manors were ones which had been confiscated from Margaret Beaufort and given to her husband, Lord Stanley.
  • The marriage took place before May 1484 when a grant of the proceeds of various manors in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset was made to ‘William Erle of Huntingdon and Kateryn his wif’. On 8 March 1485 a further grant was made to the Earl and Katherine his wife of an annuity of £152 10.10 from the issues of the King’s possessions in the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan, and from those of the King’s lordship of Haverfordwest.
  • Nothing more is known about Katherine. There is no record of any children from the marriage and it is thought that she may have died young as at the coronation of Elizabeth of York, Earl Huntingdon is described as a widower.

In my novel By Loyalty Bound I suggest a new name for the mother of Richard’s BLB book jacket jpegillegitimate children: Anne Harrington.  Although this is also based on speculation as the other names are, there is some circumstantial evidence that she may have been his mistress. 

Firstly, she was in the right place at the right time.  Anne’s grandfather and father, Thomas and John Harrington, were killed at the Battle of Wakefield, fighting alongside Richard’s father, the Duke of York, who also lost his life.  Because Thomas died first and his son John died later (possibly the following day) from his injuries, the Harrington lands, which included Hornby Castle in Lancashire, passed from John to his two young daughters excluding John’s brothers James and Robert Harrington. The wardships of Anne and Elizabeth Harrington were given by the king, Edward IV, to Lord Thomas Stanley who then had the right to marry them to husbands of his choosing – men who would become owners of the Harrington lands.  Considering this to be unfair, James Harrington took possession of his nieces and fortified Hornby Castle against the Stanleys who tried to take it by force by bringing a cannon named the Mile End from Bristol to blast the fortifications.   But it seems that the Harringtons had the support of the king’s youngest brother.  A warrant issued by Richard, Duke of Gloucester on the 26th March 1470 was signed ‘at

Hornby Castle today is a newer building than the one Anne and Richard would have known.
Hornby Castle today is a newer building than the one Anne and Richard would have known.

Hornby’.  This evidence places seventeen year old Richard and fifteen year old Anne together in a castle that was under siege. Is it possible that these two young people were attracted to one another?

Secondly, Richard’s illegitimate son was named John – which was the name of Anne’s father.  His daughter was named Katherine.  This name does occur in the Harrington family. It is also worth noting that in the church of St Wilfrid at Melling near Hornby, there was a chapel that was originally dedicated to St Katherine.  But perhaps more telling, there was a chantry chapel in the medieval church of St George at Doncaster founded by John Harrington (Anne’s great uncle) and his wife Isabel where they were buried. It was dedicated to St Katherine and there were stained glass windows depicting members of the Harrington family and asking for prayers for their souls.  Is it possible that Anne named her daughter after a favourite family saint?

Thirdly, John of Gloucester was probably born at Pontefract Castle, which is very close to the Yorkshire lands of the Harrington family at Brierley.

James and Robert Harrington were both in the service of the Duke of Gloucester and were with Richard at Bosworth.  If Richard had been successful he was planning to re-open the debate about Hornby with a view to returning it to the Harringtons. Given the close connections between Richard and the Harrington family it is not impossible that Anne may also have had a close relationship with him.

There is no evidence, but neither is there evidence for the other names suggested. If it were true it would add an extra dimension to the enmity between Richard and Lord Thomas Stanley who was instrumental in his defeat and death at Bosworth – and may also account for why the name of Richard’s mistress has been lost to history. 

28 thoughts on “Richard III, his mistress, and his illegitimate children

  1. I would like to share with you the research of Frank Farrar of Australia (deceased). It appears that one of Richard III’s bastards was a family member of Sir John Pilkington. Richard, while his brother was captive at Middleham was the guest of John Pilkington at Elphaborough. I can attach it in an email.

    1. That sounds very interesting. I’m aware of Sir John Pilkington and would be interested to see the research linking him to Richard’s child. You can email me at:

  2. It could also have been a certain “Alys” a seamstress to Richard’s Mother, Cecily, Duchess of York.

  3. fascinating!!!!

  4. I think it was more than likely it was the illegitimate off spring were given no status and had to work at a trade. The Tudors did not want anything traceable linking to Richard.

  5. maybe one day supporting evidence will be uncovered for Richard Plantagenet the supposed illegitimate son of Richard 111 buried at Eastwell in kent, now that would be amazing

  6. Dear madam I have just ordered your novel and can’t wait to have it.
    You are suggesting quite interesting theory, when I was reading your text I thought about
    Katherine Haute and Alice. Could it had been that those bastard children Kate and John could have been given to those women to “take the blame and shame” instead of Anne H?

    1. An interesting idea. But there is no evidence that either Katherine Haute or Alice was the mother or adoptive mother of Richard’s children. I’ m not sure that the modern idea of it bring shameful would apply anyway. It was possibly quite a good status to be the mother of a king’s child.

  7. I have recently been researching my family tree and, if I’ve got it right (!?) one of my branches ends with Elizabeth and Anne Harrington…. although I could find hardly any information on Anne, other than that she married a Stanley and had one son. Anne is apparently my 4th cousin (15x removed), her great great grandfather Sir William is my 1st cousin (18x removed).

    I have so far found 4 different links to Richard III… he was the brother in law of my 2nd cousin (17x removed)… the 9th cousin 3x removed of the wife of my grandfather…. and the brother in law of the wife of my 5th cousin (Sir John Grey) (18x removed)…. SOOO close but yet SOOO far!!!

    When I started I knew nothing about my family or my ancestors at all… I only two names great grandparents maiden names to go on, and there was a family rumour once that we had a grand country seat in Derbyshire that got entailed away 😦 The Irony being that I found numerous manors and castles throughout York (although none in Derby), few of which are left standing… and 24 generations later… we’re literally as poor as they come,!!! Grrrr!

    I have always had a bit of a thing for the north and medieval times, and I had a gut feeling I was linked to Richard III somehow…. (and Robin Hood, ha ha, but I have yet to find that link !) many of my ancestors were knights (soo exciting) and they dominated Yorkshire and Nottingham for centuries, so I guess anything is possible!

    If Richard did have an illegitimate child with Anne, then that would be my closest link so far. Shame its impossible to prove!! An interesting read though…. Thankyou 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment. Anne Harrington was married to Edward Stanley, the second son of Lord Thomas Stanley. Edward later became Lord Monteagle after the Battle of Flodden Field. He and Anne didn’t have any children. His son, Thomas, was born to his second wife, Elizabeth Vaughan – who was the daughter of Thomas Vaughan who was executed at Pontefract in 1483 on the orders of Richard III. I’m not sure where that leaves your family tree, but it is possible that you are descended from Elizabeth Harrington rather than Anne. She was also married into the Stanley family.

      1. Alexander Morana January 20, 2014 — 7:49 pm

        which of the sons – Stanley, was held hostage on the day of the Battle of Bosworth by Richard in case the old man switched sides, of which he did?

      2. George, Lord Strange, was with Richard during the battle. Whether he was a hostage is unclear. Earlier Lord Stanley had returned to Lancashire and claimed he could not return to Richard as he had fallen ill with the sweating sickness. Richard told him if he couldn’t return to send his son in his place.

    2. I, like you researching my tree have discovered Alice was my 15th Great Grandmother! (If I am correct!) 😊 Like you I have always had the same feelings, read as much as I possibly could about the Tudor period etc…… I love Castles, Stately Homes…. how bizarre we share these feelings and have the Ancestors we have!

  8. Robin Mcalister August 14, 2013 — 1:09 am

    Thanks for the information on John…very interesting and I hope he had a long happy life.

  9. Wonderful research here. What complex relationships in those days when it came to marriage arrangements and such. It sounds like a fascinating novel.

    1. Alexander Morana January 20, 2014 — 7:42 pm

      yes, complex you say…. more like for titles, lands (property meant revenues) and egos.

  10. Lauren MacNeil Nova Scotia July 3, 2013 — 4:33 pm

    Terrific sleuthing and a wonderful story…went to your Brief History of Hornby Castle to see what happened to her and horrified to see she was married to Edward Stanley and no children by the marriage, if correct. Wouldn’t she have had a tale to tell! I don’t suppose there is an effigy of her? Died of a broken heart maybe??

    1. She certainly has a story to tell and that is what prompted me to write By Loyalty Bound. She has no effigy or grave, but I would guess that she may have buried at the priory at Hornby of which there is now no trace.

      1. Lauren MacNeil Nova Scotia July 4, 2013 — 10:58 pm

        Thank you for that information, otherwise one might go to Hornby looking for a gravesite…I expect this is in your book, which I hope I can read before long. I am glad there is now a very good explanation to go with what little has always been known about John and Katherine: I was always quite bothered by the spareness of facts around them, seemed such a sad and unfinished story. Makes a good deal of sense…Congratulations to you!!

  11. I’m in. Must add it to the library

  12. Jane Barnhardt July 3, 2013 — 3:38 pm

    Excellent article…It would surely be nice if more information was available for researchers!!!

    1. I live in hope of hidden and lost manuscripts being found that cast new light on things.

  13. Very interesting. I do think there is evidence to support that Richard did love his wife, but that wouldn’t have excluded the possibility that he loved his mistresses too. I happen to think that he probably liked Anne Neville prior to their marriage, but that his marriage to her was political, especially as she inherited half of her father’s vast estates (also the most likely reason that Clarence tried to prevent the marriage). I think that it was after they married that they developed a loving relationship.

    1. It seems that Richard had to sign a document where Warwick asked him to make a oath he wouldn’t have tried a double marriage so possibly Richard had promised or been promised to Anne. After Warwick death, he married Anne and it was convenient for bth of them. I also don’t exclde he felt a little bit guilty as she lost both her father and her husband in the conflict so possibly that was a reason too. As regards the mistresses, I think John, Katherine and Richard Plantagenet are not the only illegitimate children of Richard. I suspect there were more out there but this was very common at his time especially for nobles. I can’t understand those people who insist Richard had only his wife. He was a good king, a great ruler, a loyal brother and for sure he didn’t kill his nephews but he was not St Theresa as regards lovers.

  14. Angelina Gloucester July 3, 2013 — 2:45 pm

    sounds intresting! I am going to have to pick up a copy! 🙂

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