The Royal
House of Lancaster

Since the 13th Century

The Name

The city of Lancaster resides on the western coast of Great Britain. Like many other places in England with names that end in "caster", "cester", "ceister" or "chester", Lancaster owes its name to the Romans who named their encampment ("castrum") after some nearby landmark, in this case the River Lune. Over time, Lune Castrum became Lancaster.

The House

The history of the House of Lancaster dates back to the Norman Conquest, and includes several personages of note.

Ivo de Taillebois [Tallibois, Talebois, Tailbois]. Much of Ivo's history is uncertain. He appears to have been born in Anjou, France, about 1020, and immigrated to England as part of the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror granted several properties to Ivo, including the Kendal Baronry and parts of Lancashire. One of Ivo's wives is said to have been Lucia of Mercia, grand-daughter of the Lady Godiva. His descendant, William de Talebois, the fifth Baron of Kendal, was the first in the line to adopt the name "de Lancastre".

Edmund Crouchback became the first Earl of Lancaster in 1267 when his father, Henry III gave him the county, castle, and honor of Lancaster. In 1271 Edmund participated in the Ninth Crusade and wore a cross on his back, hence his unusual name-- "cross back" or "crouch back". Edmund had previously been the King of Sicily. Edmund was succeeded by his son, Thomas, who added properties by marriage. Thomas temporarily wrested power from his cousin Edward II and was later beheaded for treason.

Henry, Edmund's grandson, became the first Duke of Lancaster in 1351.

When Henry died in 1362 without a male heir the title passed to his son-in-law, John of Gaunt. John was the son of Edward III and brother to Edward the Black Prince and uncle to the heir to the throne, the future Richard II. Although he never held the throne himself, John of Gaunt was perhaps the most powerful man in England during his lifetime. He added property to the duchy. He also managed to elevate Lancaster to a County Palantine, whereby the Duke exerted total royal power over his subjects.

The War of Roses

John of Gaunt's son deposed his cousin, Richard II, and assumed the throne as Henry IV, claiming that his great-great-grandfather Edmund Crouchback was actually the older son of Henry III and therefore the crown should pass to him. The Lancastrian line continued for two more generations, Henry V and Henry IV.

The York family challenged the Lancasters in a prolonged political struggle that we know as the War of the Roses. Henry, the last of the Lancastrians, was executed at the Tower of London. He was succeeded by the Duke of York, Edward IV. The young Edward was offed by his evil uncle who succeeded him as Richard III.

The Monarchy

So what has become of the House of Lancaster? It has remained a possession of the British monarchy since the end of the War of the Roses, when Henry Tudor (Henry VII) assumed the throne and united the Lancasters and Yorks. It survives today as a distinct entity. Among her many titles, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also the Duke of Lancaster. It is her Lancaster title, rather than Queen, that grants her ownership of Lancaster Castle, which remains an active government building to this day. We were fortunate enough to visit the castle in 2013. (Alas, they would not give us a family discount on the admission price.)

Where Do I Fit In?

So far I have been unable to connect my family to the Royal House of Lancaster.

My Lancaster ancestry traces back six generations to John Lancaster of Henrico, Virginia, in colonial times. DNA testing suggests that this John Lancaster is the great-grandson of a man named John Gowan [Gowen, Gawin] Lancaster. Gowan was born in England in 1607 and immigrated to Virginia in 1635. From there his descendants spread to Tennessee, Arkansas, and finally Texas.

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© 2014  Kermit Lancaster