The Rise of the Tudors: The Family That Changed English History

Overview

On the morning of August 22, 1485, in fields several miles from Bosworth, two armies faced each other, ready for battle. The might of Richard III's army was pitted against the inferior forces of the upstart pretender to the crown, Henry Tudor, a twenty–eight year old Welshman who had just arrived back on British soil after fourteen years in exile. Yet this was to be a fight to the death—only one man could survive; only one could claim the throne.

It would become one of the most ...

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The Rise of the Tudors: The Family That Changed English History

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Overview

On the morning of August 22, 1485, in fields several miles from Bosworth, two armies faced each other, ready for battle. The might of Richard III's army was pitted against the inferior forces of the upstart pretender to the crown, Henry Tudor, a twenty–eight year old Welshman who had just arrived back on British soil after fourteen years in exile. Yet this was to be a fight to the death—only one man could survive; only one could claim the throne.

It would become one of the most legendary battles in English history: the only successful invasion since Hastings, it was the last time a king died on the battlefield. But The Rise Of The Tudors is much more than the account of the dramatic events of that fateful day in August. It is a tale of brutal feuds and deadly civil wars, and the remarkable rise of the Tudor family from obscure Welsh gentry to the throne of England—a story that began sixty years earlier with Owen Tudor's affair with Henry V's widow, Katherine of Valois.

Drawing on eyewitness reports, newly discovered manuscripts and the latest archaeological evidence, including the recent discovery of Richard III's remains, Chris Skidmore vividly recreates this battle-scarred world and the reshaping of British history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/28/2013
British historian Skidmore retells the story of how the Tudor dynasty ascended from obscurity to the throne in late medieval England. It’s an incredible tale, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Henry VII became king of England in 1485 as much by accident as by design. The narrative begins 60 years earlier, with the affair between Henry V’s young widow, Catherine of Valois, and her servant, Owen Tudor, that produced Edmund Tudor, later the father of Henry VII. While Skidmore examines in depth the elites whose feuds and constantly shifting alliances shaped the course of history, his main emphasis is on Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings, whose remains were found beneath a Leicester car park in 2012. The day the Battle of Bosworth was waged is recounted in thorough detail, and Richard emerges as a man of courage, albeit a schemer who had usurped the throne and may have murdered his young nephews, only to be himself betrayed by those he trusted. Skidmore’s discussion of the archaeology of Bosworth and his postscript about the forensic evidence leading to the possibility that Richard was executed on the battlefield were particularly illuminating. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"Skidmore does a fine job or telling a complicated story that ends happily as Henry, now Henry VII, founded the Tudor dynasty that included his son, Henry VIII, and granddaughter, Elizabeth." — Kirkus Reviews

 

"Skidmore's discussion of the archaeology of Bosworth and his postscript about the forensic evidence leading to the possibility that Richard was executed on the battlefield were particularly illuminating." — Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-20
An engrossing, probably definitive background to one of the most powerful dynasties in British history. Americans vaguely remember the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field--with Richard III crying "My kingdom for a horse!" as Henry Tudor's army closed in--but in England, it occupies the place of our Gettysburg. Richard III's cry is Shakespeare, not reality, and British historian and Member of Parliament Skidmore (Death and the Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I and the Dark Scandal that Rocked the Throne, 2011, etc.) delves into the archives to tease out the facts. Emphasizing the Tudor family, this is a history of 15th-century English kings, which began brilliantly with Henry V's 1415 defeat of the French at Agincourt but descended into civil war after the 1422 accession of his son, Henry VI, who was weak, probably insane and long-lived. For more than 50 years, two parties, the Lancasters and the Yorks, fought for the power the king was incapable of wielding. Owen Tudor (1400–1461), a minor Welsh noble, married Henry V's widow. This gave his grandson a distant claim to the throne, but the deaths of so many royal Lancasters made him the leading claimant when he defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and his marriage to Elizabeth of York united the families, bringing relative peace. Even educated readers will flinch at the relentless deceit, betrayal, treason and bloodshed that characterized 15th-century English politics, and they may have difficulty distinguishing the cast of characters since nobles passed the identical title to their heirs and women tended to be named Margaret or Elizabeth. Skidmore does a fine job of telling a complicated story that ends happily as Henry, now Henry VII, founded the Tudor dynasty that included his son, Henry VIII, and granddaughter, Elizabeth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312541392
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 183,004
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRIS SKIDMORE was born in Bristol, England in 1981. He taught history at Bristol University and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In 2010 he was elected as a British Member of Parliament.

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Read an Excerpt

1

 

 

FORTUNE’S WHEEL

 

‘But Fortune with her smiling countenance strange

Of all our purpose may make sudden change.’

John Paston III, The Paston Letters

 

No one knew when or how their relationship had begun. Or at least they chose not to know. She had been unable ‘to curb fully her carnal passions’, one contemporary wrote. Others would later excuse her behaviour, stating that she was ‘but young in years, and thereby of less discretion to judge what was decent for her estate’. Everyone agreed, however, that Queen Catherine of Valois’ latest relationship with her servant Owen Tudor was a highly unsuitable union.

Some said he was the bastard son of an alehouse keeper, others that his father had been a murderer on the run. In reality, Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur was descended from the thirteenth-century Welsh prince Ednyfed Fychan. His ancestors had settled at Penmynydd in Anglesey, where his grandfather Tudur ap Goronwy had married Margaret, daughter of Thomas ap Llywelyn ab Owain of Cardiganshire, the last male of the princely house of Deheubarth. Tudur’s marriage brought with it new powerful connections: Margaret’s elder sister had married Gruffudd Fychan of Glyndyfrdwy, whose son was the Welsh prince Owain Glyn Dwr. Tudur and Margaret had five sons, who as retainers of Richard II held important royal offices in North Wales, and whose wealth and influence were admired by poets of the day. Yet when their cousin Owain decided to raise a rebellion against ‘the usurper’ Henry IV in 1400, the brothers were forced to take sides between king and kin. Choosing the latter, they sealed their fates and the disgrace of the house of Tudur when the rebellion collapsed. The youngest of the five sons, Maredudd ap Tudur, fled into exile to continue the rebel campaign, and was still at large in 1405 when he was outlawed by the king and his estates were confiscated. It is unlikely that his son Owen, born around 1400, ever had the chance to know his fugitive father.

How Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur managed to enter into service in the English royal household is unknown. He may have done so through his service to Sir Walter Hungerford, whose retinue one ‘Owen Meridith’ had joined by 1420 and travelled with to France in 1421. The same year Henry V had married Catherine of Valois.

Catherine was the daughter of Charles VI of France, who in spite of his insanity, had managed to have twelve children with his notoriously promiscuous wife, Isabelle of Bavaria. Born in 1401, the youngest child of the royal couple, Catherine’s destiny seems to have been fixed at an early age. As early as 1413, it was already being suggested that England and France might forge a closer union if she were to marry the son of the English king Henry IV, Prince Henry. His succession to the throne as Henry V, combined with his determination that his claim to the French throne be formally recognised, culminating in the English victory at Agincourt, delayed but did not end speculation that such a marriage could unite the two kingdoms. Catherine’s beauty, captured in portraits sent to Henry, impressed the king enough to meet her in person in 1419. Entirely captivated, he kissed her hand, making her blush. In May 1420 the Treaty of Troyes was sealed, acknowledging Henry’s claim to be heir to Charles VI at the same time as formalising a marriage between the French princess and the English king.

Catherine was eighteen at the time of her marriage. By twenty-one she was a widow and the mother of a nine-month-old boy, the new king Henry VI. The shattering news of her husband’s death in August 1422 was followed two months later by the news that her father Charles had followed him to the grave. In name her son was now king of both England and France: in reality, power was placed in the hands of a minority council, led by Henry V’s younger brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester and Bedford. Catherine remained at the royal court, occupied with the task of bringing up her young son, sitting beside him and holding his hand when he was required to make ceremonial appearances in public and in Parliament. In her letters at the time, she addressed herself as ‘Catherine, Queen of England, daughter of King Charles of France, mother of the King of England, and lady of Ireland’, yet all power had been stripped away: with no separate household of her own, she was dependent on the royal household for her upkeep which was strictly controlled by the minority council. Soon that was not all they wished to control.

Catherine’s young age presented a problem to the king’s Protector, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. While she continued to live in England with her young son, she might wish to marry again, perhaps to a subject, an idea as unthinkable as it would be a disgrace to the honour of the crown itself. Catherine’s situation was almost unique: no queen who had outlived their royal husband had married again since the twelfth century, and even then they had taken the wise decision to leave England. There was the obvious fear that any husband of the mother of the king, regardless of his status, might try and involve himself in English politics, thereby threatening the position of the king’s uncles in power. That fear became a terrifyingly real prospect for Gloucester when, in 1425, rumours began to circulate that Catherine had begun a relationship with Edmund Beaufort, the nineteen-year-old nephew of the chancellor and Bishop of Winchester, Henry Beaufort. Beaufort and Gloucester had fallen out on several occasions regarding the government of the realm; Gloucester was hardly going to allow Beaufort to gain any further influence over Catherine and the infant king.

When a petition by the commons appeared in the Leicester Parliament of 1426, requesting that Chancellor Beaufort should allow ‘widows of the king’ to marry as they wished upon payment of an appropriate fine, Gloucester’s suspicions were confirmed. He would need to act to prevent Catherine’s marriage becoming an issue that had the potential to undermine his own authority. That meant blocking Catherine from ever marrying for the foreseeable future. The following year, in the Parliament of October 1427 to March 1428, while Beaufort was conveniently out of the country campaigning in France, a statute was passed which forbade marriage to a queen without the king’s permission on pain of forfeiture of lands and other possessions for life. Since the king remained a minor and would clearly be unable to grant any permission, it was ordained that permission to marry the queen could only be granted by the king when he reached an age of ‘discretion’. Since Henry was only six years old, Catherine faced the prospect of being unable to marry for perhaps a decade, by which time she would be approaching thirty-seven. There was little Catherine could do. She could hardly protest without giving her intentions away; trapped by her own position as dowager queen and now the force of the law, she chose an altogether more extraordinary course of action.

Sir Walter Hungerford had been appointed steward of the royal household in April 1424. It was through his master’s appointment that Owen Tudor became a servant in the royal household, in which Catherine remained until 1430. There is no evidence that he was keeper of Catherine’s household or her wardrobe, as has been suggested. The sixteenth-century Welsh chronicler Elis Gruffudd noted that he was her ‘sewer and servant’. Whatever his role at court, Owen Tudor was certainly in no position to begin a relationship with the widow of Henry V and the mother of the King of England.

Tradition has it that Owen Tudor and Catherine first caught each other’s eye at a ball at court, when Owen drunkenly stumbled into Catherine’s lap. Another tale, told in the mid-sixteenth century by a Welsh chronicler, related how it was Catherine who had first spotted the royal servant on a summer’s day when he was swimming with friends in a river near the court. The Queen was instantly taken by the Welshman’s handsome looks. She decided to play a game. Disguising herself as her chambermaid, she arranged to meet Owen in secret. The young man, unaware of the girl’s true identity, attempted to force himself upon her, and in the struggle to free herself Catherine received a cut to her cheek. It was only when Owen came to serve the queen at dinner that he realised her true identity from the wound he had inflicted upon her, and ashamed of what he had done begged Catherine’s forgiveness. The couple fell in love and soon were married.

One chronicler believed that Catherine’s choice of husband was deliberate. In choosing a commoner, she hoped that the king’s Council ‘might not reasonably take vengeance on his life’. Others suggested later that she had married Owen since unlike her true love, Edmund Beaufort, Owen had no possessions to lose under the statute of 1428. According to a later source, as a Frenchwoman Catherine seems not to have understood the difference between the English and Welsh, and was intrigued that, when news of their marriage became known, Owen’s ‘kindred and country were objected … as most vile and barbarous’. Wishing to meet her husband’s relatives, Owen sent for his cousins John ap Maredudd and Hywel ap Llywelyn ap Hywel, men who despite being of ‘goodly stature and personage’ were ‘wholly destitute of bringing up and nurture’. When introduced to the queen, she spoke to them in several languages, but as Welsh speakers, they understood nothing and were ‘not able to answer her’, to which Catherine replied that ‘they were the goodliest dumb creatures that she ever saw’.

If Catherine was indifferent to her new husband’s humble origins, Owen remained conscious of the low status that being a Welshman at court brought. In 1432 he petitioned Parliament to be granted an exemption from the traditional restrictions placed upon Welshmen that treated him effectively as a second-class citizen. According to the grant he was from then on to be regarded ‘as if he were a true English subject’, although he was still unable to hold any royal office in any city, borough or market town.

This was of little consequence to Owen. He had secured his naturalisation and recognition as an English citizen less for himself than for his heirs. It must have been around this period that Catherine gave birth in secret to their first child, Edmund, followed soon afterwards by another son, Jasper. Henry VI now had two half-brothers who, although there was little chance that they could be considered members of the royal family and thereby eligible to be in line to the throne, would come to play an indelible part in English politics.

*   *   *

By 1436 Catherine was dying. She had been ill for some time, with, as she stated in her will, a ‘grievous malady, in the which I have been long, and yet am, troubled and vexed’. She retired to Bermondsey Abbey where she died on 3 January 1437. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, where her wooden funeral effigy can still be viewed.

Without the protection of his royal wife, Owen knew his future was at risk, not least from Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester had been furious that Catherine had flouted his statute against her marriage, and that Owen ‘had been so presumptuous … to intermix his blood with the noble race of kings’. Owen was also nervous what Henry VI’s reaction might be to the news that had been kept from him until now: that his mother had taken another husband, and that by the time of her death Catherine had given birth to four more children – three sons, Edmund, Jasper and Owen and a daughter, Margaret, who died in infancy. Catherine had taken deliberate care when pregnant to seclude herself away from the court in London, giving birth in manor houses in the Hertfordshire countryside: Edmund had been born at Much Hadham, belonging to the Bishop of London, Jasper at Hatfield. Certainly when news of Owen and Catherine’s marriage and their children was revealed, it came as a surprise to many, ‘unwitting the common people till that she were dead and buried’ as one chronicler observed.

It must have come as a considerable shock to Henry, who had visited Catherine at Bermondsey where he had given her a jewelled golden crucifix as a New Year’s gift, to be told not only of his mother’s death, but also that he had a stepfather and three half-brothers. Yet the king seems to have taken the news well; intrigued by his new family, he requested that Owen pay attendance to him at court.

Owen remained concerned as to the possible consequences of such a visit. He refused to come to court unless he received a promise from the king that he would be able to ‘freely come and freely go’. Henry agreed, and instructed that Gloucester should inform the Welshman of his promise. Owen was at Daventry when he was told of the king’s pledge by one of Gloucester’s servants. Still he refused to come, stating that since there was no promise in writing, he could not be certain of the king’s true intention. Nevertheless, Owen travelled to London where he sought sanctuary at Westminster, remaining there for ‘many days’. Certain people who professed ‘friendship and fellowship’ eventually encouraged him to take up lodgings at a tavern at Westminster Gate. Soon after, he met the king. He told Henry that he believed he had been the victim of false allegations that he had offended the king, and that Henry himself had been ‘heavily informed’ against him. Owen declared that he was innocent, submitted himself to the king and offered to answer any accusation directly.

Owen returned to Wales, but at some point afterwards he was arrested, according to the council document that discussed his imprisonment, ‘at the suit of the party’, and placed in Newgate gaol. Had the king’s word been broken? It was to be the subject of a meeting of the council in July 1437, which ruled that Owen had been granted safe conduct only once, and having ‘freely come and freely gone’, he could not assume the privilege of safe conduct twice. His arrest had been entirely within the law.

Who exactly was ‘the party’ that had issued a suit against him? The minutes of the council meeting to discuss Owen’s fate point to the reason for his arrest, noting pointedly that he had ‘dwelt’ with the queen. Equally revealing are Gloucester’s actions at the meeting, demanding personally a declaration of the council’s ruling confirming the verdict under the Great Seal. It was probably through Gloucester’s influence that the council also stated its belief that Owen held some ‘malicious purpose or imagination’ and that he should remain ‘in ward’. To release him, they argued, would risk ‘any rebellion, murmur or inconvenience’. Owen was to remain imprisoned until further notice. Gloucester had finally obtained his revenge.

Owen’s imprisonment was to be a brief one. Sometime in late 1437 or early 1438, he had managed to escape from Newgate gaol during the night ‘at searching time’ with the help of his priest. The escape was a violent one, with Owen ‘hurting foul’ his keeper in the attempt. The attempt proved ultimately futile. Both Owen and his priest had been recaptured by March 1438, handed over to the sheriffs of London who were later pardoned for having ‘allowed’ Owen’s escape in the first place, and returned to Newgate. By July, Owen was transferred to the more comfortable surroundings of Windsor Castle, where he remained incarcerated ‘for particular causes’ for a year, until he was granted an order from the king to move freely, dependent upon a substantial bail of £2,000 and ‘his good behaviour towards the king and his people’, though Owen was forbidden from entering Wales or the Marches. On 10 November 1439 a general pardon was finally granted for all offences he had committed, with the bail being cancelled on New Year’s Day 1440, allowing Owen the chance to live free from recrimination within the king’s household.

In the aftermath of their mother’s death, Edmund and Jasper Tudor fared much better than their father. By July 1437 they had been placed in the care of Katherine de la Pole, the sister of the Earl of Suffolk and the abbess of Barking. They remained under her supervision at Barking until March 1442, when Henry VI began to take a personal interest in their upbringing and ordered his half-brothers to appear at court. Henry’s chaplain John Blacman later wrote how the king, ‘before he was married, being as a youth a pupil of chastity … would keep careful watch through hidden windows of his chamber, lest any foolish impertinence of women coming into the house should grow to a head, and cause the fall of any of his household. And like pains did he apply in the case of his two half-brothers, the Lords Jasper and Edmund, in their boyhood and youth; providing for them the most strict and safe guardianship, putting them under the care of virtuous and worthy priests, both for teaching and for right living and conversation, lest the untamed practices of youth should grow rank if they lacked any to prune them.’ The third son, Owen, seems to have chosen a monastic life rather than enter the court. As Edmund and Jasper approached adulthood, however, the king’s interest and enthusiasm for the welfare of his half-brothers was soon to change their lives dramatically.

*   *   *

While Edmund and Jasper Tudor spent their childhood in the secluded environs of Barking abbey, outside the political world at court, after nearly two decades of stable government led by the minority council, events were about to take a turn for the worse.

In 1437, the year of his mother’s death, Henry VI brought his minority to an end. He had recently turned sixteen, and was keen to remove himself from the shackles of his minority council: three years earlier, aged thirteen, he had to be reminded that he was not yet old enough to take decisions. The king had been a precocious learner, whose tutor had noted how he had ‘grown in years, in stature of his person, and also in conceit and knowledge of his royal estate, the which cause him to grudge with chastising’. Now Henry was determined to rule as a fully adult monarch, with all the personal duties and responsibilities that medieval kingship brought.

Yet something was not quite right. Even Henry’s chaplain, John Blacman, whose hagiographical biography of the king helped raise Henry to saint-like proportions, and should therefore be treated with caution, admitted that the king was ‘a simple man, without any crook of craft’. An exceptionally pious young man, his chastity seemed to go against the grain of what might have been expected from the traditional debauchery at court. As one nobleman was to discover to his cost when, organising a show of young women ‘with bared bosoms’ in order to entice the king, Henry, covering his eyes, fled in anger shouting, ‘Fy, fy, for shame, forsothe ye be to blame’.

More worryingly, Henry spurned the tedious tasks of administration, preferring to be left in his study, absorbed in reading religious works. To fill his place, Henry allowed himself to be led by his advisers, in particular his chief minister, William de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk, whom one chronicler described as England’s ‘second king’. Was Henry simply too young to properly lead the country? Or was there another reason why the king was unable to fulfil his duties effectively? Rather than deal with the important issues of the day, such as the control of English territories in France, Henry seemed more interested in establishing centres of learning such as Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.

In council Henry appeared simple-minded, often agreeing to the last piece of advice offered to him, only to change his mind just as suddenly as a decision had been taken. Easily swayed and lavish with his patronage, he allowed Suffolk to place his allies in key positions at court, the running costs of which were becoming ruinously expensive. Outside the king’s household, rumours began to spread. A yeoman from Kent was reported in 1442 to have said that Henry was a lunatic like his grandfather, the French king Charles VI, who, believing he was made of glass, refused anyone to come near him fearing he would shatter into pieces. ‘The king was a natural fool,’ a Sussex man declared publicly in 1450, ‘and would ofttimes hold a staff in his hands with a bird on the end, playing therewith as a fool.’ ‘Another king must be ordained to rule the land,’ he presaged, stating that ‘the king was no person able to rule’.

If Henry was mentally unstable, it is likely that he suffered from some form of hereditary schizophrenia, though perhaps in his younger years the disease had not fully manifested itself as it would do so with disastrous consequences later in Henry’s life. His condition did not prevent him from marrying the fifteen-year-old Margaret of Anjou in March 1445; the queen arrived a month later and was crowned in Westminster in May. Margaret’s influence as a teenager must have been limited, but there was no doubt that her arrival changed the political dynamics at court. Henry had been keen to bring peace to England and France; now Margaret, along with Suffolk, would push for a solution, opening negotiations that sought a peace treaty. In 1445 England seemed to hold the advantage: occupying Gascony, Anjou, Maine and Normandy in addition to territory around Calais. All this Henry was prepared to throw to the wind in order to obtain his cherished peace. In December 1445 Henry wrote secretly to Charles VII promising to surrender Maine and Anjou.

No one was more aghast at Henry’s manoeuvres for a French peace than the king’s uncle, Gloucester. As Henry V’s sole surviving brother, he saw himself very much as the guardian of English ambitions of conquest in France. Since Henry had no heir, Gloucester remained heir presumptive: the influence of the ‘Good Duke’ remained an uncomfortable presence for those who argued for the war to end. In 1442 an attempt had been made to discredit Gloucester when his wife Eleanor was accused of plotting the king’s death through sorcery. In February 1447 Gloucester was arrested. Five days later the duke was dead, probably from a stroke brought on by the stress of his incarceration; but despite his body being exposed to public view, rumours began to spread that he had been deliberately put to death. As one chronicler wrote, ‘some said he died of sorrow; some that he was murdered between two feather beds; and others said that a hot spit was put in his fundament. And so how he died God only knows.’

Gloucester’s death opened up the way for peace negotiations with France to be concluded, implementing the secret agreement to cede Anjou and Maine to the French king Charles VII. The fortress town of Le Mans was surrendered in 1448 in return for agreement that a truce between the two countries be extended for a further two years. Behind the dealings, as ever, was Queen Margaret who wrote to Charles, her uncle by marriage, telling him ‘in this matter we will do your pleasure as much as lies in our power, as we have always done already’.

Gloucester had not been the only nobleman concerned about the direction Henry and his advisers, the Earl of Suffolk and Margaret of Anjou among them, were leading the country. In the autumn of 1445 Henry had recalled his cousin Richard, Duke of York as commander in chief. York was furious, especially since he had not been paid his expenses or salary for several years, amounting to the enormous sum of £38,666. The duke was posted to Ireland as the King’s Lieutenant there, no doubt to remove him from the scene: as one chronicler wrote, ‘envy reared its head among the princes and barons of England, and was directed at the duke, who was gaining in honour and prosperity’. Out of sight, York smouldered, watching and waiting as the English kingdom in France that he, along with his ancestors, had fought for, fell apart.

For those who warned that the French truce was a prelude for Charles VII’s ambitions to reconquer France, time would soon prove them correct. In July 1449 Charles VII tore up the terms of the truce and declared war, launching a full scale invasion of Normandy. The English were taken by surprise, and by October 1449 with their defences in disrepair, Rouen had fallen. It was to be the first of a series of castles, strongholds and towns that would fall without resistance. By August 1450 the English had been driven out of Normandy. It was a political disaster: ‘We have not now a foot of land in Normandy’, one observer wrote, almost in a state of shock.

The consequences of military failure reverberated across the realm as popular discontent broke out into open rebellion. The blame for English losses in France was placed squarely on Henry’s small clique of advisers, most notably a gang of three who were identified as being responsible for the king’s most disastrous decisions: Suffolk, the king’s confessor William Ayscough, Bishop of Salisbury and Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester. Within six months they were all dead: executed not through judicial trial, but killed at the hands of furious lynch mobs. In January 1450 Moleyns had been set upon by a mob of soldiers and seamen at Portsmouth; his death sparked further risings in Kent and London, alarming the king enough to issue orders that every member of the royal household was to be supplied with a bow and sheaf of arrows, ‘for the safety of our person’. To calm public resentment, a scapegoat was required: Suffolk, having first been placed in the Tower, was banished from the kingdom for five years. Not even this punishment could save him: as he set sail in early May, his ship was intercepted off the coast of Dover by a small fleet lying in wait for him. He was dragged aboard a ship, the Nicholas of the Tower, where with a rusty sword, his head was cut off ‘with half a dozen strokes’ and his corpse dumped upon the sands at Dover.

The government blamed the lawlessness of the Kentish men for Suffolk’s murder, and threatened reprisals: the sheriff of Kent even threatened to turn the entire county into a deer forest. The threats were ill-judged. A large uprising, led by a shadowy figure named Jack Cade, stirred by the penniless soldiers returning home from France, descended upon London in June 1450, with a large rebel army gathering at Blackheath. The royal army was caught in an ambush and defeated; as Henry VI fled northwards, it seemed as if all order had broken down. On 29 June the rebels burst into the chancel of a Wiltshire church where William Ayscough was saying Mass, dragging him up a nearby hill where he was put to death. Five days later, Cade’s army entered London, capturing two noblemen who were summarily tried and executed. Matters were getting out of hand as the rebels rampaged through the streets in an orgy of violence, theft and mob rule; Londoners turned against them, forcing Cade upon promise of a pardon to disband his army, which quickly dispersed and fled. Of course the pardon meant nothing: Henry was determined to get retribution, and within ten days Cade had been hunted down and killed, his dead body beheaded and quartered, with his head placed on a spike above London Bridge. In marked contrast to his peaceful nature, the king ordered a ‘harvest of heads’, making sure that he personally attended each execution. It was a futile policy of extreme violence that merely alienated those protestors who had believed that Henry, if only removed from the grip of his advisers, would have taken their side. The rebellion had achieved nothing. None of the rebels’ demands was met, nor were their petitions heard. Instead it had exposed the reality that Henry’s kingship was a sham; it was not merely his advisers who were to blame, but Henry’s own weakness and his incapacity to govern that lay at the heart of the collapse in order.

As men pondered the consequences of what had taken place that summer, in early September a ship docked at Beaumaris Harbour in Anglesey. From the boat, Richard, Duke of York stepped out onto the sands of the beach. His arrival would shortly transform the monarchy for ever.

*   *   *

York’s arrival at Anglesey posed more questions than it offered answers. Why had he abandoned his office, and why had he done so unannounced? What had he hoped to achieve by returning home? Did he intend to take advantage of the government’s current weakness? What was certain was that from the moment he stepped ashore, York would become a dynamic force in English politics for the next decade.

The timing of his arrival, coming so soon after the defeat of Cade’s rebellion, seemed too much of a coincidence. Some had suspected the duke’s involvement in Suffolk’s death; his wealth and contacts certainly could have provided for the fleet of ships that had apprehended Suffolk and inflicted his grisly death. The demands set down by Cade’s rebels had also included the request that Henry should appoint to his council ‘men of his true blood’, naming ‘the high and mighty prince, the Duke of York’ as a particular example, complaining that he had been ‘exiled from our sovereign lord’s person by the suggestions of those false traitors the Duke of Suffolk and his affinity’.

Upon landing, York’s claim that he was ‘not against the king and desired nothing but the good of England’ appeared to be a convenient fiction, especially given his proximity in blood to the crown. Arguably, since the deaths of the Dukes of Gloucester and Bedford, York had a strong claim to be the heir apparent as closest in line to the throne. Born in 1411, York’s father was Richard, Earl of Cambridge. Cambridge was the son of Edmund Langley, Duke of York, the fourth son of Edward III. His mother was Anne Mortimer, a descendant of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second son. This gave York two separate claims to royal descent, though admittedly one was through his mother that had passed through the female line, weakening its veracity. Nevertheless York’s ancestry provided a compelling case that he should be considered Henry’s heir, particularly since the childless Richard II had considered the Mortimers his natural heirs. It was surely for this reason that Jack Cade had titled himself ‘John Mortimer’ in his official petition – the choice of surname had been deliberate, since Cade had wanted to remind people of the Mortimer claim to the throne held by York.

There was another rival claim to the throne to possibly match York’s, depending on whether one considered bastards to be acceptable heirs. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was the fourth son of John Beaufort, the eldest of the illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. Gaunt himself was the third son of Edward III, whose legitimate marriage to his first wife Blanche bore him the future king Henry IV. Unfortunately for the Beauforts, the stigma of being born out of wedlock, the result of an adulterous affair, meant that no such claim to the throne could exist, despite Gaunt’s later marriage to his mistress Katherine Swynford. In spite of his bastardy, John Beaufort had been declared legitimate by Parliament in 1397, an act which was confirmed by John of Gaunt’s eldest legitimate son, Henry IV, in 1407. Henry had added the important proviso that the Beaufort line should never succeed to the English throne, yet it remained unclear whether royal declarations could alter the fact that the Beauforts were sprung from an illegitimate union. It did not prevent the family from becoming one of the most powerful families in the country, being granted the earldom of Dorset and later the dukedom of Somerset, though their income remained largely derived from the crown. Since Edmund’s older brothers Henry and John were both dead by 1444, he became the head of the family and the upholder of the Beaufort claim.

Discussions over who might succeed the king were bound to surface. Each of Henry’s uncles had died without leaving an heir: the king had become the only surviving legitimate male member of the house of Lancaster. After six years of marriage, Margaret of Anjou had been unable to conceive a son and heir, and it seemed as if her marriage to Henry would prove barren, a point that was not lost upon the mobs during the summer of 1450: one reason given for William Ayscough’s summary execution was the belief that he had urged Henry to pursue a life of celibacy. Were Henry to die, the choice would have to be between the competing claims of York and Somerset’s Beaufort inheritance. It was a choice that would one day resurface.

Somerset was a controversial figure. In his early life his rumoured affair with Catherine of Valois caused political scandal; he had proved a successful military leader during the siege of Harfleur in 1439, but his conduct in the French wars came under persistent attack with allegations that he had been more interested in safeguarding his own position than securing national victory, hoarding weapons in his own castle.

York despised Somerset, whom he considered a coward. Not only had Somerset taken the duke’s place as Lieutenant of France, he had presided over the loss of Normandy, surrendering the town of Rouen to Charles VII in person. Unlike York, who paid heavily for the military expenses he incurred in office, having lent the crown £26,000, Somerset was reimbursed for his costs while York remained unpaid. After his failure in France, it seemed that Somerset was now on the point of seizing the rewards of power in England: having been created a duke to match York’s status in 1448, Somerset returned from France in August 1450 to be appointed to the prestigious office of Constable of England, something which York must have baulked at.

Somerset’s return must have been the trigger for York’s appearance on the shores of Anglesey; indeed, before leaving Ireland, York had written open letters to the king defending his conduct, promising that he meant Henry no harm, but instead he called for the removal of those ‘traitors’ who were working against the king’s best interest. Of these, York singled out Somerset for ‘encompassing the destruction of his two kingdoms’ since he had ‘been responsible for the shameful loss of all Normandy’.

York first travelled to Ludlow Castle where, having raised a force of around 4,000 men in the Welsh Marches, he began his march to London. Henry issued an order for the duke and his men to be intercepted and arrested, but York managed to give them the slip, and arriving in Westminster on 29 September, sought out Henry, who had taken refuge in his apartments. Forcing his way inside the king’s privy chamber, York swore his loyalty to the king, but insisted that his advisers must go. Henry was in no position to refuse to bargain, yet as a compromise he agreed that a new council would be formed, with York at its helm, with a new Parliament being summoned to pass legislation to address the national debt (which stood at £372,000 in 1449) and remove the king’s councillors who were considered to have lined their own pockets. For the public, York was a figure of fresh hope. The duke had great expectations to live up to, but he knew that he could do nothing without the king’s support. Yet Henry refused to remove Somerset from his position. Exasperated, the duke overplayed his hand when he allowed one of his supporters to present a bill calling for York to be recognised as the king’s heir. Outrage ensued, and Parliament was promptly dissolved.

York’s journey had ended in failure. Somerset remained in the ascendant, having by now amassed crown pensions and offices worth £3,000 a year. In 1451 he was further appointed captain of Calais, placing at his disposal the country’s largest military base. Yet military failure in France continued. As the French began to march on Calais, York held Somerset personally responsible. He began to plan a coup to replace him, writing to several towns in early 1452 seeking their support for his enterprise against ‘the envy, malice and untruth of the said Duke of Somerset … who works continually for my undoing’. Few stirred, yet York marched his troops to the outskirts of the capital, where negotiations began in earnest to prevent armed conflict breaking out. Henry apparently agreed that Somerset should be put on trial for his conduct during the French wars in return for York pledging his loyalty to the crown; believing the king, York rode to meet with Henry at Blackheath. When the duke entered the king’s tent, he found Somerset standing at Henry’s side. It was a trap: accompanied by only forty of his men, York was forced into submission, riding back to London alongside the king as though he were his prisoner. Despite having committed treason, the duke was fortunate; it was decided not to put York on trial, probably for fear that the occasion might easily become a trial of Somerset’s conduct in the wars. Instead, before being released in March 1452, York was made to swear an oath of loyalty before a great assembly of nobles in St Paul’s, declaring that any future misconduct would be declared treason. Humiliated and completely defeated, York withdrew from the court to spend the next eighteen months in self-imposed exile.

Emboldened by his victory, Henry looked to strengthen his position even further, promoting key allies such as the Earl of Worcester to Treasurer, and the Earl of Wiltshire to Lieutenant of Ireland, where he replaced York. The king even decided that he would renew the war against France, taking an army across the Channel to defeat Charles VII’s forces. Surprisingly, the tide seemed to turn for the English under the ferocious and skilled military leader, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

It was against this backdrop of recovery and success that Henry decided to make one of his boldest political gestures: on 23 November 1452, he raised his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor to the rank of earls. Henry had already recognised both brothers as his kinsmen by providing for their education and upbringing; now he was prepared to go further, recognising their importance as members of the house of Lancaster. Henry’s intentions can be guessed at from the choice of titles he was to bestow upon Edmund and Jasper. Edmund was to become the Earl of Richmond, Jasper the Earl of Pembroke. Both titles retained especial significance to the king: the earldoms of Richmond and Pembroke had previously been held by Henry’s uncles, John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Since the two Tudor brothers, despite having French royal blood in their veins, had no claim to the English throne, raising them to the higher ranks of the nobility could hardly endanger Henry’s own standing. Their formal recognition as the king’s half-brothers would help Henry to reinforce his own family interest, creating new standard bearers for the Lancastrian dynasty. It also helped to remove both men from any focus of political discontent, binding them close to the king to whom they owed so much.

The official investiture took place after the Christmas holidays, when on Friday 5 January 1453, the two brothers, having been provided with a new wardrobe of velvet clothing, furs and cloth of gold, appeared in front of the king attired in their ermine robes to be formally created earls. Two weeks later, they were summoned to Parliament. When Parliament opened in March, the House of Commons presented a petition to the king requesting that Jasper and Edmund be recognised formally as his legitimate brothers, born of the same mother as ‘uterine’ brothers. They also requested that Henry release both brothers from any legal penalties arising from their father’s Welsh origins. The very fact that the request was made is remarkable in itself: Edmund and Jasper were the first Welshmen to enter the ranks of the English peerage.

As earls, both Jasper and Edmund would need a substantial income to sustain their positions at court. Between November 1452 and July 1453, both brothers were given substantial grants of landed estates that gave them each an annual income of £925. Edmund’s lands were concentrated in the honour of Richmond, containing the fertile and prosperous lands on the eastern side of the country, between Norfolk and Yorkshire. Jasper received the honour of Pembroke, based around Pembroke itself, together with the lordships of Cilgerran and Llanstephan in south-west Wales; many of his estates were grouped around the great estuary of Milford Haven. Since their political activities were largely to be focused at court, both brothers would also need a townhouse or ‘inn’ within the capital. Edmund was granted Baynard’s Castle, a large fortified house on the banks of the Thames, while Jasper was given a house in Brook Street, Stepney.

Titles and lands were not the only prizes that Henry had decided to bestow upon his half-brothers. On 24 March 1453, Edmund and Jasper were given joint custody, the ‘wardship’, of the nine-year-old Margaret Beaufort, the daughter of the late John Beaufort, the elder brother of Henry’s despised adviser Edmund Beaufort. Henry’s expectation was not merely that the brothers would look after the girl. With the rights of wardship came the right to marry her. It was time, Henry believed, that one of the Tudor brothers at least should take a bride.

*   *   *

In particular, in granting Margaret Beaufort’s wardship to the Tudors, Henry had Edmund Tudor’s marriage in mind. As one writer later recorded, he intended to ‘make means for Edmund his brother’. Margaret was not only one of England’s richest heiresses in the 1450s: she was descended from the royal blood of Edward III, albeit through the illegitimate line borne from the relationship between Edward’s son, John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford, who had given birth to Margaret’s grandfather, John Beaufort. In many ways, the Beauforts held a similar position to that of the Tudors. Both families were descended from royal blood, though both were tainted by accusations of illegitimacy. It was made clear that neither family, despite their nearness of blood, would ever be considered legitimate heirs to the throne.

Since John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford later married, their son John was declared legitimate by both the parliaments of Richard II and Henry IV, though any claim to the throne that his heirs might have was specifically ruled out. Beaufort had been created the Earl of Somerset and Marquis of Dorset by Richard II in 1397, with his lands granted to him around the West Country, focused on his residence at Corfe Castle on the Dorset coast. The story of the family then turned to tragedy. Margaret’s father John had succeeded to the earldom in 1418, yet his life had been wasted as a prisoner of war, having been captured at the battle of Bauge in 1421. Imprisoned in France for seventeen years, he was unable to marry until 1442, aged thirty-eight. His release had cost him £24,000, half the value of his inheritance, leaving him ‘impoverished’ and bitter at the hand life had dealt him. Desperate to win back his ransom, Beaufort persuaded the king to allow him to lead a major expedition through France. Elevated to the rank of Duke of Somerset for the campaign, Beaufort’s expedition was a disaster, achieving no military success and leaving the crown with a bill of over £26,000. The fiasco caused Beaufort to be banished from court; retiring to the West Country in disgrace, he died shortly afterwards, possibly taking his own life.

Aged just forty, John Beaufort left behind a pregnant wife and his sole surviving heir, his daughter Margaret, a few days short of her first birthday. The duchess of Somerset’s second child did not survive, leaving her daughter as sole heiress. Margaret’s wardship was a valuable commodity, one which Henry VI decided to grant to the Earl of Suffolk, in reward for his ‘notable services’ rendered to the country. Six years later, shortly before his exile and death off the coast of Dover, Suffolk decided that his only son, the seven-year-old John de la Pole, should marry Margaret, then aged six. He had originally intended that John should marry Anne Beauchamp, the daughter and sole heir of the Earl of Warwick, but she had died at the age of five in 1449. The hasty decision was taken between 28 January and 7 February 1450, while Suffolk remained in the Tower. It was obvious Suffolk considered it an urgent necessity to provide for his son’s future, though the decision sparked further suspicion that he was attempting to control the succession to the crown, using his son’s marriage to Margaret to obtain a claim to the throne. Suffolk’s death brought an end to the prospect of Margaret and John de la Pole remaining in permanent union. Their betrothal was easily enough annulled: despite the fact that a papal dispensation had been sought and a marriage contract agreed, since Margaret had entered into her marriage contract with Suffolk before she was twelve, under canon law she was not bound to fulfil it. This allowed Henry the freedom to once again grant Margaret’s marriage, this time to Edmund Tudor.

At so young an age, it is unlikely that Margaret would have known much about her marriage to John de la Pole. But three years later, making her first visit to court in February 1453 accompanied by her mother, the experience would leave a lasting impression upon her. She was treated with kindness by the king, who provided ‘his right dear and wellbeloved cousin Margaret’ with new clothes worth 100 marks. But it would have been the display of ceremony and the lavish clothing such as the blood-red dresses worn by Margaret of Anjou and her ladies in waiting at the St George’s Day celebrations that April that gave the young Margaret her first introduction to the dramatic reality of power and its political stage.

Many years later, her memory faded and her childhood recollections hazy, Margaret told her chaplain John Fisher how she believed in her own mind she had faced a choice between John de la Pole and Edmund Tudor. Unable to decide, she was urged to pray to St Nicholas, ‘the patron and helper of all true maidens, and to beseech him to put in her mind what she were best to do’. She had been given the night to decide and ‘the morrow after make answer of her mind determinately’. In her dream, she remembered how a man dressed in white had visited her, ‘arrayed like a bishop’, who told her to choose Edmund Tudor as her husband.

Margaret’s marriage to John de la Pole was annulled the same month she arrived at court, with her wardship formally being granted to the Tudor brothers on 24 March 1453. Her marriage to Edmund seems to have taken place formally in 1455, when they travelled to Lamphey in Pembrokeshire. Edmund and Margaret’s marriage had taken place during a period of relative good news for the Lancastrian dynasty, for in March 1453 it was announced that Queen Margaret was pregnant. Within months, however, the country would once again be thrown into turmoil.

*   *   *

No one could be sure what exactly had caused Henry VI to collapse at his hunting lodge at Clarendon near Salisbury one day in August 1453. Unable to move or speak, he was ‘so lacking in understanding and memory and so incapable that he was neither able to walk upon his feet nor to lift up his head, nor well to move himself from the place where he was seated’. It was believed that the king had suffered ‘disease and disorder of such a sort’. No one understood then the medical realities of psychiatric illness, perhaps a form of hereditary schizophrenia inherited from his Valois ancestors. What everyone did know was that the king’s mental collapse was very serious indeed, threatening the very foundation of the Lancastrian dynasty.

One possibility is that the queen’s pregnancy may have placed strain upon a man uncomfortable with physical intimacy. More likely to have damaged Henry’s mental state had been the events of the previous few weeks, when on 17 July the Earl of Shrewsbury’s army in France had been overwhelmed at Castillon, and the earl himself killed in the cannon fire. Defeat at Castillon in effect brought with it the end of the Hundred Years War.

For two months news of Henry’s collapse was kept secret in the hope that the king might recover. Yet not even the joyous news of the birth of his son and heir, Prince Edward, on 13 October 1453 could wake Henry from his catatonic state. When Queen Margaret presented their son to the king, he reacted ‘without any answer or countenance, saving only that he looked on the Prince and cast his eyes down again without any more’. It was a situation which everyone realised could not continue.

For Richard, Duke of York, it was a second chance: as the most senior nobleman in the realm, while the king remained incapacitated, he had a strong claim to be recognised as Protector. Recognising the threat to his own position at court, Somerset was understandably reluctant to include York in any council negotiations about what should be done, though this did not prevent York from returning to London by November 1453, accompanied by a large retinue of armed men. The stage was set for an inevitable confrontation.

Throughout the winter, both factions sought to fill the vacuum of power. Margaret of Anjou demanded that she be declared regent of England and have ‘the whole rule of this land’. It was to prove a step too far. Many noblemen who previously had refused to take York’s side, Jasper and Edmund Tudor among them, understood the idea of a French Queen, the niece of their French enemy Charles VII, would be politically impossible. By January 1454 the Tudor brothers had formed an alliance with York, it being reported that ‘the Earls of Warwick, Richmond and Pembroke come with the Duke of York, as it is said, each of them with a goodly fellowship’. Margaret’s intervention ensured that the council’s sympathies shifted towards York, agreeing to nominate him as the King’s Lieutenant in February 1454. As armed retinues of various noblemen swarmed through London, tensions began to mount.

Matters came to a head when the appointment of a new chancellor became a political necessity following the death of the previous holder of the office Cardinal Kemp in March 1454. A crisis of authority opened up since only the king could signal who should take his place. The council rode to Windsor to discuss the matter with Henry. In vain, they tried three times to speak with the king, ‘to the which matters they could get no answer nor sign, not for any prayer or desire, lamentable cheer or exhortation, nor for anything that any of them could do or say, to their great sorrow and discomfort’. Recognising that Henry would be incapable of taking any decision, it was decided that York should be appointed Protector, the chief councillor with responsibility for the defence of the realm.

York’s success lay not merely in Henry’s incapacity; the duke had managed to win more noblemen to his cause as a series of local conflicts between magnates had broken out, contesting lordships that had been parcelled out unwisely and often to separate parties by the crown. National politics and local authority had become polarised, as members of the gentry and minor nobility sought protection from great lords such as York. The most significant feud was the longstanding rivalry between the Nevilles and the Percys in Yorkshire, which had degenerated into an armed brawl between both sides in August 1453. When the king did nothing to prevent the violent behaviour of the Percys, who held the royal office of the Warden of the East March, against the Nevilles, it was clear that the Nevilles would have to look elsewhere for help. York was closely associated with the Nevilles, having married the youngest daughter of Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland. Matters were made worse for the family in June 1453 when Somerset was granted estates in Glamorgan, previously held by the twenty-five-year-old Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. It was to prove the final straw for the earl, who now sided with York in order to oust Somerset.

As Protector, York moved quickly to establish his position. Somerset had been sent to the Tower in November 1453, shortly after York’s arrival in the city, having had charges of misconduct in France once again brought against him. York had every intention of keeping him there. In the meantime, York replaced key positions in the council with his allies: his brother-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury, was made Chancellor, Thomas Bourgchier was made Archbishop of Canterbury while York himself took over the captaincy of Calais. Margaret of Anjou was ordered to be removed to Windsor, where she was effectively placed under house arrest.

Then on Christmas Day 1454, Henry suddenly recovered from his illness, waking as if from a coma, not knowing ‘where he had been whilst he hath been sick till now’. Henry’s recovery of his faculties turned a tragedy into a national disaster. York was dismissed as Protector; in his place returned Henry’s old friends and former advisers, including Somerset, who was released from prison in February 1455. York and his associates left London in disgust, without taking formal leave from the king. Somerset now began to plot their destruction, summoning Parliament to meet in May 1455 ‘to provide for the king’s safety’. It was soon clear that York was to be placed on trial. The duke knew that if he were to fight for his survival he would have to act first. Military force seemed to be his only option.

On 1 May 1455 Henry departed London, riding with a large company of noblemen, including Jasper Tudor, intending to journey to Leicester. Spending the first night at Watford, they continued on to St Albans. There York was waiting with an armed force. Negotiations began in earnest, as heralds passed messages from one camp to another. York’s demands, however, were uncompromising: Somerset was to be handed over, to be imprisoned. This Henry refused. As the talks continued, York’s patience was wearing thin. After the herald had returned from his third mission, the duke had waited long enough. ‘Now,’ he is said to have replied, ‘we must do what we can.’ The Rubicon had just been crossed.

Street fighting broke out between the king’s men and York’s. It was soon clear that York was winning the ‘battle’; many of Henry’s household, who had been set upon even before they had the chance to arm themselves, fled into the surrounding countryside. Some raced for the abbey doors, in the hope of finding sanctuary. Others simply had to make do with the nearest building for shelter as the Yorkist troops streamed through lanes and back gardens into the town. The king sought shelter in a tanner’s cottage as his standard was abandoned in the street, but not before he had been injured, wounded in the neck. When York discovered what had happened to the king, he ordered that he be removed to the abbey for his safety. His real target, Somerset, had barricaded himself into a local inn. There was to be no escape. As York’s men surrounded the building and broke down the doors, Somerset resolved to die fighting and was said to have killed four men by his own hand in his final charge before he was hit first by an axe then set upon and hacked to death.

What part Jasper Tudor played in the fighting must have been limited. He had little military training or experience to take an active role in the fighting. The scenes of death, of the hail of arrows that had descended upon them, leaving many of Henry’s household with face, neck and arm wounds, would have left a lasting impression upon him. The abbot of St Albans recalled the horrific scenes of violence that Jasper must also have witnessed: ‘here you saw a man with his brains dashed out, here one with a broken arm, another with his throat cut, a fourth with a pierced chest’. It also left Jasper with a resolve that there might still be another solution to violence. With Somerset dead, perhaps reconciliation might be possible. Jasper would now play a critical role in attempting to bridge the two factions together.

Henry was taken back to London, riding alongside York. He had become effectively a prisoner of the Yorkists, even if they still claimed that they were the loyal servants of the king. When Parliament was summoned several weeks later in May, both Tudor brothers were ordered to attend. One of the most pressing issues was to stabilise the nation’s finances, which had been placed under severe strain by the king’s lavish grants of land and office. Now, in a grand Act of Resumption, all grants which Henry had made since the beginning of his reign were cancelled. There were however to be a small number of exemptions: as members of the royal family, Edmund and Jasper were to keep all their estates and offices. York could hardly have been pleased, but he recognised that he needed to build a broad coalition of support, and that the Tudor brothers had the potential to be his allies.

Shortly after the battle, Henry suffered a second breakdown. Both brothers knew that Henry’s government could not continue in its present form with the king at the helm. In November 1454 they had both attended a council meeting which drew up ordinances to reform and, more importantly, reduce the size of the king’s burgeoning household which was costing £24,000 a year to run despite its income being only £5,000. They sympathised with York’s demands that more economical government was needed. Yet it was becoming increasingly difficult to retain a foothold in both camps. While their loyalty to their half-brother the king was beyond question, Edmund and Jasper were not convinced that Margaret of Anjou should lead the Lancastrian party. As the rift between York and Henry’s court grew deeper, the more difficult it would become for the Tudor brothers to balance their loyalties to both the king and the security of the realm.

*   *   *

When Parliament reassembled in November 1455, York was reappointed as the king’s Protector. Neither Edmund nor Jasper Tudor were present for the opening ceremony. Instead Edmund had been sent to Wales as the king’s official representative, tasked with upholding royal authority there. It was a formidable challenge. Parts of the country had remained a lawless land ever since the end of Owen Glyndwr’s rebellion forty years previously, with local rivalries between landowners often breaking out into violent quarrels, exacerbated by the fact that most offices were held by absentee noblemen who handed power and authority to their agents to act as deputies on their behalf. Exploiting their position for their own financial and political gain, effective government in many regions of south and east Wales had broken down. York himself had placed William Herbert of Raglan to deputise for him in his lordship of Usk, while the Duke of Buckingham had handed control of his lordship in Brecon to the Vaughans of Tretower. Both families, the Herberts and the Vaughans, now wielded significant authority on behalf of their masters.

The most influential force in the region, however, was Gruffydd ap Nicholas, whose unchallenged power in south-west Wales Edmund was now expected to curb. York was concerned about Gruffydd ap Nicholas’s control, especially since the duke had recently replaced Somerset as constable of Carmarthen and Aberystwyth castles. Having moved to Lamphey in Pembrokeshire by September 1455, two miles east of his brother’s castle at Pembroke, Edmund embarked on restoring royal authority to the region.

Gruffyd ap Nicholas resented the arrival of the young and inexperienced Edmund who himself had no lands in Wales. By June 1456 the two were ‘at war greatly’, with Gruffyd having occupied castles at Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and the fortresses of Carreg Cennen and Kidwelly on the Carmarthenshire coastline. Edmund fought hard to win back lost territory, with some limited success, managing to retake Carmarthen Castle. Yet as he continued to pursue his royal duties in the king’s name, the political tide had begun to turn. Edmund soon found that he was facing the very same man who had sent him to Wales in the first place.

The Duke of York’s second protectorship had lasted until February 1456, when Henry once again recovered and dismissed him, though being ‘in charity with all the world’ had decided to keep York as ‘his chief and principal councillor’. It was not Henry whom York had to fear: Queen Margaret, now a prominent figure in her late twenties, determined to protect her son’s royal inheritance, was described as ‘a great and intensely active woman, for she spares no pains to pursue her business towards an end and conclusion favourable to her power’. Margaret was desperate to rid her husband and his household from York’s influence: she had twice witnessed the duke seize power, and with it the expenditure of her royal household and its available patronage significantly reduced. She was determined to avoid York gaining the upper hand once more. Touring the country looking for support, Margaret sought out allies, strengthening her party against the duke. With neither side prepared to show their hand, the atmosphere was one of mutual suspicion: ‘My lord York … watches the queen and she watches him,’ wrote one London correspondent. Slowly, England was drifting towards civil war.

In seeking to defend the king’s royal authority, Edmund Tudor was now inadvertently drawn into conflict with York himself. Edmund’s recapturing of Carmarthen Castle from Gruffyd ap Nicholas, though a task he had been commanded to achieve, was now taken as an act of hostility against York, who held the constableship of the castle. Having been stripped once again of his authority at court, York sought to re-establish his power in Wales, sending his retainers to take control of Carmarthen from Edmund. On 10 August 2,000 men from Herefordshire led by York’s agents Sir William Herbert, Sir Walter Devereux, Herbert’s brother-in-law, and the Vaughan family crossed the border into West Wales, seizing Carmarthen Castle and imprisoning Edmund Tudor. It was the first time that the Tudors had faced the personal consequences of having been caught in the crossfire of the civil troubles brewing between the Yorkist party and the court party of the king and the Lancastrian dynasty, with which they were now inextricably linked through both blood and title. Edmund was released from captivity shortly afterwards, but the conditions of his imprisonment may have hastened his contracting of some kind of epidemic disease, probably the plague. He never left the castle, and on 1 November 1456 finally succumbed to his illness. He was buried nearby at Greyfriars Church, though his tomb, finished with a brass image of the earl, was later transferred to St David’s Cathedral during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Edmund’s death was mourned by Welsh poets, who described him as ‘brother of King Henry, nephew of the Dauphin and son of Owen’, comparing Wales without Edmund to a land without a ruler, a church without a priest, a beach without water. What the poet failed to mention was that Edmund was about to bequeath what was to become his greatest legacy; for in death he had left his young wife Margaret seven months pregnant with his child.

At twenty-six, Edmund Tudor was over twice his wife’s age, who at twelve was two years younger than the accepted age of fourteen at which a marriage could be consummated. To attempt to conceive a child any earlier brought with it significant risk to both mother and child. But Edmund had ulterior motives for making Margaret pregnant at such a young age. With a landed inheritance that included estates in the south-west and the Midlands, together with other properties in Yorkshire and in Wales, Margaret’s landed value was worth over £800 a year. Edmund knew that in law, if a living child were born to the couple, no matter how long it lived, as father he would become the official tenant of Margaret’s lands, able to legally receive the income from her estates. It was a ruthless strategy, and given Margaret’s small physical size – as her chaplain John Fisher admitted later, she was ‘not a woman of great stature … she was so much smaller at that stage’ – a significant gamble to take. But Edmund seemed to care little for his wife’s physical welfare. His overriding concern lay more in the material welfare of his landed estates and wealth. The irony of Edmund’s sudden death was that it would be Margaret, inheriting portions of Edmund’s estate, who benefited most from the marriage agreement.

A difficult pregnancy was made worse by fears that the plague which had killed Edmund might have spread across the region. John Fisher recalled the danger surrounding Henry’s birth, coming so soon after his father’s death: ‘while your mother carried you in the womb’, he later told Henry in an oration, ‘you narrowly avoided the plague of which your illustrious father died, which could so easily have killed an unborn child’. Behind the towering thirteenth-century walls of Pembroke Castle, Margaret took to her bed in a small room on the first floor of the great gatehouse to prepare for childbirth, a terrified thirteen-year-old uncertain not only whether she would survive the birth, but also what her future as a widow with a baby might be.

On St Anne’s Day, 28 January 1457, Henry Tudor was born at Pembroke Castle. It was not an easy birth. For a time it seemed that in labour both Margaret and Henry were at risk of losing their lives, and the trauma of the birth left Margaret so physically damaged, if not mentally scarred, that she would never have children again. Henry would be her only child, strengthening what was to become a remarkable bond between mother and son. Years later, Margaret remembered in a letter how ‘this day of Saint Annes, that I did bring into this world my good and gracious Prince … and only beloved son’. Even as she recovered from childbirth, Margaret swiftly took control of her son’s destiny. One tradition recorded by the sixteenth-century Welsh chronicler Elis Gruffyd, related to him by some old men alive at the time, was that the baby had been baptised Ywain, Welsh for Owen, but upon hearing this, Margaret had insisted that the child’s name be changed to Henry, perhaps to reflect the importance of his English identity over his Welsh origins and closeness to the Lancastrian dynasty. If true, it was one of the wisest decisions Margaret Beaufort was ever to make.

 

 

Copyright © 2013 by Chris Skidmore

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