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The House of Tudor changed the history of Britain forever. The Tudor monarchs have been immortalised in novels and films for generations. However, the true history of this incredible dynasty is often romanticised and fact is overlooked. Alison Plowden's accessible and beautifully written history traces the family's turbulent reign of power from Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, who fathered the great Henry VIII. Henry VIII went onto revolutionise England's armed forces and implement controversial reforms in England. Yet, he is perhaps most remembered for his tumultuous love life and the fates of his six wives, including Anne of Boleyn, who sparked an international crisis. He fathered four known offspring, including Mary I and Gloriana - Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, who reigned for 44 years in what is known as England's Golden Age. This book not only re-tells the familiar stories of these famous monarchs, revealing the truth behind the scandals; but it also recounts the history of the less well-known Tudor monarchs: Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey (the uncrowned Queen of England), and those who came directly before and after them - Edward IV and James I. If you read on history of the Tudors, make it this one - you are sure to be enthralled and surprised by how the facts are often more incredible than the fiction surrounding them.
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The House of Tudor
By Alison Plowden
The History PressCopyright © 2010 The estate of Alison Plowden
All rights reserved.
A Bull of Anglesey
A Bull of Anglesey demanding satisfaction
He is the hope of our race.
When the bull comes from the far land to battle with his great ashen spear,
To be an earl again in the land of Llewelyn,
Let the far-splitting spear shed the blood of the Saxon on the stubble ...
When the long yellow summer comes and victory comes to us
And the spreading of the sails of Brittany,
And when the heat comes and when the fever is kindled,
There are portents that victory will be given to us ...
sang the bards in the 'long yellow summer' of 1485, as they waited for the fleet which would carry 'the one who will strike', Henry Earl of Richmond, the black bull of Anglesey, the peacock of Tudor, back to the land of his fathers. There was longing for Harry, they sang, whose name 'comes down from the mountains as a two-edged sword', for mab y darogan, the long promised hero who would fulfil the prophecy of Myrddin the wizard, who would deliver his people from the Saxon oppressor and bring content to the blessed land of Gwynedd.
'The most wise and fortunate Henry VII is a Welshman', remarked the Italian author of A Relation of the Island of Britain, and although the Welshness of the first Henry Tudor can easily be (and often is) exaggerated, Henry himself was fully aware of the importance which should be attached to the fulfilment of bardic prophecies. He was also conscious of the political advantages to be gained by polishing his image as 'a high-born Briton of the stock of Maelgwyn' – prince of the line of Cadwaladr of the beautiful spear. At any rate, David Powel, writing in 1584, says that the King appointed a three-man commission to enquire into the matter of his pedigree and that these seekers after knowledge, having consulted the bards and other appropriate authorities, 'drew his perfect genelogie from the ancient Kings of Brytaine and Princes of Wales'.
It must be admitted that the actual origins of the House of Tudor do not quite match the imaginative flights of the Abbot of Valle Crucis, Dr Poole, canon of Hereford and John King, herald. At the same time, the historical story of the family's rise, untidy and incomplete though it is, should be romantic enough for most people.
The earliest Tudors were landowners in a small way from North Wales, farming the country round Colwyn Bay to the east of the River Conwy, and their fortunes were founded by Ednyfed Fychan (Ednyfed the Younger) who flourished during the first half of the thirteenth century. Ednyfed enjoyed a long and successful career in the service of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, and was rewarded with grants of land in Anglesey and Caernarvon, as well as estates in West Wales. He married, as his second wife, Gwenllian, daughter of Rhys, Prince of South Wales, and his sons, Goronwy and Tudur, inherited both his office of seneschal or steward to the rulers of Gwynedd and his considerable property.
The final subjugation of Wales by England in the early 1280s does not seem to have seriously affected the family's status. Like a good many other native magnates, Ednyfed's grandson, Tudur Hen ap Goronwy, probably supported the English Crown – at least he is recorded as having done homage to Edward of Caernarvon, the first English Prince of Wales, in 1301 – and by the middle of the century this Tudur's grandson, another Tudur ap Goronwy, was established as an influential member of the new gentry class that had begun to emerge out of the decay of the old Welsh tribal society.
But unfortunately for the descendants of Ednyfed Fychan, the old Welsh tribal loyalties were not yet dead. Tudur ap Goronwy the Second had married an aunt of Owain Glyndwr, and when Glyndwr rose in revolt against Henry IV at the beginning of the 1400s, Tudur's surviving sons came out for their cousin. In fact, in a highly complicated political situation, the loyalties involved may well have been as much English as Welsh. Glyndwr is said to have served in Richard II's army, and three of the Tudur brothers had at one time been members of Richard's retinue. But whatever their motives in joining the revolt, it was to have disastrous results for the whole clan.
Harsh reprisals were taken against the rebels and, according to the chronicler Adam of Usk, Rhys ap Tudur was executed at Chester in 1412. All the Tudur estates were confiscated, although one property, Penmynydd in Anglesey, was eventually recovered by the heirs of the eldest brother, Goronwy. This branch of the family, which took to spelling their name Theodor, remained at Penmynydd, obscure country squires taking a modest part in local affairs, until the line petered out towards the end of the seventeenth century, leaving nothing behind but some monuments in the parish church. And that might very well have been the whole story, were it not for the quirk of fate that brought Owain, son of the youngest brother, Maredudd, into the English royal household.
No one knows exactly where or when Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur, more conveniently Owen Tudor, was born, but it must have been some time around 1400. Nor does anyone know exactly how or when he entered the royal service, although he may have followed Glyndwr's son, who was officially pardoned in 1417 and became a Squire of the Body to Henry V. There is no evidence to support the tradition that he was present at Agincourt, but he may have been in France in 1421 on the staff of the distinguished soldier and diplomat Sir Walter Hungerford. Sir Walter was one of the executors of Henry V's will, and in 1424 became steward to the infant Henry VI. It is at least possible that he was the means of introducing the promising young Welshman to the notice of the Queen Dowager, Katherine of Valois. All we know for certain is that at some point in the 1420s Owen Tudor became Clerk of the Wardrobe to Henry V's widow and that in 1429, or it may have been in 1432, he and the Queen were married.
The traditional story goes that Owen and Katherine concealed their relationship from the world until, one day, their secret was betrayed to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Protector of the Realm, who promptly incarcerated the Queen in a nunnery, where she died of a broken heart, and threw Owen into prison. From the known facts, scanty though they are, it is possible to reconstruct a rather more prosaic, if no less remarkable sequence of events.
Although so many of the circumstances surrounding the romance of the French princess and the 'gentleman of Wales' which was to have such far-reaching consequences for England remain shrouded in mystery, it seems reasonable to assume tradition is right in saying that Owen and Katherine fell in love. At least, it seems reasonable to assume that Katherine fell in love. Shakespeare regardless, her short-lived marriage to Henry V had been a matter of high politics. She was barely twenty when she became a widow and her son, 'Harry born at Windsor' and destined to lose all the glory his famous father had won, became King at the age of nine months. As Queen Dowager, Katherine's position was not a happy one. She had no say in the government and none to speak of in the upbringing of her little son. Bored, lonely and with nothing to look forward to but the prospect of a lifetime of barren exile, she would naturally be susceptible to the attentions of an attractive man – 'following more her appetite than friendly counsel and regarding more her private affections than her open honour', as the chronicler Edward Hall was to put it.
There are no strictly contemporary descriptions of Owen Tudor, but Hall says he was 'a goodly gentleman and a beautiful person' and Polydore Vergil, who began his History of England in the reign of Owen's grandson, is enthusiastic about his 'wonderful gifts of body and mind'. An earlier chronicler, with no royal Tudor patrons to consider, is noticeably less complimentary in a passing reference to 'one Oweyn, no man of birth neither of livelihood'. All the same, Owen obviously had something to recommend him, and good looks and personal charm would seem to be the most likely attributes. We can only speculate – but the Queen and her Clerk of the Wardrobe would have been in daily contact, they were about the same age and both were strangers in a strange land. Perhaps it is not so surprising that they should have gravitated together.
The fact that the King's mother had 'privily wedded' one of her servants was not advertised. The earliest known reference to it occurs in one of the London chronicles in a brief entry under the year 1438, and says that the common people knew nothing of it until after the Queen was dead and buried. This may well be true, and it also seems possible that the young King was kept in ignorance of his mother's second marriage during her lifetime. But it must certainly have been common knowledge in court circles generally. At least, none of the traditional accounts explain how Katherine contrived to produce four Tudor babies – Edmund, born at the royal manor of Hadham in Hertfordshire, Jasper, born at Hatfield, another son, Owen, and a daughter – without anybody apparently noticing these interesting events. Everything, in fact, points to the conclusion that the Queen and her socially undesirable husband were left in peace to enjoy the all too brief period of their married life. When Katherine retired into the Abbey of Bermondsey some time in 1436 there is no evidence at all that this was due to anything but the 'long and grievous illness' which finally killed her on 3 January 1437.
After the Queen's death, her second family broke up. Edmund and Jasper were placed in the care of the Abbess of Barking, who looked after them for the next three years. The two younger children have no part in this story, but Owen later became a monk at Westminster, surviving into his nephew's reign, and the girl is said to have gone into a nunnery. As for their father, the remainder of his career has a distinct flavour of melodrama.
Now that he could no longer count on the protection of his wife's status, the adventurous gentleman of Wales seems to have thought it prudent to make himself scarce for a while. At any rate, he was as far away as Daventry in the Midlands when, shortly after Katherine's death a summons was issued by the Council requiring 'one Owen Tudor which dwelled with the said Queen Katherine' to come into the King's presence. Owen evidently suspected a trap, for he declined to accept the invitation unless he was first given an assurance, in the King's name, that he might 'freely come and freely go'. A verbal promise to this effect was duly delivered by one Myles Sculle, but Owen was not satisfied. He did, however, make his way secretly to London where he went into sanctuary at Westminster, resisting the persuasions of his friends to come and disport himself in the tavern at Westminster gate. After a period of time described as 'many days', days no doubt spent in reconnoitring the situation, Owen emerged from his lair to make a sudden appearance in the royal presence. He had heard, he said, that the King was 'heavily informed of him' and was anxious to declare his innocence and truth. But almost certainly Henry, now fifteen years old, had just wanted to take a look at his unknown stepfather and Owen was allowed to depart 'without any impeachment'. In fact, he had freely come and freely gone – but not for long.
Like so much else about him, the reason for Owen Tudor's arrest and committal to ward in Newgate gaol remains a mystery. Polydore Vergil says it was ordered by the Duke of Gloucester because Owen 'had been so presumptuous as by marriage with the Queen to intermix his blood with the noble race of kings', but there is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion. In two obscurely worded documents, one of which is dated 15 July 1437, the Council were at considerable pains to establish the legality of the arrest, having regard to the King's recent promise of safe conduct and also, it may be assumed, to the prisoner's royal connections. In neither of these documents is any specific charge mentioned, but from the very meagre information they do contain, it looks as if Owen was involved in a private quarrel – probably of a financial nature – with some person or persons unknown.
The next news of him appears in the Chronicle of London, which records that he 'brake out of Newgate against night at searching time, through help of his priest, and went his way, hurting foul his keeper; but at the last, blessed be God, he was taken again.' This exploit took place early in 1438, for in March of that year Lord Beaumont received twenty marks to cover his expenses in guarding the fugitives and bringing them before the Council. Owen, his priest and his servant were sent back to Newgate in disgrace, but a sum of eighty-nine pounds which was found on the priest was confiscated and handed over to the Treasury. Who this enterprising cleric was, where that quite sizeable amount of money came from, and why Owen had been so desperate to escape are three more unanswered questions. He was transferred from Newgate to Windsor Castle in July 1438, a move which is again unexplained but which seems to have marked the beginning of an improvement in his fortunes. In July of the following year he was conditionally released – one of the conditions being that he made no attempt to go to Wales or 'parts adjacent'. Presumably the authorities were remembering the old Tudor involvement with Glyn Dwr. At last, in November 1439, he was granted a general pardon for all offences committed before October, though there is still no indication as to what those offences had been.
Owen had spent two years in gaol without trial and a further four months on probation, but from then on he became respectable. The King, 'moved by special causes', provided him with a pension of forty pounds a year, paid out of the privy purse 'by especial favour' and his name crops up from time to time over the next twenty years in the Calendars of the Close and Patent Rolls as witness to a charter, as sharing in the grant of a holding at Lambeth, as receiving an annuity of a hundred pounds; but it is an entry of 1459 which is the most significant historically, for it was then that Owen ap Meredith ap Tudur seems to have finally become Owen Tudor esquire. Owen himself followed the normal Welsh custom of adding his father's name to his own – at least he referred to himself as Owen ap Meredith in his petition for letters of denizenship in 1432. In official documents he is variously described as Owen ap Meredith, Owen Meredith, Owen ap Meredith ap Tudur (or Tider) until 1459, when a hurrying clerk wrote him down as Owen Tuder and gave England a Tudor instead of a Meredith dynasty.
While their father was enduring his mysterious difficulties and gradually winning his way back into polite society, Edmund and Jasper Tudor were growing up. In November 1452 they were created Earls of Richmond and Pembroke respectively andthereafter were granted lands and offices by the Crown. In fact, the gentle, devout, ineffectual Henry VI showed both his half-brothers a remarkable degree of generosity, but never more so than when it came to choosing a wife for the new Earl of Richmond. In 1455 Edmund Tudor married Margaret Beaufort – an event which took him a giant step up the social ladder and which was to have an incalculable effect on the whole course of English history.
The Beaufort family was the result of a long-ago liaison between John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his daughters' governess, Katherine Swynford, née de Roet. Their four children were indisputably born on the wrong side of the blanket, but after the death of his second wife John of Gaunt had made an honest woman of Katherine, and his Beaufort progeny (so called after the castle in France where they were born) had been legitimized by the Pope, by Letters Patent issued by Richard II and, for good measure, by Act of Parliament. The Beauforts grew rich and powerful – Cardinal Beaufort, last survivor of Katherine Swynford's brood, had governed England with the Duke of Gloucester during Henry VI's minority – and after the King and his heirs they represented the ruling family of Lancaster.
The bestowal of Margaret Beaufort, a great-great-grand-daughter of Edward III, was a matter of State and what prompted the King to grant first the wardship and then the marriage of this important heiress of the blood royal to such a junior member of the peerage, son of an obscure Welsh esquire but with possibly complicating royal connections, is yet another mystery. Perhaps, at a time of increasing political instability, Henry simply felt that the Tudors at least could be trusted to remain loyal Lancastrians. If so, he was to be proved right.
Edmund's marriage coincided with the outbreak of that long-drawn-out dynastic struggle among the all too numerous descendants of Edward III, conveniently known as the Wars of the Roses. The roots of the quarrel went back to the coup d'état of 1399, when Henry Bolingbroke had wrested the crown from his cousin Richard, and, like most family quarrels, it became progressively more bitter and more complicated with the passage of time.
Excerpted from The House of Tudor by Alison Plowden. Copyright © 2010 The estate of Alison Plowden. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1 A Bull of Anglesey,
2 The Rose of England,
3 A Wonder for Wise Men,
4 The Renaissance Prince,
5 Tudor Sisters,
6 The King's Secret Matter,
7 England's Treasure,
8 The Old Fox,
9 A Boy of Wondrous Hope,
10 Gone is Our Treasure,
11 The Rule of the Proud Spaniards,
12 In Honour of Worthy Philip,
13 England's Eliza,
14 When Hempe is Spun,
A Note on Sources,