Henry Tudor

Page added 22nd March 2016

Birth in Pembroke Castle on 28th January 1457 to Margaret Beaufort.
Courtesy of Pembroke Castle Trust

The name of the Tudors attracts the interest of practically everyone without fail. And that’s not just the Welsh or the people of Pembrokeshire. It is a dynasty within which is packed every possible aspect of romance, horror, intrigue, religious upheaval – the list is endless, and from this dynasty has come, ever since, the monarchs of this country. And it all started with the arrival of Henry Tudor on the Pembrokeshire shoreline at Mill Bay on Sunday August 7th 1485.

Neither Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne or his ancestry are straightforward. Welsh historians have, over the last sixty years, thrown light on what was an almost impossible maze.

Henry’s family can be traced back to a figure, prominent in the 12th century, The Lord Rhys, who referred to himself on occasion as, Prince of the Welsh.

There followed centuries of mixed fortunes for the Anglesey family depending on who they supported, as English kings tried to subdue Wales, or figures such as Owen Glyndwr (who appears in Henry’s family tree) attempted to gain Welsh ascendancy.

In about 1427 Henry’s grandfather Owen Tudor married Catherine of Valois, the widow of warrior king Henry V, and they produced Edmund and Jasper. Edmund was Henry Tudor’s father.

His mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was the great, great granddaughter of Edward 111 (1312-1377) had been married as a small child to the 2nd Duke of Suffolk, (great, great grandson of Geoffrey Chaucer), but this had been annulled. Margaret was still only twelve when married to Edmund Tudor in 1455. Less than a year later Edmund died of plague, whilst in Carmarthen gaol, and his brother Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, took care of heavily pregnant Margaret taking her to Pembroke Castle where she gave birth to Henry on 28th January 1457.

Henry inherited his father’s title of Earl of Richmond and remained in Pembroke for much of the period up until 1471 as the Wars of the Roses ebbed and flowed around him. This was a war that spanned the whole country, lasted on and off, for thirty years and included the bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil; that of Towton in March 1461 when 28,000 men died in a single day.

In 1471, following the additionally disastrous battles (for the Lancastrians) of Barnet and Tewkesbury and the death of Henry VI, it appeared that the Lancastrian side had failed totally but also that Henry was now the lead Lancastrian claimant to the crown.

With the throne once more secure for the Yorkists under Edward IV, a decision was made by Henry’s supporters that he be got out of the country and his uncle Jasper, himself by this point also fleeing, retrieved young Henry from Raglan where it seems he spent a short period and took him to Tenby from where a ship belonging to the mayor, Thomas White, took them to Brittany, at that time independent to France.

His mother Margaret meanwhile had been married almost immediately following Edmund Tudor’s death, to Sir Henry Stafford who was killed at the battle of Barnet fighting for the Yorkists.

A third marriage in June 1472 was to Thomas Stanley, one of the most powerful men in the country, who had survived the Wars of the Roses by, to an extent, playing both sides and who was to figure prominently in 1485.

Margaret intrigued constantly with the Lancastrian survivors and it was she who promoted the marriage of her son to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, thus combining the two houses...if her son was to be successful in his bid for the crown.

For fourteen years Henry and his uncle remained in exile in Brittany, living initially, a very pleasant existence until their host, Francis of Brittany, recognising their importance separated them and placed them in military prisons.

In 1483, with the sudden death of Edward IV and the seizure of the crown along with the rightful heir, thirteen year old Edward V, by Richard Duke of Gloucester, brother of Edward IV, things changed. With aid from France, Henry sailed from the port of Harfleur with 2,000 men on the 1st August 1485. On the 7th, he landed at Mill Bay.

When Henry landed at Mill Bay on August 7th 1485, it wasn’t his first attempt at an invasion from exile in France. In the autumn of 1483, a group of noblemen had become intensely dissatisfied with Richard Duke of Gloucester’s seizure of the throne, as Richard III, and the imprisonment and disappearance of the rightful king, Edward V (who as Prince of Wales had given Haverfordwest its first Charter in 1479...something I’ll have to write more about in the future) and his brother Richard.

Under the loose leadership of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, they plotted a rebellion which was to coincide with the landing of an army under Henry. However, a major autumnal storm forced Henry to seek shelter in Jersey and Buckingham’s forces, largely Welsh, were defeated in Herefordshire.

On this second attempt, Henry anticipated that he would once again have support in Wales. His choice of Mill Bay has to have been to avoid Pembroke Castle, his birth place, fortified by Richard III in case of just such an event and garrisoned by his supporters. Dale Castle, presented no such obstacle, being at this period probably little more than a fortified tower with only a small number of defenders.

Of crucial importance to Henry’s success was the attitude of Rhys ap Thomas who had been given much power in west Wales by Richard III and who had in return sworn an oath to Richard that anyone invading in the areas over which he had control would have to ‘cross over his bellie’. Folklore suggests that Rhys stood, or crouched under Mullock Bridge whilst Henry rode over it thus adhering to the oath of Henry only gaining access by riding over him. The facts available however are perhaps a little more pragmatic in that Rhys was already by then leaving his base in Carmarthen to do the same as Henry was planning; to cover as much of Wales as possible, trying to increase army strength with hoped for supporters flocking to the cause.

Henry certainly didn’t delay and after spending the night of the 7th at Dale, he quickly passed through Haverfordwest, reaching Cardigan by the 9th August by when Rhys was in Brecon. They met in Welshpool on the 13th by which point Henry was dismayed at the limited success he had achieved in attracting men to his banner. Rhys had had more success and, his army outnumbered Henry’s.

Richard had become aware of the landing by the 11th. The news came to him probably from Pembroke and was conveyed to where he was in Nottingham in just four days. Henry’s extreme speed, the result of meticulous planning, meant that he was in Shrewsbury by the 15th.

Richard left Nottingham on the 19th and made for Leicester. In an attempt to secure the loyalty of Lord Stanley, Henry’s step-father, Richard had taken his son as a hostage. It was for this reason that Stanley and his brother, Sir William, refused to give Henry the firm support that he desperately needed. The only answer to his pleadings for confirmation that they would act on his side in the forthcoming battle was that they would provide what was necessary when they saw that it was time to act.

When the battle of Bosworth started on the morning of Monday 22 August 1485, the armies numbered; Henry Tudor, 5000; King Richard III, 10,000 and the Stanley brothers, 3000.

After about two hours, Richard, with a group of knights, launched a personal attack on Henry. The entire battle along with the future of the country hinged in these desperate minutes and although Henry and his bodyguards fought valiantly, it appeared that Richard would win the day. At this point, the Stanleys acted, sending in their forces and the battle was won for Henry.

And so began the Tudor dynasty; his son Henry VIII and his granddaughters Mary and Elizabeth being the main players.

Richard III was the last king to be killed in battle in this country. Always portrayed as the evil doer and possibly the murderer of the princes in the tower, his popularity and the state funeral that he was awarded on 26th March this year suggests a different attitude...or perhaps just a fascination with history and all that comes with it.