ADAPTED EXTRACT From my forthcoming book on the Tudors Welsh Origins.
Welsh and English history is littered with romantic figures, gallant and brave warriors blessed with an innate sense of chivalry and morals that ensure their name lives on in the annals of history. The embodiment of such a character is undoubtedly King Arthur, the mythical Prince whom all later Kings would strive to replicate. Scores of medieval men, inspired by the many retellings of Arthur and his chivalrous Knights, equally endeavoured to adopt such personas in an attempt fulfil their lives according to the sacrament of chivalry. Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur was one such 14th century man, blessed with wit, romanticism and martial talent as well as the noble background needed to be considered a chivalric knight.
Son of an Outlaw
Owain ap Maredudd was born around 1400, the same year his father Maredudd’s cousin Owain Glyndwr raised a rebellion against English rule and it is a possibility the child was named for his noble second cousin. By the time Owain was 6 the rebellion and the dream of Welsh Independence had all but been vanquished and his father was dead. Some stories persist that Maredudd actually fled to the mountains of Snowdonia after killing a man and indeed took his son with him whilst other accounts state he escaped to London to raise his household after the family fortune and reputation was irrevocable damaged by the instinctive but ultimately ruinous alliance with Glyndwr. Maredudd’s older brothers Rhys and Gwilym played an integral part in Glyndwr’s rebellion which begun with their ambush on the forces of King Henry IV when he arrived in their native Anglesey determined to wreak vengeance on parts of the population and the local towns in an overt display of martial strength and authority. Henry IV’s imposing force floundered as he was constantly attacked by the Tudor’s guerrilla campaign and was forced into a humiliating retreat to the safety of the marches. Embittered by this encounter, Henry IV issued a proclamation where he endeavoured to pardon every rebel whom dropped arms; a caveat to this pardon was that three people in particular were excluded from pardon – Owain Glyndwr, Rhys ap Tudur and Gwilym ap Tudur. The elder brothers then proceeded to up the ante by capturing one of the King’s most important fortresses at Conwy on April 1st, 1401.
Although Maredudd was now outlawed as a result of the rebellion, under the previous King he had been an accomplished local official, continuing a long tradition of Family service to the ruling Monarch, be they English or Welsh Princes. He had served as rhaglaw of Malltraeth from 1387 to 1395, burgess of the nearby Newborough and finally as escheator of the Isle of Anglesey itself between 1388 and 1391. These titles and lands however would become forfeited after the rebellion and after the deaths of first Maredudd and then his brothers Gwilym and Rhys, the Tudor family were effectively ruined as a Welsh noble force. Of the limited information available, it appears that Maredudd was employed as an esquire to the Bishop of Bangor in 1405 in the midst of the uprising however it is suspected that by 1407 he had died. Again the circumstances surrounding this frustratingly are almost non-existent but he is not mentioned again after this date. Maredudd did manage to marry just prior to the outbreak of the rebellion and as the respected official he was at the time entered into a union with Margaret ferch Dafydd, daughter of the Lord of Anglesey. It was through this union that their son was born in 1400, just as the world around them collapsed and became fraught with danger and uncertainty. Although not the ideal circumstances to raise a child they persisted and christened the child Owain ap Maredudd, the man whom would shortly become sole male-line survivor of the Penmynydd Tudur’s dominant dynasty which within a decade was crushed as a result of the War of Independence.
There is a lack of information about the exact circumstances surrounding Owain’s early life but what seems clear is that by the age of seven he was at the English court of Henry IV to become a page to the King’s Steward. This may seem unusual since his father, uncles and cousins were fighting against Henry IV in the Welsh war of Independence but the fact remains it was at court where any ambitious man had to be in order to make a fortune and with the Tudur’s on the irredeemable path to catastrophic ruin, London was the only place for Owain to realistically be positioned to advance. Just like all Welshmen in this dire period, Owain would have faced a future in Wales under strict, harsh and oppressive laws imposed by the bitter King Henry IV and although his Welsh nationality would not have made it easy to adapt to life in London or to gain acceptance amongst the locals, with the right guidance and patron there was at least the opportunity to earn a reasonable life. By the time Owain was a teenager he would have been accepted as part of the King’s army as an able adolescent and it is a possibility he saw action in or at least around the infamous Battle of Agincourt in 1415. By this time the King was Henry V and the courageous and warrior-like ruler took a personal part in leading his army to an immortal victory over the French forces. Whatever role Owain played in the battle, or whether he was actually there, soon after he was promoted to the position of “Squire”, a status for boys around the age of 14 or 15 whereby they were essentially apprentice Knights.
A Squire had many roles that he needed to undertake for the particular Knight that he was assigned to, roles similar to that of a servant but more in keeping with the overall aim of becoming a Knight oneself. Typical roles would include being the Knight’s shield bearer, looking after the Knight’s armour and horses and accompanying the Knight on any battles or recesses. A Knight would have many such Squires and they would all equally be attempting impress their benefactor in order to achieve a dubbing themselves to become a mythical and decorated Knight. Little else is known of his life at this period however it seems he was present in France again around May 1421 in the service of the prominent Sir Walter Hungerford, an English noble and Baron whom was playing a key role as the King’s Steward in the wars with the French. His name during this period was given as Owen Meredith and at the age of around 21 this period would have been his first serious introduction to warfare. It was also around this exciting if dangerous time, although the exact dating is difficult to verify, that he entered the service of the newly widowed dowager Queen Katherine of Valois, surviving wife of the recently deceased King Henry V. This post would have been perhaps the highest position a man of Owain’s background could hope to reach and is more than likely one he entered because of his service to the 1st Baron Hungerford, whom had been steward of the King’s Household himself from July 1415 to July 1421. His role was as Keeper of the Queen’s Wardrobe when she was living at Windsor Castle and the role essentially meant he was in control of the Queen’s tailors, dressers and anything else relating to her wardrobe room. It was also within his remit to handle all inventories of the dresses and to ensure all clothes that were taken on progresses were satisfactorily accounted for when returned. His presence would also ensure that any jewel thieves were discouraged, a common occurrence considering the opulent nature of a Queen’s wardrobe.
Husband to a Queen
There exists no evidence to support how exactly Owain ap Maredudd and Katherine of Valois met, although as a member of her household it is a possibility they would have had some interaction in his role as Keeper of her Wardrobe. Many apocryphal accounts exist to suggest the various ways they met and fell in love although these are generally discredited by serious historians as mere fancy of a more romantic later period. One such account states that Owain was river bathing in the summer sun and Katherine, upon seeing the handsome and tall Owain in the bare flesh, swapped clothes with her maid to introduce herself without betraying her high station. Owain apparently came on too strong after becoming besotted with her and accidently cut the cheek of the ‘maid’ thus ending the lust-driven moment. The next morning when waiting on the Queen as per usual, Owain became aware of the cut on Katherine’s cheek and at once realised with whom he had been with the previous day. The couple reconciled and thus began their loving and loyal relationship. A second story persists which claims that the lowly commoner Owain was intoxicated at Windsor Castle during a typical medieval ball and feeling unsteady on his feet whilst dancing, he tripped and fell into the lap of the seated Queen Katherine. Whichever way Owain first met his future Wife, in the words of 15th Century poet Robin Ddu of Anglesey he “clapped his ardent humble affection on the daughter of the King of the land of wine” and they both fell deeply in love. Robin Ddu originated from the heartland of the Tudor family on the island of Anglesey and as an acquaintance of Owen Tudor it is very possible that he would have retrieved his information directly from the source, or at least have been privy to the information of those close to the couple.
Writing during their grandson’s reign and thus taken with a degree of cynicism surrounding the intention and plausibility of the words, the Italian historian Polydore Vergil wrote: “this woman after the death of her husband…being but young in years and therefore of less discretion to judge what was decent for her estate, married one Owen Tyder, a gentleman of Wales, adorned with wonderful gifts of body and minde, who derived his pedigree from Cadwalleder, the last King of the Britons”. Again due to the clandestine nature of their relationship, as it needed to be as a consequence of the parliamentarian restrictions on Katherine, the date of their actual marriage is unclear but is generally accepted to have been around 1429-1430. Living away from court may have certainly aided in keeping their relationship secret along with some loyal staff whom had pledged their devotion to the couple above that of the strict law of the land. Although such a secretive existence under the threat of constant exposure must have stressed the young and daring couple, their surreptitious marriage prospered without interference. The marriage itself was kept secret due to necessity, after all not only had the Queen broken the act by proceeding without the King’s consent but she had certainly married beneath her privileged and royal station. In 1430 their son Edmund was born at the couple’s Hertfordshire manor Much Hadham House and was followed by Jasper a year later at the Hatfield home of the Bishop of Ely. The following years also brought a third son called Owen and latterly the couple’s first daughter of whom unfortunately there is little known.
Although it seems incredible these days that a full term pregnancy could be comfortably hidden, it must be stressed that in such a period these country retreats operated completely independent of the main Court and were run by servants dependable to those at the top of the local hierarchy. Furthermore the baggy loose-fitting nature of 15th century clothing would have helped conceal such a prominent physical feature such as pregnancy and was regularly utilised in cases where a female had conceived a bastard child. Secrets may not necessarily have been kept in a devious and underhanded manner, but being so far removed from those in power certainly helped prolong the status quo. It must be noted however that although the general public could be relatively sheltered from the matter it is likely that at least some of the main councillors knew of Katherine’s condition and her morganatic marriage. She was particularly noticeable in her absenteeism from the coronation of her son Henry VI as King of her native France at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in December 1431, unlikely to have been an event that she would have willingly neglected to attend and more probably an event from which she was excluded from as punishment for her indiscretion. Particularly of significance around this period was Owain’s granting of “the rights of Englishmen”, a constitutional status conferred upon him that helped free him from the harsh penal restrictions placed upon all Welshmen in the post-Conquest period. Indeed it was still illegal for a Welshman to own a property in England or to marry an Englishwoman.
Although this denizenship was certainly more than the majority of his fellow Welshmen received apart from high ranking subjects whom had proved their worth to the crown during active military service against the French, he was still not granted the full rights. Owen was still barred from becoming a burgess as well as finding himself categorically restricted from holding a crown office in any city, borough or market town in the land. Although he was given permission to acquire land, bear arms, inter-marry with an Englishwoman and run a marital household the fact he still had some restrictions held over him may point to a level of suspicion directed towards him from the authorities. The Welsh, and therefore Owen, were clearly not people to be trusted. It was also possibly around this time that Owain ap Maredudd became Owen Tudor or at least began to be unofficially referred to as this. Undoubtedly his Welsh patronymic style would have caused issues in England for accountants and administrators unused to such a naming system and due to this confusion he had previously been referred to in various ways as Owen ap Meredith, Owen Meredith, Owen ap Tudur and so on. Whether it was through his own choice or through a misattribution by a muddled scribe his name was anglicised to Owen Tudor. What is curious about this action is that it was Tudur that was taken as his surname as opposed to Maredudd, Tudur of course representing the name of his grandfather as opposed to his father. Whilst perhaps not something that particularly caused much of an issue at the time for either Owain or his associates, it did have a direct consequence only a few generations later when the family ascended to the throne of England as the House of Tudor. Children in schools up until the present day very easily could have been studying “The Meredith’s” in history classrooms across the World. It was this name that was subsequently passed onto his own children in the English tradition of surnames passing from the father.
Whilst Edmund and Jasper appear to have been initially brought up by their parents, it would appear that the third brother may have been raised by Monks as unlike his brothers he spend his live serving God at Westminster Abbey and has never been recorded as living with his elder siblings. It was this third son of the brood whom was shown favour by his nephew King Henry VII later in his life when, in one particular instance in 1498, he was gifted the reasonably high sum of £2 by his brother’s son from the Royal Privy purse, recorded for posterity as “Owen Tudder”. When the monk Owen passed away not too long after this favour was shown, donations were also paid to Westminster Abbey to pray for his soul as well as the bell tolling to signify the end of this devout uncle to the King. Whilst Owen the Monk may not have been as great a figure to the religious consciousness of Henry Tudor in the way the King’s treasured half-uncle Henry VI would prove to be, he was nonetheless treated with respect by his illustrious nephew in life and death.
It was whilst heavily pregnant with yet another child that Katherine began to feel ill and she subsequently entered Bermondsey Abbey just south of the Thames, where she gave birth to another daughter Margaret on 1st January 1437. It is a possibility that Katherine was aware she was dying from a fatal disease hence why she felt the need to seek the sanctuary and help of the Abbey nuns in South East London. It may also be a likelihood that far from going willingly to the Benedictine Abbey, she was in fact banished to the Abbey after her marriage was finally uncovered by the King or the Regency Government. As there is a lack of documents from the period to study the circumstances of the marriage will always be shrouded in mystique and doubt, particularly on the issue of when the Council finally became aware of the marriage and whether or not she was in fact banished to the Abbey. Of course it is also plausible that the Council were in fact already aware of the marriage by this point and she merely retired to the Abbey to help ease her pain from the disease that was ravaging her body, possibly terminal cancer or a tumour. Katherine of Valois, mother, sister, wife and daughter of Kings, passed away a few days later on the 3rd January 1437 and her new born child following not long after. Regardless of her status at time of death and the possibility that she had scandalised the crown by marrying a commoner, the indisputable fact remained that Katherine was King Henry VI’s natural mother and therefore she was granted the royal prerogative of the right of burial at Westminster Abbey. She was interred and laid to rest next to her first husband Henry V in the Chantry Chapel, a sacred corner of the historic Abbey which had attained an esteemed reputation as the resting place of England’s revered warrior King.
Whilst Katherine was alive, Owen was safe from the Regency Council and any enemies he may have accumulated but as soon as she passed he found himself vulnerable and utterly exposed. His status as a commoner without any considerable estates or financial worth also proved to be a major disadvantage to his cause, a minor irritant easily crushed by those of a greater status. Clearly aware of the fate that befell him should he answer an urgent summons to court to answer charges relating to breaching the act regarding his marriage without the necessary and legal kingly consent, the wily Owen disregarded the promise of safe conduct and the Welsh adventurer instead sought sanctuary with some Monks in Westminster. Perhaps determining that no good could come from a life spent hiding like his namesake cousin Owain Glyndwr and courageously facing his noble adversaries, Owen managed to acquit himself of all the trumped up charges he faced and was subsequently set free as according to the law. Perhaps eager to escape any lingering hostility and to possibly mend a broken heart Owen began to make his way back to his native Wales, however he was tracked on the way, arrested by his pursuers and found himself officially charged once more by a council eager to punish him for deeds they clearly considered punishable. All of his possessions were seized and he was imprisoned in the notoriously dreary and tough Newgate Prison in the City of London to await punishment.
Robin Ddu again took to his craft to publicly admonish those whom he felt had wrongfully punished his beloved Owen. He loudly exclaimed that this Tudor was “neither a thief nor a robber, he is the victim of unrighteous wrath. His only fault was to have won the affection of a princess of France”. After briefly escaping from custody along with his chaplain and servant at the beginning of 1438 the group were returned to prison in March to continue their sentence before being transported to Windsor Castle. He would remain there until he was bailed in July 1439 with a notice to appear before the king on November 11th that year or at any time the King requested. On November 12th he was unexpectedly pardoned of all charges which suggests he had appeared in front of the king as requested to do so and received his royally sanctioned acquittal. The initial offence was still not mentioned at this point so there still remains a degree of doubt over what exactly Owen Tudor was being punished for although it is reasonable to expect that it was to do with his secret marriage, such was the determination of the council to punish him. Owen Tudor walked free from prison without a wife to begin the second period of his life as a chivalric gentleman, dutiful father and loyal step-father to his King.
The King granted Owen by “especial favour” an annual pension from his own privy purse and was certainly treated favourably by the monarch. Any past bitterness at Owen’s relations with the King’s Mother were certainly forgotten by the kind and personable Sovereign and the Welshman lived on the periphery of court life within the King’s Household. Owen himself was present with many other knights for the witnessing of a charter which was signed in the favour of the prominent Duke of Gloucester in 1440 and was even granted some further land in Surrey two years later in 1442, demonstrating his new, secure position at the court of his stepson. He was also given four further substantial grants by his generous stepson in the form of separate £40 gifts, the first in October 1442 followed by those afforded to him in February 1444, July 1444 and finally September 1444. Additionally an “Owen ap Maredudd” appears to have been included in the court party that journeyed to France in 1444 to bring back the young Margaret of Anjou, the King’s new Queen and although there is no resolute evidence that this was the same man the rarity of such a name around the court makes it almost a certainty this dutiful Welshman was the King’s dear and diligent stepfather. Over the next decade and a half Owen seems to have faded into obscurity for his whereabouts have not been recorded and it is probably that he was away from court tending to his estates, possibly in his native Wales. What is clear is that he would have been heartbroken in 1456 when his eldest son Edmund died at Carmarthen shortly after a skirmish with Yorkist soldiers after which he had been imprisoned. His son was only 26 when he died although he did leave behind Owen’s first grandchild, the young Henry, Earl of Richmond.
Father of a Dynasty
Returning to notice at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, Owen was present at a Lancastrian Council meeting in 1459 where he, along with his son Jasper, he stood at the King’s side and swore undying loyalty to his Sovereign Lord and stepson King Henry VI. Both were issued with new estates, Jasper with one of the Duke’s castles and Owen with various manor estates in the Home Counties. Owen himself had also been knighted and was at one point a Deputy Lord Lieutenant and Warden of the Forestries. He had also been granted a further annuity of the substantial figure of £100 from the Royal coffers as well for his service. A Welshman whom had a renowned charisma, he also had seemingly not lost his touch with the opposite sex for he also fathered an illegitimate son around this time whom was called David Owen, or possibly Dafydd ap Owen in the Welsh patronymic style. This half-uncle of King Henry VII was shown royal favour in 1485 and attained the rank of Knighthood primarily due to his kinship to the new king.
Although initially unnamed as being present at the various battles between Yorkist and Lancastrian troops during 1460 and 1461, Owen played an integral part in a battle that took place in the Welsh marches on February 2nd, 1461. In fact, it was to prove his final stand. Both armies came face to face at a small hamlet called Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, roughly six miles north-west of Leominster and deep in the traditional heartland of the Mortimer-York family that the Tudor’s were fighting. Aware that victory was out of grasp after the early exchanges, the Lancastrian army broke ranks and Owen Tudor was eventually captured south of the battlefield whilst looking for a route to escape. An elderly gentleman of around 60-years-old at his time of capture, age may have played a part in Owen Tudor’s failure to escape and amongst the men he was detained by included the Tudor’s longstanding foe Sir Roger Vaughan, kinsman of William Herbert. Despite the joyous occasion of another Yorkist victory, a bitter and still grieving Edward no doubt felt this was an ideal chance to exact a measure of revenge for the death of his own father and brother at a previous battle and promptly ordered that Owen be executed in the nearby township of Hereford. Owen for his part didn’t believe that the execution would be carried out due to his close familial relationship with the Lancastrian royal family and accordingly was relying on his worth as a captive to win him a late reprieve.It was only as he was placed on the execution spot in Hereford’s High Town and his doublet torn from his neck that Owen grasped the realisation that he was to die imminently.
Rather than wailing or begging for mercy like many whom found themselves reduced to trembling wrecks at the moment of their enforced death, Owen Tudor was praised for taking his sentence meekly, obediently and humbly whilst unquestionably considering himself as adhering to the chivalric code he had always strove to honour. Regrettably for the aged and gallant Owen, chivalry was rapidly becoming a remnant of a bygone era, particularly during the height of this bitter dynastic quarrel, and he himself had become the latest victim of a bloody dispute rife with treachery and bereavement. Owen was reputed to have referred to his long-dead wife just before the axe came crashing down upon his neck when he proclaimed “that head shall lie on the stock that was wont to lie on Queen Katherine’s lap”. After the execution was completed a local madwoman recovered the head and spent a lengthy amount of time calmly brushing his hair and washing the blood away from the crimson-covered face, whilst surrounded the entire time by flickering candles in an almost ritualistic scene. The great adventurer and the swashbuckler whom had invigorated and resurrected his ancient Welsh family was no more. It was a sad end to a life that he had certainly fulfilled to its potential, from his obscure beginnings as the fatherless progeny of a failed North Welsh dynasty to the husband of a Queen. Perhaps intentionally due to the final resting place of his son Edmund, Owen was also buried in a Greyfriars Franciscan Church just outside the border town where he was put to death. Depressingly nothing exists today of his final resting place, the monastery closed under the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 and falling into a steep decline shortly thereafter. Unlike his son Edmund, it seems the grave of this brave and courageous family patriarch was not considered worth saving by his prestigious descendent King Henry VIII and the remains are seemingly lost to us for posterity.
Owen Tudor lived his life as a soldier of fortune, a man born into a family which had lost everything and had no prospects. Through his own wit and character he had managed to claw himself up from this lowly beginning to become the husband of the Queen and reviver of his family’s destiny. Owen’s adventures from the hills of Snowdonia to the Royal Palaces of London are often remembered for initiating the start of the House of Tudor which would become a Royal House with the ascension of his grandson Henry Tudor to the throne of England in 1485. In under a century, this family had climbed from minor outlaws in the darkest parts of Wales to the throne of the Kingdom, an incredible and certainly unrivalled rise for which Owen Tudor was greatly responsible. As a Soldier he was tough, brave and believed in chivalrous behaviour. As a man he was handsome, romantic and courtly. Owen Tudor was a proud Welshman, descended from the most prestigious of his small nation’s great leaders, including Hywel Dda and Rhodri Mawr and epitomised the incredible rags to riches rise that has always made popular reading throughout the generations. Owen Tudor, son of Outlaws and Father of Kings, your name remains immortal.
EXTRACT From my forthcoming book on the Tudors Welsh Origins
As seen in previous chapters, what cannot be underestimated or undervalued is the blood that ran through the veins of the children of Ednyfed Fychan and his wife Gwenllian ferch Rhys. Their child Goronwy was born around the year 1200 and was a direct descendant through his mother of storied leaders such as Cunedda, Maelgwn Gwynedd, Rhodri Mawr, Hywel Dda, Rhys ap Tewdwr and The Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd, historic and fabled Kings in their own individual right and each revered by his people. The child also had hereditary links to a multitude of Welsh kingdoms, both existing and extinct, such as Deheubarth, Gwynedd, Powys, Seisyllwg and Dyfed. In medieval times and the Middle Ages aristocratic pedigree was of much importance and would remain so up until the advent of the Tudors on the English throne in 1485. This need to display an ancient and virtuous bloodline was best evidenced by Tudor-era nobles boasting of their ancestry and indeed Henry Tudor himself would commission learned minds to examine his own genealogy. Goronwy ap Ednyfed was destined to have a judicious existence as a nobleman amongst the North Welsh as the son of a respected Seneschal in the region and also as scion of various Welsh royal dynasties in his own right. Indeed the aforementioned Gerald of Wales mentioned in his book Itinerarium Cambriae, Journey through Wales, in 1191 that the “Welsh value distinguished birth and noble descent more than anything else in the world. They would rather marry into a noble family than a rich one”. Knowledge of one’s own pedigree was also technically a legal necessity under the laws of Hywel Dda in that one’s noble status had a direct impact on the standing of that man in his community and subsequently affected how he was compensated or punished accordingly by law. Gwenllian passed away in 1236 and after her death Ednyfed Fychan continued to work for Prince Llywelyn the Great until 1240 and then was equally industrious for the Gwynedd successor Prince Dafydd ap Llywelyn. Ednyfed remained in the prosperous employ of the Princes until his own death in 1246, bringing to an end a lifetime of loyal service. He was buried in Llandrillo-yn-Rhos Church on the north coast, a location which at the time was in actuality his own chapel and was conveniently only a few hundred yards from his notable residence. It can be considered a testament to the political standing he had accumulated during his lifetime that his death was recorded in the St Werburgh’s Abbey annals in Chester as being an event of great importance in the region, a notable obituary for a Welshman in an English chronicle. Without a doubt his death would have left a vacuum at the highest echelons of the region’s general administration as he was a man of considerable talent and many may have been worried what would become of the historically volatile and unstable Kingdom without his guiding hand.
Goronwy ap Ednyfed grew up in this surrounding and due to his father’s standing was part of a comparatively wealthy clan, this prosperity and affluence stemming from the royal favour shown by the ruling Gwynedd dynasty that allowed the family to remain free landholders in their own right. It is clear that Goronwy would have spent his formative years around the Gwynedd court and would have observed his father going about his professional business on a regular occasion, learning the art of serving the King with distinction and efficiency in all matters. Along with his six brothers, Goronwy entered the same occupation as his revered father once of a mature age and began his own loyal and dutiful association with the Princes. The young steward-in-training would have been present with his father and some of his brothers at negotiations with various Earls and Marcher Lords, discussing treaties and learning what was essentially the family business of servitude to a higher power. After his father’s passing, Goronwy replaced him as seneschal in 1258 and worked diligently and competently for Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the resilient leader whom would forever be wistfully immortalised in his nation’s history as “ein Llyw Olaf” or “Our Last Leader”. Goronwy, whom had become the Lord of Trecastell on Anglesey, perhaps gained his most prominent accomplishment in the twilight of his life. In February 1263 on behalf of his Prince he was known to have led an armed campaign from the heart of Gwynedd southbound in a battle against the ambitious Marcher Lords whom were always looking to expand their lands into the Principality. The campaign itself went as far south as Gwent in an incredible show of strength from an under pressure Kingdom eager to prevent the Marcher Lords’ ambitions from developing past the planning stage. The standoff never escalated into a pitched battle and Goronwy’s actions were deemed a success as they had fended off any threat to the Kingdom of Gwynedd for the foreseeable future. Goronwy would also have been present at the side of Prince Llywelyn for the historic signing of the Treaty of Montgomery in September 1267 whereby King Henry III officially recognised the Gwynedd Prince as the rightful ruler of the Principality of Wales, the only time a native leader would be recognised as such by an English King. Though the treaty did require the Prince to swear homage and fealty to King Henry, the very existence of the accord overtly displayed the authority that Prince Llywelyn and his court wielded at this particular time and the insecurity of the English King to sign such treaty as opposed to continuing an expensive and full scale war was accepted as a victory of sorts by the Welsh. Goronwy himself, in a similar way to his father, also managed to make a noble marriage when he was married to Morfudd, daughter of Meuric, Lord of Gwent and further consolidating the position of his family at the summit of the Welsh political landscape. He passed away on 17th October 1268 and was acclaimed in one praise poem as the “rampart of Gwynedd” and the “wall of the city”, clearly respected not only for his acclaimed military action but also as an administrator whom supplied a great deal of support, wisdom and raw power behind what was becoming a vulnerable throne. With the majority of Ednyfed Fychan’s sons having been of vital service on the sidelines of the Gwynedd royal family, the fortune and security of the family appeared secure even in the face of increased Norman aggression. Goronwy’s himself had a brood of sons including Tudur ap Goronwy, whom like the previous four generations of his noble North Welsh clan served the reigning Prince of Gwynedd as in the traditional family role of Seneschal.
Tudur was born around 1245 and would have been in his prime as he lived through the turmoil that surrounded the end of not only Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s reign but the end of Wales as an independent self-ruling nation. King Edward I of England was determined to complete what his predecessors had not been able to and destroy, conquer and control the Welsh nation once and for all. The Plantagenet’s that had come over from Normandy were an expert people in conquering new frontiers and the subjugation of Wales had undoubtedly taken longer than they had expected. Edward Longshanks was not willing to wait any longer. After the death of Prince Llywelyn in an apparent ambush near Cilmeri in 1282 the remaining nobles had no choice but to either submit to Edward or face certain death. Deciding to fight another day rather than face immediate destruction, Tudur Hen grudgingly submitted for the time being although was noted as one of the rebels during the short-lived insurrection under the pretender to the Gwynedd throne Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294. Madog’s rebellion was noted for a document that he drew up in December 1294 entitled the Penmachno Document, taking its name from the small Gwynedd village where it was signed. Whilst Madog himself signed the document as the Prince of Wales, Tudur ap Goronwy was also a chief signatory whereupon he was referred to by Madog as “our Steward” indicating his hereditary importance to the region. Although causing some damage to royal fortresses and even spreading somewhat nationwide the rebellion never had full support of the battle-weary Welsh people and it was quickly and efficiently put down by Edward’s immense army, albeit at an unexpectedly large cost to the King’s coffers. With little other choice than to live as an outlaw and forfeit his estate Tudur resumed his pre-rebellion role as a dutiful subject of King Edward and even began serving as a royal official in the family heartland of Perfeddwlad, literally the Middle Country that lay between the rivers Conwy and Dee and thus the two traditional kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys. Tudur Hen was also noted as being one of four men whom informed Edward I on behalf of the people of North Wales that the King’s assumed subjects in the locality were concerned of royal suspicions that they were acting in a disloyal manner that precipitated rebellion and unreservedly pledged their loyalty to his regime, an homage the King was happy to accept. As a member of one of the most powerful families in the region he was also present at Caernarfon in 1301 when it was publically announced that Edward’s child was to be the first non-native Prince of Wales, an act of extreme provocation and bluster that merely served to underline the new status of Wales as a conquered English dominion. Although the later revisionist tales of Longshanks presenting a Prince of Wales whom could speak no English and was born natively in Wales to appease the people have no basis in fact and was probably introduced as an anecdote around the 16th century, the future Edward II was certainly displayed by a mischievous Edward I in order to emphasise that the age of the House of Gwynedd was over. It was the Plantagenet’s who were now in total control. Serving out the rest of his days with a lower profile than at any previous point in his life, Tudur Hen died on 11th October 1311 and was buried in the same Dominican Friary Chapel in Bangor he had helped rebuilt. It was perhaps because of such a low and obedient profile in his last decade that facilitated Tudur Hen passing on his considerable land and comparative wealth to the sons he had with his wife Angharad ferch Ithel Fychan, the daughter of a Lord in nearby Tegeingl, without the kind of dynastic squabbling that had blighted previous generations. Perhaps the most important yet unplanned legacy of Tudur Hen was his name, one which would become a byword for an entire era under the rule of his descendants.
Goronwy ap Tudur was born around 1285 and it can surely be said with some confidence he was named after his illustrious grandfather, the so-called “rampart of Gwynedd”. Although born only a few years after the conquest of Wales was complete and still a child when his father partook in Madog’s rebellion, it was during Goronwy’s generation that reconciliation with England would become a necessity for the remaining noble classes of North Wales for loyalty to the dominant crown would ensure lands, titles and wealth would be secure and safe from attainders. To be branded a traitor, executed and all lands forfeited would always remain the greatest concern to those in a position with something worthwhile to lose and the Penmynydd family certainly fell within this remit. As a serving soldier for King Edward II he was present at Newcastle in the North East of England as leader of some of Edward’s Welsh troops and it can be speculated that Goronwy saw action at Bannockburn in Scotland during the Scottish Wars of Independence where he would have been around 20 years old and rapidly developing his martial repertoire. He served with distinction under the leadership of his distant cousin Sir Gruffydd Llwyd whom demonstrated the growing power this loosely connected North Welsh family possessed. Gruffydd was a great-grandson of Ednyfed Fychan himself and held many lordships in the region including the Lordship of Tregarnedd in Anglesey. Unlike his cousins’ unwavering loyalty to Welsh princes, Gruffydd’s immediate family were strong loyalists to the crown of England and his father and uncle were found to be fighting on the side of Edward I during the Welsh wars of 1282-84. This being said, with the destruction of the House of Gwynedd Goronwy had no option but to turn to the English crown for a patron and with a link like the King’s loyal soldier Gruffydd Llwyd in the family service in the English army was not particularly unanticipated. With loyalty and service embedded in his veins it is also no surprise to learn that Goronwy remained loyal to his King during Edward II’s problems with the Barons in 1311 in a war which would attempt to rein in the King’s power. Known as the Ordinances of 1311 these regulations were enforced on the King by the disenfranchised magnates of the realm and effectively limited the King’s authority over all matters of the Kingdom. Goronwy’s loyalty during such an episode would not have gone unnoticed and he was appointed Forester of Snowdon for a period during 1318 and 1319. Tellingly he was referred to upon his appointment as a member of the King’s Yeomen, typifying his new role within the Crown’s jurisdiction in North Wales. A Forester in the medieval sense of the word would effectively equate to a sheriff or somebody whom enforced the law in the locality which they were appointed. The role would be decently paid and also hold a certain degree of prestige as a valued member of the King’s retinue. Married to Gwerful ferch Madog, the daughter of the Baron of Hendwr, Goronwy had two children of note before passing away on 11th December 1331, his body interred and buried at the same Bangor friary where his father was laid to rest. His loyal service to King Edward II again reinforced the family amongst the most important nobles of the region and ensured his children Hywel ap Goronwy and Tudur Fychan ap Goronwy grew up in the favour of the Monarch.
Hywel ap Goronwy seemed primed for the church from an early age and being a cleric in itself allowed him to wield a substantial amount of power and prestige in the area. In a period before the English reformation the clergy would hold enormous power in the land and far from being merely pious servants of God they had an overwhelming tendency to insert themselves into politics, be it on a local level in the rural country or if appointed to a major office such as Canterbury or York could even find themselves involved directly with the King’s policies and legislature. Thomas Becket was but one major churchman whom attempted to influence the way the country was run to his great detriment. Taking on the role of canon of Bangor, Hywel later reached the office of Archdeacon of Anglesey and was an ideal companion to his landowning and more conventional brother Tudur Fychan. Whilst it is hard to speculate on the personal relationship between the brothers due to obvious lack of evidence, one does get the image that both were close allies whom used their respective reputations and positions to help the other out in any situations they may have found themselves in. Tudur’s early life doesn’t seem to have been documented although similar to his father it can be speculated that he was in the service of King Edward III’s armies in France as many young Welsh men found themselves. They came to prominence as a pair in 1344 when together with a somewhat loose alliance of North Welsh nobles and commoners they rose up in revolt at the strict and oppressing laws imposed on them by both the Marcher Lords and the relevant English administrators in the area. In one particular show of discontent with how they were being treated the Welshmen ostensibly stormed and razed the town of Rhuddlan in the North East of Wales, forcing the resident English population to retreat in panic at the outbreak of structural violence and demolition. In a situation perhaps inevitably linked to this minor uprising, in the succeeding year both brothers were unceremoniously arrested and consequently imprisoned for their part in an alleged attempt to assassinate the deeply unpopular William de Shaldford, an oppressive, even despotic official whom was acting in the stead of Prince Edward the Black Prince. Interestingly however nothing seems to have been recorded regarding the outcome of the detaining of the brothers and they appear to have been released unscathed from what was potentially a serious and life-threatening allegation. One can only speculate with such a vast period of time interceding but it is likely that the reputation of the family may have played a part in their acquittal from any solemn punishment and thus were duly released. It may have been in the interests of the King’s administrators to keep such a powerful clan alive in the express aim of collaborating with them in the future to gain a greater influence on the people of this restless region as opposed to providing the Welsh a reason to rebel yet again. There is a fanciful legend that persists about Tudur Fychan whereupon he began to assume the rank of knighthood without royal approval or assent and therefore was eventually summoned into King Edward III’s presence to explain “with what confidence he durst invade his prerogative by assuming the degree of knighthood, without his authority”. Tudur replied to the mighty Edward that he had assumed the title of Sir “by the laws and constitution of King Arthur”, reasoning that he fulfilled all three of the necessary qualifications needed to be called a Knight under King Arthur’s own chivalrous code. Tudur ap Goronwy stated he should be called a knight because “first, he was a gentleman. Second, he had a sufficient estate, and thirdly he was valiant and adventurous”. In order to ensure his actions would suffice should no one take him at his word, the brave Tudur immediately challenged any man of whichever rank to face him in a duel should they question his courage or right to be called a knight. King Edward was impressed by the spirit of this gallant Welshman and subsequently allowed him to continue to style himself Sir, this time with express royal approval. Thus Tudur Hen ap Goronwy simply became Sir Tudur. The story is almost certainly apocryphal but nonetheless demonstrates the position he had risen to in the Welsh nobility to have such tales attributed to his person. The two brothers were unquestionably powerful within their own circle of influence and were noted landowners of various Anglesey estates, not least in Penmynydd which would become identified as the family seat. Other areas Tudur ap Goronwy would be conspicuous in included Penrhyn, Trecastell and Dindaethwy, the latter of which he held office as “rhaglaw”, a position similar to a bailiff or sheriff and with it the judicious power it brought.
Although he was married twice, with his first marriage producing around seven children, it was his second marriage to Margred ferch Tomas that would have profound consequences for the descendants of Ednyfed Fychan. Margred was the daughter of the landowner Tomas ap Llewelyn from Ceredigion whom was a surviving scion of the extinct House of Deheubarth. Tomas was one of the landowners whom had maneuvered himself in such a way post conquest to keep control of his lands and similar to his new relatives was comparatively wealthy. With his second wife Tudur Fychan also had further children, altogether raising five sons whom reached adulthood. The sons themselves would have resembled a tight knit clan and undoubtedly would have been a force to reckon with in the vicinity. Ednyfed, Goronwy, Rhys, Gwilym and Maredudd would have had the advantage of a noble birth to landowning parents and as such been in a reasonable position to become men of repute in the region just like the niche their ancestors had carved out for themselves. Their maternal grandfather Tomas ap Llywelyn also had another daughter in addition to their mother called Elen whom was married to Gruffudd Fychan II, Lord of Glyndyfrdwy and heredity claimant to the extinct throne of the north-east Kingdom of Powys Fadog. This union would also produce a son whom would equally grow up looking to solidify his own dynasty amongst his local people, Owain ap Gruffudd being born around 1350. Heir to the Lordship of Glyndyfrdwy, Owain would later become better known as Owain Glyndwr and through his mother was first cousin to the Tudur’s of Penmynydd, a relationship that would have major implications for the children of Tudur Fychan ap Goronwy.
With the recent passing of the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne, the previous year has re-established the Tudor King in the minds of the nation he once ruled over as well as foreign visitors.
With a plethora of exhibitions, books and the attraction of Hollywood, Henry is as much in demand as he has ever been. This current renaissance of England’s most notorious King has once again thrust his actions into popular psyche and led leading historians and amateur fans to once again ponder – “Was Henry really an evil tyrant or simply an effective leader and a product of the times?“
Recent portrayals of the 16th Century ruler paint him as a barbaric gargantuan of a man, a hard-hearted genocidal maniac with a lust for beheading wives. What tends to be overlooked is the reasons behind his behaviour and what influenced the actions that have left him demonised to subsequent generations.
Many events are used as evidence against the King, the most conjured tend to be surrounding his six wives. With the country being a firm catholic nation under the strict doctrinne of papal jurisdiction and authority, marriage was deemed a highly important union before God which was binding until the death of one partner. Henry’s “Great Matter” of the late 1520′s changed the fabric of the country from a deeply pious Catholic one to a divided country on the brink of another civil war, this time on religious lines between the followers of the “one true faith” and the new Protestants or Reformers influenced by the teaching of Luther on the continent.
Henry’s official reasoning for his attempt to have his marriage annulled by the Pope was due to a previous betrothal of his wife to his dead elder brother, thereby believing himself t be living in Biblical sin. The more likely reason is that after 20 years of trying for a son with wife she had only given birth to one surviving daughter after numerous others died in, during and after childbirth. What is often missed is that the older Katherine was in a marital abyss after the death of her husband, Henry’s elder brother Arthur. She was unwanted and unneeded by both England and her native Spain. Henry resolved to save this woman and married her as soon as he inherited the stone. Despite this however, his eagerness and obsession to have a healthy heir to the throne his father had physically won on the battlefield is what can most likely be attributed to his decision on annulment rather than religious conscience, his focus becoming more resolute as the young and virile court maiden Anne Boleyn caught his eye. Not receiving satisfaction and with a greater number of Protestant reformers and scrupulous new nobles within Henry’s influential circle than ever before, Henry’s idle threats began to become more serious and he withdrew his subservance to the Holy Father, isolating his kingdom from Europe and inserting himself as head of the new Church in England.
With far-reaching consequences that are still felt today, Henry instantly forced everyone to submit to his supremacy as he began his journey to becoming the most powerful monarch in the isles history. The outcome was that he married Anne Boleyn, exiled his shunned ex-wife and beheaded all who refused to accept him as the Supreme Head of the Church, including his mentor and friend Sir Thomas More.
After seemingly getting almost all that he wanted, namely the exotic and virile young Boleyn girl and the excessive power that comes with being God’s so-called “anointed one” in his Kingdom, Henry turned his world upside down yet again after Anne repeatedly failed to live up to her boasts of providing the as-yet heir-less monarch with a son. Her erratic and allegedly scandalous behaviour as well as the political aspirations of yet more new nobles prompted rumours of Witchcraft and the King aptly annulled the marriage, signed her death warrant and executed her and others for adultery and treason.
Contemporary defenders of Henry claim there was irrefutable evidence of her infidelity and the pious King may have truly believed he was in the midst of an instrument of the Devil whereas the more cynical historians claim it was simply the cruel King casting aside another woman only capable of providing a female child and moving on to yet another, younger, woman. Anne Boleyn’s story has captivated minds for centuries, her status as the most infamous Queen Consort in history a secure accolade. Contemporary theory painted her as a treacherous witch, whilst the truth is more likely that she was a willing pawn in the never ending and often fatal ambitions of noble families attempting to gain power of the King for personal greed. These families had everything to gain by having their blood linked to the King via the birth of an heir. No longer would they be struggling to remain in the good graces of an almost bi-polar monarch, but rather would be inextricably tied by plasma. In Anne’s case it was the scheming of her father and devious uncle, who as Duke of Norfolk was the most powerful noble in the land already, which led to her dramatic downfall, both of whom survived whilst she perished.
His short-lived marriage to plain but virtuous Jane Seymour resulted in the only mortal thing he craved, a healthy and legitimate baby son and male heir to the Tudor Dynasty. Her piety and good nature captured the King’s heart and when she died in the aftermath of a catastrophic childbirth Henry went into a prolonged period of mourning the woman he had elevated into a Madonna-type figure. An over-the-top reaction to a short marriage perhaps, but she became the prototype for perfection in the misty eyes of the King because of the fate of nature that was her giving birth to a male.
Resolving never to marry and even placing himself into semi-delusional retreat from court with only his fool for company, Henry’s right hand man Thomas Cromwell, and successor to Cardinal Wolsey as the alter rex, had began to grow alarmed at how the Protestant reformation he had fought hard to initiate was now stalling. Worried that the King, whom although broken from papal authority had yet to reject Catholic rituals, had gone cold on the process Cromwell felt that a Protestant marriage-cum-alliance was imperative to further the movement and also avoid England becoming isolated within Europe. He thus began probing the King. Finally succumbing to the incessant enquiries and on the assurance that his new bride was a beauty to soothe him into old age, Henry was enraged when he first came across his new wife. Considering Anne of Cleves a “flanders mare” he declared “I like her not” in a thunderous temper that within 6months had brought down his marriage and Cromwell’s influence. Apart from sexual attraction, Henry actually treated Anne well and moved her into many luxurious palaces where she was publicly lauded as “thy Kinges sister”.
Despite the setback, the King’s libido and lust had returned and the ever-alert Duke of Norfolk resolved to put another of his neices, Anne Boleyn’s precocious young cousin Katherine Howard, into the eyesight of his Lord. A promiscuous teenager whom knew how to use her womanly charms in a way made eternally famous by her tragic older kinswoman, she was used to ensnare the King with desire. Unbeknownst to him yet seemingly public knowledge amongst the court, Katherine was a vivacious lady with loose morals for the time, even continuing a love affair during her regency and unashamed to conceal it. After initially being disbelieving of the rumours, the King apparently sobbed for days before taking out complete wrath on all involved. Heads rolled, literally, and Katherine became the second Queen of her prominent family to be beheaded, although unlike Anne she remained unrepentant to the end. Taking one more wife more closer in age to himself and off an intellectual disposition rather than mere look, Katherine Parr nursed Henry to his death and helped patch up his fractured relationship with all three children, a small mercy that concluded the life of the most infamous married man in history.
Apart from the sometime brutal treatment of some of his wives, critics point at other aspects of Henry’s reign that support claims of barbarian behaviour. As briefly explored earlier, his break with Rome in order to secure a simple annulment from his first wife Katherine of Aragon directly led to many thousands of deaths and innumerable plots against the Crown that has never been fully eradicated. The battle of power and faith between warring denominations of Christianity may have eventually erupted without his significant input, but Henry’s vanity to be seen as “Supreme Ruler of England” and removing papal authority only accelerated it. Further influenced by staunch Protestant Cromwell, Henry allowed him to investigate and consequently pull apart old holy orders of monasteries around the land. Whilst enjoying a reputation for doing good work in the local communities, Cromwell’s investigations uncovered alleged corruption, fake relics and dubious moralist behaviour un becoming of priests. More significantly to the King, who’s vast inheritance and treasury had long been laid to waste with Palaces and War, the monasteries contained a gold mine of wealth which was instantly annexed to the crown. This once again helped enrich the King at the expense of his nemesis the Pope.
The brutal way Cromwell’s men dissolved the monasteries led to an uproar in the strong Catholic northern England and led to a rebellion called the “Pilgramage of Grace, led by Yorkshireman Robert Aske. Henry had the rebellion sharply and viciously suppressed at the hands of best friend Charles Brandon’s armies and had Aske and his collaborators executed en masse.
Having reimbursed his coffers with confiscated funds Henry continued to spend lavishly and recklessly, even commissioning Nonsuch Palace at a modern cost of £101m, whilst parts of his nation, although not uncharictaristically for the time, was ravaged with poverty and disease.
All of these events and actions are continually used against the ruler, painting him as a tyrannical despot, a temper tantrum throwing man-child who got what he wanted and simply executed people who dared to fall in his way. Cardinal Wolsely fell afoul of the Boleyn faction and was excluded until his mysterious death whilst being transported to imprisonment. Sir Thomas More was beheaded for refusing to cast aside his belief of the Pope being God’s only anointed head of the Church whilst Cromwell was also executed, all of whom were at one point or another his trusted number two’s. It is also estimated he ordered the deaths of between 50,000-75,000 people throughout his reign.
But what of the flipside? What good did King Henry VIII of England, France and Ireland do during his length reign, or was he simple the spawn of Satan and a genocidal, murderous heretic as believed by Continental Catholic Europe during his lifetime. One of the biggest disappointments of Henry’s later life was when his body began to let him down. The enduring view of him is that he was a gigantic man with a 50-plus inch chest who had to be lifted in and out of bed. In actuality, the King spent the majority of his life in fantastic shape, and was a wonderfully strong athlete whom regularly won jousting competitions amongst others. Whilst his body was the physical image and suitable metaphor for his strength as a King, mentally he considered himself a humanist and surrounded himself with learned scholars such as the aforementioned Sir Thomas More and Erasmus. He regularly agonised with the idealistic More over his duties as a humanist and his duties as a King. Central humanist principles such as peace simply didn’t collaborate with Kingly duties such as War. The famous conundrum of “is it better to be loved or feared” often gripped Henry in his younger days, his desire for the greater good often being overshadowed by his unrelenting responsibility for his Kingdom.
Henry was acknowledged as being a magnificently clever monarch and regaled in his in-depth debates with More amongst others granted such a distinction to speak freely around His Majesty. Deeply enamoured with Greek mythology and such new pursuits as Astronomy and the arts, Henry had a great desire to be a perfect King, an ideal combination of part academic, part warrior. He was greatly responsible for dragging the secluded island out of the dark middle ages and into the lavish and extravagant renaissance that was already in full-flow on the continent and which would be perfected under his daughter Elizabeth. His overwhelming desire to be considered the greatest King in Christendom directly led to his patronage of various artistic pursuits. Supporting and funding the best artists, musicians and poets in Europe, England was transformed from a ‘wild people’ into the leaders of European culture, which as briefly mentioned earlier peaked under his daughter’s “Golden Age” and Shakespeare.
A further policy of Henry which was to have dramatic effect within his Kingdom was that he allowed his daughters equal tutoring rights to males. Indeed, the Princess Mary and in particular Princess Elizabeth were two most well-taught youngsters in the land, something which inadvertently became useful when both ascended to the throne in their own right. On a similar note was Henry’s implementation of state education for children as opposed to their working as soon as physically possible. Despite his reputation as a King who jeopardised his country with his personal temper tantrums, the face remains that he took a troublesome, war-torn provincial island state and made it into a major continental power by the end of his substantial reign. Whilst his foreign policy was up and down, sometimes vain glorious and often constantly on the verge of war, his actions still established England as a regional super power.
His early peace treaties, albeit created by his trusted right-hand man and expert statesman Cardinal Thomas Wolsely established him as a respectable King and highlighted his promising humanist ideals in a world continually fractured by ambitious and war-mongering leaders keen to establish immortal reputations. Although the peace invariable crumbled , it was still an innovative ideal considering the tempestuous times.
A further implementation taken by Henry was his emasculation of the historic and often quarrelsome noble families, disempowering them and ending their right to raise private armies, something which had often been troublesome and in some cases fatal to previous monarchs. With the nobility losing much of their physical power, the crown subsequently became stronger than any time previous time, many felt this turned the King into a tyrannic dictator with complete control. The fact remained however that he had secured himself against renegade pretenders and allowed his realm to grow without the constant threat of the civil war that had decimated the people only a generation before. Whilst modern theory holds Henry guilty for the disastrous crime that was the dissolution of the monasteries for personal monetary gain, it is undisputed that some of the holy houses were engaging in duplicitous moral behaviour unbecoming of their station as well as severely undermining the King’s authority by paying homage and rent to a foreign power in the Pope. On the subject of money, a further allegation aimed towards the free-spending King was his obsession with new warships. He increased the nation’s fleet from 5 to 40, inadvertently becoming on of the recognised founders of the royal navy which would become irreplaceable in defending the realm and expanding the empire in subsequent centuries.
Whilst his break with Rome for personal, arrogant reasons has been condemned, he indirectly helped push the English language into constant growth until, 500 years later it has become the de facto language of the globe. Until Henry’s reign the language of court and thus officially was a mixture of French inherited from the Norman roots of the Plantagenet dynasty and Latin as the spoken-word of the church. English was a very fractured language radically different in the many distant communities. After the break from Rome Henry introduced the Tynsdale Bible, the first holy book written in a language other than Latin. The result was that for the first time a nation was, literally, on the same page and singing from the same sheet, bringing together the divided people.
Henry’s reign has seen many accusations levelled at him, both as a King and as a man. A tyrant, a despot, neglectful father and wife-killer are many of the labels thrown towards the monarch. It seems that despite honest, good intentions, the pious young man was irrevocably altered by court politics and the need to maintain a grip on his crown by being a ruthless ruler. What is indisputable is that his reign seems to be a case of means to an end. For all his faults, by the time he died his actions had left England on the cusp of becoming the world’s greatest superpower. He had taken a medieval, fuedal and unstable kingdom and set into action the policies and groundwork for what would subsequently become the most powerful empire in recent memory. So was Henry a good man who lost his way or simply an evil incarnation of the devil. As this article has proven, its never as easy as that.