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.
The Tudor era is arguably the pinnacle when it comes to historical tourism in England and over 400 years since the official culmination of the age of Tudor Monarchs in 1603 the industry does not appear to be slowing down in its consistent output of material. Films, Movies and books about the varying characters and personalities continue to prosper whilst tourist attractions such as the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace see visitor numbers at record highs. William Shakespeare’s work continues to be used in schools up and down the country whilst eminent historians like Lucy Worsley, Suzannah Lipscomb and the ever-controversial David Starkey are regularly found discussing their views on a myriad of television and radio programmes. “Tudor England” in itself has become a well-known phrase that covers many aspects of the era, particularly architecture and the lifestyle. Many towns and cities pride themselves on the remnants of this period, including Chester, York, Cambridge and particularly Statford-Upon-Avon, the celebrated hometown of the aforementioned Shakespeare. Major events in the history of England also took place under the rule of the successive Tudor Monarchs of Henry VII, Henry VIII and his three children Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The battle of Bosworth in 1485 where the Tudor’s ascended to the throne is often considered the beginning of the Modern English nation, whilst under Henry VIII came the incredibly important English Reformation and break with the Roman Catholic Church that ultimately set first England and then Britain on a distinct course separate from Continental Europe that endures to this day. Other infamous events include the defeating of the Spanish Armada and the dissolution of the Monasteries, whilst prominent English personalities such as Sir Thomas Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, Sir Francis Drake and of course Queen Anne Boleyn retain a degree of notoriety half a century after they walked the land in which they prospered. Suzannah put it perfectly in her recently acclaimed guide “A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England” by stating “As a nation, we have a continuing obsession with our notorious ‘Bluebeard’ Henry VIII, and our famed ‘Gloriana’ Elizabeth I. Their lives – one much married, the other unmarried – are part of our common currency of ideas. Their age attracts us because it has all the best stories; the break from Rome and Catholicism, wives beheaded or cast aside, boy-kings, dissolved monasteries, Protestant martyrs, the Spanish Armada, New Worlds and some of the best characters”. That the Tudors shaped the modern English nation and gave birth to English nationalism in particular is undeniable.
This being said, the Tudors patrilineally were a Welsh dynasty and whilst England was unquestionably the focus and location of the major machinations and intrigues of the period, Wales did not fully escape unscathed from the architecture and events of the 16th century or the years preceding. Wales had been conquered by the previous Plantagenet Kings of England and for all intents and purposes was merely another constituent part of the Kingdom of England. Unlike the separate and self-governing Kingdom of Scotland, what affected England had a direct impact in Wales. However whereas Tudor England begins in 1485 when Harri Tudur ascended to the throne upon the death of King Richard III, the dynasty from which he hailed has a much longer history in the Land of his Fathers. The English locations are in many cases famous and known to people around the world, from your “Hampton Court’s” and “Hever Castle’s” to your “Tower of London’s” and “Westminster Abbey’s”, but Wales’ connections tend to be much more obscure and in many cases completely unknown even to those with a great interest in the Tudors. This is not to say that they deserve to be overlooked however and those with more than a passing interest in the Tudor dynasty may find new locations to become enamoured with. It is vital to note that the following locations that I will review will have little to do with the Tudor Monarchs themselves but will primarily concern either their ancestors or subjects. With apologies to Dr Lipscomb for clearly adapting her innovative idea, welcome to a “Visitor’s Companion to Tudor Wales”.
Tenby, or Dinbych-Y-Pysgod to give its Welsh name, is a thriving seaside resort on the Pembrokeshire coast that has managed to retain its traditional charm somewhat in spite of the droves of tourists that can be found flocking through its streets each summer. Overlooking the Carmarthen Bay, Tenby has all the perfect components that constitute a stereotypical British seaside getaway, including a promenade and a bustling beach. With colourful houses nestled tightly inside the dramatic Pembrokeshire coast, Tenby has built up a reputation as one of Wales’ top tourist spots and remains a favourite for those whom prefer holidaying in the UK as opposed to flying to warmer climes. As an historic seaside port, Tenby has played a major part in the history of the region, none more so than during the latter parts of the 15th century when the major power in the area was Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and uncle to the Henry Tudor. As half-brother to the beleaguered Lancastrian King Henry VI, Jasper Tudor was unwavering in his loyalty to his sovereign in the face of a vicious challenge from the various Yorkist pretenders. Adopting Tenby as the centre of his powerbase in South West Wales, one of Jasper Tudor’s first implementations to the town was to expand on the impressive 13th century walls that surround the settlement. As a Norman Marcher Lord town, Tenby found itself under threat from the native Welsh princes and was razed to the ground by the great Prince Llywelyn of Gwynedd in 1260, causing alarm amongst the citizens and ensuring that the walls would be improved and strengthened. When based at Tenby during the height of the Wars of the Roses, Jasper ordered the mayor and the town’s burgesses to further reinforce the fortifications should he and his supporters find themselves under attack. His main aim appears to have been to thicken the town’s walls by an incredible 6 feet and further increasing the height to dominate the area. Today the remains of these walls can still be viewed at various points throughout the town, although none of the ruins capture the imagination like the impressive Barbican gate known colloquially as the Five Arches, a gateway that lets the visitor imagine they are a visiting 15th century soldier or merchant. One thing must be noted here is that four of the smaller arches were only made in the 19th century to allow greater access into the town for the increasing needs of the Victorians, although the larger arch is the very gateway from the 15th century albeit unfortunately without the portcullis.
Once through the town walls, located in the centre of Tenby is St Mary’s Church, an Anglican Communion member of the diocese of St David’s and a constant in the religious history of the town since at least the 13th century, although it is often believed to have existed for even longer. Today’s church has had many improvements over the years but the majority of the remains come from the 15th century and the time when young Harri Tudur and his Uncle Jasper Tudor would have known the area. The imposing spire itself was added in the 15th century when Tenby was at its prosperous peak and was a landmark of the area, improving the impressive 13th century tower on which it stands. The tower itself can be climbed and once on top the visitor has fine views across the harbour port, as well as the tight houses, town walls and narrow streets giving a glimpse of how the town grew around the water. The high viewpoint also allows breath-taking views out to sea of Caldey Island and across Carmarthen Bay, particularly on a clear summer’s day. With regards to the 15th and 16th century Tudor connections, the church contains several memorials of local figures including a remembrance tablet to Robert Recorde, court physician to King Edward VI and Queen Mary Tudor and notable as the man whom is the father of Algebra, Arithmetic and Geometry. Of the remembrances however none are more prominent than that of the town mayor Thomas White. Mayor White earned a degree of fame for his actions in 1471 when, after the disastrous defeat of the House of Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Jasper Tudor collected his teenage nephew Henry Tudor and escaped to his stronghold in Tenby. Hunted by the Yorkist army and undoubtedly realising that his young charge Henry was now the de facto head of the Lancastrian faction, Jasper allegedly hid in tunnels underneath the town before being led to a waiting ship in the harbour with Thomas White’s assistance. This escape from the harbour ensured Henry’s life was not ended before he had reached adulthood and set in motion his future invasion. Mayor White, together with his son John whom would also become Mayor of Tenby, was one of the merchant’s whom had made a successful living from the harbour and lived at Jasperley House, situated in the centre of the town where the modern Boots now has pride of place. The tombs of both Mayors, father and son, have pride of place in St Mary’s Church which is on the very doorstep of the small area in which they were a dominant force in the late 15th century. Behind Boots stands another large townhouse under which the Tudors were said to have escaped through the cellar tunnels and today it is on here that a blue plaque stands, reading “It is said that Henry Tudor (Later King Henry VII) escaped through a tunnel here in 1471 when he fled to France”. Opposite this lies a bright pink coloured building which is titled “Richmond House”, undoubtedly as a nod towards the Earl of Richmond whom once crawled from captivity below the very streets the house is built on.
The harbour itself lies behind this building and it was from here that Henry and Jasper fled to Brittany in a large Barque, passing St Catherine’s Island as they did so. Today the island is better known for the large fort that sits ominously on the rock and which was built during the Victorian era to protect the coast from a French threat. During the 15th century however the Island was actually the property of Jasper Tudor himself, and one wonders what he must have thought as he sailed past his property and out to sea in 1471 for an uncertain existence. Tenby today may be a nice tranquil seaside resort however in the Walls, Merchant House, Five Arches Gate and St Catherine’s Island still holds many links to its bygone era when it was a place of strategical importance to the Tudor family. Although St Catherine’s Island is currently under private ownership the rest of the locations are open year around and is certainly a pleasant to spend a day wandering around.
Tenby Merchant’s House
Tenby’s Merchant House is exactly what the name suggests, a merchant’s house situated in the heart of the Pembrokeshire coastal resort of Tenby, and a wonderful relic of how the emerging middle class prospered during the early Tudor reign. Built at the end of the 15th century, this three story house would have belonged to a successful merchant in the town and allows the visitor to step back in time to see how a Tudor businessman and his family would have lived. Operated by the National Trust for 75 years, the Merchant’s House allows the visitor to sample Tudor furniture, discover an array of the era’s exotic spices and also ascertain how a family operated within such confines. Situated in the very town that Henry VII’s uncle Jasper had made his stronghold during the bloody Wars of the Roses, by the year 1500 the prospering town’s position out west of the Island ensured a busy sea trade with nations such as Spain and Portugal and guaranteed a scintillating and eventful existence for those whom took advantage of such a natural advantage.
The Merchant himself would have operated from his shop in the front of the house and amongst other things would have enjoyed a brisk trade in selling products he had obtained such as wool, vinegar and various exotic spices and salts. Other vital commodities that would have been imported from abroad would have included Irish Linen, Wine from Gascony and even Sugar from Portuguese territories. In return the merchants would also use the bay to export goods such as coal and wool to make money. When you first walk into the entrance from Bridge Street, you purchase your ticket in the hallway that seemingly doubles up as both a shop and a mini exhibition of the various spices on offer. Going through into the house proper you are met by a large table in the middle of the room and the great fireplace on the opposite wall, the table full of herbs and bread emphasising that you are in the kitchen area. As the outside stairs have long been demolished, you can make your way up a modern stairway into the first floor which was the communal living space for all the family. The first table you come across has various 15th century children’s toys scattered on it whereas in the corner of the room is situated the latrine, similar to others of the age consisting of nothing more than a hole in the floor and a deep drop down to the cesspit. Also in the room is the high table for the merchant himself and imitation tapestries along the wall, including one which prominently features Jasper Tudor himself. Escalating up the final stairway, you come into the bedroom of which the centrepiece is the master bed, accompanied with another fireplace, fine wooden timbering in the roof and magnificent views out to sea for the merchant to keep a close eye on those coming and going. Today, under the protection of the National Trust, the Merchant’s House has effectively become a living house again with demonstrations of the period enjoying visitors from all areas and backgrounds eager to see with their own eyes the way the other half lived during these exciting times. With actors in Tudor costumes undertaking 15th and 16th century daily chores under the auspices of historians it is a place worth visiting to transport one’s self back 500 years. As said earlier, the house is situated just off Bridge Street in the centre of the town and this historic townhouse is open from Sunday to Friday during the months of April to October and can be seen for the reasonably low price of only £3.20.
After Henry Tudor, deposed Earl of Richmond, was lauded as the heir to the Lancastrian claim by the few remaining nobles loyal to the seemingly lost cause of the Red Rose it was only a matter of time before he attempted to land back in England from his place of exile in both Brittany and France. In 1483 a landing was attempted in the South West of England but King Richard III’s forces were plentiful on the coast and Henry was forced to abandon his plans. That Henry Tudor was of a respected Welsh bloodline is undisputed, and coupled with both his Pembrokeshire birth and his uncle Jasper’s standing in the region, the inspired decision was taken to land in the Milford Haven area of West Wales in 1485. In any event, the mercenary force of Henry Tudor finally landed in Mill Bay near to the village of Dale in the extreme Western part of Pembrokeshire. The date was August 7th, 1485 and Dale marked the beginning of Henry’s arduous march through Wales and England to meet the forces of King Richard III, ultimately at the now infamous Battle of Bosworth field on August 22nd, 1485 where he became King Henry VII of England and France, Prince of Wales and Lord of Ireland.
Today Dale remains a still minor village of around only 200 people and one can walk from the village centre down to Mill Bay by following the Pembrokeshire national coastal path. The bay itself is rather secluded and the surrounding cliffs would have helped to shelter the landing forces. A plaque stands at the bay today marking the spot where Henry would have alighted from his ships onto the land of his birth. Nearby, just outside Dale in fact as you drive back in-land on the B4327 you may notice on the side of the road small walkway. If you stop your car and walk along it you will realise it’s actually the small Mullock bridge from a bygone era before the modern road was built. Situated in such a rural area one wonders just how often this bridge welcomes human visitors for it is in an area where the only reason people will be there is driving past at high speeds to and from Dale. This bridge is reputed to be the crossing from the legend that accompanies Henry’s landing. In 1485 the major power in the South Welsh region was the Welshman Rhys Ap Thomas, grandson of the prominent leader Gruffydd ap Nicholas and a man whom in fact clashed with Henry Tudor’s father Edmund during the early years of the Wars of the Roses before becoming ardently loyal to the Welsh Lancastrian cause under Edmund’s brother Jasper. After refusing to support Henry Tudor and the Duke of Buckingham’s uprising in 1483 a thankful King Richard III made Rhys ap Thomas his principal lieutenant in the region. Although obligated to provide one of his sons to Richard as a hostage to ensure continuing loyalty, as was the common practice of the time, Rhys manoeuvred out of this by stating that his word and his conscience were sufficient. He is reputed to have stated that whomever landed in Wales would only be successful should it be over “over my belly”. The insinuated meaning was clear; Rhys ap Thomas would need to be killed for anyone to pass through his lands. In the event, Rhys did switch to Henry’s side but was somewhat troubled by his oath. As he had promised that Henry could only pass through over the belly of Rhys, it was decided that Rhys would stand underneath this bridge whilst Henry and his forces marched above. Thus Henry crossed over the belly of Rhys and he was absolved of his oath. Conscience clear, Rhys ap Thomas went on to become a valued acquaintance of Henry during the remainder of their lifetimes and found himself rapidly knighted and bestowed with titles and land in the aftermath of the Bosworth victory. In order to capture a similar mood to what Henry must have felt back in 1485, I suggest visiting the area in August, or at least on a warm summer’s day complete with blue skies for a pleasant stroll around this extreme westerly coast of Pembroke that is brimming with Tudor history.
Lamphey Bishop’s Palace
Lamphey is a quiet, unassuming village in Pembrokeshire which today is primarily noted merely as a settlement which you pass through on the A4139 road from Tenby to Pembroke, situated only 2 miles from Lamphey itself. As the Earl of Richmond a loyal subject to his half-brother King Henry VI, Edmund was instructed in 1455 to reassert the King’s authority in the wilderness that tended to be the West Wales heartlands, capitalising on his Welsh pedigree to earn the respect of the people in a way that an Englishman drafted in would never be able to. During this time Edmund Tudor based himself at the impressive Bishop of St David’s Palace at Lamphey, a plush retreat a few miles outside of Pembroke town itself and seemingly a location the Earl of Richmond found relaxing. The location was and still is situated in the middle of sprawling forest and parkland which together with the fishponds and orchards ensured everything the Earl required was openly available. The Bishop himself was John de la Bere whom whilst never living in his own diocese was a keen favourite of King Henry VI, thus ensuring that he and the Earl were keen acquaintances from the outset. It was at Lamphey palace that Edmund had honeymooned with his young bride and seems very possible that it was here at his Pembrokeshire headquarters that his son was conceived sometime during 1456. Today the palace is a ruin albeit with substantial remains that allow you to picture how the retreat would have appeared to the visitor in the 15th century. When you arrive outside the palace you are simply met with a plain outer wall that cleverly belies the magnificence that lies inside. As you enter the courtyard for the first time you realise you are standing in a ruin that has incredibly avoided becoming just another busy tourist attraction.
In the middle lies a tower that stands alone amongst the lush green grass of the court, an undeniably romantic location. In the furthest corner of the yard lies the bulk of the remains, from the great hall to the perfectly intact cellar underneath. It would have been here that the living quarters of Edmund Tudor and his young wife Margaret Beaufort would have been situated and certainly a picturesque area of solace. Lamphey can be visited during the spring and summer period from April to October for only £3.20
Pembrokeshire, the county that gave birth to Henry Tudor and with it arguably the Tudor Dynasty, is a region resplendent in castles and forts from its period as an important marcher location in suppressing the local Welsh resistance during the Norman advances after 1066. None of these Norman buildings are more striking than Carew Castle, a castle you first glimpse as you drive past it on the A477 between Carmarthen and Pembroke Dock as it rises into view on your right. Entering through the castle through a small outer gatehouse, the sheer size inside is surprising for a castle relatively unknown to those whom aren’t local to the area. With architecture that is fairly common to most castles, including the standard ruins of a great hall, courtyard and chapel, what particularly stands out about Carew Castle is the amount and the size of the window’s both on the inner castle walls and the outer structure itself. In fact it is the large D-shaped towers that face the visitor as they approach the castle with their marvellously modelled windows that first make an impression. Whilst the castle’s history is of the typical Marcher type, owned by a powerful Norman-descended family in the region, with regards to Tudor links the castle’s most notable connection begins after the Battle of Bosworth when it was passed into the possession of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the powerful Welsh noble whom ruled over South Wales with a king-like authority.
After lying down underneath Mullock Bridge near Dale and accompanying his distant kinsman Henry Tudor to the Battle of Bosworth, Rhys ap Thomas’ allegiance to the winning side proved to be a wise decision. Rewarded with a knighthood as well as lands, his increased income under the sovereignty of his new master Henry VII allowed Sir Rhys the opportunity to extend and improve the property that he owned, particularly his new acquisition in Carew. Although the new apartments that he constructed have since descended into ruins, one key component that can still be marvelled at is the Tudor windows that help transform this fortress from being just another dull remnant of the middle ages. Inside the castle there appears one more notable site of interest. Above a stairway in the inner courtyard remains three concrete coat of arms. With close study it is easy to detect that they are those of Henry VII, his first son Prince Arthur of Wales and his new wife Catherine of Aragon. As Prince Arthur would die as a teen and before he inherited his father’s kingdom and his wife would eventually become the bride of his brother, it is possible to date these coats of arms around the beginning of the 16th century at somepoint before 1502. Carew Castle’s crowning moment would come in 1507 when Sir Rhys would hold an incredible celebration of the reign of Henry VII with a great tournament of jousting and general revelry. The tournament was allegedly attended by around 600 knights alone and proceeded for 5 days, culminating in a show of such magnificence it would remain talked about for many years to come. Although Sir Rhys would retain his power and prove his allegiance to the son of his beloved patron, the relationship between his family and the Tudors would be severed in 1531 when Rhys’ grandson Rhys ap Gruffudd was executed by an increasingly tough Henry VIII for treason. With this action the castle itself reverted to crown property before becoming acquired by a certain John Perrott in 1558, an alleged illegitimate son of Henry VIII. Carew Castle is a wonderful place to visit and is a location that seemingly bridges the gap between a medieval castle and a renaissance palace well. Carew is open from April to October and can be visited for £4.75.
Certainly the most well-known location in Wales with a clear Tudor link, Pembroke Castle was the very birthplace of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond from birth and through a fortunate blend of circumstances eventual King of England. A fortress has been at Pembroke since before Norman times although in a similar manner to other castles throughout the area it was the Norman Marcher lords themselves whom fortified the small town on the estuary. Presented to Jasper Tudor in 1452 along with his new semi-regal Earldom of Pembroke by Jasper’s half-brother Henry VI, Pembroke Castle was an imposing and well-constructed fortress that overlooked the River Cleddau and offered ample protection and security. One of the particular claims that those whom held Pembroke Castle would regularly boast is that it had never been taken by the Welsh in battle and had even remained secure during the Glyndwr uprising. In fact it may have dismayed Norman Earls of Pembroke such as William Marshal to discover that the castle itself was now effectively in Welsh control under the possession of Jasper.
It was in one of the outer wards to the west of the main gate on 28th January 1457 that the 13-year-old Margaret brought her young son into the world. As well as her young age, the new mother was also very slender and had a small frame not suited to the rigours of child birth and by all accounts it was a very difficult pregnancy. In fact it probably rendered her infertile for the remainder of her life as there were no other accounts of her baring child. The child was sickly soon after his birth and good care by both his mother and the attendant nurses seem to be the core reason for this young babe not becoming yet another statistic for the high infant mortality rates of the time. Although the son was called Henry, a regal English name and possibly in tribute to the child’s half-uncle Henry VI, a later tradition suggested the original name was in fact Owain. Although no contemporary evidence exists to corroborate this account, it is interesting to note nevertheless that the aforementioned Welsh prophecies suggested an Owain would come to lead the Welsh as their Mab Darogan, or son of prophecy. Perhaps the story has some truth, although the likelihood is that it was an apocryphal story from a Welsh bard looking to further increase the myth surrounding this Welsh-born child. By blood Henry of Richmond, for he had inherited his dead father’s Earldom upon birth as was his hereditary right, was one quarter French, one quarter Welsh and half English but with his birthplace and father’s nationality considered most valid under patrilineal descent, it is indisputable which nation would claim Harri Tudur as their own.
Today Pembroke Castle is still a fantastic place to visit and arguably unrivalled in South Wales, its outer walls covering an incredibly large area. The inner court is largely empty as previous buildings have long crumbled although the centrepiece of the fortress, the Great Keep, stands proud and with its height can be renowned as one of the largest of its kind in the UK. Although sadly Pembroke in general is sadly lacking in monuments to its historic past as a birthplace to a king, one particular outer ward tower in the castle is proudly termed the “Henry VII tower”. Inside is an exhibition containing the scene surrounding the moments after the birth of the baby Henry with life-size statues of Margaret Beaufort and her nurses looking after the young infant. Pembroke Castle should do more to attract tourism and could, with the right ideas, become just as important a Tudor location as anything England can offer as the birthplace of a dynasty. Nevertheless, the castle still remains an attractive place to spend a day and should be visited at least once. Entrance is £5.50 and it is open daily.
St David’s Cathedral
St David’s Cathedral is the spiritual home of the Welsh nation and has remained so for almost 1500 years since its founding in the 6th century. Situated on the West Welsh coast in Pembrokeshire, the Cathedral has had a storied and often turbulent history, from being sacked by the marauding Vikings in the 8th century to its tragic slighting by Cromwellian forces in the 17th century. The vulnerability of the cathedral was such that unlike many holy buildings which were built on high land, St David’s is built deep into the valley floor in an attempt to avoid detection by any passing ships eager to loot its belongings. The importance of St David’s was such that by the medieval period it was state that two pilgrimages to the altar were equal to one to the Vatican, the home of the Catholic Church itself. Often used as a place of sanctuary by terrorised Princes and nobles during times of strife and upheaval, to be buried in the grounds was also considered a desirable way to leave the mortal world.
One notable tomb within the Cathedral is that of the Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, one of Wales’ greatest leaders and the man credited with creating the modern Eisteddfod. Rhys ap Gruffydd’s standing in Welsh history is such that he was recently included in a compilation of the top 100 Welsh heroes of all time. Whilst he became known as the Lord Rhys in the aftermath of his lifetime he was referred to more appropriately during his time by his titles, commonly called the Prince of Deheubarth whilst some other documents even listed him as a Prince of Wales in his own right in direct rivalry to the Princes of Gwynedd and North Wales. His preferred title however seemed to be proprietarius princeps Sudwalliae which translated as the rightful Prince of South Wales, leaving us in no doubt about the domain that he extended his rule over. Whilst the Lord Rhys is a revered Welsh hero in his own right, this noted Prince is also a direct ancestor of the Tudor dynasty through his daughter Gwenllian ferch Rhys, whom married Ednyfed Fychan, a North Welsh noble in the employ of the Princes of Gwynedd. Ednyfed himself is generally referred to as the founder of the Tudor family as the first member of his Brynffanigl bloodline to achieve high status due to his loyal and diligent service to his patrons. From Ednyfed and Gwenllian, Henry Tudor would be their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson. Also interred in St David’s Cathedral and of more pressing interest to those with a Tudor interest is another of the Lord Rhys’ direct descendants…Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father to Henry VII. Ennobled by his half-brother Edmund Tudor, as detailed under the Carmarthen Castle entry Edmund died at the castle in 1456 only months before the birth of his son and heir Henry at Pembroke. Originally buried in the Greyfriars in Carmarthen, his remains were moved to their current location in St David’s Cathedral just under a century later when his grandson Henry VIII would order the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 as part of the English reformation movement.
Edmund’s tomb was placed near the altar in the Cathedral, a fitting resting place for a man whom gave birth to Wales’ greatest dynasty. The epitaph that appears around his tomb declares: “under this marble stone here inclosed resteth the bones of that most noble lord Edmond Earl of Richmond father and brother to kings, the which departed out of this world in year of our lord God MCCCCLVI the third of the month of November: on whose soul Almighty Jesu have mercy”. St David’s Cathedral is always worth a visit regardless of Tudor links although this tomb only serves to improve the experience. Most Kings of England were in themselves the sons of the previous King and as such most tombs find themselves in the Royal burial areas such as Westminster Abbey or Windsor, so this tomb of a King’s Father in the most westerly confines of the Island is certainly worth a visit. As a working cathedral, St David’s is often open most days of the year and although free, donations are always welcome.
St Peter’s Church, Carmarthen
Carmarthen itself is one of the oldest towns in Britain and St Peter’s Church, as the town’s original place of religious worship, remains the oldest building in the region that is still used for its original purpose. As tends to be the case, its exact date of foundation is unknown and probably lost to us forever but it appears to have been a working church from the early 12th century. As the churchyard is circular in shape, a Celtic practice as opposed to a Norman one, one theory is that a church existed here before the Norman Conquest. Noted as one of the largest churches in the St David’s Diocese, it consists of a large tower, chancel, nave and particularly a South Aisle which holds an acute Tudor connection. It is here that Sir Rhys ap Thomas’ tomb can be found after it was moved from its original resting place in the Grey Friars monastery which would be closed down under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries act. As stated under the Dale entry, Sir Rhys ap Thomas was vital in allowing Henry Tudor to progress through Wales unhindered and joined up with his new master to fight on his side at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. The two men were actually distant kinsmen and upon Henry’s ascension to the throne Rhys found himself not only knighted but also rewarded with titles such as Justicar of South Wales, effectively King-like jurisdiction in the area. Continuing to be loyal to Henry VII, Sir Rhys ap Thomas helped the king to defeat two royal pretenders in Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck and for his resolute loyalty again found himself rewarded, this time bestowed with the incredibly prestigious Order of Knight of the Garter. To celebrate this astounding achievement of a Welshman being inducted into England’s highest Order of Chivalry Sir Rhys ap Thomas held a lavish celebration at his luxurious home Carew Castle in April 1507. Considered to be larger and grander than anything ever seen previously, Rhys also held a tournament for the hundreds of nobles to compete in with the extravaganza lasting 5 days in all. After the death of Henry VII in 1509, Sir Rhys ap Thomas remained sincerely loyal to his son Henry VIII as well and remained in total control in South Wales until his death. His tomb in St Peter’s south aisle can still be viewed and is certainly worth a visit to pay respects to a man without whom Henry Tudor would never have stepped foot off Mill Bay. Visits can be made during the day and as with most church’s is completely free, although donations are welcome.
Not much remains of Carmarthen Castle today, apart from a few small ruins that stand unobtrusively next to the looming town hall. Constructed on the banks of the River Tywi by the Norman Marcher Lords that settled in Wales in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, the building was more than likely build on existing fortifications that remained from the time Carmarthen was a major Roman town called Moridinum. The castle would be the scene of some brutal battles between the English lords in control of the region and the local Welsh princes eager to take back ownership of their nation. Indeed this would continue even after the conquest of Wales was complete, with Owain Glyndwr sacking the castle in 1405 as part of his War of Welsh Independence campaign. Tudor involvement in Carmarthen Castle began in 1456 when the newly-enobled Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and half-brother to King Henry VI was posted to West Wales in order to impose the authority of the king in a region noted for its lawlessness and rebellious locals. Edmund Tudor was in his mid-20′s and also newly married to the prestigious and wealthy heiress Margaret Beaufort, inheritor of the Beaufort estate and with it a flimsy claim to the title through her direct ancestor John of Gaunt. It was this link that would eventually result in their first and only child Henry becoming the Lancastrian heir to the throne in his teen years. Edmund would have been keen to prove himself to his brother and to any other nobles whom were against his sudden rise to the peerage. It was during Edmund’s posting to West Wales to battle such local chiefs as Gruffydd ap Nicholas that the Wars of the Roses began in earnest as the Duke of York Richard Plantagenet finally confirmed his desire to be crowned King of England in place of his weak cousin Henry VI of Lancaster.
Loyal to his half-brother, Edmund found himself under threat at Carmarthen Castle and besieged by Yorkist forces primarily under the leadership of William Herbert of Raglan. Imprisoned, it was either whilst locked up or shortly after being released that Edmund Tudor, father of the future King of England, died. Edmund officially died of the plague in November 1456 and was buried in the Greyfriars church in Carmarthen. He never got to witness the birth of his son, whom was born three months later at his brother’s residence at Pembroke Castle. Today the castle can be approached from inside the town at Nott Square where one of the gates still remains an impressive structure despite its ruined state. This is about as good as it gets as the castle only has minor ruins once you progress through the gate with only one wall and one crumbling tower standing to view. Nevertheless, you are standing within metres of the place of death of the father of the first Tudor king and this makes Carmarthen Castle a place to visit in itself.
Beaumaris Castle is located in the town of the same name on the extreme south eastern tip of Anglesey and on the edge of the Menai strait. Conceived just after the conquest of Wales and built not long afterwards, this impressive and large fortress was designed as an impregnable defensive mechanism against any rebellions or uprisings by the native Welsh and became one of King Edward I’s famous North Welsh strongholds. Beaumaris castle today in fact is a key component of the World Heritage Site designated as the “Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd”, and with Beaumaris being derived from the Anglo-Norman word for “beautiful marshes” it gives some insight into the attractiveness of the area. The location of Beaumaris was designed to be provocative to the Welsh and to remind them of their new position as subjects of the crown of England. Indeed it was a painstaking monument to the loss of freedom for those men of Gwynedd whom went about their oppressed living under the dominant shadow of the great structure.
It was positioned on the Anglesey side of the Menai to be precisely opposite the historic royal court and palace of Abergwyngregyn and was designed to be larger and more lavish than the native Welsh llys could ever hope to be. What makes Beaumaris Castle particularly an exciting place to visit is not only the wonderfully concentric design, but the perfect symmetry with which the Castle was constructed. From the air the castle’s design is breath-taking and the sheer scale of engineering innovation needed to construct such a fortress in the 13th century cannot be understated. The inner ward itself includes 4 large towers in each corner with two more on the north and south walls. Impressively on both the east and west inner wall is two D-shaped towers on each side compromising the gigantic gatehouses. The smaller outer wall, which was designed to repel any initial attack on the fortress, was an octagonal creation peppered with many smaller towers at every angle. With every castle requiring a Constable to keep control and ensure the smooth running of the property, there are two former constables of Beaumaris with Tudor links. The Tudors of nearby Penmynydd were amongst the most powerful clan in North West Wales both before Conquest when they were dutiful servants to the Princes of Gwynedd and also in the post-conquest period when they diligently began to serve the English king. No English king received better service from Welshman than did King Richard II, in particular from Goronwy ap Tudor and his loyal brothers Ednyfed, Gwilym, Rhys and Maredudd. It was through Maredudd that Henry Tudor was directly descended from whom was his great-grandson. Goronwy held various positions of distinction and it’s an inclination to suggest he must have provided a valiant, loyal and dutiful service to King Richard, for whom the Tudur’s of Penmynydd were closely associated as stated. Known titles afforded to Goronwy included being named as a forester of Snowdon in a way reminiscent of his father, solidifying the reputation of the family yet again as a dynasty of achievement in their native area. Perhaps most significantly for this generation was Goronwy’s appointment as Constable of Beaumaris Castle in March 1382, unusual in its implementation since the Edwardian fortress had been built in 1295 and in its existence had seen only one other Welshman had been inserted into such a role. As Beaumaris was an efficient representation of English authority in the island it was undeniably remarkable for Goronwy to find himself thrust into such a prominent role. These kind of responsible and high profile appointments had previously been the monopoly of Englishmen, those known and trusted to the wary and suspicious rulers in London and presumably free from the risk of rebellion against the Crown. As Constable, Goronwy’s expected role was to essentially guard the fortress for the resident Lord whom would often not be present. The Constable would effectively be at the top of the hierarchy in his stronghold and would be in control of all those employed to keep the Castle in full and safe working order. His responsibilities would include ensuring the fortress was readily armed in case of any attack and safeguarding any persons whom were in the care of the Castle. Additionally he would be accountable for keeping the castle functioning and in particular replenished with food and drink. It was a role of privilege that many could never hope to aspire to. Regrettably for Goronwy ap Tudur, he never got to truly reap the benefits of his high appointment as only four days after his exciting appointment he seemingly drowned in a Kentish port in the South East of England. Another Constable of Beaumaris Castle was the Breton Roland de Velville whom was put in charge of the castle during the reign of Henry VIII between 1509 and 1535. The long held myth, although widely discredited by some modern Historians, is that Roland de Velville was in fact the illegitimate son of Henry Tudor from the future King’s time in exile in Brittany as a young man. Velville would prove to be undoubtedly loyal to his master and would find himself staying in England after the Bosworth campaign in 1485. Knighted sometime after and remaining in the employ of Henry, Roland eventually took over the traditional Tudor lands in Penmynydd and Anglesey which only furthered rumours that he was inheriting lands that were his right through blood. He also married into the Welsh nobility by marrying an Agnes Griffith, a scion of the Tudor family herself and thus a distant cousin to the King. The facts around Roland’s ascension are quite incredible and it is no surprise that a myth has grown up surrounding this random young Breton man whom found himself a personal favourite of a King for no clear reason. Roland would subsequently become the grandfather of the notable Katherine Berain, the noblewoman known as Mam Cymru and prosperous under the reign of her distant cousin Elizabeth I. Whether or not he was the son of Henry VII is debatable and certainly inconclusive, a mystery for which we will never know the answer. Beaumaris captures the medieval Welsh period well and is certainly a place to visit. Beaumaris can be visited from March to June and costs £3.80 to enter.
Whilst Pembroke Castle has a valid claim as the birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty, to many North Walians the true origin of England’s most famous ruling family is a quiet, unassuming village on the rural island of Anglesey. Penmynydd, literally “top of the mountain”, lies on the B5420 road between the Menai Bridge and the town of Llangefni and with a lack of signs indicting where you are it is possible to drive through the few houses that constitute Penmynydd without realising the historical importance of the hamlet you’ve just been through. Although it may not seem it, Penmynydd was the base from which one of Wales’ most powerful families grew into Britain and Europe’s most infamous dynasty. The family which would become known as the Tudor’s began is mercurial rise in Welsh nobility circles with the 13th century seneschal to the great Gwynedd Princes, Ednyfed Fychan. As steward and chancellor to Llywelyn the Great, Ednyfed was a valued and loyal servant to his Prince and as expected was rewarded well with riches and land. Amongst his acquisitions was the Lordship of Penmynydd which would become both his and his descendant’s power base from which they extended their influence on the politics of the region. After the region was conquered in 1282 by King Edward I of England, Ednyfed’s heir’s ensured they maintained their grip on power by developing an understanding with the English royals and remaining firmly amongst the elite in Gwynedd. Ednyfed’s family reached its zenith of power in North Wales with his great great great grandchildren, the so called Tudors of Penmynydd. Their father Tudur ap Goronwy had five sons, all of whom would flourish towards the end of the 14th century as loyal servants to the reigning King Richard II. One son was Goronwy Fychan whom became noted as the Forrester of Snowdonia in 1382 as well as attaining the remarkable aforementioned position as Constable of Beaumaris Castle. Although very much a man whom was increasing his family’s prestige with each appointment, tragically Goronwy drowned not long these achievements and saw his Penmynydd land’s pass to his brothers, each of whom had their own lands and positions of authority spread around the island of Anglesey. After King Richard II was usurped by Henry Bolingbroke, the Tudor’s quickly became rebels when they joined their cousin Owain Glyndwr in rebelling against the new King in what would become known as the Welsh War of Independence. Although the eldest sons in Ednyfed and Goronwy had passed away by this point, Gwilym, Rhys and Maredudd threw their lot in with their cousin in a move that would bring success to begin with before leaving the Tudor inheritance utterly destroyed. Although initial campaigns such as capturing Conwy Castle and supporting their cousin in his first Welsh parliament in 1404 were triumphant victories, the might of the English army would eventually crush the Welsh resistance and Rhys in particular would suffer the pain that was a public traitor’s death by the method of Hung, Drawn and Quartered. The youngest son Maredudd would end his days as an exile from the law after allegedly murdering a man and escaping into the wilderness that was Snowdonia, although not before fathering a young son Owain whom would have to leave his Penmynydd home in order to make his fortune. Due to the actions of the sons during the rebellion, their influence in North Welsh politics from their base in Penmynydd came to a sudden and grinding halt, the lands passing to a distant cousin and the family disappearing into obscurity. Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur arrived in London as a young boy and it was through his incredible union with Queen Katherine of Valois, dowager queen of King Henry V, that produced Edmund and Jasper Tudor and in turn the Royal House of Tudor that found itself on the throne of England in 1485 under Owen’s grandson Henry VII. In three generations, this minor Penmynydd family had emerged from near ruin to become the most powerful family on the British Isles.
Today, there are two sites of interest in the minor village of Penmynydd that will be of interest to the enthusiastic Tudor-obsessed visitor, that of Plas Penmynydd and St Gredifael’s Church. The current house that stands at Plas Penmynydd is in itself a later construction than the one that would have been known by the 13th and 14th century Tudor family, built during the reign of their progeny Elizabeth I in 1576. What can be assumed is that this newer building was constructed on the very site that the original building stood in which the Tudor brood would conduct their affairs from. The current estate is now a private home and although the current owner is sensitive to the history of the house that he inhabits, it is not currently accessible to the public. One site that does remain open to the public is St Gredifael’s Church, the village’s historic site of worship and a constant in the area for many centuries. The church is said to have been founded as a Celtic church by the Breton saint Gredifael in the 6th Century, with the first stone church being constructing in the 12th century when the area was still the Kingdom of Gwynedd. The current building dates from around the 14th century when it would have been the local place of worship for many a member of what would become known as the Tudor family and can be found about half a mile north of the village between the junctions of two minor backstreet roads. It was here that Goronwy ap Tudur was buried in the 1380′s after his untimely death from drowning and this prominent North Welsh noble is remembered with an impressive alabaster tomb. Goronwy was the uncle of Owen Tudor and thus would become a Great-great uncle to the King of England Henry Tudor. Apart from this rare tomb of a member of the Welsh Tudor aristocracy, the Church also has later additions that proudly display the Royal Family’s connection with both the church and the village, prominently the stained glass window containing the infamous Tudor Rose and other Regal regalia that became well-documented under the Tudor reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Proudly on the window reads a motto that although only seen by the very few whom have ventured to these parts is no less as striking as any that can be found in the major London palaces of Henry VIII. The motto reads “Undeb fel rhosyn yw ar lan afonydd ac fel ty dur ar Ben Y Mynydd” which translates as “Unity is like a rose on a river bank, and like a House of Steel on the top of a mountain”. The two metaphors that may not seem immediately obvious to the reader are “Top of a Mountain/Ben Y Mynydd” which subtly refers to the place Penmynydd and the more obscure “House of Steel/Ty Dur” which represents Tudor. Elsewhere in the church, the ends of the pews bear the French royal symbol of the Fleur-de-lis which represents the incredible union of the Tudor family of Penmynydd to the French Royal Family through the persons of Owen Tudor and Queen Katherine of Valois in the 15th century. Penmynydd is not on hardly anyone’s Tudor tourist trail as the small almost uninhabited village is as far removed from the hustle and bustle of a Windsor Castle or a Hampton Court as it is possible to get, yet it is here where it all begin and as such a visit to this solitude is a must.
Hereford and Mortimer’s Cross
Although not strictly in Wales, the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire is an important event in the history of the Tudor family for it was here that Owen Tudor was captured and for this reason must be included in any Welsh Tudor compilation. Owen Tudor was the son of Maredudd ap Tudur and due to his father and uncles allegiance to their cousin Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh war of independence at the turn of the 15th century had been forced to exile himself to England in order to make his fortune after his inheritance in Anglesey was left negligible. Initially serving as a page and esquire in the service of a noble knight, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur soon found himself in the employ of the young dowager Queen Katherine of Valois, mother to the infant King Henry VI. Although how it happened as remained unclear, what is certain is within 10 years of his employ he was not only married to the King’s Mother but had had a number of children with her, notably Jasper Tudor and Edmund Tudor, whom would go on to father King Henry VII. In what appears to be a devoted love match between a Queen and her lowly Welsh subject, Owen Tudor became an ardent loyalist to his stepson King Henry VI after Katherine’s death and was a valuable soldier along with his son Jasper on Henry’s beleagured side during the Wars of the Roses. After a few initial battles, the two armies met in 1461 when they came to a confrontation at Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, a small hamlet on the River Lugg roughly six miles north west of Leominster. Jasper’s army consisted of many of his Welsh allies, including the sons of Gruffudd ap Nicholas, as well as Irish, Breton and French soldiers. The beginning of the battle on 2nd February 1461 was noted for the large parhelion that appeared in the sky, literally the illusion of three sons. Edward, Earl of March and now de facto leader of the Yorkists, convinced his forces that it was a good omen as he insisted it not only represented the Holy Trinity but also the York trinity of Edward and his two brothers George of Clarence and the younger Richard. The reinvigorated soldiers under Edward’s command found themselves overawed at this omen and proceeded to rout the Lancastrians. Jasper was forced to flee but would have been heartbroken when it emerged that his elderly father, around 60 years old, was captured by the enemy and in particular the fellow Welshman and foe of the Tudors, Sir Roger Vaughan.
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 father Duke Richard of York and the other Yorkists whom had died and promptly ordered that Owen be executed in the nearby township of Hereford. By all accounts Owen didn’t believe that the execution would be carried out due to his close familial relationship with the Lancastrian royal family and thus was relying on his worth as a captive to win him a 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 realised 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 death, Owen Tudor was praised for taking his sentence meekly, both obediently and humbly and undoubtedly considering himself as adhering to the chivalric code he had always lived by. Regrettably for the aged Owen, chivalry was rapidly becoming a remnant of a bygone era particularly during the height of this dynastic quarrel and he himself had become the latest victim of a bloody dispute. Owen was then reputed to have referred to his long-dead wife 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 madwoman retrieved the head and spent a matter of time calmly brushing his hair and washing the blood away from the face, the whole time whilst surrounded by candles. The great adventurer and the man whom had invigorated and resurrected his ancient Welsh family was no more. Similar to his son Edmund, Owen was also buried in a Greyfriars Franciscan Church in the town where he was put to death. Although there is nothing to really see at the still deserted hamlet of Mortimer’s Cross, in Hereford town centre there lays a small unobtrusive plaque in the pavement that states “Owen Tudor, Welsh husband of Queen Catherine, the widow of King Henry V, was executed at Hereford in 1461 following the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Grandfather of King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor Dynasty, his severed head is said to have been placed on the top step of the market cross which once stood near this step”.
If Pembroke Castle is the most impressive of its kind in South Wales, then Raglan certainly runs it a close second. Situated in Monmouthshire close to the English border, Raglan was noted primarily as the home base of the powerful Herbert family, a clan of Welsh nobles whom were the 15th century rivals to the Tudor family. William Herbert was a renowned loyalist to the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses and eventually rose to become the first Welshman to enter English peerage when he was made Lord Herbert of Raglan in 1461 and promoted even further to Earl of Pembroke in 1468, coincidentally replacing a Tudor in the position. Herbert was also made Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales to be ruled from his highly impressive fortress at Raglan as well as gaining the privileged distinction of being allowed into the King’s inner circle. As the Herbert’s rose, the Tudor’s fell and vice versa, such was the incompatibility between the Yorkist Herbert’s and the Lancastrian Tudors in their battle for supremacy in Wales. One particular event that exemplified such a scenario was the 1461 defeat of the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, after which Jasper Tudor was forced to leave his toddler nephew Henry behind at Pembroke and flee the country. After Pembroke was captured by Herbert’s forces the young boy’s wardship was immediately reverted to the Crown, and perhaps sensing a possibility to further his own family’s interests Herbert purchased the boy’s rights.
Henry appears to have initially continued to have lived at Pembroke Castle with his mother before being removed to Raglan Castle which was the Herbert base. Raglan Castle was based in the extreme South East of Wales in the county of Monmouthshire, a key location in the Marcher Lands and providing a good conduit between West Wales and London. Around the time Henry arrived at Raglan, the castle was undergoing renovations designed to make it an even greater display of wealth and status, particularly as William Herbert continued to rise in society. It certainly would have been one of the most comfortable places to live at the time. Here he would come under the control of William Herbert’s wife Anne Devereux and was brought up as an integral part of the household. Men rating amongst the very best tutors in the land were assigned to him, namely an Edward Haseley and an Andrew Scot, two graduates from Oxford University designed to provide the young master a top level education. Additionally Sir Hugh Johns from Gower was also noted to have instructed the Henry in matters of military. Bernard Andre would later record in his biased but detailed biography of his patron King Henry VII that “after he reached the age of understanding, he was handed over to the best and most upright instructors to be taught the first principles of literature. He was endowed with such sharp mental powers and such great natural vigour and comprehension that even as a young boy he learned everything pertaining to religious instruction rapidly and thoroughly, with little effort from his teachers. Indeed, at this time the highest disposition for virtue shone forth in the boy, and he was so attentive in reading and listening to the divine office that all who watched him saw signs of his future goodness and success. When as a young man he was initiated into the first principles of literature, he surpassed his peers with the same quick intellect he had displayed as a boy”. When Henry became King, he displayed his gratitude to what must have been a fulfilling education when he rewarded all those that played a part in his childhood. When Polydore Vergil created his biography of Henry during the latter’s reign, he recorded that Henry “was kept as a prisoner, but honourably brought up”. This was also exemplified when, similar to his tutors, Henry brought Anne Devereux to court once he was King to show favour to this woman whom played a key part in his development. After Herbert was killed in 1469, Henry was quickly recovered by his uncle Jasper Tudor before the two of them escaped capture by fleeing to Brittany from Tenby Harbour in 1471. Today the ruins of Raglan are still plentiful particular the Great Tower, of such a great height that one simply must climb it. Similarly to Carew Castle, the French-inspired Raglan has a plethora of Oriel Window’s still intact as well as the recently refurbished Great Staircase. Complete with moat and impressive gatehouse, wandering around the grounds allows you to get an idea of the views, smells and sounds that would have greeted the growing Henry Tudor as a young boy as you walk in his steps. Raglan, a castle which displays all the benefits afforded to rich and powerful 15th century nobles, can be visited during the early summer months for £3.50.
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.