To the average member of the public, no Royal Dynasty has come to represent England and Englishness as the Tudors, a multi-generational 16th Century force that dragged England out of the bleak and dreary middle ages and into the renaissance period that enabled the Kingdom to become a superpower on the global scene. England became a mighty nation during the reign of sequential Tudors, rapidly growing in a self-assurance and assertiveness that would later blossom into the dominant British Empire under their successors. It was under this Dynasty that England broke with Rome, that the English vanquished their aggressive Spanish foe through the defeat of the infamous Armada and that the world was given the immortal playwright William Shakespeare. Arguably the most overlooked Tudor monarch is the very man who began the dynasty, Henry Tudor, that great opportunist who is arguably one of the country’s greatest overachievers. Born fatherless and then nobly imprisoned until he was forced into exile as a teenager, this wise, calculating and intelligent man was transformed from a penniless rebel into a flourishing sovereign during dramatic morning in August 1485.
Often overlooked by many is that Henry Tudor, the King of England and father of the majestic Tudors, was a Welshman, born and bred in the land of his fathers. Yet how has this great and incredibly successful monarch been overlooked by a Welsh nation which prides itself on its history and is quick to acclaim their sons. The argument goes that as a Welshman who became a King of England, Henry turned his back on his fellow compatriots and is the source of all future acts of oppression emanating from the English side of Offa’s Dyke. He was a Welshman who should have freed Wales after two centuries of English occupation, a fellow Cymro who nonetheless hated Wales and was ashamed of his background. These modern Welsh Nationalists, an ideology which I do subscribe too it must be said, are keen to point out that Henry’s son King Henry VIII, that mighty tyrant of that turbulent era, introduced the Acts of Wales which annexed Wales into her superior neighbour, a situation that remains a bone of contention some 500 years later. Yes, the argument goes that Henry Tudor, as broadcaster Huw Edwards pointed out in the BBC’s Story of Wales production, was just another English king. We Welsh have a word for a Welshman whom moves to England, speaks English and denies his Welshness and that is a Dic Sion Dafydd, a term of similar sentiments to the derivative usage of Uncle Tom in parts of the United States.
This consideration of Harri Tudur to be an enemy of Wales, or at least some with a degree of antipathy towards his homeland, seems to be a modern comprehension, developed over the last century. Contemporary Welshmen certainly viewed the Tudors as a friendly force, the existence of praise poetry alone suggesting there was an audience for praising the family. The poet Sion Tudur proudly proclaimed to Henry’s granddaughter, the glorious Elizabeth I;
“Harri lan, hir lawenydd,
Yn un a’n rhoes ninnau’n rhydd,
I Gymru da fu hyd fedd,
Goroni gwr o wynedd”
“Fair Harry, our long lasting joy,
The one who set us free,
Good was it for Wales all his life,
That the man of Gwynedd was crowned”
Elsewhere other poets of the period extolled the ascension of Henry Tudor, including Huw Machno during the late Elizabethan period when he wrote;
“O bu I Gymru I gyd,
Drwy anap, flinder ennyd,
A’I rhoi yn gaeth, waethwaeth oedd,
A’I thai araul a’I thiroedd,
Yn rhwydd o hyn I’n rhyddhau,
Yn frenin iownfawr rannau,
Iesu erom rhoes Harri,
Seithfed yn nodded inni”
“If it befell that all Wales through mishap,
A long weariness, was put in chains,
Worse and worse it became for her fair homes and lands,
Swiftly from this to free us, as a king of great and good parts,
Jesus gave us Henry VII as our protector”
Henry also received such praise of his Welsh heritage to his face, such as at Worcester in 1486 when he was greeted with a poem proudly extolling his bloodline and the belief that he was fulfilling the ancient Welsh prophecies of taking the crown back from the English;
“Cadwaladers Blodde lynyally descending,
Longe hath bee towlde of such a Prince comyng,
Wherfor Frendes, if that I shal not lye,
This same is the Fulfiller of the Profecye”
This idea that the rise of the Welsh Tudors was beneficial to the Welsh people continued after the dynasty was replaced by the Stuarts, although it should be noted that they were direct descendants of Henry Tudor through his daughter Margaret. The poet Edward Morris continued the theme of Henry having saved the Welsh people from the aggressive Norman yoke by declaring;
“Nes cael brenin, gwreiddin gras,
Arch deryn ar ucha’i deyrnas,
O Frutanwaed, fryd doniau,
Dan ei rwysg i dynnu’r iau”
“Until we had a king, rooted in grace,
Chief ruler of all his kingdom,
A man of British blood, of splendid gifts,
Under his power to free us from the yoke”
In 1507 at the stately Carew Castle in West Wales a lavish celebration was hosted by the great South Welsh warrior Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the loyal soldier whom greatly assisted Henry during the Bosworth campaign and later battles. More than two decades of Tudor rule had passed by the time Sir Rhys held his celebration of his master, the climax of which was the embrace between two figures dressed up as St David and St George, symbolising the hitherto absent unity now felt between the Welsh and English. It was a unity that had only been able to grow under Henry Tudor. The idea that Henry had betrayed the Welsh people by becoming King of England and not empowering the Welsh people as an independent nation can therefore be rejected as absurdity. It was even recorded by a Venetian emissary shortly after Henry had become King that “the Welsh may be said to have recovered their former independence, for the most wise and fortunate Henry VII is a Welshman”. This loyalty that he possessed amongst his countrymen can certainly be considered a possibility the Reformation under his son was taken with little protest amongst the devoutly Catholic Welshmen of 1530’s Wales. Elsewhere in England rebellions and uprisings were a regular feature of the Tudor reign, including major revolts in Cornwall and Yorkshire. Wales never rose up in arms against the Tudors, who they considered to be one and the same with their best interests at heart.
It is the Acts of Wales that draws the greatest ire from modern Welshmen with regards to the Tudors and can be considered the key reason that Henry Tudor is often overlooked as a Welsh hero, regardless of the fact the he had died almost thirty years before their enacting. On a personal note I do agree that it is these acts which today strongly deny Wales the opportunity to seek self-rule, however during the 16th Century it is undeniable that these improved the quality of life for the average Welshman by raising them from inferior subjects to those on an equal footing with their English counterparts. Whilst it is simple to condemn the Acts today for demanding that usage of the Welsh language must be outlawed if a Welshman wished to serve public office, one must consider that the prospect of even serving in public office or getting any degree of equality with the English was vehemently denied to the Welshmen pre-Bosworth. One must only consider the various courtiers of Welsh descent who begun to prosper in English circles during the latter reign of Henry VIII and then through Elizabeth’s sovereignty, none more so than Thomas Cromwell and William Cecil.
Anyone that studies Henry Tudor in any depth however will quickly begin to realise that this accusation of anti-Welshness, or embarrassment of his Cymric roots, has no real academic or historical basis other than an assumption based on Wales having never achieved self-sovereignty during the rule of him or his descendants. Anecdotal evidence of Henry, always taken with a pinch of salt it must be conceded, would indicate that the first Tudor monarch was certainly proud of his roots and broadcast this to his English Kingdom in a way no prominent Welshman had been able to during the medieval period. Let’s consider the evidence that suggests King Henry VII, the first Welsh King of England, was proud of both his roots and by extension his homeland.
- After winning the Battle of Bosworth and ascending to the throne as King Henry VII, one of the most pressing concerns for the former Harri Tudur was to be crowned King at Westminster Abbey, an act in itself that would solidify and confirm his kingship. The ceremony was conducted on the 30th October, 1485 and Henry was solemnly declared “by the grace of god, King of England and of France, Prince of Wales and Lord of Ireland”. This was significant for Henry was the first reigning monarch of England before and since to assert his own right to the title Prince of Wales as opposed to it solely being kept in reserve for the heir. Henry certainly felt this was his right as a Welshman himself, especially when he considered his own descent from such great Welsh Princes as Hywel Dda, Rhodri Mawr, The Lord Rhys and Cadwaladr. Although he would not keep the title for himself, preferring to bestow it upon his eldest son once he had been born an heir, the very act of including the reference to Wales during his coronation is a reminder of his innate sense of Welshness and desire to be seen as a son of Wales. The Welsh of today may consider Owain Glyndwr to be the last native Prince of Wales, but in fact it was Owain’s kinsman Henry Tudor who has the rightful claim to this title.
- During the fifteenth century, the propensity for noble names tended to be limited to such names as Richard, Edward, Henry and Thomas. It would certainly have been with a degree of surprise to the English therefore when Henry named his eldest son and heir Arthur, a name steeped in Welsh mythology and folklore. Henry claimed to be descended from the great Briton hero Arthur and as such he commanded his son, and the hope of the dynasty, would bear the same name as this illustrious and venerated ancestor. It was a decision that would have been greeted warmly within Wales, where Arthur has always remained loved. Although Henry had initially used the Prince of Wales title for himself, as per tradition once his eldest son had reached a suitable age, he bestowed the title of Prince of Wales upon him to underline his position as heir to the crown. Thus Arthur Tudor became Prince of Wales and the promise of another King Arthur became reality for the countrymen of Wales who still fostered hopes that the ancient King of the Britons would one day return to lead them. As we all know, the prospect of a King Arthur was never realised with the early death of the Prince at the age of 15.
- Perhaps the greatest visual indicator of Henry’s pride in his Welsh roots can be found in his personal Coat of Arms which he adopted after his ascension. Coat of Arms were vitally important during the medieval period and help to distinguish and identify the wearer during both peacetime and war. The Royal Coat of Arms in particular were an important status symbol and certainly acted as a form of propaganda in fostering support for the bearer. Although entitled and expected to maintain the basic quartered arms of the Kingdom of England and France, Henry was able to replace his predecessors’ White Boar supporters for those of his own and his choices are telling. For the right supporter he chose a Greyhound, the symbol of his maternal Beaufort family through which he had claimed his right to the English crown. For the left however he selected the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, a symbol that had become recognisable as that of the Welsh nation due to its connection to the great 7th Century Welsh King Cadwaladr, from which Henry claimed descent. Henry had utilised this Red Dragon during his Bosworth campaign, his battle standard containing the dragon which undoubtedly aided in his recruiting of Welsh troops during his march through his homeland. After the victory the pious and devout Henry visited St Paul’s Cathedral where he gently placed his Dragon banner on the altar. As with the Tudor unity rose, Henry proceeded to ensure his Coat of Arms were placed in as many ubiquitous spots as possible, the conspicuousness of the Dragon a reference to the new power of this previously unheralded Welshman. King’s College in Cambridge is a textbook example of the lengths the Tudors went to in broadcasting their sovereignty via the Coat of Arms, the dragon featured prominently throughout the structure. Furthermore, not only did Henry ensure the dragon was emblazoned on his horses during his coronation, he also created a new pursuivant officer of arms during these celebrations which he specifically named Rougedragon, or Red Dragon. The Dragon was known to be a symbol of Wales, and under Henry Tudor, it featured in every conceivable place throughout the kingdom as his own personal emblem and officially as his Royal Coat of Arms. Wales and Henry Tudor had become synonymous.
- St George has been considered the patron Saint of England since the early 13th Century and his importance to the English royal family was furthered under Edward III during the 14th Century. That being said, it was under Henry Tudor that St David, the patron Saint of Wales, begun to make headway in English royal circles. Henry had many Welshmen in his employ in the aftermath of Bosworth and he acknowledged their nationality by regularly funding their St David’s Day festivities. For a King who has earned a reputation for his apparent spendthrift attitude this would indicate a sincere desire to pay tribute to the Saint who hailed from the same county as the King did. Household records show payments made for St David’s Day to Henry’s Welsh guardsmen out of his own privy purse whilst other payments are made by both Henry and his son for leeks. Although St George was the most important saint for an English King for official means and the Breton St Armel was Henry’s favoured personal religious figure, it is clear that St David was important to the King and should be commemorated with respect in his court.
- When Henry became King, scores of Welshmen flocked to London seeking patronage to make their fortunes and they would not be disappointed by their Welsh King. He employed a Welshman, Lewis Caerleon, as his personal physician whilst a man named David Owen was his carver. His personal bodyguard, the Yeoman of the Guard, included many Welshmen who and it is believed that one in four present at his funeral in 1509 were Welsh. He certainly encouraged his compatriots to make a new living in London and one, Edward Apryse, was given a beerhouse in Fleet Street which he named ‘The Welshman’. Lots of lesser men were given grants and offices on an unprecedented scale including Sheriffs, Constables, Coroners, Bailiffs etc. His uncle Jasper Tudor was made Duke of Bedford and Justicar of South Wales; Rhys ap Thomas was made chamberlain of South Wales and William Gruffudd Chamberlain of North Wales. John Morgan and Edward Vaughan became Bishops of St David’s and Dafydd ab Ieuan and Dafydd ap Owain became Bishop’s of St Asaph, roles which had previously been excluded from Welshmen. He also allowed Welshmen to become Justices of the Peace for the first time.
- Eager to refute the lingering accusations from Yorkists that his paternal bloodline included Bastard Welsh servants, Henry commissioned the Canon of Hereford to specifically look into his Welsh pedigree and to confirm his descent from the most prestigious of native British Princes. Henry was certainly proud of his descent from the Welsh royals and his interest in his genealogy underlines this, particularly as it was the side of his family to which he didn’t owe his claim to the throne. Henry ordered the Canon and Welshman Dr Owen Poole to investigate this bloodline and he spent time traversing Wales before offering his findings to an expectant King.
- Henry Tudor’s ancestors, the Tudur’s of Penmynydd, had been actively involved in the Welsh uprising of their cousin Owain Glyndwr during the early 15th century and after that revolt was crushed, the surviving Welsh people were punished with strict and oppressive Penal Laws. A key policy of these repressive laws was the statute that it was illegal for Welshmen to buy land in England or in English-administered boroughs within Wales, putting them at a major disadvantage in comparison to their English equivalents who had the opportunity to increase their wealth and status. Henry began to reverse these laws, partly for economic reasons but also surely as a method of thanksgiving to the people who had played a major role in him attaining the throne. Henry introduced charters of privilege to the Lordship of Bromfield and Yale in 1505, Chirk and Denbigh in 1506, Ceri and Cydewain in 1507 and Ruthin in 1508. This allowed those Welshmen in this area the right to buy and hold land in England and the English boroughs of Wales, freed from expensive and burdensome financial payments implemented in earlier post conquest laws. They were also allowed to inherit land in the process of primogeniture which finally allowed the Welsh to build up power bases. This also encouraged trade between England and Wales and put them on equal footing. Wales was also included in provisions and improvements made to English law as well. Such an exposure to the English way of life would have been greatly welcomed by the Welsh of the region, whom had long been punished and excluded due to their nationality, a form of medieval apartheid.
- George Owen of Henllys was an Elizabethan antiquarian who was noted for his work on the history and geology of his native Pembrokeshire. It is from him that a story persists regarding Henry Tudor on his death bed whereupon he is said to have stated to his teenage son and successor Prince Henry to take special care of the people of Wales. It was a special charge that father was issuing to son, something that the Welsh considered to be realised almost thirty years later by the Acts of Wales. Although it is unlikely this happened, although not necessarily impossible, the fact that such stories were able to be seriously entertained by the Welshmen of the Tudor period once more underlines the feeling of compatriotship many felt with Henry VII and a sincere belief in his love for Wales.
- Henry Tudor employed a Frenchman, Bernard Andre, as tutor for his son Arthur and commissioned this scholar to become his official court historian. Andre discussed the King’s genealogy and it is striking to see that particular emphasis is once more concentrated on the Welsh, or British, origin of his master as opposed to the maternal descent for which he owed his claim to the throne. The concentration on Henry’s Welsh descent had to have been authorised by the King himself and it once more underlines Henry’s pride in his bloodline, a pride that allowed him to consent to its examination in detail in such a high profile manner by Andre.
- Henry’s pride and depth of feeling for Wales can also be understood from letters in his own hand whilst he was preparing his invasion from France in the run up to the Battle of Bosworth. Henry had specifically chosen to land his forces in West Wales, an area he knew from his childhood and an area he reasonably expected to gain support in. Shrewdly writing ahead of his landing to various Welshmen to procure their support, in one particular letter to the North Welshman John ap Meredith, a kinsman of his, Henry referred to their homeland as “our Principality of Wales” and pledging to free his countrymen from oppression. Henry also stated he would save the Welsh, “delivering them of such miserable servitude as they have piteously long stood in”.
- Henry had been born and bred a Welshman; he lived in Pembroke and then Raglan from his birth until his enforced exile at 14 years old in 1471. Whilst it has never been acknowledged beyond doubt that he was a Welsh speaker, he certainly maintained a love and respect of Welsh culture. Apart from his respect of St David’s Day, Henry had a love of poetry and prophecy in addition to a keen interest in Welsh music. It was stated that after the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1503 only the soothing sounds of Welsh harpists could calm him. He had also personally paid for the burial of a harpist in 1501 and was known to reward those Welsh musicians who pleased him with their talents. There were also mysterious payments from his privy purse to a Welsh woman of Pembrokeshire and he employed his old Welsh nurse to care for his second son, Prince Henry. Furthermore, when his half-uncle David Owen died, Henry offered payment for his funeral, a last tribute to a man he had knighted after the Bosworth campaign and of whom he never showed his embarrassment. It is indisputable that Henry remained a proud Welshman for the entirety of his days and it is high time this West Walian is acknowledged by his countrymen.
Throughout my travels in the footsteps of the Tudor Dynasty, I have amassed a great deal of picutres that deserve to be shared. Everyone knows of the Hampton Court and Tower of London of the 16th Century but the locations that played a part in the early years of the dynasty remain neglected and can be rare to find on the internet. Indeed, unless one has been to the places, you may never get to see them. So for the benefit of the Tudor geeks out there and in an attempt to increase the awareness of such locations, I thought I’d share some of the pics I’ve taken. For now I will post only pics that focus on the period 1430 until 1485, essentially from the birth of Edmund Tudor to the moment his son became King at Bosworth Field. Needless to say, all images © 2010-12 Nathen Amin
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 Princes in the Tower is one of British history’s greatest tragedies and has long been a spectre looming large over the English Middle Ages in particular. Two young brothers, one 12-years-old and the other just 10, were forcibly removed from public view shortly after their father’s death and were never seen again. The reason this story has resonated through history is for the fact that these two children happened to be Royal Princes; in fact, in the case of the elder child, Edward, he was no longer a Prince but a King. As the only male children of King Edward IV, upon their father’s death at Westminster in 1483 they became the highest ranking nobles in the realm, Edward ascending to the throne as King Edward V whilst his brother becoming the Heir presumptive and maintaining his status as the dual Duke of York and Norfolk. Although still children, the foundations had been set for their dominance of the Kingdom’s governance for the foreseeable future and undoubtedly there were great hopes for these sons of York.
This golden future however would never materialise for the Princes. Shortly after young Edward’s ascension and traditional acknowledgement as King, he was imprisoned by his Uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester who surreptitiously seized the throne from his nephew. Richard alleged that the brother he had loyally served for the entirety of his reign was in fact illegitimate, thereby rendering his sons not of the true royal line. Further to that, Richard official allegation was that his brother Edward IV had been previously betrothed before his marriage to the Princes’ mother Elizabeth Woodville, thus ensuing any offspring betwixt the two were bastards by the law of the church. It was an act that would become known as Titulus Regius and ensured Richard himself was able to seize the crown as Richard III. It was a controversial move but as the Duke was in all probability the most powerful magnate in the realm and had support amongst other nobles whom were in opposition to the detested Woodville faction that compromised the Princes maternal family, he was successful in his coup.
After their imprisonment in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, although initially spotted playing in the grounds of the Royal fortress they were never seen again and their ultimate fate has endured as one of England’s great mysteries. As a royal murder intrigue, many have resolved to appropriate blame towards various persons of the period, most notably their Uncle Richard III and his successor Henry VII. Other suspects have included the Duke of Buckingham and a Yorkist Knight James Tyrell. Although the case will never be given a conclusive answer, I feel the recent rise in those finding Henry Tudor guilty in spite of the lack of compelling evidence needs to be addressed in a coherent manner. Guilt in a British court can only be ascertained if the defendant has been proved to have committed the crime and not on circumstantial evidence and as such it will be impossible to prove guilt in this case. That said, it is possible to argue the case for a not guilty plea.
Henry Tudor had never met the Princes in question as their paths had never had reason to cross. Henry came from a staunch Lancastrian family; His father Edmund Tudor and uncle Jasper Tudor were the half-brothers to King Henry VI and had therefore valiantly fought for the House of Lancaster until its eventual demise with Henry VI’s death in 1471, possibly at the behest of the aforementioned Richard of Gloucester. As a result of the fall, Henry was exiled from the Kingdom the same year with his Uncle Jasper and spent his formative years in the Duchy of Brittany. He was 14 when he left and would not set foot in England until a few days prior to the Battle of Bosworth where he defeated Richard III. He was 28 by this point.
Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was weak to say the least. At time of his ascension there were an estimated 29 other nobles with a greater claim to the throne than his. Henry’s claim came through his mother Margaret Beaufort whom was the sole inheritor of the illegitimate Beaufort line, offspring of John of Gaunt at the end of the 15th century. Directly related from King Edward III through this line, it gave Henry Tudor a slight claim to the throne but due to the plethora of other, legitimate claimants ahead of him this claim remained insubstantial to covet the crown. That is, until Richard III seized the throne from his nephews and targeted any Yorkists whom refused to transfer their allegiance from the young boys to him. The result was that Henry suddenly became the person that both exiled Lancastrians and disenfranchised Yorkists flocked towards in order to relieve them from the reign of Richard. The consequence was of course that Henry would mobilise this support and eventually claim the Crown of England through the right of conquest if not predominantly through right of bloodline.
Henry naturally would not have been able to become King of England if the two Princes were still alive, the same issue that Richard faced as King. If Richard was a usurper, then Henry was usurping the usurper and his position was even weaker. The accusation from Ricardian supporters is that once Henry was King, he killed the Princes in order to secure his throne and then married their sister whom was now considered the true heir following their death. Henry was now King through right of conquest and through his wife’s legal claim to the crown. Supporters of Richard III thus consider Henry Tudor most likely to be the monster whom committed the atrocity against the two Princes, pointing to the ruthlessness of the Tudor dynasty as a whole for supporting this act. But what of the evidence…well, quite simply, there isn’t any.
i) The two Princes were last seen in public around June 1483. They had been noted as playing in the grounds of the Tower of London shortly after imprisonment, presumably content and unaware of their impending fate. Their Uncle had been named their protector and it is probable they felt no harm came to them. With regards to Henry Tudor, without the possibility of a flying visit in 1471 as a teenage boy to visit his half-uncle King Henry VI during the short Readeption, Henry Tudor did not step foot into England until August 1485, two full years after the Princes were last seen. Henry had spent the entirety of their imprisonment as an exile in Brittany, spending his time as a virtual prisoner of the Duke of Brittany and evading capture by King Edward IV. His influence in England was non-existent and in fact many were not even aware of him or his claim. The idea that Henry Tudor had arranged for the death of the Princes from his base in Brittany is absurd to say the least. No man within Richard’s retinue would seriously consider killing the Princes at the behest of some distant Welshman in a foreign land with no money and no apparent prospects.
ii) If Henry was unable to murder the children through orders from afar, then supporters of Richard III gleefully point out that he certainly could have killed them upon his ascension to the throne of England. As all-powerful King, the Tower of London would have come under his jurisdiction and all prisoners within the walls would fall within his remit. Henry would have jealously guarded his throne and it is an historical fact that both he and his son systematically wiped out the remaining Plantagenet claimants throughout their reigns. One only needs to consider the executions of Edward Plantagenet in 1499 and his sister Margaret Pole in 1541 for evidence of this. However, once again one must wonder why the Princes had not been released by those in the Tower after learning of Henry’s victory in the ensuing weeks before the victor’s arrival in London. Is it likely that the boys were still alive a full two years after their disappearance just for Henry Tudor to finally kill them? Surely someone, somewhere would have released details of this. Many consider Henry VII to be so powerful once he took over that he instantly began rewriting history and destroying the remnants of the Yorkist regime, yet is it not true that Henry faced almost continuous rebellions in his early reign from outcast Yorkists eager to recapture the throne? Surely someone would have made public that Henry was responsible for the deaths of the boys if that was the case. Their silence is in itself telling…the boys had been murdered under the previous Yorkist regime.
iii) If the children had not survived until 1485 when Henry Tudor took the throne and thus was able to have access to them, one wonders why had the previous King, Richard, failed to publically display the children in the aftermath of their disappearance two years earlier. Suffering damaging accusations from disenfranchised Yorkists and Lancastrians alike over his role in their disappearance and probable death, if this was not the case then surely it would have been easier to Richard to produce them publically to redeem his reputation somewhat, a reputation don’t forget that arguably cost him his life.
iv) Henry Tudor never sanctioned an official public version which some use against him as an admission of guilt. Of course, it was not in Henry’s interests to dwell on the murder of his brothers-in-law as it merely reminded the people that he had come to the throne because of their tragedy. Another idea that he never revealed their fate is because, as a stranger to the land, he simply did not know. Their fate was clearly a closely guarded secret and is possible that it was taken to the grave by the few who would have been involved in their disposable. If no one qualified their fate to the King, then it was not possible for him to reveal their whereabouts. In the Bill of Attainder that Henry brought against Richard III after the Battle of Bosworth, specific reference to the Princes was omitted although it did carry an obscure mention of Richard’s “shedding of infant’s blood”. This was the closest the Tudor regime officially came to accusing Richard of involvement in the deaths.
v) Although Henry Tudor had as much to gain as King Richard from the deaths of the children, in 1483 Henry was not necessarily a genuine contender to the throne. He was a partner in the so-called Buckingham conspiracy but his prospects as an alternative King to Richard were not particularly promising. Richard however had a great deal to gain in the short term from their deaths and in order for him to secure his crown he had to ensure the Princes could not be used against him. It follows that he was responsible, or at least knowledgeable, of their disappearance after 1483.
vi) James Tyrell was a York loyalist whom once confessed to committing the murders on behalf of his patron, Richard III. His evidence is interesting in that he appears to be the only such person to have admitted to the crime although this confession did come under torture by the Tudor regime and therefore considered inadmissible. That said, it is the closest we have come to a confession of any kind and clearly exonerates Henry Tudor from wrongdoing. That is, if one believes Tyrell’s story.
vii) Various contemporary chronicles from the period refer to rumours about the disappearance and murder of the Princes, notably the Croyland Chronicle and the raconteurs Dominic Mancini ad Philippe de Commines whom report on rumours of the Princes deaths as early as winter 1483, a date as stated above logistically near-impossible for Henry to have an involvement. Chronicles were never consistent in their reporting and much of what has been said would be disproved by later antiquarians but nonetheless they remain important insights into the lives of the period they cover and the public feeling.
viii) One primary reason it is unlikely that Henry Tudor was involved in the slaying of the Princes is the very fact that not only did he marry the boy’s sister, but their mother was instrumental in the politicking that brought him to the crown. Elizabeth Woodville was drastically removed from power after the death of her husband and although expected to remain the premier female in the realm through her son, once he had been imprisoned by her brother-in-law Richard her very existence was under threat. By the end of 1483, often considered the period the Princes were done away with, Elizabeth Woodville began conspiring with Henry Tudor’s mother Margaret Beaufort to put Henry Tudor on the throne of England. The provision of this of course was that Henry would have to marry the Princes’ sister, Elizabeth of York, a concession that Henry was only too happy to agree too. The Yorkists loyal to the deceased Edward IV and by extension his sons Edward and Richard quickly defected to Henry Tudor’s cause, led by Elizabeth and the Woodville faction. It is almost impossible to believe that this family would agree to join the cause of Henry Tudor if he was responsible for the deaths of their beloved Princes, or equally if they believed them to still be alive. The Woodville faction allowed the Tudor claim to be realised through Elizabeth of York as they were certain that her brothers were dead and understood they would only remain a degree of power by inserting Elizabeth as Queen. This was duly done and the Woodville’s never regained the power they had enjoyed under Edward’s IV and V.
ix) Henry, as shown, may not have known the fate of the Princes as he had been exiled from the country at the time they disappeared from view. Throughout his early reign Henry was beset with uprisings and rebellions, none more so than the revolt that appeared under the leadership of Perkin Warbeck whom claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger Prince. Henry’s behaviour during this rebellion was certainly of a nervous nature, unsure who this man was and determined to investigate further. Henry’s alarm at the rising of this “Richard” certainly points to his innocence regarding the murder of the Princes. If he had committed or ordered the act himself, he had no need to become so worried over the rebellion for he would have known the Prince was dead. In reality, Henry was suitably worried enough to crush the uprising with full military strength.
With this in mind, Henry Tudor at best is a minor suspect in the case of the Princes deaths and not a serious one. He was accepted as a family member by the Princes’ own sister and mother, was not in the country at the time of the death and won the loyalty of men whom would never disassociated themselves with the Princes had they believed they still lived. As for the real culprit, the jury still remains undecided. From Richard III to the Duke of Buckingham, and from James Tyrell to perhaps another unidentified suspect, there remains a lack of prove to satisfactorily close the case. In my opinion ultimate responsibility would fall on the shoulders of Richard III. His dying brother’s wish was for his loyal and hardy younger Richard to be Protector of his young sons, both in official office and in a familial capacity. Whether Richard ordered the killing himself or not, the fact remained that the Princes did not receive the protection of his uncle and their tragic death by an unknown source remains something that ultimately he must be held accountable for. No amount of revisionism by the Richard III society will be able to undo this blemish against the character of Richard. Henry Tudor…we therefore find you Not Guilty.
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.
Bosworth. A name that is firmly entrenched in the lexicon of England’s history as bridging point between the Medieval and Modern eras, a location where one King was slain and another was made. The wailing death throes of the Plantagenet dynasty was heard around these fields and equally so was the birth cries of their successor family, the Tudor’s. This fact alone makes the area a shrine for enthusiasts of both Royal houses. Bosworth and the battle that was pitched in these parts on a summer’s day in 1485 is rooted in the consciousness of the nation and certainly a place that deserves a visit every once in a while.
With such a prestigious history in its arsenal, a trip to this location is imperative if one wishes to transport themselves back to the beginning of the Tudor era and cast their own eyes over the very same landscape that would have greeted those involved 500 years earlier. The battle has always been known as “The Battle of Bosworth”, adapting the name of a near settlement in the traditional way that battles became known as, albeit two things need to be noted straight away. The Battle of Bosworth Heritage Visitor Centre is not located in Market Bosworth itself and after recent investigations it turns out it isn’t even the real battle location anyway. The Lottery-funded study a few years ago uncovered the most likely site a few miles in a south westerly direction towards Fenny Drayton but ultimately it is an irrelevant outcome to those of a non-archaeological background. The Visitor centre is built next to the previous battlesite candidate of Ambion Hill and is certainly set in one of the most rural and picturesque parts of England. The drive involves sweeping country lanes after leaving the Watling Street A5 with fields all around, many that would have been trampled across by hundreds of hooves and soldiers in 1485 on their way to and from the fighting. As you turn from the road and drive along the path you will notice to the right on the field an enormous flag blowing proudly in the wind, the banner being the very image of the one raised aloft at the head of Richard’s army on that fateful August morn.
When you arrive at the Visitor Centre itself the first thing that will attract your gaze is the large Coat of Arms of King Richard III on the brick wall, his White Boar emblem distinctive and quickly giving you an idea as to who truly is the King and centre of attention at this centre. As you walk through the gates on your left is a gathering of medieval devices in a small arena termed “Ambion Village”, a reconstruction of sorts and a taster of life for the peasant class of the locality. As you turn into the courtyard of sorts immediately on your right is the glass entrance to the “Tithe Restaurant”, a typical café/restaurant type structure in which the main selling point is the authentic barn it has been constructed in, complete with atmospheric wooden beams along the roof. The Jacket Potatoes are certainly worth a try too! As you enter the courtyard proper you will notice on your right a pair of stocks for the perfect photo opportunity and around the corner the standard Gift Shop and two more reasonable photo opportunities. It is here that “Richard’s Stone” is kept, a large boulder that used to be located in the field where it was previously thought the last Plantagenet King was killed and also an empty stone coffin in which it is thought his remains were at one time kept. Going indoors you are met with the ticket desk and the beginning of the impressive exhibition, with an interactive screen introducing you to a myriad of characters whom educate you about their daily lives as you make your way through the maze of information in the exhibition itself. The Exhibition itself begins when you walk through a faux field tent into the first room which educates you with a simple explanation of the Wars of the Roses as well as 15th century home furniture and tools including a cutlery knife and a wooden barrel for storing ale.
The next room gives you details about the preparation for battle and more information on Henry Tudor and where his claim and forces came from, complete with large portraits of both men. Moving onwards, the largest room in the display has one wall covered with the weaponry of the age including pikes, axes, swords and crossbows, giving an insight into the barbarity that existed during medieval warfare. To further enhance this mental image, there are two life size mannequins kitted out in the full armoury of a foot soldier, including chainmail and helmet. As well as heraldry practice for the children and the possibility to try on various pieces of armour in front of a mirror in the circle centrepiece of the exhibition is large screens playing a recurring video of the events of the battle complete with animated side panels offering further information. This room also offers you the opportunity to try a bow and arrow to see how far you can shoot this ancient weapon, myself of course scoring the highest of 240m and “losing an arrow” as I overshot the enemy! Whilst two large statues of the rival combatants look on, the atmospheric video room also has a side room entitled “The Surgeon” with a reconstructed skull displaying gruesome war injuries as well as a display case showing the horrendous tools available to an injured soldier, think of knifes, tweezers and hooks and you’re on the right lines.
In the room titled “Aftermath” we are given brief descriptions of how Henry Tudor quelled the wars itself by marrying Elizabeth of York albeit it does touch on the uprisings he suffered early in his reign. It also gives further information about the rest of the victorious dynasty including a statue of Henry VIII and details on Tudor artefacts and architecture. The final room is a recent inclusion and is dubbed the “BFI Lab”. It is here where the latest findings from extensive battle field investigations are stored, including a skeleton complete with war wounds and display cases with real finds including coins, horse pendants and belt buckles that would have fallen from the slain soldiers or fleeing Yorkists. Exiting through the gift shop you find yourself at the starting point of a roughly 2mile walk through around the battlefield path, the first section taking you up past the enormous Yorkist banner of Richard III to the remembrance sundial, two large wooden chairs representing each monarch. The path also takes you down to a well christened “Richard’s Well” and where he apparently took a drink before battle and which is now a popular spot for visitors. All in all, the walk is a pleasant stroll in the summer and the surrounding fields allow a perfect place to sit and enjoy a picnic. The Battle of Bosworth may no longer be accepted as being in this particular location but the centre is vital in not only providing detailed analysis and education to visitors it also allows the visitor to mentally revisit one of this country’s most infamous events with their own eyes. Set in an idyllic and rural part of Middle England, even without a passing interest in the topic should not stop you from visiting.
As a nation with a long and storied past it is no surprise to discover that Wales has a myriad of flags, symbols and banners that represent the Country itself. Some are famous, some are forgotten and some are obscure yet all have intriguing origins and meanings. Today both Welsh people and those from other climes are all greatly aware of the national flag of Wales, “Y Ddraig Coch” (The Red Dragon). Yet what my experiences teach me is that very few are aware of the history of the flag or even the alternative Welsh flags we have flown throughout the history of our nation. With this in mind I have decided to provide you all with a rundown of the differing flags which at one time or another been raised in tribute to our small country in the hope of educating our future generations. After all to some flags are mere material, yet to others they are the embodiment of national identity and pride and are thus an important part of our history.
Y Ddraig Coch
When discussing flags of Wales, one must start with the most recognisable and famous banner the country possesses, “Y Ddraig Coch”. To many people, including the average Welshman, this is the only flag the nation has and many will be surprised to learn just how recent official recognition of a seemingly ageless flag was. Accepted as an official flag by the British Government only in 1959, the flag consists of a passant Red Dragon on a Green and White background, often considered a field. Although only just over 60years old, the flag and its significance has been felt by the Welsh people for centuries. The Red Dragon itself was thought to have been brought to these lands by the Romans but it’s first clear connection to Wales came with its involvement in the mysterious Welsh prophecies. Allegedly the Wizard Myrddin (commonly known as Merlin) told a story of an underground duel between a White Dragon and a Red one, the white beast representing the invading Saxon warriors whom were attempting to suppress the native Welsh people. Merlin allegedly prophesised that the White Dragon would dominate at first but would eventually succumb as the Red Dragon and thus the Welsh people would rise up and vanquish their enemy. This link between Merlin and the Red Dragon was further lend credence if not actual historical fact by the association of the Red Dragon as a flag symbol with the mythical Arthur, King of the Britons. What is not shrouded in historical cynicism is that the banner was definitely used by the Gwynedd King, Cadwaladr, whom has a reputation as one of the greatest Welsh leaders of the era.
With the symbol confirmed as a representation of the Welsh people it became further entrenched in the consciousness of a people when first Owain Glyndwr raised the so-called “Red Dragon of Cadwaladr” during his revolt against English rule and then his distant kinsman Henry Tudor won the English throne at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry was a Welshman whom invaded England via a Welsh-landing from France and had almost uncontested support from his people in his quest to conquer the English throne and end the dynastic Wars of the Roses. Henry had combined his Tudor livery colours of Green and White with the Red Dragon of Arthur, Merlin, Cadwaladr and Owain Glyndwr to create an iconic image and it was this banner which was carried triumphantly into St Paul’s Cathedral on Henry’s march through London. Even so, it remained half a millennia longer before the flag received official patronage from the British Government amidst pressure from Welsh nationalist groups. In 1959 one of the world’s most loved flags came into official existence and has since then been seen in possibly every part of the world as patriotic Welshmen always ensure they pack their flag with their luggage on their travels, never a group of people to pass up the opportunity to show off “Y Ddraig Coch”. Whether it is Rugby, Music or Politics, the Welsh flag is without doubt the most potent symbol of Welshness and national pride and is often viewed in every place possible. A visit to any shop in the country will unleash a torrent of products enshrined in the Red Dragon, from food goods to magnets and from teddy bears to clothes. For a nation so small, Y Ddraig Coch is a flag of enormous appeal and affection and held in high esteem by Welshman and outsider alike. As the only officially recognised flag to be flown from Governmental buildings within the country, it is without doubt the most widely seen flag representing the people of Wales.
The Flag of Saint David
England has the flag of St George whilst Scotland is proudly represented by the saltire of St Andrew, both of which are immediately recognisable around the globe as representative of the countries which use them. Together with the more obscure cross of St Patrick which represents Ireland the three flags make up the iconic yet controversial Union Jack flag. Therefore one could reasonably expect the national flag of Wales to be of the respective national saint, David, in keeping with local consistency. Yet the St David’s cross is a banner that has suffered from a lack of familiarity with those whom inhabit the country of David, let alone recognisable to those further afield. Aesthetically the flag constitutes a simple yet effective design of a yellow/gold cross on a black background, enabling it to stand out and be more effective than the dull-by-comparison St George’s cross. The flag itself has cropped up in a few public places in recent times as Welsh nationalism and national pride grows with each passing generation, eager to stamp their own identity on a crumbling British union. The flag has played a prominent part in marches and parades celebrating St David’s day every 1st March and was even featured temporarily as part of the club badge of Cardiff City Football Club in an overt display of their Welshness in an English-dominated scene. The St David’s cross was also used as the basis for two recent Rugby shirts that has probably increased awareness of the flag more than any other concerted campaign ever could. In 2008 the WRU released a Golden away jersey for the national Rugby team that featured the Flag imprinted on each arm together with a press release explaining how the shirt was inspired from the flag of St David. The other instance where the flag was used in sport was when Rugby League’s first Welsh franchise Crusaders RLFC used the entire flag as the basis for its first kit to again overtly display their heritage in a previously-English environment.
For a flag that is now arguably unrivalled as Wales’ second (unofficial) flag, the history is sketchy at best. The fledgling Church in Wales, of which the diocese of St David’s is an integral part, disestablished itself from the larger Church of England in 1920 and it seems that the flag was consequently flown atop Anglican churches in Wales to display their affiliation. Throughout the diocese’s under control of the Church of England the St George’s cross was readily flown above the constituent churches and around 1939 it seems that a flag was created from the historic St David armorial arms of a yellow cross on a black background…but reversed. Whilst the usage of the black cross on a yellow background as a flag seems to be solely used from 1939 to 1954 atop Church in Wales, the colours of yellow and black have always traditionally been linked with the Saint as highlighted by the aforementioned Armorial arms which still represent the diocese in the area. St David was devout Christian whom lived well and taught the new ways of Christianity to the pagan tribes of Wales from his monastery on the banks of the modern city which takes his name. As a famous and well-loved figure from Welsh history, indeed the only patron saint of the nation, the flag has in itself also taken on connotations of Welsh nationalism as briefly explored earlier and its visibility continues to grow throughout Wales.
The Church of Wales flag
Similar in meaning and source if not in design to the banner of St David, the Church of Wales flag is the official emblem in usage in Wales to differentiate the organisation from their neighbourly Church of England. Stylistically the flag consists of a Gold Celtic cross nestled on a blue cross and a white background. The flag was inaugurated in 1954 and was created to specifically replace the reversed St David’s flag mentioned above to represent the Church of Wales within their remit. Unlike the previous two this flag is arguably unknown amongst the vast majority of Welsh natives, especially in these days of low Church attendance. Theologically, the Church in Wales is part of the Anglican communion in Wales although in sharp contrast to its larger and dominating neighbour the Church of England it has retained an admirable disestablished stance since 1920. With a strong tradition of non-Conformist Christianity throughout Wales there was always a sense of Conflict towards the Church of England itself from the Welsh whom in particular felt marginalised and oppressed by Church policies. The Welsh church act of 1914 was thus passed amid controversy and the Church in Wales was legally separated from the Church of England which it remains to this day, the Welsh church being disestablished from the state whilst the Church of England remains inextricably linked. Today this flag is often found atop of Church in Wales properties although even then it competes with the local diocese flags, again resulting in lower recognition of a dazzling banner.
Owain Glyndwr. Patriot. Hero. Freedom Fighter. Welshman. Every native Cymro is aware of the name Owain Glyndwr as he was the romantic hero who stood up in the face of oppression and took the fight back to the English whom had conquered and subdued the nation of Wales a century prior. Glyndwr had raised a rebellion in 1400 and within four years had crowned himself Prince of Wales and the inheritor of the defunct Welsh royal family. The royal kingdom’s of Wales prior to being rendered extinct under the might of the English crown had been a fractured bunch, varying Kingdoms rising to power for an intermittent period before being replaced or usurped by another. What helped Glyndwr win the loyalty of his men and to validate his claim to the throne was that he was descended from three of the main royal families and was thus the apparent personification of a true Welsh prince. The flag today widely known as the Glyndwr banner was in fact derived from the hereditary flag of the previous princes of Wales although Glyndwr’s version had one clear and aggressive difference. The flag of the native princes from the powerful Gwynedd-based House of Aberfraw consisted of four passant lions on a quartered red and gold background. One prominent user of the flag was Llewelyn the Great whom in 1216 was lauded as the Prince of Wales after gaining acceptance and homage from his rival rulers. The flag in itself had been utilised by the kinsmen of Llewelyn’s from at least the 11th century and was in all probability considered an official flag of Welsh royalty. The importance of this flag is such that after Edward I of England conquered the nation in 1282 and instilled his own eldest Caernarfon-born son as the Prince of Wales it was this flag that became the de-facto representative banner of these foreign Princes of Wales. Since 1911 this flag has again been utilised by the foreign Princes of Wales as their Coat of Arms before they succeed to the Crown of England. Prince Charles in the 1960’s began to use the Aberfraw banner with his heraldic coronet placed directly onto the middle of the flag as his representative banner and in 2008 the flag itself holds a prominent role in the official Royal Badge of Wales.
Perhaps because of its usurpation by the Royal Family of England as their own symbol of claim on the Welsh Kingdom, it is the aforementioned version of Glyndwr’s banner that has subsequently become a potent symbol of Welsh nationalism amidst Independence-related insignia. As mentioned above the Glyndwr flag has one major difference to the Aberfraw flag and that is that as opposed to being passant, the four lions are on their hind feet in an aggressive rampant pose. Although the real reasons for this are no longer evident, many experts in Heraldry point out that as per Glyndwr’s triple ancestry the rampant lions are evident in the respective arms of both his mother and father’s princely ancestors and combined with the colours and style of the Aberfraw flag create an ultimate Welsh flag. As a result of Glyndwr’s patronage of this flag in the last two decades it has increased in usage across the nation by proponents of a free Wales and can be seen in a myriad of places, arguably now the second most popular flag of the country and growing. Most Welsh sporting events will have a smattering of Glyndwr flags amongst the fans whilst such organisations as the Urdd Eisteddfod and Town Halls have been known to fly the flag particular around 16th September, a date put forward by Welsh nationalists as a candidate for Glyndwr day. As political symbol’s go, the message behind the Glyndwr banner is a clear one. An independent Wales.
Whilst the above flag of Glyndwr’s has become widespread in modern times, it was the Golden Dragon that Glyndwr famously raised in his battles against the English armies. Near Caernarfon on 2nd November 1401 Glyndwr’s forces were positioned on Tut Hill when Glyndwr raised up the legendary Golden Dragon flag in defiance of English rule, best encapsulated by the domineering fortified Castle which lay before them. The Flag itself was essentially as its name suggests, a Golden Dragon in a rampant pose which in Welsh was referred to as Baner Y Ddraig Aur. Although obscure by today’s standards and only known by fervent nationalists with an active interest in history, this would have been considered Glyndwr’s premier flag at the start of his rebellion and certainly carried a plethora of overt symbolism. A previous Prince of Gwynedd whom Glyndwr was seeking to replicate in his actions was Owain Gwynedd whom was associated by Welsh bards with Golden Dragons and although a reputable link by Glyndwr it was from a different kind of Leader that Glyndwr was seeking to really exploit. Since the turn on the 11th Century the legends of the Ancient Briton King Arthur were never far from Heraldic poetry within Wales as the bards prophesised about a new leader to take up Arthur’s mantle and banish the invaders from the lands of the Britons. In the intervening period the Britons had become identified as the Welsh whilst the Saxon’s and Normans were gradually melting into an English race. The Welsh people often fantasised about the Mabdarogan or Son of Prophecy who would fulfil the bards predictions and free the people. It was no surprise for Glyndwr, scion of three Royal Families, to find himself cast in this role and much like his later distant kinsman Henry Tudor embraced this development by encouraging the link. The Golden Dragon was the standard that was linked to the ancient Briton warrior Uther Pendragon whom would be better remembered in history as the father of Arthur. In the early Welsh language the translation of Dragon was (and in fact still is) “Draig”, and this was a word that was considered to mean a Warrior. With the epithet “Pen” meaning Chief or Great often added to Ddraig to suggest a great or chiefly Warrior the status of Uther Pendragon is in little doubt. Thus a banner that displayed both Glyndwr’s heritage, prophecy and hopes found itself immortalised in the guise of a Golden Dragon.
Welsh Republican Tricolour
A flag in which not only is its design but also its intended meaning illustrated in the accepted name of the flag, the Welsh Republican Tricolour is a minor flag that has caught on with a subsector Welsh Nationalists whom wish to display their antipathy towards the English Monarchy through Republican motives. With legitimate native Princes extinct with the downfall of Llewelyn the Last in 1282 and Glyndwr’s mysterious disappearance at the start of the 15th century, Wales herself doesn’t have a realistic pretender to a Welsh throne and therein lies the dilemma for modern nationalists. Should the nation gain independence the new, forward-thinking entity it will become will surely not revert to a form of State-ship that has long been considered outdated. Welsh republicanism therefore has a credible basis from which it has slowly began to grow and has been further emboldened by ancient Celtic ties to Ireland where of course Republicanism has been a core concept throughout the 20th century. Based on the Irish and French designs, the Welsh tricolour is a simple design using the already-established national colours of Green, Red and White and sometimes appears with a Socialist/Communist star on the white section to display further political motives. The star has also been stated to denote a memorandum to all those patriots that have died for Wales. The flag itself was used by the Welsh Republican Movement that seceded from the mainstream Plaid Cymru in 1949 in an internal dispute over policy. The Republicans believe that more should have been done with regards to Socialism within the nation as opposed to rural affairs and the Welsh language and aimed to become a major party. Although fervent in its ideals the party failed to catch the support of the general public and faded from national consciousness in the 1960’s although the flag they conceived continues to be occasionally spotted, in particular in the new modern world of the Internet and in that arena of nationalism, the sporting event.
Yr Eryr Wen
The “Eryr Wen” flag was a flag that first came to prominence in the 1960’s with the rise of violent nationalism in Wales through the advent of the Free Wales Army. Translating as the White Eagle, the dramatic flag consists of a stylised and simple design purporting to the be the White Eagle on a ominous black background. The flag’s connotations were subtle and therein lay the attractiveness of the flag. The black background was used to put the full focus on the white eagle design which was said to carry two meanings. The aforementioned Owain Gwynedd, as well as being linked to Golden Dragon’s by the bards, was attributed a coat of arms that consisted of three eagles whom were displayed with their wings spread wide on a green background. Owain I of Wales is considered by historians and nationalists alike as one of the greatest Welsh princes and his wars with the English King Henry II are still fondly remembered by Wales’ patriots and no doubt the corrupting of his coat of arms into a modern white stylised design was a way for the members of the Free Wales Army to display their objectives. The FWA were created by Julian Cayo-Evans in 1963 and were created to raise awareness of the fight for Welsh republicanism, their lust for self-promotion gaining them much publicity in an era of Celtic reawakening. The flag began to be prominently displayed by the followers of the FWA and was used and is still used by those of a Nationalist mentality to display their political viewpoint and is instantly recognisable to other comrade’s of a similar outlook. Whilst the FWA themselves were rendered extinct with a plethora of arrests and convictions in the late 60’s the flag is still seen by other individuals purporting to be taking up the mantle of Welsh resistance to Colonial British rule and as well as flags can be seen on badges and graffiti occasionally in rural Wales.