THE OFFICIAL WELSH GOVERNMENT PETITION HAS NOW BEEN SUBMITTED TO THE SENEDD AND HAS BEEN UNDER CONSIDERATION SINCE JANUARY 2013.
“We call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to fund a statue of Henry VII in Pembroke, town of his birth and birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty.
There is no statue or memorial in the town of this man. A statue could improve the economy of the town as a Tudor must-visit place.’
As you may or may not know I am a keen amateur Tudor historian and have recently completed the manuscript for my first Tudor book, ‘Tudor Wales; A Guide’, hopefully due for publication in 2014. As part of my interest I have visited many locations throughout England ranging from the major attractions like Hampton Court to minor areas such as various Wars of the Roses Battlefields in the Welsh Marches. I have visited Windsor Castle, Greenwich Palace, St James Palace, Westminster Abbey amongst others. As a proud Welshman from Carmarthenshire I have a great love for this picturesque area of West Wales and have spent many hours, days and even weeks scouting any historic areas with links to the Tudor Dynasty with the sole intention of visiting and photographing for posterity. I have great enjoyment in researching the history of the locations and documenting them in an attempt to bring greater awareness to these sites of Welsh heritage. After all, the Tudors were a Welsh family and the links are throughout our country, albeit one must lament in a less obvious way than the major palaces in London where they achieved their later fame as Kings and Queens of England.
If you are local to South Wales you may or may not be aware of Tudor links in this part of the world but my hunch is that unless one has a reasonably deep interest in the subject then they will be oblivious to the history right on their doorstep. If an area of historical interest isn’t publically advertised, then how is one supposed to learn about this local past? So where are these Tudor links first of all? There are the incredible ruins of Lamphey Bishop’s Palace just outside Pembroke where Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father to the future Monarch regularly stayed when on state business in South Wales. This plush retreat was seemingly a location the Earl of Richmond found relaxing, for the site was and still is situated in the middle of sprawling forest and parkland which together with the fishponds and orchards ensured everything the Earl required was openly available. It was at Lamphey Palace that Edmund had honeymooned with his young bride Margaret Beaufort and seems very possible that it was here at his Pembrokeshire headquarters that his son was conceived.
Edmund died without ever having seen his new-born son and although initially buried in a monastery in Carmarthen, after his grandson Henry VIII’s infamous Dissolution of the Monasteries a century later his tomb was moved to St David’s Cathedral where it now rests impressively in front of the alter in the religious centre of Wales, as befitting his role as ancestor of the kings of the realm. Resting fittingly in the same region that Edmund had reached the zenith of his power shortly before his death, the epitaph that appears around his tomb declares: “under this marble stone here inclosed resteth the bones of that most noble lord Edmond Earl of Richmond father and brother to kings, the which departed out of this world in year of our lord God MCCCCLVI the third of the month of November: on whose soul Almighty Jesu have mercy”. Across the county lies Tenby, a favourite holiday resort of many and a town that has a deep Tudor connection. Henry’s uncle and Edmund’s brother Jasper Tudor was the Earl of Pembroke and as such made this region of South Wales his powerbase during the hazardous years of the Wars of the Roses. Jasper’s half-brother was King Henry VI whom was coming under attack from Yorkist forces and with defence in mind Jasper ensured the walls of Tenby were strengthened. The famous walls can still be seen today as well as the multi-storied Mayor’s House situated just in front of the harbour. On this building lies a blue plaque which proudly states “it is said that Henry Tudor (Later King Henry VII) escaped through a tunnel here, in 1471, when he fled to France”.
After living in exile in Brittany for 14 years to escape capture and probable execution at the hands of Yorkist King Edward IV, Henry found himself the new Lancastrian heir and eventually launched his invasion force to usurp the crown. Choosing his birth area and the Land of his Fathers for reasons of strategy and alliance, his forces landed at Mill Bay just outside the lovely village of Dale in 1485. His rag tag army of loyal soldiers and mercenaries landed here under both his and his uncle Jasper Tudor’s command and began the arduous task of marching through Wales to that fateful meeting with King Richard III at Bosworth in England. By the end of that day, Henry’s forces had vanquished Richard’s and the Welshman was acceded to the crown as King Henry VII.
The final and greatest connection to the Tudor dynasty in Pembrokshire is the impressive Pembroke Castle, a colossal monument that witnessed the birth of a king and thus can be considered the birthplace of the world’s most famous royal dynasty. It was in one of the outer wards to the west of the gatehouse on 28th January 1457 that the 13-year-old Margaret Beaufort brought her young son into the world. In addition to her young age the new mother was also very slender with a small frame not suited to the rigours of child birth and unsurprisingly by all accounts it was a difficult pregnancy. In fact it probably rendered her infertile for the remainder of her life as there were no other accounts of her baring child in spite of two further marriages. The child was sickly soon after his birth and good care by both his mother and the attendant nurses within Pembroke Castle seem to be the core reason for this young babe not becoming yet another statistic for the high infant mortality rates of the time.
Although the son was called Henry, a regal English name and possibly in tribute to the child’s half-uncle and incumbent sovereign Henry VI, a later Cymric tradition suggested the original name was in fact Owain. Although no contemporary evidence exists to corroborate this account, it is interesting to note nevertheless that the aforementioned Welsh prophecies suggested an Owain would come to lead the Welsh as their Mab Darogan, or Son of Prophecy which boldly asserted that a Welshman would be crowned King of all Britons in London. Perhaps the story has some truth, although the likelihood is that it was an apocryphal story from a Welsh bard looking to further the myth surrounding this Welsh-born child once he had become king. By blood Henry of Richmond, for he had inherited his father’s earldom upon birth as was his hereditary right, was one quarter French, one quarter Welsh and half English but with his birthplace and father’s nationality considered most valid under patrilineal descent, it is indisputable which nation would claim Harri Tudur as their own. The courageous Edmund Tudor had passed before he could live up to the hopes and dreams of the Welsh bards whom watched from a distance but fittingly he had left something pure and new in his place, a young son with an equally impeccable Welsh bloodline hailing back to the great South Welsh Princes like Rhodri Mawr and Hywel Dda.
With this in mind it is somewhat disappointing to note the lack of celebration towards the birth and subsequent life of Henry Tudor in West Wales. This isn’t merely a location with a tenuous link to the Tudors, it’s an integral part of the Tudor story as the birthplace of Henry VII. With the plethora of Tudor related places in the region as already mentioned it is very surprising and almost unacceptable to learn that this wonderful historical occurrence hasn’t been capitalised upon. There is a large and lucrative Tudor market in England which has proved to be provide a consistent income from tourism and it is galling that Pembrokeshire has yet to adopt such measures.
If people are willing to travel hundreds of miles, sometimes thousands, to visit Tudor locations throughout England then surely Pembroke and indeed Pembrokeshire should be marketing itself as the “Birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty”. It is difficult to overstate the financial benefits the Tudors bring to the UK touristy industry, hundreds perhaps thousands of Americans alone regularly visiting the many palaces and castles in England to place themselves in the very spot history happened. Hampton Court. Windsor. Kenilworth Castle. Ludlow Castle. Even Stratford Upon Avon with its Shakespeare links. York has built an entire tourism industry by capitalising on its, admittedly unique, heritage. The list is endless. It is understandable that funding is not forthcoming at the moment from Pembroke as a town and a council but this matter does need to be capitalised on by the area to market itself as a core Tudor attraction capable of rivalling other regionally significant areas like Stratford Upon Avon.
The castle itself, under the managerialship of Jon Williams, has certainly done all it can financially do to increase tourism although their ambitions are drastically reduced by the economical issues of running such an enterprise without any outside funding. Jon stated to me “we are gradually adding to and modernising our interpretation here and although we don’t lack ambition and ideas unfortunately it takes money to make things happen on a major scale“. Indeed Pembroke Castle itself is a small independent charitable trust “that needs to spend a lot of resources to simply maintain the castle as a visitor attraction“.
I read with interest that in 2010 Mrs Melanie Phillips campaigned for a statue of Henry VII at Pembroke castle and I feel that this would be a fantastic addition to the premises, or at least in the town. It would give an overt and obvious indication of the importance of the castle to the Tudor story and could prove to be a lucrative marketing aspect for Tudor addicts. It is all very well having exhibitions inside, but the key is attracting people to the area in the first place, and a statue would certainly do that. As a comparison, the small North Welsh village of Corwen has a magnificent statue of Owain Glyndwr and as a result has been able to attract scores of Welshmen from all over to view it. Imagine tapping into only a mere percentage of the gigantic Tudor Tourism Industry and persuading them to come to Pembroke for a similar pilgrimage to the one they already make to many different locales throughout England. Jon Williams of Pembroke Castle agrees, stating “it would make perfect sense to have a statue although my opinion is that it would benefit Pembroke more if it were at the opposite end of the main street to the Castle. Firstly this would encourage Castle visitors to wander the town and secondly it would act as a good welcome to people arriving at East End Square“. It would certainly benefit Pembroke and it would benefit Wales. Pembrokeshire’s most famous son deserves more than a couple of mere plaques and in an age of austerity any attempt to bring in tourism to boost the stuttering economy must be seriously looked at. I understand on that occasion Mrs Phillips’ campaign was not successful but I would urge the council and tourist board to take another look at this matter. Pembroke is the home of the world famous Tudor Dynasty and deserves recognition that would certainly place it on the global scale alongside other famous Tudor locations in England.
UPDATE Feb 2013: After an initial flurry of press interest when the petition was first opened in May 2012, the official submission of the petition to the Welsh Government petitions committee occured on 8th January 2013 and with it has brought further attention and awareness to the campaign. The first few days after the submission has brought articles in the Western Mail, Western Telegraph, Milford Mercury, Pembroke Dock Observer and a spot on BBC Radio Cymru.
UPDATE Dec 2013: Positively the petition is still under consideration at the Welsh Government and the opinions of various public bodies have been courted by the petitions committee. The general consensus thus far has been that whilst in theory the idea is valid and supported there is simply not the finances to commit. The committee wrote to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Welsh Government Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Housing and also Pembrokeshire County Council. The response from the Minister was disappointing stating they do not fund the creation of new memorials or commemorations. Pembrokeshire County Council stated they are fully supportive of any proposals which highlight the Tudor link to the county and any rebranding proposal which improves tourism if not to a statue itself. Pembs Coast National Park stated they do not believe a statue is worth public money but do believe that new intrepretation panels would be more effective.
On 16th April the committee considered the responses and stated whilst it is clear no money or funding is being put forward, I have gained a partial win in attaining support for dedicated intrepretation panels on the Tudors in Pembroke. They have agreed the campaign is still ongoing and will now consult with Pembroke Castle Trust, Pembroke Town Council and the new Heritage Minister for further consultation. The campaign is still ongoing as things presently stand, a promising sign after one year of deliberation.
As part of this campaign, there will be occasions where it will receive press interest.
The Western Mail; (11th May 2012) http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/05/11/call-for-castle-to-make-most-of-its-role-in-tudor-dynasty-91466-30944610/
The Western Telegraph; (16th May 2012)
The Western Telegraph; (9th January 2013)http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/news/10150247.Petition_calling_for_a_Henry_VII_statue_in_Pembroke_is_handed_over/
The Western Mail; (10th January 2013) http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2013/01/10/let-s-celebrate-pembrokeshire-s-links-to-the-tudor-dynasty-campaign-91466-32576759/
Response from Welsh Government Business Minister Edwina Hart (22nd May 2012)
PETITION SUBMISSION TO WELSH GOVERNMENT
Official handover of the petition to Assembly Members on the Petitions Committee at Y Senedd (8th January 2013)
Petition and supporting documents can be viewed – http://www.senedd.assemblywales.org/ieIssueDetails.aspx?IId=5324&Opt=3
RESPONSES FROM RELEVANT PARTIES