Welshman Exiled in Brittany; Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor

The Tudors are England’s most infamous dynasty, particularly notorious for the explosive combination of the extra-curricular activities and waistline of Henry VIII to the martial exploits of his daughter, the alleged Virginal Elizabeth, against the mightier Spanish. Henry’s other son Edward VI gained immortality through his Protestantism and caricature in Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper whilst Henry’s eldest Mary is known in today’s annals as the Bloody Mary, her executions stereotypically portraying her as a bitter, barbaric and violent leader in a religiously tumultuous period. The Tudor whom is almost always overlooked by amateur antiquarians is the very man whom gave his name to the dynasty and, most importantly, being responsible for there existing a renowned Royal Dynasty in the first place. That man is Henry Tudor whom would reign over England, Wales and Ireland as Henry VII. This Seventh Henry’s own story is an incredible adventure and deserves to be told on a grander scale than it is now where it remains the reserve of the serious and little-known historian in the corner of a nondescript library. Shakespeare may have felt his story did not warrant a play similar to the efforts he crafted for Richard III, Henry IV or Henry VIII, but one wonders whether this was a political move as opposed to a artistic one. As King, Henry Tudor may not have been as well-remembered as the others, that is true. His policies of taxing the nobles incredibly large sums to force their submission in addition to a long-held if inaccurate reputation for being somewhat of a greedy financial miser have ensured that his reputation as a King is not an overly positive or exciting one. Yet one should remember it was his pragmatic rule that funded his son’s extravagant rebuilding of England in the 30 years after his death in 1509, the long-term planning squandered by Henry VIII whom regularly emptied his father’s hard earned coffers erecting masterpieces that still stand today. However, whilst most King’s newsworthy exploits occur after they have been crowned, with Henry Tudor what is intriguing is events which happened to him both as a young teen and then as a developing young man in his 20’s.

Born into the Welsh Tudor family of his father Edmund along with the semi-royal Beaufort blood of his mother, Henry’s birth occurred at the cusp of the Wars of the Roses, Edmund being slain mere months before the birth of his only child after finding himself attacked by forces loyal to the opposing House of York. Put into the custody of his devoted Uncle Jasper, it was this Earl of Pembroke whom battled valiantly on behalf of his Lancastrian half-brother, and thus Henry’s own half-uncle, King Henry VI against the hostile foe. As a scion of the House of Lancaster through his aforementioned Beaufort mother Margaret, Henry was taken into the custody of the Yorkist military leader William Herbert in 1461 after a decisive Yorkist win whilst his Uncle Jasper was forced to escape to France and Scotland too seek alliance. After 10 years as prisoner of the Herbert’s albeit raised as a member of the nobility in which he belonged as Earl of Richmond, the patriarch of the family finally fell to the Lancastrians at yet another battle in 1469. Joy was short lived for the House of Lancaster however as they lost what was seemingly the final battle in the saga when the deposed King Henry VI was captured and his son and heir slain at Tewkesbury. Forced to escape certain death once more and retreat back into what would seem to be a permanent exile with no cause left to fight for, Jasper regained control of his 14 year old nephew on his way to the coast and together they set sail from Tenby harbour towards the open sea, ensuring they evaded the hostile and bloodthirsty force that was chasing their every move. Planning initially to land in France where they could expect to be welcomed, the Tudor’s were blown off course and were forced to land at Le Conquet in the extreme west of the Duchy of Brittany, then an independent nation and in constant turmoil with France. Rather than handing them over to England as the enraged King Edward IV demanded so that he could finally extinguish this loose line of the House of Lancaster, the Breton’s resolved to keep the men prisoner until further notice. Thus, the Tudors’ Breton exile had begun. A period that is often overlooked in spite of its adventurous traits, I decided to retrace some of the known-footsteps of both Uncle and Nephew and to visit some of the places they were known to have been kept captive during their 14 year exile. 541 years after Harri and Siaspar Tudur, I am yet another “Welshman, Exiled in Brittany”, eager to discover some of the land of which they called home for a sizeable period of their lives and which would directly lead to Bosworth Field where Henry became the last monarch of England to win the throne in battle.

The Crossing

Jasper Tudor was on his way towards Tewkesbury in 1471 when he received word of the disaster that had unfolded before he could relieve his beleaguered companions; his half-brother King Henry VI had been captured once more by Yorkist forces whilst more disastrous for the Lancastrian cause was the execution of his son and Prince of Wales, Edward of Westminster. With his death, and the murder of Henry in the following days, the Lancastrian cause had effectively been severed at the head and the throne was finally secured by the Yorkists in the person of Edward of March whom they now termed Edward IV. Without delay, Jasper understood the peril a prominent Lancastrian commander such as himself was in and with a calm understanding of the new situation he was also able to comprehend that his hitherto anonymous nephew Henry Tudor could now be considered one of the final Lancastrian heirs left. Sensing the danger involved for both of them, Jasper retrieved Henry from the Welsh Marches and rode urgently towards his West Wales estates where he had supporters and protection. Surviving a siege at Henry’s birthplace in Pembroke, they escaped a few miles towards the coast to Jasper’s fortress town of Tenby. Utilising the allegiance of the town’s mayor Thomas White, Henry and Jasper escaped towards the harbour in the underground tunnels and aboard a waiting Barque sailed out into the channel. Without a private boat, the closest one could come to simulate this Celtic Sea voyage from Tenby to Le Conquet would be the Cork to Roscoff ferry. Sadly, as a non-native of Eire the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry across the English Channel will have to do. As you cross Le Marche, one thing that becomes evident once at the halfway point is how unforgiving the sea actually is, surprising when one considers its merely a channel and not the open sea. It only accentuates the roughness of the journey both Tudors must have experienced as they sailed out into the open Atlantic to circumvent Devon and Cornwall where the Yorkist’s were known to have back up. They may even have pointed out at the dolphins that rode the boat’s waves in a similar fashion to myself. As the Ferry pulls in towards St Malo, you are surrounded on every side by craggy islands and the waves breaking on the coast, overcome with the exciting if apprehensive feeling that welcomes you when you land in another country. Although Henry landed at Le Conquet on the westernmost tip of Brittany, he may have experienced a similar sensation as he neared Breton soil, a land so near yet so foreign in both language and culture. He may also have felt that same impatience as the land appears almost an hour before you actually dock, unable to do anything other than wait what seems an age to set foot on dry land. Le Conquet itself is situated roughly about 200km west of St Malo and would have been just as hazardous an approach, particularly as the Barque would have to circumvent past the hazardous coastal islands of ile d’Ouessant and ile Molene to reach the safety of Ponte de St-Mathieu. Once on dry land and undoubtedly thanking God for their landing, the pair made their way to the court of the Duke of Brittany in Nantes to claim asylum.

Chateau de Suscinio


After their meeting with the Duke of Brittany Francois II in Nantes and a short stay in Vannes, both Tudors were granted asylum within the Dukedom, albeit as privileged prisoners and at the mercy of the region’s politics. Littered with many impressive structures across his lands, the Duke’s first action was to have Henry and Jasper placed within the picturesque Chateau de Suscinio in the southern part of Morbihan around October 1472, just over a year after they first washed up on Duke Francis’ shores. Situated on the protruding Rhuys peninsula and overlooking the Gulfe de Morbihan, this idyllic and rural Chateau was an impressive structure with a large and imposing gate guarded by two huge cylinder towers divided by a typical drawbridge across the moat. Further improving both the defences of the chateau and the scenic view from atop the ramparts is the lake that is situated just beyond the moat. Escape would have been difficult. Henry and Jasper’s stay here would initially have been comfortable and liberal as they were welcomed guests of Duke Francis. The Chateau was built as a kind of pleasure palace for the Dukes on the coast and both Tudors would have revelled in hunting on the plentiful lands that surrounded this retreat as well as fishing in the Atlantic Coast only a few hundred metres away. Their status as pawns in the great diplomatic three way between the squabbling Bretons, French and English however would see the Tudor’s situation become more restricted. The English demanded they were treated more becoming of prisoners whilst the French demanded they were put under stricter control so as to stop them being captured by the English. Duke Francis, undoubtedly with some reluctance after initially extolling himself as a gracious and respectful host, was forced to accept such terms and the Tudor’s movements subsequently began to be more limited. Finally the access to the sea was seen as more of a curse than a blessing as it was seen to be too exposed to the possibility of English attack. The Tudor’s stay at this scenic chateau was abruptly cut short and they were moved. This being said, Suscinio would continuously prove to be the main base for the Tudors and their increasing support, with perhaps up to 500 Lancastrian followers being in the vicinity at various points during the 14 year exile.

Chateau de Josselin

Duke Francis II was facing increasing pressure from his two mightier rivals in King Edward IV of England and King Louis XI of France, both of whom were demanding he hand over his notable prisoners. King Edward clearly wanted to extinguish this distant but last remaining line of the House of Lancaster and to finally secure his own House of York beyond all doubt whereas King Louis wanted the Tudors to use as a bargaining chip against England. Louis XI was also the first cousin of Jasper Tudor as his father King Charles VII was the brother of Jasper’s mother Catherine of Valois, the dowager Queen of England whom had scandalously married her servant Owen Tudor after her husband Henry V’s death. This, Louis believed, meant he had right to the guardianship of his kinsmen. With diplomatic pressure growing and Duke Francis unable to appease all parties, the decision was made to separate Uncle and Nephew, decreasing the chance that they would be able to cultivate plans of their own as well as lessening the likelihood that both would be captured together.  Josselin is situated in the heart of Brittany and the scenery surrounding the Chateau would have been dramatically different to the view Jasper Tudor would have become accustomed to in Suscinio but it was here that he was sent to. The Atlantic Ocean for example had been replaced by the conjoining green masses of grassy hills and tall trees as far as the high could see. As you arrive into Josselin you quickly realise that you are standing in the heart of a medieval town, historic town walls running parallel to the roads and the four remaining towers of Chateau de Josselin rising high above the town in competition with the nearby Cathedral. It is not until you make your way down to the river’s edge however that you truly witness the magnificent of the fortress, Ducal home of the Rohan family.

Standing at the base of the fortress wall, the height of the three connected towers that compromise today’s modern Chateau is truly astonishing and would surely have been a behemoth of the Middle Ages. One can only imagine the effect it would have had on Jasper as he stood beneath the towers for the first time, particularly as the castle would still have had many of its other towers still intact. Jasper was moved here at some point between 1473 and 1474 and would have either entered through the opulent gate in the town square or perhaps through the smaller gate through which visitors today enter the Chateau in the centre of the town itself. The castle would have been intact at this period, with nine towers and complete walls merely reinforcing the power of this structure. After it was slighted at a later period only four of the towers remain today but from the courtyard one still gets a feeling how impressive this fortress would have been. On the right hand side is the modern day Chateau and still home of the Rohan-Chabot Dukes, a gothic creation built into the original walls which overlook the flowing River Oust. Although built decades after Jasper’s enforced stay here, the early 16th century renaissance building still displays the intricate architecture that has become synonymous with the period and is worth witnessing. Particularly worth studying is the differing galleries that can be found on the front of the facade, each demonstrating the various allegiances of the Rohan family, from the motto A PLUS to the large A for the then-duchess of Brittany, Anne. On the left hand side and thus directly opposite the Chateau stands one of the original towers, isolated from the reminder of the compound yet still standing proud and majestic. From the walls, one gets incredible views across the Oust Valley and although not on the ocean front, the chateau certainly has views that rival Suscinio. The keep itself where Jasper may have been kept prisoner is now gone, replaced by a simple empty space from which the banner of Josselin flies proudly over the valley but it is still a place worth visiting.

Chateau de Largoet

Whilst Jasper was being held in Josselin, Henry Tudor was taken to Chateau de Largoet, situated just outside the town of Elven about half way between Suscinio and Josselin. Unlike Josselin where the Chateau is situated in the heart of the town, Largoet is rurally based with nothing in the vicinity except rolling hills, thick forests and a small lake. Largoet was designed to be a military fortress and its situation certainly plays a part in its defences. After leaving the main road, you have a long walk through a tree-lined dirt track to reach the Largoet ruins, with the gate out of sight until the very moment you are within feet of the ruined 15th century entrance. The gatehouse itself today consists of a wooden bridge over the moat and a large square entrance connected to the small remains of the original 13th century outer wall. Henry would have been escorted down the same long road when he was brought here to be kept under increased supervision, no doubt apprehensive about what his fate was to be and what was to become of him once he had gone beyond the gatehouse. The owner at this time was Jean, Lord of Rieux and it was into his protection that Henry was passed. Two things would have instantly captured Henry’s eye as he entered the courtyard, much as it does the modern visitor. On the left hand side and down a small dip stands the Round tower, 3 stories high with a hexagonal construction atop the highest level. The most striking aspect of the Chateau however is the incredibly high Tour d’Elven, the Elven Tower that stands 6 stories high and 144 feet from the base. This octagonal dungeon tower possesses a tiring 177 steps in total, is the highest dungeon in France and also was built to include views out to sea around 15 miles away. This immense structure had only been constructed around a decade earlier and it was in here which Henry would be housed for the next few years. Entering through the ground floor entrance, one can make their way up the large staircase to the second floor to the small and narrow room in which he was put. The Lord of Rieux was an ally of Henry and felt honoured to be guarding this “comte of Richemonte” and despite the lack of room Henry was afforded his stay was an hospitable one. Walking along the second floor and come to a doorway followed by a narrow corridor. The room that this leads to is barely a few feet in length from wall to wall but does contain both a reasonable sized fireplace for heat in addition to a window that overlooks both the moat and the forests in the distance. Henry would have called this room his home for two years although it is also thought he possibly had a room in the now ruinous 6th story. Whilst Henry was here, his stay would have been comfortable and protected but in such a location could certainly not have been luxurious in such a secluded retreat. Nonetheless for the time being he was safe and out of danger of being attacked by the English. That would change shortly however.


St Malo

The Tudors’ fortunes were intricately linked with Brittany’s own foreign policy. For the first five years of their exile in the Dukedom, both uncle and nephew were kept as semi-guests, semi-prisoners under the explicit protection of Duke Francis II. He had up to this point rejected the amorous advances of the English to hand over his prized possessions and kept his word to Henry and Jasper to grant them protective asylum. After many failed attempts to bribe the Duke into handing over the Tudors, the English envoy’s changed tact and began promising to safeguard Henry Tudor back to England where, rather than the expected imprisonment and execution, he would instead receive his full Beaufort inheritance and in fact be married to a prominent Yorkist woman. It may have been a possibility that Edward in fact wished to marry Henry to his own daughter Elizabeth to fully integrate this potential usurper into his own inner circle. The reality is it was probably merely a negotiating ploy to get control of this last remaining threat to complete Yorkist control of the English throne. This being said, after years of pressure and having succumbed temporarily to illness, by the winter of 1476 Duke Francis finally relented and agreed to release Henry Tudor into English hands under the assurance he would enjoy a good marriage in England and be treated honourably. Such a move was against his Admiral Jean du Quelennec’s wishes but the admiral was crucially away from court when the Duke reached his decision and to the happiness of many other minor courtiers eager to be rewarded by King Edward IV Henry was first taken to Vannes where he was passed into English hands. From here, the English envoy’s took their ward north to the coastal town of St Malo where their ships awaited to take Henry back to England. As stated earlier, St Malo is today a popular destination for those arriving in Brittany via Ferry and back in the 15th century the port was equally an important access point to and from the Dukedom. Today the town has been fully reconstructed after it was destroyed during the second World War and the intact ramparts, Chateau and Cathedral of the Old Town give an insight into the sight that would have greeted Henry and the English envoy’s as they rode into the town. You can enter the town through any of a number of gates, two prominent one’s including the Dinan gate and the splendid La Porte Saint Vincent which features both the coat of arms of St Malo and Brittany as well as the motto “Potius quam mori quam foedari” – better dead than sullied.

Once you enter the old town, you are greeted by small, narrow cobbled streets and an array of side alleys which offer a glimpse into how such a place would have greeted the visitor 500 years ago. It was in fact a mixture of quick thinking and these streets which possibly saved the life of Henry Tudor on that winter’s day in 1476 when, shortly after entering the town, he seemingly feigned an illness that swiftly halted the envoy’s march towards the ship and thus England. As this delay was taking place, Admiral Quelennec had returned and was dismayed at his Duke’s action in releasing Henry Tudor from protective custody. The chivalric admiral felt that Duke Francis had made a promise in good faith and should have kept his oath to protect the Welshman. Convinced he had made a mistake, Francis sent his treasurer and key political aide Pierre Landais to St Malo in order to stop the sailing. Aided by the delay through illness, Landais arrived just in time to advise the English the deal was off and entered into lengthy dialogue with the exasperated envoy’s. It appears during these heated exchanges, the 19 year old Henry slipped away from his captors and escaped through the narrow streets whilst being pursued. Making his way to the church that stands in the centre of the old town, the Earl of Richmond claimed sanctuary within the confines of St Vincent’s Cathedral. With the local Bretons unwilling to allow the English to break the sanctuary tradition by entering the Cathedral armed, the envoys eventually admitted loss in their attempt to take Henry back to England and they left the shores of Brittany empty handed. They had him their possession for only three days. St Malo’s Cathedral still stands proud in the centre of the town and in fact the roads are so narrow and tight as befitting its history as a medieval town the building appears almost out of nowhere as you wander aimlessly through the many streets. Entering into the Catholic Church, it is almost pitch black save for the minuscule amount of light that comes from the many stained glass windows, only serving to add to the religious and atmospheric effect of the confines. It is easy to see how Henry may have eluded capture as he hid in the darkness. St Malo today is a thriving tourist resort however it still retains a bustling port, intact town walls and the same medieval street lay-out still from the time Henry ran through the streets with his heart pumping and sweat trickling down his forehead. This results in the visitor being able to catapult themselves mentally back to the 15th century and put themselves into Henry’s very shoes.

Chateau L’Hermine and Vannes Cathedral

Henry made his way back to the Breton Court for an audience with the Duke, Francis apologising profusely for his blunder and reassuring the Earl of Richmond that he would not be handed over to the English after all. It was a reprieve for Henry. The English envoys were naturally furious at coming so close to attaining their goal of returning the Lancastrian exile to their Yorkist king but Pierre Landais and the Duke could only appease them by promising to again ensure the Tudors were kept secure in custody. Although lack of evidence exists to suggest the timeframes and locations of Henry’s next temporary place of residence, by 1480 he was in captivity at the Chateau L’Hermine in the southern coastal town of Vannes where he was joined from Josselin by his devoted uncle Jasper. As throughout the exile, envoys from both France and England continued to pressurise Duke Francis and at such a critical point in the Dukedom’s history it may have seemed at times he had no reason but to capitulate. In June 1482 King Edward reconfirmed his alleged desire to welcome Henry Tudor back into his kingdom as a treasured member of his inner court, particularly once married into a strong Yorkist family of which he may have had in mind his own daughter Elizabeth of York. Edward stated that should Henry acquiesce to this request then he would treated as a loyal and valued courtier and not only would he receive his Beaufort inheritance on his mother’s death he would receive a whole lot more. The flipside of this however, should Henry continue with his exile, was that he would lose everything if he did not return to English shores immediately. It is thought that Margaret Beaufort herself, a Lancastrian by birth whom had found herself married into and thus temporarily tied into the Yorkist regime, supported such a move. It certainly seemed to be the best this exiled Welshman could hope for. Vannes was an important seaport and was situated not far from both Ducal courts at Rennes and Nantes. Today the Chateau de L’Hermine is a rebuilt town hall but the town walls and small parapet towers still stand as does the 15th century lay out of the Old Town.

From the main road one can get a great glimpse of the view that would have encountered the visitor to the town, the high walls blocking out any invader whilst the town itself and the mighty cathedral rose high on the mount behind. The political scene dramatically changed in April 1483 however when the obese King Edward IV died, leaving his child and namesake Edward king. Henry’s future was again uncertain, the deal to bring him back home cast into doubt with the death of Edward. By this point, Henry was a charming noble gentleman in his mid-20’s and was noted around the ducal court for his pleasant and elegant nature. As an asset to Francis’ environment and with Edward dead, Henry and Jasper were given greater freedom over their movements and were for all intents and purposes freed from any form of imposed imprisonment. The Tudor’s destiny would change forever by June 1483 when Richard, Duke of Gloucester and younger brother to King Edward IV, captured his nephew King and usurped the crown for himself. The imprisonment of the children was too much for many in the Kingdom to accept and disenfranchised Yorkists were quick to flee to Brittany and to Henry Tudor’s minor Lancastrian court. This Earl of Richmond soon became not only a little-known Lancastrian exile; he became the new focus for those looking to remove King Richard from the throne and replace him with the Lancastrian heir. With his force growing daily as previously loyal Yorkists seeked sanctuary away from London, Henry Tudor faced his large force at Vannes Cathedral later that year and swore an oath to each and every man. He promised to lead them to the throne of England as their rightful monarch, to which he would have been greeted with support and the pledging of loyalty from the men. Henry would have left Vannes cathedral as a man with an army that was willing to fight for him. All he needed to do now was to reinforce his claim to the English throne and to ensure the Yorkist dissidents remained faithful to his cause.

St Pierre’s Cathedral, Rennes

Henry’s exile in Brittany had been an incredibly eventful stay with an outcome that even the most positive of Lancastrians could not have hoped for. When he was forced from Tenby Harbour as a 14 year old, the House of Lancaster lay in ruins and he was a minor, dispossessed noble on the run with his soldier Uncle. For the majority of his stay in Brittany he had been kept under close supervision, unable to shape his own destiny as he wished whilst remaining nothing more than a constant diplomatic pawn in the constant squabbling of England and France. Now as 1483 was drawing to a close, Henry’s future seemed to be at a crossroads. If his outlandish plan to be crowned King of England succeeded, then he would instantly reap the kind of freedom and luxury that had always been denied him. Equally, if he failed then he would certainly meet a traitor’s death. A key part of his rise to prominence as an alternative option to King was the bolstering of his exiled force with dissident Yorkists enraged with Richard’s usurpation of his nephew’s inheritance. Richard was not in the direct York line claimed those loyal to King Edward IV’s heir Edward. If Edward and his young brother Richard had been murdered in the tower as was becoming increasingly likely, then the true inheritance in the eyes of the dissident Yorkist’s lay in their sister Elizabeth of York. Henry had previously been linked in marriage to Elizabeth during discussions to bring him back under King Edward IV but now such a marriage had deep consequences for it could be termed a merging of the Houses of York and Lancaster in one matrimonial union. Henry himself undoubtedly realised that his own claim to the throne was weak, particularly as it was through an illegitimate female line and his own mother through whom the claim emanated was in fact still alive. By marrying Elizabeth of York, his own claim would undoubtedly be strengthened in the eyes of the Yorkist’s. To this effect Henry met with his faction at Rennes’ St Pierre Cathedral to pledge an oath to marry Elizabeth and unite the rival Houses. The Cathedral in Rennes sits in the centre of the city and constitutes an incredibly high front façade that certainly matches the similar structure at Westminster Abbey. As you enter and your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you instantly become aware of the numerous marble pillars on each side that lead down the aisle to the altar. Situated underneath a great basilica and in the presence of many Catholic shrines, it was here on Christmas Day 1483 that Henry made his oath to marry Elizabeth of York and unite the warring factions. Present on this day was the majority of his force, both Yorkist and Lancastrian, in addition to the Duchess of Brittany herself. As the premier minister in the land Pierre Landais was also present and through him Henry obtained Francis’ solemn promise to support and assist in the cause. The ceremony also included a mass which was officiated over by the Duchess’ own priest. Henry had entered into a pledge which he could not turn his back on; if his invasion of England was successful and he became King, he would marry Elizabeth of York. It was in effect a betrothal, a marriage in proxy. Today Rennes Cathedral is certainly a place worth visiting if you happen to find yourself in the modern capital of Brittany, particularly to stand at the very altar where one can argue the decision was taken than led to the Wars of the Roses ultimately coming to a decisive end.

The End of the Exile

Francis had grown increasingly ill and by 1484, his treasurer Pierre Landais was effectively in control of the dukedom. Francis had, for the main part, always kept his promise to protect Henry whilst he was in his control and had certainly grown accustomed to his company. With Henry’s role changing from mere exiled noble to claimant to the throne of England, both needed each other for different reasons. Henry needed Francis in order to succeed. Francis needed Henry to be King in order to gain a powerful ally in his constant battles with France. However during Francis illness during the summer of 1484, Landais began to listen to Richard’s constant overtures and certainly seemed as though he was about to hand the Tudors over. Landais not only thought this was the best thing for Brittany, but it was also self-preservation for himself to create a personal relationship with the King of England. The plans to hand over Henry Tudor to Richard III were almost set in motion when Henry’s ally, Bishop Morton, had found out through his sources about the plot to betray him behind Francis’ back. Henry in turn decided to hatch his plan whereby he would escape across the border into France where he would seek asylum in the court of the new French king Charles VIII. Henry had already made two incredible escapes during his lifetime; first as a 14 year old from Tenby Harbour and again as a 19 year old from English forces in St Malo. Leaving his base at Vannes at some point in September under the pretence of visiting a supposed friend, around 5 miles later Henry suddenly left the road and dipped into the woods where he changed into the clothes of a peasant. Disguised from detection, Henry then rode fiercely for the French border and asylum at Charles’ court. His uncle Jasper had equally crossed the border two days earlier in a similar manner. Henry’s escape had scuppered Pierre Landais’ plans to transfer Henry to prison and into the hands of King Richard III and in fact they were only an hour behind Henry as he raced through the marches and into French territory. Deeply troubled and ashamed at what had transpired, Francis conveyed his regret to Henry and rather than punishing the English exiles that had been left behind in Brittany, Francis provided them not only with safe conduct to France but helped to finance the move to France. It was an honourable move borne out of the chivalric characteristics Duke Francis had on the whole shown his Welsh guest and Henry was deeply thankful for this gesture. Francis did not last for long after this period, passing away four years later and seeing his Dukedom finally fall to France and hundreds of years of tense warfare when Charles VIII finally launched an invasion and forcibly married Francis’ daughter and heir Anne. It was thus the dukedom of Brittany became a part of French royal possession and the independence of the Breton’s was finally lost. Provided with extra funds from King Charles whom could finally use the Tudors in his diplomatic squabble with England, the plans to launch an invasion from the coast of France began to gain pace as did Henry’s own appeals to other nobles in Wales and England to support his claim. It was after this flight into France which truly altered the attitude of Henry and his nobles. He was no longer the exiled Earl of Richmond but the true King of England and he began to be addressed and address others in this manner. Henry even went so far as signing his correspondences with the solitary letter “H” in the manner of Kings as opposed to the previous usage of “Henry de Richemont”. The first six months of 1485 involved planning on both sides in addition to the propaganda campaign waged by Richard and Henry against the suitability of each man’s claim to the throne. Richard was called a tyrant. Henry was called a bastard. The forces that Henry had gathered, a combination of Lancastrians, dissident Yorkists and French mercenaries, were assembled at the Norman port of Honfleur where on August 1st, 1485 they finally set sail for the coast of Henry’s native Wales. Henry’s ragtag force landed at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire on August 7th and landing on Welsh soil for the first time since he was forced into exile 14 years earlier, the Welshman fell to his knees and kissed the soil. Henry was heard to cry “Judge me, Lord and fight my cause”. The exile was over. The battle of the crown had begun.

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Categories: Tudors | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Welshman Exiled in Brittany; Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor

  1. Brilliant; richly detailed post, and what an amazing journey you went on. Henry’s early life, right from childhood, was tumultuous and adventurous in just about equal measure. Thanks for sharing it with us on the Henry Tudor Experience!

  2. david

    how do we know it was Bishop Morton that forewarned and assisted Henry in 1484?

  3. Jo

    this article is amazing and very well written, I am fascinated by the period of exile of Henry Tudor

  4. Diolch un fawr iawn!
    Great stuff, very interesting for those of us Welsh who live in Brittany!

  5. alaninwindermere

    There is a stone plaque (unfortunately damaged) in the Fortress at Largolet, acknowledging Henrys time spent there as a prisoner in French.
    I have a picture https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-4d0eOUeXD8s/TmFR1RN52nI/AAAAAAAAM1k/5NUIjmSLZbo/s640/DSCI0578.JPG

    The Chateau at Josselin was partially destroyed with gunpowder while it’s owner was away at the French court.
    This was done on the orders of Cardinal Richlieu who resented the power and influence it gave it’s owner! He then went to the court and reportedly told the duke “I have bowled a fine ball among your skittles!”
    But as you saw, some of the towers survived the attempt.

  6. While I agree with most of what is written here. There was a lot of misinformation put out by Francis to disguise the amount of assistance given by Francis towards Harri Tudor’s fledging army. The point I disagree with entirely is this ‘rag tag’ army nonsense.
    There is no way a ‘Ragtag’ army could have marched through Wales from Pembrokeshire to Shrewsbury in a matter of 8 days without being a professional army, ably assisted by massive Welsh support.
    The author quite rightly pointed out that Henry VIII’s claim to the throne was greater through his mother than through his Welsh father. So he set about destroying his & his fathers link to Wales.
    Hence the Anglicising of many Welsh families names.
    The most prominent one was Oliver Cromwell. His grandfather was Olive Williams from South Wales. In Henry VIII’s cutting of links he changed his surname to that of his wife’s uncle Thomas Cromwell.
    Henry VII ruled by conquest, his banner all the days of his life was the Cadwaladr standard (the Welsh Dragon).
    Llew Tudor

  7. Cerelle Bolon

    How can I subscribe to your blog? I enjoy very much these blogs, and as I am descended from Jasper Tudor, therefore Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor, I am reading all I can about them and their lives. I recently was lucky enough to be allowed into the Chantry Chapel at Westminster Abbey to visit the grave of my 15th great grandmother, Catherine de Valois. What a wonderful experience. Thanks..

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