If Henry VII’s reign was to usher in ‘smooth-faced peace, with smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days’, few could have predicted it in 1485. The Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485 was the last armed confrontation between Lancastrians and Yorkists, those two factions that had fought for decades in The Wars of the Roses. The Lancastrians triumphed under the leadership of a 28-year-old exile named Henry Tudor. After winning the throne of England, he wed Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of the dead Yorkist king Edward IV. Thus, the two warring houses were joined in marriage.
The union was both symbolic and necessary. Despite his victory at Bosworth, the exiled nobleman who took the name Henry VII needed the support of those sympathetic to the defeated Yorkist cause. He also needed the legitimacy of his wife’s claim to the throne. He had spent years in exile and campaigned tirelessly to win support for his claim to the English throne. It had not been an easy task. In fact, it was only when Richard duke of York usurped the throne from his young nephew Edward (son and heir of Edward IV) that Henry Tudor became a viable candidate for king.
Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was never based on ancestry alone. He knew, none better, that such a claim would be flimsy at best. His royal blood came from women – his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the granddaughter of John Beaufort (died 1410), the eldest of the bastard sons of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. Gaunt’s eldest legitimate son was the first Lancastrian king of England. The Beauforts were so named because Margaret’s grandfather had been born in Beaufort Castle in Champagne; his mother was Gaunt’s mistress and later became his third wife. After the marriage, their children were declared legitimate by an act of Parliament in 1397 (during Richard II’s reign). When their fellow kinsman Henry IV Bolingbroke came to the throne, he confirmed this act of legitimacy but added a stipulation that the Beauforts should never succeed to the English throne (1407). Certainly no act of government could alter the fact that the Beauforts had been born illegitimate; and Henry IV’s declaration regarding the succession is equally ambivalent – after all, what practical effect could it guarantee? The end result was that the Beauforts occupied an odd position in the English nobility and, taken together as a group, posed a unique threat to the security of the throne.
Margaret Beaufort’s father John succeeded to the earldom of Somerset in 1418 and, after a life of military embarrassment (including seventeen years in a French prison), he married Margaret Beauchamp, daughter of Sir John Beauchamp of Blestoe. A year after their marriage, John was created duke of Somerset. Margaret, his only child, was born on 31 May 1443; she never knew her father. John had led yet another disastrous military expedition to France and ended up dying in Dorset a few days before her first birthday. It was rumored that he committed suicide. Her mother, meanwhile, married again – this time to Lionel, Lord Welles, and survived another four decades. Margaret, however, was the sole heir to the dukedom of Somerset and its vast holdings.
Since she was a great heiress, she was betrothed while still a child to John de la Pole, the son and heir of Henry VI’s chief minister, the marquess of Suffolk. A conspiracy followed which alleged that Suffolk was planning to place Margaret and his son on the throne if Henry VI died childless; there is no proof but it indicates how important Margaret’s royal blood was, even tainted with her grandfather’s illegitimacy. Suffolk was murdered in May 1450 and in early 1453, the marriage between Margaret and John de la Pole was annulled. A child of ten, she was a pawn once more. Henry VI wanted to wed her to his half-brother Edmund Tudor so, at the age of twelve, she was married again. Her new husband was the earl of Richmond. His ancestry was even more colorful than her own.
Edmund Tudor was the eldest son of a princess of France and Queen of England and her Welsh attendant. Catherine of Valois was the youngest daughter of Charles VI of France and Queen Isabelle. At the age of eighteen, Catherine had wed that great warrior-king Henry V. He was fifteen years her senior and, even in life, recognized as one of England’s greatest kings. His triumph at Agincourt in 1415 inspired one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Henry V, and led Charles VI to sue for peace. Charles promised that, upon his death, Henry would inherit the French throne; to show his good faith and secure Henry’s claim, he was wed to Catherine. She was, by all accounts, quite beautiful and vivacious. They were married in May 1420 and, in December, made a triumphal entry into Paris. From there, they sailed to Dover and Catherine was crowned at Westminster Abbey in February 1421. She joined Henry on his public progress through England for a few months but, in June 1421, a year after their marriage, Henry departed again for France. He left knowing his wife was pregnant and, on 6 December 1421, she gave birth to their son, the future Henry VI, at Windsor. Henry V would never see his son. Catherine traveled to France without the child to visit Henry but he then left to besiege Meaux and Catherine went to her parents north of Paris. During the siege, Henry contracted dysentery and died at the chateaux of Vincennes on 31 August 1422. The glorious king of England and heir to the French throne had fallen victim to the scourge of armies everywhere.
His great achievements were not forgotten but, immediately after his death, confusion swept through England. Henry V had died, leaving behind a twenty-year-old widow and an infant son. On 21 October 1422, her father suddenly died, after suffering years of intermittent insanity. The infant Henry VI was now king of both England and France. Catherine, quite naturally, remained at her son’s side, accompanying him to the various public and ceremonial appearances he made as a child. However, her presence was a novel problem in 15th century England – a Dowager Queen who was remaining in England until her son’s majority and would, in all likelihood, wish to marry again. She was, after all, still young and beautiful and contemporaries noted her energy and flirtatiousness. For the protector of the realm (Humphrey, duke of Gloucester) and the royal council, Catherine’s remarriage was a very real concern. Whomever she wed would become step-father to the king; understandably, they viewed such a man as a threat to their own positions of authority. Since they were unable to agree on whom would be allowed to court the queen, they passed a law in 1427 stating that no dowager queen could marry without the king’s permission; furthermore, permission could only be granted once the king reached the age of discretion. Since Henry VI was only six years old in 1427, the council felt that they had effectively delayed any remarriage for some years – at least until the king could no longer be influenced by a step-father. (In fairness to the council, there was no precedent for the problem Catherine of Valois presented; neither of the two queens of England who had outlived their spouses and married a second time – King John and Richard II’s wives – had remained in England. Also, no dowager queen since the twelfth century had married one of her husband’s subjects.)
The council was also careful to keep Catherine under watch. From 1427 until about 1430 she and her entourage lived in Henry VI’s household. In April 1430 she traveled with her son to Paris for his coronation as king of France. Her activities were thus restricted and watched. However, the council was not completely successful at isolating the eligible dowager queen and, around 1431, Catherine met a Welshman named Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur. Their love affair and marriage resulted in four children, the eldest of whom was Henry VII’s father. So, once again, Henry Tudor inherited royal blood from a female.
The origin of Catherine and Owen’s romance is obscure. Later chroniclers attributed it to drunkenness (at a ball, Owen was so drunk that he stumbled and fell into the queen’s lap) or voyeurism (the queen saw Owen bathing in a stream and was attracted to him; she secretly traded places with her maid and arranged to meet him in disguise; Owen was too passionate and attempted to kiss her; she pulled away and received a scratch on her cheek; the next evening, as he was serving her dinner, he saw the wound and was ashamed of his behavior; she forgave him, they fell in love and married.) Whatever the case, they were attracted to one another, fell in love, and married. The legitimacy of the union was never questioned (not even by Richard III when Henry Tudor positioned himself as claimant). Certainly the council was unhappy with her choice for the Welsh were regarded by many as barbarians but, in her choice, she showed good sense. The 1427 statute had stipulated that any man who married the queen without the king’s permission would be subject to fines, imprisonment, and forfeiture of lands. By marrying a man who was simply a member of her household (perhaps the manager of some lands), Catherine effectively protected Owen from retribution. (No one knows the true nature of Owen’s work in the queen’s household but he probably functioned as a steward.)
In 1432 Owen was made an English citizen and in March 1434 Catherine gifted him with some lands of his own in Flintshire. They lived together in the countryside, away from court intrigues, for some years. During this time, he began to follow the English use of surnames and became known, however inaccurately, as Owen Tudor. The couple had four children – three sons and a daughter, though the daughter died young. Their sons were named Edmund, Jasper, and Owen. The latter became a Benedictine monk while his two older brothers struggled to survive in an increasingly hostile England. On 3 January 1437 Catherine had died of an unspecified illness which had plagued her for some time. With her death, Owen lacked protection from the king’s council. They were now determined to finally prosecute him for breaking the 1427 law. Owen appeared before the council and acquitted himself of all charges but, after his release, was arrested. He managed to escape Newgate Prison but was recaptured and sent to Windsor Castle in July 1438.
Eventually Owen would be released and pardoned (1440) and taken into his step-son Henry VI’s household. In the years following Catherine’s death and Owen’s imprisonment, Edmund and Jasper Tudor were cared for by the abbess Katherine de la Pole, the earl of Suffolk’s sister. Around 1442, their half-brother Henry VI began to take an interest in their upbringing and they were brought to London. In 1452, it was decided that the two brothers, now teenagers, should be ennobled. Henry VI decided this out of both affection and politics. He knew he had to recognize his half-brothers in some public manner, making them an official part of the royal family; he also cared for them deeply. So on 23 November 1452, Edmund was created earl of Richmond and Jasper was created earl of Pembroke. They were now the premier earls of England and had precedence over all other laymen except dukes. They were also gifted with estates and rich gifts. On their behalf, the Commons petitioned Henry VI to recognize them as his ‘uterine’ brothers (born of the same mother); this he did, and more. Since no earl, especially the brother of the king, could be penniless, Henry continued to grant his brothers numerous lands and annuities. And, as mentioned before, he also arranged a rich marriage for Edmund to Margaret Beaufort.
The importance of their Welsh blood should not be underestimated. Both Edmund and Jasper strove to maintain the king’s authority in both south and west Wales and their Welsh ancestry (discussed in the Welsh Connection section) made them popular in much of Wales. Welsh support would later prove critical to Henry VII during the battle at Bosworth.
Henry’s youth was spent in the shadow of Henry VI’s disgrace. When Edward IV came to the throne, he was determined to avenge his late father, the duke of York. Henry VI was increasingly deranged, perhaps having inherited his French grandfather’s mental illness. As a result of his dementia, his queen Margaret of Anjou, increasingly dominated the Lancastrian party. She was determined to protect her son’s inheritance and, to that end, dedicated her life to a dangerous and complex problem. The Lancastrian and Yorkist forces met definitively at the Battle of Tewkesbury in summer 1471. Edward, Margaret and Henry’s son, was killed in battle and Henry VI was captured and taken to the Tower of London where he was killed.
The Lancastrian cause seemed dead. Edward IV was, unlike Henry, a capable and strong king. Soon after becoming king he married an unknown widow named Elizabeth Woodville. Understandably, she was anxious to promote the interests of her own family which created conflict with the old nobility. Edward and Elizabeth had many children, including two sons. (Their eldest daughter, also named Elizabeth, would become Henry Tudor’s wife. She was known as Elizabeth of York.) By all accounts, the marriage was happy despite the conflict between the Woodvilles and Edward’s noble Yorkist supporters. The succession was secure and with support from his brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, Edward’s rule was successful. However, Edward died in 1483 and Richard usurped the throne from his two young nephews. This changed the course of English history.
Had Richard not betrayed his nephews, there is every possibility the Yorkist dynasty would have survived. But Richard’s own future would have been quite difficult; he was despised by Elizabeth Woodville, and – as Edward IV’s only brother – he would become the focus of Woodville discontent. That would not have lasted for long and Edward V would have followed his mother’s wishes. The boy had, after all, been raised and tutored by his Woodville relations and hardly knew Richard.
(NOTE: The story of Richard III’s claiming of the throne is told in great detail at his site. Please read those pages to gain a better understanding of the events of 1483-1485. I have not included the information here since this page is about Henry VII.)
Ricahrd was an able administrator but faced quite a few obstacles during his brief reign. If Edward IV had died with no rightful heir, Richard’s ascension would have been viewed much differently. Then, he would have been the rightful king. And since he wed Anne Neville of Warwick, daughter of the ‘Kingmaker’, he would have had crucial support. But Richard’s only son and wife died with months of one another in 1484. He was grief-stricken and also struggling with the nobility, particularly the ambitious duke of Buckingham (a brash and arrogant man with his own share of Plantagenet blood.)
Meanwhile, over in France, Henry Tudor was positioning himself as heir to his murdered uncle Henry VI. With the support of exiled Lancastrians and the French monarchy, Henry planned to mount an invasion of England.
What had prepared Henry for this moment? At twenty-eight he was hardly an experienced soldier but he was used to a life of sudden change. In the 1450s his father Edmund and uncle Jasper were Henry VI’s closest relatives, part of a small group of influential advisors to the king. Other than these half-brothers, Henry VI was bereft of close blood relatives; his uncles, the dukes of Bedford, Clarence and Gloucester, had all died without legitimate heirs and this left both an emotional and dynastic void at the court. Also, Henry’s government was reviled as inefficient and corrupt. His two most prominent ministers were the dukes of Suffolk and Somerset and the English people reviled them. Henry had also raised taxes and spent heavily to assert his right to the French throne. Perhaps if he had been successful at it, the English people would not have grumbled about the taxes. But he wasn’t successful and, as the defeats multiplied, the people grew naturally resentful of the taxation and Henry’s attempts to enforce it. Also, many Englishmen (commoner and noble alike) were uncertain about the very survival of Henry’s dynasty. After eight years of marriage, he and Margaret of Anjou had no children. Increasingly, eyes turned to Henry’s cousin Richard, duke of York, for stability and reform. Henry, perhaps feeling as if Richard were being positioned to either dominate his government or usurp the throne, turned to his small group of advisors for guidance.
Since Edmund and Jasper were young, their role at court was peripheral. Their upbringing had also been quite different from most young noblemen. However, they were not fools and were careful to never alienate the powerful duke of York during Henry’s reign. In the summer of 1453, Henry VI suffered an intermittent bout of madness so severe that he recognized no one, never spoke and had to carried from place to place. Immediate steps had to be taken to ensure the survival of the royal government. The winter of 1453 and 1454 was occupied with the struggle between Queen Margaret and Richard to be declared regent. For whatever reason, the Tudor brothers sided with the duke of York. Finally, on 3 April 1454, Parliament decided to appoint Richard regent during the king’s illness.
There are records showing the brothers attended council meetings and parliamentary sessions; they were also involved in the extensive reform of the king’s household, of which they were members. At that time, their relationship with the duke of York was not regarded as incompatible with their attachment to Henry VI and his Lancastrian dynasty. At any rate, around Christmas 1454, Henry VI suddenly recovered and the duke of York was no longer in power. Instead, Henry VI restored his old favorites to their former positions, notably the hated Somerset (who was the uncle of Edmund Tudor’s wife.) The duke of York and his allies left London in apparent disgust. The Tudor brothers, and most of the court, realized that a breach had been opened in the nobility. Most were happy to see the king recover but they were not happy to see the capable York depart; further, the duke was hated by the queen after their struggle for the regency. If the two groups clashed, which side would the Tudors choose?
The ‘Battle’ of St Albans on 1 May 1455 revealed the extent of the problem. The king had left London to visit Leicester, accompanied by his half-brother Jasper and the duke of Somerset. They spent the evening at Watford and the next day rode on to St Albans; the duke of York and the earls of Warwick and Salisbury were waiting for them. There was a skirmish, several of the king’s servants (including Somerset) were killed, and the king himself suffered a wound on the neck. There was also violent fighting in the streets of the town. The Yorkist forces were successful in capturing the king and escorted him back to London. On 26 May, Parliament was summoned to meet at Westminster in six weeks. As peers of the realm, the Tudor brothers were required to attend. All the lords gathered there swore allegiance to Henry VI but measures were undertaken to fix the kingdom’s disastrous finances. To that end, every grant Henry had made during his reign was revoked – with the notable exceptions of Edmund and Jasper’s lands. This exemption shows that York and his allies wanted Tudor support. They were, after all, members of the royal family.
The second session of Parliament was in November 1455 and the brothers did not attend. They were in Wales, ostensibly to keep the king’s peace there. They had been sent on such a mission before (their only real task given by the king), perhaps because their father had been a Welshman. Eventually, the respect many Welsh felt for the Tudor brothers, particularly Jasper, would aid his nephew Henry Tudor; after all, Henry landed in Pembrokeshire in 1485.
Wales was always a problem for Henry VI for a major rebellion had ended just 40 years before and occasional fighting was not uncommon. Edmund Tudor, as the eldest brother, went there as a representative of the English king. While the duke of York was regent, Edmund led a raid to reassert the duke’s authority on his lands, centered on the castle Carmarthen. He fought – and won – the castle back from a Welsh rebel who had seized it. While the duke was regent, this success was acceptable; Edmund held the castle for Richard and his authority as regent. But after Richard left London in some disgrace, his English supporters in and near Wales were worried. What if Edmund Tudor attempted to return Carmarthen and its lands to Henry VI rather than the duke? Edmund was no longer a representative of the duke as regent; he was now a representative of the king. Determined to reassert Richard’s authority in West Wales, they led a raid on Carmarthen and imprisoned Edmund sometime in September 1456. Edmund was released soon after but had already developed a fatal illness. He died on 1 November 1456 at Carmarthen and was given a fine burial at the nearby Greyfriars Church. No one was ever accused of directly causing his death and it is possible that he always suffered from ill health; government records show he was absent from meetings far more than Jasper. Then again, Edmund was also a husband and on, 28 January 1457, a father; sadly, he died before his son was born. This son would be called Henry and would become the first Tudor king of England.
Kingdoms are but cares,
State is devoid of stay,
Riches are ready snares,
And hasten to decay.
Pleasure is a privy prick
Which vice doth still provoke;
Pomp, imprompt; and fame, a flame;
Power, a smoldering smoke,
Who meaneth to remove the rock
Out of the slimy mud,
Shall mire himself, and hardly ‘scape
The swelling of the flood.
– Henry VI, written while he was
a prisoner in the Tower of London
NOTE: This is a terribly convoluted tale. I have tried to whittle it down to the bare essentials while still conveying the most important information. For a more detailed description of all the battles and plots, find a good book – like ‘The Making of the Tudor Dynasty’ – and devote your weekend to reading it. If you’re wondering why all this stuff about Jasper Tudor is important… well, it consumed the early years of Henry Tudor’s life. Even if he wasn’t directly involved, they were his relatives and their success – or failure – had a direct impact on his life.
Also, the state of the monarchy pre-Henry VII: Edward IV, the first Yorkist king, was the only English king since Henry II to die solvent. Having repossessed the lands of the exiled Lancastrian nobility and seeking support from the middle-class, he was able to run England effectively and efficiently. Whatever his faults as a man (unfaithful and increasingly debauched), he was a good king.
Since Henry VII spent most of his formative years away from this court, he could claim no special understanding of English politics; indeed, if his early life taught him anything it was the tenuousness of a title. His uncle Jasper’s life was the ultimate lesson. On 3 February 1461 Edward, earl of March and son of the duke of York, triumphed over the Lancastrian forces at Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire. It was a terrible blow for Henry VI and Jasper, particularly since Jasper and the earl of Wiltshire had shared command over the defeated army. His father, Owen Tudor, was executed after the battle. Jasper had choice but to flee in disguise, seeking refuge at his lordship of Pembroke. While he tried to solicit Welsh allies, Margaret of Anjou and her son Prince Edward had gathered a large army of northerners. They reached St Albans in Hertfordshire on 17 February and soundly defeated the Yorkist forces led by the ill-prepared earl of Warwick. This victory enabled Margaret to free her husband, prisoner of the Yorkists since the previous summer (the skirmish at St Albans). Her plan was to march straight to London while Jasper Tudor led forces from South Wales. But Jasper was unable to raise enough troops in time and Margaret’s northern soldiers made the fatal mistake of pillaging the English countryside. The Londoners were understandably terrified of the advancing northerners and refused to allow Margaret’s men into London. They did, however, open their gates to the future Edward IV and the earl of Warwick. Henry VI and his family fled to Scotland and Jasper Tudor was left in Wales.
Jasper’s lands were seized and he was hunted mercilessly by Edward IV’s ally William Herbert. There is no record of his whereabouts but he did successfully elude capture, eventually escaping to Scotland. His nephew, four-year-old Henry, was left behind at Pembroke Castle, seat of Jasper’s power in Pembrokeshire. Since William Herbert was awarded Jasper’s lands by Edward IV, Henry was in his custody. Because the young earl of Richmond was a member of the Lancastrian royal family, Herbert paid 1000 pds for his wardship; furthermore, he was given control over the boy’s future marriage. Herbert was never cruel to the boy; in fact, he and his wife, Anne Devereux, had a large family of their own and Henry was part of it. Anne was particularly kind to the boy and, when he triumphed in 1485, Henry Tudor sent for her to come to London. At their home, he was known as the earl of Richmond though his inheritance had been given to Edward IV’s brother George, duke of Clarence. His education was good – two Oxford scholars named Scot and Haseley who were also remembered when he became king.
But Henry rarely saw his mother. A few months after his birth in 1457, she married a man named Henry Stafford. They lived in Lincolnshire and, later, Surrey, long distances from Pembrokeshire. Also, the fall of Pembroke Castle and Herbert’s purchase of her son’s wardship were obstacles. But Margaret’s husband made peace with the new king around 1461 and, while her son was not allowed to return to her guardianship, she was allowed to visit and write to him.
Of course, the exiled Lancastrian nobility (Henry’s family) were involved in countless plots to return to power. Captured spies exaggerated reports of their strength; one told Edward IV that the kings of France, Denmark, Portugal, and Aragon were planning a Lancastrian-led invasion. Certainly any monarch would be uneasy after such reports. Edward IV captured the earl of Oxford and his son, believed to be Lancastrian sympathizers, and executed them for treason. Though the plot was not as grand as the spy alleged, it had involved French support and Jasper Tudor made his way to the continent. Eventually, a convoluted agreement was made with Louis XI the French king. This second plan failed around Christmas 1462. In 1464, Louis XI decided to switch loyalties to Edward IV and urged the other Lancastrian ally, Francis II duke of Brittany, to do the same.
It is difficult not to admire the tenacity the Lancastrian exiles maintained during these years of planning and defeat. Jasper increasingly began to see Wales as the perfect place for invasion since it was always hostile to the English monarchy. The Welsh were understandably sympathetic to any cause which involved this high-ranking Welshman. To many, Jasper was a national hero – a Welshman who had succeeded at the English court and could be counted upon to support their rights. In the spring of 1468, they had cause to rejoice because Jasper was coming to Wales. Edward IV had just made a treaty with independent French nobles which angered Louis XI of France. Accordingly, he decided to once again lend his support to the Lancastrian struggle. But, once again, the support was not as much as necessary. Jasper arrived in Wales and, though he gathered 2000 men, he was eventually routed at Harlech Castle. Jasper once again escaped, some say by impersonating a peasant. Once again, he was in France, still exiled and still defeated. One can only imagine his frustration.
But Jasper’s invasion, however slight, did create a breach in the Yorkist party. Edward IV’s supporter, the earl of Warwick who had marched with him to London in 1461, was becoming dissatisfied with the king. Called the ‘kingmaker’ because of his ability, Warwick wanted more power than Edward was willing to give. In early 1469, the two former allies were not speaking and Warwick raised an army. He was victorious over William Herbert’s army at Edgecote. (Herbert was Henry VII’s guardian and Edward IV’s ally.) Warwick realized he could not claim the throne for himself; instead, he had to switch sides and support Henry VI. So, with Edward IV’s brother George duke of Clarence, unhappy with his brother as well, Warwick went to France. There, Louis XI attempted to reconcile Warwick with his former enemies.
Margaret of Anjou didn’t want Warwick for an ally. She didn’t trust him; he had, after all, had a major role in arresting and deposing her husband in 1461. But Margaret’s desire to reassert Lancastrian authority was great and she reluctantly agreed to his help. Another invasion was planned. Warwick and Jasper would go through Wales and Margaret and Prince Edward follow when it was safe. Henry Tudor was now thirteen years old, certainly old enough to understand the danger he was in after the Battle at Edgecote. Since his guardian had been killed by Warwick, he was under the sole protection of Anne Devereux. She took him and her Herbert children to her family’s home in Herefordshire. Henry’s mother tried to regain custody of her son after Herbert’s death; however, her attempts soon didn’t matter. For when Jasper and Warwick’s army arrived in England, Edward IV was not in London and was unable to reach London before the Lancastrian forces. Therefore, Edward fled to Holland on 2 October 1470. Meanwhile, a relative of Anne Devereux’s had taken Henry Tudor to Hereford and given him to Jasper when he arrived at the city. The reunion of uncle and nephew was undoubtedly emotional for Jasper, an exile from his country for years. Meanwhile, Warwick entered London and freed Henry VI from the Tower.
It was also a reunion for Henry and his mother. Within a few days, he and Jasper had joined Margaret and her husband. They entered London together and spent about six weeks there. On 12 November, Henry left his mother again to leave with Jasper. Henry VI’s restoration immeasurably increased Jasper Tudor’s wealth and prestige (he was rewarded with lands, monies, grants); but Henry Tudor was not made the earl of Richmond. His father’s title had been given to Edward IV’s brother George duke of Clarence and Clarence would not give it back. Since he was an ally of Warwick’s, there was nothing Jasper or Margaret could do for the boy. Jasper, having spent ten years in exile and with little money or prestige, kept his nephew with him and enjoyed his success. Alas, it did not last. Once again, Edward IV and the Lancastrians met on the battlefield – this time at a town called Tewkesbury.
On 12 March 1471, Edward returned from Europe and landed in Yorkshire. He marched south to London, reaching there on 11 April; on 14 April, he fought Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Edward won and promptly killed Warwick. He also regained custody of Henry VI. The situation was once again dire; Jasper Tudor promptly began to raise an army to fight Edward. Meanwhile, Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward arrived in England as planned so many months ago. She knew nothing of Warwick’s defeat and her husband’s capture. Upon hearing the news, she was devastated but unbowed. She gathered an army in the West Country and marched north toward Wales; she was planning to meet and join forces with Jasper. Edward IV was no fool and realized that he must make a quick, decisive strike. He was determined to meet Margaret’s army before she met up with Jasper. Edward and Margaret met south of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471. Margaret was soundly defeated and her son killed during or after the battle. Captured like her husband and with their only child killed, Margaret was taken to London. Jasper Tudor, unable to reach her in time, was an exile once again – and, this time, so was his nephew.
The defeat at Tewkesbury was devastating to the Lancastrian cause. Only hours after Edward IV returned in triumph to London, Henry VI was dead in the Tower. The circumstances of his death were mysterious but the execution of his supporter the duke of Somerset was an open warning. Jasper Tudor had good reason to fear for both his and Henry’s safety. Margaret Beaufort and her husband almost immediately declared allegiance to Edward to protect themselves. But her son, as one of the few surviving males with Lancastrian blood, was destined for France. Jasper hoped that their old ally Louis XI would aid them once again.
Before he arrived in France, however, he fought a battle in Wales at Chepstow. Edward IV was still determined to capture him and sent Sir Roger Vaughan to do so. Jasper Tudor managed to defeat Vaughan and executed him. This ruthless act was uncharacteristic for Jasper but can be easily explained – Vaughan had killed his father, Owen Tudor, almost ten years before at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. The satisfaction of this execution was Jasper’s only comfort as he fought his way to the coast. From there, he, his nephew, and a few servants made their way to France. They ended up landing in Brittany, where the duke Francis II had long supported them. Francis was desperate to preserve his duchy’s independence from the French state and recognized Jasper and Henry as powerful diplomatic tools. If Edward would aid him, then perhaps he would return the Tudors – that was Francis’s official diplomatic message. Edward made several attempts to gain custody of the Tudors but was unsuccessful. His concern, however, was intermittent since they were not in England and he was more concerned with his own family and rule.
From 1471 to Edward’s death twelve years later, Jasper and Henry remained in Brittany, staying at the castle of Suscinio, traditionally used as the duke’s summer residence. Louis XI of France, meanwhile, was engaged in more diplomatic rivalry. Resenting Edward’s relations with his enemies, he sought the release of Jasper and Henry into his custody. He told the duke of Brittany that the Tudors had, after all, intended to go to France itself – their landing in Brittany had been a mistake of bad weather. Also, Jasper had been given a pension by Louis during their earlier stay; consequently, he was a servant of the king and under his protection. Both men wanted to use the Tudors as diplomatic pawns but Francis II was unwilling to give up his advantage. The Tudors stayed in Brittany, under increasingly strict control. There were reports that Edward IV wanted Henry killed and that Louis XI was going to kidnap them.
Edward IV had to console himself with Francis II’s promise that the Tudors were under protective custody. In the mid-1470s he tried a new strategy, with the aid of Henry’s mother. She had extracted a promise from the king that some of her lands would pass to her son on her death. Edward not only agreed but he also suggested an English bride – perhaps one of his own daughters – for the exiled earl. Margaret Beaufort gave her full support to this plan. She wanted her son in England above all else. Whether Edward intended to keep his promise is unknown but it was certainly a good idea. By marrying Henry into his family, he would neutralize this last Lancastrian threat. And, for a while, it seemed he would be successful. In late 1476, worn down by ill health and the English ambassadors, Francis II consented to send Henry to England. Henry developed – or faked – an illness at the port and was able to elude being sent home. It may be that he suspected duplicity on Edward’s part or was counseled by his uncle. (It seems evident that Henry, the first Tudor king, shared many qualities with his granddaughter, Elizabeth I, last of the Tudor monarchs – both were shaped by perilous upbringings into cautious, careful rulers. In truth, they bore little resemblance to Henry VIII, Edward VI & Mary I. They were also far more concerned with domestic policy than foreign entanglements.)
Since Henry had, by now, grown into a handsome and affable teenager, he was always welcome at the ducal court. After avoiding being sent to England, he simply returned to the duke’s custody. There, he continued to be treated fairly – indeed, even generously. Every now and again, Edward IV and Margaret Beaufort tried to lure him to England (for different reasons, of course.) Margaret had asked Edward to let Henry stand as heir to her estates and he agreed (in 1472) but by 1482, Edward IV decided this – if Henry returned to England and gained Edward’s favor, he would receive Margaret’s lands plus other estates. But if he stayed in France, he would get nothing. Nothing had been decided when Edward died unexpectedly on 9 April 1483. By this time, Duke Francis was facing instability in his own lands. Naturally enough, this made Henry and Jasper’s position more tenuous. Still, they received as much support from the duke as he could provide, including generous gifts of money.
It may be that, upon Edward’s death, Henry seriously thought of returning home. The events which followed the king’s demise certainly set him upon that course. As recounted earlier, Richard duke of Gloucester, seized the throne from his nephew, Edward V, his brother’s 12-year-old heir. Richard officially seized the throne on 26 June. There was no immediate effect on Henry and Jasper Tudor. But their protectors, the French king Louis XI and Duke Francis II, immediately recognized the possibilities – after all, Richard III’s claim was tenuous and he would need to work out some arrangement regarding other claimants. Jasper and Henry Tudor would bear even greater pressure on Richard than they had on Edward. At first, Richard simply tried to establish friendly relations with the king and duke, without explicitly mentioning the Tudors. His more immediate concern was the closing of French ports to English exiles (notably former Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s brother and a large section of the English fleet.) In England, Margaret still wanted her son to return – though to his rightful position as earl of Richmond, not as king of England. But events soon changed, with the same rapidity of Richard’s usurpation, and Henry Tudor dreamed of more than an earldom.
Richard III’s usurpation was bad enough to most Englishmen, and especially the nobility. But in 1483, Edward IV’s two sons – held in the Tower – mysteriously died. It was whispered that Richard had them murdered and secretly buried. Thus was born the legend of the ‘Princes of the Tower’. (What happened remains a matter of conjecture; mystery novelist and playwright, Josephine Tey, wrote The Daughter of Time, a book which convincingly argues for Richard’s innocence. In that case, Henry VII executed the boys – who would be his brothers-in-law – in order to secure his throne. Morre recently, the lawyer Bertram Fields examines the case in Royal Blood.) The deaths of Edward V and his brother, Richard duke of York, angered the populace and encouraged the image of Richard III as a deceitful murderer. Since Richard never officially responded to the rumors, they were believed to be true. Soon enough, the duke of Buckingham, Henry Stafford, created more chaos. He led a rebellion against Richard III in October and was captured and executed in November.
First of all, it is important to remember that Buckingham, Richard III and Henry Tudor were the only surviving male heirsto the house of Plantagenet. The reasons why Buckingham led a rebellion against Richard are not clear but several possibilities can be considered – first, he had as legitimate a claim to tthe throne as Richard and, gauging popular dissatisfaction with the new king, Buckingham felt he should take his chances and set himself up as the rival claimant (particularly since Edward V and Richard of York were supposedly murdered); second, as a rival claimant, Buckingham undoubtedly felt uneasy about his own safety (particularly when it was rumored Richard had murdered his two nephews; if he had, it was possible he would decide to murder Buckingham as well.) These two reasons alone are sufficient to explain Buckingham’s motivations. Later historians, especially Polydore Vergil (Henry VII’s official historian) would later claim Buckingham really intended to defeat Richard and place Henry Tudor on the throne. But it hardly seems likely; indeed, Buckingham could legitimately believe he had a more solid claim than Henry.
There had been uprisings against Richard III just days after his coronation which highlighted popular dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, Margaret Beaufort had become friends with Edward IV’s widow, Elizabeth Woodville (or Wydeville). Elizabeth heard the rumors of her sons’ deaths in the Tower; she had no way of gauging their truth. But she was eager to reassert her family’s claim to the throne. With her sons supposedly dead, that left her five daughters – in particular, her eldest Elizabeth of York – to claim the throne. They could do so only through marriage to a male claimant (such as Henry Tudor.) So the plan to wed Elizabeth and Henry began in earnest. Both women knew that such a marriage would imply that Henry Tudor wanted to replace Richard on the throne. Margaret quickly sent Christopher Urswick, a young priest from her household, to Brittany. her son, so long an exile and dependent on others, was to plan a return to England – to claim two great positions, husband and king. Margaret also sent a large sum of money to her son, raised from loans in London. She advised him to come to Wales as soon as possible (since he would receive support in Wales, particularly from the duke of Buckingham.)
This, of course, lends credence to the idea that Buckingham wanted to support Henry’s claim. But, again, that is conjecture. Buckingham did write a letter to Henry on 24 September 1483 which stated he would support the rebellion against Richard, even though he and Henry’s interests may not be perfectly compatible. What is certain is that Buckingham suspected his own life was forfeit with Richard III; he and Henry Tudor could sort out things once Richard was defeated. He told Henry the rebellion would begin on 18 October, thus giving Henry three weeks notice. He did not mention acknowledging Henry as king – he also did not mention marriage to Elizzabeth of York. Henry received Margaret and Buckingham’s letters and talked with the duke of Brittany. He needed further financial support but also relied on Francis’s advice. The duke promised support; another vital link was established.
Richard III had not suspected Buckingham of treachery – at first. Thus, he had no large arrmy assembled to fight the duke. But such a massively-planned uprising could not remain secret forever and Richard was informed on 11 October that a vast rebellion would occur in a week. He had heard vague descriptions of a plan a few weeks before and had summoned Buckingham to him. The duke feigned a stomach ache; a more tersely-worded summons soon followed. The duke again refused the summons. By then, the rebellion was a week away and Richard had been informed of Buckingham’s involvement and the extent of the rebellion. Richard hurriedly assembled his army; and though he had been betrayed by Buckingham, his former friend, he was not bitter – he specifically ordered his troops to not ‘rob, spoil or hurt’ any of Buckingham’s followers. Richard was prepared to be merciful.
Buckingham’s rebellion began – and failed, largely because his Welsh tenants decided they liked him less than Richard III. Robbed of this crucial support, he fled to a friend’s home but the friend, Ralph Bannaster, turned him in and, on 31 October, Buckingham was taken to Sir James Tyrell and Christopher Wellesbourne, staunch supporters of Richard III. Once Buckingham had been captured, the other rebellions collapsed. Many of the rebels fled to Brittany, to join Henry Tudor, now their last hope. Richard III attempted to prevent this mass exodus of rebels but failed. Meanwhile, at Plymouth Harbor, Henry heard the news of Buckingham’s execution on 2 November 1483. (He had been delayed on his way to England because of a storm.) His other rival for the throne had been killed (Buckingham’s son and heir was just six years old) but Buckingham’s failure was hardly encouraging. He returned to Brittany, once more an exile after twelve years abroad. His position was perhaps more untenable than before – the uprising had been soundly defeated and Richard III was once again making friendly overtures to duke Francis.
Henry’s only hope lay with the English exiles now joining him in Brittany. There were roughly 500 men, among them the marquess of Dorset. These exiles told him he must reassemble his allies and attack again, before Richard III became more firmly entrenched as king – and before the duke ended his hospitality. In December, Henry gave a speech at Rennes Cathedral meant to boost morale and inspire his supporters. He promised to marry Elizabeth of York, thus joining the houses of York and Lancaster together. The assembled men swore oaths of loyalty to him. Their next task was more difficult – persuading the duke of Brittany to lend them more money to assemble yet another fleet. Again, Henry promised to repay the money. He was fortunate that Richard III had decided to retaliate against Breton and French ships because of their assistance to Henry and Buckingham. The duke was angered and agreed to loan Henry more money. So another flotilla was assembled and final preparations made in mid-spring 1484. But, for some unknown reason, the exiles did not sail for England.
Instead, they remained at Vannes in Brittany. By this time, Henry fully realized the enormous stakes of the enterprise. He was particularly moved by the loyalty of the other exiles. Many were separated from their families and all were wanted men – and they suffered these injuries to support him. He owed them a great debt and it is to his credit that, immediately after Bosworth, he rewarded them. Elizabeth Woodville’s son by her first husband, the marquess of Dorset, was in Brittany as were her three brothers, Lionel, Edward and Richard. They were joined by many loyal servants. All of the exiles were undoubtedly horrified by the supposed murders of Edward V and Richard of York. While these men schemed with Henry Tudor, the object of their schemes – Richard III – attempted to nullify their threat. He tried various tactics, mixing friendly overtures with veiled threats. He knew Margaret Beaufort had sent messages to her son and plotted in the rebellion but he couldn’t risk alienating her husband, Lord Stanley. So he told Stanley to watch his wife carefully, dismiss the servants who had relayed messages, and prevent any contact with Henry and other rebels. He also gave Stanley possession of Margaret’s property for the course of Stanley’s life; after his death, the lands would pass to the crown. Still, Margaret had every reason to be grateful for her life.
In March of 1484, Richard attempted a reconciliation with his former sister-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville. She and her five daughters had sought sanctuary in Westminster. Richard gathered the lord mayor of London, all leading aristocrats and various aldermen to his palace. He announced that – if Elizabeth and her children left sanctuary – he would protect them; they would be reccognized as his kin and given a pension and dowries. Most importantly, he publicly promised they would not be sent to any prisons, including the Tower of London (the site of their brothers’ deaths.)
He also attempted to win over the duke of Brittany again. In this he was aided by the ailing duke’s treasurer, Pierre Landais. Landais believed Brittany’s fate would be better served with an English alliance. It could be, too, that he disliked the assembled rebels. As a result, Henry asked the French king Charles VIII for asylum at his court. Charles agreed and, soon enough, Henry left Brittany for Paris. It was a dangerous decision and, as it was taken without Francis’s permission, would have resulted in his arrest. But he managed to arrive in Anjou with his pursuers just an hour behind. (His uncle Jasper had left a few days earlier, ostensibly to visit Francis at Rennes. Both he and Henry turned away at the last moment and headed toward Anjou.) There were about 400 rebels left behind. Duke Francis certainly had every right to send them back to England, to face certain death. But he did not – sick as he was, he was determined to undo some of Landais’s damage. He allowed the rebels to join Henry in Paris. He also gave them a large gift of money (about 700 livres) to pay for their travel (this was in addition to their living allowance he was also paying!) Henry Tudor was touched by his old protector’s kindness and generosity. He sent a letter of thanks, realizing that the treachery had been Landais’s and not the duke’s.
Of course, the French royal family were very eager to use Henry as a diplomatic weapon against the English. But the situation at the French court was confused and problematic; in the end, Henry relied upon the king’s older sister, Anne of Beaujeu, for assistance. Her role was of vital importance as Henry planned for the greatest battle of his life, Bosworth Field.
The French court which welcomed Henry Tudor was a curious place. King Louis XI had died on 30 August 1483, leaving behind a thirteen-year-old heir who became Charles VIII. As often happened when a minor succeeded to the throne, a power struggle ensued between the new king’s relatives over the role of regent. Charles’s mother, Charlotte of Savoy, was not a serious contender; she had never been involved in politics and was seriously ill. (She died on 1 December.) So the struggle was between Charles’s older sister, Anne, and his younger sister’s husband, Louis duc d’Orleans. Anne was twenty-two years old and married to Pierre, Lord Beaujeu, the heir of the duc d’Bourbon. Anne triumphed over her brother-in-law Louis and her gained control of the government.
Henry Tudor’s former patron, Duke Francis II, soon became involved in this struggle – at least ostensibly. His servant Pierre Landais (discussed on the previous page) was hated by the Orleans party who were seeking an alliance with his old enemies – namely, the noblemen of Brittany who had fled during Landais’s ascendancy. (Naturally enough, they had fled from Brittany to France, where they met with the Orleans party.) On 7 April 1484 these new allies attempted to destroy Landais, breaking into the ducal palace at Nantes and then going to his country house. They failed to find Landais, however, and were forced to flee in shambles. They waited at the town of Ancenis, in Brittany but near the French border. Landais remained in power and seemed to bear no ill will toward the Breton-Orleans conspirators. In autumn, the Orleans party attempted – once again – to make peace between Francis II and his exiled noblemen. This time, they didn’t attempt to kidnap Landais as part of their plan! Landais was a pragmatist and undoubtedly wanted to rid himself of the troublesome Breton-Orleans scheming. So he supported their plan; in doing so, he knew he would anger the French monarchy. Naturally, he turned to England’s King Richard III for assistance, asking that Richard recognize the Orleans-Breton alliance; in return, Landais offered to send Henry Tudor to England. (Landais would then have the support of Burgundy, Orleans, and England against any French designs on Brittany.)
Of course, Henry Tudor fled to France where he was welcomed with open arms. With Henry Tudor gone, Brittany had no olive branch to offer England; this would weaken the Breton-English alliance. It would also aid Anne of Beaujeu in her struggle against the Orleans party. When Henry arrived in Anjou, he sent a messenger to Charles VIII, then at Montargis. The king immediately sent an envoy to greet Henry and bring him to Chartres. The envoy was given the generous sum of 20000 francs for expenses on the week-long journey. Charles was, of course, delighted to encourage Henry in his plan to overthrow Richard III – though less delighted to give him large sums of money on a continual basis, as Duke Francis had. Also, Charles may have been unnerved by the large number of Henry’s English followers who needed to be housed and fed while awaiting developments. Charles did give Henry about 3000 francs to clothe his army and granted permission for Henry to assemble mercenaries for his army. Henry traveled with the king north to Paris (the court spent autumn in the beautiful Loire valley); on 4 February 1485, they reached the French capital. During this journey, Henry finally realized the necessity of immediate and decisive action. He had spent nearly fourteen years as an exile in France and Landais’s betrayal revealed the instability of his position. What if Anne of Beaujeu fell from power? Would he be a pawn for the Orleans cause? Also, it is true that Henry was in his late twenties, strong and healthy and undoubtedly yearning to be his own man. Why would he want to live in other people’s homes, dependent on their good will and generosity?
Richard III was certainly unhappy with events in France. He sent word to Charles of his displeasure and also tried to rally English support against Henry. Henry was sending letters to England during the winter of 1484-5 to inspire potential supporters (since many were dissatisfied with Richard’s rule, for reasons outlined in previous pages.) Richard was aware of these letters and ordered the mayors and sheriffs throughout England to arrest anyone receiving or distributing them. (One of the letters has survived – click here to read it.) An interesting note about these letters – Henry was styling himself King of England, a deliberate and flagrant disregard of Richard’s position.
On 7 December 1484, Richard responded to the letters by sending out his own proclamations. He condemned the exiles supporting Henry in France; he also mocked Henry’s use of the royal title. He also reiterated the ancient animosity between England and France, reminding the English people that – in exchange for Charles’s support – Henry had supposedly promised to return the English possessions in France and relinquish the traditional English claim to the French throne. These, of course, were matters near and dear to all English hearts. From the 12th century onwards, the English claim to the French throne and territories was a patriotic dream shared by all Englishmen. The great heroes of the past (most gloriously, Henry V) had led their countrymen to battle over those claims; thousands of Englishmen died in those battles. By painting Henry as a traitor to one of the most precious English dreams (that of possessing France), Richard hoped to appeal to English patriotism. He also reminded his subjects that Henry would be invading with mercenaries who would commit ‘the most cruel murders, slaughters, robberies and disinheritances that were ever seen in any Christian Realm.’ Once again, Richard appealed to a time-honored English abhorrence of invasion. He also attended to more practical matters – ordering sheriffs to prepare troops for muster and raise cash for military payments.
I would like to emphasize – once again – the tenuousness of Henry Tudor’s claim. At this point, only he and Richard III were viable claimants to the English throne. But Richard’s position was stronger by far (and as will become clear later), the Battle of Bosworth ended in Henry’s favor only because a key nobleman betrayed Richard. This was hardly an auspicious beginning to Henry’s rule. Throughout these pages, I have tried to emphasize the general unpopularity of Richard’s rule – with regard to the disappearance of his nephews. The disappearance sullied Richard’s character and made those Englishmen who didn’t support Henry Tudor less than thrilled about defending Richard III. In other words, they would simply wait out the conflict without openly supporting either party. And that is exactly what most of the country did. Personally, I do not believe Richard III murdered his nephews but, of course, the mystery will always remain open to interpretation. It is true that Richard III has received a ‘raw deal’ from historians. Can we blame this on Shakespeare? Hey, it is a great play but written during the reign of Henry Tudor’s granddaughter. It isn’t likely the playwright wanted to offend the monarch (witness the ending to All Is True for proof of that – a sympathetic introduction to Katharine of Aragon which ends with Elizabeth’s triumphant birth.) Richard was a capable and intelligent man and – whatever the truth about his nephews – had far more experience in government thhan Henry Tudor. He also reacted to betrayal with an appealing mixture of punishment and forgiveness; he was far more conciliatory than, say, Henry VIII. (During this time, an embarrassing episode occurred which may have furthered Richard’s resolve to shore up his support against Henry: John de Vere, the Lancastrian earl of Oxford, was imprisoned at Calais in France; he escaped, along with two English soldiers, to join Henry Tudor in Paris. Understandably, this embarrassed Richard; he issued pardons to the English soldiers at Calais, including de Vere’s supporters, but they still rebelled. In the end, Henry’s morale went up and Richard’s fell drastically. The Oxford episode indicated the lack of loyalty to Richard’s regime. This was coupled with the disloyalty of Sir William Stanley, advising Henry from England.)
Of course, these domestic actions were accompanied by foreign policy initiatives designed to find Richard prominent allies. In this, he was successful as well. Henry Tudor’s old ally, Duke Francis of Brittany, entered into a seven-year truce with England on 2 March 1485. One of the specific points of the truce was that neither side would support rebellion against the other, thus allying Richard and Duke Francis against the French throne. Not surprisingly, Charles VIII began to fear an English-Breton invasion of France. So he encouraged Henry Tudor to hasten his plans to invade England. In March 1485, Richard’s queen, Anne Neville, died and this personal heartbreak had to be shoved aside in the face of Henry Tudor’s rebellion. It was soon rumored that Richard would marry Elizabeth of York or her sister Cecily, thus regaining the support of Henry’s Yorkist allies. Henry, whom Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort intended to wed Elizabeth, was upset but could do little. Meanwhile, Richard kept a shrewd eye on Lord Stanley (I’ll let you alert readers figure out the Tudor-Stanley connection from the earlier pages – here’s a clue: who was Margaret Beaufort married to?) Around July 1485, Stanley asked permission to visit relative in Lancashire. The king was no fool; he allowed Stanley to leave London but kept his son and heir, George, Lord Strange, as hostage. Essentially, Strange remained in Richard’s household in order to assure his father’s good behavior.
Charles VIII was, of course, still encouraging Henry’s planned invasion but still hedging about financial support. When news came that Richard might marry Elizabeth of York, Henry became frantic. He cast about for another prominent Yorkist bride, with little success. More importantly, (with the support of Philippe de Commynes, an influential diplomat) Henry pressed Charles to request money from the French parliament. The French king did so on 4 May 1485 and was successful; he returned with Henry to Paris about a month later. Already, plans to assemble an invasion fleet were being approved. At Harfleur, near the mouth of the River Seine, Henry spent about 50000 livres to assemble 4000 men. Of these, 1500 were discharged soldiers from a base at Pont de l’Arche. The French soldiers were commanded by a nobleman from Savoy called Philibert de Chandee, who later became a good friend of Henry Tudor’s. There were also Henry’s 400 English supporters who had shared his exile. Henry placed these men under the command of Richard Guildford. (It was later rumored that about 1000 Scots joined Henry’s force; whether that number is correct or not, some Scots did fight on Henry’s side.)
Henry’s great enterprise was about to begin. On 1 August 1485, Henry and his followers left Honfleur and sailed down the Seine into the Channel. On 7 August, they sailed into Milford Sound near sunset. They actually landed at Mill Bay, inside the Sound. This was the land of Pembrokeshire where Henry had been imprisoned as a young man. Upon landing, Henry knelt down and whispered, ‘Judge me, Lord, and fight my cause.’ He kissed the English soil, crossed himself, and told his men to follow him – in the name of God and St George. It was no coincidence that he landed in Wales, his father’s native land; it was there that he hoped to gain crucial support for his cause.
(NOTE: Historical sources regarding the actual battle at Bosworth are scanty at best. No one who actually fought at the battle recorded the battle; typically, the chroniclers from London recorded great events but they were far from the action in 1485. Also, the supporters of Richard III didn’t want to remember their defeat – and unlikely to write about in the chargged political climate. Henry’s supporters were concerned with more immediate matters after the battle – namely, beginning the rule of a very ineexperienced monarch who had not been to England in fifteen years. And there is another very important fact – medieval battles are incredibly confusing to describe (just as they were confusing to fight.) Imagine a Revolutionary War battle – the British soldiers in matching red coats, marching in perfect cadence to a fixed point, they shoot, reload and aim with some degree of consistency. Medieval warfare did not proceed along those lines. In general, it was chaotic and confusing to the participants – and the chroniclers. So if the following account confuses you a little, you’re in good company. I have tried to be as clear as possible, to the extent of omitting stuff which is particularly confusing (including Henry’s mysterious ‘disappearance’ the night before the battle; that will eventually be included in the Primary Sources section, directly from Polydore Vergil’s work.
The most prominent chronicler of the Battle was Polydore Vergil, Henry VII’s official court historian. Of course, his version is the official Tudor account but we must rely upon it. In most respects, Vergil had little reason to alter anything since the Tudor claimant was victorious.)
Henry’s force marched to the nearest inhabited area, a settlement called Dale. There they spent the night; the next day (8 August) they left Dale to a castle called Haverfordwest, about 12 miles to the north-east. The townsmen actually welcomed the invaders, an indication of their nebulous loyalty to Richard III. Of course, news of Henry’s arrival on English soil was only just spreading along the coast. In this northern part of Pembrokeshire, there were fewer castles and – again – it was Jasper Tudor’s former home. Also, Richard III had extensive control over south Wales, which shows that Henry’s Welsh support was as nebulous as Richard’s English support. Richard’s control over much of Wales also meant that Henry was forced to march north into the center of Wales. And, of course, it must be recalled that the Stanleys (his mother’s in-laws) controlled much of north Wales and Cheshire. Sir William Stanley was Richard III’s chief lieutenant in Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, and Merioneth, cities which made up the northern part of royal holdings in Wales. (Remember that Sir William was the younger brother of Henry’s stepfather.) Henry may have been in touch with the Stanleys immediately upon landing in Wales. Oddly enough, a letter Henry sent to another supporter, John ap Maredudd ab Ieuan ap Mareddud, has survived; it was written about 8 August, immediately after the landing, and designed to gain Welsh support. The letter to ap Mareddud can be read by clicking here. What did ap Mareddud do? We don’t know – though it is true that Henry did have some significant Welsh support. Of course, it was nowhere near as great as many later remembered. And it is false to state that every Welshman welcomed the return of Owen Tudor’s descendants. Certainly the Tudor dynasty in no way favored Wales or its native population – so any support from the Welsh was not rewarded. In 1536, in particular, the Welsh had good cause to resent any support they had given. After Bosworth, certain laudatory poems and songs were written – but as these were dedicated to an actual king than a pretender to the throne, they were naturally fawning.
In reality, Henry did not receive a rapturous welcome. On 8 August, at Haverfordwest, he received a crushing blow – John Savage, nephew of Henry’s stepfather, and the powerful Welsh lord, Rhys ap Thomas, were not planning to support his cause. Of course, they had promised otherwise while he was in France but Richard III suspected both men of disloyalty – and before Henry landed, he made certain they understood the penalty of treason. With this crushing news, even the professed loyalty of Pembroke was small consolation. Henry’s march from Havefordwest northeast to Cardigan and there to Machynlleth (about 100 miles from the Dale settlement) is not documented. He arrived at Machynlleth on 14 August and wrote a letter to Sir Roger Kynaston, the guardian of the Grey estates; to pass safely to Shrewsbury, Henry needed – at the very least – Kynaston’s inaction.. The guardian didn’t need to declare for him but he could at least not impede his progress. Click here to read the letter to Kynaston. Whatever Kynaston’s decision, Henry did pass safely through to Shrewsbury. To get to this point, his force had marched through the mountains of Wales but they had the continual arrival of good news to cheer them on the lonely journey – supporters were marching to join them, bringing along much-needed supplies. Among these supporters was Rhys ap Thomas, who finally decided to honor his previous promise. Rhys later said he brought almost 2000 men with him; if true, his force made up a third of Henry’s entire army. They were in time to join Henry at Shrewsbury, the traditional gateway to the English midlands; they marched along the old Roman road even as supporters sent along money to pay the mercenary troops. But at Shrewsbury, Henry’s progress was no longer easy.
Shrewsbury was an important town and had two bailiffs, Roger Knight and Thomas Mitton, both in power for about two decades. They had prospered under Richard III, notably from the failure of Buckingham’s rebellion (notably, Mitton received Buckingham’s castle and Shrewsbury’s tax bill was significantly reduced.) And one must remember Richard III’s admonitions to the English people, specifically warning them of the dangers of mercenary troops. The people of Shrewsbury had no desire for foreign troops to plunder and pillage their town. (Keep in mind that Henry’s army was not primarily English.) When Henry requested permission to march through the streets, Mitton made a familiar reply – “over my belly.” Henry could not afford to go around the city so he retreated. At a nearby village, he composed a letter to the bailiffs, promising that his men would simply march through Shrewsbury peacefully, without causing any damage or harm. He respected the oath of loyalty to Richard III and did not expect any of the townspeople to break it. The letter may not have swayed the bailiffs but the arrival of Rowland Warburton, a retainer of Sir William Stanley, arrived and persuaded the bailiffs to let Henry pass. The Stanley support was impressive enough to sway even Mitton, who lay on the ground so Henry could step over his belly (thus keeping his former oath.)
What effect did this ‘adventure’ have on Henry? He realized, once again, that his support was not widespread. Indeed, in the end he relied upon the apathy of the English population – essentially their decision to not actively support Richard III. Shrewsbury was the first English town he marched through, a test of how the average citizen would respond to his invasion. Since they did not recognize his claim to the throne, Henry had little to celebrate.
In a way, his march was as much a public relations enterprise as a military endeavor. Everywhere he went, he attempted to drum up support – and he was often successful. More men and prominent lords joined the cause, all for various reasons. At Stafford, Henry met up with Sir William Stanley. Stanley brought news that Richard III, informed of Henry’s march, was camped at Nottingham. From there, it was just a brief march south to block Henry’s path to London. In other words, Stanley was urging Henry to hurry if he wanted to reach the capital. Henry marched to meet Richard, stopping for the night at Lichfield; as at Shrewsbury, he kept his army outside the walls so as not to offend the citizens.
Now it gets a bit confusing: Lord Stanley, whose son Lord Strange was Richard’s ‘hostage’, was marching with about 5000 men toward Lichfield (presumably to meet up with Richard III at Nottingham.) He did not dare meet with Henry Tudor, though he supported his claim. Ostensibly, Lord Stanley was loyal to Richard. So he avoided Henry’s army though, supposedly, sent a message assuring him of eventual support. Of course, promises can be easily broken and Henry was uneasy. He knew Richard had scouts watching Stanley and held his son hostage. Under such circumstances, Stanley’s support was not completely assured. Meanwhile, Lord Stanley’s brother – Sir William – had met up with Henry’s army at Lichfield on 20 August. Lord Stanley had arrived near Atherstone, close to the actual battlefield. On this Saturday (20 August, still!), Lord Stanley sent his brother a message that Richard was near and fighting could begin in just three hours. This, of course, did not happen. But the Stanleys apparently met together and decided on a course of action – namely, they would not publicly declare their support for either Richard or Henry. On Sunday, they apparently decided upon their battle plans – namely, Lord Stanley’s betrayal of Richard.
Lord Stanley was, of course, Henry’s stepfather but his waffling is understandable. But it caused both Richard III and Henry a great deal of anxiety. Henry secretly met with the Stanleys on 21 August but, after the meeting, was still unsure of their unqualified support. Under such circumstances, Henry’s nervousness was greater than the king’s. But Richard was far from secure himself. He was at Nottingham when he heard of Henry’s arrival in Pembrokeshire and, from there, his steady march through Wales to the midlands. As mentioned earlier, Richard had made preparations for this moment in 1484. So he ordered his nobles and gentry to assemble according to plan. He was undoubtedly unnerved that Henry was receiving some measure of support and that his march was essentially unimpeded. He called the dukes of Northumberland and Norfolk to him, as well as the lieutenant of the Tower of London (where most of the king’s weaponry was stored.) Because Sir William Stanley did not respond to summons, Richard declared him a traitor. He also intimidated Lord Strange enough for the young man to confess to some sort of ‘conspiracy’ to betray the king. This simply confirmed Richard’s fears. He realized as well that Henry was trying to reach London as quickly as possible. So he gathered his own forces to prevent this; he was later called a coward for not confronting Henry sooner but consider this – Richard wanted to assemble as many supporters as possible while dragging out the ordeal for Henry’s army. The assembled mercenaries were tired, hungry, and – like Henry – knew the crucial Stanley support was not secure. Richard’s army was a bit larger than Henry’s though exact figures do not exist. They marched south in traditional square battle formation, Richard and his guard behind two groups of horsemen. There were about 100 knights and noblemen who had responded to Richard’s summons. Most of these men were from the north, specifically Yorkshire and Lancashire. Richard marched with these men as the King of England, wearing his crown and coat-of-arms. It was imperative that every Englishman who watched the march be reminded the Richard was the king and Henry just a pretender. He would be crushed just like the duke of Buckingham.
Finally, on 21 August (Sunday), both armies knew battle was near. Richard knew Henry’s camp was near Atherstone; he himself camped at the plain of Redmoor. The next day the forces would meet on the battlefield, a place later called Bosworth Field.
(I wanted to point out an interesting fact about Henry’s tactics prior to Bosworth; by marching toward London, he essentially determined where the battle would be fought – wherever he and Richard met up on the way to London. So Bosworth Field was not chosen for any purpose other than the two armies met there. Today, it is impossible to adequately understand the geography of the battlefield and Richard and Henry’s camps prior to the battle; hundreds of years of building, etc. have altered the landscape.)
(Also: William Brandon, Henry’s standard bearer, was slain at this battle. His son, Charles, would become Henry VIII’s best friend, husband to Princess Mary Tudor & grandfather of Lady Jane Grey. His biography is available at Tudor Citizens.)
The actual battle supposedly took place on Redmoor plain, near Richard III’s encampment. Long after the battle, it came to be called the Battle of Bosworth Field because the town of Market Bosworth lay to the north of Redmoor plain. Also, a Welsh chronicler asserted that the battle actually took place at the town. In other words, there is some debate about where the battle took place – though one can reasonably assert it occurred at Redmoor plain.
Sunday 22 August began inauspiciously for Richard III and one of his most powerful allies, the duke of Norfolk. Richard admitted he had slept little and suffered bad dreams; in the superstitious medieval world this did not bode well. Also, the duke of Norfolk found a sign outside his quarters which read, ‘Jack of Norfolk be not so bold, For Dykon thy master is bought and sold.’ After his sleepless night, Richard arose earlier than even his chaplain (so there was no morning mass) and had no breakfast. He insisted on wearing his crown throughout the day, as he had insisted upon marching to Redmoor clad in his ceremonial robes and crown. Henry Tudor had spent a sleepless night as well, and his morning began with disturbing news. His stepfather, Lord Stanley, was still officially part of Richard’s force. In fact, Stanley’s force waited between Henry and Richard’s camps. But when Henry pushed his stepfather to join him, Stanley still demurred (this on the day of the battle!) One can imagine Henry’s response. Stanley sent Henry a brief message; he should prepare his army for battle and wait for Stanley to join him at the appropriate moment. (Note: Richard’s archers were under the command of the duke of Norfolk while Henry’s archers were under the command of John de Vere, the earl of Oxford. The actual make-up of each army is a matter of debate as well, as is their size. They each had a number of infantry and cavalry, complemented with cannon and guns and – of course – the traditional bows and swords. One chronicler estimated Richard’s cannon at 140; Henry had cannon brought from France. As to the actual numbers involved, chroniclers are always prone to exaggeration and this time was no exception. We know Henry landed in Wales with about 4000 and was joined by a large number of reinforcements; Richard’s force must have been equal – at least. Sir William Stanley led about 3000 troops.)
One more mention of the Stanleys: Richard was less troubled by their waffling than Henry. After all, Richard would have been content if they simply stayed out of the battle whereas Henry was desperate for their support. Therefore, Richard’s army had higher morale – and supposedly larger numbers.
Henry marched northeast at a leisurely pace toward Richard’s camp. Were his troops wary of attacking first? Undoubtedly; but, in the end, Richard decided to order his attack when Henry’s force passed by a march. At this time, he also realized that Lord Stanley was not joining him. (He could see Stanley’s army motionless on the field.) Richard ordered his hostage, Lord Strange, beheaded but in the heat and confusion of battle, the order was not carried out. The first moments of battle were an indication of the chaos to come. Immediately, arrows were exchanged and then hand-to-hand combat began. Swords, pikes, aces, spears…. These were the weapons of choice. (Interesting note: Richard’s ally, the duke of Northumberland, waited at the rear of the army with a well equipped force which never entered battle for one simple reason – the topography of the battlefield.)
Richard’s scouts told him that Henry, too, remained outside the fighting, observing the battle with a small group of supporters. By identifying Henry’s standard, Richard determined his exact position. Then he undertook a most courageous and incredible feat – he spurred his horse to ride directly at Henry, the pretender to his throne. He knew that if Henry was slain – before Stanley intervention – the battle would end. On his horse, at full gallop, he slay a great number of those around Henry (notably his standard bearer, William Brandon, and that respected soldier, the ‘giant’ John Cheyne.) Henry, of course, was innocent of real experience in battle but he did not run – though he also kept a horse nearby in case the battle was lost. Still, the tide would have turned against Henry except…. the Stanleys finally entered the battle, on the Tudor side!
It cannot be emphasized enough that Richard III died valiantly in battle. Every later chronicler asserted his bravery and skill. One wrote that, after Stanley’s men swarmed around him, Richard fought ‘manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.’ According to Polydore Vergil, ‘that day he would make end either of war or life'; he would ‘die like a king or win victory in this field.’ He was wounded several times but refused the advice of his few companions to flee. He also refused the offer of a horse. His heroism was evident to all. In the end, he could not prevail. His crown was knocked from his head; his head was struck so many times that the helmet was beaten into the skull; even after his death, his body continued to be beaten. Around him lay the bodies of his few companions – Conyers, Brackenbury, Ratcliffe…. There is a legend that his crown landed in a hawthorne bush; true or not, it was soon enough in Henry Tudor’s hands – and not because of any personal bravery on the part of the first Tudor king.
The battle lasted about two hours. Its outcome – Henry’s triumph – was only made possiblee by Stanley’s disgraceful betrayal of his king. Had he waited a few moments longer, Henry may have been personally killed by Richard. That single action inaugurated the Tudor dynasty – and it was a shameful inauguration. Whatever his qualities before the battle, his actions immediately afterwards are not endearing. Richard III, who had fought so heroically and suffered an awful death, continued to be humiliated and abused. His body was slung naked over a horse, arms and legs hanging over the sides; a halter was tossed around his neck to symbolize his defeat. In this manner, he was taken to a friary in Leicester where his body lay on view for two days; it was naked from the waist down except for a scant and cheap black cloth. He was buried at the friary with no ceremony. The church no longer exists – Henry’s son ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s and Richard’s grave was opened and the body thrown out. Later, the coffin was supposedly used as a horse trough and cellar steps in a nearby manor. Richard III remains the only English king since 1066 to have no burial place. He was also the last English king to die in battle.
Henry Tudor had now declared himself Henry VII and Lord Stanley placed Richard’s crown upon his stepson’s head. His officers were busy settling old scores, executing old foes and rounding up the prisoners. In the end, we can reasonably estimate that about 400 men – in total – died that day. Of course, after the battle few wanted to talk about the actual fighting – those two hours which ended in betrayal and death for one king and the beginning of one of the most celebrated dynasties in English history.
On a personal note….
I do want to stress that Henry Tudor did nto participate in the fighting – and, in fact, he kept a horse nearby so he could flee if the battle was lost. In other words, he planned to ‘turn tail and run’, as the cliché goes.
It might seem odd that a king who supposedly won his crown in battle was actually quite cowardly on the battlefield, and didn’t participate – but it’s the truth. Richard III only lost because Lord Stanley disgracefully betrayed his king. And he did so after Richard had already forgiven him numerous offenses (many bordering on treason), and had treated him kindly. Henry may have claimed a crown that day, but he claimed no glory.
You may visit the Richard III Society site for the other side of the story.
Henry Tudor as King
‘His [Henry VII] body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue; his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and grey; his complexion pale’.
Polydore Vergil, from the Anglica Historia
Many historians have long argued that Bosworth Field marked the end of medieval England, and the beginning of more modern government. This assumes at least some drastic changes occurred during the 24 years Henry ruled England. However, no such changes occurred. Henry maintained the government of his predecessors; he simply had a more efficient administration.
This should detract from his formidable accomplishments. Despite his very questionable claim to the throne, Henry proved himself to be an able and enthusiastic king. He devoted himself to the minutiae of government, personally initialing household account books. He was quite miserly, which greatly benefited his spendthrift son Henry VIII, but this was understandable – the first Tudor king knew financial success would be the life or death of his new dynasty. Like all monarchs, he needed money – and often badly. But he needed parliament’s permission to raise taxes or create new ones. Yet Henry knew that parliament would be opposed to giving a new – and unpopular king – more sources of revenue, particularly since England’s economy was not prosperous. And so Henry only called parliament seven times during his reign. Instead of creating new methods to raise money, he cannily exploited the existing sources. Every loophole that existed was stretched wide – Henry sought every penny he could from eevery source of revenue. And he protected the money fanatically. Few monarchs lived so frugally, and as Francis Bacon noted, ‘towards his queen [Elizabeth of York] he was nothing uxorious, nor scarce indulgent….’
For Henry VII, money equaled security. And so rights of Wardship, Marriage, Promotions, and Death, forced loans and benvolences, and trade dues were all tools to gain financial security.
Upon becoming king, Henry’s immediate problem was the same as his Yorkist predecessors – the legitimacy of his claim to the throne. Bosworth Field had not ended the struggle for England’s crown, and Henry faced considerable unrest throughout the early years of his reign. The Northerners (who never lost their distrust of the Tudors) had supported Richard III, and did not welcome a Welsh king. And Yorkist support continued in Ireland (where Lambert Simnel was crowned Edward VI 1487), and in Europe (where Edward IV and Richard III’s sister Margaret lived on as the influential duchess of Burgundy.) Also, because Henry’s claim to the throne was so weak, he inevitably had to work harder to create the impression of royal authority. By all accounts, he lacked the majesty, or charisma, of his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I. But charisma was perhaps a negligible quality during those early years; more important were hard work, dedication, and discipline. And Henry possessed those qualities in abundance.
First, Henry benefited directly from the Wars of the Roses – heirs to many of the old noble families were killed during the battles. Henry simply appropriated their lands and revenue. Those that had supported Richard III (those that survived, that is) were attainted and their estates confiscated. He also created a council ‘Learned in the Law’ in 1495 to deal with enforcement of already-existing taxes, particularly those owed by the nobility. Henry also forbid nobles to retain their own armies. A small number of attendants was acceptable, but Henry did not want any lord to have more power than the king. Edward IV had attempted the same maneuver, with less success. Henry was aided by a simple fact – as king, he owned most of the gunpowder in the country. Therefore, he simply blew up the castles and keeps of recalcitrant barons. It was quite an effective policy, though Henry did not curb the power and influence of all nobles. But it is worth noting that the English nobility, already in decline during the Wars of the Roses, fell from influence rapidly under the Tudors – under Elizabeth I, for instance, England had just one duke (and he was executed for treason.)
Henry did continue the Yorkist tradition of promoting government officers from the middle class (primarily clerics and lawyers.) But he did not create the middle class government that many historians propose; nobles still retained the most powerful positions. Henry kept many of Edward IV and Richard III’s councilors, and these were either from the aristocracy, or related through marriage. But it should be noted that the middle class was growing in power and influence, and carefully making its way through the corridors of power.
Henry also revived the powers of the Justices of the Peace, first introduced by Henry II. They administered the king’s justice throughout England, and were supposedly free of local prejudices. His Yorkist predecessors had appointed a Council of the North and thus allowed the great border families of Neville, Dacre, Scrope, and Percy to rule as virtually independent princes with their own armies. This was necessary because the Scottish border was notoriously difficult to maintain; raids from the north were all too common, and the Yorkists had needed the Northern lords to protect English interests. When Edward IV was king, Richard had been ‘Lord of the North’, having inherited the vast Neville estates through his wife. Henry was not so inclined – he did not want the Northern families to be too powerful; after all, they could turn that power against their king. But he also knew the North needed a strong leader, a servant of the crown. And so he released the last Percy heir, the earl of Northumberland, from the Tower of London and appointed him Lord Warden of the East and Middle Marches. But Henry carefully trimmed Percy’s powers, and only allowed the council to meet sporadically. He successfully subdued it into becoming a mere extension of his own London-based authority.
Henry also attempted to quell the Scottish problem, and undercut the Auld Alliance (the alliance between France and Scotland), by marrying his eldest daughter Margaret to the king of Scots in 1503. He planned to marry his youngest daughter, Mary, to Charles, the prince of Castile. His eldest son and heir apparent, Prince Arthur, was wed to the youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the powerful ‘Catholic Kings’ of Spain. With these marriage alliances, Henry hoped to protect his domestic interests; he did not want to engage in costly foreign wars since the establishment of his own dynasty was more important, but he needed foreign allies. Marriage was less costly than war, and – Henry hoped – more effective. The matches were impressive, particularly the match with Spain since it meant that the most powerful European monarchs recognized his shaky claim to the throne.