Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

The Descent of the Tudor Dynasty, by Teresa Cole

 

The recent reburial of Richard III at Leicester has perhaps reminded us of the great clear out of English nobility that took place at the Battle of Bosworth Field where Richard met his death, and at the preceding battles of the so-called Wars of the Roses. The winner at Bosworth, Henry Tudor, was the last remaining Lancastrian candidate for the throne and though his claim was very flimsy he was duly crowned Henry VII.

He was the founder of the Tudor dynasty of kings and queens of England, but you have to go back five generations to reach Henry’s direct connection to a previous king, and at that it was an illegitimate link on his mother’s side through the Beauforts, who had been barred from any claim to the throne by an Act of Parliament. Henry did, however, have a closer link to a queen of England: he was the grandson of Katherine de Valois, who was the widow of King Henry V.

Elizabeth of York was the queen chosen by Lancastrian Henry VII to mend the rifts caused by the recent wars. She became the mother of the Tudor dynasty, and by one of history’s strange quirks, she was also the granddaughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the widow of Henry V’s younger brother, John. The Tudor dynasty, therefore, was descended from the widows of both Henry V and his brother.

Tudor - The marriage of Henry V and Katherine of France, 2 June 1420. The marriage of Henry V and Katherine of France, 2 June 1420.

When Henry V died of dysentery in 1422, his wife Katherine de Valois was left at the age of 21 with an 8 month old baby son who then became Henry VI. Under her husband’s will there was no role for his widow, even the upbringing of her son was entrusted to others, but, as the mother of the new king, she was required to remain at court in England instead of returning to France.

Sometime later, it appeared that the young widow was falling in love with one of her husband’s cousins, Edmund Beaufort. A law was passed to say that Katherine could not remarry without the consent of the king, and furthermore that the king could not give his consent until he had reached the age of 21. He was at the time six years old. Any man who did marry her without consent would lose all his lands for life.

Beaufort quickly withdrew, but a bolder man, Owen Tudor, soon took his place in the queen’s affections. He has been credited with various roles in the queen’s household, including Master of the Horse, but was probably some kind of senior steward. It has never been definitely proved that the two married, but they certainly had a number of children together, one of whom was Edmund Tudor.

Katherine died in 1437, a few days after the birth of her last child, and for a while the Tudor family seemed destined for obscurity. Soon, however, her firstborn son, the king, Henry VI began to take an interest in his young half-brothers. Edmund was given a place at court and the title Earl of Pembroke. When the so-called Wars of the Roses broke out Owen Tudor was a strong supporter of Henry, leading an army on his behalf. He was defeated at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, and was beheaded at Hereford a few days later, bemoaning that he was to lose ‘the head that had lain in Queen Katherine’s lap.’

Before this time Edmund Tudor had married Lady Margaret Beaufort – coincidentally the niece of that Edmund Beaufort Katherine had loved before. Margaret was twelve years old at the time of the marriage and only thirteen when her husband died just over a year later. She was, however, around six months pregnant at the time, and in January 1457 gave birth to a son, Henry Tudor. Unsurprisingly the birth was a difficult one and Margaret never had another child, but her son would go on to become King Henry VII of England in 1485.

Tudor - Elizabeth of York Elizabeth of York

The descent of Elizabeth of York is an even stranger story. John, Duke of Bedford, was the brother of Henry V and some three years younger. He spent almost his entire life as a capable and loyal deputy, first of his father, then his brother and finally of his baby nephew. Even his marriages, though apparently happy, were made to further royal policy. From 1422 he spent much of his time in France acting as Regent for Henry VI, and in his forties married the seventeen year old Jacquetta of Luxembourg as his second wife. When he died two years later his chamberlain, Sir Richard Woodville, was instructed to accompany the widowed duchess back to England, where she had been granted lands on condition that she did not remarry without the king’s permission. However the story is told that they fell in love on the journey and were secretly married soon after.

Strange tales are told about Jacquetta. Her family claimed a connection to a legendary female water spirit, Melusine, half woman, half fish, and sometimes shown with wings as well. Melusine, the spirit of fresh waters and sacred springs was said to be fiercely protective of her descendants, and certainly Jacquetta seemed to prosper in England. Her marriage was later accepted by the king – she was, after all, his aunt by marriage – and was long and fruitful.

The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was reputedly very beautiful. She made a first marriage to Sir John Grey who was killed at the battle of St. Albans in 1461. Thereafter she so enchanted the new Yorkist king, Edward IV (with or without the assistance of Melusine), that he risked his throne by marrying her in secret – something of a family tradition. When later accusations of witchcraft were made against Jacquetta, some said she had used the dark arts to ensnare the king for her daughter.

Whether she had or not, the marriage was long-lasting, surviving not only the outrage of Edward’s chief supporters when it was made public, but also the promotion of Elizabeth’s numerous brothers and sisters into positions of prominence at court. It produced two royal princes, Edward and Richard, later to be the Princes in the Tower, and a daughter, Elizabeth of York.

It was the marriage of Henry VII to this Elizabeth of York which finally united the rival Lancastrian and Yorkist factions and founded the Tudor dynasty descended on both sides from the widows of Henry V and his brother John.

It is strange to think that, but for the secret marriages of two women who should not have married at all, we would never have had the brilliant, violent, colourful Tudors whose actions changed the whole course of British history.

Tudor - 9781445636795 Henry V by Teresa Cole

 

 

A great deal more can be discovered about Henry V and his brother John in my book Henry V
which is out now.