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  • Owen Tudor by Terry Breverton

    Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty

    An Alternative Britain

    Over the last two decades there have been many books positing an alternative history of Britain, if a fictional event had occurred, e.g. if Hitler had invaded, if the Cold War had boiled over, and the like. But do we need these scenarios? For instance, with the surfacing of the obscure Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur after centuries of Welsh rebellion, we see an almost fictional turn of events leading to the nation’s conversion to Protestantism.

    The coat of arms of Owen Tudor (c. 1400-1461) is almost identical to that of Ednyfed Fychan, but probably included martlets (heraldic swallows), like the arms of his son Jasper. (Courtesy of Sodacon, Owen Tudor, Amberley Publishing)

    His first biography discovers one of the longest and strangest stories in British history, and accounts for the success of his grandson in gaining the throne of England. The tale begins with the Roman departure from Britain around 410, when it seems that the Christianised British expelled their officials – interpretations vary on this matter. The British were constantly attacked by pagan Irish, Scandinavian and Germanic peoples. Eventually, Saxons, Angles and Jutes pushed the British westwards into Strathclyde, Cumbria, what is now Wales and the West Country. Many escaped to Brittany [Bretagne], where the Breton language is very similar to Welsh, and which explains the origin of the term Grande Bretagne, Great Britain.

    Slowly the British parts of England were taken over, with Cornwall, where the British/Welsh language survived until the late eighteenth century, being the last to succumb. The remaining British, in Wales and Brittany, fought off many attempts at invasion. Their hope for a mab darogan, a son of prophecy, to retake England from the Saes [Saxons] with their pagan language [Saesneg], was never extinguished, perpetuated by generations of bards. To add insult to injury, ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ are Germanic terms from this time, meaning foreign. The real names are Cymru and Cymraeg. The British/Welsh were named ‘foreigners’ in their own land. From 1066 the Franco-Danish Normans, led by William the Bastard, quickly took over England, but Wales held its border. Many of the border counties, the English Marches, had large Welsh-speaking populations up to the late fifteenth century, and many of their population supported the Glyndŵr War of 1400-1415.

    Cymru [Wales] struggled to retain independence against a succession of French kings of England, with many invasions into the land, destroying churches, burning crops and taking slaves. Resentment grew, spurred on by the bards, alongside hopes of a promised deliverer to take back British lands and throw the invaders out. In 1282, however, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, was lured into a trap by the Mortimers, killed and his army slaughtered after they surrendered. His successor, his brother Dafydd, was captured in 1283 and Edward I personally invented his gruesome torture of hanging, drawing and quartering while alive. Previously victims had been hung until dead and then disembowelled and quartered, with the parts being despatched for display. Edward I borrowed heavily for foreign troops and to build the Iron Ring of castles around Gwynedd, reneging upon his massive debts to Italian bankers.

    Catherine de Valois, widow of Henry V, mother of Henry VI (1421-71), who secretly married Owen Tudor and was the grandmother of Henry VII. (Author's collection, Owen Tudor, Amberley Publishing)

    However, there was still constant revolt across Wales, with a succession of meibion darogan [sons of prophecy]. In 1400, an English army was sent across North Wales to deal with the Tudur brothers of Anglesey. They belonged to one of the noble houses of Wales, directly descended from Llywelyn the Great’s seneschal Ednyfed Fychan. They rose in favour of their employer, the deposed Richard II against his murderer Henry IV. Their rising came to be led by a new ‘son of prophecy’, their relation Owain Glyndŵr, and the Welsh fought off ten armies in six invasions of Wales from 1400-1415. The Welsh even invaded England as far as Worcester once, with French help. Ednyfed Fychan’s line had fought the English for centuries, but three of the Tudur brothers were killed, one by hanging, drawing and quartering. Maredudd ap Tudur left a son Owain, born at the start of the war, in 1400. He was probably brought up by the Scudamores of Kentchurch, kinsmen of Philip Scudamore of Troy, who was executed for his part in supporting Glyndŵr.

    Somehow, now known as Owen Meredith, Owain joined the retinue of Baron Hungerford, Steward of the King’s Household in 1420-1421. Nearly all his direct ancestors had fought the English. He may well have fought at Agincourt in 1415, and certainly, growing to manhood during the Glyndŵr War, will have been experienced in arms. In 1422 Owen was appointed as the head of household for Henry V’s 21-year-old widow Catherine of Valois. There is a detailed description in the book of the queen’s upbringing and her brief marriage to Henry V, a man in part of unheroic tendencies. Being not allowed to marry, Catherine clandestinely married Owen in 1428. In secrecy, at the bishops’ palaces of Much Hadham and Hatfield, Catherine gave birth to Edmund Tudor in 1430 and Jasper in 1431. Another son became a monk, but Catherine died in childbirth in 1437. Owen was thrown into prison, escaped, and was captured again.

    However, in 1439 he was released, pardoned by his stepson Henry VI, granted a pension and a place at court and his lands restored. Catherine’s young son Henry VI had no immediate family and ennobled his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper as the earls of Richmond and Pembroke in 1452. Owen Tudor served his stepson Henry VI as a captain in the defence of Normandy, before fighting with his sons on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses [1455-1487 – they did not end at Bosworth]. Edmund Tudor was captured and died in 1456, and his son Henry was born a few months later to Margaret Beaufort. His father and brother fought on, but at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, Owen and Jasper were defeated by Edward, Duke of York. Jasper escaped to fight again but Owen was captured and executed.

    The impressive Carreg Cennen Castle stands on a rocky crag in Carmarthenshire, and was taken by Owen's son Edmund, Earl of Richmond, from the Yorkists in 1456. (Author's Collection, Owen Tudor, Amberley Publishing)

    As well as this first biography of Owen Tudor, I also wrote the first biography of Jasper, a man who fought from the first to the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, 32 years in total, without whom Henry Tudor could never have taken the crown. Which neatly brings us back to alternative histories. Edmund and Jasper Tudor were successively great hopes for the British-Welsh, lauded as inheritors of the age-old prophecy that the Welsh would drive the English back out of the country. Upon Henry Tudor’s adulthood, spent in Brittany and France to escape death by Yorkists, Henry assumed the mantle of mab darogan.

    Henry and Jasper invaded through Wales, support growing all the way, and many, many of Edward IV’s Yorkist followers joined him [including most of the late king’s bodyguard]. Richard III was deserted by nearly all the English nobility at Bosworth in 1485. The mother and sister of the princes he killed [Edward IV’s sons] threw their support behind Henry, which led to Henry marring Elizabeth of York, beginning the Tudor Dynasty. [My books on Richard III and Henry VII make the case for a cathedral interment of Richard’s bones as being quite astounding]. And here we come to ‘real’ alternative history – a man from a long line of nationalists secretly marries the queen of one of England’s greatest heroes. His son fights through the Wars of the Roses. The other son posthumously has a son who takes the crown of England. In turn, his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I turn England and Wales away from Catholicism. And, of course, without Owain’s intervention in history, we would have no Gunpowder Treason Day, which became Guy Fawkes’ Night. Who needs historical fiction when facts are much more interesting?

    Terry Breverton's new paperback edition of Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty is available for purchase now.

  • The Tudor Dynasty by Terry Breverton

    Non-fiction writing is all about fascination – learning intriguing facts and delving to find what is true, misguided or simply wrong. It’s a voyage of discovery but where you have to divest preconceived notions and query everything as you go along. The problem with historical non-fiction is that much material has been hidden, or hijacked with a predictable slant to sell historical fiction books. As a former management consultant I was almost always called in when there were major problems, and then faced the board with unpalatable facts about how they had been running their companies. What I’m trying to say is that you had to go into a company with no preconceived notions, and come up with something acceptable in order to be paid. The way to achieve that was to feed board members with one’s findings as the research progressed, and they could individually say at the final presentation that they agreed with you, as that was what they had been thinking all along. The process saved their faces and ensured full payment for the consultancy was a foregone conclusion.

    The same process applies to writing historical non-fiction – you have to take the reader along with you – following the same research path as yourself. In my book ‘Richard III – the King in the Car Park’, it was pointless decrying his recent cathedral burial until the end of the book, where hopefully all those who are not convinced Ricardians would agree with myself, and with just about every current history academic and writer. I sometimes wonder why people write historical novels – the facts are far, far more interesting and even entertaining.  The Tudors for instance – WOW! What a story. An unknown Welshman, later known as Owen Tudor, impoverished because his father and uncles fought in the Owain Glyndŵr war of 1400-1415, secretly married Henry V’s young widow. He was imprisoned, but one son, Edmond, Earl of Richmond, died fighting for his step-brother Richard II in the so-called Wars of the Roses. Another son, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, rescued Henry, the son of Edmond, born after his father’s death.  Jasper then was the only peer to fight throughout the civil wars, from the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 to Stoke Field in 1487.

    Jasper’s life was spent fighting and escaping, and his father Owen Tudor was executed after being captured at Jasper’s defeat at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Jasper managed to secure his nephew Henry from captivity and they escaped to Brittany and then France, but their lives in exile were at constant threat from Edward IV and then Richard III trying to have them killed. The Tudors’ choice was to either die or try and take the throne of England. With massive unrest against Richard III, their small army landed in Pembroke and swelled in numbers, supported by nearly all of Edward IV’s closest followers. They knew that Richard III had killed his brother’s sons and Edward’s closest friend Hastings, and hardly any lords now followed Richard into battle at Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry’s victory led to general peace across the land and a period of prosperity for the nation. I wrote ‘Everything You Wanted to Know about the Tudors but were Afraid to Ask’, detailing interesting facts about the new dynasty, England’s greatest. My trilogy of books upon the Tudors includes the first biographies of ‘Jasper Tudor – Dynasty Maker’ and ‘Owen Tudor – Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty’. In between them I wrote ‘Henry VII – the Maligned Tudor King.’ They were enjoyable to research and write, and I hope that readers will be informed as well as entertained by them.

      

    Terry Breverton's books Richard III: The King in the Car Park, Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty, Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker, Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask are all available for purchase now.

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