The Life of Owen Tudor
The Life of Owen Tudor.
Owen Tudor, a historical figure from medieval Wales, is known for his remarkable story that involves love, loyalty, and political intrigue. As a humble squire who rose to prominence, Owen Tudor’s life was intertwined with the tumultuous events of the Wars of the Roses, and his legacy would leave a lasting impact on the history of England and Wales.
Early Life and Background
Owen Tudor was born in Wales in the early 1400s, during a time of political instability in the region. Wales was a divided country, with various noble families vying for power and influence. Owen was the son of Maredudd ap Tudur, a Welsh gentleman from Penmynydd in Anglesey, and it is believed that he grew up in North Wales.
Owen’s family traced it’s lineage back to Ednyfed Fychan (died 1246), a warrior who became a important figure in Gwynedd serving the famous Welsh Prince, Llywelyn the Great. More recently, his grandfather, Tudor ap Goronwy had married the Margaret, daughter of the last male heir to the Princely House of Deheubath, one time rulers of a large area of South-West Wales. Margaret’s elder sister’s son was Owain Glyndwr, independence leader for Wales who briefly established an independent Wales between 1400 and 1405. Owen’s father, Maredudd ap Tudur, had been a prominent supporter of Owain Glyndwr and fought against the English in the ‘Glyndwr Rising’ – also known as the Welsh Revolt.
The Tudor family managed to remain one of the more powerful welsh families after the failure of the Glyndwr Rising and they went on to serve the English Crown in it’s aftermath.
Rise to Prominence
Owen Tudor’s life took a dramatic turn when he directly entered the service of an English noble. He became a squire in the household of the powerful, Sir Walter Hungerford. Later he served in the household of Queen Catherine of Valois, the wife of King Henry V of England. It is said that Owen Tudor caught the attention of the queen with his good looks, charm, and courtly manners, and their relationship soon blossomed into a secret romance. It isn’t entirely clear what Owen’s role in the household had been and this part of his life is subject to speculation. It may have been that he was the keeper of her wardrobe, that he was an esquire to Henry V, that he fell into the Queen’s lap whilst dancing or that she grew attracted to him after watching him swimming.
Love and Marriage
Henry V died on 31st August 1422 and Catherine was widowed. Initially Catherine lived with her infant son, who was King Henry VI, before the moved to Wallingford Castle when his reign began. Despite the significant social and political differences between Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois, they fell in love and eventually married in secret, around 1428. Their union resulted in the birth of several children, Edward, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, the later two would play significant roles in the Wars of the Roses.
Owen Tudor’s marriage to Catherine of Valois caused a stir in the English court and led to political intrigue. After the death of King Henry V in 1422, Catherine’s son, Henry VI, was an infant, and the regency was in the hands of powerful nobles and it was period of considerable uncertainty. Owen Tudor’s marriage to Catherine provided him some protection but this ended with her death and he was imprisoned in Newgate Prison in London. He escaped in 1438 but was recaptured and held by the Constable of Windsor Castle. However, the following year he eventually gained his freedom and was pardoned by Henry VI who restored his family lands. Owen was provided with a pension by Henry VI amounting to £100 per year – he was created the Keeper of the Kings Parks in Denbigh.
Owen’s sons, Edmond and Jasper, were welcomed to King Henry VI’s court and acknowledged as his half-brothers and in November 1452 they were created Earls of Richmond and Pembroke respectively.
Owen and Jasper were ordered by Henry VI to arrest John Dwnn of Kidwelly, a Yorkist, and he also benefited by acquiring lands of another disposed Yorkist, John, Lord Clinton.
Owen and his family were firm supporters of the House of Lancaster during the conflict and continued supporting Henry VI and the wider Lancastrian cause during the Wars of the Roses.
Wars of the Roses
Owen Tudor fought on the side of the Lancastrians, supporting the cause of Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou. He participated the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in which he and his son Jasper led a force comprising largely of soldiers from their power bases of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and some Breton mercenaries and Irish forces. During the battle, Owen was in charge of one ‘battle’ of division of the army, which was facing off against the Yorkist under the command of the Edward, Duke or York – later Edward IV. Owen attempted to encircle the left wing of the Yorkist force but was defeated and his men, largely untrained, fled in rout. The Lancastrian forces lost the battle and fled the field, as did Owen, some reaching Hereford – about 17 miles away.
Owen himself was captured in Hereford by Yorkists where he was imprisoned. It seems Owen expected to be held but when it became clear that he would be executed he is said to have murmured “”that hede shalle ly on the stocke that wass wonte to ly on Quene Katheryns lappe.” His body was buried in a chapel on the north side of Greyfriars’ Church in Hereford.
Owen Tudor’s legacy lives on through his descendants, the Tudor dynasty, which would go on to rule England for over a century.
His eldest son, Edmund Tudor, married Margaret Beaufort, and their son, Henry Tudor, became Henry VII of England, founding the Tudor dynasty after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Edmund did not see the birth of the future King however, as he died of plague at Carmarthen Castle in 1456, three months before his son was born.
Owen’s middle son, Jasper Tudor, played a key role in his nephew’s rise to power and became an important political figure in Wales and fought at both Mortimer’s Cross but also at Bosworth. Jasper had been important in resisting the Yorkists and went into exile with Henry with whom he returned for final time on his successful campaign to seize the crown. After Henry came to the thrown, Jasper went on to marry Catherine Woodville, sister of the Elizabeth Woodville, who in turn was Queen to Edward IV.
Owen’s youngest son, Edward Tudor, became a monk of the Order of St. Benet but died shortly afterwards.
The House of York during the Wars of the Roses (Article about the key figures in the House of York)
The House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses (Article about the key figures in the House of Lancaster)
House of York Collection – (House of York themed merch from High Speed History)
Richard III Collection – (Richard III themed merch from High Speed History)
Tudor Collection – (Tudor themed merch from High Speed History)