The Extraordinary Bond Between an Uncle and His Nephew

By Debra Bayani

During the Middle Ages good relationships between close relatives could not always be taken for granted. Especially during the Wars of the Roses, also known as the ‘Cousin’s War’, at times it seemed impossible to even trust your own brother. In marked contrast to this was the bond between one particular uncle and his nephew, Jasper and Henry Tudor.

It was in November 1456 that Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and half-brother to King Henry VI, died under puzzling circumstances at Carmarthen Castle. He had been locked up there a few months prior to his death by William Herbert and his father-in-law Walter Devereux, supporters of the Duke of York, probably for the reason that Edmund, at the behest of the King, had finally been successful in taking control of South Wales and several strongholds, some of which belonged to the Duke. During his protectorate earlier that year, York had been less than triumphant in his effort to wrest control from the notorious, powerful Welshman Gruffydd ap Nicholas, whereas Edmund had not only won the same struggle but afterwards stayed on friendly terms with Nicholas. This may, at least partly, explain York’s actions.

Although plague has been suggested as the cause of Edmund’s death, it is quite likely that he died due to wounds inflicted during his arrest or imprisonment. His death was lamented by many. One of the bards, Dafydd Nanmor wrote:

For us it’s sad to see how happy his enemies are,

they obliterate us.

There was no sadness for even a moment

without joy and a leader.

As another Jasper of yore

came with the myrrh for wise Mary’s son,

so too Jasper (no less of a man)

for our sake brings healing for [for the loss of] a kinsman.

 

Edmund’s death left many people grieving, including his young teenaged wife, Margaret Beaufort, then seven months pregnant, and his younger brother Jasper. This must have been a particularly sad loss for Jasper as the brothers were close in age and had been raised together, and quite likely was the origin of the lifelong bond between uncle and nephew. (There was a younger brother, Owen, also known as Edward Bridgewater, a monk at Westminster Abbey.)

Edmund’s only son was born at Jasper’s castle of Pembroke, where Edmund’s pregnant widow had sought the protection of her brother-in-law. After a long and difficult labour, she gave birth on 28 January 1457 to a small and delicate but healthy baby boy, Henry Tudor. In his infant years Henry was known to the Welsh as ‘the younger Owen’ after his Tudor grandfather, which was possibly Jasper’s choice to honour his father. Although Margaret Beaufort remarried the year after Henry’s birth, her son spent the first four years of his life safely under his uncle Jasper’s wing at Pembroke Castle.

These peaceful years were harshly interrupted when, in 1460–61, a series of battles took place. Among them were the battle of Wakefield in December 1460, which caused the death of the Duke of York, and two months later one at Mortimer’s Cross following which Jasper’s father Owen was executed by the orders of the victorious Edward, Earl of March, son of the late Duke of York. Edward seized Henry VI’s crown and, now Edward IV, gave William Herbert control over the Lancastrian properties in Wales, including Pembroke Castle. That September Herbert took possession of the castle, together with four year-old Henry whom he found inside. As a result Herbert was granted the boy’s wardship and marriage.

During the next few years Jasper travelled constantly between England, France, Scotland and Wales, always trying to muster as much support for the Lancastrians as he could, while never giving up on his belief. Even though Herbert was killed by the Earl of Warwick in 1469 at the Battle of Edgecote, young Henry remained in the Herbert household until 1470, when the Lancastrians for a short period recovered the crown with the help of Edward’s former ally Warwick and brother Clarence. Jasper was then able to take his 13-year-old nephew, whom he had not seen in nine years, from the custody of, Anne Devereux, Herbert’s widow, and, after spending some time together, reunited Henry with his mother. Margaret Beaufort had been able to visit her son on several occasions while he was in the Herberts’ care, but now she was able to spend some weeks with him at her manor at Woking. These peaceful times were again all too short-lived, however, for in April 1471 Edward returned from his exile in Flanders and succeeded in killing Warwick at the Battle of Barnet and taking possession of King Henry and his crown.

At this stage Jasper was in the Severn Valley seeking to muster a force to join up with Queen Margaret’s, but Edward was aware of their plan to connect and made sure that it failed. As a result, the Queen’s forces, without Jasper, met with Edward at Tewkesbury, where they were completely defeated and the Lancastrian heir, Prince Edward, was killed. The Queen was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where her husband, King Henry VI, was murdered the same night as she arrived. It seemed that Edward IV had entirely defeated the Lancastrian cause and ‘crushed the seed’, as the Milanese Ambassador at the French Court put it.

All Edward had to do now was to destroy one final pocket of rebellion – and kill Jasper. For this he quickly sent Roger Vaughan of Tretower, William Herbert’s half-brother, to Chepstow. Jasper, however, was warned in time and turned the tables by killing Vaughan. Even so, he must have recognized that there for the time being there was no cause left to fight for and that the lives of both himself and his nephew were in grave danger – and in his hands alone. He therefore quickly took Henry from his mother and left for Pembroke. Edward IV was again on to Jasper’s plans and quickly ordered Morgan ap Thomas, Vaughan’s son-in-law, to carry out what his father-in-law had failed to do. While Jasper and Henry were at Pembroke Castle Morgan moved to surround the castle and dug deep ditches in order to starve them out of hiding. Luckily for the Tudors help was on its way in the shape of Morgan’s brother David, who successfully freed them from their dangerous situation and possibly brought them to Tenby. From there, after spending some days in the cellar of Mayor Thomas White (as tradition has it), they sailed on 2 June 1471 from the shore of Tenby towards the English Channel, heading for France.

King Louis XI of France, Jasper and Henry’s distant cousin, had earlier given Jasper his word to not only shelter him but also to protect Henry if ever necessary. That time had now come. But instead of sailing safely to France, the uncle and nephew were probably seized by the Bretons and arrived at the Breton coast at Le Conquet. They were then conveyed to the court of another distant cousin, Duke Francis II of Brittany. Jasper and Henry would spend 14 years between Brittany and France, living under conditions that varied from comfortable to restricted. The hardest part of this exile for both of them must have been between 1474 and 1476 when they were separated and each imprisoned in a remote castle, Jasper at the Chateau de Josselin and Henry at the Chateau de Largoët, deeply hidden in the woods. This was done for several reasons. Separating the two of them made it nearly impossible for them to plot against Duke Francis or Edward IV, or for them to be kidnapped (rumours concerning which were circulating during this time). But most of all, Duke Francis knew that, by keeping them apart, the likelihood of escape was nearly nil because it was highly unlikely that Jasper would leave without his nephew.

One can only imagine the anxiety of the 17-year-old Henry Tudor and his uncle when they heard that they were to be separated, for Jasper had been the boy’s constant advisor throughout most of his adolescence. In 1475 negotiations between Edward IV and Duke Francis to for Henry to be handed over led eventually to success for Edward. By the autumn of 1476 Henry was taken from Largoët and sent, in the company of Edward’s ambassadors, to St Malo where a ship was waiting to carry him to England. Powerless, Jasper could now only wait to see what would happen. Eventually Henry, allegedly by pretending to be sick, was able to escape to sanctuary in a nearby chapel. It was probably by October that Jasper was also released from Josselin and brought to the Breton court at Vannes where he was reunited with Henry. Even though living as prisoners under the supervision of different custodians, Jasper and Henry both stayed in Vannes and from then on were not parted again. They remained at the Breton court wherever it was residing and Duke Francis kept his promise – made to both Edward IV and the Tudors themselves – to guard them. Following Edward’s sudden death in 1483, Francis was free to release both men and he set Jasper and Henry at liberty again.

Jasper and Henry knew that their only chance to return to England was to assemble a strong enough force. Plots had been going on to usurp the crown of the usurper Richard III and so they decided to join with Buckingham. Whatever Jasper and Henry’s precise hopes may have been – and their relationship to Buckingham’s plans – the rising presented them with an opportunity to return home after 12 years of exile.

However, their homecoming was not as easy as they may have imagined; essentially, too much of it depended on sheer good luck whereby everything had to happen at the right place and the right time. In the end, Buckingham was caught and beheaded and the Tudors had to return to refuge in Brittany. Even though Jasper and Henry’s chances of a successful return to England now looked very dim they were able to reassemble a new force with a steady flow of English fugitives making their way across the Channel to join them. On Christmas Day 1484, in the Cathedral of Rennes and in the presence of his supporters, Henry pledged to marry the Yorkist princess Elizabeth and so to reunite both houses, as soon as he became king. This of course attracted previous supporters of Edward IV and Henry’s force swelled even further. Jasper continued to guide his nephew wherever necessary, negotiating with Duke Francis for further aid, and in September 1484, when the Duke finally gave in to Richard III’s demands to hand Henry over, Jasper made sure that Henry was able to escape safely to France. He did this by travelling ahead with a few of the exiled English noblemen, to give the impression they intended to visit Duke Francis Rennes not far from the French border. When Jasper and his companions came near to the border they made a run for it and successfully arrived in the province of Anjou. Henry was now also on his way but was closely followed by Pierre Landais, one of Duke Francis’s advisors, who intended to bring him back. Henry was lucky once again and by probably the end of September or the beginning of October he was able to join his uncle Jasper and the other English noblemen at the French court at the Chateau of Angers. There Jasper again negotiated with the French king for aid for his nephew’s cause.

From Angers the French court travelled to the ancient town of Montargis where both Jasper and Henry remained during the winter of 1484–85 and by the beginning of spring they joined King Charles VIII at Rouen to prepare their invasion of England. Although records of Jasper’s whereabouts are very scarce it is clear he would not leave sight of Henry.

Soon they were ready to disembark and on 1 August 1485 the Tudors and their forces left Harfleur to arrive at Mill Bay near Pembroke Castle on 7 August. Wales was chosen for their landing because of Jasper’s roots in that country and his past authority there, and many of Jasper’s Welsh supporters were expecting and keenly awaiting their hero’s arrival in the land of their fathers. In several poems Jasper is called upon to put an end to the Yorkist claim to the throne – for example, in these lines from a poem by the bard David Nanmor:

The stag’s head with an eagle’s action

ahead of a company, he shatters passionately.

I aimed towards their cries,

the moon in a heavy battle yonder.

The eagle’s black chick succeeds

in bearing the crown, his tone is just,

and although it’s borne, I wouldn’t cry,

for this man won’t have long to live.

 

It was clear that many supporters from Wales came to aid Henry’s cause because they ‘were ready to serve Jaspar ther erle’ and many joined his army in the course of the march to Bosworth. It was Jasper’s constant advice that had guided Henry for all the years in exile and it was now his advice that steered his course towards the decisive battle which on 22 August 1485 led to their victory at Bosworth.

Jasper was now around 54 years old and he had played a key role as his nephew’s closest advisor, confidant and mentor. It was now time for Henry to demonstrate his gratitude towards the man who had given up so much for him and his cause. Soon Jasper was granted many rewards, including the Dukedom of Bedford. The choice of title could hardly have been more significant. There had only been two previous Dukes of Bedford and one of them was Henry V’s brother John, a pillar of the royal house who had enjoyed great popularity, whom Henry must have had in mind when seeking an appropriate title for his beloved uncle. It shows Henry’s gratitude towards the uncle who had devoted his life to his nephew, and without whom Henry’s kingship, possibly even his very survival, would have been out of the question. From now on, whenever Henry referred to Jasper he spoke about ‘our dearest uncle’.

Great trust was placed in Jasper, and powers were granted to him immediately after 1485 that were greater than those enjoyed by anyone else. It is clear that Henry recognized that he owed an enormous part of his success to his uncle and continued to do so for the coming years. Jasper had a leading role at many of the happy occasions that followed, including the coronations of Henry and his wife Elizabeth of York. At Henry’s wishes, Jasper was married to Katherine Woodville, youngest sister of the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville and aunt of the Queen, the wealthy Duchess of Buckingham.

When a Yorkist rebellion broke out in the Marches in the spring of 1486 it was Jasper who was sent with a strong force to suppress the uprisings. It was also Jasper who, after careful consideration during negotiations, proposed that a pardon would be provided to all who would lay down their weapons. This strategy seems to have worked; for Duke Jasper was highly respected and praised for the way he dealt with this problem.

A year later it was again Jasper, along with the Earl of Oxford and Rhys ap Thomas, who was given command of the King’s forces and defeated the Yorkist rebels at the Battle of Stoke.

No doubt Jasper must have enjoyed his position as one of the most important men in the kingdom and being granted the rewards he so abundantly deserved until the end of his life. One senses, however, that the satisfaction of his key role in bringing down the Yorkist dynasty and seeing the nephew he surely regarded as a son succeed to the throne was his greatest reward of all.

Selected sources

Chronicle of Six Ages, NLW Manuscript 3054D, Elis Gryffydd.

The Itinerary of John Leland, ed. L. Toulmin Smith, vol. 3, (London, 1964), p. 116.

‘Elegy for Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond’ in The Poetical Works of Dafydd Nanmor, ed. T Roberts and I Williams (Cardiff and London, 1923), poem XV, translated into English by Eurig Salisbury for Debra Bayani, Jasper Tudor Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty (2014).

A Prognostic poem for Henry Tudor by Robin Ddu, in Ceinion Llenyddiaeth Gymreig, ed. Owen Jones (London, 1875), pp. 220–21; translated by Eurig Salisbury for Debra Bayani, Jasper Tudor, Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty (2014).

Jasper Tudor, Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty by Debra Bayani (2014)

Jasper Tudor, Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty is now available in colour and black & white editions on all the Amazon websites and Book Depository.

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 About the Author

Debra Bayani is a researcher and writer, living in the Netherlands with her husband and children. She previously studied Fashion History and History of Art. She has been interested in history as far as she can remember with real passion for the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses, and has spend many years researching this period. Currently she is working on a visitor’s guide to places connected to the Wars of the Roses. Debra’s debut non-fiction book, the first biography on the subject, ‘Jasper Tudor, Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty’, was published in 2014.

Her website can be found at: http://www.thewarsoftherosescatalogue.com and she is the admin of the coordinating Facebook page The Wars of the Roses Catalogue and her author page on Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “The Extraordinary Bond Between an Uncle and His Nephew

  1. What is the source for the statement that, in his infant years, Henry Tudor “was known to the Welsh as ‘the younger Owen’ after his Tudor grandfather, which was possibly Jasper’s choice to honour his father”?

  2. Louiw IX was Jasper’s first cousin. Louis’ father was Charles VII, brother of Catherine de Valois. I wouldn’t say he was a distant cousin. Other than that, great work!

  3. Great post, Debra. What a wonderful contribution to the historical accounts your book will be. I take it that Henry’s mother was not the conniving witch the Tudors TV series made her out to be?

    • Henry’s mother wasn’t in the series “The Tudors” which started about 15-16 years into Henry VIII’s reign, and several years after Margaret Beaufort died. If you are talking about The Red Queen, they did portray her as a harpy, and there is no basis in history, but to be fair it wasn’t meant to be a factual account and stayed true the the historical fiction series it was based upon. I also don’t think that the Wydeville women practiced witchcraft in so open a manner if at all. If they did they probably weren’t quite as public with their origin story being literal regarding Melusina in a christian country that practiced burning at the stake. The only god that recognized a divine right in England was the Christian one, so it would have been a huge risk. Conversely, Jaquetta really was accused of witchcraft, though it was by Warwick who was trying to discredit the marriage of Elizabeth and Edward in any way he could to re-establish the power he believed he was entitled to, and he didn’t have the gonads to execute her, so it seems he may not have believed the accusation himself.

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