By Nathen Amin
Henry Tudor, perhaps more properly Henry of Richmond, was born in Pembroke Castle on 28 January 1457, possibly in an outer ward, as recounted in 1538 by the antiquarian John Leland, who reported:
‘In the outer ward I saw the chamber where King Henry VII was born, in knowledge whereof a chimney is new made with the arms and badges of King Henry VII’
His mother was Margaret Beaufort, heiress of a great English dynasty and a great-granddaughter of Edward III, whilst his father was Edmund of Hadham, son of a Welshman named Owen Tudor and the dowager queen of England, Katherine de Valois. The child’s father Edmund had died three months before his birth, therefore the baby was Earl of Richmond from birth. There is a tradition, stemming from the sixteenth-century chronicler Elis Gruffydd, that the child was initially christened Owain, evoking memories of great Welsh princes like Owain Glyn Dwr and Owain Gwynedd, although Margaret demanded the name was changed to Henry in honour of the king. Through his ancestry, therefore, young Henry was therefore descended from English, Welsh, French and Bavarian royalty, and appeared destined for great things.
Although it seems likely Henry spent his early years at Pembroke Castle, initially under the watchful of Margaret Beaufort, his later biographer Bernard Andre suggests he was moved about depending on the weather, further noting he was a sickly child;
‘As is customary with infant princes, Henry’s place of education in Wales varied according to the weather’s effect on the body, such that with the changing seasons of the year, time was spent in various places to protect his health. And because he was often sickly at a tender age, he was tenderly educated by his caretakers, men upright and wise’
Any semblance of a traditional upbringing in Pembroke was shattered when England descended into open conflict, as rival factions jostled for supremacy in a dynastic war known as the Wars of the Roses. Despite his tender years, Henry Tudor’s position was precarious; his half-uncle was the Lancastrian king Henry VI, whilst another uncle Jasper Tudor, the earl of Pembroke, was the king’s most ardent follower. A series of battles between 1459 and 1461 gradually displaced the Lancastrians on the throne, and they were replaced with the strapping eighteen-year-old Yorkist king Edward IV.
Henry Tudor’s life, as a close-relation to the deposed Lancastrian dynasty, was transformed. On 30 September 1461, Pembroke Castle surrendered to Edward IV’s loyal Welsh retainer Sir William Herbert, a man complicit in the death of Henry’s father in 1456, whilst on 12 February 1462, in exchange for a payment of £1,000, the wardship and marriage rights of the four-year-old earl of Richmond were granted to Herbert. Sir William also had an acrimonious relationship with Henry’s uncle Jasper, who he defeated in battle at Mortimer’s Cross on 2 February 1461, after which the child’s grandfather Owen Tudor was executed. In short, Henry was handed over to the sworn enemy of his family to be raised, whilst the honour of Richmond, but not the earldom, was handed to George, duke of Clarence.
Henry was removed from Pembroke Castle, and rehomed at Raglan Castle in Monmouthshire, home of the Herberts, whilst Margaret Beaufort lived at Bourne in Lincolnshire and Woking in Surrey, some distance from her boy. Although later interpreting his time at Raglan to be that of prisoner, Henry was honourably raised amongst Herbert’s own children, with Polydore Vergil, who possibly took his information directly from the king, recording how Henry had been;
‘held captive but otherwise being well reared by the wife of William Herbert’
The earl of Richmond was tutored by two Oxford clerics, Edward Haseley, who cared for his grammar, and Andrew Scot, whilst a knight named Hugh Johnys took care of his martial education. Andre later commented, with an element of flattery to his royal patron, no doubt, that after Henry reached the age of understanding;
‘he was handed over to the best and most upright instructors to be taught the first principles of literature. He was endowed with such sharp mental powers and such great natural vigour and comprehension that even as a young boy he learned everything pertaining to religious instruction rapidly and thoroughly, with little effort from his teachers’.
Henry the king was undoubtedly a wise monarch, possibly amongst the cleverest men to have occupied the throne. Andre continued, saying of the child at Raglan;
‘Indeed, at this time the highest disposition for virtue shone forth in the boy, and he was so attentive in reading and listening to the divine office that all who watched him saw signs of his future goodness and success. When as a young man he was initiated into the first principles of literature, he surpassed his peers with the same quick intellect he had displayed as a boy’
Andre in fact testified that Master Scotus personally told the biographer that he had never heard of a boy with such;
‘great mental quickness and capacity for learning. He possessed such becoming noble manners, such charmful grace of royal expression, and such great beauty that, like a peacemaking Solomon, he increased his stature before all mortals of his time’
It is little wonder, if Henry was even half the child Andre described, that William Herbert stipulated in his will shortly before his death that he desired the Tudor earl to marry his daughter Maud, uniting the two greatest Welsh families of the age. Despite his Lancastrian credentials, it was anticipated that Henry would grow to serve the Yorkist king, becoming an integral part of the Herbert affinity in the process.
Fortune was to have different thoughts, however. Resumption of hostilities occurred after Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, defected from the side of Edward IV, intending to replace the king with his brother George, duke of Clarence, Warwick’s son-in-law. It was a complex and vicious breach in relations that manifested itself on the battlefield in July 1469 when Warwick’s army routed that of Herbert, by now earl of Pembroke, at Edgcote Moor. It is possible Henry, by then aged twelve-years-old, was present near the battlefield, and may even have witnessed the execution of his guardian Herbert.
If Henry was at Edgcote, then he wasn’t captured by Warwick’s forces. It seems likely he was spirited away by a Shropshire esquire named Richard Corbet, a kinsman of Herbert’s wife Anne Devereux, and spent the next two years at Weobley Castle in Herefordshire, Lady Anne’s ancestral home. The child’s future remained contentious in the meantime, with his mother Margaret, by now remarried to Henry Stafford, desperately dispatching her servant William Aykerig to Worcester to pass on a message to John Bray to fetch ‘my lord of Richmond’ from Raglan. Discovering Henry not to be there, Bray eventually turned up at Weobley to confirm the boy was safe. Content for the time being, Margaret bestowed several grants on servants looking after her son, including 20 shillings to a man called Davy who waited upon the young earl, with 6 shillings 8 dimes also given to Master Starky and Richard Eton. 20 shillings were also provided by Margaret for her son to buy bow and shafts, suggesting the child was becoming proficient at archery.
On 21 October 1469, Margaret and her husband Henry Stafford met with the dowager countess of Pembroke, Anne Devereux, and the latter’s brother Lord Ferrers to discuss the young earl’s wardship over a meal of bread, pears, apples and mutton washed down with ale and wine. Before a permanent resolution over Henry’s future could be arranged, however, there was a tumultuous change in the land. Warwick and Clarence, who had failed to depose Edward in 1469, returned to England the following year with another army and forced Edward into exile. The amended plan was not to place Clarence on the throne, however, but to restore, or readept, Henry VI to the throne. One of those returning to England after a decade in exile was Jasper Tudor, young Henry of Richmond’s uncle. Jasper headed straight towards Herefordshire where he was reunited with a nephew who barely knew him, and the pair spent the next eight months getting reacquainted.
In October 1470, Jasper and Henry travelled together to London, taking the opportunity to visit both King Henry and Margaret Beaufort. A fascinating account appears in Vergil’s work, almost certainly embellished and later inflated by Shakespeare, in which the witless king predicted his half-brother’s child would one day become king himself;
‘it is said that the king, seeing the boy, held his silence for a while, studying his character, and then said to the nobles who were present “This indeed is the one to whom we and our adversaries must yield our power”’.
Bernard Andre likewise includes a similar story in his own work, suggesting such an idea was prevalent the court of Henry VII, a generation after the supposed event;
‘Summoning the earl of Richmond into his presence as he was washing his hands, the king prophesised that some day the boy would undertake the governance of the kingdom and would have all things under his own power’
It seems likely that a meeting between boy and uncle did take place, but improbable that the king would predict the namesake child would become king over his own heir, Prince Edward. It is more probable a concerted attempt by the writer, with the benefit of hindsight, to create a compelling connection between Henry VI and Henry VII.
On 28 October, Jasper and Margaret’s husband Henry Stafford met to discuss the boy’s future, whilst on the 30th mother and son debarked for Woking, where they spent a week in each other’s company. The pair then travelled on to Maidenhead and Henley-on-Thames, before young Henry returned to the care of his uncle, and surrogate father, on 11 November, in time for the only readeption parliament. Henry may not have seen his mother again until after Bosworth, just under fifteen years’ later.
If it was anticipated the return to the throne of the Lancastrian dynasty would herald a period of prosperity for the Tudors, they were mistaken. Edward returned to England in March 1471 with a small army, gradually bolstered by recruits as he marched through England. He defeated and killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet before heading west to destroy the core of the Lancastrian force at Tewkesbury. Amongst those dead during or in the aftermath of the battle were Henry VI, his son Prince Edward and a couple of Henry Tudor’s Beaufort relations. Henry was not at the battle; part of his uncle Jasper’s retinue, the Tudors had failed to make it to Tewkesbury in time, and upon learning of the devastating defeat, turned and headed for Wales, where Jasper hoped to find safety behind the walls of towns loyal to his family.
Uncle and nephew avoided an attempt to capture them at Chepstow, for which Roger Vaughan of Tretower lost his head, and made it as far as Pembroke, Henry’s birthplace, where they were besieged by a force under the command of Morgan ap Thomas. As Morgan’s men begun digging trenches and ditches around the castle, Henry may have watched, terrified, from the bulwarks. Luckily, relief turned up in the guise of Morgan’s brother David, who scattered his sibling’s army, allowing the Tudors to retreat to Tenby, where shelter was provided by the mayor, Thomas White.
With the Yorkists relentless in their pursuit, the Tudors navigated their way through the tunnels beneath the town, and to the harbour where a small barque was awaiting. Together, around the start of June, uncle and nephew left Wales behind, hoping to find their way to France where their maternal Valois relations occupied the throne. Fate once again intervened, however, and the pair were blown off course, landing in Brittany. The exile had begun.
Andre, B., The Life of Henry VII
Chrimes, S.B, Henry VII (1972)
Evans, H.T., Wales and the Wars of the Roses (1915)
Griffiths, R.A., & Thomas, R.S., The Making of the Tudor Dynasty (1985)
Skidmore, C., Bosworth, the Birth of the Tudors (2013)
Vergil, P., Anglica Historia