Book Review – Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

Of all the monarchs in English history, not many commands more interest than Richard III, and indeed very few have more biographies written about them than this last Plantagenet king of England. There is a certain irony in the fact that whilst scores complain this particular monarch is overlooked or maligned, it does appear to this reviewer that more books exist on his life and times, many revisionist in nature, than all other kings and queens combined, Henry VIII and his flock of wives excepted. Certainly, since the astonishing rediscovery of his remains in 2012, there have been several books on the subject of Richard III with each passing year, a fact which may lead one to wonder why there is a need for yet another biography of a king who barely ruled these lands for two years.

Matthew Lewis himself opens his work ‘Richard III; Loyalty Binds Me’ in acknowledgement of his, noting that king ‘has perhaps been the cause of more spilt ink’ than any other domestic figure over the last five hundred years. He justifies his own attempt to capture the enigma that is Richard by intending to ‘place an authentic man in the complex context of his times’, to try and produce a biography that looks at the entirety of the king’s life and not just the final years, and to do so by providing ‘a measured and balanced opinion’.

Whether the authors intend to or not, books on Richard III can often be so replete with bias and agenda, whether for-Richard or anti-Richard, that they become unreadable to the casual reader with little interest in confirming to prejudices they may not possess. As such, the real Richard, the Richard who lived and breathed, is often regrettably concealed by the Saint Richard or Tyrant Richard caricatures of his modern supporters and critics.

Despite his humble assertion that as a staunch Ricardian this work is naturally sympathetic to his subject, and will perhaps be considered revisionist, Lewis does not fall into the trap of sanctifying Richard III as many of his ilk have done before him. For him, Richard was ‘neither victim nor evil mastermind’.

The eminent historian GM Trevelyan once wrote “Since history is our interpretation of human affairs in the past, it could not exist without bias. But with a wrong bias, it can be gravely distorted”. This book does not, in my opinion as someone who has been critical of Richard’s actions, possess a wrong bias, and the result is an exceptionally readable, deeply engrossing, and valuable resource for the shelf of any medieval enthusiast or curious novice.

Written chronologically from cradle to the grave, Lewis’s book covers all aspects of Richard’s life, and often seeks to place the boy, duke, protector and then king into the context of his time and surroundings. Despite the wealth of books on the subject, such an extensive project has rarely been produced, preferring to focus only on parts of Richard’s life such as his brief reign. Yet to understand the king, you must know the background. Lewis does not shy away from the controversial aspects of his subject’s 32 years on this earth, and whilst he does, at his own admission, often assume a sympathetic reading of events, the author always provides valid reasons for his deductions whilst acknowledging the counter-arguments that may often be the default positions.

This final point is important – it ensures we do not have a partisan propagandist preaching at the reader with every paragraph, a refreshing change when it comes to this particular king. The reviewer does not always concur with Lewis’s conclusions, but does see validity in the arguments presented.

Despite claims to the contrary, nobody can say, with absolute certainty, that Richard III was guilty or innocent of many crimes he has allegedly committed, and if they do, they do a disservice to the study of history. Lewis, to his credit in a difficult subject which often demands an uncompromising stance is assumed, often presents his case like a courtroom lawyer and leaves it to the jury, in this case the reader, to make their judgement.

Where required, the author goes into great detail to examine key events in the life of Richard III, and in particular the thorough investigation into the demise of Henry VI and the likely culprits was impressive, with extensive use of primary sources and how each must be judged on its own merit and motivation before arriving at a conclusion. This section has educational value in how to assess and use various sources to reach a conclusion, and as he shows you his process, it enables to reader to agree or disagree with his findings.

In short, Lewis’s ‘Richard III’ book succeeds where many before him have failed – he doesn’t seek to hoodwink the reader, or foist upon them a disingenuous depiction of Richard that a cursory glance at the sources renders nonsense. He does advance a sympathetic interpretation of those sources, but not to the extent it becomes overly generous, whilst working hard to expose the failures of previous historians who have sought to create a monster from a man. The result is a book that at no point in time did I slam down and walk away from, a rarity when one deals with the delicate subject of Richard III.

I fall short of calling this book the definitive Richard III biography, as I feel such a lofty title is simply not possible about such a complex, controversial and divisive figure, but regardless Lewis’s effort is a highly recommended addition to one’s library that is far more worthy than many similar studies which have preceded it. ‘The study of history is the asking of questions’ writes Lewis, and in this fine book that will likely stand the test of time, he has asked many fair questions of Richard’s reputation that must no longer be ignored. This is the story of Richard the man, not Richard the myth.

Book Review – John Morton: Adversary of Richard III and Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

By Nathen Amin

John Morton may not be a name familiar to the casual observer of English history, but few men were as integral in establishing the Tudor Dynasty upon the English throne as this son of Dorset who rose steadily through the church ranks to become an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, and finally in 1493, a cardinal.

In his introduction to this fascinating project ‘John Morton, Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors’, Dr Stuart Bradley declares the subject of his biography to have been ‘a man of immense ability’ whose story deserves to be brought ‘from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden’, and by the end of this concise study, it is clear to the ready he has done exactly this.

Morton was born around 1420, and received his first appointment of note when he was made a Rector of Shellingford, Berkshire, in 1453. Within two years, however, this rising churchman’s career was impeded by the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and having pledged his support towards the Lancastrian cause, was captured by the Yorkists in 1461. Though he escaped captivity and fled into exile, by 1471 Morton was reconciled to the House of York under Edward IV, and served this king until his death in 1483.

Opposing the rise of Richard III, during whose reign he became an ‘agent provocateur and master spy’, Morton played a ‘major role in coordinating the rebellion and ongoing subversion throughout Richard’s reign and in the machinations that resulted in the accession of Henry VII’. It was thus Morton became the ‘power behind the Tudors’ as described in the book’s subtitle. One of the few men the new king had utter trust in, Morton ‘gritty doggedness’ thereafter, as Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor, helped establish the fledgling dynasty, refilling the royal coffers and, with pen and parchment rather than sword and shield, helping fend of repeated challenges to the Tudor ascendancy.

The book is clearly the work of an author who really understands the period he is writing about, with extensive use of source material such as chancery documents, diplomatic correspondence and chronicler accounts, with insightful analysis to bolster his argument – an unusual but appreciated inclusion is the occasional use of tables within the text to support a claim, for example on page 38 which shows a breakdown of the amount of Patent Rolls issued for each month between 1476-1485, allowing the reader to really see for themselves how the conflict of the day affected government business. Rather than just make the point, Bradley invites the reader to see just how he arrived at this deduction.  The level of research is not lacking, either; chapter 6, for example, has 123 instances of endnotes.

It was the opinion of the 17th century antiquarian George Buck that Morton was ‘a stern and haughty man, odious at court and more generally so in the country’, an ‘evil spirit transformed into an angel of light and wearing the habit of religion’; any reader will put Bradley’s work down full informed this caricature of the cardinal was not a fair statement, and does not stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself declares, ‘the arguments of Ricardian apologists are difficult to reconcile with the evidence’, and that particular king exempted, Morton was nothing other than ‘the exponent of faithful loyal service’ to the other kings he served, namely Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII.

I am presently unaware of any other biography of Morton, certainly not a modern publication, so Dr Bradley’s book is a welcome addition to 15th century study, bringing, as he intended, this intriguing royal servant out of the shadows. Though only 135 pages (with another 75 as an appendices), it is not long, but covers everything that is known about Morton’s life, using all surviving source material and commendably avoiding the common trap of merely padding out a biography with semi-relevant fluff that may or may not be pertinent to the study at hand. Bradley never loses sight of his subject, and the result is truly a scholarly study with a fresh angle. Morton was ‘a man whose story deserves to be told’, and here, Bradley has made a highly admirable attempt to do so.

Book Review – The Survival of the Princes in the Tower by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

The Princes in the Tower is possibly the UK’s most enduring historical mystery, certainly up there with the disappearance of Lord Lucan and the Jack the Ripper murders, one which the author probably rightly believes is as hotly debated today through social media as it was in contemporary taverns during the 15th century. Thanks to the remarkable pen of Shakespeare and the many incarnations of his play on stage and silver screen, many people still hold the princes’ uncle Richard III responsible for the murder of the boys shortly after he placed them in the Tower of London. The dastardly, wicked uncle, consumed by ruthless ambition and all-encompassing evil, barely hesitating before murdering a pair of innocent souls. But what if the boys actually survived?

In Matthew Lewis’ latest offering, the author asks us to momentarily forget what we think we know about history’s greatest cold case, and open our minds to the intriguing possibility that we may have been led astray all along, initially as part of a concerted propaganda effort by supporters of the Tudor succession and thereafter by generations of scholars and historians who failed to interpret the source material without their innate bias. The result is a fascinating read that grips from start to finish, readable investigative history that engages the mind. Murder, Mystery and Myth is a most appropriate subheading.

Now, lets get the burning question out of the way – Lewis has not solved the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, nor, to his credit, does he claim to have done so. This book is about putting forward a different idea, to deconstruct the myth surrounding the case and to get the reader to reassess the sources that they may already be familiar with and ask the question – “what if the princes survived?”. Surprising, the evidence, or what is left of it, does not work against such a possibility as perhaps first thought. As he wittily notes, there is ‘no smoking gun, or longbow’, that satisfactorily solves the case.

Lewis opens his book with a fitting quote from the 17th Century French philosopher Pierre Bayle, stating ‘the antiquity and general acceptance of an opinion is not assurance of its truth’, and it is this very idea that the reader must consciously retain as they turn each pages of the book, to focus on interpreting primary and secondary sources without the learned bias each reader often brings to the table.

It is satisfying to note shortly into the book that Lewis states he has no intention of solving the mystery of the Princes’ fate, one which must remain unsolvable due to the lack of evidence which has survived. What the author intends to do in this work is put forward an alternative theory as to the eventual fate of those princes initially locked in the Tower in 1483, one that imagines their survival. His rationale is sound – if we have been able to speculate of the two boys’ death for 500 years, despite a palpable lack of evidence outside innuendo and rumour, why not flip matters on their head and entertain the idea they survived?

Now, one may be tempted to treat any book which seeks to answer the question “were the Princes in the Tower murdered at all?” as yet another tiresome attempt to restore the reputation of Richard III, ​but Lewis’ book doesn’t fall into the trap of extolling the virtues of ‘good king Richard’ and shouldn’t be written of as such by sceptical readers. As early as page 22, after all, Lewis accepts Richard had the means, motive and opportunity to slay the princes, something often denied by his most ardent supporters. Lewis’ argument, of course, not only absolves Richard of the blame, but also by extension Henry VII, and it is also satisfying to note the author not ascribe to the frankly preposterous belief that Margaret Beaufort was either a religious zealot or had plotted for the crown throughout the life of her only child. This is not a book just for Ricardians.

Lewis works systematically through contemporary sources such as Polydore Vergil, Croyland Chronicle, Dominic Mancini and Bernard Andre, providing historical context to their production and revealing much of the bias behind their writing. He is not wrong to believe that when we focus our mind on accepting for one moment that the princes survived, the sources themselves do not immediately contradict such a notion. We must also try and account for other facts such as how Thomas More, famous for much of the anti-Richard ideas that persist, ceased working on his ‘History of Richard III’ shortly after writing about the Princes in the Tower, with Lewis speculating this may have been because he found holes in the theory they had been killed (More’s worth was later continued by a different writer).

Other facets of the mystery Lewis discusses include the supposed discovery of the princes’ bones in the Tower of London during the 17th century, which the author notes have yet to be satisfactorily subjected to rigorous scientific testing, whilst prudently noting they were conveniently unearthed at a time when Charles II was keen to deflect his detractors by pointing to England’s past tyrants, in this king Richard III who ‘killed’ such innocent children. He also deals at length with the rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who he speculates may have been the princes, before ending with another thorough account of the life and times of Doctor John Clement, a member of Thomas More’s household who has been alleged to be one of the princes based on an analysis of a family painting that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dan Brown novel.

The Survival of the Princes is a book that will undoubtedly divide opinion, with some unfairly writing it off before even turning a page. The main issue Lewis faces is that the reader, including myself, will come to the subject with their own bias. Those who are convinced Richard III killed the princes will be looking for holes in his theory, whilst supported of that same king will be more emboldened by the work, all whilst reading the very same words. I can only reiterate that the author, to his commendable credit, does not himself feed into the biases and makes no grand claims either way. It is my personal opinion that Richard III was likely the cause of the princes’ disappearance, and subsequent death. However, I can’t prove this, and this is where Lewis’ book comes into its own – if death of the princes’ cannot be proven, then surely survival must also be considered.

This book is a much needed addition to the subject of the Princes of the Tower, putting forward an additional logical theory without becoming trapped in nonsensical arguments about ‘good king Richard’ or ‘evil Margaret Beaufort’.​ The best compliment I can pay Matthew Lewis is that whilst I can’t prove that the Princes survived, even after reading his carefully constructed and well-thought out argument, neither can I prove they were killed. And despite what you may read elsewhere, most vociferously online, neither can anyone else. The Survival of the Princes, therefore, is a worthy read, regardless of the side of the fence you sit on in matters of the 15th century. This is a book anyone with an interest in historical mystery must pick up.

Let the discussion commence…

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Matthew Lewis is the author of two histories and two historical fiction novels about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses. The medieval period is a particular passion of his, which he hopes to spread through his blog. He is dedicated to teaching and discussing this period, operating two history podcasts and providing bite-sized facts to his Twitter and Facebook following. Wars of the Roses, the Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy, Medieval Britain in 100 Facts and Richard, Duke of York; King by Right are all available on Amberley Publishing, with Survival of the Princes in the Tower; Murder, Mystery and Myth from the History Press.

Book Review – Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James

By Nathen Amin

Edward IV, much like his son-in-law, and political heir in many ways, Henry VII, has often found his position in history obscured somewhat by the mystery over the fate of his two sons, the Princes in the Tower, as well as the towering spectres of his younger brother Richard III and grandson Henry VIII. Whilst there have been several academic publications produced on the life and times of the mighty Yorkist king who reigned in two separate spells between 1461 and 1483, a readable narrative history on Edward is always welcomed. After all, as the author notes in his prologue, ‘few English monarchs fought harder for kingship than King Edward IV’. It’s probably the least he deserves.

Edward IV, Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James is essentially the story of how one man emerged from the fractious feuding between various noble families to become the most prodigious warrior of his age, winning a crown on the battlefield and ostensibly ending the wars before lapses in political judgement briefly cost him his throne, forcing a return to battle. It’s a captivating, even timeless, tale of a dramatic rise followed by a tough fall, a story of resilient redemption before success itself eventually destroyed Edward’s figure, and in time, his dynasty. A well-worn story it may be, but told so vividly by James it might well sound like the first time you’ve heard it.

The book is written clearly and concisely, covering all main events in Edward’s life, helpfully illustrated with several maps, battlefield diagrams, family trees and a few dozen photographs of the people and places mentioned in the text. James has an extensive knowledge of battles in particular, which naturally receive considerable coverage throughout the text, and I was intrigued by his use of war gaming photographs to illustrate the various battles in Edward’s life, something I have not seen elsewhere.

Written chronologically from Edward’s birth in Rouen, through his rise to the throne, his contentious marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, and on to his final days of excess shortly after his fortieth birthday, James’ book serves an ideal introduction into the life of the first Yorkist king of England. As is always the case with books of this period, and for good reason, the book also covers the wider Wars of the Roses conflict and features considerable supporting roles from figures such as Henry VI, Richard III and the Woodvilles, yet crucially never fails to lose sight of its titular subject. This is Edward’s story, unashamedly told from Edward’s position.

The result is an engaging read that serves as a gateway into further study of Edward IV and the period. His analysis of the complex events is balanced, with little room for wild speculations based on assumptions and presumptions. James systematically deconstructs Edward from the stereotypes he has become reduced to, be it warrior king or promiscuous lover, and reveals Edward the man, who committed both just and questionable acts during his time. There are no outlandish claims or unfathomable theories presented based on flimsy evidence, and therefore Edward IV, Glorious Son of York, crafted upon the known facts and most likely scenarios, is a solid, and enduring, addition to the libraries of any self-respecting aficionado of the Wars of the Roses.

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Jeffrey James has published numerous articles on military history and is the author of An Onslaught of Spears, a history of Viking attacks on England leading to Cnut’s conquest in 1016, and Swordsmen of the King, covering the exploits of Charles I’s German nephews during the English Civil War. He lives in Southsea, England.

Book Review – The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks

By Nathen Amin

It is fair to say that Richard III, whether his supporters appreciate this fact or not, is a veritable cash cow, a money-making market in himself into which many authors have recently jumped headfirst. Consequently, books on this infamous king are many, and have unquestionably accelerated since the uncovering of Richard’s remains in a Leicester car park in 2012. A simple search on a site like Amazon for ‘Richard III’ returns thousands of results, for example. Any book on Richard, therefore, is just one in a crowded arena jostling for attention, each covering the aspects of Richard’s life and times, before generally taking either a pro or anti view on his rise to the throne. Good King Richard or Bad King Richard, the debate shows no signs of dissipating, despite how tiresome that dispute sometimes is. It was with interest, therefore, that I opened the covers of ‘The Family of Richard III’ by Professor Michael Hicks, a book that promised to focus not on the well-trodden subject of the king himself, but rather on those currently marooned in the shadow of England’s most controversial monarch.

The author is certainly no stranger to the period, building a solid reputation as an authority on all things fifteenth century and with an extensive bibliography in his locker that includes biographies of Richard III, George, duke of Clarence, Edward IV plus work that looks at the Wars of the Roses in general. Having once been considered by BBC History Magazine as ‘the greatest living expert on Richard III’, Hicks is therefore an ideal scholar to examine this topic.

The Family of Richard III is at essence a biography of the House of York, building on much of Professor Hicks’ previous body of work and collating much of his broad research into one, handy production. The fifteenth century can often be difficult to comprehend when one contemplates the multitude of families at the top of English society, not to mention the fact these same families often intermarried and were therefore related in a variety of ways. Hicks’ book, therefore, endeavours to simplify this complexity for a reader who doesn’t have the wealth of experience of a seasoned medievalist, and in this he succeeds. This is not a book that takes any in-depth looks at the main events of Richard’s own life, that is, his upbringing, his years as duke of Gloucester or his seizure of the throne, but rather one about the people who flitted in and out of Richard’s life during these years. Therefore, the ‘family’ mentioned in the book’s title covers the life and times of Richard’s brothers, his wife and in-laws, and his own offspring, including those of illegitimate origins. England.

In the chapter Cadet of the House of York we are treated to a discussion of the first family Richard knew, that is, the one of his parents and siblings. A thorough account of the births and childhoods of all his siblings is included, and a brief look at the origins of the wider House of York to which he belonged as a son of Richard, the 3rd holder of the dukedom of York. Interesting is the section on King Richard’s wider relations, such as the Bourchier and Stafford families, an aspect regularly overlooked in books about the Yorkists, as well as the vast Neville connection Richard was kin to through his mother Cecily Neville. As Hicks astutely points out, ‘Richard of Fotheringay was related to almost everyone who was anyone, often several times over’.

The book also covers in considerable detail the first version of the royal House of York in the 1460s under the kingship of Richard’s brother Edward IV, examining Richard’s relationship with not only his brothers Edward and George of Clarence, but his Neville cousins under leadership of Warwick the Kingmaker, and Woodville in-laws that grew increasingly conspicuous as the reign progressed. This explosion in number of Richard’s relatives, both of blood and marriage, was bolstered by the illegitimate children he had during his youth, at least two of which are known, John of Pontefract and Katherine. Hicks speculates that Richard’s family grew so quickly during this period, he probably started to lose track of the sheer number of relatives he had – the marriages of his brothers alone brought Richard 11 brothers-in-law, 10 sisters-in-law, two nephews and a host of other cousins alone. The evolving relationship between the three brothers of York during the 1470s also receives attention, including the often confusing Neville dispute between Richard and Clarence, which prompted a chronicler to note how ‘so much disputation arose’ between the pair.

Richard’s own family unit, that is, his wife and legitimate son, are examined as would be expected, before Hicks considers what he terms ‘the self-destruction of the House of York’ through Richard’s usurpation of the throne. Hicks, for the avoidance of any doubt, is clear that it was a usurpation, arguing he was probably driven by ambition, and that the princes were dead by the end of 1483. If Richard had indeed killed the princes, the Hicks asserts this was ‘the most ruthless and unnatural rejection of family ties’ by the king. Whilst this is a traditionalist view of Richard, much to the chagrin of some, Hicks does sponsor two uncommon believes; firstly, that Elizabeth of York had romantic feelings for her uncle, and secondly that the bones in Leicester were not, in fact, those of Richard, arguing the identification with the king is ‘more unlikely than likely’. Whether you are in agreement with Hicks or not, and in the interests of clarity I personally do not subscribe to his theories, he certainly puts across his case in a manner as to make you consider his views.

Where I personally found particular value in this book is where Hicks, true to the book’s purpose, expands the study of Richard’s ‘family’ to the modern day, a discussion of the hundreds of thousands of descendants of the king’s various siblings, his collateral relatives, investigating the known status of this family as it exists in the present age. Plenty of tables are provided within the text to aid the reader in keeping tabs on the complex connections between individual and families, providing a helpful visual guide along with the six pedigree illustrations at the beginning of the book. It also serves as a valuable introduction into the often confusing world of DNA, particularly to the reader not Scientifically-minded, such as myself. The book gave me a far greater understanding of mitochondrial DNA than the academic press releases of Leicester University ever could, for example.

‘The Family of Richard III’ is not a book that uncovers exciting new research, or dares to raise new theories unpublished elsewhere. But that isn’t what the purpose of the author is for this work, as he openly states in the introduction. As a book which endeavours to collect all of Richard’s family, in their various guises across multiple generations, into one convenient study, however, the book certainly achieves all of its objectives. A recommended addition to the scholarship of Richard III, which in its own way helps add another context to the live, times and decisions of England’s most infamous king.

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Michael Hicks is Professor of History at King Alfred’s College, Winchester. He has written extensively on medieval England and is regarded by many as the leading expert on the Yorkist dynasty. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He lives in Taunton.

Henry VII and the House of York

By Nathen Amin

When the subject of Henry VII is often raised, attention inevitably turns to the allegedly draconian, even tyrannical, way he treated the Yorkist relations of his wife Elizabeth. The accusation goes that once Henry, the great Lancastrian hope, captured the throne from Richard III, he set about vanquishing the remnants of the House of York, securing the victory of the Red Rose.

The reality is, as with most things with the Wars of the Roses, far more complex. The Wars of the Roses cannot, and should not, ever been seen in binary – it was not ever as simple as Red Rose vs White Rose, or Good vs Bad. It has sometimes been referred to in recent years as the Cousins’ War, but even that doesn’t provide enough inside into just how intermarried the key figures in the Wars were. We all know that Warwick the Kingmaker, for example, was not only a cousin to the Yorks, but also the Beauforts against whom he waged such brutal war. But even the lesser nobles were often connected to the men who killed them.

So to return to Henry VII and the House of York. A key thing to consider is that Henry, although portrayed as the ‘Lancastrian’ heir, came to the throne on a tide of Yorkist support. After the death of Edward IV and the ascendancy of Richard III, what comprised the Edwardian Yorkist household effectively splintered. Some stayed loyal to Richard, and those who suspected he had killed the princes of their former master, fled to Brittany and France into the awaiting embrace of the unknown entity Henry Tudor. Their allegiance to the Tudor cause, rather than the Lancastrian cause, had as much to do with their opposition to Richard than their support for Henry. Therefore, at Bosworth and thereafter, the court and household of Henry VII had a distinctive Yorkist air to it. It was by no means a Lancastrian takeover.

With that in mind, from the outset, Henry did not, nor could he, simply vanquish the House of York as an entity, as a living, breathing, movement. He needed the allegiance of the remaining members, whether grudging or not, and more importantly required the assiduous service of their influential, and experienced, servants. Of those surviving children and grandchildren of Duke Richard of York, therefore, it becomes clear that Henry was far from heavy-handed, at least until given cause. Let’s take a look at what became of the House of York during the reign of Henry VII.

Children of Edward IV

We are unsure of the fate of the Princes in the Tower, although I am satisfied to believe they were disappeared in the summer of 1483 as seems the likeliest fate. Elizabeth obviously became queen of England through her marriage to Henry VII, and despite claims to the contrary, was treated well by a devoted husband, with both touchingly consoling one another after the death of Prince Arthur. But what of the other children of Edward IV that survived into Tudor rule? Were they wiped out by a vengeful Henry VII? Well, no.

Cecily of York had been contracted with marriage to Ralph Scrope, a member of Richard III’s northern affinity, but that union was annulled upon Henry’s accession. In 1487, she was married to the king’s half-uncle, John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles, a man of unquestionable loyalty to the king, and an astute choice in rendering any Yorkist-descended children from the union politically irrelevant. Any accusations that Cecily was harshly treated need to be discounted; Henry marrying his sister-in-law to a royal favourite of minor importance was the same tactic Richard had taken, and there is a suggestion Cecily enjoyed a happy marriage. The Viscount’s will in February 1499 makes reference to his ‘dere beloved lady and wife’, who he trusted ‘above all oder’.

Cecily of York remained around the royal court, and participated in the several Tudor royal ceremonies, even carrying Prince Arthur at his christening and then bearing the train of Catherine of Aragon at the prince’s wedding. She only found disfavour with the king when she impetuously married for a third time to an obscure squire named Kyme. This took place without the king’s permission, and Cecily was banished from court for a short time in disgrace, although the compassionate intervention of Lady Margaret Beaufort allowed her to eventually return. She passed away without surviving issue in 1507.

Like Cecily, Anne of York was also betrothed by Richard III to one of his supporters, in this case Thomas Howard, whose father and grandfather fought for Richard at Bosworth. Despite the potential threat of a Yorkist-Howard child eventually making a play for the throne, Henry VII allowed the married to go ahead in 1495. unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the Tudors when you consider Howard’s later actions in the reign of Henry VIII as 3rd Duke of Norfolk, the couple had no children surviving to adulthood. Like Cecily, Anne was treated as befitted her status as a royal princess, albeit Yorkist. She carried the chrisom at the christening of Prince Arthur and Princess Margaret, and was a regular around court.

Katherine of York was put forward in 1487 as a potential bride to the duke of Ross, a second son of James III of Scotland, by Henry, using her Yorkist blood to try to procure an alliance, although the death of the Scottish king a year later ended discussions. She was later married to William Courtenay, a royal commander and heir of the Earl of Devon, a supporter of Tudor at Bosworth. William proved to be untrustworthy, however, and was attainted in 1504 by Henry VII for joining a conspiracy with Edmund de la Pole, the duke of Suffolk. He would eventually be restored to his estates after the king’s death.

Unlike Cecily or Anne, Katherine did have surviving issue with her husband; Henry Courtenay, possibly named for the king, was born in 1496 and eventually became Marquis of Exeter under Henry VIII. His Yorkist blood would, however, become an issue during the 1530s and he was accused of colluding with his Pole cousins to overthrow his other cousin, Henry VIII. He was beheaded in 1538. Nonetheless, events 30 years after the death of Henry VII hardly make him culpable in the destruction of Exeter. Henry VII may have forseen such issues when marrying a Yorkist princess to a peer of the realm, but he nonetheless didn’t forbid such a union. This seems hardly in keeping with his alleged desire to destroy the House of York. Why not just force her to marry a nobody?

The last legitimate child of Edward IV to survive into the Tudor reign was Bridget of York; she caused Henry far less issues, for Bridget was prepared for a religious life, becoming a nun at Dartford priory. She remained in contact with her royal kinfolk, and survived until 1517, leaving no issue due to her vow to God.

Edward IV was a notoriously promiscuous man, and had at least one acknowledged heir, named Arthur Plantagenet. Presumably protected by his illegitimately, although something which could be overturned with the cooperation of a friendly parliament, Arthur prospered under Tudor rule. By 1501 he was part of his half-sister Queen Elizabeth’s household, and part of Henry VII’s after her demise, suggesting he was trusted enough by the Tudor king to be in his inner circle. Arthur’s rise accelerated in his nephew Henry VIII’s reign, becoming Viscount Lisle and Constable of Calais before finally falling foul of an increasingly tyrannical king in 1540.

Children of George, Duke of Clarence

The children of George, Duke of Clarence, suffered a considerably different fate under the Tudors than their uncle Edward’s offspring, although Clarence’s eldest surviving child, Margaret, shared a similar path to her female cousins during the reign of Henry VII. Having been retrieved from Sheriff Hutton Castle after the king’s accession, where she had been placed by her uncle Richard III, in 1487, Margaret was married to a Welshman named Richard Pole, whose St John mother was a half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, the king’s beloved mother. It seems likely the match was intended to lessen the chances of her being used as a figurehead for a Yorkist rebellion, particularly so soon after one was crushed at Stoke Field that same year, but although Shakespeare’s Henry callously uttered that Clarence’s daughter ‘meanly have I match’d in marriage’, she was nonetheless wed to one of Henry’s closest, and most trusted relations.

Richard Pole was not a wealthy magnate, and certainly not someone who may have anticipated marrying a niece of a king and a daughter of a duke, but he did rise high in his cousin’s court, becoming a Knight of the Garter in 1499 and entrusted with the position of Great Chamberlain of Prince Arthur’s household at Ludlow, receiving significant power in north Wales in the process. Margaret’s prospects dimmed somewhat after the death of the prince in 1502, when her own role as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon ended, followed by the demise of her husband in 1504, causing her to seek refuge with the nuns at Syon Abbey. She had five children with Richard, and although she and her sons would become bitterly opposed to the Tudor regime later in the sixteenth century, at the time of Henry VII’s death in 1509, there is little evidence of activity either way during the period in question.

Margaret’s brother Edward, Earl of Warwick, suffered a tragic fate under Henry VII, one which possibly marks the lowest point in the king’s reign from a moral standpoint, although conversely a demise which arguably secured the Tudor dynasty on the throne. Edward was ten years old when Henry won at Bosworth, but the child’s bloodline was unquestionably a threat to the king’s fledgling dynasty. Whilst true that his father Clarence’s attainder in 1478 technically barred Warwick from the crown, a technicality that cleared the way to Richard III to claim the throne in 1483, it was nevertheless very possibly he could become a focus for disaffected Ricardian Yorkists, prompting his imprisonment in the Tower of London. It wasn’t that the boy had done anything wrong himself, but rather that other’s may do wrong on his behalf, as ultimately happened.

It is unlikely Warwick’s imprisonment was a harsh one, and in 1490 he was even confirmed by the king as earl. It is unclear what his long-term prospects were, but Edward’s fate was sealed in 1499 during the negotiations for the king’s son Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. It was claimed that a plot was uncovered which implicated the earl in planning to escape the Tower with Perkin Warbeck, and on 21 November 1499, Edward was found guilty by his peers and executed on Tower Hill a week later. It was an extrajudicial murder that left a stain on Henry VII’s reign, an undoubtedly ruthless act but one, unfortunately, which was probably done at the bidding of the Spanish monarchs before they entrust their daughter Katherine into the care of the Tudors. Edward had to die for the Tudors to survive. Perhaps through guilt, Henry paid for Edward’s head and body to be buried at Bisham Abbey.

Children of Richard III

Richard III’s son and heir Edward famously died whilst his father was on the throne, a bitter blow to a monarch struggling to maintain his grip on a crown he had wrested so controversially from his nephew. Richard did leave two illegitimate heirs, however, who are known to have lived in the reign of Henry VII. John of Gloucester was Captain of Calais during his father’s lifetime, but was removed after the Tudor accession, it presumably deemed unwise to have Richard’s son in charge of the largest royal garrison. John wasn’t completely ostracised, as there is evidence he was granted an annuity of £20 by Henry VII in March 1486. After this, however, John, contemptuously known as John of Pontefract, disappears somewhat from records. There is no evidence whatsoever what happened to him, and to suggest he was executed by Henry based on a dubious 17th century reference is an unqualified leap.

John’s half, possibly full, sister Katherine was another illegitimate child of Richard III, who married William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, during her father’s reign. She didn’t live long under Tudor rule, however, passing away before the end of 1487 when her husband was referred to as a widower. Neither John nor Katherine had any known children.

Other Yorkist Descendants

Anne of York was a daughter of Richard, duke of York and therefore a sister to king’s Edward IV and Richard III. She was married at a young age to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter and an implacable Lancastrian who drowned in unclear circumstances in 1475, possibly even murdered on orders of Edward IV. Anne was divorced from Exeter in 1472 and remarried two years later to one of Edward’s followers, Thomas St Leger, later executed by Richard III as one of the Edwardian Yorkists who turned from Richard to support the Buckingham-Tudor conspiracy. Anne died in 1476, but her Yorkist blood endured in the daughter she had with her second husband, Anne St Leger.  The orphaned Anne was around nine years old at the time of the Tudor victory, and eventually married in her teenage years to George Manners, and another close companion of Henry VII and who became Baron de Ros in 1511. The Manners’ had numerous children together, including Thomas Manners, who rose to become 1st Earl of Rutland and a notable favourite of Henry VIII, dying peaceably in 1543. Other St Leger daughters made reasonably prosperous marriages into the English gentry during the sixteenth century, escaping any notable attention from the Tudor regime.

Margaret of York was another daughter of Richard of York, and her life took a different path to her siblings, married abroad in 1468 to the Duke of Burgundy, becoming duchess until her husband’s death in 1477. Although childless, with her stepdaughter becoming her father’s heir, Margaret remained in Burgundy, where she proved to be a thorn in Henry VII’s side until her death in 1503. Margaret’s sister Elizabeth succeeded where her sibling failed, giving birth to several York-blooded heirs with her husband John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk. The duke fought for his brother-in-law Richard at Bosworth, but after the Tudor victory, submitted to the new king and became a loyal royal servant until his death in the early 1490s. Unlike the rest of the Yorkist affinity, his children proved difficult for the Tudors. The eldest, John de la Pole, created Earl of Lincoln by Richard III and probably intended to be his uncle’s eventual heir, initially submitted and served as part of Henry VII’s council. Lincoln’s sudden rebellion in 1487 however ended in his death at the Battle of Stoke Field, where it is probable he was using the pretender Lambert Simnel to mask his own attempt to seize the throne.

Lincoln’s position as potential Yorkist heir was assumed by his brother Edmund de la Pole, who eventually inherited his father’s dukedom of Suffolk. Edmund’s head was turned, however, particularly after his demotion to earl in 1493. In 1501, Suffolk fled the kingdom, seeking refuge with the Burgundians, arguably a treasonable act and unquestionably a malicious move. He was forcibly returned to England in 1506 as a result of a new treaty between Burgundy and Henry VII, and remained imprisoned in the Tower of London until the king’s death in 1509. Suffolk would be executed four years later.

Humphrey de la Pole did not follow his brothers, entering the church instead, although William de la Pole, whether willingly or otherwise, found himself dragged into the conspiracies of his brothers. Whilst Edmund escaped abroad, William was deemed untrustworthy and imprisoned in the Tower in 1501. He would remain there for the entirety of Henry VII’s reign, eventually dying, still a captive, in 1539. The youngest de la Pole brother, Richard, also proved troublesome for the Tudors, although still a minor throughout Henry VII’s lifetime. He joined his brother Edmund in exile around 1504, and remained abroad for the remainder of the king’s lifetime, eventually dying fighting for the French in 1525.

Conclusion

As can be clearly determined from the, admittedly simplified, biographical accounts given above, the House of York was not systematically or cruelly destroyed by Henry VII during his 24-year-reign. Of the females, most were married to men close to the Tudor regime, and whilst marriages to comparatively low-born men has been interpreted as an act of callousness, none were slaughtered, killed, imprisoned or ruined. All were taken care of, and some raised families of their own, spreading the York blood through English society.

The de la Poles suffered under Henry VII, yet much of that was self-inflicted. The Duke of Suffolk was welcomed into the king’s circle after Bosworth, and there is every chance his York-blooded sons would have followed suit. Lincoln’s defection in 1487 put paid to that, as did the questionable choices of his brothers. The hand of peace had been extended to them, as Edward IV had done to his enemies in a previous generation, but it was smacked away. That is not Henry VII’s fault.

As mentioned, the execution of Edward, earl of Warwick, is regrettable, although one must acknowledge these were tough times where often the ‘ends justified the means’. That end was the consolidation of the Tudor dynasty on the European stage through a Spanish alliance. It was a small price to pay for such a large reward. Henry VII would not be the first, nor the last, king to approve such a tactic.

So, in conclusion, during the reign of Henry VII – one Yorkist heir was killed, albeit in accordance with the law of the land, and another died during a battle, having rebelled against the crown and denounced a traitor in the process. The rest survived the reign, and whatever happened thereafter, was clearly not Henry VII’s responsibility. Henry Tudor – the butcherer of York? The reality differs considerably from the myth.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort,  is scheduled for release in the summer of 2017. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.

William Brandon; Henry VII’s Standard Bearer

By Sarah Bryson

On the 22nd of August 1485 King Richard III met his death at the Battle of Bosworth field. With his death ended the rule of the Plantagenet Kings. Yet only a short time earlier in the battle anotherman had died by the very lance of Richard III. His name was Sir William Brandon and it would be his son, almost thirty years later that would become King Henry VIII’s most beloved and closest friend.

When Sir William Brandon died it is reported that he was close to Henry Tudor, proudly holding Henry standard high. Richard III charged at Henry’s standard bearer with his lance, the lance piercing through Brandon and breaking in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high’ Henry Tudor’s standard, ‘and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe’. William Brandon drew his last breath fighting for Henry Tudor to become King. Little would he know the great legacy that his death left his one-year- old son Charles Brandon the future Duke of Suffolk.

There appear to be very few facts related to William Brandon. His father was Sir William Brandon of Wangford and Southwark (b. approx. 1425 d. 1491). William Brandon Snr rose from relative security under the service of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Before the Duke died in 1476 he granted Sir William a seat in the local Parliament and also the marriage to Elizabeth Wingfield (d. 28th April 1497). William had a long list of accomplishments including becoming Marshal of the King’s Bench, Burgess (M.P) for Shoreham, Knight for the Shire of Suffolk and Collector of Customs at Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. William Brandon was also present at the battle of Tewkesbury. The battle of Tewkesbury was one of the most decisive battles in English history where Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son, was killed and the Lancastrian forces, of which William was a part of, were decisively defeated. Despite their loss William Brandon was knighted for his efforts. William must have been able to come to terms with the Lancastrian loss as he was present at the coronation of Richard III, brother of Yorkist King Edward V.

Sir William and Elizabeth Wingfield had three sons, Robert Brandon, William and the youngest Thomas. It has also been proposed that the couple also had several daughters two of those being Anne and Elizabeth although there is contradictory evidence to support this claim. William Brandon Junior was born around 1456.

There appears to be some scandal surrounding William Brandon Junior. In 1478 Sir John Paston wrote that:

‘yonge William Brandon is in warde and arestyd ffor thatt he scholde have fforce ravysshyd and swyvyd an olde jentylwoman , and yitt was nott therwith easysd, butt swyvyd hyr oldest dowtr, and than wolde have swyvyd the other sustr bothe; wherforr men sey ffowle off hym, and that he wolde ete the henne and alle hyr chekynnys; and som seye that the Kynge ententdyth to sitte upon hym, and men seye he is lyke to be hangyd, ffor he hathe weddyd a wedowe’

John Paston’s letter suggests that sometime during or before 1478 William Brandon forced himself upon an older woman and also made an attempt to have some sort of relationship with the woman’s daughters. In addition to this great offence, the letter claim’s that the King, Edward IV was not pleased by this news and that the punishment for such horrible crimes was to be hanged. It is interesting to note that despite the required punishment there does not seem to be any record of William Brandon serving time in prison or being punished accordingly. It could be that they were mere gossip or hearsay or that those that were alleging these crimes did not have enough power behind them to see Brandon fully punished. Whatever the case Brandon was not punished and he managed to return to King Edward IV’s good graces.

William had strong Lancastrian ties and supported Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses. However when Henry VI was defeated and eventually murdered and Edward IV came to the throne, the Brandons changed sides. They pledged their support to the new Yorkist King Edward IV, however upon his death his brother Richard III came to the throne and the Brandon’s loyalty quickly began to fade. William Brandon and his brother Thomas soon became dissatisfied with the new King and the shock deposition of the future Edward V and decided to join The Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483. The rebellion was led by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and aimed to have Richard III removed from the throne and replaced by his nephew Edward, oldest son of Edward IV. However, rumours abound that Edward was dead and the plan was changed to replace Richard III with Henry Tudor. It was at this time that Henry made his first attempt to lay claim to the throne. He sailed with a small army from Brittany. However due to poor weather Henry and his men had to return. Without Henry Tudor’s men, Buckingham’s own army floundered and a bounty was put upon his head. He was eventually captured, convicted of treason and beheaded in Salisbury on the 2nd of November 1483.

Despite supporting the Duke of Buckingham and his failed rebellion both William and Thomas Brandon managed to remain in England, however by 1484 both became dissatisfied with Richard III once more and left England. The brothers headed to Brittany to join with Henry Tudor and support his claim to the throne. In the spring of 1484, King Richard III issued a general pardon to several men that had rebelled against him, one of those being William Brandon. It is unclear if this pardon was issued before or after William Brandon left to join forces with Henry Tudor. If it was indeed before William may not have trusted the King’s words after the failed rebellion and the execution of the Duke of Buckingham. If the pardon had been issued after William had left for Europe it may be that he had no knowledge of the pardon or if he had then he might have felt it simply too late as he had already hedged his lot with Henry Tudor. Whatever the reason for not accepting this pardon it was believed at this time William’s wife Elizabeth was pregnant with their son Charles.

Elizabeth Bruyn of South Ockendon was the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Bruyn. Elizabeth was first married to Thomas Tyrell Esquire who had died in 1473. Sir Bruyn died in 1466 leaving Elizabeth a portion of her father’s wealth. Elizabeth and William Brandon married sometime between 1473 and 1476. Elizabeth survived the death of her husband William in 1485 and lived on until March 1493/4.

To William and Elizabeth Brandon Henry Tudor must have signified hope and a future. The Wars of the Roses had brought a great deal of upheaval to England and now leaving the country they placed all their hope in Henry Tudor and his campaign. Laying claim to the English throne was one thing but obtaining it was another. Throughout 1483/84 Henry and his ever-growing group of supporters relied heavily upon Duke Francis of Brittany for support and received payments from the Duke to help pay for their day to day upkeep. In September 1484 Henry Tudor threw himself upon the mercy of King Charles VII of France and begged him for support for his campaign. The King agreed and helped Henry and his supporters purchase resources and mercenaries for the campaign ahead.

The 1st of August 1485 was to be the day that Henry Tudor would finally leave France after fourteen years of exile in Brittany and France aiming to lay claim to the English throne. He set sail from Harfleur, France accompanied by approximately 2000 soldiers. The exact number of men is hard to estimate as different reports record different numbers. What is known is that this would be Henry’s greatest push to date and by his side would be William Brandon.

Landing on the 7th of August at Mill Bay six miles west of Milford Haven located along the Pembrokeshire coastline it is said that when he reached the coast Henry knelt down and kissed the sand reciting Psalm 43 ‘Judge me, O Lord and favour my cause’. He then made the sign of the cross.

At Mill Bay Henry was met by his half Uncle David Owen, the illegitimate son of Tudor Owen, Henry’s grandfather. Gathering his men Henry headed off to lay claim to the English throne. Their first stop was the village of Dale of which its castle surrendered easily. Henry and his men camped here and the future King made sure to remind his men not to get up to any trouble. The troops then moved on through Haverfordwest and Cardigan then northward to Llwyn Dafydd. After this, they claimed the garrison at Aberystwyth Castle and then turned to march inland. On August 13th, they reached Machynlleth and the next day they made a thirty-mile trek across rough terrain to Dolarddun. Following this the growing army headed to Long Mountain where Henry met with Rhys ap Thomas, an important man who carried a great deal of sway with the Welsh people. Rhys pledged his loyalty to Henry and brought approximately 2000 troops to Henry’s cause.

With his growing number of troops, Henry then headed to Shrewsbury. However the portcullises were closed and Henry and his men were not given permission to pass. The next day Henry sent a messenger to negotiate with those in charge at Shrewsbury and after a mysterious message from an outside source was sent to the head bailiff Henry and his men were allowed to pass through and a number of men from the town joined Henry’s forces.

From Shrewsbury Henry travelled through Shropshire and Staffordshire. It was here at Staffordshire that Sit Gilbert Talbot and a troop of about 500 men joined with Henry. The men marched to Stafford where Henry would meet Sir William Stanley, younger brother of Henry’s stepfather.

From Stafford Henry and his men marched through Lichfield arriving at Tamworth on the 20th of August. The next day his men marched over the River Anker to Atherstone where Henry is reported to have had a secret meeting with his father in law. It was at this meeting that allegedly Thomas Stanley pledged his formal support for his stepson.

However the next day, on the 22nd of August Henry Tudor sent a message to his stepfather asking him to send his men to join Henry’s troops. To this Stanley replied that he needed to prepare his men and for now it would appear he was keeping his distance. Also on this day Henry chose to knight several men who had shown great loyalty to him throughout his time in exile. These men included Sir Richard Guildford, Sir John Jastoy, Sir John Sisley, Sir John Trenzy, Sir William Tyler, Sir Thomas Milborn and now Sir William Brandon.

At the Battle of Bosworth, it is estimated that Henry Tudor had an army of approximately five to eight thousand soldiers to King Richard III’s twelve to twenty thousand men. Thomas and William Stanley had a combined force of approximately six thousand men however neither brother had made a definitive move as to which side of the battle they would join. Richard III held the higher ground upon Ambion Hill while Henry and his men were on the lower ground next to marshes.

Henry Tudor appointed the Earl of Oxford to command his troops and lead the Vanguard. Behind the vanguard was Henry, flanked by Gilbert Talbot and Sir John Savage and the rest of his men. Close to Henry was Sir William Brandon. Brandon had been chosen to be Henry’s standard bearer, a great honour for a man who continued to display his loyalty.

A standard bearer is ‘one who bears a standard or banner’. It was Brandon’s duty to carry the flag that represented Henry and his troops. The standard that Henry chose was white and green representing the Tudor colours. Upon this was the red cross of St George, patron saint of England and soldiers and the red Dragon of Wales. Henry Tudor had strong ties with Wales through his grandfather Owen Tudor as well as his uncle Jasper Tudor. This identification with Wales and its people helped Henry to recruit many Welsh men and soldiers along his campaign towards London.

Upon King Richard’s side he ordered the Duke of Norfolk and Sir Robert Brackenburry to lead his vanguard. The rear guard was commanded by Richard III and compromised of his personal bodyguard and other soldiers. Behind him was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry was called arrows fired and then Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s. Both sides then paused, perhaps to regain their breath and positions. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge Henry’s French troops joined the battle and joined the attack on Norfolk’s men. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble and many were killed including the Duke himself, others fled while some defected to Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight and it is believed that at some point the Earl decided to leave the battle without employing any of his men into the fray. Amongst the chaos some of his loyal supporters begged Richard III to flee but the King would be no coward. Oxford’s men had pushed forward leaving a gap. Seeing his gap Richard III saw an opportunity to get to the man who caused such a great threat to his throne and he and his men charged forward aiming to strike Henry Tudor down.

It was here that William Brandon met his death at the end of Richard III’s lance. The Battle of Bosworth is remembered for the tragic death of King Richard III and the rise of the Tudors. Sir William Brandon, standard bearer seems almost insignificant amongst a battle that changed the course of English history yet one must not forget his story. While little is known about his life he was fiercely loyal to a man he believed was the true King. He gave his life for Henry Tudor and it was his son Charles Brandon that would continue the Brandon legacy.

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Graham’s Turner’s Painting of William Brandon’s Death

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Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She is the author of Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell, Charles Brandon: The King’s Man, and La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters.

Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and a Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.

Book Review – Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville; A True Romance by Amy Licence

Author Amy Licence notes in her introduction that Edward IV has been somewhat overlooked in the annals of British history, noting that he was ‘a king who has been damned with faint praise’. This may at first seem surprising to those that study the fifteenth century over which his sizable figure looms large. Edward was tall and handsome, a courageous soldier on the battlefield who had been blessed an irresistible charm around his subjects. Yet when one takes a step back and looks at medieval England objectively, the author has a point; Edward IV has been overshadowed, if not by his brother Richard III or grandson Henry VIII then certainly by other monarchs like Henry V and Edward III.

Licence endeavours to bring this first king of the House of York out of the shadows of his illustrious relations, a task in which she succeeds with this book, the first non-fiction work about their relationship. The story of Edward is principally the story of his scandalous, kingdom-dividing marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a topic Licence examines in detail in an attempt to uncover the significance of their controversial nuptials in 1464. It is a subject the she feels continues to fascinate ‘as an enduring love story set against the most turbulent of times’. She’s right.

Edward could have chosen any woman in Europe to have been his wife; after valiantly winning his crown on a battlefield at the age of only nineteen, he was every inch a stereotypical fairy tale prince. Tall, handsome, athletic, rich and young, he possessed ‘princely and knightly courage’. Edward IV was the most eligible bachelor in the western world. It was therefore inconceivable that he took for his wife the widow Elizabeth Woodville, five years his elder and allied to the Lancastrian affinity. It was unpopular with his nobles, his subjects and his family. Perhaps the fact she was considered ‘the most beautiful woman in the island of Britain’ had a bearing, but as the author points out, there was much more to Elizabeth than her looks. That Edward persevered with Elizabeth is an indication of his genuine love and attraction for his wife.

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The first part book provides ample background information on both Edward and Elizabeth, focusing on their childhood and early adulthood, culminating in their fortuitous meeting, some say, under an oak tree. Particularly welcomed is the detail Licence provides about the early years of Elizabeth, not a topic often covered in most works which tend to concentrate on those of royal birth. Personally I was intrigued to discover that, prior to her first marriage, Elizabeth was courted by Sir Hugh Joneys of Swansea. I was aware that Joneys would later be entrusted with tutoring the young Henry Tudor in martial arts during the 1460s and was pleased to discover this other, lesser-known, event in his life. Such small detail is a credit to the research Licence has undertaken.

No book about Edward IV and Elizabeth is complete without covering the latter part of their relationship, the demise of the king due to his excessive lifestyle and the subsequent tragedy of the Princes in the Tower. Unlike many writers who may feel the temptation to do so, Licence doesn’t dwell on history’s most famous ‘whodunit’ other than to discuss the events from the viewpoint of her subject, the desperate Elizabeth, again an often underdeveloped perspective of the period.

It is difficult to cover such a broad topic as the Wars of the Roses and the multitude of characters without confusing a reader new to the subject, but Licence succeeds in simplifying the era and in particular the complex genealogical aspect of the conflict. To do this without omitting any vital detail is applauded. Another welcome aspect of the book is Licence’s regular usage of extended sourced material as part of the main text rather than footnoted, for example the letter of Edward as a child to his father in 1455. Whilst on some occasions this may interrupt the narrative, it is utilised to such effect by the author that in this instance that it helps the reader’s understanding of the period as well as perhaps formulating their own interpretation of the source along with Licence’s.

Overall the book is well researched and engaging piece that offers a fresh view of a well-told subject, a talent which Licence has shown numerous times in her previous work. At one point Licence poses the question – ‘What was it about this woman that so captivated Edward that he was prepared to take such a risk?’. Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville, a True Romance goes some way to helping answer that question.

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Amy Licence is the author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses, including In Bed With the Tudors (‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail’ Daily Express), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York and The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, all published by Amberley. Amy has written for the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and BBC History Magazine and has appeared on BBC radio and television. She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children.

Book Review – Loyalty by Matthew Lewis (Audio Book)

By Nathen Amin

I should start this review by pointing out that I do not enjoy audiobooks and can certainly not be considered sympathetic to Richard III or the theories of Ricardians. That being said, when I came across an audiobook on the subject of Richard III I couldn’t resist giving it a listen.

Loyalty by historian Matthew Lewis was first published in 2012 and has been well received amongst historical fiction aficionados, currently receiving on average in excess of a 4-star rating from over one hundred reviews on Amazon, an impressive statistic and indicative of its quality.

The book has been praised for its intriguing plotline that unusually takes place across two notorious reigns – that of Henry VIII and Richard III. The premise is that Tudor court artist Hans Holbein is summoned to the house of Sir Thomas More for a commission. Whilst in the presence of More the painter is exposed to the true story of Richard III by his prestigious host; Holbein is an attentive if surprised listener as More regales the life of England’s most controversial king, unveiling a king far removed from the evil monarch that the English had come to believe had briefly ruled over them half a century before. By the end of the book Holbein is entrusted with a startling piece of information that could conceivably bring about the demise of the Tudor dynasty.

Lewis’ portrayal of Richard III is sympathetic and favourable, although not to the extent as to be considered preposterous in its bias. Lewis is an unabashed Ricardian but draws his conclusions about Richard III, as a man and as a king, from historical evidence and rational analysis, a process which results in Loyalty being a step above typical Ricardian works of fiction.

His portrayal of the king depicts a pious man who was a loyal brother and a skilled soldier, albeit with character flaws such as a raging temper and innate stubbornness. It is a balanced portrayal that paints Richard exactly as he was – a man of his time with real hopes, fears, dreams and problems. He experiences the highs of battle and the lows of personal grief. He is not a saint or a villain, but merely a man who happens to be born into the upper echelons of English society. Interesting is Richard’s nervous confidence, a feeling of worry as he bravely cuts his through late-fifteenth century English politics, rendered complex by the family dynamic between the House of York. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal as a more rounded, scheming character than a mere one-dimensional fairytale prince. During his test of wills with his brother Clarence over the Neville inheritance, he boldly bluffs by announcing Clarence can have all if Richard is only allowed the hand of Anne Neville. In most Ricardian works of fiction this device is used solely to portray Richard as a swashbuckling man of love, a romantic lead with only Anne on his mind. Lewis expands this by having Richard mentally acknowledge that this is a bluff tactic and that he does not really wish to give away the lands but is rather manipulating the situation to win a favourable outcome whereby he wins both the lands and the hand. This seems far more likely to have been the real situation to me. The motivations of Richard III would have been far more complex than general historical fiction has given him credit for.

This is what makes Lewis’ book a book worth reading, or as of this year, listening to. Towards the end of the book we encounter Lewis’ talent for creating suspenseful and emotional narrative, notably in two separate chapters that deal with drastically different situations. His grief-stricken Richard after the death of his child Edward is harrowing whilst his version of the Battle of Bosworth from Richard’s viewpoint is brutal yet captivating through its descriptive recounting. You are almost able to picture the seen unfolding through your own eyes. Particularly interesting is his tough, influential portrayal of Anne Neville, pushing Richard towards his destiny before falling apart after the death of her only child.

Loyalty has been released in audio book for 2015 and has truly enhanced the book for anyone interested in this period of history. The book has been made available via Audible and is narrated by the dulcet tones of Nigel Carrington, his interpretation of Lewis’ characters nothing other than sublime. Stretching to over 14hrs in length, there is enough content here to keep the listener occupied during long journeys or short breaks. It is certainly fascinating hearing the well-written prose spoken aloud and enables one to paint a picture of the characters as they wade through Lewis’ interpretation of the events of the late fifteenth century. A bonus is the author notes which occupy the last chapter, a historical recounting of the period which served as the basis of the story. It is always gratifying to note the research that has gone into creating historical fiction, amid glaring errors and inaccuracies that exist in the genre today. Lewis does not shy away from justifying his theories and this helps his work stand on its own two feet as a book worth buying, both in paper and audio form.

As I stated at the beginning, I generally do not enjoy the topic of Richard III as told by Ricardians or listening to audio books. My only complaint after listening to this particular Richard III audiobook is that 14 hours went too quickly.

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Exile (1471-1485)

By Nathen Amin

The Exile

The rise of Henry Tudor from relative obscurity to become king of England is a tale that although renowned probably deserves greater attention than it has been afforded. Having been pursued through south Wales in the late-spring of 1471 after the Lancastrian capitulation at Tewkesbury in May, Jasper Tudor once more succeeded in escaping his enemies and managed to reach Tenby Harbour, where a boat was awaiting him to take him back to France. This time he had with him his 14 year old nephew Henry. Together they set out for the open sea and for France where they would seek refuge with their Valois relations. Fortune had different plans for the pair however. The Tudors were blown of course and were forced to alight at Le Conquet in the extreme west of the independent Duchy of Brittany. Unsure what would greet them as they made their way inland from the scenic Breton Coast and towards the Breton court at Nantes, the Tudors had begun their twelve year exile in the Duchy of Brittany.

Refugees

The Tudor uncle and nephew met with Francis II in Nantes and shadowed the court to Vannes having successfully been granted a degree of asylum within the Dukedom, albeit as privileged prisoners as opposed to free citizens. Littered with many impressive structures across his lands, the Duke’s first action was to have Henry and Jasper placed within the picturesque Chateau de Suscinio in the southern part of Morbihan around October 1472, just over a year after they first washed up on Duke Francis’ shores. Situated on the protruding Rhuys peninsula and overlooking the Gulfe de Morbihan, this idyllic and rural Chateau was an impressive structure with a large and imposing gate guarded by two huge cylinder towers divided by a typical drawbridge across the moat. Further improving both the defences of the chateau and the scenic view from atop the ramparts was the lake that is situated just beyond the moat. Escape would have been difficult. Henry and Jasper’s stay here would initially have been comfortable and liberal as they were welcomed guests of Duke Francis. The Chateau was built as a kind of pleasure palace for the dukes on the coast and was naturally a pleasant retreat. It can be assumed that both Tudors would have revelled in hunting on the plentiful lands that surrounded the chateau as well as fishing in the bountiful Atlantic Coast which begun only a few hundred metres from their apartments.

Chateau de Suscinio

Although things had begun in this fashion it was not a situation that would last. Their increasing status as pawns in the great diplomatic three-way tussle between the squabbling Bretons, French and English would gradually see the Tudors situation become more restricted. The English demanded they were treated as monitored prisoners whilst the French commanded they were put under stricter control so as to stop them being captured by the English. King Edward clearly wanted to extinguish this distant but last remaining line of the House of Lancaster and to finally secure his own House of York beyond all doubt whereas King Louis wanted the Tudors to use as a bargaining chip against England. Louis XI was also the first cousin of Jasper Tudor as his father King Charles VII was the brother of Jasper’s mother Catherine of Valois, the dowager Queen of England whom had scandalously married her servant Owen Tudor after her husband Henry V’s death.

This, Louis believed, meant he had right to the guardianship of his kinsmen. Duke Francis, undoubtedly with some reluctance after initially extolling himself as a gracious and respectful host, was forced to accept such terms and the Tudors movements subsequently began to be more limited. Finally the access to the sea was seen as more of a curse than a blessing as it was seen to be too exposed to the possibility of English attack. The Tudors stay at this scenic chateau was abruptly cut short and they were urgently relocated and perhaps of more concern to the pair, separated. Jasper was sent to the Chateau de Josselin whilst young Henry was placed in the formidable confines of Chateau de Largoet in Elven.

Prisoners

Josselin is situated in the heart of Brittany and the scenery surrounding the Chateau would have been dramatically different to the view Jasper Tudor would have become accustomed to in Suscinio. The Atlantic Ocean had been replaced by the conjoining green masses of grassy hills and tall trees as far as the eye could see. The chateau is in the heart of a medieval town with the historic town walls running parallel to the roads. It was the ducal home of the preeminent Rohan family.

Standing at the base of the fortress wall, the height of the three connected towers that compromise today’s modern Chateau is truly astonishing and would surely have been a behemoth of the Middle Ages. One can only imagine the effect it would have had on Jasper as he stood beneath the towers for the first time, particularly as the castle would still have had many of its other towers still intact. Jasper was moved here at some point between 1473 and 1474 and would have either entered through the opulent gate in the town square or perhaps through the smaller gate through which visitors today enter the Chateau in the centre of the town itself. The castle would have been intact at this period, with nine towers and complete walls merely reinforcing this formidable structure. After it was slighted at a later period only four of the towers remain today but from the courtyard one still gets a feeling how impressive this fortress would have been. On the right hand side is the modern day Chateau and still home of the Rohan-Chabot Dukes, a gothic creation built into the original walls which overlook the flowing River Oust.

Chateau de Josselin

Although built decades after Jasper’s enforced stay here, the early 16th century renaissance building still displays the intricate architecture that has become synonymous with the period and is worth witnessing. Particularly worth studying are the differing galleries that can be found on the front of the facade, each demonstrating the various allegiances of the Rohan family, from the motto A PLUS to the large A for the then-duchess of Brittany, Anne. On the left hand side and thus directly opposite the Chateau stands one of the original towers, isolated from the reminder of the compound yet still standing proud and majestic. From the walls, one gets incredible views across the Oust Valley and although not on the ocean front, the chateau certainly has charming views that rival Suscinio. The keep itself where Jasper may have been kept prisoner is now gone, replaced by a simple empty space from which the banner of Josselin flies proudly over the valley.

Henry meanwhile was taken to the town of Elven, situated about halfway between Suscinio and Josselin. Unlike Josselin where the Chateau is situated in the heart of the town, Largoet is rurally based with nothing in the vicinity except rolling hills, thick forests and a small lake. Largoet was designed to be a military fortress and its location certainly plays a part in its defences. The chateau is reached along a lengthy path through a forest until the gatehouse and thirteenth century walls suddenly appears into view, connected to the courtyard via a wooden bridge over a moat. The owner of the chateau during Henry’s incarceration was Jean, Lord of Rieux, and it was into his protection that Henry was placed. An intriguing family connection between Jean of Rieux and Henry Tudor came at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Henry’s distant relation Owain Glyndwr, the first cousin of his great-grandfather Maredudd ap Tudur, rebelled against English rule in the first decade of the century and was allied with many Bretons and Frenchmen, amongst them Jean of Rieux’s grandfather.

Chateau de Largoet

Two things would have instantly captured Henry’s eye as he entered the courtyard of Largoet. On the left hand side and down a small dip stands the Round tower, three stories high with a hexagonal construction atop the highest level. The most striking aspect of the Chateau however is the incredibly high Tour d’Elven, the Elven Tower that stands 6 stories high and 144 feet from the base. This octagonal dungeon tower possesses a tiring 177 steps in total, is the highest dungeon in France and also was built to include views out to sea around 15 miles away. This immense structure had only been constructed around a decade earlier and it was in here which Henry would be housed for the next few years.

Tour D’Elven

Entering through the ground floor entrance, one can make their way up the large staircase to the second floor to the small and narrow room in which he was put. It is also possible that Henry was kept on the sixth floor, arguably the most impenetrable part of the entire chateau and demonstrative of his importance to the Bretons. The Lord of Rieux was an ally of Henry and felt honoured to be guarding this ‘comte of Richemonte’ and was duty bound to ensure he didn’t escape or was kidnapped. The evolving foreign policy of continental Europe during this period however would ensure the status of the Tudors would periodically be reevaluated by the Bretons.

Entrance to Tour D’Elven

A Close Escape

The first five years of the Tudors stay in Brittany had been in a state of part guest, part prisoner under the protection of Duke Francis II. He had up to this point rejected the amorous advances of the English to hand over his prized possessions and kept his word to Henry and Jasper to grant them asylum. After many failed attempts to bribe the Duke into handing over the Tudors, the English envoys changed tact and began promising to safeguard Henry Tudor back to England where, rather than the expected imprisonment and execution, he would instead receive his full Beaufort inheritance and be married to a prominent Yorkist woman. It may have been a possibility that Edward in fact wished to marry Henry to his own daughter Elizabeth to fully integrate this potential usurper into his own inner circle.

The reality is it was probably merely a negotiating ploy to get control of this last remaining threat to complete Yorkist control of the English throne. This being said, after years of pressure and having succumbed temporarily to illness, by the winter of 1476 Duke Francis finally relented and agreed to release Henry Tudor into English hands under the assurance he would enjoy a good marriage in England and be treated honourably. Such a move was against his Admiral Jean du Quelennec’s wishes but the admiral was crucially away from court when the Duke reached his decision. The decision was a pleasing one to many of the minor courtiers of Brittany who were eager to be rewarded by King Edward IV for supporting this outcome. Henry was taken back to Vannes where he was passed into English hands. The English envoys took their ward north to the coastal town of St Malo where their ships awaited to take Henry back to England. It is probable that Henry would have entered the town either through the Dinan gate or the splendid La Porte Saint Vincent. Both feature the coat of arms of St Malo and Brittany and display the motto ‘Potius quam mori quam foedari’ – better dead than sullied.

It was a mixture of quick thinking and the tight, cobbled streets of St Malo which possibly saved the life of Henry Tudor on that winter’s day in 1476 when, shortly after entering the town, he seemingly feigned an illness that swiftly halted the envoys march towards the ship, and thus England. As this delay was taking place, Admiral Quelennec had returned and was dismayed at his Duke’s action in releasing Henry Tudor from protective custody. The chivalric admiral felt that Duke Francis had made a promise in good faith and should have kept his oath to protect the Welshman. Convinced he had made a mistake, Francis sent his treasurer and key political aide Pierre Landais to St Malo in order to stop the sailing.

Aided by the delay through illness, Landais arrived just in time to advise the English the deal was off and entered into lengthy dialogue with the exasperated envoys. It appears during these heated exchanges, the 19 year old Henry slipped away from his captors and escaped through the narrow streets whilst being pursued. Making his way to the church that stands in the centre of the old town, the Earl of Richmond claimed sanctuary within the confines of St Vincent’s Cathedral. With the local Bretons unwilling to allow the English to break the sanctuary tradition by entering the Cathedral armed, the envoys eventually admitted loss in their attempt to take Henry back to England and they left the shores of Brittany empty handed. They had him their possession for only three days. St Malo’s Cathedral still stands proud in the centre of the town and in fact the roads are so narrow and tight as befitting its history as a medieval town the building appears almost out of nowhere as you wander aimlessly through the many streets. Henry used these streets to his advantage and managed to evade all attempts at detection. It must have been a terrifying event for the young exile.

St Malo Cathedral

The Lancastrian Claimant

Henry made his way back to the Breton Court for an audience with the Duke, Francis apologising profusely for his blunder and reassuring the Earl of Richmond that he would not be handed over to the English after all. It was an emotional reprieve for Henry. The English envoys were naturally furious at coming so close to attaining their goal of returning the Lancastrian exile to their Yorkist king but Pierre Landais and the Duke could only appease them by promising to again ensure the Tudors were kept secure in custody. Although lack of evidence exists to suggest the timeframes and locations of Henry’s next temporary place of residence, by 1480 he was in captivity at the Chateau L’Hermine in the southern coastal town of Vannes where he was joined from Josselin by his devoted uncle Jasper.

As throughout the exile, envoys from both France and England continued to pressurise Duke Francis and at such a critical point in the Dukedom’s history it may have seemed at times he had no reason but to capitulate. In June 1482 King Edward reconfirmed his alleged desire to welcome Henry Tudor back into his kingdom as a treasured member of his inner court, particularly once married into a strong Yorkist family of which he may have had in mind his own daughter Elizabeth of York. Edward stated that should Henry acquiesce to this request then he would treated as a loyal and valued courtier and not only would he receive his Beaufort inheritance on his mother’s death he would receive a whole lot more. The flipside of this however, should Henry continue with his exile, was that he would lose everything if he did not return to English shores immediately.

It is thought that Margaret Beaufort herself, a Lancastrian by birth whom had found herself married into the wider Yorkist regime, supported such a move. It certainly seemed to be the best this exiled Welshman could hope for at this junction. Although the Yorkist Dynasty seemed secure on the throne of England hitherto the political scene dramatically changed in April 1483 when the obese King Edward IV died, leaving his child and namesake Edward the new king. The future of Henry Tudor and the deal to bring him back home was suddenly cast into doubt. This was further complicated when Richard, Duke of Gloucester and younger brother to Edward IV, captured his nephew and usurped the crown. Disenfranchised Yorkists unhappy at this turn of events looked abroad to Henry as a possible alternative and scores of knights and nobles began to flee to Brittany. Duke Francis acknowledged this dramatic change in status of his charge and Henry was afforded greater freedom. This exiled Earl of Richmond found himself transformed from a little-known Lancastrian exile to a potential king-in-waiting. With little other prospects other than continuing his exile it was a role he embraced.

With his force growing daily as previously loyal Yorkists seeked sanctuary away from London, Henry Tudor faced his large force at Vannes Cathedral later that year and swore an oath to each and every man. He promised to lead them to the throne of England as their rightful monarch, to which he would have been greeted with support and the pledging of loyalty from the men. Henry left Vannes cathedral as a man with an army that was willing to fight for him, or at least to fight against Richard III. Henry and his closest advisors probably acknowledged that claim to the throne was weak, particularly as it was through an illegitimate female line.

The decision was taken that uniting his claim with that of Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, would bolster his acceptance as monarch and ensure the continuing loyalty of the Yorkist dissidents. To this effect Henry met with his faction at Rennes’ St Pierre Cathedral to pledge an oath to marry Elizabeth and unite the rival Houses. The Cathedral in Rennes sits in the centre of the city and constitutes an incredibly high front façade that certainly matches the similar structure at Westminster Abbey. As you enter and your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you instantly become aware of the numerous marble pillars on each side that lead down the aisle to the altar.

Rennes Cathedral

Situated underneath a great basilica and in the presence of many Catholic shrines, it was here on Christmas Day 1483 that Henry made his oath to marry Elizabeth of York and unite the warring factions. Present on this day was the majority of his force, both Yorkist and Lancastrian, in addition to the Duchess of Brittany herself. As the premier minister in the land Pierre Landais was also present and through him Henry obtained Francis’ solemn promise to support and assist in the cause. The ceremony included a mass which was officiated over by the Duchess’ own priest. Henry had entered into a pledge which he could not turn his back on; if his invasion of England was successful and he became King, he would marry Elizabeth of York. It was in effect a betrothal, a marriage in proxy. It could be argued that it was within Rennes Cathedral that the end of the Wars of the Roses was conceived.

Altar in Rennes Cathedral

The End of the Exile

Francis had grown increasingly ill and by 1484, his treasurer Pierre Landais was effectively in control of the dukedom. Francis had, for the main part, always kept his promise to protect Henry whilst he was in his control and had certainly grown accustomed to his company. With Henry’s role changing from mere exiled noble to claimant to the throne of England, both needed each other for different reasons. Henry needed Francis in order to succeed. Francis needed Henry to be King in order to gain a powerful ally in his constant battles with France. However during Francis illness during the summer of 1484, Landais began to listen to Richard’s constant overtures and certainly seemed as though he was about to hand the Tudors over. Landais not only thought this was the best thing for Brittany, but it was also self-preservation for himself to create a personal relationship with the King of England.

The plans to hand over Henry Tudor to Richard III were almost set in motion when Henry’s ally, Bishop Morton, had found out through his sources about the plot to betray him behind Francis’ back. Henry in turn decided to hatch his plan whereby he would escape across the border into France where he would seek asylum in the court of the new French king Charles VIII. Henry had already made two incredible escapes during his lifetime; first as a 14 year old from Tenby Harbour and again as a 19 year old from English forces in St Malo. Leaving his base at Vannes at some point in September under the pretence of visiting a supposed friend, around 5 miles later Henry suddenly left the road and dipped into the woods where he changed into the clothes of a peasant. Disguised from detection, Henry then rode fiercely for the French border and asylum at Charles’ court. His uncle Jasper had equally crossed the border two days earlier in a similar manner.

Henry’s escape had scuppered Pierre Landais’ plans to transfer Henry to prison and into the hands of King Richard III and in fact they were only an hour behind Henry as he raced through the marches and into French territory. Deeply troubled and ashamed at what had transpired, Francis conveyed his regret to Henry and rather than punishing the English exiles that had been left behind in Brittany, Francis provided them not only with safe conduct to France but helped to finance the move to France. It was an honourable move borne out of the chivalric characteristics Duke Francis had on the whole shown his Welsh guest and Henry was deeply thankful for this gesture. Provided with extra funds from France, whom were finally eager to use the Tudors in their diplomatic squabble with England, the plans to launch an invasion from the coast of France began to gain pace as did Henry’s own appeals to other nobles in Wales and England to support his claim.

The forces that Henry had gathered, a combination of Lancastrians, dissident Yorkists and French mercenaries, were assembled at the Norman port of Honfleur where on 1 August 1485 they finally set sail for the coast of Henry’s native Wales. Henry’s ragtag force landed at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire on 7 August and landing on Welsh soil for the first time since he was forced into exile 14 years earlier, the Welshman fell to his knees and kissed the soil. Henry was heard to cry “Judge me, Lord and fight my cause”. Two weeks later Henry Tudor was proclaimed King of England and of France, Lord of Ireland and Prince of Wales.

The Royal Tudors and Brittany

After Henry Tudor acceded to the English throne and was crowned as Henry VII, it was anticipated that Brittany and England would enjoy a close relationship due to the personal connection of the two respective rulers. The reality was that once Henry became King of England, he had to act in accordance with the wellbeing and interest of his own kingdom as opposed to any sentimental loyalty to Brittany. Henry also owed a debt of gratitude to the French for their role in supporting his Bosworth campaign and therefore a policy of non-intervention was considered prudent by the new English king whilst he secured his crown.

The question of Breton independence was thrust to the forefront of European diplomatic matters in September 1488 when Henry’s protector in exile, Duke Francis II, passed away. He was succeeded by his daughter Anne of Brittany who at once became one of the most sought after brides on the continent, particularly by the French. Whilst Henry Tudor certainly had a personal interest in the future of Brittany his most pressing concern must have been the aggressive attempts of his former ally France to annex Brittany and secure control of the entire southern part of the English Channel. French control of Brittany would also have a detrimental effect on the economy of England for the Bretons were a key trading partner of the English. Henry initially attempted to act as mediator between his two allies but a French military defeat of Breton forces in 1488 at the Battle of St-Aubin-du-Cormier suggest Brittany needed vital assistance.

Henry resolved to support Brittany against France to this end and the Treaty of Redon was signed in February 1489. The treaty pledged 6000 English troops under the command of Giles Daubeney to be deployed to Brittany as required, although they would have to be funded by the Bretons. The Papal Ambassador in England wrote to the Pope after the treaty that the king was ‘compelled at present to defend Breton interests, both on account of the immense benefits conferred on him by the late Duke in the time of his misfortunes, and likewise for the defence of his own kingdom’. The military support was too little to have any major impact in the issue and in December 1491 Anne of Brittany was married to Charles VIII of France, effectively signaling the end of Breton independence. The following October Henry VII landed at Calais at the head of a might army, primed to invade France as a defensive tactic caused by their annexation of Brittany and support of the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

Henry commanded a force of around 15,000 troops and 700 ships, allegedly the largest English expedition of the fifteenth century. Although besieging the town of Boulogne it is arguable that Henry never planned to launch a serious military attack against France, for he came to a swift agreement with the beleaguered Charles VIII who was forced into paying his English counterpart a mammoth annual pension of 50,000 French crowns, total payable being 745,000 gold crowns. Although many were disappointed Henry seemingly had no desire to claim the throne of France it was an incredible display of power that served to demonstrate Henry’s growing influence on the never ending chessboard that was European diplomacy. The fact was that England could not match France force for force. The resultant Treaty of Etaples signed on 3 November also saw French support for the cause of Warbeck withdrawn, who quickly fled for Flanders. The campaign would draw criticism yet Henry’s chief objectives were achieved with little expense or bloodshed, although he had failed to preserve the sovereignty of Brittany. He had demonstrated to Europe that he was a king who was a major player in continental affairs, whilst removing an immediate threat in a French-backed Warbeck and significantly boosting his income. Brittany however was lost. And lost it would remain, never regaining her independence. The Tudors and Brittany is an intriguing story; rags to riches on one hand yet riches to rags on another. Both played a major role in the rise and fall of each other.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort,  was released in 2017 and became a #1 Wars of the Roses bestseller. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.