Book Review – Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort

By Nathen Amin

Amy Licence is arguably the most prolific historical writer in Britain at the moment, and I often marvel at how she constantly puts out numerous books concurrently without any depreciation in quality. Coming hot on the heels or her recent releases is Red Roses, the first book which focuses on the women of the House of Lancaster during the 14th and 15th centuries.

The story of the Wars is very much en vogue at the moment, which is great news for those of us enamoured with the struggle between York and Lancaster, a period often overlooked in favour of the later Tudor period. That being said, within a few years so many books have been released on the subject it seems difficult to find a book that takes a fresh look at the conflict. Licence has managed to do just that, concentrating on the females surrounding the various Lancastrian leaders. The men may have got the glory, but behind them were their women – the wives, daughters and mistresses whose lives and influences played a key role in how the Wars played out. Some, like Blanche of Lancaster and Joan Beaufort, were born Lancastrians whilst others like Katherine Valois and Margaret Anjou were married in. It is no surprise to see Licence, renowned for her women’s histories, note in her final chapter that the book is an attempt to provide an alternative narrative of English history and to ‘complement the dominant male version of events with one of female experience and influence’.

51kQmJqQr8LLicence’s book is chronologically split into five parts, allowing easy navigation between subjects and also breaking up the oft-times confusing nature of the period, which in this respect spans about 150 years. Part One focuses on the various wives of John of Gaunt, that father of the Lancastrian Dynasty and one of England’s most wealthy and influential magnates. Through his three wives, Gaunt’s descendants would reign over England, Portugal and Spain, spreading the Lancastrian connection across Europe. Part Two focuses on the struggle between Richard II and Henry IV with Part Three providing an overview of the early 15th century and the stories of Katherine Valois and Joan Beaufort, Queens of England and Scotland respectively. Part Four features the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, led in part by the domineering Margaret Anjou, queen to the beleaguered Lancastrian king Henry VI. The final part of the book finishes, perhaps fittingly, with arguably the greatest of all the Lancastrian women, Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian by descent and marriage.

We are treated to the author’s own reserved ideas on the period, putting forward her theories on events without leaping to sensational conclusions, as unfortunately often seems to be the case these days. The book runs through a number of primary sources, discussing contemporary opinions on the subject at hand with modern analysis. What is particularly appreciated is that the author does not attempt to enforce her developed opinion as fact, but rather puts forward the information and lets the reader decide. It’s a power I, as the reader, appreciates being given.

As is Licence’s wont, Red Roses is a thorough and detailed piece of work, well researched and different enough from other Wars of the Roses books to make it a worthwhile read. Although I would have preferred to see colour photographs, that this is the only real gripe I have with the book is indicative of the strength of the work presented. It’s a fascinating project documenting the lives of many intriguing women, connected through a shared Lancastrian affinity. An engaging and informative read.

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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. 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.

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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.

Unmasking the Villain

By Samantha Wilcoxson

It has become standard practice for history enthusiasts to be an unquestioning supporter of either Henry VII or Richard III, naming the other as the worst villain of their age. Is this a fair assessment? The fact that we cannot agree on which man is the evil one should be enough to make one wonder if they weren’t both something between demon and angel.

Historical fiction has been particularly unkind to Henry Tudor. He is expected by readers to be cold, calculating, and a little too much of a mama’s boy. One bestselling author even paints him as a rapist, while others simply have him treat his wife, Elizabeth of York, with contempt and disdain. Primary records demonstrate that this picture of Henry is almost completely false.

In Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England, Thomas Penn establishes that Henry was an intelligent ruler who unified England after decades of bloodshed in the Wars of the Roses. He was also devout, as is evinced by the fact that his few money-spending occasions were those that took place within the church and before God: coronations, weddings, and funerals. Known as a penny-pincher, Henry was willing to outlay cash when he felt it was worth it, but he also worked to correct the state of the royal coffers that he had taken over.

Even before his surprising success, Henry Tudor had looked to unite the kingdom he hoped to rule. On Christmas 1483, he pledged to marry the oldest daughter of the late king, Edward IV. Elizabeth was undoubtedly a prize, but one can see the thought for the future in Henry making this vow. It is also worth noting that the Plantagenet princess married him and supported Henry in his goals for improving and unifying England.

Henry was described by contemporaries as ‘spare’ with ‘high cheek bones’ and ‘dark hair faintly greying around the temples.’ Although they called him ‘grave,’ those presented to the first Tudor king also referred to him as ‘gracious’ and a ‘wonderful presence.’ This does not sound like the awful person we have been trained to believe Henry Tudor was.

However, Henry was also not the savior of England. In a cruel move as soon as his predecessor was dead, Henry had his reign dated beginning August 21, 1485. This was the day before his troops had killed Richard III in battle. Every man who had fought for their anointed king could then be named a traitor.

Henry’s reputation is also soiled by his execution of Edward of Warwick to appease Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain during negotiations for the marriage between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. Edward, nephew of Edward IV and Richard III, was almost certainly innocent of any charges against him and had spent the entirety of Henry’s reign within Tower walls based on no charges whatsoever.

What we can say of Henry is that he left England a better place than he had found it. Financial security, internal peace, and a plan for the succession are more than Edward IV and Richard III had managed. Despite his faults, Henry VII had a positive impact on the land he had taken by conquest.

This brings us to Richard III. Unlike Henry Tudor, Richard brings different visions to the minds of those who study his history. On one side is the Shakespearean character, almost ridiculous in his abundance of evil that leaves him twisted in spirit and physical form. Opposing this, we have the Richard of more recent authors’ creation that make him a romantic leading man, caught up in circumstances that were beyond him and underestimating the ambitions of others. What is difficult with Richard III is taking middle ground, where the truth likely lies.

We will probably never know the complete truth about when Richard decided to take his nephew’s throne or whether or not he had his brother’s children murdered. Unsolved mysteries do not constitute evidence, so let us consider what we do know. Documentation of Richard’s life and character takes a unique form. Centuries after the last change in dynasty, contemporary historians had to determine what was truth and what should be written to please the new Tudor king. Contemporary accounts vary almost as much as modern opinions.

Before Richard’s death, historian John Rous described him as, ‘a mighty prince’ known for ‘commendably punishing offenders of the laws’ and ‘cherishing those that were virtuous.’ Once Henry Tudor was in power, Rous painted a different picture of Richard, more suited to Tudor taste. Polydore Virgil, who believed that Richard had killed his nephews, nonetheless admitted, ‘he had a sharp wit’ and ‘his courage also high and fierce.’

Richard III attempted to rule in a more prudent way than his brother had. Edward IV was charismatic and an unbeatable soldier. He had also been impetuous and short-sighted, leading to division over his choice of wife and handling of foreign relations. Richard was an upright, serious presence next to his boisterous brother. Dependable enough to carry out a wide variety of duties as Duke of Gloucester, Constable of England, and an impressive list of other titles given to him by his brother, Richard proved himself reliable and loyal throughout Edward IV’s reign, but scandal and rebellion make it difficult to discern whether he could have ruled the kingdom as well as he had managed other responsibilities.

With a reign of just over two years, Richard gives us less evidence to judge him by than Henry Tudor does. He was pious and devout as his brother had been pleasure-seeking, supporting several religious houses, churches, and King’s College at Cambridge. For a man accused of many illegal acts, Richard’s actions show that he was ‘much concerned that justice should be done,’ according to biographer Charles Ross. Born and raised in a time of war, Richard was particularly driven to ensure peace and justice were available to all Englishmen, rich and poor. He had served as Constable of England under Edward IV and earned a reputation for fairness only challenged after Edward’s death.

Like Henry, Richard has marks against him. The executions of Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey, and William Hastings are often the first points brought up (after accusing Richard of ridding himself of his nephews). Was Richard acting legally as Constable of England and Protector of the Realm when he ordered these executions? Certainly. Was he acting prudently? The fact that we continue to discuss it today indicates that he was not. Even if one believes these acts were judicial murder, they are no different than Tudor’s actions against Edward of Warwick. In fact, I challenge any student of history to name a medieval monarch who did not execute at least one person on charges that would never stand up to modern standards. Each Plantagenet and Tudor ruler is certainly guilty of this. While this does not make Richard innocent, it fails to make him stand out as a villain.

Richard had managed an area of England that had been plagued by border wars for years. The ongoing battles with Scotland would continue even after Henry VII negotiated a treaty that made his own daughter the wife of Scotland’s King James IV. During this time, Richard was not accused of wrongdoing but was beloved in the north and especially in York. One wonders if it is true, as some biographers have suggested, that the responsibilities of kingship were simply too much for him and he was not given time to find his way. This characterization indicates that Richard was inept but not evil.

Dare I suggest that neither Henry VII nor Richard III was the devil incarnate, attempting to make England his domain on Earth? Both men made mistakes and purposely took actions that would be unacceptable for a 21st century ruler. They both attracted supporters and made positive changes in the lives of those under their authority. If we remove the lens of romanticism and the need to have a ‘bad guy’ to blame for occurrences in history, I believe we will find two men who believed they were doing what was right, boosted by personal ambition for gain and glory much like any other nobleman of their era.

Rather than joining Team Richard or Team Henry, we can gain much by learning about both of these dynamic kings and appreciating their history for what it is. This change of power ended a three century long dynasty and began one of the most well-known dynasties in English history. The fact that we are still talking about it 500 years later is proof in itself that there is more going on here than good versus evil.

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Samantha Wilcoxson is a writer with a passion for history. Her most recent novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York, is a Kindle best seller in the US and UK. For more information, visit her blog at SamanthaWilcoxson.blogspot.com.

Additional Reading:

The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy by Matthew Lewis

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

Richard III by Charles Ross

The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward

The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

Henry VII – The Merchant King

By Matthew Lewis

Henry VII, the first of a mighty, famous and infamous dynasty is oft forgotten and easily overlooked. Everyone knows the first Norman king, the Conqueror. The first Plantagenet, Henry II, is famed, not least for his troubles with his wife and children. James VI and I is a famous founder of the Stuart dynasty in England and the Hanovers had George I. Henry VII, though, remains a more shadowy figure, loomed over by the Wars of the Roses that gave him his crown and his larger than life son, Henry VIII. This is perhaps because he played his part so completely perfectly.

Born into a stormy Welsh night in 1457 to a thirteen year old mother at the outbreak of a civil war that would define his life, his childhood was a mess not of his own making. Born without a father on the wrong side of a war in which his only offence was to have the wrong name and the wrong blood in his veins, his fortunes were those of the House of Lancaster until he defined his own. In my novel, Honour, I describe Henry as the Merchant King and I think it is a fitting title.

When the tide of the Wars of the Roses turned against his house, Henry was taken into custody as a child, comfortably contained within the household of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a committed Yorkist who had been given Henry’s uncle Jasper’s title. Although he would later concede that Herbert had been kind to him and ensured that he was well educated and amply provided for, Henry was nevertheless a prisoner. Separated from his mother as a boy, it was the kind of painful detachment that he would have to get used to.

During the brief Lancastrian revival of 1470-1, Henry was suddenly on the right side. As a thirteen year old, he was presented to his father’s half-brother, the venerable but unstable King Henry VI. If his mother, Margaret Beaufort, hoped that her son’s fortunes had changed, it was a short lived delusion. With the thunderous return of the Yorkist King Edward IV in 1471, Henry was bustled into exile with his uncle Jasper aged fourteen. He would spend another fourteen years with little hope of return to a country that did not want him.

Taken into the care of Duke Francis of Brittany, Henry’s comfortable imprisonment did not begin badly. Secluded within the duke’s own summer residence at Suscinio with Jasper, Henry was surrounded by woods and parkland and permitted to ride, hunt and train with his uncle. As a messy squabble erupted between Edward IV and Louis XI of France it became obvious to Francis that he had something valuable in his possession. Henry was, for the moment at least, a commodity and that would give the future merchant king a unique perspective.

Francis split his assets, separating uncle and nephew. He courted the overtures from both England and France, waiting until his prize possessions could bring him the richest reward possible. These years must have been comfortable but miserable for Henry. He was well provided for, educated and clothed, frequently in black. Francis sent gifts to his ward, but he remained isolated. The parting from his uncle was surely the most painful, probably even more distressing than the separation from his mother. Jasper was a father figure, a mentor, a protector and Henry’s only comfort in his teenage exile.

Henry would remain in a kind of comfortable isolation until 1483. Negotiations were progressing well to see Henry returned to England safely and perhaps even married to a daughter of Edward IV. Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, was by now married to her third (or fourth, depending on whether John de la Pole is included – which he never was by Margaret herself, who called Edmund Tudor her first husband in a will drawn up in 1472) husband Thomas Stanley and the couple were at the centre of Yorkist power. Margaret was trying to arrange her son’s return home and surviving records suggest that she was close to reaching a deal with the Yorkist king. I think it is unlikely that Henry’s intended bride was Elizabeth of York, simply because Edward would have had bigger plans for his oldest daughter.

The veracity of this arrangement is unclear. Edward may have been laying a trap for the last, straggling remnants of Lancastrian resistance in exile. Once back on home soil, his fate might have been less than certain. Alternatively, Lord Stanley’s influence might have convinced Edward that Henry could be reconciled safely and the final threat to Yorkist dominance brought within the fold. Either way, Henry’s fate was out of his hands and he was once more a commodity for others to weigh, value and barter over.

The death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483 brought these negotiations to an abrupt halt. If Edward IV had been willing to entertain the idea of a return for the Earl of Richmond because of his own established security, Richard III did not share that luxury and Henry’s future was once more that of a perishable good for the purveyance of others. This seems to have been the point at which Henry took the first step of any successful merchant – a risky venture.

Buckingham’s Rebellion was always, in truth, Henry Tudor’s rebellion. Quite how he sprung to the forefront and why the rebellion doesn’t bear his name, is a mystery open to interpretation, but Henry arrived at the south coast with one of the merchant’s necessities – a cautious eye. The story that he was beckoned ashore by men telling him Buckingham had been successful, only for Henry to narrow his shrewd, businessman’s eyes and decide something wasn’t right is entirely believable. The market was not yet ready and the order of business now was patience.

Henry became once more a desirable commodity. France still wanted him as a weapon against England, particularly now Richard III seemed far more likely than his brother to seek war across the Channel. Richard needed control of the last Lancastrian hope to help secure his own position. Duke Francis had sworn to protect Henry and was not particularly keen to hand him over to anyone, enjoying the influence his prisoner brought, but Francis was not a well man. Pierre Landlais, his chief minister, took control of Brittany, and Pierre was very interested in Richard III’s financial inducements. Agreement was reached and Henry was parcelled up and sent to the coast.

Fortunately for the anti-Ricardian cause, Henry had friends with ears to the ground. It was probably Bishop John Morton who warned Henry of what was happening and the fugitive slipped his guards and fled over the French border. It was here that Henry was to learn some of his most valuable lessons. It was the last piece of an unlikely apprenticeship that gave the merchant precisely what he needed.

In Paris, Henry was disingenuously welcomed as the true son of King Henry VI, the younger brother of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. The display was utterly magnificent. French kingship had always been wrapped in a royal majesty melded with a religious spirituality that had not reached the English crown. Henry learned, as he rode into Paris in splendour, that the truth could stand some adaptation if the need was real and that display could accomplish more than a sword, more than a threat. Give the impression that you are an unassailable monarch sent by God and the people will believe it.

When Henry landed at Milford Haven on 7 August 1485, it was as King of England. He summoned men to his cause as their ruler. He took the field of battle at Bosworth on 22 August as a reigning monarch seeking to drive out an imposter. This was what the merchant king had learned in France. The best way to create wealth is the illusion of wealth. The surest way to become king was to convince everyone that you already are king. Henry landed as a merchant with fabulous wares to offer – stability, certainty, salvation.

The first Tudor monarch ruled like a merchant king too. His control over his kingdom was based on money and the illusion of an inevitable, inexorable right to the throne that he had won. Henry VII did his own books. He knew every penny that came into and went out of his coffers. He developed a reputation as a miser, but that isn’t really the whole story. Henry’s accounts, which he diligently audited and signed personally, show an astounding willingness to spend money on his family and on the promotion of his image as king. He would initiate financial relationships with kingdoms all over Europe, selling them security in the form of his money and ensuring that they remained indebted to him. Trade was always a central plank of Henry’s efforts to increase his wealth, influence and security.

When Perkin Warbeck loomed large over the fledgling Tudor regime, Henry had his second son created Duke of York for no reason other than to demonstrate that he was in control. The old House of York was gone, absorbed into the bodies of his offspring and the new House of York was the future. The old one was dead. Warbeck could not be the heir to something that no longer existed.

Edmund de la Pole proved a serious thorn in Henry’s side when he claimed to be the heir of York and rightful king. Ever the pragmatic merchant, Henry made trade agreements to the detriment of English merchants in order to deprive the White Rose of support. He always had an eye for the bigger picture, the main deal. He could give with one hand if the other was taking far more in the long run. When Archduke Philip, son of Maximillian, the Holy Roman Emperor, was shipwrecked on the south coast in January 1506, Henry sprang into his finest bargaining mode. Philip was treated with the utmost respect, but Henry negotiated from a position of power now and he did so with ruthless brilliance. Edmund de la Pole was living under Maximillian’s protection and Henry made it clear that not only would the Emperor have to settle some outstanding trade disputes in England’s favour but he would also have to hand over Edmund before he would see his son again. It worked, and another threat was neutralised.

Henry VII built a hugely successful enterprise from nothing. He served a long apprenticeship and perhaps struck out on his own a little too early. He was wise enough to write off the early setback. What he learned in France showed that providence was on his side and he would apply all that he knew to the commencement of his greatest enterprise; the establishment of the family business. In 1509 he would hand over this business to his son, who lacked his father’s hard-earned experience but knew how to project magnificence even better than his mentor.

I think Henry VII was England’s first merchant king. He grew wealth from the illusion of wealth and power from the illusion on power. Why do we believe that the Wars of the Roses ended in 1485? We believe it because Henry VII told us it was so. In truth, it was nowhere near its end when Richard III was swiftly buried within the Grey Friars at Leicester. The period was neatly packaged and placed on a shelf for display like a family trophy, a memento that could not be bought but defined the origins of the family business. No-one really knows what is inside and the shopkeeper would swat the hands of nosy children who looked too closely because although it was on display, it was not to be opened. Ever.

The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy unwraps this mysterious box and lays out the contents to examine the real beginnings and obscure endings of a civil war that broke a nation and made a dynasty. Fortunes waxed and waned, but Henry Tudor was, eventually, the biggest winner from the manoeuvres of the second half of the fifteenth century because he played the game so well, finally making the rules himself. His security was hard won but in many ways it remained an illusion, an elusive ambition. The extent of his achievement can be found in the fact that at his death, he was the first king in eighty-seven years not to lose his throne.

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Matthew Lewis is the author of two histories, A Glimpse of King Richard III and A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses, and two historical fiction novels, Loyalty and Honour. Matthew was born in the West Midlands and has a degree in Law. He blogs regularly about the Wars of the Roses and operates two history podcasts. He lives in Shropshire.

His latest book is The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy, published by Amberley. The Wars of the Roses were not a coherent period of continual warfare. There were distinct episodes of conflict, interspersed with long periods of peace. But the struggles never really ceased. Motives change, fortunes waxed and waned, the nature of kingship was weighed and measured and the mettle of some of England’s greatest families was put to the test. Matthew Lewis examines the people behind these events, exploring the personalities of the main players, their motives, successes and failures. He uncovers some of the lesser-known tales and personal stories often lost in the broad sweep of the Wars of the Roses, in a period of famously complex loyalties and shifting fortunes.

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Owen Tudor; Father of a Dynasty

By Nathen Amin

Welsh and English history is littered with romantic figures, gallant and brave warriors blessed with an innate sense of chivalry and morals that ensure their name lives on in the annals of history. The embodiment of such a character is undoubtedly King Arthur, the mythical Prince whom all later Kings would strive to replicate. Scores of medieval men, inspired by the many retellings of Arthur and his chivalrous Knights, equally endeavoured to adopt such personas in an attempt fulfil their lives according to the sacrament of chivalry.  Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur was one such 14th century man, blessed with wit, romanticism and martial talent as well as the noble background needed to be considered a chivalric knight.

Son of an Outlaw

Owain ap Maredudd was born around 1400, the same year his father Maredudd’s cousin Owain Glyndwr raised a rebellion against English rule and it is a possibility the child was named for his noble second cousin. By the time Owain was 6 the rebellion and the dream of Welsh Independence had all but been vanquished and his father was dead. Some stories persist that Maredudd actually fled to the mountains of Snowdonia after killing a man and indeed took his son with him whilst other accounts state he escaped to London to raise his household after the family fortune and reputation was irrevocable damaged by the instinctive but ultimately ruinous alliance with Glyndwr. Maredudd’s older brothers Rhys and Gwilym played an integral part in Glyndwr’s rebellion which begun with their ambush on the forces of King Henry IV when he arrived in their native Anglesey determined to wreak vengeance on parts of the population and the local towns in an overt display of martial strength and authority. Henry IV’s imposing force floundered as he was constantly attacked by the Tudor’s guerrilla campaign and was forced into a humiliating retreat to the safety of the marches. Embittered by this encounter, Henry IV issued a proclamation where he endeavoured to pardon every rebel whom dropped arms; a caveat to this pardon was that three people in particular were excluded from pardon – Owain Glyndwr, Rhys ap Tudur and Gwilym ap Tudur. The elder brothers then proceeded to up the ante by capturing one of the King’s most important fortresses at Conwy on April 1st, 1401.

Although Maredudd was now outlawed as a result of the rebellion, under the previous King he had been an accomplished local official, continuing a long tradition of Family service to the ruling Monarch, be they English or Welsh  Princes. He had served as rhaglaw of Malltraeth from 1387 to 1395, burgess of the nearby Newborough and finally as escheator of the Isle of Anglesey itself between 1388 and 1391. These titles and lands however would become forfeited after the rebellion and after the deaths of first Maredudd and then his brothers Gwilym and Rhys, the Tudor family were effectively ruined as a Welsh noble force. Of the limited information available, it appears that Maredudd was employed as an esquire to the Bishop of Bangor in 1405 in the midst of the uprising however it is suspected that by 1407 he had died. Again the circumstances surrounding this frustratingly are almost non-existent but he is not mentioned again after this date. Maredudd did manage to marry just prior to the outbreak of the rebellion and as the respected official he was at the time entered into a union with Margaret ferch Dafydd, daughter of the Lord of Anglesey. It was through this union that their son was born in 1400, just as the world around them collapsed and became fraught with danger and uncertainty. Although not the ideal circumstances to raise a child they persisted and christened the child Owain ap Maredudd, the man whom would shortly become sole male-line survivor of the Penmynydd Tudur’s dominant dynasty which within a decade was crushed as a result of the War of Independence.

There is a lack of information about the exact circumstances surrounding Owain’s early life but what seems clear is that by the age of seven he was at the English court of Henry IV to become a page to the King’s Steward. This may seem unusual since his father, uncles and cousins were fighting against Henry IV in the Welsh war of Independence but the fact remains it was at court where any ambitious man had to be in order to make a fortune and with the Tudur’s on the irredeemable path to catastrophic ruin, London was the only place for Owain to realistically be positioned to advance. Just like all Welshmen in this dire period, Owain would have faced a future in Wales under strict, harsh and oppressive laws imposed by the bitter King Henry IV and although his Welsh nationality would not have made it easy to adapt to life in London or to gain acceptance amongst the locals, with the right guidance and patron there was at least the opportunity to earn a reasonable life. By the time Owain was a teenager he would have been accepted as part of the King’s army as an able adolescent and it is a possibility he saw action in or at least around the infamous Battle of Agincourt in 1415. By this time the King was Henry V and the courageous and warrior-like ruler took a personal part in leading his army to an immortal victory over the French forces. Whatever role Owain played in the battle, or whether he was actually there, soon after he was promoted to the position of “Squire”, a status for boys around the age of 14 or 15 whereby they were essentially apprentice Knights.

A Squire had many roles that he needed to undertake for the particular Knight that he was assigned to, roles similar to that of a servant but more in keeping with the overall aim of becoming a Knight oneself. Typical roles would include being the Knight’s shield bearer, looking after the Knight’s armour and horses and accompanying the Knight on any battles or recesses. A Knight would have many such Squires and they would all equally be attempting impress their benefactor in order to achieve a dubbing themselves to become a mythical and decorated Knight. Little else is known of his life at this period however it seems he was present in France again around May 1421 in the service of the prominent Sir Walter Hungerford, an English noble and Baron whom was playing a key role as the King’s Steward in the wars with the French. His name during this period was given as Owen Meredith and at the age of around 21 this period would have been his first serious introduction to warfare. It was also around this exciting if dangerous time, although the exact dating is difficult to verify, that he entered the service of the newly widowed dowager Queen Katherine of Valois, surviving wife of the recently deceased King Henry V. This post would have been perhaps the highest position a man of Owain’s background could hope to reach and is more than likely one he entered because of his service to the 1st Baron Hungerford, whom had been steward of the King’s Household himself from July 1415 to July 1421. His role was as Keeper of the Queen’s Wardrobe when she was living at Windsor Castle and the role essentially meant he was in control of the Queen’s tailors, dressers and anything else relating to her wardrobe room. It was also within his remit to handle all inventories of the dresses and to ensure all clothes that were taken on progresses were satisfactorily accounted for when returned. His presence would also ensure that any jewel thieves were discouraged, a common occurrence considering the opulent nature of a Queen’s wardrobe.

Husband to a Queen

There exists no evidence to support how exactly Owain ap Maredudd and Katherine of Valois met, although as a member of her household it is a possibility they would have had some interaction in his role as Keeper of her Wardrobe. Many apocryphal accounts exist to suggest the various ways they met and fell in love although these are generally discredited by serious historians as mere fancy of a more romantic later period. One such account states that Owain was river bathing in the summer sun and Katherine, upon seeing the handsome and tall Owain in the bare flesh, swapped clothes with her maid to introduce herself without betraying her high station. Owain apparently came on too strong after becoming besotted with her and accidently cut the cheek of the ‘maid’ thus ending the lust-driven moment. The next morning when waiting on the Queen as per usual, Owain became aware of the cut on Katherine’s cheek and at once realised with whom he had been with the previous day. The couple reconciled and thus began their loving and loyal relationship. A second story persists which claims that the lowly commoner Owain was intoxicated at Windsor Castle during a typical medieval ball and feeling unsteady on his feet whilst dancing, he tripped and fell into the lap of the seated Queen Katherine. Whichever way Owain first met his future Wife, in the words of 15th Century poet Robin Ddu of Anglesey he “clapped his ardent humble affection on the daughter of the King of the land of wine” and they both fell deeply in love. Robin Ddu originated from the heartland of the Tudor family on the island of Anglesey and as an acquaintance of Owen Tudor it is very possible that he would have retrieved his information directly from the source, or at least have been privy to the information of those close to the couple.

Writing during their grandson’s reign and thus taken with a degree of cynicism surrounding the intention and plausibility of the words, the Italian historian Polydore Vergil wrote: “this woman after the death of her husband…being but young in years and therefore of less discretion to judge what was decent for her estate, married one Owen Tyder, a gentleman of Wales, adorned with wonderful gifts of body and minde, who derived his pedigree from Cadwalleder, the last King of the Britons”. Again due to the clandestine nature of their relationship, as it needed to be as a consequence of the parliamentarian restrictions on Katherine, the date of their actual marriage is unclear but is generally accepted to have been around 1429-1430. Living away from court may have certainly aided in keeping their relationship secret along with some loyal staff whom had pledged their devotion to the couple above that of the strict law of the land. Although such a secretive existence under the threat of constant exposure must have stressed the young and daring couple, their surreptitious marriage prospered without interference. The marriage itself was kept secret due to necessity, after all not only had the Queen broken the act by proceeding without the King’s consent but she had certainly married beneath her privileged and royal station. In 1430 their son Edmund was born at the couple’s Hertfordshire manor Much Hadham House and was followed by Jasper a year later at the Hatfield home of the Bishop of Ely. The following years also brought a third son called Owen and latterly the couple’s first daughter of whom unfortunately there is little known.

Although it seems incredible these days that a full term pregnancy could be comfortably hidden, it must be stressed that in such a period these country retreats operated completely independent of the main Court and were run by servants dependable to those at the top of the local hierarchy. Furthermore the baggy loose-fitting nature of 15th century clothing would have helped conceal such a prominent physical feature such as pregnancy and was regularly utilised in cases where a female had conceived a bastard child. Secrets may not necessarily have been kept in a devious and underhanded manner, but being so far removed from those in power certainly helped prolong the status quo. It must be noted however that although the general public could be relatively sheltered from the matter it is likely that at least some of the main councillors knew of Katherine’s condition and her morganatic marriage. She was particularly noticeable in her absenteeism from the coronation of her son Henry VI as King of her native France at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in December 1431, unlikely to have been an event that she would have willingly neglected to attend and more probably an event from which she was excluded from as punishment for her indiscretion. Particularly of significance around this period was Owain’s granting of “the rights of Englishmen”, a constitutional status conferred upon him that helped free him from the harsh penal restrictions placed upon all Welshmen in the post-Conquest period. Indeed it was still illegal for a Welshman to own a property in England or to marry an Englishwoman.

Although this denizenship was certainly more than the majority of his fellow Welshmen received apart from high ranking subjects whom had proved their worth to the crown during active military service against the French, he was still not granted the full rights. Owen was still barred from becoming a burgess as well as finding himself categorically restricted from holding a crown office in any city, borough or market town in the land. Although he was given permission to acquire land, bear arms, inter-marry with an Englishwoman and run a marital household the fact he still had some restrictions held over him may point to a level of suspicion directed towards him from the authorities. The Welsh, and therefore Owen, were clearly not people to be trusted. It was also possibly around this time that Owain ap Maredudd became Owen Tudor or at least began to be unofficially referred to as this. Undoubtedly his Welsh patronymic style would have caused issues in England for accountants and administrators unused to such a naming system and due to this confusion he had previously been referred to in various ways as Owen ap Meredith, Owen Meredith, Owen ap Tudur and so on. Whether it was through his own choice or through a misattribution by a muddled scribe his name was anglicised to Owen Tudor. What is curious about this action is that it was Tudur that was taken as his surname as opposed to Maredudd, Tudur of course representing the name of his grandfather as opposed to his father. Whilst perhaps not something that particularly caused much of an issue at the time for either Owain or his associates, it did have a direct consequence only a few generations later when the family ascended to the throne of England as the House of Tudor. Children in schools up until the present day very easily could have been studying “The Meredith’s” in history classrooms across the World. It was this name that was subsequently passed onto his own children in the English tradition of surnames passing from the father.

Whilst Edmund and Jasper appear to have been initially brought up by their parents, it would appear that the third brother may have been raised by Monks as unlike his brothers he spend his live serving God at Westminster Abbey and has never been recorded as living with his elder siblings. It was this third son of the brood whom was shown favour by his nephew King Henry VII later in his life when, in one particular instance in 1498, he was gifted the reasonably high sum of £2 by his brother’s son from the Royal Privy purse, recorded for posterity as “Owen Tudder”. When the monk Owen passed away not too long after this favour was shown, donations were also paid to Westminster Abbey to pray for his soul as well as the bell tolling to signify the end of this devout uncle to the King. Whilst Owen the Monk may not have been as great a figure to the religious consciousness of Henry Tudor in the way the King’s treasured half-uncle Henry VI would prove to be, he was nonetheless treated with respect by his illustrious nephew in life and death.

It was whilst heavily pregnant with yet another child that Katherine began to feel ill and she subsequently entered Bermondsey Abbey just south of the Thames, where she gave birth to another daughter Margaret on 1st January 1437. It is a possibility that Katherine was aware she was dying from a fatal disease hence why she felt the need to seek the sanctuary and help of the Abbey nuns in South East London. It may also be a likelihood that far from going willingly to the Benedictine Abbey, she was in fact banished to the Abbey after her marriage was finally uncovered by the King or the Regency Government. As there is a lack of documents from the period to study the circumstances of the marriage will always be shrouded in mystique and doubt, particularly on the issue of when the Council finally became aware of the marriage and whether or not she was in fact banished to the Abbey. Of course it is also plausible that the Council were in fact already aware of the marriage by this point and she merely retired to the Abbey to help ease her pain from the disease that was ravaging her body, possibly terminal cancer or a tumour. Katherine of Valois, mother, sister, wife and daughter of Kings, passed away a few days later on the 3rd January 1437 and her new born child following not long after. Regardless of her status at time of death and the possibility that she had scandalised the crown by marrying a commoner, the indisputable fact remained that Katherine was King Henry VI’s natural mother and therefore she was granted the royal prerogative of the right of burial at Westminster Abbey. She was interred and laid to rest next to her first husband Henry V in the Chantry Chapel, a sacred corner of the historic Abbey which had attained an esteemed reputation as the resting place of England’s revered warrior King.

Whilst Katherine was alive, Owen was safe from the Regency Council and any enemies he may have accumulated but as soon as she passed he found himself vulnerable and utterly exposed. His status as a commoner without any considerable estates or financial worth also proved to be a major disadvantage to his cause, a minor irritant easily crushed by those of a greater status. Clearly aware of the fate that befell him should he answer an urgent summons to court to answer charges relating to breaching the act regarding his marriage without the necessary and legal kingly consent, the wily Owen disregarded the promise of safe conduct and the Welsh adventurer instead sought sanctuary with some Monks in Westminster. Perhaps determining that no good could come from a life spent hiding like his namesake cousin Owain Glyndwr and courageously facing his noble adversaries, Owen managed to acquit himself of all the trumped up charges he faced and was subsequently set free as according to the law. Perhaps eager to escape any lingering hostility and to possibly mend a broken heart Owen began to make his way back to his native Wales, however he was tracked on the way, arrested by his pursuers and found himself officially charged once more by a council eager to punish him for deeds they clearly considered punishable. All of his possessions were seized and he was imprisoned in the notoriously dreary and tough Newgate Prison in the City of London to await punishment.

Robin Ddu again took to his craft to publicly admonish those whom he felt had wrongfully punished his beloved Owen. He loudly exclaimed that this Tudor was “neither a thief nor a robber, he is the victim of unrighteous wrath. His only fault was to have won the affection of a princess of France”. After briefly escaping from custody along with his chaplain and servant at the beginning of 1438 the group were returned to prison in March to continue their sentence before being transported to Windsor Castle. He would remain there until he was bailed in July 1439 with a notice to appear before the king on November 11th that year or at any time the King requested. On November 12th he was unexpectedly pardoned of all charges which suggests he had appeared in front of the king as requested to do so and received his royally sanctioned acquittal. The initial offence was still not mentioned at this point so there still remains a degree of doubt over what exactly Owen Tudor was being punished for although it is reasonable to expect that it was to do with his secret marriage, such was the determination of the council to punish him. Owen Tudor walked free from prison without a wife to begin the second period of his life as a chivalric gentleman, dutiful father and loyal step-father to his King.

The King granted Owen by “especial favour” an annual pension from his own privy purse and was certainly treated favourably by the monarch. Any past bitterness at Owen’s relations with the King’s Mother were certainly forgotten by the kind and personable Sovereign and the Welshman lived on the periphery of court life within the King’s Household. Owen himself was present with many other knights for the witnessing of a charter which was signed in the favour of the prominent Duke of Gloucester in 1440 and was even granted some further land in Surrey two years later in 1442, demonstrating his new, secure position at the court of his stepson. He was also given four further substantial grants by his generous stepson in the form of separate £40 gifts, the first in October 1442 followed by those afforded to him in February 1444, July 1444 and finally September 1444. Additionally an “Owen ap Maredudd” appears to have been included in the court party that journeyed to France in 1444 to bring back the young Margaret of Anjou, the King’s new Queen and although there is no resolute evidence that this was the same man the rarity of such a name around the court makes it almost a certainty this dutiful Welshman was the King’s dear and diligent stepfather. Over the next decade and a half Owen seems to have faded into obscurity for his whereabouts have not been recorded and it is probably that he was away from court tending to his estates, possibly in his native Wales. What is clear is that he would have been heartbroken in 1456 when his eldest son Edmund died at Carmarthen shortly after a skirmish with Yorkist soldiers after which he had been imprisoned. His son was only 26 when he died although he did leave behind Owen’s first grandchild, the young Henry, Earl of Richmond.

Father of a Dynasty

Returning to notice at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, Owen was present at a Lancastrian Council meeting in 1459 where he, along with his son Jasper, he stood at the King’s side and swore undying loyalty to his Sovereign Lord and stepson King Henry VI. Both were issued with new estates, Jasper with one of the Duke’s castles and Owen with various manor estates in the Home Counties. Owen himself had also been knighted and was at one point a Deputy Lord Lieutenant and Warden of the Forestries. He had also been granted a further annuity of the substantial figure of £100 from the Royal coffers as well for his service. A Welshman whom had a renowned charisma, he also had seemingly not lost his touch with the opposite sex for he also fathered an illegitimate son around this time whom was called David Owen, or possibly Dafydd ap Owen in the Welsh patronymic style. This half-uncle of King Henry VII was shown royal favour in 1485 and attained the rank of Knighthood primarily due to his kinship to the new king.

Although initially unnamed as being present at the various battles between Yorkist and Lancastrian troops during 1460 and 1461, Owen played an integral part in a battle that took place in the Welsh marches on February 2nd, 1461. In fact, it was to prove his final stand. Both armies came face to face at a small hamlet called Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, roughly six miles north-west of Leominster and deep in the traditional heartland of the Mortimer-York family that the Tudor’s were fighting. Aware that victory was out of grasp after the early exchanges, the Lancastrian army broke ranks and Owen Tudor was eventually captured south of the battlefield whilst looking for a route to escape. An elderly gentleman of around 60-years-old at his time of capture, age may have played a part in Owen Tudor’s failure to escape and amongst the men he was detained by included the Tudor’s longstanding foe Sir Roger Vaughan, kinsman of William Herbert. Despite the joyous occasion of another Yorkist victory, a bitter and still grieving Edward no doubt felt this was an ideal chance to exact a measure of revenge for the death of his own father and brother at a previous battle and promptly ordered that Owen be executed in the nearby township of Hereford. Owen for his part didn’t believe that the execution would be carried out due to his close familial relationship with the Lancastrian royal family and accordingly was relying on his worth as a captive to win him a late reprieve.It was only as he was placed on the execution spot in Hereford’s High Town and his doublet torn from his neck that Owen grasped the realisation that he was to die imminently.

Rather than wailing or begging for mercy like many whom found themselves reduced to trembling wrecks at the moment of their enforced death, Owen Tudor was praised for taking his sentence meekly, obediently and humbly whilst unquestionably considering himself as adhering to the chivalric code he had always strove to honour. Regrettably for the aged and gallant Owen, chivalry was rapidly becoming a remnant of a bygone era, particularly during the height of this bitter dynastic quarrel, and he himself had become the latest victim of a bloody dispute rife with treachery and bereavement. Owen was reputed to have referred to his long-dead wife just before the axe came crashing down upon his neck when he proclaimed “that head shall lie on the stock that was wont to lie on Queen Katherine’s lap”. After the execution was completed a local madwoman recovered the head and spent a lengthy amount of time calmly brushing his hair and washing the blood away from the crimson-covered face, whilst surrounded the entire time by flickering candles in an almost ritualistic scene. The great adventurer and the swashbuckler whom had invigorated and resurrected his ancient Welsh family was no more. It was a sad end to a life that he had certainly fulfilled to its potential, from his obscure beginnings as the fatherless progeny of a failed North Welsh dynasty to the husband of a Queen. Perhaps intentionally due to the final resting place of his son Edmund, Owen was also buried in a Greyfriars Franciscan Church just outside the border town where he was put to death. Depressingly nothing exists today of his final resting place, the monastery closed under the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 and falling into a steep decline shortly thereafter. Unlike his son Edmund, it seems the grave of this brave and courageous family patriarch was not considered worth saving by his prestigious descendent King Henry VIII and the remains are seemingly lost to us for posterity.

Owen Tudor lived his life as a soldier of fortune, a man born into a family which had lost everything and had no prospects. Through his own wit and character he had managed to claw himself up from this lowly beginning to become the husband of the Queen and reviver of his family’s destiny. Owen’s adventures from the hills of Snowdonia to the Royal Palaces of London are often remembered for initiating the start of the House of Tudor which would become a Royal House with the ascension of his grandson Henry Tudor to the throne of England in 1485. In under a century, this family had climbed from minor outlaws in the darkest parts of Wales to the throne of the Kingdom, an incredible and certainly unrivalled rise for which Owen Tudor was greatly responsible. As a Soldier he was tough, brave and believed in chivalrous behaviour. As a man he was handsome, romantic and courtly. Owen Tudor was a proud Welshman, descended from the most prestigious of his small nation’s great leaders, including Hywel Dda and Rhodri Mawr and epitomised the incredible rags to riches rise that has always made popular reading throughout the generations. Owen Tudor, son of Outlaws and Father of Kings, your name remains immortal.

Book Review – The Hollow Crown/The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

By Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses is a period of English history that is very much in vogue at the moment, a situation undoubtedly bolstered by the Wars’ inclusion in a plethora of recent historical fiction releases by various preeminent authors. Their entertaining, if often disturbingly inaccurate, portrayal of the epic fifteenth century tussle for the crown has satisfyingly been equalled by a variety of releases by academic historians putting forward the ‘true’ story. Dan Jones’ new release ‘The Hollow Crown’ (published as ‘The Wars of the Roses’ in the US) is the latest welcome addition to this field.

As the best-selling author of the critically-acclaimed ‘The Plantagenets’, Dan Jones’ latest effort can be considered a natural sequel to his previous work. The Wars of the Roses were a complex and confusing period in English history and Jones succeeds in simplifying the conflict without omitting any detail detrimental to the understanding of the story. It is a trait not unlike the style employed by Dr David Starkey, that elder statesman of the Tudor period under who Jones studied at Cambridge. The book is divided into four parts, namely ‘Beginnings (1420-1437)’, ‘What is a King? (1437-1455)’, ‘The Hollow Crown (1455-1471)’ and ‘The Rise of the Tudors’ (1471-1525)’. It is to Jones writing ability that this form of splitting up his work doesn’t disrupt the flow of the storytelling process.

Whilst most books about the period helpfully provide detailed family trees, a notable feature of Jones’ book is the additional inclusion of maps highlighting key locations of not only fifteenth century England and Wales but also of France and the Low Countries. Any student of the Wars, new or old, will be grateful for this quick reference. Furthermore his work is well-littered with quotes from contemporary chronicles and other sources, a satisfying method that allows the reader to become engrossed in the story without having to periodically flick to the notes to chase the quote.

Jones considers the origin of the Wars of the Roses to be Henry V’s death in 1422 and the subsequent accession of his infant son Henry VI, for which he makes a compelling and sensible claim. That the infant grew up to be unsuited to ruling either England or France is resolutely clear to all students of the period. Jones however takes this conclusion a step further by essentially declaring the pious and fragile Henry to be main culprit responsible for the outbreak of hostilities, a unusual standpoint. Jones’ concludes “in a system in which law, order, justice and peace flowed so heavily from the person of the king and the office of the Crown, Henry VI’s reign (and his afterlife between deposition in 1461 and his death ten years later) was a disaster”. Jones considers the tragic monarch an “adult king who simply would not perform his role”. He is not wrong.

If the Wars have their roots in 1422, the Jones theorises the dynastic conflict didn’t truly end until deep in the sixteenth century, many decades after the generally accepted end date of 1485/87 when the last pitched battles were fought on a large scale. His acceptable justification for this is the targeting and eradication of the Yorkist bloodline by Henry VIII which included the barbaric execution of Margaret Pole, an elderly scion with an impeccable Yorkist pedigree.

With an impartiality that is refreshing in literature covering the Wars of the Roses, the book documents, in varying detail, all the battles of the Wars and satisfyingly includes a roll call of anybody who was anyone during the conflict, from the kings and dukes down to officials like Sir William Oldhall and the much demonised Empson and Dudley. Jones doesn’t favour a side or a faction, coming to the genre with an neutrality from which no-one emerges blameless. He both criticises and praises Richard III and Henry VII for example.

It is narrative history that certain to attract academic students and historical fiction fans alike, not necessarily an easy accomplishment but one that Jones succeeds in providing. Vivid storytelling and descriptive terms easily paint a picture for the reader of the ruthlessness of the period.
Jones aims in his introduction to tell the story of the Wars in a way that is “scholarly, informative and entertaining”. In this he succeeds.

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The Lincoln Roll – the Princes’ Death Certificate?

By David Durose

The Lincoln Roll – the Princes’ Death Certificate?

This article is about the family tree that belonged to John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln and what it says about the fate of the so-called Princes in the Tower – Edward V and his young brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. It provides an approximate date for the death of Edward V and disproves the idea that either of the Princes might have survived. It also puts the actions of Lincoln, his younger brothers and Margaret of Burgundy in a new perspective.

While this new evidence supports the ‘traditional’ view held by most historians that Richard III ordered the killing of his nephews, it also completely revises the narrative provided by the various contemporary chroniclers and Thomas More. It supports a view of Lincoln – and by extension, his uncle Richard III – as ruthless in their attitude to the Princes. It eliminates a number of the alternative ‘suspects’ that have emerged in recent years, while introducing a new one – John de la Pole himself.

At the end of this article there will be a link so that the reader may see a video of the digitizing of the manuscript and investigate the content of the roll itself.

Who was John de la Pole?

John de la Pole was the nephew of Edward IV and Richard III, being the son of their sister Elizabeth (1444 to 1503) and John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (1442 to 1491 or 1492).

John was the first-born and was a young adult during the period spanning Edward IV’s death and Lincoln’s death at the Battle of Stoke in 1487. He was made Earl of Lincoln by Edward IV in 1467.

He was treated as one of Richard III’s close family. He supported Richard completely during his seizure of the throne in 1483 and benefited greatly from his uncle when he became king. He was Richard’s spare heir and when Edward of Middleham died he became Richard’s heir presumptive.

Throughout Richard’s usurpation of the throne between April and July 1483, Lincoln was at his side and supporting him throughout.

In an interview for the Nerdalicious web site’s History Salon entitled ‘The Survival of the Princes in the Tower’, four authors discussed the evidence – David Baldwin, Annette Carson, Toni Mount and Josephine Wilkinson have all written about Richard III or the ‘Princes in the Tower’.

In the interview, Toni Mount, who is a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society, gave Lincoln as an example of a contemporary of the Princes who believed in their survival. We will see from his genealogical roll that she was wrong in that assertion.

What is the John de la Pole genealogical roll?

In the middle ages most important families would keep family trees and documents in order to be able to prove their descent and as evidence in disputes over inheritance, land and titles. The roll in question is a parchment that has been collected over years and is intended to demonstrate the descent of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln from Brutus, mythical ancestor of the kings of Britain.

The roll belonged to Lincoln and in addition to providing his family tree it contains an element of propaganda. It will be the Lincoln view of things.

The roll is held in the John Rylands Library Special Collection. The library is part of the University of Manchester in England.

The existence of the roll is not a new discovery, it has been known to historians for some time. It was mentioned in Hicks’s ‘Richard III’ and in Michael K Jones’s Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a battle. However its most prominent display to the public was in the television documentary Henry VII: Winter King by Thomas Penn shown on BBC 2. It seems that these historians did not look closely at the detail of the roll, because they were using it to make specific points.

The roll has been used to demonstrate that Lincoln considered himself to be Richard’s nominated heir after the death of Edward of Middleham, which is stated clearly on the document. Thomas Penn used it to emphasise how much opposition Henry faced after 1485 and to demonstrate how Lincoln regarded the new Tudor line as an interloper onto the scene of legitimate Yorkist royal blood.

The roll does demonstrate this very graphically. The descent of the kings, queens and de la Poles is shown with an explanation of their pedigree and small amount of commentary. It is clearly not Tudor propaganda – for it shows Henry descending from his grandfather, Owen Tudor, a servant.

Each individual person in the family tree is represented by a medallion containing a description of the person. The medallions of kings and queens are decorated and include stylized portraits. The lines showing descent are shown in red, however, the invading Tudor line is expressed in thick black.

The roll clearly ceased to be worked on at some point in the early days of the reign of Henry VII, since it shows the marriage to Elizabeth of York. Children of their marriage are hinted at by combined red/black lines of descent, but it is difficult to use the children as dating evidence, since the four red/black lines bear no names or commentary.

What does the Lincoln Roll say about the Princes?

The individual medallions for Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville show them as king and queen. In the medallions representing Edward V and Richard of York there is no mention of illegitimacy. The boys are shown in every way as though they were children of a valid marriage. Their legitimacy is not questioned in any way or it was of no interest to Lincoln.

Edward V’s medallion reads

Edward first-born son of King Edward and Elizabeth

“In iunie tute sine liberis decessit”

In June safely without issue deceased in childhood (my translation)

Richard, Duke of York’s medallion reads

Richard second son of King Edward and Elizabeth

“Etiam decessit sine liberis”

 Also deceased without issue in childhood

What is the significance of this information?

The period between the death of Edward IV and the Battle of Stoke incorporating Bosworth is one of the most confused and the most written about in English history. This small new piece of information rewrites much of what has gone before, which was the product of chronicles written by persons who were close to the action, but were not sure of what had happened to the Princes. This information comes from a person at the very centre of power, who was at Richard III’s side throughout the usurpation.

These writings were put into some kind of narrative by people like Thomas More, who will have used some eye witness reports and his imagination to create a believable story. Later writers, like Alison Weir will have followed the clues provided by More to solve the ‘case’ – concluding that the Princes must have been put to death in September.

There have been other documents found that stated that Edward V died in June: Colin Richmond noted that the Anlaby Cartulary stated that he died on 22nd June.

The June date also fits in with the documentary evidence of the dismissal of the Princes’ servants and the authorization of their payment shortly after.

The representation of Edward V in the roll shows none of the decoration of the other kings and queens and the text does not refer to him as king. It is shown as though Richard III had succeeded Edward IV directly because Edward IV had no heirs still alive.

However, it is the use of the word tute – safely that gives the implication of complicity on the part of Lincoln. He viewed the existence of the Princes as a threat and because of the closeness of Lincoln and Richard III it is reasonable to assume Richard felt the same way.

If the Princes were dead by the end of June, it makes the appointment of Brackenbury as Constable of the Tower make more sense. He was a man who seems to be of kindly disposition of whom no-one is critical. So gentle Brackenbury would never need to act out of character because there was no longer any dirty work to be done. It also explains why Richard and Lincoln could embark on a royal progress in July with few worries that Edward V could have been freed while they were away.

The rescue attempt of July can no longer be misconstrued as an assassination attempt and must be seen on face value as a well intentioned act by people who did not know the truth.

Since Sir James Tyrrell’s confession may have been another of More’s inventions, it is possible that attempts to place him at the Tower later in the year are pointless and confusing.

Pretenders during Henry’s reign

Since Lincoln fled to Flanders to raise money to finance the Lambert Simnel rebellion, it is safe to assume that his brothers, who continued to cause trouble for Henry VII throughout his reign, knew the truth about the Princes – as must Margaret of Burgundy. Their complicity would shed a new light on later events. Many Ricardians like to characterize the de la Pole family as unfairly hounded by the Tudors.

The implications of this are far reaching and difficult to even summarize in a short article.

Link to the Roll at John Ryelands Library

https://rylandscollections.wordpress.com/tag/john-de-la-pole/

The above link allows you to see a video about the roll – to see very high quality images click on the link just above the embedded YouTube video.

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David Durose is a recently retired IT Consultant who has always enjoyed history and became interested in the period after family research established his descent from one of Henry Tudor’s Breton knights. He also borrowed the title for this article from a post on Susan Higginbotham’s Facebook page.