As many of you know, I am currently writing a story of the Tudors, titled “Poison Letters” It is an alternate story about Prince Arthur of England. The story will be told in the present time but the letters revealed in the story take you back to the Tudor dynasty. But first, in order to learn about Arthur I felt I needed to go back a little further and learn all I could about his father, King Henry VII, also known as Henry Tudor. Going forward, as I research the Tudors, I will be writing articles on this subject and I am honored to be able to share with you some of my discoveries. I will also be writing other articles about the Tudors that you might find interesting. To start off, I would like to say from the various books I have read, I find the different opinions historians/historical fiction writers have on the subject to be compelling, and gives the reader the chance to form their own opinions of the facts and what-ifs. It gives you the perspective that history is open to interpretation and is often told by the victors or the people in power as well.
There seems to be a diverse of information about Henry VII’s life and reign. For example, some say his mother Margaret Beaufort was the only one with royal blood. Others say both his parents could claim royal ancestry. Another example, Henry VII worked hard early on in his reign to build a myth claiming to be the rightful royal heir to England. (He wasn’t the only one to take the throne by force or questionable right. A prime example of that is Cnut and William the Conqueror. But out of all three maybe Henry had more justification then the two I just mentioned. Something I look forward to exploring.) Having to basically build the monarchy in his own right-he seemed obsessed –but who could blame him– with it and later on was described as a paranoid and suspicious ruler. But we won’t start with this intriguing speculation, we need to go further back.
On his father’s side, Henry’s uncle and grandfather, Jasper and Owen Tudor were staunch supporters of the Lancastrian cause. (If you want to know more about Jasper and Owen, read about the War of The Roses. A war between 1455 and 1485, fought between rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. Or you can check my website for upcoming articles on them as well). By the time of Henry Tudor’s birth, power of the Lancastrian monarch was slipping, making the youngest member-Henry Tudor- a valuable pawn in some dangerous games of politics. But, wait a minute, you see there, here I go again getting ahead of myself! I will stop there and take you to the time of Henry’s birth, his early childhood and his mother’s side of the family.
Lady Margaret Beaufort and Son
Margaret Beaufort who was born on May 31, 1443 or 1441 (the year of her birth is uncertain) was a direct descendant of John Beaufort, first Earl of Somerset, who was the illegitimate child of John of Gaunt- Duke of Lancaster and the third son of King Edward III. Margaret was also a key player in the War of the Roses and matriarch of the house of Tudor.
The Beauforts were tainted with illegitimate blood but were legitimized by a statute of Richard II. However, in 1407, Henry IV wrote letters confirming their legitimacy, adding that the Beauforts could not inherit the throne of England. To this day it is still in question whether the Beauforts had the right to succession or not.
Margaret was just twelve years old when she married Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond in 1455. He got her pregnant soon after. Edmund died of the plague the year after in 1456, leaving Margaret a thirteen year old widow. On January 28, 1457, Henry Tudor was born at Pembroke castle and spent his earliest years with his mother there, under the protection of Jasper Tudor.
The pregnancy birth was traumatic for Margaret, as a result of that, she only bore one child. It is no wonder, giving birth at such a young age is incredible. It is amazing she survived.
Roughly two years before the time of Henry Tudor’s birth, Henry VI’s right to the throne was challenged by Richard Duke of York. Henry VI and Richard both laid claim to the throne as descendants of Edward III. York was respected and experienced in warfare and was considerably wealthy. Henry VI was to be considered a schizophrenic and was in and out of a depression. In 1450, Henry VI was basically useless in governing and in three years’ time was seen as unfit to rule, Richard became regent and began the work of changing the government. This did not last long, when Henry was- again- in his “right mind” so to speak, his authority was back in his hands and under the influence of his advisors. Richard feared he would be arrested for treason and in 1455 was summoned to appear before the King’s council, he began to raise an army in the north and this marked the first battle in The War of the Roses. Although, from what I am reading in my research, this conflict goes back even further.
In 1461 Edward IV became king and Pembroke Castle fell to the Yorkist. About this time Henry was four years old. With his Uncle Jasper now in exile, a Yorkist noble Sir Henry William Herbert gained control of Henry. He was well received in Herbert’s family’s home in Southeast Wales. This however was the start of a long separation from his mother. I can imagine how painful that was for mother and son and how confusing Henry’s childhood must have been for him.
At this time, Margaret was grown and was known to be pious, a woman with a strong mind and character. She married Henry Stafford in 1464 and moved with him to England. I believe not by her choice but duty. Henry’s separation from his mother had to be incredibly hard for both of them. Margaret’s separation from Henry makes me wonder if she may have been angry and resentful. However, I believe (and this is purely speculation) this marriage to Stafford was the start of her being treated as a person of royal blood and maybe sparked hope in her heart that her son one day would be king and as we know this hope changed the destiny of Margaret and Henry….
So there you have it. My first installment of a series of articles on the Tudors. Now, for all you history enthusiast out there, I know I have left out a LOT of detail. It would take several books to cover all that occurred during that time. My goal is to give a series of small overviews of what I have researched and to share some of those findings hoping that this will intrigue many of you to want to find out more. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and I hope you enjoyed it!
By Stephanie M. Hopkins
The pictures of Pembroke Castle are courtesy of Marsha Lambert.
A few sources I researched from: The Tudors by Jane Bingham; The Tudors by G.J. Meyer; The Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley; Winter King by Thomas Penn; Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir.
Disclaimer: I checked historical facts and crossed checked, some of what I wrote is solely my opinion and speculation. For example: There are different opinions on how Edmund Tudor died. I went with what I felt was factual.