Owen Tudor, c.1400-1461

Owen Tudor (c.1400-1461) was a member of an ancient Welsh princely family, related to Owain Glyn Dwr. His secret marriage to Catherine of Valois, Henry V's widow, brought him to national prominence and he became the founder of the house of Tudor.

Owen's grandfather was Tudur ap Goronwy. He married Margaret, the daughter of Thomas ap Llywelyn ab Owain, the last male heir to the princes of Deheubarth. Margaret's sister was the mother of Owain Glyn Dwr, making him Owen Tudor's cousin. Owen's father Maredudd ap Tudur took part in Glyn Dwr's revolt, and it would appear that Owen got a position at the English court in the aftermath of that revolt. He changed his name to Owen Tudor, taking his grandfather's name as his family name, and in 1432 was granted the rights of an Englishman.

Owen is first mentioned in English service in 1421 when he joined the retinue of Sir Walter Hungerford, steward of the king's household. At this stage he appeared as Owen Meredith. His early role at court is unclear, as are the circumstances of his meeting with Catherine of Valois. A variety of traditions exist, including one that he attracted her attention while swimming and another that he fell into her lap while dancing.

Queen Catherine became a widow in 1422, and was soon rumoured to be involved with Edmund Beaufort, a nephew of Bishop Henry Beaufort. This may be the reason that a law was passed in 1427-8 that made it illegal for a dowager queen to marry without the permission of an adult king. At this stage Henry VI was only a child, and so no such consent was possible.

However Owen and the Queen met they were soon in a relationship, and at some point around 1430 they secretly married. The marriage became rather less secret when the queen fell pregnant, and she gave birth to at least four of Owen's children - Edmund, Jasper, Owen and a probable daughter. Even so the marriage remained relatively unknown until Catherine's death in January 1437.

After the Queen's death Owen was summoned to court by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, to answer the charges that he entered into an illegal marriage. He was granted a safe conduct but chose to seek sanctuary at Westminster. He was released, but arrested while returning to Wales. Under the law of 1427-8 his goods were forfeited - at this stage Tudor was a relatively poor man, and his possessions were valued at £137 10s 4d. He escaped from Newgate early in 1438 but was recaptured and taken to Windsor Castle in July. A year later he was released, on a £2000 recognizance (essentially on bail), and on 12 November he was officially pardoned. Although Owen and Catherine's marriage had broken the law of 1427-8 it was recognised as a legitimate marriage, so their children were in turn legitimate.

After his release Owen became a member of Henry VI's household. His son Owen became a monk, while Edmund and Jasper were in the care of Katherine de la Pole, abbess of Barking and sister of the earl of Suffolk.

The Tudors were well treated by Henry VI, and became loyal Lancastrians. In November 1452 Edmund was made earl of Richmond and Jasper was made earl of Pembroke. They were recognised as half-brothers of the king.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

The Tudor claim to the throne came through Edmund's marriage to Henry's cousin Margaret Beaufort. Their son Henry Tudor thus had a distant claim to the throne through his mother, who was descended from Edward III's son John of Gaunt, but it was only the slaughter of better qualified claimants during the Wars of the Roses that turned the obscure young Henry Tudor into the Lancastrian claimant.

Owen Tudor wasn't active in the political or military crisis of 1455. His son Edmund died in 1456, and his son Henry was born posthumously. This left Jasper Tudor as the active head of the house. He had been present with the Royal army at the first battle of St. Albans, and fought on the Lancastrian side during the struggles of 1459-61. Owen did receive some lands forfeited by Yorkists in 1459.

Owen Tudor chose the wrong moment to fight. Late in 1460 Richard of York attempted to claim the throne but was rebuffed. A compromise was agreed, the Act of Accord, in which Henry remained on the throne, but York was accepted as his heir. This meant that the young Prince Edward was disinherited, and that helped trigger pro-Lancastrian revolts around England and Wales. Jasper Tudor (with James Butler, earl of Wiltshire and Ormond) raised an army in Wales, and was joined by his father. Elsewhere the Lancastrians were victorious - York was killed at Wakefield in December 1460 and Warwick was defeated at the second battle of St. Albans (17 February 1461) - but their Welsh army ran into the best commander on the Yorkist side, York's son Edward, earl of March (soon to become Edward IV).

On 2 February 1461 Pembroke and Wiltshire attacked Edward at Mortimer's Cross, and suffered a defeat. Pembroke and Wiltshire escaped, as did many of their men, but Owen Tudor was not so lucky. He may have commanded the Lancastrian right, and was captured during the battle. A few days later he was beheaded at Hereford. He was said to have refused to have believed that he would be executed right up until the last moment, and his last words were 'that head shall lie on the stock that was wont to lie on Queen Catherine's lap'.

The eclipse of the house of Lancaster in 1461 meant that Owen's son and grandson would spent most of the next twenty years either fighting in Wales or in exile, but in 1485 Henry Tudor was mount a successful invasion, landing in Wales before defeating Richard III at Bosworth Field. Owen's grandson would thus become Henry VII, and found the Tudor dynasty.

Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Wars of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 March 2014), Owen Tudor, c.1400-1461 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_tudor_owen.html

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