Owen Tudor

Owen Tudor was born on the Island of Anglesey c1400. His family had standing within the Welsh nobility and it is possibly due to that standing that he was able to gain employment within the household of King Henry V. In the years following the death of King Henry V, Owen entered into a relationship with the Dowager Queen, Catherine of Valois, against the wishes of the Council. Presumed to have married in 1429, Owen and Catherine’s relation resulted in the birth of five children, all half-siblings of King Henry VI. The eldest of these children, Edmund, was the father of Henry Tudor, King Henry VII

Owen’s relationship with Catherine of Valois did not guarantee him favour at court. Indeed, after the death of Catherine of Valois Owen was subjected to imprisonment in Newgate Prison and, after escaping, within Windsor Castle. In 1439, King Henry VI reversed the acts against his step-father. Owen was provided with a modest pension and an income for being the Keeper of the King’s Parks in Denbigh.

Owen and his sons were involved in the early clashes between those loyal to Henry VI and the Yorkists. They were staunch supporters of Henry and administered justice against several Yorkist sympathisers. As the tension rose and conflict seemed inevitable, Owen and his sons played an important role in recruiting men for the Lancastrian army in South Wales.

Owen Tudor was part of that Lancastrian army when it met with the army of Edward Earl of March in the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Though he survived the battle, Owen was captured by the victorious Yorkists. He was taken to Hereford, where he expected to be imprisoned and ransomed. That was not to be, Edward Earl of March was intent on exacting revenge for the death of his father in battle and the butchering of his brother in the aftermath of the battle of Wakefield.

Owen Tudor was beheaded at Hereford and his head displayed on the Market Cross.

Owen’s children, according to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography :

Edmund Tudor, married Margaret Beaufort, father of Henry Tudor [King Henry VII]

Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke

Owen, who became a monk

Margaret, died as an infant


TUDOR, OWEN (d. 1461), grandfather of Henry VII, belonged to a Welsh family of great antiquity (cf. especially the appendix to Wynne’s edition of Powell’s History of Wales, 1697, where Henry VII’s descent is recorded). Its connection with Cadwaladr (d. 1172) [q. v.] is shadowy, but his pedigree is traced from Ednyfed Fychan, who was descended probably from Maredudd ap Cynan, and was a considerable personage at the court of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth (Williams’s ‘Penmynydd and the Tudors’ in Archæologia Cambrensis, 3rd ser. xv. 282). Ednyfed lived chiefly at Tregarnedd in Anglesey, and from his second wife, Gwenllian, daughter of Rhys, prince of South Wales, were descended the Tudors. His son Gronw was, by his wife Morfydd, the father of Tudor, afterwards called Tudor Hên. Tudor Hên lived in the days of Edward I, and refounded about 1299 the Dominican friary at Bangor (Dugdale, Monasticon, vi. 1500; cf. Palmer, in the Reliquary, xxiv. 226). The Tudors were latterly supposed to have been rich, and they took no part in the Welsh rebellion in Edward I’s reign.

Tudor Hên’s grandson, Tudor Vychan ap Gronw (d. 1367?), is the subject of various traditions. He is said to have assumed knighthood, and then to have received it at the hands of Edward III. He is described as of Trecastell, one of his manors. He left a family by a wife Margaret, daughter of Thomas ap Llewelyn ap Owen, and of these Gronw Fychan (d. 1382), the forester of Snowdon, who was drowned, was the favourite of the Black Prince, and after his death was appointed (probably in reversion) in 1381 constable of Beaumaris Castle, with a salary of forty marks. By his wife Mevanwy he was the father of a son Tudor whose descendants formed a branch of the family which lasted some hundreds of years. Other sons of Sir Tudor Vychan ap Gronw were Rhys and William ap Tudor, who were captains of archers in the service of Richard II.

The fourth son, Meredydd, father of the subject of this article, was escheator of Anglesey in 1392, and held some office under the bishop of Bangor, that of scutifer, or butler, or steward. His wife was Margaret, daughter of Dafydd Fychan ap Dafydd Llwyd. It has been said that Meredydd killed a man, was outlawed, and fled to Snowdon with his wife, and that there Owen Tudor was born; but it seems more likely that Meredydd fled alone, and that Owen was born about the beginning of the fifteenth century in his absence. Meredydd was cousin through his mother to Owen Glendower, whom the Tudors seem to have actively supported (cf. Wylie, Henry IV, esp. i. 215–16, ii. 15). Glendower’s son entered the service of Henry V, and doubtless it was in this way that Owen Tudor came to the court. It is said that he was present as one of the Welsh band at Agincourt, and distinguished himself so much that he was rewarded by being made one of the esquires of the body to the king; but he seems to have been rather young for such a post at the time. He certainly stayed about the court, and early in the reign of Henry VI he attracted the notice of Catherine, widow of Henry V [see Catherine of Valois], who appointed him clerk of her wardrobe. Tudor and the widowed queen soon lived together as man and wife. If Sir James Ramsay is right, she had wished to marry Edmund Beaufort, but was prevented by Gloucester for personal reasons. At what time exactly the union with Owen Tudor took place, and whether it was a legal marriage, it is difficult to determine. The act which was passed in 1427–8 making it a serious offence to marry a queen-dowager without the consent of the king is evidence that nothing was then known of the matter, at all events publicly; while, as Mr. Williams points out, the birth of the children can hardly have been concealed. It may be assumed, then, that the union took place about 1429.

In 1436, perhaps through Gloucester’s influence, Tudor’s children were taken from the queen, and she was confined in, or voluntarily retired to, Bermondsey Abbey. At the same date Owen Tudor was confined in Newgate, whence he escaped by the aid of his priest and servant. On the death of Catherine in Bermondsey Abbey on 3 Jan. 1436–7, Henry VI ‘desired and willed that on Oweyn Tidr the which dwelled wt the said Quene should come to his presence.’ He was at Daventry in Warwickshire at the time, and refused to come without a written safe-conduct, and when he did get within reach he judged it prudent to take sanctuary at Westminster. There he remained some time in spite of efforts to entrap him by getting him to disport himself in a tavern at Westminster Gate. At last he came before the council and defended his cause. He was allowed to go back to Wales, and then, in violation of the safe-conduct, he was brought back again by Lord Beaumont and given in charge to the Earl of Suffolk at Wallingford; later he was moved to Newgate. He, his priest, and his servant, however, managed to get free once more, and Owen Tudor retired to North Wales. The persecution of Owen Tudor was in no way due to Henry VI’s personal action, and when he came of age he allowed Owen Tudor an annuity, and was very kind to his sons.

Owen Tudor proved a faithful Lancastrian. Just before the battle of Northampton (10 July 1460) Henry made him keeper of the parks at Denbigh. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross (4 Feb. 1460–1), and by the order of young Edward he was beheaded in the market-place of Hereford. His head was put on the market cross, and a woman, whom a contemporary calls mad, had the hair combed and the face washed, and set round many lighted candles. His body was buried in a chapel of the church of the Grey Friars at Hereford.

By Queen Catherine, Owen Tudor had three sons, of whom Edmund and Jasper are separately noticed; and a third became a monk at Westminster. Tudor also left two daughters by Queen Catherine, of whom one became a nun, and the other, Jacina, is said to have married Reginald, lord Grey de Wilton. A natural son of Owen, called Dafydd, is said to have been knighted by Henry VII, who gave him in marriage Mary, daughter and heiress of John Bohun of Midhurst in Sussex.

[Williams’s Penmynedd and the Tudors in Archæologia Cambrensis, 1st ser. iv. 267, 3rd ser. xv. 278, 379; Sandford’s Gen. Hist. pp. 278, &c.; Strickland’s Queens of England, Katherine of Valois in vol. i.; Ramsay’s Lancaster and York, i. 496, ii. 243, 269; Polydore Vergil’s Hist. Angl. pp. 487–8; Bernard Andreas in Memorials of Henry VII (Rolls Ser.), pp. 9–10; Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas, v. pp. xvi–xix, 47, 48, 49; Coll. of Lond. Cit. (Camd. Soc.), p. 211; Dwnn’s Heraldic Visitations of Wales, esp. ii. 108; Cambrian Register, i. 149; Brit. Mus. Egerton MS. 2587, f. 13 b; Pennant’s Tours, ed. Rhys, iii. 44 sqq.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 57
Tudor, Owen by William Arthur Jobson Archbold

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