How did a lowly Welshman bed a queen and sire a dynasty?

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1. The origins of the Tudor dynasty

The House of Tudor became one of the most successful royal dynasties in British history, with a direct line passing from Henry Tudor to his son Henry VIII and his three children Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Yet this powerful dynasty which provided England with five sovereigns had its roots firmly in Welsh soil at a place called Penmynydd on the island of Anglesey. The Tudurs, to give them their original Welsh spelling, would go on to take their place in history, thanks to their son, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur – or Owen Tudor as he later became known.

But just how a commoner managed to marry into royalty and kick-start a dynasty beggars belief. It all began with an unlikely liaison between Catherine of Valois and a charismatic Welshman with a taste for adventure.

2. Birth of the Tudors

It would take just two generations for Owen Tudor's grandson Henry VII to be crowned the first Tudor king of England but getting there was no mean feat for the Tudur family of north Wales.

Historian Anna Whitelock looks at the changing fortunes of the Tudur family of Anglesey and the birth of Henry VII at Pembroke Castle.

3. The rise of Owen Tudor

Following the death of Henry V in 1422, Owen – by now a squire – was employed as Keeper of the Queen's Wardrobe. Legend has it that he accidentally fell onto the queen's lap during a drunken dance at court.

The pair became lovers and secretly married in around 1429. The first of their four children, Edmund, was born a year later.

Favoured by his step-brother, King Henry VI, Edmund was made the Earl of Richmond.

His younger brother Jasper became the Earl of Pembroke and crucially helped his young nephew Henry VII escape to France from Tenby during the Wars of the Roses.

The rights of Englishmen

Catherine and Owen chose to live away from court as their union was unpopular among the ruling classes.

Henry VI however continued to look after his step-father and in 1431 Owen was granted the 'rights of Englishmen' freeing him of the harsh penalties placed on his countrymen following the failed Welsh Wars of Independence.

He was now legally allowed to marry an Englishwoman, own land and bear arms.

The death of a queen

In 1437 Catherine retired to Bermondsey Abbey and gave birth to a baby girl but became gravely ill and died soon after.

With Catherine gone, news of Owen and Catherine's secret marriage reached the Duke of Gloucester and his allies.

Owen suddenly found himself vulnerable to outside forces bent on destroying him for his unlawful marriage and illegitimate children by the late queen.

4. A change in fortune

Having being pardoned and bailed by his step-son, King Henry VI, Owen Tudor's fortunes began to improve when he was moved into the royal household.

Historian Anna Whitelock looks at the changing fortunes of Owen Tudor following the death of his wife, Catherine of Valois, former queen of England.

Records show that by 1459 Owain ap Maredudd was increasingly referred to as Owen Tudor – an anglicised version of his name – incorporating his grandfather's surname. Why this happened is a mystery but the great Tudor dynasty could quite easily have been known as the (Maredudds) Merediths.

5. Key moments in Owen Tudor's life

Click or tap on the place names below to learn more about the locations that played a pivotal role in Owen Tudor's life and the birth of the Tudor dynasty.

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6. Owen's Tudor legacy

The people of Wales viewed the Battle of Bosworth as a Welsh victory, a fulfilment of the ancient Welsh prophecy that the Welsh would regain Britain from the Saxons. However, in reality, the Tudors kept their Welsh roots at arms length. After all, being Welsh wasn't popular at court.

Henry VII was only a quarter Welsh and his claim to the throne was due to his English mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. In reality the succession of Tudor monarchs did very little for their countrymen.

The Acts of Union

The Acts of Union 1536 and 1543 passed by Henry VIII’s parliament had a profound effect on Welsh culture, forbidding anyone in authority to speak Welsh and making English the ‘natural mother tongue’.

While this helped the Welsh gentry who became equal to their English counterparts, the vast majority of the population were Welsh-speaking and the acts had a detrimental effect on the Welsh language and culture.

The Welsh Bible

Another Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, introduced the Welsh Bible in 1588. The Welsh public may have perceived this as a gesture of kindness from the Tudor Queen to the people of her ancestral country.

In reality, the Protestant Elizabeth had a political motive behind the gift. Wales was historically a Catholic country and a Welsh Bible was a good way of spreading Protestantism in what was a strategically vulnerable area.

Celtic connection

The Tudors may well have chosen to forget their Celtic roots for political gain but without the Tudurs of Penmynnyd, the great Tudor dynasty and some of England's most recognisable rulers would have ceased to exist.

7. Securing a Tudor crown

Which of these key moments do you think were the most significant in securing a Tudor king on the English throne?

The death of potential heirs

The Lancastrian heir Edward died at the Battle of Tewkesbury and the Yorkist heirs Edward and Richard were held in the Tower of London by Richard III.

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The death of potential heirs

It's believed that Richard III had both princes murdered. With all the potential heirs gone, Henry gained more support for his fairly weak claim to the throne.

A dowager queen’s marriage

In 1428 parliament passed a bill forbidding Catherine to remarry without the king’s consent or risk her husband’s lands and possessions being seized.

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A dowager queen’s marriage

Had this law not been passed, Catherine may well have married Edmund Beaufort but instead chose Owen Tudor, a ‘poor commoner’ with no political agenda.

Changing allegiances

Key people bolstered Henry Tudor's army by switching sides, including Rhys ap Thomas who should've ambushed him in Wales.

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Changing allegiances

Both Rhys ap Thomas a principal lieutenant, and the Stanley family, betrayed Richard III and fought for Henry at the Battle of Bosworth.

Henry Tudor escapes

After the Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury, the Wars of the Roses looked to be lost for the Lancastrians so Jasper took his nephew Henry to safety in France.

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Henry Tudor escapes

Fleeing to France saved Henry’s life. He spent 14 years in exile and foiled repeated attempts by Edward IV to lure him back to England in order to kill him.