Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur, the paternal grandfather of King Henry VII, belonged to a Welsh family of great antiquity. They were direct male line descendants of the mysterious King Cadrod of Calchfynedd (the Celtic Chilterns) and close relatives of the Princes of Deheubarth (South-West Wales). They were a landed family from Anglesey, holding many important posts under the English Kings. Owain’s father, Maredudd was Escheator of Anglesey, in 1392, and also steward to the Bishop of Bangor. His wife was Margaret, daughter of Dafydd Fychan ap Dafydd Llwyd. It has been said that Maredudd killed a man, was outlawed and fled to Snowdon, with his wife, and that, there, Owain Tudor was born; but it seems more likely that Maredudd fled alone and that Owain was born in his absence. Unfortunately, Maredudd, was the maternal cousin of Owain Glyndwr and the family’s adherence to his rebellious cause led to their disastrous fall from grace.
It is said that Owain was present as one of the Welsh band at Agincourt (1415) and distinguished himself so much that he was rewarded by being made one of the esquires of the body to Henry V; but he seems to have been rather young for such a post at the time. He does appear to have been in the service of Sir Walter Hungerford, the King’s Steward, in France in 1421; and it was probably through his patron that he made his way to the Royal Court.
In the stories surrounding Owain's first meeting with the widowed queen, Catherine of Valois, it is difficult to discern fact from fiction. There may be some truth in the tradition that he first came to the lady’s attention when he clumsily fell into her lap during a Royal ball at Windsor Castle. Later embellishments say that the Queen fixed her sights on Owain after having secretly watched him bathing naked in the Thames. Swapping outfits with her maid, she arranged to meet him incognito. Owain became somewhat over familiar during the rendezvous and, when Catherine pushed him away, there was a struggle and he accidentally scratched her cheek. Only, upon serving the Queen, next morning did Owain realise his paramour’s true identity!
It is said that the lady had wished to marry Edmund Beaufort, but was prevented by her brother-in-law, the Duke of Gloucester, for courtly factional reasons. “Unable to curb her carnal passions,” Catherine thus looked for a commoner upon whom the King’s Council “might not reasonably take vengeance on his life”. Owain certainly became a servant in the Dowager-Queen’s chamber in the 1420s and may have been appointed clerk of her wardrobe. The Queen and her lover resided largely at Baynard’s Castle when in the city, and at Wallingford Castle in Berkshire when out of town. At what time exactly the marital union with Owain Tudor took place is difficult to determine – probably about 1428 – but it seems always to have been accepted as a legal marriage. The act, which was passed early that year, making it a serious offence to marry a Dowager-Queen without the consent of the King is evidence that nothing was then known of the matter, at all events publicly; while the birth of the children can hardly have been concealed.
Edmund, their eldest son – later Earl of Richmond and father of King Henry VII – was born at Hadham in Hertfordshire in 1430. A second son, Jasper, later Earl of Pembroke & Duke of Bedford, followed a year later. Then there was Owain who, in adulthood, became a monk at Westminster. They certainly had a daughter who died young, but suggestions that Thomasina, the wife of Reynold, Lord Grey of Wilton, was their daughter are incorrect. Owain’s bastard son, Dafydd, is said to have been knighted by Henry VII, who gave him in marriage Mary, daughter and heiress of John de Bohun of Midhurst in Sussex.
In 1436, perhaps through Gloucester's influence, Tudor's children were taken from the Queen and she was confined in, or more probably voluntarily retired due to ill-health, to Bermondsey Abbey. She died there on 3rd January 1437 and, without her protection, Owain immediately found himself summoned by his step-son, King Henry VI, who “desired and willed that one Owain Tudor the which dwelled with the said Queen, should come to his presence.” Tudor 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. Owain was acquitted of all charges and allowed to go back to Wales; but, in violation of the safe-conduct, he was brought back again by Lord Beaumont and given in charge to the Earl of Suffolk at his old home, Wallingford Castle. Later, he was moved to Newgate Prison. With his priest and servant, Owain managed to escape but was soon returned to confinement. By July 1438, he had been moved to Windsor Castle, but was released the following year. He was pardoned soon afterward and was subsequently treated well by his step-son, who had by then come of age.
The King took Owain into his household, allowed him an annuity and was very kind to his sons. For his part, Owain proved a faithful Lancastrian. He retired to North Wales and, just before the Battle of Northampton (10th July 1460), Henry made him Keeper of the Parks at Denbigh. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross (February 1461) and, by the order of young Edward IV, he was beheaded in the market-place at Hereford. His head was put on the market cross where a woman, whom a contemporary calls mad, had his hair combed and face washed, and set round many lighted candles. His body was buried in a chapel of the Church of the Grey Friars at Hereford.
Heavily Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1899)
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