Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Edmund Tudor: Father of the Tudor Dynasty

My latest book, The Beaufort Bride follows the early years of Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII. It is the first in a trilogy The Beaufort Chronicles. Book Two: The Beaufort Woman will be available later on in 2016. Today I am looking at Margaret's husband and father of her only son.

Edmund Tudor is best known as the father of Henry VII. His death in November 1456 at Carmarthen at the age of twenty-five means his presence on the historical record is scant. While his brother Jasper went on to play a leading role in the Wars of the Roses, Edmund passed into shadow. In most academic books he is mentioned briefly, often scathingly, but although short, his life was vital to British history. 

Edmund was the eldest son of Owen Tudor and Katherine de Valois, widow of Henry V. Katherine was rich and powerful, and a very desirable prize. The Protector, Humphrey of Gloucester disliked an attraction she formed for  the ambitious Edmund Beaufort and,  in 1427-28 an act was passed in parliament preventing Katherine from marrying without the consent of her son, the six year old King Henry VI. Even the king’s consent could not be given until he reached his majority; a clever move by parliament to disempower a prominent woman. Owen, a groom in Katherine’s household is a surprising choice for a woman of her status and there have been many theories to explain it. Perhaps the union between Owen and the queen dowager was a love match, perhaps not. There are suggestions that Edmund was in fact the bastard child of Edmund Beaufort and Tudor stepped in to save her reputation when marriage to Beaufort was denied but there is nothing to substantiate that claim. That particular subject requires a whole new blog and luckily there is a fabulous article by Susan Higginbotham about it here
Marriage of Katherine de Valois and Henry V
There is no existing record of a marriage taking place between Owen and Katherine and many think that, if they married at all, they did so in secret making their offspring the illegitimate issue of a common law marriage. Their first child, Edmund, was born in June 1431, followed by perhaps six others but only Edmund and Jasper had any prominent role in history.
After Katherine’s death in 1437 Edmund and Jasper were given to Catherine de la Pole, the abbess of Barking who brought them to the attention of their half-brother, Henry VI. After their education was complete Henry kept Edmund at court, knighting him in 1449 and creating him Earl of Richmond in 1452. In 1453 Edmund was made legitimate and endowed with large grants and property; he was also given the wardship of the heiress, Margaret Beaufort. In 1455 they were married at Margaret’s mother’s home, Bletsoe Castle. Margaret was twelve years old.

Shortly afterwards Edmund was sent by the king to Wales to quell unrest there. At first they stayed at Caldicot, where Margaret was to become pregnant, then moved to Lamphey Palace which Edmund used as his power base. Conflict with the Duke of York’s henchman, William Herbert, led to Edmund’s capture and imprisonment at Carmarthen castle where he died either from wounds inflicted in battle, or from some infection contracted during his interment. Margaret, now just thirteen and well advanced in pregnancy, turned to her brother-in-law, Jasper, for protection and fled to Pembroke castle where she gave birth to a son.
Pembroke castle, birthplace of Henry VII

There was nothing unusual in a girl marrying so young but in most instances consummation was postponed until the girl had matured. Edmund however, did not wait and Margaret fell pregnant straight away. There may have been a few contemporary raised eyebrows but there was no undue outrage, and Margaret was not alone. In 1350 Bianca of Savoy was married at thirteen and gave birth a year later, and in 1493, aged thirteen, Lucrezia Borgia married her first husband and bore a child within a few years. Of course, although records show that many more girls who married young didn’t give birth until they'd been married a few years this does not necessarily prove that consummation did not take place. We should perhaps consider if they were physically able to pro-create. Child birth is not an immediate evidence of consummation having taken place, it is often delayed. We should not be too quick to judge. 
Margaret was as ambitious as her contemporaries, she may have considered herself lucky to have secured a relatively young and powerful husband. She was a cousin of the king, married to a beloved brother of the king. She could have done a lot worse. Had Edmund survived the outcome of the wars of the roses may have been very different and Margaret in a very good position.

I am not in any way condoning sex with young girls but we must not forget that the medieval mind set was vastly different to ours. When a young girl married it was seen as her taking her place in the adult world and celebrated as such. It is unlikely Margaret would have been expecting romance from marriage. She would not have been ignorant of the facts of life for there was little marital privacy in the medieval world. Marriages were celebrated by ‘bedding’; a custom when the wedding party accompanied the newly-weds to their chamber to witness them being put naked to bed. It was an occasion for ribaldry and jest, often a drunken finale to the wedding feast.
Margaret Tudor: Granddaughter of Margaret Beaufort
In many books, both fiction and non-fiction, the union of Margaret and Edmund is described in horrified tones. Elizabeth Norton in her book Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty, says the ‘marriage shows an unpleasant side of Edmund Tudor’s character, and it is clear that he was acquisitive to the point of disregarding his young wife’s health and well-being.’
Jones and Underwood in The King’s Mother describe the event as follows: ‘Edmund quickly made his twelve year old wife pregnant, his wish to secure a life interest in her estates taking priority over any concern for her safety and well-being.’

Margaret’s intervention in later life during the arrangements for her granddaughter and namesake, Margaret Tudor's marriage to the King of Scotland, is often taken as evidence that she regretted her own early union with Edmund. In ensuring that a clause was worked into the marriage treaty that consummation would not take place until her granddaughter was of age merely indicates Margaret regretted the unforeseen damage done by childbirth, not that she regretted her relationship with Edmund.
Margaret Tudor: grandaughter of Margaret Beaufort
Some novelists have taken Margaret's early deflowering and run with it, several novels describe lurid wedding night scenes involving abuse and rape. It may very well be true that greed was at the root of Edmund’s decision not to wait to consummate the marriage but that doesn't make him a monster. I prefer to consider other possible explanations.

Until a marriage was consummated it was easily annulled, co-habitation provided a form of protection to the couple. Margaret was a great marital prize in a time of political unrest, her position so close to an unstable crown made her valuable, not just to Edmund. 

I am not sure why modern day readers (and authors) relish the idea of violence. It does not automatically follow that early consummation meant she was subjected to any form of force. She wouldn’t be the first twelve year old to have formed romantic feelings for an older man. There is nothing else to suggest Edmund was anything other than a good, attractive man. Perhaps she was willing; perhaps she was gently wooed and seduced. 
Edmund Tudor's tomb photo by Judith Arnopp

In her later life there is no evidence that Margaret ever spoke critically of Edmund; some sources suggest she requested to be buried with him, a request that was denied for she lies at Westminster close to her son. Edmund Tudor may have taken Margaret's virginity at a young age, his action may well have made it impossible for her to conceive or carry another child but, in doing so, he gave her the very thing she most cherished; her son, Henry, the future Henry VII. A son to whose cause she was to dedicate the remainder of her life; a son who, despite two further marriages, was to remain the love and the focus of her very remarkable life. 
If Margaret held no resentment toward Edmund, why should we?

Coming soon

Pembroke castle photo by Judith Arnopp
Photographs from Wikimedia Commons

Further Reading
Elizabeth Norton, Margaret Beaufort; the King’s mother
Debra Bayani, Jasper Tudor, godfather of the Tudor dynasty
Jones, M.K. & Underwood, M. G The King’s Mother
Skidmore, C. The Rise of the Tudor Dynasty
Susan Higginbotham, Arms and the Man: Was Edmund Tudor illegitimate click to read

Judith Arnopp is the author of seven historical fiction novels set in the medieval and Tudor period. She is currently working on Book two of The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Margaret Beaufort. To read excerpts and customer reviews please visit:
Her webpage:

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Hunting the Wren in Wales and Ireland

Judith Arnopp
Walter Crane - Hunting the Wren

The tradition of Hunting the Wren was once widespread but most sources are from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and also France. Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence in her book Hunting The Wren: transformation from bird to symbol, even found one source which suggests the ritual could have traces in Neolithic times. The ritual grew and evolved and there are now many variations on the theme but all share the same root.
A wren was captured (sometimes killed) and kept within a box, sometimes a specially fashioned ‘wren house.’ Ms Atwood Lawrence says, ‘Some wren houses had a square of glass at either end for viewing the tiny corpse.’ Young men, dressed in straw costumes and blowing tin whistles and other loud instruments, went from house to house. As with the wassail tradition they were invited in and plied with food and drink.
The Stoning of St Stephen

Originally Hunting the Wren took place on December 26th or St. Stephen’s day. St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and one story says that when Stephen attempted to hide in a bush he startled a wren who betrayed Stephen’s presence to his enemies with its distinctive loud chattering alarm call. The wren, like Stephen, was subsequently hunted and stoned to death. An Irish version of The Wren Hunt Song goes like this:
The Wren, The Wren

The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds,
St. Stephenses day, he was caught in the furze.
Although he is little, his honor is great,
Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.

We followed this Wren ten miles or more
Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow,
We up with our wattles and gave him a fall
And brought him here to show you all.

For we are the boys that came your way
To bury the Wren on Saint Stephenses Day,
So up with the kettle and down with the pan!
Give us some help for to bury the Wren!

You can listen here: Song Hunting the Wren

The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh myths that was recorded in the 12th century, tells the story of how Lleu Llaw Gyffes tricks Arianrhod into giving him his name. The story involves Lleu throwing a needle between the tendon and the bone of a wren’s leg (an impossible feat). The wren (thought to have its root in the welsh word ‘ren’ which means ‘king’ or ‘queen’ and the word Dryw means both ‘druid’ and ‘wren’. The full story of Llew Llaw Gyffes would take too much time to tell here but here is a link to one version of the tale.

Instances are recorded in Wales of the ritual of Hunting the Wren being used as a blessing. One man who went out annually on the hunt was invited in to the home of an old farmer and his wife and asked to bless them in their bed, providing them with fortune for the coming year.

In North Pembrokeshire farming activities were suspended for three weeks, the plough brought into the house and placed under the dining table where the men of the neighbourhood dampened the plough with beer before drinking themselves. This was known as ‘wetting the plough’ and in most cases they also carried a wren and sang the Wren Hunt song.

After Hunting the Wren the young men of Pembrokeshire carried a decorated wren box on a bier calling from house to house while singing wren hunt songs and drinking at every stop. If they were refused hospitality some songs included the line ‘Come raging wind, in fury frown and turn this house all upside down.’ So, perhaps it was wiser to let them in.

But these rituals existed in a slightly different form in different Celtic communities. One excellent source for these old Celtic myths can be found in ‘Are you Going Home Now? Memories of Old Kilkea in which the author, Mícheál Ó Dubhshláine, recalls a visit from the wren boys when he was a small boy.
‘I remember as a child being very afraid of them, dressed up in rags, an old frock or shirt, with fiddle faces or ‘hi-fiddles’ (aghaidh fidl) as they were called…. I don’t ever remember seeing the wren itself. I do remember my mother asking them where the wren was, and I understood that in earlier days they used actually have a wren in a bush going round with them. The custom goes back hundreds of years, so much so nobody knows what it means or where it began. Mary Leadbetter who lived back in eighteenth century in Ballimore and kept a diary writes about the wren boys back in 1780’s. There was a belief that the wren was someway involved in betraying Jesus to the Jews, and so deserved all he got.’
You can read more here:

To modern ears this all sounds like an excuse for youthful carousal, and that may well be an accurate appraisal but why the wren? What made him the victim of all this? He is too small to make worthwhile eating, and is no threat to our crops or livestock.

The wren is acclaimed as King of the Birds in European folklore. The fable, mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny, tells of a contest to see who, judged on their ability to fly the highest, should be king of birds. The eagle flew higher and faster but a wren had concealed himself in the eagle’s feathers and suddenly popped out flying even higher and winning the crown. The story says that the eagle was so angry he threw the wren to the ground damaging his tail, which is why the wren’s tale is so short. As a consequence of this fable the wren is known as king of the birds in many places around the world. In some tales, because of his ability to creep into small spaces, perhaps entering into tombs or crumbling graves, he is even suspected of passing between this world and the next. 

There were many associated customs; the Wren Procession, Wren King Songs, Burying the Wren and, in some traditions, wren feathers are offered as protection and good luck. Most myths and customs connected to the wren involve trickery, and often an undermining of authority. A.L Lloyd in his book English Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 believes The Wren Song was sung during the villains revolt of 1381 in England. Later, in Ireland, farmers fighting against their English landlords described their revolutionary activities as ‘Going on a Wran.’

The mythological wren was also associated with trickery, so perhaps he was seen as a wily, untrustworthy ruler and the real root of wren hunting lies in subversion. The Celts have never held much love for English kings.

New Release!

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2
Edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

Purchase links:

Amazon US
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Judith Arnopp writes historical fiction set in Tudor and Medieval England and Wales. She also blogs and writes articles for various magazines. You can find more information about Judith’s work on her official webpage:

Further reading
Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, Hunting the Wren: transformation from bird to symbol
A.L. Lloyd, English Peasant’s Revolt of 1381,
Mícheál Ó Dubhshláine, Are You Going Home Now: Memories of Old Kilekea
Hunting the Wren by Llew Tegid, pp. 99-113, Cylchgrawn Cymdeithas Alawon Gwerin Cymrv [or] Journal of the Welsh Folk Song Society, published by the Welsh Folk Song Society, Bangor, Vol. 1, part 3, 1911. The early issues for years 1909-1912 of the Journal of the Welsh Folk Song Society are on the hathitrust site. Llew Tegid is a pseudonym for Lewis Davies Jones.