Before we can talk about Jasper, we have to back up a bit and discuss his parents. His father was Owen Tudor, Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur in the original Welsh. He was a Welsh courtier who had secured a place at court after the Glyndŵr Rising. All pretty normal. Here is where things get interesting. His mother was Katherine Valois, daughter of the French king and Dowager Queen of England. Wait, what?
The Dowager Queen was coming out of an unsuccessful affair with Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset. Owen caught her eye, some stories said after swimming or after dancing and falling in her lap. Some historians speculate Edmund Tudor, the son born directly after Owen and Katherine’s marriage, was a product of the Beaufort affair and she married Owen to cover it up. At any rate, Owen and Katherine married in secret, and had Edmund and Jasper in quick succession.
When marriage was discovered, Katherine was put into Bermondsey Abbey and the two small boys, about 7 and 6 respectively, were taken in by Catherine de la Pole, the Abbess of Barking and the Duke of Suffolk’s sister. They lived with her until 1442 when their half brother, Henry VI found out about their existence. Henry had them brought to court and supervised the boys’ education. They were knighted and Edmund was made the Earl of Richmond and Jasper, the Earl of Pembroke. The young Tudors were much in favor since Henry had no son or other relatives his age. The Queen had to give up her lands at Pembroke for Jasper. Whether she did so in good heart we will never know. However, Jasper was her loyal partisan for life.
In 1453, the brothers were given the wardship of Margaret Beaufort, the heiress of the Duke of Somerset. It is possible Henry thought to make Edmund his heir and strengthen his claim by adding Margaret’s to his own by marriage. Margaret must have thought she had a choice between the brothers as her confessor, Bishop John Fisher, told the story she prayed to St. Nicholas and received a vision to marry Edmund. The couple were married in 1456, when Margaret was only 12 years old and by all reports small for her age. Contemporary opinion believed that though it was now legal, consummation of the marriage should be delayed. However, this did not happen. Young Margaret was pregnant soon after and her only son Henry was born at Pembroke castle under the protection of his Uncle Jasper. Edmund had died months before, suppposedly of plague, after being captured by William Herbert, an ally of the Duke of York, at Carmarthan. It was not an easy birth and both mother and child were expected to die, but they came through, although Margaret never carried another child. Jasper had the baby christened Owen, after his and Edmund’s father, but the stubborn Margaret overruled him and baby Henry it was.
After Edmund’s death Margaret married again to the second son of the Duke of Buckingham. Baby Henry was left in Wales in the care of his Uncle Jasper. In the absence of his mother, Jasper became the only family the little boy had. The two of them became very close. In 1461, the fighting of the War of the Roses heated up again and Jasper and his father Owen mustered troops and marched out to fight for Henry VI and the Lancastrians. They left young Henry, who was no longer a baby, at home at Pembroke castle in the care of his nurse. Jasper and Owen met Edward, earl of March and son of the Duke of York, at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. To make a long story short, they lost. Owen was captured and beheaded and a crazy woman took his head and lit candles around it. Jasper fled with the Queen to Scotland. His main sorrow must have been leaving his beloved nephew behind, but life on the run was no place for a little one. Little Henry was put in the custody of the Herberts, who treated the young Tudor well.
Jasper spent his time in exile trying to stir up support for the Lancasters in France and Brittany. Jasper was a cousin to the king of France, Louis V, as Jasper’s mother was Louis’ aunt, so perhaps he had more sway. However, he was unsuccessful most of the time. In 1468, Jasper landed with a small French force in Wales to try and reclaim his castles. William Herbert marched out to meet him and took young Henry, now 12 years old, with him to give him his first taste of battle. Uncle and nephew were on opposite sides of the battlefield. Luckily, nothing tragic happened.
Things looked bleak until 1470 when Edward IV’s main adviser and supporter the Earl of Warwick changed sides. Edward had married Elizabeth Woodville in secret undoing Warwick’s plans for a union with a Princess of France. His influence was waning and he began looking for greener pastures. The Lancastrians returned to England, and Jasper returned to his nephew. William Herbert had been killed in battle of Edgecote Moor, and Jasper had returned to reclaim his castles. He had been away from Henry for almost eight years. It must have been a happy reunion. Together, Henry and Jasper traveled from Wales to London and met the king. Henry was then reunited with his mother, Margaret Beaufort, for a short holiday before returning to Jasper’s custody.
Things were good for a short while until Edward IV came back in full force and the Lancastrians were routed at Barnet and Tewkesbury. Edward of Lancaster was killed in the fighting, Henry VI was killed in the tower and the Queen was captured. There was nothing to do but escape abroad. Henry and Jasper took ship for France from Tenby, but storm blew them off course and they landed in Brittany. This began a fourteen year exile full of danger and narrow escapes. Duke Francis of Brittany received the two exiles courteously, but “requested” they did not leave. Prisoners but not prisoners. They were the last of the Lancastrians, highly valuable political pawns to be traded to the highest bidder.
Edward IV died and his brother Richard became Richard III over his two sons. That is a whole other post, probably a series, but I digress. However, suffice to say the kingdom was in disarray and several people were dissatisfied. Through Margaret Beaufort, Jasper was put in touch with the Duke of Buckingham. Rebellion was in the air, and the Duke tried to forment one. Jasper and Henry sailed from Brittany, but were turned back by a storm. The whole thing fizzled out and Jasper and Henry were back to exile in Brittany until 1484. By this time, the Duke of Brittany was going to turn them over to Richard III. This was NOT how they wanted to go back to England. They escaped to France and got the promise of an army to take Richard III. And there we have the Battle of Bosworth.
Bosworth is its own post as well, but to make a long story short Henry won and became Henry VII and started the Tudor dynasty. He would have never made it this far without the support of his Uncle Jasper, and he rewarded him for it. Jasper was restored as the Earl of Pembroke and made Duke of Bedford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Earl Marshal. Once Henry’s son Arthur was born, Jasper ruled in Arthur’s name in Wales. He was also given the widow of the Duke of Buckingham, the former Katherine Woodville, as a wife. With all this, Jasper became one of the richest peers in England at the time.
But Jasper’s work was not done. Even though Henry was on the throne, it was not safe. Lambert Simnel claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury and his cause was picked up by John de la Pole, the Duke of Lincoln. Their forces and the royal forces met at the Battle of Stoke Field. Jasper was one of the commanders and the rebels were put down and de la Pole was killed, but the troubles were far from over. A new pretender, Perkin Warbeck, raised his head and began making trouble for the Tudors. This time Jasper could not help as he was getting older and possibly ill. In December 1495, the man who could be argued as the backbone of the Tudor dynasty died.
Henry must have grieved the death of the man who he had to have regarded like a father. One of the few people he could trust was gone. And the hardest parts of his reign were yet to come.