24 October 2015

The Mystery of a Queen, Two Bishops and a Secret Tudor Wedding


One of the big questions I had to answer in my latest novel OWEN (Book One of the Tudor Trilogy), was did Owen Tudor, a Welsh servant, really marry Catherine of Valois, Dowager Queen of England?  

Historians have so far failed to track down any irrefutable evidence of Owen’s marriage to the young widow of King Henry V, so I had to do some real historical detective work.

To set the scene, it is useful to know that King Henry VI is a minor, so the Regency of England is shared between two great political rivals, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, younger brother of the late king, and Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester.

It is documented that Owen and Catherine's first son, Edmund Tudor, was born in 1430 at Much Hadam in Hertfordshire – and is sometimes referred to as ‘Edmund of Hadam.’ Much Hadham was best known for the Bishop's Palace, the country home of the Bishops of London. In 1430 it was the residence of Bishop William Grey, a close friend of Queen Catherine’s trusted spiritual advisor Philip Morgan, Bishop of Ely.

I have Owen say in the book:
    ‘Bishop Philip Morgan of Ely is a Welshman, wealthy enough not to need Cardinal Beaufort’s support—and influential enough not to worry about upsetting Duke Humphrey. I could ask Catherine to write to him, requesting his help.’
Bishop Morgan agrees to meet in secret with Queen Catherine and Owen. He enjoys taking about his past as Rector of Aberedowy in Wales with Owen and agrees to officiate at their secret wedding, saying:
    ‘I will ask my good friend William Grey, the Bishop of London, to act as our second witness. It may be helpful if the validity of the marriage is ever challenged. You must understand that it is consummation which truly seals a legally binding marriage. Let us imagine you were to have another child, soon after you are married.’
    He pauses to allow us to think about what he is saying. ‘There would be little point in their challenging that, would there?’ There is a twinkle in his eye when he sees our reaction.
    Catherine brightens as she understands his point. ‘Any children of my marriage will be members of the royal family.’
The bishop continues:
    ‘You will find William Grey is both discreet and sympathetic. He has little time for Cardinal Beaufort’s politics or the way he conducts himself as Bishop of Winchester. William may even agree that you can stay at his palace until all this blows over. He lives in London now and his country residence would be the perfect place to escape the attention of those in Westminster.’
    Catherine is interested. ‘Where is his country palace, Bishop?’
    ‘It’s a manor house in a village called Much Hadam, in Hertfordshire.’ He gives me a knowing look. ‘Out of sight is out of mind, Tudor, remember that. They will have their hands full with this coronation in France and will be too busy to go searching for the mother of the king.’ 
Their second son, Jasper Tudor (subject of the second book in the Tudor Trilogy) was not born at the Much Hadham but instead at the Bishop of Ely's manor at Hatfield in Hertfordshire nearby in 1431. After trawling through all the possible reasons for the move I discovered Bishop Grey was replaced at this time by Robert Fitzhugh as Bishop of London by Cardinal Henry Beaufort.

Owen Tudor is understandably concerned and raises the question at a supper with Bishop Morgan:
    ‘You said that Bishop Grey’s tenure is coming to an end?’
    The bishop finishes his mouthful of ham before replying. ‘Robert Fitzhugh is to become the new Bishop of London. I knew his father, Baron Fitzhugh. A good man, I worked with him on the Treaty of Troyes.’
    Catherine remembers him. ‘I travelled with Baron Fitzhugh from France. He helped escort the late king’s body back to Westminster Abbey—and now he too is dead.’
    ‘Does this mean that we need to move from here, if Bishop Grey’s tenure is ending?’ I have mixed feelings at the thought, as I am comfortable at Much Hadham and it is where my son was born.
    The bishop lays down his knife and looks at us both. ‘That depends. Robert Fitzhugh’s appointment is supported by Cardinal Henry Beaufort.’
    ‘So we cannot rely on him to keep silent?’
    Bishop Morgan shrugs his shoulders. ‘All I am saying is... we can’t be certain. William Grey is a trusted friend, while Robert Fitzhugh is young and ambitious.’
    Catherine looks around the great hall which has become their home. ‘I don’t want to be too far from Windsor. Now we have taken Sir Richard into our confidence it should be easier to visit Harry.’
    Bishop Morgan drains his goblet of mead. ‘I am to join the king in France for his coronation visit—and expect it could be some time before I am able to return, so you are welcome to stay at the manor of the Bishops of Ely in Hatfield. My house is not as grand as this,’ he waves at the high ceiling self-deprecatingly, ‘although it has the advantage that no one will expect to find you there.’
So there you have it – two of the leading Bishops of England, both known to be opposed to Cardinal Beaufort’s politics and loyal to the young King Henry VI, allowing Owen and Catherine to live in their palaces.  I find it impossible to believe they would have been happy for this to happen out of wedlock, or that they were not party to a secret marriage.

Owen and Catherine’s grandson was, of course, Henry Tudor, King Henry VII (subject of book three of the Tudor Trilogy) and I have never found any evidence of his legitimacy being challenged.

Tony Riches

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