10 July 2016

The Tudors' Road to Bosworth Part 2: Exiled at Château de l’Hermine, Brittany


In part one of this series I followed Jasper Tudor and his fourteen-year-old nephew Henry’s escape from Tenby in Wales. It is said their ship was forced to shelter from a storm at the island of Jersey before the long and risky sea voyage saw them land at the tranquil fishing port of le Conquet in September 1471.

They were escorted to the capital of Nantes, then on to the residence of Duke Francis of Brittany, at Château de l’Hermine in Vannes, where they requested his protection. Duke Francis would have immediately appreciated the political value of the exiled Tudors to King Edward IV, as well as to King Louis of France, to whom they were related through the Valois family of Jasper’s mother, Henry’s grandmother, Queen Catherine.

It seems the duke was soon visited by York’s envoys who tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate their return. Encouraged by King Louis, Duke Francis promised to ensure their safety as his guests while they remained ‘within his dominion’. Although they effectively became his prisoners, it is said Duke Francis treated the Tudors as his own brothers, with ‘honour, courtesy and favour.’

It was a wet day in Vannes as I went in search of the Château de l’Hermine. I knew little of the grand 14th century palace can be seen, as the Hotel Lagorce was built on the site in 1785. In my research I managed to track down a contemporary illustration of the marriage of Duke Francis to his first wife and cousin, Marguerite of Brittany in the Château de l'Hermine in November 1455, which gives some of the interior when the Tudors were in residence:

Marriage of Duke Francis

Medieval walls of Vannes
There is a free car park near the harbour, a short walk from the old city and the Chateau de l’Hermine, which has grand public gardens fronting the main road to the port. Although there was little point in entering the present-day château, it was interesting to explore the ancient medieval walls and the narrow maze of streets, as well as the magnificent Gothic cathedral of St. Pierre.

Château de l’Hermine today


Narrow streets of Vannes walled town
The Tudors are recorded as spending a year in Vannes as the duke’s guests, during which time they would have learned a great deal about the politics of Brittany, France and Burgundy. King Edward IV offered a substantial reward for the capture of Henry Tudor, despite Duke Francis having given him his word that he would guard Henry and Jasper and prevent their return to England.

The duke sent back their English servants and replaced them with his own, then in October, 1472, he was so concerned they might be abducted by York’s agents he told them they were to be moved from the city to his remote ‘hunting lodge’ by the sea south of Vannes – the next stop on my own journey.

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