27 January 2016

Guest Post ~ Writing Tudor Wales by Nathen Amin @NathenAmin

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I first became interested in the Tudor period around about 2010 when I read David Starkey’s “Henry VIII: Virtuous Prince”. It was a fascinating insight and introduction into the life and times of England’s most infamous king. 

My interest in history hitherto had been restricted mostly to Welsh history – the Welsh princes of the 12th century, Owain Glyndwr et al. Starkey’s book was easy to read with a gripping narrative and I was hooked; as a voracious reader with an obsessive personality, it wasn’t long before I had acquired a large library of Tudor books. The Elizabethan end of the century didn’t hold much interest for me but working backwards – my god what a treasure trove of fascinating characters and battles.

It wasn’t long before I became gripped by the life of Henry VII, his Welsh background and the frustrating dearth of information about him compared to his descendants. How has a life as great as this only resulted in perhaps 1 book for every 20 produced for his son! Nonetheless the books that did exist were great and kept me hooked, gasping for more!

I was particularly taken with Roger Thomas and Ralph Griffiths’ “The Making of the Tudor Dynasty” and David Rees’ “Son of Prophecy”, two books which chiefly focused on Henry Tudor’s Welsh connection. This was effectively a merging of my new interest with my old interest, and I haven’t really looked back. I must also mention HT Evans’ “Wales and the Wars of the Roses” and Glanmor Griffiths “Henry Tudor and Wales”. 

After about two years of reading, reading, reading, combined with visiting as many sites as I could across England and Wales, it struck me that there was very little in Pembrokeshire which referenced its substantial Tudor heritage. I started an online petition to get a statue for Henry VII and in Pembroke and it wasn’t long, after a bit of local press coverage, that I was contacted by a publisher to scribe a book about ‘Tudor Wales’. 

It appeared they had seen a blog I had written for my website nathenamin.com where I had taken inspiration from Suzannah Lipscomb’s book “A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England” and wrote a lengthy blog featuring Welsh sites. They quite simply wanted a book version of my blog.

I was already aware of the sixteenth century heritage of many places in Wales, as well as other sites that were instrumental in the rise of the family, but understood I had to really put in some work in order to find lesser known locations. So how did I do this?

Books. And Lots of them. I delved into general Tudor history books and every time I came across a brief mention of a “Raglan” or a “Chirk Castle” I would make a note. Equally so for any persons who ostensibly had links with Wales; Sir Rhys ap Thomas, Walter Devereux, Bishop William Morgan and so on.

Once I had a basic list of locations and characters, it was a case of trying to zone in on each subject and trying to locate a Tudor history worth speaking of. The most informative information for this generally came from small guide books that were generally only available from the actual locations. So in my car I regularly got and off driving I went.

I received great help from the folks at Pembroke and Carew Castles for example, whilst in North Wales a staff member at Ty Gwyn Wybrnant was a font of knowledge, really enthusiastic about his subject. Through a family connection I also met up with a retired professor in a church graveyard near Wrexham, who again was knowledgeable beyond belief. 

Particularly enjoyable was being shown around Cardiff Castle before it opened, essentially having the entire castle to myself.  I can’t overstate this enough – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Send that email you’ve been deliberating over, you never know the result. It’s certainly opened doors for me, in Cardiff Castle’s case, literally so. 

Little by little the book started coming together, through my own understanding of the period and assistance from other historians who had come before me. The depth of information stored in guidebooks in locations, or lesser known, locally published books, are not to be disregarded lightly. 

Sometimes these books contain an unbelievable amount of research within their rarely-read pages. Particularly helpful for example were CADW’s visitor guidebooks to their castles and booklets such as a recounting of Tenby’s history that was produced for the Millennium.

Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire
I did come across some fascinating discoveries which just highlighted Wales’ Tudor past. Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire hosted a magnificent exhibition in 1507 when Sir Rhys ap Thomas, who had fought for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, held a grant tournament of jousting to celebrate the Tudor Dynasty. It was said to have included 600 knights over five days. 

Today the Tudor Coat of Arms can still be seen on the exterior of the Great Hall. Sir Rhys also built a large church tower in Llanwenog in Mid Wales, again said to commemorate the battle and in thanks to the soldiers from the area. This very rural village probably only gets a handful of visitors a year but this large tower is a wonderful example of the joy post-Bosworth and notably features a Beaufort portcullis. There is also the headless statue of Jasper Tudor high on the cathedral tower in Newport. All of these small examples of extant Tudor connections are just as interesting as the large sites such as Pembroke Castle or Conwy Castle.

My conclusion is that Wales has as much extant Tudor heritage as England has. It’s just not as well known, which is something I am attempting to help change. It does grate somewhat when I become aware of nationwide tour operators who often sell Tudor tours etc and they travel the breadth of England, from London to Bristol to York to East Anglia, often omitting Wales completely. I feel most people would be incredibly surprised if they stepped into Wales. The well-known phrase may be “Tudor England” but don’t doubt for a moment there’s also a Tudor Wales waiting to be discovered. And it’s just as fascinating!

Nathen Amin 
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   About the Author

grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in Welsh history and the Welsh origins of the Tudors. This passion has guided him all over Wales to visit a wide variety of historic sites, which he has photographed and researched for his first book Tudor Wales. He is currently working on a major new book about King Henry VII. Find out more at his website nathenamin.com and follow Nathen on Facebook and Twitter @NathenAmin.

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