25 May 2017

Visiting the Tomb of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, (1448-1525) Tudor Knight and Kingmaker


In book two of my Tudor trilogy, Jasper Tudor has to persuade the powerful Welsh lord Rhys ap Thomas to join Henry Tudor’s army and fight with them against King Richard III at what has become known as the Battle of Bosworth:
The great hall fell silent again as Rhys ap Thomas considered Jasper’s offer. With a glance at the men on either side of him, he called for another jug of ale. They waited while a servant filled a pewter cup with ale in front of each of them, then Rhys ap Thomas raised his cup in the air. ‘We are with you,’ he drank then raised his cup a second time. ‘To victory, for Wales!’
Henry’s men cheered when they saw Rhys ap Thomas ride into their camp at Long Mountain, outside the town of Welshpool, flanked by Jasper and David Owen. The black raven standard flew at the front of an army of over nearly two thousand men, the bright sunshine glinting from their weapons and armour, the finest soldiers in Wales.
Henry rode forward to greet them. A fine silver helmet replaced his black hat and a new breastplate gleamed on his chest, a dark riding cape flowing in the breeze behind him. ‘Praise God, we have doubled our numbers on the march through Wales, and now have an army worthy of the name.’
(Excerpt from Jasper - Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy) 
It is said that Rhys ap Thomas struck the blow which killed King Richard. Although this is unproven there is no question that his men were an important factor in Henry's victory at Bosworth on August 22nd, 1485 is undisputed. Rhys was knighted on the battlefield and made Governor of Wales. 
After Bosworth, Rhys ap Thomas helped suppress the Brecon rising of 1486, Lambert Simnel's rebellion in 1487, the Cornish rising of 1497, and Perkin Warbeck's attempted rebellion in October 1497. His reward for ridding King Henry VII of two notorious royal pretenders was to be made a Knight of the Garter in 1505.

Carew Castle
He celebrated this with a grand tournament at Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire. He was also one of King Henry VIII's most experienced commanders and fought for him in France in 1513, when he was sixty-five. His son, Gruffudd ap Rhys, was also a close friend of Henry VIII's son, Prince Arthur, though both died before their fathers. 
Sir Rhys retired to his Welsh homelands, which he ruled like a king. It is said he had more than twelve children by his wives and mistresses, who married into the gentry houses of South Wales.
When he died in Carmarthen in February 1525 he was buried in the Fransiscan Greyfriars priory where he spent his last days. After the dissolution of the monasteries his tomb was taken to nearby St. Peter's Church, Carmarthen, where I visited it for my research.






The church is close to the centre of the town in one of the quieter streets. Established in the fourteenth century, it is the largest church in Wales.  Although the tomb of Sir Rhys ap Thomas was originally in the north east corner of the chancel it was moved by his descendant, Lord Dynevor, to a more prominent location and to make room for a new organ in 1866. During this work his bones were collected and placed in an urn beneath the tomb.
The Friends of St Peter's church have arranged for a large mirror to be placed over the tomb to enable visitors to have a better view, and there is a display area with information about Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his part in supporting the future of the Tudor dynasty.
Sadly, the great legacy of Sir Rhys ap Thomas proved short-lived. Six years after his death in 1531 his grandson, Rhys ap Gruffudd, was beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII for treason and all the family's lands and estates were confiscated by the crown.

 Tony Riches

St Peter's Church Carmarthen


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