3 August 2022

Special Guest Post by Joanne Wilcock: Visiting the Tudors at St. Gredifael’s Church, Penmynnyd, Anglesey, Wales

 St Gredifael’s church.

My sister has lived on Anglesey for five years. Unbeknown to me she lives about fifteen minutes drive away from a small village that many North Wales people say is the true birthplace of the Tudor dynasty, a tiny hamlet called Penmynnyd.

Having visited Peterborough Cathedral earlier this year, burial place of Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, followed by trips to mighty Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry VII and then on to Edmund Tudor’s tomb in St. David’s Cathedral Pembrokeshire, my interest in the Tudors started to grow. I was also intrigued by Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who married Edmund Tudor and then was protected by his brother Jasper when she was widowed aged 13. Wales and the Tudors seemed to be intrinsically linked. 

I needed to know more and so was delighted to find an excellent book called Tudor Wales written by Nathen Amin published by Amberley Publishing.

I was not surprised to read in his book that the large Welsh castles such as Carew, Pembroke and Harlech castles, amongst many others, have Tudor connections but baffled to read that a little church, just 15 minutes up the road from my sister’s house, and effectively in the middle of nowhere, but with stunning views across to the Snowdonia mountains, was the birthplace of the Tudor dynasty. This surely merited a visit even though it was not a grand Cathedral nor a mighty Welsh castle.                

View from the church across to the Snowdonia mountains.

Information about the church on the internet advised me that the church is now no longer in use but is cared for by a group called The Friends of St Gredifael’s and Bangor Diocese. However, there were no details how to obtain the key. I emailed a lady at Church in Wales.org.uk in Cardiff to make enquiries. She forwarded my email and I received this reply, “Your email to the Cardiff Office sent to the Archdeacon of Anglesey forwarded to our Area Leader has finally reached me! I gather you want to visit the above- named Church.” I was given the email address and telephone number of the key holder who, fortunately, lives just a five minute drive away - and what a heavy key it was, promising to open the door to some real Tudor treasures.

Armed with Nathen Amin’s excellent book, I read that St Gredifael’s “is said to have been founded as a Celtic church by the Breton St Gredifael in the sixth century, with the first stone church being constructed in the twelfth century when the area was still under the rule of the princes of Gwynedd.” The current church dates from around the fourteenth century and is about half a mile north of the village between two minor country lanes. If you are not looking for it, you could easily pass it by without really giving it much of a thought. It has the most wonderful views across the fields to the Snowdonia range of mountains.

Once I’d managed to turn the huge key in the little-used lock, my sister and I went in search of the Tudor treasure, a marvellous alabaster tomb of Goronwy ap Tudur and his wife Myfanwy.  The tomb was probably originally in the Friary at Llanfaes, but moved to the church after the Reformation. So, who exactly are the Tudors in this tomb?  I quote verbatim from Nathen Amin’s book, 

“Although it may not be discernible to the casual visitor, Penmynnyd was the base from which one of Wales’s most powerful families grew into Britain and Europe’s most notorious dynasty. The family that would become known as the Tudors began its mercurial rise with the accomplishments of Ednyfed Fychan, the thirteenth century seneschal to the great Gwynedd princes. As steward and chancellor to Llywelyn the Great, Ednyfed was a valued and loyal servant to his prince, and, as expected, was well rewarded in riches and land. Among his acquisitions was the Lordship of Penmynydd which would become both his and his descendants’ power base..."

Ednyfed’s powerful North Wales descendants were his great-great-great grandchildren the Tudors of Penmynydd. There were five of them, all brothers, born to Tudur ap Goronwy and loyal to King Richard II. The probable eldest of the five sons was the incumbent of the alabaster tomb before us in the aptly named Tudor Chapel – Goronwy Fychan ap Tudur, who Amin tells us became Forrester of Snowdonia in 1382 as well as becoming the Constable of Beaumaris Castle shortly before he died from drowning. 

Maredudd ap Tudur was the youngest of the five brothers and he fathered a son Owain. With his disgraced father and uncles all dead, some of whom had become rebels in campaigning against the new king Henry Bolingbroke who had usurped Richard II, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur was forced to leave Penymyndd to make his living in London. He incredibly met and fathered two sons, Edmund and Jasper Tudor with Katherine of Valois, dowager queen of King Henry V. The two boys were brought up as members of the Lancastrian royal family as half-brothers of King Henry VI.

Margaret Beaufort went on to marry Edmund Tudor and together they had Henry who would become Henry VII who fathered Henry VIII. The rest, as we know, is all history. So, the alabaster tomb is that of Henry VII’s great-great uncle and aunt and Henry VIII’s great-great-great uncle and aunt.

As Amin writes,

“As Owen Tudor’s paternal uncle, Goronwy would become a great-great uncle to the king of England and related to every British monarch since.”

We circled the tomb several times studying the great detail of the late fourteenth century tomb showing the effigy of Goronwy next to his wife Myfanwy. 

He is dressed in his medieval surcoat with his head covered in chainmail. His legs, missing their feet, rest on a lion. His hands were also missing. His moustache looks grand and he looks very much at peace.

Myfanwy, wearing a wimple, has a lapdog at her feet (apparently there were two but one is missing where the repair is) and her hands held in prayer are still in place. Myfanwy and Goronwy’s heads are supported by winged angels holding cushions. There are shields around the tomb but their detail has worn off.

The repair to Myfanwy bottom right

Looks like R.S. Parry got here before us

Goronwy has his missing feet resting on a lion.

In the church there are many pews edged with the fleur-de lis motif representing the union of the Tudors to the French Royal family through Owen Tudor’s “morgantic marriage with Katherine of Valois” (Amin pg. 83). There is also a replica stained glass window, showing the Beaufort portcullis and the Tudor rose; the original was apparently smashed by vandals two weeks after a visit from prince Charles in 2007. 

Because of its links to the Tudors and queens of Britain the church has apparently had a long association with royal patronage. In 1850 Queen Victoria donated £50 to its upkeep.

When we were there, the church was full of cobwebs and needed a good stiff brush taking to the floor. But it was a rather special place, all the more so because it did take some detective work to finally gain entrance.  As Nathen Amin writes in his book Tudor Wales,

“Any visit to the north-east of Wales warrants a trip across the Menai Strait to explore the village where, it could be argued, the seeds of the British Empire were first sown.” 

Joanne Wilcock

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About the Author

Joanne Wilcock is a history fan with a particular interest in the Tudors and the Brontes of Haworth. You can find her on Twitter @JoanneWilcock2

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