Jasper Tudor, born around 1431, was the second son of the secret marriage between Katherine de Valois, widow of Henry V of England, and Owain Tudor, a member of her household. Together with his older brother Edmund, he spent most of his childhood at Barking Abbey, in the care of the abbess, Katherine de la Pole, who was the sister of Henry VI’s chief (and most unpopular) minister, the Earl of Suffolk.
When Jasper was probably in his early teens, the boys moved to the court of their half-brother, Henry VI. Henry became an affectionate and generous patron – knighting them, and granting to both large and valuable earldoms in 1453. Edmund became Earl of Richmond, and Jasper received the Earldom of Pembroke – an important Marcher Lordship, centred on the castle of Pembroke, and the town of Tenby in South West Wales, as well as having lands throughout the Anglo-Welsh border, or ‘march’ as it was called. They were also granted the wardship of the King’s wealthy cousin, Lady Margaret Beaufort, whom Edmund married six months after she achieved the minimum age of 12.
By the early 1450s, tensions at the English court were running high. Henry VI, whilst amiable and pious, and no doubt with the best intentions, was a hopeless king in an era that prized military glory and decisiveness. He also had a wife who would probably have made an admirable king, but whose strength and determination alienated many who felt women should be more emollient. Her popularity was not helped by the fact that her marriage treaty, which ceded parts of English-held France was seen as a bad deal. Probably because of Henry VI’s weakness, Queen Marguerite was far more involved in politics than was acceptable, and it was believed that she favoured some courtiers in a partisan way, particularly Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.
Leader of what might be called the opposition party, was Richard, Duke of York. York was widely considered to be Henry VI’s heir, but when Marguerite finally gave birth to a son, after seven years of marriage, he was rudely disappointed. York was careful, initially, to claim that he wanted to rescue the King from bad government, and that was probably true, but the situation was complicated by the fact that York and Somerset hated each other with a vengeance. Somerset was also in dispute with the son of York’s closest friend and brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. Salisbury’s son, the Earl of Warwick and Somerset’s wives were half-sisters – and Warwick’s wife had inherited the earldom and all its lands, despite the fact that Somerset’s wife was older.
York, supported by many of Henry’s nobles, wanted to restrain the expenditure of the Crown, and dismiss Somerset from his offices. In this, Jasper seems to have supported York. It became more complex when Henry VI suffered a complete mental breakdown, and York wished to be named as Protector of the Realm, whilst Queen Marguerite, whose son was born during the King’s illness, claimed the role of Regent for herself.
The English were quite unprepared for a woman Regent, and York was appointed, probably with Jasper’s agreement. During York’s Protectorate, other than clapping Somerset in the Tower with no charges brought, the Yorkists were generally inclusive, and achieved some improvements in government finance. This was overturned when Henry recovered his senses (more-or-less) and dismissed York, reinstating Somerset. Unfortunately, the feuds and infighting amongst the nobles continued, and Henry was not strong enough to control them. At St Albans on 22nd May 1455, there was an armed confrontation between the opposition, led by York, Salisbury and Warwick and the King’s supporters, led by Somerset, Northumberland and Clifford, the latter three of whom were all killed.
There is no certainty about whether Jasper was present or not. After the battle, York swore allegiance again to Henry, and both sides tried to patch up a modus operandi for continuing government but the country was now in a state of severe unrest.
Meanwhile, in Wales, Jasper’s brother, Edmund, Earl of Richmond, had achieved a success in controlling a man whose heavy-handed conduct of his office was creating problems – Gruffydd ap Nicolas. York had previously failed to manage Gruffydd, so when Richmond was successful in driving him out of the royal castles of Aberystwyth, Carreg Cennen and Carmarthen, York, who was, in theory, the Constable of them, felt obliged to act.
Richmond was attacked and captured at Carmarthen Castle and briefly imprisoned, by York’s supporters, William Herbert and Sir Walter Devereux. Shortly after, on 1st November 1456, Richmond died, leaving a pregnant widow. From this time, Jasper’s previously good relationship with York cooled and he never swerved from his allegiance, first to Henry VI, then to Marguerite and her son, Edward, Prince of Wales.
He was also close to his other sister-in-law, Margaret, now dowager Countess of Richmond, and her son, another Henry, now Earl of Richmond. Jasper was this Henry’s guardian for the first four years of the boy’s life, but lost control of him when, following the battles of Mortimer’s Cross, and then Towton, York’s son, Edward, was proclaimed King.
Jasper, and the other Lancastrians, escaped into exile, and Henry Tudor became the ward of Edward IV’s close associate, William Herbert. During the years 1461-1468, Jasper moved between Scotland, France, Burgundy and Brittany as Queen Marguerite sought aid to restore her husband to the throne. Henry VI himself was captured and imprisoned in 1465, but Marguerite was indefatigable, and Jasper also took advantage of his close kinship with the French royal family to gather money and ships.
He made raids into Wales, using Harlech Castle as a base. Harlech, on the west coast of Wales held out for Lancaster until 1468, in the longest siege in the history of any country in Britain. When the castle finally fell, it was to William Herbert, who, to add insult to injury, was granted Jasper’s title of Earl of Pembroke.
Herbert did not live long to enjoy his title. The Earl of Warwick, once Edward IV’s strongest adherents, became disgruntled by Edward turning out to have a mind of his own, and failing to follow Warwick’s advice, particularly in relation to the King’s marriage. Together with George, Duke of Clarence (Edward’s brother), he rebelled, and defeated Edward’s troops at the Battle of Edgecote. Shortly after, Herbert, captured at the battle, was executed, along with Edward’s father-in-law and brother-in-law.
Edward re-gained control, and Warwick and Clarence departed for France, where they came to an agreement with Queen Marguerite and were given money and men by Louis XI of France. Warwick and Jasper arrived in England and Edward, unprepared, escaped to Burgundy.
Henry VI was released from the Tower and re-crowned. Jasper, granted the title of joint Lieutenant of the Kingdom by Marguerite, was swiftly re-established as a senior member of the new Lancastrian government. Unfortunately, the Lancastrians could not keep their grip on power. Edward of York returned, and defeated and killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Jasper was in Wales, recruiting men to join the force that Marguerite and the Duke of Somerset were collecting as they marched through south-west England. Edward, always a lucky and successful general, managed to intercept Marguerite’s force before she and Jasper could unite. The Lancastrians were annihilated, and the young Prince Edward of Lancaster killed, either at the battle, or possibly afterwards by Edward and his brothers, Clarence and Gloucester (Clarence had changed coats again).
During the period of Henry VI’s ‘readeption’ as it is known, Jasper had scooped up his nephew, Henry Tudor, from the Devereux family, who had been sheltering him following the death of Herbert. The two men (Henry was now 14 and close to manhood by fifteenth century standards, when many 17 year olds fought in the wars) managed to reach Jasper’s castle at Pembroke. They were besieged, but a relieving force gave them time to escape to Tenby, whence, after a couple of days hiding in a cellar, they took ship for France.
Owing to the vagaries of channel weather, they landed on Brittany, then an independent state. They were very welcome to the Duke, François II, who saw them as useful tools in his endeavours to form powerful alliances to protect his duchy from the predatory King of France, Jasper’s cousin.
For the next fourteen years, Jasper and Henry were unable to leave Brittany. They were treated as honoured guests, but for much of the time were separated – partly to make any attempt to capture them, either by the English or the French, difficult.
In 1483, Edward IV died. He was succeeded by his 12 year old son, but before the young Edward V could be crowned, he was declared illegitimate by his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who took the crown as Richard III. This usurpation was deeply unpopular with many Yorkists.
In Brittany, Henry, now 26, saw his chance to become an alternative to Richard. There was an initial rebellion by one of Richard’s former supporters, the Duke of Buckingham, in which Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort was involved, although it is not clear whether Buckingham was aiming at the crown for himself or for Henry.
Jasper and Henry were given ships and men by Duke Francois, but, on reaching the coast of southern England, they became suspicious that the waiting soldiers who assured them of Buckingham’s victory were a plant. They swiftly turned round without landing and sailed for Brittany, but on this occasion, the wind blew them to France. With the recent death of Louis XI, the new French government, under the regency of Anne of Beaujeu, failed to spot their potential value and gave them licence to travel into Brittany.
Richard III made overtures to Brittany to return the men, and, sensing danger, they undertook a daring escape into France in late 1484.
Support for Henry’s claims continued to increase, and on 7th August, 1485, Jasper set foot on Welsh soil for the first time in fourteen years, carried there by a small fleet paid for by Charles VIII of France. Jasper and Henry had been corresponding with possible supporters and they now reaped the reward of Jasper’s long association with Wales, as men joined them in increasing numbers on the march through the country, and into England at Shrewsbury.
There is no evidence as to whether Jasper was at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August, although it seems probable that he was. Richard III was killed, and Henry was victorious. He was crowned on 30th October, 1485, by which time he had already re-granted the Earldom of Pembroke to Jasper and given him a new title – Duke of Bedford. This was a great honour – it had previously been held by Henry V’s brother, John of Lancaster. The patent of creation speaks affectionately of how much love and support Henry had received from his uncle.
Jasper was also given a wife – Katherine Woodville, Dowager Duchess of Buckingham, and sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Katherine was a wealthy widow, and the couple lived very comfortably on her dower estates at Thornbury and Sudeley in Gloucestershire, although they had no children.
Jasper continued to serve his nephew – present at the Battle of Stoke, when Henry defeated the last Yorkist army under John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and also at Henry’s invasion of France in 1492. He died, aged about sixty-four, on 21st December 1495, and was buried at Keynsham Abbey in Gloucestershire.