The Welsh Rebellion that Henry VII Lost to Richard III
While reading Michael K. Jones’ dry, if detailed, study of the life of Margaret Beaufort, I was amazed to learn about a small but significant Welsh rebellion conducted against Henry VII and his hagiographic mummy that I’ve never heard mentioned anywhere else.
It appears that Henry and Margaret were thwarted on at least one occasion, and not just by pesky York which, after all, could only be expected to rise up against the Welsh usurper because of the duke of Gloucester’s (aka Richard III) good lordship to York and their loyalty to him, no matter he was dead. It also appears that some Welshmen were prepared to cast aside military tactics in favor of thumping the king and his mummy where they knew it would hurt the most – and in such a way that John de Vere (13th earl of Oxford) couldn’t run in and save Henry’s visually disabled, skinny derrière as de Vere did at the Battle of Redemore (aka Bosworth) and the Battle of Stoke.
This, kiddies, is the Brecon Rebellion I’ve never heard mentioned in any “We loves us the Tudorz” documentary — and pray let it be remembered that author who revealed it is not a Richard III devotee, yet he still documented this cold, unfriendly historical fact that has been pretty much ignored in a “La la la, can’t hear you” sort of a way because it’s not favorable to Team Tydder.
The complicated details are thus:
- On 2 November 1483, Richard III chopped off Henry Stafford’s (2nd duke of Buckingham) head directly after Stafford led a failed rebellion against the king.
- On 22 August 1485, French pikemen enabled Henry “Tudor” to win the battle of Redemore (aka Bosworth). Henry subsequently and retroactively declared himself king from 21 August 1485, the day before the battle.
- On 7 November 1485, Katherine Woodville (the duke of Buckingham’s widow and younger sister to Elizabeth Woodville) married Jasper “Tudor” (uncle to the new king, and the newly minted 1st duke of Bedford).
- On 3 August 1486, Henry VII gave Margaret Beaufort wardship of Edward Stafford (the 3rd duke of Buckingham, and the oldest son of Catherine Woodville-Stafford-“Tudor” and the beheaded duke). The king also gave his mummy custody of all the lands belonging to Edward, with the exception of the lordships of Newport, Thornby, and Tonbridge because Catherine Woodville had joint ventures on those. Happy 8th birthday, Edward!
The paperwork transferring Edward Stafford’s lands may have been done by Henry’s clerks in August 1486, but Henry retroactively declared his Mummy had the right to revenues reaching back to September 1485.
Given that Henry had the unmitigated gall to date his reign from the day before the battle of Redemore, I’m sure he saw no problem backdating his mother’s grant. She was, after all, working as his agent (that is, his collection agency) as well as in her own interests. So why not let a stroke of the royal quill create an instantaneous 13-month retrospective profit for both their coffers? It’s nothing personal and certainly not greedy; it’s just good business – at least from the crown’s point of view.
Margaret obtained direct control of the following estates, among others:
- English estates centered around Maxstoke, Stafford, and Holderness.
- The Welsh lordships of Brecon and Caurs.
These lands had the following financial obligations:
- Revenues to Jasper “Tudor” for his wife’s dower.
- 500 marks per year to help maintain the Stafford brothers. (Edward had a younger brother named Henry.)
- £1000 per year to help maintain the royal household.
The English estates cooperated and paid up. The Welsh estates did not.
Why not? As Michael Jones puts it: “In Brecon, Lady Margaret’s authority was much weaker than in the English lordships,” and, “Margaret’s officers had massive problems in trying to collect revenue.”
Whatever could have been the problem? Oh, you know…the usual general administration difficulties in the Welsh marches. Every king had ‘em, didn’t they?
It’s strange that England cooperated, but Wales did not, especially since Margaret did a marvelous job of changing the accounting system for her English estates. She centralized all the receipts and had the final say on fees and wages. She appointed her own receiver-general (and changed him frequently), slashed local costs, and wasn’t afraid to eliminate whole offices — like the bailiff feodary (i.e., feudal vassal) of Staffordshire. So if administrative difficulties had been the only ones she encountered in Wales, she should have had no problem in solving those difficulties.
Alas, the Welsh of Brecon had other ideas. Other loyalties. And they weren’t about to let the usurping “Tudor’s” Welsh pretences, or his pushy mother, have their way.
You see, the more serious problem that Henry and Margaret faced was that Brecon had previously supported Richard III.
Way back in October 1483, Brecon locals had made clear their fury and contempt after Henry Stafford (the same 2nd duke of Buckingham whom Richard III subsequently beheaded) threw in with the supporters of Henry “Tudor” (which supporters included his mummy). At that time, the Welsh attacked and sacked Buckingham’s castle of Brecon. Afterward, Richard rewarded Welsh loyalty by giving back Brecon farms and reducing their rents.
So the Welsh of Brecon liked Richard III, and they liked his rewards. As a consequence, and as Jones understates it, “There was as a result considerable unrest early in the reign of Henry VII.”
What forms, exactly, did this unrest take against the Welsh usurper?
- “Various rebels moving against the king” narrowly failed in their attempt to take Brecon and its castle.
- The porter of the castle gate deliberately let escape prisoners sympathetic to Richard III.
- Henry was forced to garrison 140 soldiers at Brecon to guard against future attacks.
- Henry fined those who had supported the rebels.
Jones writes that “amidst the disorder and uncertainty, Margaret’s officers faced massive problems trying to collect revenue,” but it sounds like the Welsh were anything but disorderly in their intentions or uncertain in their actions. To put it simply, they liked the king they’d had before, and they weren’t about to let the Tydder raise their rents after Richard III had lowered them. Or, as a contemporary source says, “No man would take an increment above the old rent or would pay it.”
Henry and his mummy had other troubles with Brecon as well:
- No man wanted the office for the “great farm.”
- Margaret couldn’t get any income from the agistment (i.e., the feeding or pasturing of livestock for a fee) because Richard had also granted the Welsh free passage to the forest.
- The drastic drop in overall receipts wasn’t a one-year wonder; it was an ongoing financial rebellion on the part of Brecon’s Welsh for years.
Tenants usually paid a fee to be excused from the duty of attending great sessions in Brecon. In 1488, those receipts dropped from 2060 marks to 760. So to spite the Tydder, the tenants preferred to attend the sessions rather than pay to not attend them.
Eight years later in 1496, the “I want to be excused from the sessions” fee raked in 1100 marks for Margaret. But this was still less than half the total she anticipated, and her son took 800 marks of it into his coffer.
What about the matter of the rents? Did Margaret raise them over time? Did the Welsh end up paying what the crown demanded?
A measly £300 was the total income in 1494 from the lordship of Brecon — little more than a third of its actual value.
This means that Brecon’s Welshmen had been tweaking the royal nose for eight years, which makes me wonder what “Do what we want and pay up, and we won’t hurt you…much” tactics Margaret and her avaricious son tried on Brecon that have been lost to history. Eight years is a long time to tolerate losing that much revenue, so we’re missing much of the story.
Obviously, this sort of behavior from the unwashed could not continue to be tolerated by the anointed. And so it was that Margaret sent three new men to deal with the uppity Welsh of Brecon.
- William Bedell – Margaret’s new receiver for the Stafford lands.
- David Philip – A most trusted servant of the king’s mummy.
- John Gunter – An experienced royal auditor.
The mandate from the king and his mummy? “Collect the debts.” Privately, that mandate may have been something more like, “Collect the #@! debts from the #@! Welsh, would you?”
Now, in the usual heartless, greedy scheme of the “Tudor” regime, Henry “the winter king” VII usually got what he wanted. So the three officers bled the Brecon Welsh dry and returned with sturdy oak chests filled with bags simply bursting with coin, yes?
The Brecon Welsh refused to let Henry and Margaret bleed them as they did others. We don’t know the financial-battle tactics the Welsh used. We only know that the king and his mummy had no choice but to write off Brecon’s one-year deficit of £2095. What, I wonder, did they have to write off for the other years, past and future?
The Welshmen of Brecon knew their true value – Richard had told them. They rebelled against Henry VII. And they won.
 Jones, Michael, the King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond & Derby, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1992, pp 108-110.
 British Library, Egerton Roll, 2192.
 Public Record Office, E101/414/6, folio 103v.
 Public Record Office, SC6/Hen. VII/1652.m.5v: Rawcliffe, C., The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham, 1394-1521, Cambridge, 1978, p. 128.