I am sure we have all read the story of a bathing servant, Owain Tudor, who then emerged from the water in even fewer clothes than Fitzwilliam Darcy, watched by the widowed and besotted Queen, Catherine de Valois. The story goes on to relate that they married, had two sons and possibly more children. He is then executed at Hereford in 1461 but his very last words are about their relationship.
So where does it come from? A carefully constructed retrospective attempt to make Henry “Tudor” fit into centuries of Welsh prophecy. “Sources” that are rewritten to this end. Owain was a descendant of Llewellyn Fawr’s steward whilst Llewellyn’s daughter Gwladys Dhu had married into the Mortimer line – who were heirs presumptive to the English throne from c. 1390 and Kings from 1461. If the present Queen and her descendants all became unavailable for some reason, we wouldn’t expect her Lord Chamberlain and his family to succeed to or even claim the throne.
There is no real contemporary evidence to fit the story. There is well-documented legislation from 1427/8, forbidding Queens Dowager from remarrying without the consent of an adult King, under penalty of the “husband” losing all his property and rights – effectively attainted. In this case, Henry VI reached his majority after his mother died so she could never have legally remarried.
There are, however, contemporary rumours mentioned in the ODNB of Catherine having a relationship with the Duke of Somerset, who definitely married only after her death. Her second son even took the Duke’s forename, as we shall see. Might they have used Owain, who had far less to lose, as a cover just in case?
One part of the fairy tale can be confirmed. Owain Tudor was executed at Hereford and buried in the Cathedral, although television cameras couldn’t make it on time to record his last words for posterity. He is still there, even though Henry VIII’s men managed to retrieve the remains of Edmund “Tudor” (Owain’s “son”) from Carmarthen at the Reformation, many miles further from Surrey than is Hereford.
It really is time we gave this story no more credence than Austen’s output.