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Illustrated by SHW …


Today in 1538-9, Henry Pole Lord Montagu, was beheaded for treason, after the “plot” involving his brother, Reginald, later a Cardinal. It was previously thought that Reginald was a sub-deacon for many years, was only properly ordained in late 1536 and thus could have married at any time before this. However, it is now clear that he had undertaken a clerical career many years earlier, culminating, from an English perspective, as Dean of Exeter (1) for the decade from 1527. This demonstrates that he would have been required to observe celibacy from the outset, which sets a different light on Henry VIII’s reaction to the plot.

As you will have observed from our previous posts, those arrested in November 1538 included: Montagu, Sir Geoffrey Pole (also his brother), Henry Pole the Younger (his teenage son), Sir Edward Neville (uncle of his late wife, Jane) (2), Henry Courtenay Marquis of Exeter (cousin) and Thomas (Exeter’s teenage son, later Earl of Devon). All of these adults, except Sir Geoffrey, were executed in early December or January and only Sir Geoffrey and Thomas Courtenay emerged alive from the Tower. Henry VIII’s proclamation refers to the “plot” involving a marriage to Princess Mary and we can now confidently state that the putative husband was definitely either Henry Pole the Younger or Thomas Courtenay, thereby explaining their arrest.

(1) The ODNB, as cited by the author’s correspondence with Exeter Cathedral.
(2) Also an ancestor of Colonel Richard Neville (Royalist commander) and George Washington, inter alia.


On fairy tales …

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 haveĀ  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.

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