What a wild story. The 28-year old Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and scion of the House of Lancaster, comes from France to claim the English Throne from the House of York (this was his second attempt; the first one failed). His fleet carries only a few thousand men (different sources give numbers that range between 1,000 and 5,000), all mercenaries funded by the King of France – but he knows he has support on land thanks to his uncle Jasper (who would have been Earl of Pembroke if he hadn’t been attainted) and his mother Margaret Beaufort (Countess of Richmond herself, Countess of Derby thanks to her marriage to Thomas Stanley). As he marches across Wales he gathers men and supporters, swelling his forces to 5,000-8,000 men who manage to defeat Richard’s 7,500-12,000 men (with the help of the Stanley family’s 4,000-6,000 troops, a swing that Richard was not expecting). But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Today is the anniversary of his landing on Welsh soil, in Millford Haven. This event and a peek at the unfolding (not all of it – just a fun peek) will be told by Polydore Vergil, the contemporary historian who is varyingly described as “Henry Tudor’s Personal Historian” and the “Father of English History” – either way because of his Anglica Historia, drafted around 1513 though not published until 1534. (Note: I cleaned up some of the language and added some carriage returns, but I left a lot in its original form for funsies).
As we begin, Henry Tudor is still in France, readying himself to launch his attempt. Enjoy!
Then Henry, thinking it needful to make haste, that his friends should not be any longer kept in perplexity between hope and dread, uncertain what to do, after he had made his prayers to God that he might have a happy and prosperous journey, he loosed from the mouth of the Seine with only two thousand armed men and a few ships, the calends of august, and with a soft southern wind.
The weather being very fair, he came unto Wales the 7th day after, a little before sunset, where, entering the haven called Milford and forthwith going to land, he took first a place the name whereof is Dalley, where he heard that certain companies of his adversaries had been stationed the winter past to keep him from landing. Departing from thence in the break of day, he went to Haverford, which is a town not ten miles from Dalley, where he was received with great goodwill of all men, and the same he did with such celerity as that he was present and spoken of all at once. Henry learned that Richard Thomas and John Savage, with all their force and friends, were helping King Richard to the uttermost of their power, clean contrary to what he had been told in Normandy. But at the same time, the inhabitants of Pembroke comforted all their dismayed minds, for they gave intelligence (through Arnold Butler, a valiant man) that they were ready to serve Jasper their earl. Henry, his army thus augmented, departed from Hareford and went forward five miles toward Cardigan. While the soldiers refreshed themselves there, a rumor was suddenly spread through the whole camp (the author whereof was uncertain) that Walter Herbert and those who were in camp at the town of Carmardine were at hand with a huge army. Whereupon a stir rose straightaway, every man made ready his armor, assayed his weapon, and began to advance the same. All men were in fear a little while until the oarsmen who had been sent earlier by Earl Henry to scurry brought home word that all things were quiet (as they indeed were), and that there was no hindrance to their imminent voyage. One made them all merry more than the rest: one Greyfine, a man of high parentage who earlier had joined with Walter Herbert and Richard, yet almost at the very same instant revolted with his company of soldiers (few though they were) to Earl Henry. The same very day John Morgan also came to the said Henry.
Thus Henry went forward without stay almost in any place, and that he might have more ready passage he set upon divers fortresses furnished with garrison of his adversaries, and the same one without any difficulty. And when as after he learned from his scouts that Herbert and Richard were before him in arms, he resolved to go against them and then, once he had either put them to flight or received them into his obedience, he would make haste against King Richard. In order to let his friends know of his proceedings, he sent unto Margaret his mother, to the Stanleys, to the Lord Talbot, and others, certain of his most faithful servants with secret messages, the effect whereof was that he, trusting in the aid of his friends, had determined to pass over Severn and through Shropshire to go to London, and therefore desired them to meet him so that he could impart more of his intent in place and time convenient.
Thus having dispatched the messengers with this message, himself proceeded forward toward Shrewsbury, whom Richard Thomas met by the way with a great band of soldiers, and with assured promise of loyalty yielded himself to his protection. Two days before, Henry had promised to Richard Thomas the perpetual lieutenantship of Wales, so that he would come under his obedience (and afterward when he had obtained the kingdom he gave it liberally). In the meantime, the messengers having executed their charge with diligence, and laden with money which they had received of every man to whom they were sent, returned unto Henry the same very day that he came to Shrewsbury, and informed him that his friends would be ready to do their duties in time convenient. From this, Henry came into good hope and continued forth the journey he had begun…
Wanna read on? This should open to the proper page in Polydore’s Anglica Historia
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There is a story that when Henry and his entourage got to Shrewsbury they found the gates locked against them, and learned that its Bailiff had sworn an oath that Henry and his army would only pass through the town ‘over my belly’. After some negotiation, the Bailiff was prevailed upon, but in order to fulfil his oath he lay flat on the ground and allowed Henry to stride over his stomach, wishing him ‘God Speed’.
By this stage, Henry had been joined by William Stanley, his stepfather’s brother, who was responsible to King Richard for the safety of the Welsh Marches. He guided Henry and his men into England, but his betrayal of the king who was relying on him was remembered years later when Henry suspected Stanley of colluding with Perkin Warbeck.
What a great story! Thank you!!