Sunday, August 23, 2015

Uncovering the Death of Owen Tudor

by Tony Riches

In this post I’d like to focus on the legends surrounding Owen Tudor’s death. For once, we can pinpoint his location at a specific date and time, as his defeat by the forces of Edward IV at the Battle of Mortimer’s cross is well documented. While his son Jasper Tudor managed to escape, Owen was taken prisoner and marched to the nearby market town of Hereford. Probably the most reliable account is in The Chronicle of William Gregory, written soon after the event:
Ande in that jornay was Owyn Tetyr i-take and brought unto Herforde este, an he was be heddyde at the market place, and hys hedde sette a-pone the hygheyste gryce of the market crosse, and a madde woman kembyd hys here and wysche a way the blode of hys face, and she gate candellys and sette a-boute hym brennynge, moo then a C. Thys Owyne Tytyr was fadyr unto the Erle of Penbroke, and hadde weddyd Quene Kateryn, Kyng Harry the VI. ys modyr, wenyng and trustyng all eway that he shulde not be hedyd tylle he sawe the axe and the blocke, and whenn that he was in hys dobelet he trustyd on pardon and grace tylle the coler of hys redde vellvet dobbelet was ryppyd of. Then he sayde, "That hede shalle ly on the stocke that was wonte to ly on Quene Kateryns lappe," and put hys herte and mynde holy unto God, and fulle mekely toke hys dethe.
(Source: British History Online)

There are some intriguing details here, notably the non-linear structure, which we can learn from as we try to envisage the scene. Gregory suggests that right until the end, Owen believed he would be spared. When the collar of his red velvet doublet was ripped off it seems he realised there would be no last minute pardon and submitted to the inevitable and ‘fully meekly took his death.’ The most memorable imagery is of the ‘mad woman’ who combed the hair of his severed head and washed the blood from his face before surrounding it with lit candles. It is not difficult to see her instead as a grieving lover, or at least someone who wished, for whatever reason, for Owen’s body to be shown some respect after his death, despite Edward’s order for his head to be put on public display.

Was the story embellished in the retelling? Gregory was not present, so would have had to rely on secondary sources, and for me, the detail of Owen’s last words seems fanciful. This short account does offer a glimpse into Owen’s character, however. It seems he places more trust in his captors than he should – perhaps because of his royal connections? Sadly he had underestimated the vengeful young Edward IV, whose own father had not been shown any mercy when captured two months before, his severed head displayed on a pike over the Micklegate Bar at York.

Owen was buried in the chapel of the Greyfriars Church in Hereford, later pulled down after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A plaque marks the spot of his execution in Hereford High Street, his only memorial. I would like to remember Owen, not as a victim of the Wars of the Roses, but as an adventurer, a risk-taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants.

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Tony Riches is a UK historical fiction author living in Pembrokeshire, Wales. You can find out more on Tony’s blog ‘The Writing Desk’ at www.tonyriches.co.uk and find him on Twitter @tonyriches.

Owen – Book One of the Tudor Trilogy is now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon and all formats on Smashwords.

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this - thanks. Whetting my appetite for the book very nicely! Can't wait to read it.

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  2. Very interesting, Tony. Must look for the plaque next time we're in Hereford.

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