Category Archives: Historical Fiction Book Reviews

Roland de Veleville’s Marriage

Someone asked me about Roland de Veleville’s marriage, because as far as we know he did not receive a papal dispensation to marry his wife, Agnes Griffith. They pointed to her Stanley ancestor as a blood link to the English throne, saying that the failure to receive a dispensation means that de Veleville could not have been the son of Henry VII. There are several problems with this argument.

I am unsure of who Janet de Stanley, Griffith’s grandmother, was. My documents have Janet de Stanley being born in Cheshire, England in about 1400. Alternately I have the Stanley’s going back until 1405, at which point my records diverge to the family of Joan Goushill, the wife of Thomas Stanley, the 1st Baron Stanley. Her family was the FitzAlans, who were descended from Henry III giving a blood-link to the throne. However, these dates do not add up to Janet being part of that line, as she and Thomas are about the same age. The Stanleys were the kings of the Isle of Mann, a title which was downgraded to “Lord of the Isle of Mann” when the 1st Earl of Derby’s stepson became Henry VII.  Going back further into the Stanley family there is no blood connection to the English throne in the generations I was able to research.

One clue as to why this blood link is questionable comes from the marriage of Thomas Stanley, the 1st Earl of Derby, and Margaret Beaufort, “Our Lady, the King’s Mother.” As far as my research shows there was no dispensation for this marriage. If the grandmother could marry a Stanley without dispensation, why would the grandson need one to marry the granddaughter of a Stanley?

This theory is also based on de Veleville thinking of himself as a prince, which it does not appear he ever did. De Veleville never rose above the rank of knight, and even though he earned the second-highest income in North Wales he was still never of the nobility. Papal dispensations were very. They were given to princes, and only very, very rarely given to knights. I don’t doubt that he could have obtained one, since he was so close with Henry VIII, but he may not have felt he needed one.

There is also the question of the date of their wedding. We know that Agnes Griffith was living at Beaumaris Castle before they were married, because she is referred to as de Veleville’s “concubine” in documents. Their marriage may not have taken place until after she had become pregnant, and as such they may not have cared about a dispensation, if one had been needed. She was a widow, but did not have any children from her first marriage. The date of birth given for their daughter, Jane de Veleville, is between 1510 and 1514. Their wedding may not have taken place until after Jane’s birth, or very close to it.

The first marriage of Katherine Tudor of Berain is more questionable than that of her grandparents. Her first husband, John Salisbury, was a closer cousin to her, as his great-grandmother was Janet Griffith, the sister of Agnes. This marriage took place in 1556, after the Reformation, and because of the break with Rome there was no need for a dispensation.

There may have been a dispensation for Roland de Veleville and Agnes Griffith that was lost to time, but I doubt it. I also doubt that they would have needed one. Yes there was a Stanley ancestor, but it was so far removed that it may have been deemed unnecessary. Likewise, the Griffiths being an old branch of the “Tudors” was so far removed by that point that it may have been not regarded as damaging. De Veleville may have not considered himself high enough in rank to need a dispensation, and as Agnes was already pregnant, he may have not thought it mattered.

The life of their daughter Grace is unknown, and she may have died in childhood, but their daughter Jane did very well for herself, marrying Tudor ap Robert ap Vychan, a man of great wealth and standing. Their only surviving child, Katherine, went on to four marriages, scores of children and grandchildren, and the nickname “Mam Cymru”- “Mother of Wales.” Her sons from her first marriage earned two very different places in history. The oldest, Thomas, was involved in the Babington Plot and was executed. The younger, John, married Ursula Stanley, and was a body servant to Queen Elizabeth I. He was a poet, and a friend/patron to William Shakespeare.

If you have any other information about Margaret Beaufort’s marriage to Thomas Stanley, the Stanley family, or papal dispensations in general, please leave it in the comment section.

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A close-up of a portrait of Katherine Tudor of Berain. I wonder if she looked like her grandparents or mother?

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The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis- A Review & Comparison

I first read half of this book, and put it down. Instead of having pauses in the writing when there is a change in location or time, it melts into the paragraph. This may be an issue with my edition, and it became very distracting. I would have to stop and go back and see if the new sentence was part of the last scene or the beginning of a new scene, and it took me a while to finish reading. I put it down once Henry won the Battle of Bosworth, but after about a week I was too curious to see where it was going, so I picked it back up again.

Gellis is a very good writer. Her descriptions are wonderful, and my main complaint is just the bleeding of scenes into each other. I love that she makes Henry VII more relatable, and delves into his psyche so we understand him as a person, not as an abstract and distant king. Henry is utterly human, a man who fears for his life and can’t eat or sleep when he or his family are in danger. In the beginning he trusts no one other than his uncle Jasper, but we understand why. Henry calculates everything he does, but even when he is cold to others he is warm to the reader.

Elizabeth of York is less developed and rarely the narrator’s focus, but she is a sweet woman who loves and understands her husband. She is tortured by her relationship with her mother, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth of York has to fight against her mother’s control but she can’t help but become very stuck in the middle of the politics. She becomes literally sick with worry when she hears of her mother’s plotting against Henry. Elizabeth is a natural diplomat and she has a wonderful sense of humor.

Gellis’ depiction of Margaret Beaufort is unique, and a breath of fresh air compared with the negative, crazy woman that is currently in the public’s imagination. Gellis portrays her as a soft, kind and sweet woman, who is not a religious zealot. She is the one that Elizabeth of York leans on and depends on, her friend whom she trusts implicitly. Because Elizabeth Woodville is shown as a conniving woman who cares about her own personal advancement, the vacuum in the two Elizabeth’s mother-daughter relationship is filled by Margaret. Margaret is one of the only people who are willing to stand up to Henry, and she refuses to do his bidding when he commands her to do something cruel or undiplomatic. She forces Henry to stop and think for the sake of the country and his marriage. She keeps him balanced.

Margaret’s marriage to Sir Thomas Stanley, who becomes the Earl of Derby, is vastly different to what we have seen in other fictional accounts. He is still a calculating man but he loves Margaret completely, is crazy about her, and begs for her to marry him. When he promises his support to Henry at Bosworth he is practically hysterical, declaring his love for Margaret and his desire to please her against the danger of his son being in Richard’s hands.

Nearly half of the book is spent on Henry’s time in exile, from 1471 to 1485. I am not sure if Gellis had access to documents about this period of his life, as this depiction is one of the only ways the book deviates from the history. The history shows that while Henry was a prisoner of Duke Francis of Brittany, he was not in the company of the Duke. At first, Henry and Jasper were housed together under the care of Admiral Jean de Quelenhec, and were moved from one of his houses to another of his houses. In 1474 the pair were suddenly separated, Henry’s English servants and guards were replaced with Bretons, and he was moved into the care of the Marshall of Brittany, Jean de Rieux. In 1476 they were reunited in Vannes. At this point Henry joins up with Francis’ court, but he had not been constantly in the company of the Duke, as he is in the plot of this book. They would have been on good terms, but Henry was not his companion; he was a prisoner and for most of his time in Brittany was treated as one.

The other major turn from the historical record is when Elizabeth becomes pregnant with, and then gives birth to, Prince Arthur. When Henry shows some hesitation about becoming sexual, fearing that it might hurt the baby or cause a miscarriage, Elizabeth talks him through it, saying that her mother was able to have sex when she was pregnant and no harm came of it. This is not the attitude of the times. Neither is her labor and birthing experience, where Henry is the only one by her side and promises not to leave her. As queen she had midwives, her mother and mother-in-law to help her. Henry had been on a progress and may not have even been at Winchester when Arthur was born, let alone allowed in the birthing chamber! It’s a modern spin which the reader can identify with, a worried daddy helping the mommy through her contractions, but it’s not historical.

If there is another printing of this book, I would suggest purchasing it to see if the timing issue is specific to my edition. I recommend this book for anyone who thinks that Henry VII has been getting a bum deal lately, and who would want to see Margaret Beaufort as someone other than an antagonist. If you are a fan of the king, then you will enjoy this book. Gellis sticks with most of the major historical events, and is able to add a touch of humanity to them. You will never look at Henry VII as a cold, greedy miser again.

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Cover of The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis. Playboy Press, copyright 1977.

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