Tag Archives: Brittany

A Tudor Enigma: Roland de Veleville

Roland de Veleville was born c. 1474 in the duchy of Brittany. While the identity of his mother is still unknown, she appears to have been related to the Counts of Durtal, who lived in the town of Nantes. He came to England at some point between 1485 and 1494, when he participated in a joust. During the reign of Henry VII he lived comfortably, but was kept in a slightly extended form of adolescence. Under Henry VIII he became his own man and started a family. In 1967 Professor S.B. Chrimes wrote a short paper that was published in the Welsh Historical Journal. In this paper Chrimes claimed he had disproved the centuries-old belief that de Veleville was Henry VII (Henry Tudor)’s illegitimate son. In the following two decades this paper influenced historians who were writing about Henry VII, because if Chrimes wrote it then it must be accurate. De Veleville was written out of the history, only beginning to regain attention and time in the 1990s. Chrimes’ paper has now been widely discredited, but the question he rose continues to influence attitudes towards de Veleville.

I first stumbled into the story of Roland de Veleville’s life in the fall of 2011 when I was researching Henry VII’s time in exile. Quickly I became fascinated with him. Who was this man, whose life was so extraordinary? Where did he fit in? The information on him in secondary sources is limited but very illuminating. Is it a coincidence that our limited information on the identity of his mother’s family shows that they may have lived in the same town that Henry Tudor was being housed in around the time that de Veleville would have been conceived? Though the exact date of de Veleville’s birth is not known, based on his age when he was active in the Tudor court places it about 1474.

At the beginning of October, 1473, Henry Tudor was moved to Nantes. Early in 1474 he was separated from his uncle, Jasper Tudor. His English servants were replaced with Bretons, and he was moved to the care of the Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV de Rieux, at his house in Largoet. Henry’s accommodations in the Marshall’s house were on the 6th floor, and even though he had always been a prisoner now he became more of one. Could it be that Henry had found a Breton girlfriend, and she was pregnant? The debate about the identity of de Veleville’s mother has pointed to the Admiral of France, Jean de Quelenhec’s wife’s family, so if Henry had started a relationship with a relative of hers it would have been motive to move him away from that area.

Please keep in mind that at this point Henry did not have any prospects. From 1471 until 1483, his mother worked to have his lands and his title, Earl of Richmond, returned to him and for him to be guaranteed safe passage back to Wales from King Edward IV. There were several times when this offer was extended to Henry but he never accepted it. His place in the line to the throne was not certain until 1483, when Richard III took the throne, declared his nephews and nieces bastards, and the “Princes in the Tower” went missing. In 1474 Henry was a beggar- a 17-year-old man without a title and without income, and no sure way to gain either back. That he would have remained a virgin until he was married night when he28-years-old is not only incomprehensible but very much against the times. Noble men without bastards were seen as abnormal- even his uncle Jasper had at least one bastard, and he spend the better part of twenty years in exile as an attainted traitor.

The unbelievable part of de Veleville’s life started after Henry of Richmond became Henry VII, following the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. While there is no proof that de Veleville was in England at this time, we know that he had started living at Westminster before 1494, when he participated in a tournament to celebrate his half-brother Henry’s ascension to Duke of York, though some records show that he may have been in the king’s house by 1488. Under Henry VII he had only one official address: he lived in the palace of Westminster, where he was housed in the royal apartments. He was not noble, and was not given any titles. He was knighted after the Battle of Blackheath in 1497, but never achieved any title higher than knight. He was given a pension of 40 marks per year by the king. Henry VII is known for being notoriously cautious when it came to money, never spending more than he could, to the point of being called a “miser.” This makes the gift even more astonishing. While living with the royal family, de Veleville had no job or position in the house.

The unofficial job that de Veleville seems to have filled was that of a royal companion, spending his time with the king. He is recorded as being an “obsessive jouster,” which made him into an excellent soldier and later commander, and practice seems to have been how he spent most of his time. He went hunting and hawking with the king and was permitted to enter the falcon mew and interact with the royal birds. He seems to have spent the rest of his time gambling and drinking, and his income would have provided ample funds for this. He does not seem to have been a good businessman, and did not try to gain property until later in his life, and had not built up an estate by the time of death. It would seem that never having to pay for anything involved with his upkeep for 24 years did not give him a sound financial education.

His participation in the joust in 1494 has larger implications, because he was not yet a knight. Only knights and noblemen could participate in a tournament, and for him to be allowed to participate. That the actual peers were willing to participate with him shows that they knew how high he really was, that they would not see it as in insult to their honor to be forced to joust with him.

De Veleville held some notable positions in the public ceremonies of the royal house. He attended the funeral of Henry VII, and he was one of the mourners at the funeral and interment of Henry VIII’s son, Henry, in 1511. He fought in the Battle of the Spurs, and was in the royal party at the Field of Cloth of Gold in Calais in 1520.

In 1509, Henry VII died and his son Henry VIII was crowned, Roland de Veleville had not moved past the position he held since coming to the Tudor court. In July of 1509 he was created the Constable of Beaumaris Castle in North Anglesey, Wales. It is unclear if this position was initially granted by Henry VII but signed to law by Henry VIII after their father’s death. This was de Veleville’s first official job, and it came with it the second-highest income in North Wales (the highest went to Charles Brandon). When parliament tried to block the payment of both of these pensions, Henry VIII reinstated them. De Veleville moved from the king’s court to Beaumaris, where he lived for the rest of his life, only leaving when Henry VIII ordered him to court or to war. This position comes at a key moment, because de Veleville was given the mechanism to leave court right as his half-brother became king and wouldn’t want an older bastard brother hanging around, despite their affection for each other.

This affection between brothers has been recorded several times. De Veleville was imprisoned for several months in 1517 for “slandering the king’s Council.” He was released when he wrote an apology (though it seems to have taken him some time to agree to do so), but his release was contingent upon him “attending upon the king and not departing without license.” De Veleville having been ordered to stay in the household of the king until given permission to leave means that he had to stay with the king, at court, until the king released him so he could return home to Wales. It is a weird way to punish a criminal, but the crime itself is one that shows how close he was to the king. Keep in mind that he is not a peer of the realm, but his speaking out against the members of the king’s council was enough of a threat to their positions at court to warrant an arrest and imprisonment. This means that he had a close enough connection to the king to be able to influence him and damage other courtiers. This is not the kind of influence you would expect from a random knight in Wales, and shows that he had a connection to the king beyond his position as Constable.

After de Veleville’s death in 1535, Henry VIII is recorded as remembering him fondly. In 1544 when Henry was calling in troops for a campaign in France he was told that no men would be coming from North Wales. He is said to have to have been surprised, because when de Veleville was Constable he was able to bring in a great number of men and leave enough to maintain the castle and the port. This is shows their closeness, because it is the only known record of this king commenting on the skills of a knight. Henry VIII was also not known to miss anyone after their deaths. His recorded statements of lament for courtiers, advisors and even wives who had died are very few. For him to be looking back at de Veleville’s service and lament the loss of him as a commander is one of the most unique things about either of the men.

Based on all the evidence we have currently, it seems more likely than not that Roland de Veleville was the bastard son of King Henry VII. There are far too many odd coincidences, and he was positioned way too close to the throne to say that he was just “lucky,” or that he was a recipient of royal favor like the sons of of fallen men that Henry VII owed a debt to. His favor remained for his entire life, into the reign of Henry VIII, with whom he had a personal and affectionate relationship. It is a shame that the paper in 1967 has corrupted de Veleville’s memory, because he was an extraordinary and fascinating man.

Further Reading:

Chrimes, S.B. (June 1967). Sir Roland de Veleville. Welsh History Review, Vol. 3, no. 3. Pages 287-289.

Cook, E. Thornton. (1928). Her Majesty: The Romance of the Queens of England, 1066-1910. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company.

Jones, Philippa. (2009). The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. New York: Metro Books.

Milne, Graham. A Man of Kingly Line and of Earl’s Blood. Retrieved from: http://www.happywarrior.org/genealogy/roland.htm#21

Robinson, W.R.B. (June 1991). Sir Roland Veleville and the Tudor Dynasty: A Reassessment. Welsh Historical Review, Vol. 15, no. 3. Pages 351-367.

Skidmore, Chris. Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors. (2013). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Soden, Iain. (2013). Royal Exiles: From Richard the Lionheart to Charles II. Gloucester: Amberley Publishing.

Weir, Alison. (1989). Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: Vintage Books.

Weir, Alison. (2013). Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. New York: Ballantine Books.

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The White Queen- Episode 10, The Finale- Part Two

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The cast of “The White Queen,” as themselves.

 

…A continuation of White Queen Episode 10- Part One

The show’s version of the Battle of Bosworth Field has several inaccuracies in it. In the show it takes place in a forest, though quite clearly by definition it was at Bosworth Field.  The snow on the ground and the bare trees makes it look like the episode was filmed in winter. The actual Battle of Bosworth was on August 22, and there is no snow mentioned in any reports. We are shown a battle that was very small, at most two dozen men fighting, and that Henry had little support from any Englishman or Welshman. The actual estimates from the battle total almost 20,000 men, divided roughly into 5,000 for Henry, 10,000 for Richard, and about 5,000 with Thomas and William Stanley.

When Richard says that he will wear his battle crown so that “Tudor can find me,” it’s clear that they have removed the standard bearers. Bearers were important in a battle since they stood next to the king and kept his standard up so that the men knew he was alright. It was a position of great honor, and it was very dangerous. If you handled the standard you could not wield weapons. The advancement of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, is due to his father, William Brandon, having died at Bosworth holding Henry VII’s standard, possibly cut down by Richard himself. Charles was a toddler at the time, and the king took responsibility for his upbringing as a thank-you to his father’s sacrifice.

John Howard, the 1st Duke of Norfolk has been removed as well, and his void seems to be filled by Sir Robert Brackenbury, who also died at Bosworth. After the betrayal of Buckingham, Norfolk was one of Richard’s few remaining friends, and had been raised in the peerage by the king. His death at Bosworth is considered one of the turning points to Tudor. He was the great-grandfather of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

There is debate about the location of the two Stanley armies, but the show has deleted William Stanley entirely, even though he has been referenced in dialog. The Stanley brothers were pivotal to the outcome of the battle due to the size of their armies, but nearly sat at the sides for the entire time. The actual events, as best we know from accounts, are as follows:

The battle started with Henry shooting his cannons. Richard and Henry sat towards the back of both sides, as the lords took out their regimens. Richard sees that Norfolk goes down, and begins what some historians have called a “suicide run” toward Henry. He makes it far enough to possibly kill Brandon, and Henry’s standard begins to slip. When William Stanley sees it start to go down, he starts his charge on the side of Henry. Seeing his brother go to battle, Thomas Stanley orders his charge. Richard is taken out by unknown soldiers. The battle is over, and Henry is the victor.

There is a very pretty myth that Thomas Stanley sees Richard’s battle crown on a bush, picks it up and places it on Henry’s head. Then the whole field kneels to their new king. There is no contemporary evidence of the origin of this story, but it does create a striking picture.

The fate of Richard’s body has been in the news recently, after his skeleton was discovered buried under a parking lot in Leicester. After Bosworth, Richard’s corpse was found on the field and Henry ordered that he be given a proper, Christian burial. That’s not what happened. Instead it was stripped, slung over the back of his horse (which is said to have been “limping”), and paraded around the county before being dumped into a grave in Grey Friars’ church yard. Why was he treated so badly? The stories about how he was such a great and loved king, that the hatred of him is all propaganda, is not true either. Remember the execution of Lord Hastings? It is one of the most important moments in Richard’s reign, because with that one action, the lords turned on him. They didn’t trust him, which is a separate issue than the disgust they felt if they believed that he was the one that ordered the deaths of his nephews. This enmity ran deep, so when the lords were left to deal with Richard’s burial, they wanted to disrespect him as much as they could. On a political level, showing the people his corpse ensured that nobody would claim to either be him or to rise up in his name.

This of course brings us to the show’s battle aftermath, when Margaret Beaufort comes out and orders that everyone stay on their knees, since she was now “Margaret Regina.” The insistence that everyone must bow to her, as a queen, is nonsense. Her official title at court was the Countess of Richmond and Derby (after Thomas Stanley became the Earl of Derby), and Henry bestowed on her the title “Our Lady, the King’s Mother.” She signed documents as “Margaret R”, but that may have stood for Richmond. She was an influential person at court, but while Elizabeth Woodville was there, she deferred to her, following her in processions and giving her precedence at events. She was not a monarch. After Elizabeth of York died, Margaret took over some of her duties, which should have been temporary. Once Henry remarried those duties would have been taken over by the new queen, but he didn’t marry again, so Margaret continued with them until 1509.

After the battle Henry became King Henry VII, dating his reign from the 21st of August, so that he was the monarch on the field, not Richard. He married Elizabeth of York, and the marriage grew to be one of love and support. They had four children who lived to adulthood, though the eldest, Arthur, died when he was 15. Elizabeth died almost a year later, and Henry never got over the loss. He was known for his business sense and for his thriftiness, and left his son, Henry VIII, a fortune. Henry’s reign became the age of the “Tudors,” who reigned for 118 years, and gave us two of the most well-known monarchs in English history- Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. He is the ancestor of the current royal house, through his daughter Margaret and the Stuarts. Not bad for a man who spent 14 years in exile, never knowing if he would return home or get his title and lands back!

Starz has bought the option for creating another miniseries based on Gregory’s book The White Princess. I do not know when the production will begin on it, but I look forward to seeing how that stands up to the history!

Further reading:

The Tudor Tattler- “The Tudor Tart: Elizabeth of York”

CNN- “New mystery at Richard III burial site: a coffin inside a coffin”

The Creation of Anne Boleyn- “Is Elizabeth Woodville Philippa Gregory’s Apology to Anne Boleyn?”

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The White Queen- Episode 10, The Finale- Part One

ImageThe Cast of “White Queen” in their costumes.

 

WARNING: This contains LOTS of spoilers.

This post has been cut into two parts, for ease of reading.

The episode starts with the restoration of Elizabeth Woodville to a peaceful life away from court, and Elizabeth and Cecily of York to positions in Anne Neville’s household at court. Margaret Beaufort is still under the care of her husband, Thomas Stanley, who enjoys taunting her about her possessions and the state of her rebellion. Richard III and Anne’s son, Edward, becomes sickly and dies. In the show, Anne takes his death as evidence that Richard was the one who killed the princes. Richard is not able to convince her that he is innocent. Anne falls ill after her son passes, and eventually dies at Westminster.

The show capitalizes on a budding romance between Elizabeth of York and Richard III, started before Anne has died. Richard claims that he is encouraging rumors of their affection so that Henry Tudor will be shamed and lose the support of those loyal to Elizabeth. Richard says that there is no actual love between them but we quickly see that this is not true, as Elizabeth tells Richard, “I’m in love with you,” and they start kissing. He loses his temper and throws her out of court when Anne dies, because her presence has caused rumors to circulate that the king has murdered his wife to make way for his niece, which hurts his honor.

This relationship is not a complete invention of Philippa Gregory, but very close to it. The origin of this story is from the reign of James I, based on a letter which is now long gone, so we do not know exactly what was said and how much of it was up to interpretation. Because we don’t know what it said, we are left to guess, which is what Gregory has done with this plot. If the standard of evidence we require becomes none that say it’s not true, we can make any statement and stir up doubt. I can say that when Richard III was a baby, his father dropped him and that’s what caused his spine to curve. It’s something I made up, but since you can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t happen, it quickly becomes accepted as truth. In five years, students coming into college courses will ask their professors about how Richard was dropped as a baby. Enough years go by, and it’s accepted as fact.

Let me be very clear here- it is not based on any evidence we actually have. This relationship is supposed to be romantic, but it’s disturbing. The papal dispensations which were granted so that cousins can marry are twisted to include uncles and nieces, as if this could have been a viable option. It wasn’t. Since the pope did not always grant dispensations to cousins, and I can’t imagine any pope supporting the marriage of two so closely related. Oedipus has nothing on this story. As for the marriage to her, he was recorded as trying to arrange a marriage for her outside of England, and anything involving the two of them is only rumor without evidence to bolster it.

This reaches its climax when Elizabeth of York sneaks out of her mother’s house to Richard’s tent, to have sex with him. She returns and her mother smiles at her, as if she were pleased that they were now lovers. I have only one reaction to this: EW. It’s disgusting.

Thomas Grey is not just still in England after the 1483 rebellion, but free to roam where he pleases. Elizabeth Woodville charges him with traveling to Flanders to collect “Perkin” from the Warbecks. As I stated in earlier posts, there is no evidence that either she or her children had any connection with Perkin Warbeck. At the end of the episode, this boy comes to Grafton, and when he vows revenge for the death of his brother, Elizabeth tells him that she wants him to live with her in peace. The real Perkin Warbeck didn’t step foot in England before 1495, and then he was in Scotland. He was not raised in the English countryside. This twist only makes his claim to be Richard, Duke of York, even more implausible. This scene shows Elizabeth very disinterested in the politics, and it does not seem as though she even wants to return to court, preferring to stay at Grafton. After Henry VII’s victory, she came with her daughter and was very involved with the politics of court until she retired to Bermondsey Abbey in 1487.

We see Henry and Jasper selecting prisoners from a French prison, but the show doesn’t explain how they got to France or why they left Brittany. After the rebellion of 1483, the number of men surrounding Henry swelled into the hundreds, as nobles and their retainers fled from England. Richard was not sending any money to Brittany to help cover Henry and Jasper’s expenses, so the cost of this mock-court rested on Duke Francis II. The upkeep was very expensive and caused resentment in the Duke’s advisors. In 1484, Francis fell ill again, and his advisors made a deal to turn Henry over to Richard. Jasper, who had more freedom than Henry, was the first to cross into France, and two days later Henry and a group of 5 to 13 men followed.  He joined with Jasper in Anjou, and they were welcomed by Charles, given lodging and money. Henry left behind more than 400 English exiles, and once Francis was well enough to know what had happened, he permitted them to travel to France to be with Henry. It was King Charles who supported Henry’s final campaign in 1485.

The show has Margaret and Elizabeth of York fighting and torturing each other. There is no basis for this. Some historians believe that because of her strong personality and influence over her son, Margaret was, as David Starkey called her, the “Mother-in-law from hell.” Others think that she was one of Elizabeth’s most trusted friends. It comes down to a matter of opinion.

Elizabeth of York is not the only one to sneak around to the battle camps. In the episode, Margaret makes a trip to see Thomas Stanley, and when she leaves she runs into Jasper Tudor. He takes her to Henry’s camp, and she stays there until the end of the battle. In reality Margaret was not at Bosworth, nor are there any records that say that she saw Henry before his victory. On the contrary, one of the first things he did once he won was to go and see her, since it had been 14 years since they were last together.

To be continued…

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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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