Tag Archives: Roland de Veleville

Could Roland de Veleville’s Death Have Influenced the Execution of Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19, 1326. That she was executed at all is one of the reasons we remember her and King Henry VIII so well. Before this, unwanted queens had been sent away or forced to go into nunneries, as evidenced by Louis XI of France’s first wife, Joan, and Henry’s own attempts to divorce Katherine of Aragon by sending her away. The change in personality and behavior that Henry exhibited just prior to and after Anne’s execution have become a very hotly debated topic- was he justified because she was cheating on him? Did the fall from his horse damage his brain and cause his changes? What sparked such a venomous hatred?

I have one idea which may not have been thought of before. Roland de Veleville died the year prior, in June of 1535, as evidenced by his replacement as Constable of Beaumaris Castle with Sir Henry Norris, a man executed as one of Anne Boleyn’s lovers.

Even if we ignore the evidence that Roland was Henry’s illegitimate older brother, he was a man who had considerable influence on the king. His words were enough of a threat to Henry’s counselors that he was sent to Fleet for speaking against them. He was often in the personal presence of the king, despite his “criminal” mouth. He had an unparalleled and hard to understand connection with Henry.

That connection started in Henry’s childhood, as Roland lived in the royal apartments and was a dominant figure in Henry VII’s personal life. He personally attended on Henry VIII, and was part of his entourage at some of the most important points of the young king’s life, including the Battle of the Spurs and the Field of Cloth of Gold. He mourned the loss of infant Prince Henry with the royal house. Even though he had been sent to Wales in 1509 (which I have my own theory about), he was never far from the king’s mind, and was consistently called back to court.

His influence on Henry VIII cannot be understated. Even though we have no information on it, I cannot believe that Henry took Roland’s death lightly. If we re-insert their family connection, his death becomes even more of a tragedy for the king. Roland was his last living brother, and since his sister Margaret was in Scotland and his sister Mary had died in 1533, Roland was his last sibling at court.

Roland’s opinion of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s denouncement of the Catholic Church are not known. Having spent so much time in the company of Henry VII could have made him a Catholic supporter, and since he had known Katherine of Aragon since she arrived in England he must have had a good relationship with her. But he does not seem to have been a conservative man, having lived with his wife prior to marriage and was known to be a gambler and drinker. Having no son of his own, he may have understood Henry’s drive to marry Anne and further their family. Or he may have not supported Henry’s turn from the Pope and casting aside of Katherine, and it may have contributed to his infrequent trips to court before his death. In either case, his opinion and counsel may have been valued by the king, even if it wasn’t in support for his actions.

With Roland’s death, Henry was very much alone. While we see Roland as a fun-loving and hot-tempered jouster, perhaps Henry’s older brother was a stabilizing influence on his life. Roland spent more time with Henry VII in a much more familiar way than Henry did, and perhaps he learned more of that style of governance from him, which he passed along to Henry. Henry called Roland to his side often, and especially at times where he was in need of counsel. Then Roland died. This must have been a shock to Henry’s stability.

Most of this is speculative, but based on information we do know. If Roland was a treasured counselor who Henry relied upon, his death may have sent Henry into an emotional and moral tailspin. Not only did he no longer have the advice or opinion of his brother, he no longer had anyone to be held accountable to. Roland may have been the last tie to Henry VII, and advice similar to what their father would have given. What would his brother have said if he had executed Anne while he was still alive? Would he have told the king to send her away, and been disgusted at the idea of killing her? Would she have been treated differently?

We may never know the real reason Henry turned so suddenly and violently against his wife, but this new idea may give a little more insight into the mind of the king who killed the woman he worked so hard to have.

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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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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 8

WARNING: This contains spoilers.

King Edward IV died suddenly on the 9th of April, 1483. The actual cause of his death is unknown, but guesses range from a flu virus, to fishing on the Thames at Easter, to having eaten too much raw fruits and vegetables. He made Richard of Gloucester and William Hastings promise to work together to put his son, now Edward V, on the throne and assist him until his majority (“minority” being when he was still a child, “majority” being when he becomes an adult), setting up Richard as Lord Protector and guardian of the new king. It is Edward’s death that created a power vacuum that escalates the tension between York and Lancaster.

The show has Henry on a boat, ready to return to England, and he only stops when he learns that Edward is sick. Henry never once stepped foot on a boat from 1471 until Buckingham’s rebellion in late 1483. There were several times that the advisors who were running Brittany for Duke Francis attempted to ship Henry back to England, but each time he was able to stall and never was put on the ships. As I explained in the blog for episode 7, Henry never accepted any of Edward’s attempts at pardons and restitution.

We later see Henry making love to a woman on the boat. She is not named, but the way she holds his face and kisses him, and how he holds and kisses her, shows that she is not some random street whore. Jasper also hints that she is more when he tells her that “this isn’t goodbye.” To me, there is only one woman that can be, an unnamed woman he was involved with and in love with in Brittany, possibly the mother of Roland de Veleville. This is very controversial, because de Veleville’s parentage has been questioned, as has any romantic entanglements Henry would have been involved with while in exile. After looking through the evidence, I do believe that he is Henry’s son, as he occupies a very bizarre place in Henry VII’s court without official explanation. Even if did not create a love child, it is not hard to imagine that a man in his 20s would start a relationship with a local woman he was attracted to. We do know that he was a very loyal and romantic husband to Elizabeth of York, so for him to act that way with someone else is plausible.

Edward is alone with Elizabeth in his room when she catches him getting sick. Kings and queens always had servants around them, whose job it was to watch over them. They had body servants who would have been there at the first hint of illness, ready to get him into bed and nurse him back to heath, with the physicians of course. This show has shockingly few servants in the royal household.

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After Edward’s death, Duchess Cecily says that she is now equal to Elizabeth, since they are both “mothers to a king.” That could not be less true. Cecily is a Dowager Duchess, and Elizabeth is a Dowager Queen, who outranks a Duchess. The only woman Elizabeth would be second to is a new Queen; she is still the highest-ranking woman in the country.

Safely at Westminster, Prince Richard, Duke of York, says that the Battle of Barnet was “the greatest victory in English history,” but he seems to be forgetting a few. Like the Battle of Hastings, or Agincourt, or Crecy, or Poitiers. These stories would have been told to him over and over again, as great victories.

Jane Shore is removed from court. In the history, she goes to William Hastings. As there is no Hastings in the show, she goes to Anthony Woodville. Anthony takes Hastings’ place at another key moment: the execution of Hastings. This alteration becomes one of the biggest pieces of fiction in this episode. The arrests and executions of Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey are shown as the spark that lights the powder keg before Buckingham’s rebellion. The real spark was actually Hastings’ execution. Richard had already named himself as king, and was having a council meeting in the Tower, of which Hastings was a member. The stories differ on what happened at the meeting, but as he was leaving the Tower, guards grabbed him and cut his head off. This was an illegal execution, because he was not charged and not given a trial. It gave every man in England reason to fear Richard as a king, because if he didn’t follow the law that time, what proof was there that he would in the future? Anthony and Richard Grey were captured and executed, but not until after Buckingham’s rebellion. Without the execution of Hastings, there is no motivation for Buckingham to rebel.

The other piece of fiction is that Elizabeth sent her son Richard, Duke of York, away and put another boy in his place, and that Richard became Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne under Henry VII. There is no reason to believe that Warbeck was actually Richard. Neither Elizabeth Woodville nor Elizabeth of York ever claimed that they had sent Richard away, and Elizabeth of York did not support Warbeck. If he had been sent away, why wouldn’t they have spoken of it? Besides that, why did Richard III not recognize that this boy wasn’t his nephew? Why did Edward V call out that it wasn’t his brother? Was there some sort of emergency family plan: “If your uncle takes you to the Tower and I send a random boy in and he says he’s your brother, go along with it so that at least your real brother won’t die. But you probably will, so, sorry for the bad luck.”

Richard becomes more of a monster here, riding like a demon to get his nephew for no other reason than his mother was trying to get him first. For a man who talks about only wanting his honor, he is very willing to act dishonestly. Anne Neville and Duchess Cecily don’t have to push him very far for him to believe the bigamy charge against his brother and take the throne. I have always been bothered by Richard’s easy belief in the lack of legality behind Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage, because he took part in convicting George as a traitor for saying the same thing. If it was now believed to be true and the princes were bastards, Clarence’s charge of treason was invalid and his attainder should have been lifted, so then his son should have been king. No matter how you look at Richard’s assent to the throne, there is always someone that should have had it instead of him. I do not know how much of his motivation was his wife Anne whispering in his ear that he should be king, but it is possible.

There is still more to come. The next episode centers around Buckingham’s rebellion and the involvement of both Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville, so there will be much to discuss.

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