Jasper: The Tudor Kingmaker

BY SARA ELIN ROBERTS

After the death of Henry V of England in 1422 his wife
Queen Catherine of Valois married a nobly born Welshman
named Owen Tudor. Their second son, Jasper Tudor,
is the subject of this well researched and interesting
history by Sara Elin Roberts.

The War of the Roses was a confusing and chaotic
period in English History. For thirty years battles raged
across the country between the Lancastrian family of
Henry VI and the Yorkist house of Richard Duke of York
and his son who became Edward VI. Jasper Tudor was
the half-brother of Henry VI and stayed at his side through
the whole conflict.

The early part of the book tells the story of Jasper and
his older brother Edmund, their childhood, their relationship
with Henry VI and the battles in Wales that led to
Edmund’s death. Everything about their story has been
meticulously checked and sourced by the author. For
example when a well-known contemporary writer (John
Blacman) states that Henry VI provided for them and
arranged their education, Sara Elin Roberts warns us that
although this is possible it is not corroborated by any other
source.

The book ranges across a wide variety of colourful
background information about the people and places that
surrounded Jasper. Although Jasper was born in England,
his paternal inheritance was Welsh, and there is an interesting
discussion in the book about how Welsh Jasper
was and if he could speak Welsh or only French. His
brother Edmund married the twelve year old Margaret
Beaufort (granddaughter of John of Gaunt) and got her
pregnant, the posthumous child was eventually to be
Henry VII.

The book guides us through numerous battles as Lancaster
and York fight for the right to be king. For a long
period Jasper and his nephew Henry are living in France
where they have fled after the success of Richard Duke of
York. As noble families switch sides and gain new titles
with impunity all the way through this period of English
history the narrative could have been hopelessly confused,
but the author guides us with masterly skill. There
is enough detail to inform but not enough to overwhelm.
Eventually Henry returns to England and wins the Battle
of Bosworth, killing Richard III and taking the crown as
Henry VII. None of the contemporary sources mention
Jasper at all when recounting this battle; the victory is
Henry’s alone. Sara Elin Roberts is convinced that Jasper
did in fact support Henry at Bosworth and was part of his
victory. Her argument is that Henry was inexperienced in
leading an army whilst at fifty-five years old Jasper was
vastly more experienced in battles. She also points out
that Jasper was always at the side of his nephew in their
exile to France and for many years before and after, and
it would not be logical for him to desert that post for this
crucial battle.

The author rationalises the silence of the chroniclers of
Bosworth on the crucial role played by Jasper as a deliberate
ruse to make Henry VII look more successful as a
war leader than he actually was. She also has an alternate
theory which is much more interesting — that Jasper
was the man who killed Richard III. There are several
possible candidates for the role, but if it was Jasper that
put that axe into Richard III’s head then it was logical to
cover that up. Jasper had a tenuous claim to the throne, a
long history of successful battles within England and
Wales and a strong family following. Politically it would be
better for Henry VII to take all the credit for Bosworth and
the death of the “tyrant” Richard III and not give Jasper
any credit at all. As Earl of Pembroke it would suit Jasper
to have a strong king and a calm England after thirty years
of bloodshed, which is why he would agree to this medieval
spin doctoring of the Bosworth story.

The last part of the book tells of Jasper’s marriage late
in life to a considerable heiress, and his continuing role as
a supporter of his nephew the king. Despite his age he is
sent to several trouble spots to quell rebellion and sort out
local strife, and is involved in the last battle of the War of
the Roses at Stoke. We are given some charming details
of his comfortable life with his wife and the titles and lands
he is given by his grateful nephew.

Jasper is a footnote in history: he barely gets a mention
in most modern writing about this period but this meticulously
researched and well-told biography makes it clear
that recognition of the crucial role Jasper played in the
creation of Henry VII is long overdue.

Sue Bentley MBE
Copyright © Open University History Society, 2016