The Founding of a Dynasty
The founder of the royal Tudor dynasty was Henry VII's grandfather Owen Tudor, a well-born Welsh man who served as a squire of the body to England's King Henry V. The king died in 1422 and some years later his widow, Catherine of Valois, is said to have married the handsome Tudor, although it is possible they were never legally married.
Henry V was succeeded by his infant son, Henry VI. The new king (who became insane as an adult) was little more than a pawn in the so-called Wars of the Roses, a series of power struggles between the ruling House of Lancaster and the rival House of York. Owen Tudor was a staunch supporter of the king. In 1461 Tudor led an army into battle against Yorkists forces at Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire. The Yorkist side won; Tudor was killed; Henry VI lost his throne and the Yorkist claimant, Edward IV, became king.
Owen's son Edmund had married Margaret Beaufort, who was descended from King Edward III's son John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. Edmund died while Margaret was pregnant with their first child, Henry, who was born on January 28, 1457 at Pembroke Castle in Wales. At first Henry was kept hidden in Wales by his uncle, Jasper Tudor. In 1471 Henry VI died - he may have been murdered - in the Tower of London, and Henry Tudor became the Lancastrian claimant to the throne. Fearing for his nephew's safety, Jasper Tudor smuggled him to Brittany (in France).
In 1483 Edward IV died suddenly and his young sons, Edward V and Richard, "disappeared" in the Tower of London. Their uncle, who had imprisoned the boys, swiftly crowned himself Richard III. Not surprisingly, he was an unpopular king. In 1485 Henry Tudor returned to Wales, raised an army, invaded England, and defeated Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field. Richard died in the battle, and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first Tudor king.
King Henry VII and the Tudor Dynasty
In 1486 Henry married Richard's niece, Elizabeth of York, uniting the houses of Lancaster and York and ending the Wars of the Roses (although Henry did have to deal with Yorkist uprisings early in his reign).
An Elizabethan writer, Sir Francis Bacon, said that Henry VII was not an indulgent husband because "his aversion to the House of York was so predominant in him as it found place not only in his wars and councils but in his chamber and bed." Despite this supposed aversion, Henry and Elizabeth managed to have seven children. The first child, Arthur, died in his teens. Less than a year later Elizabeth died giving birth to her last child, who also died. Two other children had died young, so Henry VII was left with just three offspring: Margaret, who was already the queen of Scotland; Henry, the future king of England; and Mary, a future queen of France.
In 1509 Henry VII died of tuberculosis. He had brought law and order to England after years of chaos, and made the country important in the eyes of the world. He is not, however, the Tudor king best remembered today. That honor belongs to his infamous sucessor, the much-married Henry VIII.
Henry VIII was followed to the throne by his children Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. (Another Tudor descendant, Jane Grey, was put on the throne after Edward VI's death but was overthrown after only nine days.) The Tudors ruled England for more than one hundred years. They increased the influence of the monarchy, established the Church of England, and made England a world power.
When Elizabeth I died in 1603, the Tudor dynasty ended. But the Stuarts, who succeeded the Tudors, were descended from Owen Tudor. Even the modern royal Windsor family can trace its ancestry back to the handsome Welsh squire who married Queen Catherine of Valois.