Jasper Tudor was born in November 1431 as the second son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of France. His father, Owen, was a Welshman of modest standing, while his mother, Catherine, was the daughter of King Charles VI of France. Catherine had initially been married to King Henry V of England before his death on August 31, 1422. The dowager queen gave birth to their only child, Henry VI, four months later. Catherine cared for her infant son before the English government took custody of him.
After Henry was taken from her, the former queen began to grow close to Owen. The Welshman was a member of her household and served as her wardrobe keeper. Despite parliament passing a law forbidding her from marrying without Henry VI’s consent, the couple secretly wed. Jasper would be his parent’s second or third son. His elder brother, Edmund, had been born a year prior in June 1430. Several younger siblings would follow the brothers.
Arrival at Court
In 1437, Catherine died, leaving Owen vulnerable to parliament’s wrath. While alive, the dowager queen had protected Owen from punishment for marrying her. However, Catherine’s death allowed the government to arrest her husband. In turn, the Tudor brothers came into the care of Katherine de la Pole. The Abbess of Barking looked after Edmund and Jasper for the next five years. When Katherine brought the brothers to court in 1442, their arrival proved a pivotal turning point in their lives.
Henry VI quickly took an interest in Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Although his half-brothers from an unlawful marriage, the king readily accepted the Tudors as his family. In turn, Henry ensured that his brothers received good educations and opportunities to increase their standings at court. By the early 1450s, Jasper had become the earl of Pembroke, controlled lands, and had his legitimacy confirmed by parliament. Through these actions, Henry gained the loyalty of his brothers, and they became his biggest supporters.
Instability in the Government
Although Jasper Tudor had seen a rapid increase in his fortunes, he wouldn’t enjoy it for long. As king, Henry VI proved to be a poor ruler. He preferred to let others rule on his behalf and lacked proper judgment. In turn, the Lancastrian government had grown corrupt and inept under his leadership. Across the sea, the French army began turning the tide of the Hundred Years’ War. Under the command of King Charles VII, the French steadily reclaimed their territory from the English.
With discontent growing amongst the nobility, Henry VI came under pressure to address England’s internal and external problems. However, the king failed to do so. After learning of the French re-capturing all but the small port of Calais, Henry fell into a catatonic state in the summer of 1453. Since the king could no longer rule, a power struggle began between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions.
With her husband unresponsive, Queen Margaret made a bid to become regent as Protector of the Realm. However, Richard, Duke of York, challenged her claim. Like Henry VI, Richard was also a member of the royal family. Both men descended from King Edward III, although Richard had a stronger claim as he descended from two of the king’s sons. Richard and his Yorkist followers sought to reform the government and bring stability back to England. Despite his good intentions, Margaret and the Lancastrians viewed the Yorkists as a threat to their positions.
Beginning of a Civil War
Much to Queen Margaret’s fury, the government ultimately chose Richard to become Protector of the Realm. As tensions rose between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions, Jasper Tudor and Edmund initially sympathized with the Yorkist cause. However, the brothers remained loyal to Henry VI. When the king recovered his senses in early 1454, the duke of York lost his position, and his reforms were reversed. After being barred from court by a vengeful Margaret, Richard raised a Yorkist army. The ensuing Battle of St. Albans in 1455 began a decades-long conflict known as the Wars of the Roses.
At the outbreak of the civil war, Jasper Tudor quickly lost his sympathy for the Yorkists and became a staunch Lancastrian supporter. Initially, both Jasper and Edmund focused their efforts on gaining Welsh support for Henry VI. However, the brothers suffered a setback with the capture of Edmund in 1456 by the Yorkist William Herbert. Edmund remained Herbert’s captive until his death from the plague on November 3, 1456. Although deeply saddened by the loss of his brother, Jasper vowed to look after his posthumous son, Henry Tudor.
Cawthorne, N. (2012). Kings & Queens of England: From the Saxon Kings to the House of Windsor. London: Arcturus.
Griffiths, R. A., & Thomas, R. S. (2005). The Making of the Tudor Dynasty. The History Press.