Like his elder brother Edmund, Jasper is an enigmatic figure. But he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Tudor dynasty of kings and queens in England. His contribution was to loyally fight for the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses and to shepherd his nephew Henry Tudor to the throne.
Jasper was born c. 1431 probably at Hatfield. He was the second son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. Catherine was the French princess who married King Henry V of England and gave birth to King Henry VI. So Jasper and his elder brother Edmund were half-brothers of the Lancastrian king. After King Henry V died, Catherine supposedly married Owen Tudor who worked in her household. There is no historical written proof the couple were married but Jasper and Edmund were recognized as legitimate by their contemporaries so we can assume there was a marriage.
When Jasper was six years old, his mother died. During the summer, guardianship of Jasper and Edmund was consigned to Katherine de la Pole, abbess of Barking and sister of the Duke of Norfolk. Little is known of their time at the abbey but they were undoubtedly treated well. The boys remained there for five years and when they reached adolescence, the abbess took them to court to bring them to the attention of their half-brother the king, probably to seek funds as none had been given for their maintenance. Henry was fond of his half-brothers and later took them into his household.
On November 23, 1452, Henry ennobled Jasper and Edmund as high ranking earls. Jasper was given the title of Earl of Pembroke and Edmund was made Earl of Richmond. In addition to all the estates and lands of the lordship of Pembroke, Jasper received the lordship of the Welsh castle of Builth and the fee-farm of Hereford and £20 per annum. Jasper’s ownership of these vast lands in that part of Wales gave the area a new, strong and stable regime which had been lacking since the death of the Duke of Suffolk in 1450. The king also made sure the brothers had a magnificent wardrobe to match their enhanced status.
Jasper and Edmund were knighted at the Tower of London on January 5, 1453. In March of that year, they were recognized by Parliament as legitimate brothers of the king, born of the same mother. They were both named to the king’s Privy Council. It was also at this time that the guardianship and marriage of Margaret Beaufort, daughter of the Duke of Somerset, one of the wealthiest heiresses in England and a descendant of King Edward III, was given to the brothers. Undoubtedly, King Henry intended for one of the brothers to marry her and it was eventually decided she would marry Edmund in two years’ time.
In the summer of 1453, King Henry VI succumbed to a bout of severe mental illness and was incapacitated and unable to govern. His queen Margaret of Anjou gave birth to a son Edward in October. While Henry was disabled, Margaret and Richard Duke of York wrestled for power. This forced the Tudor brothers to navigate their place in the political turmoil of the 1450’s between the houses of Lancaster and York. At first they backed Richard Duke of York’s application to be Protector of the realm during Henry’s illness.
When the king regained his sanity, the brothers were in a tough position. Initially Jasper tried to mediate a compromise but by the spring of 1455, both Jasper and Edmund declared their allegiance and loyalty to their half-brother Henry. Jasper was present at the First Battle of St. Albans in May but he continued to collaborate with York. In November, Edmund married Margaret Beaufort. Edmund was then sent to Wales to restore royal authority but was captured and imprisoned by Yorkist supporters in August of 1456.
Edmund was released from prison but died a couple of months later. His widow Margaret sought protection and aid from Jasper and gave birth to her son Henry on January 28, 1457 at Pembroke Castle. In April of that year, Jasper was named constable of the castles of Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Carreg Cennen and he fortified Tenby. He was elected Knight of the Garter in April of 1459. Fighting broke out again in early 1461 between Lancaster and York. Jasper, his father Owen and the Lancastrians lost the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in February. Edward, the son of the slain Richard Duke of York, overthrew King Henry VI and was proclaimed King Edward IV. Owen was captured and executed at Hereford causing great bitterness and anger for Jasper.
Jasper escaped first to Tenby and then eventually to Scotland while his nephew Henry came under the guardianship of Lord Herbert in Wales. Jasper was attainted and lost all his lands in Wales. The Lancastrians solicited foreign support for their cause from Scotland, Flanders, France and Brittany. Jasper was sent to Brittany in March of 1462 and entered negotiations along with Queen Margaret of Anjou with King Louis XI of France for money and troops. Jasper and other Lancastrians returned to England. They captured Bamburgh and other castles but were unable to make any headway further south. Jasper surrendered in December, received a safe conduct and returned to Scotland.
After forays between Scotland, Brittany and France, Jasper ended up as a member of the household of King Louis XI. In 1464, he was even recognized as the king’s “cousin”. In 1468, King Louis provided Jasper with troops and he returned to Wales and took Denbigh Castle in King Henry VI’s name. But the invasion was unsuccessful when Lord Herbert retook all Jasper had regained. Jasper returned to France.
Another invasion was planned with King Louis in 1470 which included Margaret of Anjou, her son Edward, Richard Neville Earl of Warwick and King Edward IV’s brother George, Duke of Clarence. This time, the Lancastrians were successful, forcing Edward IV into exile and restoring a weakened Henry VI to the throne. Jasper would play a major role in the restored regime. He returned to Wales and was reunited with his nephew Henry. He brought Henry to court in London and the boy was restored to his mother.
By November, Jasper and Henry returned to Wales to restore order there and reclaim his earldom of Pembroke. However, Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou’s forces were defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury in May of 1471. The Prince of Wales was killed in the battle. King Edward IV was restored to the throne and he sent Roger Vaughan to Wales to seize Jasper. But Jasper captured Vaughan first. Holding him responsible for his father’s execution, he took revenge by executing Vaughan.
Jasper and Henry raced to Pembroke and then to Tenby where they set sail for the continent and ended up in Brittany. Duke Francis II of Brittany welcomed them. Almost immediately, Edward IV contacted Francis in an effort to obtain the extradition of Jasper and Henry back to England. Francis realized what valuable captives he had and decided to keep them. They remained in Brittany in genteel custody in various castles for the next thirteen years. In 1474, for reasons of safety, Jasper and Henry were separated. Jasper was sent to Chateau de Josselin. In 1476, both Jasper and Henry were held as prisoners in Vannes. They may have been there until the death of Edward IV in England in April of 1483.
Edward’s death changed everything for the exiled uncle and nephew. With the collaboration of Henry’s mother Margaret, and money, troops and ships from Duke Francis, Jasper and Henry tried to join the rebellion of the Duke of Buckingham against the new king, Richard III. Their ships were blown off course and they were forced to return to Brittany. In September 1484, Richard was intriguing to capture them from Brittany and they fled to France. King Louis XI was dead and his son Charles VIII was now king but was under the regency of his sister Anne de Beaujeu.
Anne was more than willing to help Henry Tudor take the throne from Richard III. Many men who were disenchanted with King Richard had joined Henry’s movement to overthrow Richard. They were from England and Wales and they were Lancastrian and Yorkist sympathizers. After much preparation and aid from France, their fleet left the Seine estuary and landed in Milford Haven, within Jasper’s lordship of Pembroke on August 7. Their forces marched northeast toward King Richard who was expecting them.
It is unknown if Jasper actually was present and fought at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. However, it was a victory for Henry Tudor. Richard III was slain on the battlefield and Henry was now King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty of kings and queens. On October 28, 1485, even before Henry’s coronation, a ceremony was held in the Tower of London where Jasper was created Duke of Bedford. From that day forward, when Jasper was announced, the herald would cry “The high and mighty prince, Jasper, brother and uncle of kings, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Pembroke”. All of Jasper’s loyalty and persistence for the cause of Lancaster and mentoring of his nephew had finally paid off.
In addition to the restoration of the lands of Pembroke, Jasper was granted new lands. These included the lordships of Glamorgan and Abergavenny and Sudeley, Gloucestershire. He later received the lordships of Haverford and Builth. On the day of the Henry’s coronation, Jasper carried the crown before the king himself, the highest honor of the ceremony.
Sometime in the next week, Jasper was married. His bride was the twenty-seven year old Katherine Stafford, nee Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham. She was the sister of the former queen of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville who had been married to the Duke of Buckingham, the leader of the earlier rebellion against Richard III. Buckingham was executed for his treason and attainted. Katherine lost all her dower because of this but Henry restored it to her, making her a very wealthy woman and bringing all her valuable property to Jasper.
Jasper would play a large and important role in the new king’s reign, mostly in the political and military arenas. He was given several important posts in south Wales and the marches, the most significant being the justiciarship of south Wales for life. He had considerable authority over fiscal and judicial administration and worked to suppress rebellion and improve order and government in the area. He acted as military commander in suppressing the revolts of Lovell and Stafford in 1486 and had joint command of the royal army in the defeat of the pretender Lambert Simnel at the Battle of Stoke on June 16, 1487. He held several other posts until his retirement in 1492 due to age. Most of his last years were spent in his castles at Thornbury, Sudeley and Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire.
Jasper and Katherine would have no children. He had one illegitimate daughter named Ellen who lived to adulthood and married. The king was his heir when he made his will on December 15, 1494. He died on December 21, 1495. The king and his queen Elizabeth of York attended his funeral. According to his will, his entrails were buried at the parish church of Thornbury. The rest of his remains were buried in Keynsham Abbey near Bristol. Keynsham did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Jasper’s grand-nephew Henry VIII. But the burial place of his entrails can still be found in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Thornbury.
Further reading: “Jasper Tudor: Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty” by Debra Bayani, entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on Jasper Tudor written by R.S. Thomas, “The Making of the House of Tudor” by R.A. Griffiths and R.S. Thomas