Queenanneboleyn.com recently caught up with Nathen Amin, author of the outstanding history book and tour guide Tudor Wales. Also founder of The Henry Tudor Society, Nathen is an outstanding ambassador not only to the history of King Henry VII, but also to the heritage of the true Britons, the Welsh. Cymru am Byth!
Nathen, your website The Henry Tudor Society is a fantastic resource highlighting the life and times of King Henry VII. What gave you the passion to focus so much energy in highlighting the life of England’s first Tudor monarch?
I am a person who generally becomes captivated by certain subjects, often to the point of obsession. At one point two of my interests were Welsh history and the Tudor Dynasty, in particular Henry VIII. Once I begun to delve deeper into Henry’s ancestry, starting with his Welsh-born father Henry VII, it didn’t take too long for two separate interests to become inextricably entwined. I find the topic of Henry VIII and the better known Tudors to almost be a saturated topic. It seems every facet of their lives, their wives, their palaces, to have been exhausted. Henry Tudor and the Welsh Tudors however, certainly a few years ago, were difficult to uncover. Apart from a few key books by respected historians such as SB Chrimes and Ralph Griffiths written many decades previously, it was a topic I wanted to learn about but found no modern outlet for. There was no forum, no social media pages, no websites. I hastily set up a Facebook page and received such a positive response in such a short period of time it inspired me to keep learning, if not only for my benefit but to share what I found with others. It has opened a lot of doors for me and I love the interactions with similar minded people.
For the benefit of QAB browsers who may be unfamiliar with Welsh History, was King Henry Tudor England’s first monarch of Welsh heritage? If not, who came before him?
It depends on how one defines things such as Welsh, or even England. Wales as we know it was created in 1536 through Henry VIII’s Acts of Union although the people who lived in the lands at the time were undoubtedly a race apart from the English. Before the Anglo-Norman Conquest of Wales in 1282 by Edward I of England the country was certainly not a united entity known as Wales, but rather a smattering of previously independent kingdoms which gradually fell to the English/Normans. There is a school of thought that since the people we term to be the modern Welsh were the original peoples of this island, namely the Britons, then they did once rule over what is now known as England in a period before Anglo-Saxon/Viking/Norman invasions.
To further complicate matters, Edward II was born in Caernarfon, undoubtedly a part of Wales, whilst Henry V was born in Monmouth, presently a part of Wales albeit with an interesting geopolitical history that still sees a very small clamour for it to be reintegrated with England.
To answer your question – the answer will depend on the viewpoint of the individual. Were Ancient British kings (often called the Welsh in modern terms) who ruled over lands now considered to be England the first ‘Welsh’ rulers of England? Or perhaps were Plantagenet kings such as Edward II and Henry V, born in places determined today to be Wales, considered to be Welsh due to their place of birth if not their blood?
Personally speaking I DO see Henry Tudor as England’s first monarch of undoubted Welsh heritage. Many within and without Wales may consider this a revisionist fallacy but certainly Henry was born in Wales, with a partial Welsh ancestry that included kinship to Owain Glyndwr and furthermore identified as Welsh to some extent based on his actions during his reign.
3. Owain Glyndwr was the last native born Prince of Wales. Would Prince Arthur Tudor be the last Prince of Wales of truly Welsh heritage?
As in the previous question, unfortunately an answer to this question would also depend on the political ideology of the individual the question has been directed to. Personally I think it’s fair to suggest Arthur Tudor was a prince born in England, to a half-Welsh father and an English mother, raised wholly in England and bred to become King of England. He had Welsh blood, but so does almost every monarch of England since then. As a descendant of Henry Tudor, the present Prince of Wales, Charles Windsor, also possesses Welsh heritage and whilst you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Wales who would consider him to be Welsh, it does raise the question, does he have Welsh heritage or is it now negligible after a period of 500 years? How far down the line must we go before it becomes a non-event?
It must be true to say however that if one considers Arthur Tudor to be a Prince of Wales of acceptable Welsh heritage, then one needs to accept his brother Henry as the last Prince as he held the title after his brother’s death.
4. My mother was Welsh, but was of a generation where speaking Welsh was not fostered. Thus, to her ultimate regret, she never learned the language, and neither did her parents. How important do you believe it is to keep the Welsh language alive and vibrant? Why? Do you see more national pride and cohesion since strong efforts to revive the language have come to fruition?
I come from a heartland of the Welsh Language in West Wales and it pains me to have encountered a mocking and misunderstanding of the language throughout my travels outside my home region, even when still within Wales. I feel Welsh has an unfair reputation for being a ‘pointless’ and ‘dying’ language that nationalists are fighting to keep hold off against all rationale. The fact is that around 20% of the country speak Welsh, one of Europe’s oldest languages, and in some parts this rises to over 70%. It is true that in major settlements like Swansea and Cardiff the language is rarely heard but travel to areas such as Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd and Ceredigion (collectively known as Y Fro Gymraeg) and you will often hear Welsh as the natural way of speaking.
Speaking personally, I come from a family of first language Welsh speakers and its certainly my grandmother’s natural language of choice. I personally however speak English first although I can understand Welsh. I am noticing the next generation seem to be encouraged in the language so we may yet see an increase, even as English takes an ever stronger hold not just in Wales but across the world. Its vitally important Welsh is kept alive – why open yourself to one culture when you could have two. I’m desperately regretful I never became more proficient in a language such as French or Italian for the same reason.
My understanding is that it is presently somewhere between the two. Certainly when I was at school in the 1990s history was focused very much away from Wales. We studied the Normans and World War II for example. I always say that the entirety of our early years in secondary school were focused on the Norman Conquest with special reservation for 1066. Of course, Wales did not actually fall to the Normans (Plantagenets by then) until 1282 yet this was never something that was discussed. I believe, although I must admit I am currently detached from personal knowledge, that the situation has improved somewhat since the advent of the Welsh Government and increasing autonomy but I’m sure there is still some way to go.
I didn’t realise the Tudors had Welsh ancestry until I was in my 20s!
6. Nathen, your exquisite book Tudor Wales takes readers on a fascinating journey throughout the country, highlighting castles, churches and other sites of interest to Tudor History enthusiasts. Please tell us how you completed your research for this book and just how profoundly Welsh heritage was embedded into the souls of the Tudor monarchs.
I like you referring to my book as exquisite! Whilst everybody within Wales is aware of our plentiful castles, a remnant of the English-Welsh wars that raged for hundreds of years, many may have been surprised just how much Tudor or sixteenth century history Wales possesses. I know I was. Every corner of the country has Tudor heritage… it was generally just a case of getting in the car and looking around. A lot of places connected with the actual dynasty were self-identifying – for example Pembroke Castle and St. David’s Cathedral, the birthplace of one Tudor and the burial location of another. The rest had to be found just through sheer reading. Every book I read revealed another connection. One book mentioned Lamphey Bishop’s Palace as a potential location that Henry Tudor was conceived whilst another book made fleeting reference to Ty Gwyn in Barmouth where Jasper Tudor landed during the Wars of the Roses. It was a case of reading a sheer number of books on the Tudors and keeping a notepad. Once a location had revealed itself, it was then time to research that side specifically – google, the library, guidebooks and on-site investigation. Churches and Castles for example generally predate the sixteenth century so the information was out there just waiting to be found and documented.
Ultimately Tudor Wales was a book where I was researching and learning as I went on, with my notes gradually transforming into the book that became Tudor Wales. It’s a book that I searched everywhere for but never found…so wrote my own.
With regards to Welsh heritage and how much was it embedded into the souls of the Tudors, I wouldn’t have thought they paid too much attention. It’s clear that all Tudor monarchs spent the majority of their reigns in and around the South East of England – it was after-all London that was the powerbase of their kingdoms and they couldn’t be expected to have spent much time in Wales.
7. Recently, through the research of historians such as Leanda de Lisle and fiction or authors like Tony Riches and Phillipa Gregory, the “early” Tudors, men such as Owen Tudor, Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor have become far better known to people. Do you feel Welsh culture and history was previously “short-shifted” in telling the story of the Tudors? Why?
In the few short years since I started my research to where we are now, the awareness of Jasper et al has changed immeasurably. From being ‘unknown’ Tudors its almost as though these ‘early’ Tudors have become the ‘cool’. And good for them! The stories of these men are as equally fascinating as anything Henry VIII and Elizabeth can offer. I could feel bitter that Welsh culture and history was previously ignored and the Tudors often anglicised but I prefer now to concentrate on the fact that if more light had been shone on the Welsh Tudors, then perhaps I wouldn’t have needed to have written my book and that would have been a personal shame.
Welsh history is beginning to emerge from the shadow of England and is beginning to forge a place for itself – something Scotland and Ireland has long been able to do. I still get frustrated reading Tudor books by Oxbridge educated academics that seem to completely ignore the Welsh aspect of the dynasty, or even when they do they spell the names incorrectly. It shows disrespect that French or Spanish names are transcribed perfectly but a Llywelyn or a Gruffydd is misspelt. Wikipedia alone can provide the correct spellings and it seems shoddy for historians who ostensibly take their research seriously.
Nonethless, we’re slowly getting there.
8. Aside for your obviously regard of King Henry VII, who would be your “next favorite” Tudor? Why so?
If we’re talking solely about the Tudor family, it’s very difficult to choose between Jasper or Owen Tudor. Both were men of incredible resource who seemingly battled and overcame insurmountable odds to progress the family. As a Soldier Owen Tudor was tough, brave and believed in chivalrous behaviour. As a man it seems he was handsome, romantic and courtly. He seemed to have been an intriguing character, somebody I would certainly like to have made acquaintance with.
Away from the Tudors themselves, my favourite of the period would be Sir Rhys ap Thomas. I was born and bred within miles of where Sir Rhys was based with ancestors based in Talley, the ancestral home of the knight. I am fascinated by Sir Rhys, his career pre-bosworth and his promises to Richard III to defend Wales from invasion and his actions at Bosworth. Were he or his men responsible for the death of Richard? He lived in luxury after Bosworth, notably rebuilding Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire to a point it has become noted as the Welsh Hampton Court of the 16th Century. He reigned as a Welsh King under Henry VII and Henry VIII, with the latter allegedly referring to him as ‘Father Rice’. Any man treated respectably by Henry VIII must have been a great character indeed.
9. Do you have any exciting new projects on the horizon?
My second, non-Tudor related, book is out later this year, entitled York Pubs. It’s a book that will look at providing the history of 40 of York’s most notable pubs, some with histories stretching back to the Tudor period and beyond. There’s recounting of murders, fires and fights as well as uncovering some of the ghost stories and myths that seem prevalent in York.
Thereafter I shall begin working on a new biography of the Beaufort Family, due out later next year (2017). They rival the Tudors for intrigue and of course, in Henry Tudor, the Beauforts and Tudors became one.
Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in Welsh history and the Welsh origins of the Tudors. This passion has guided him all over Wales to visit a wide variety of historic sites, which he has photographed and researched for this book. He has a degree in Business and Journalism. He grew up in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire and now lives in York. For more information about Nathen, visit his website at RANDOM OBSERVATIONS FROM A RESTLESS MIND.
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