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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603



Wales under the Tudors, 1485-1603

In 1485, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, sailed from exile in France to his native Pembrokeshire. Fighting under the Red Dragon standard of CadwaladrGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window, he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and claimed the throne as Henry VII. For the Welsh, his victory was theirs: Wales was no longer the country of the conquered, but the country of the king.

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Why did the Welsh lay claim to Henry VII in this way? More than half a century before, Henry V had encouraged Welshmen back into his service because he wanted Welsh troops. Even so, it is surprising that Owain Tudor, a kinsman of Glyn Dwr's entered the king's household. It is astonishing that he made a secret marriage with Henry's widow, Catherine of France. Their son Edmund, Earl of Richmond, married Margaret Beaufort, a cousin of Henry VI. In 1471 Henry Tudor, the only child of Edmund and Margaret, became the last heir of the House of Lancaster. More importantly for the Welsh, he was also the heir of Glyn Dwr and the Welsh princes of Wales.

After Henry VII's victory in 1485, the Welsh marchesGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window remained a troublespot. People were poor, cattle were easy to steal and sell, and the patchwork of courts, laws and customs meant that punishment was easy to evade. Henry VIII strengthened the Council in the Marches (originally set up by Edward IV), but decided in the 1530s to cut through the problem by removing the lordships' independent courts.


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Wales depicted in 1610


Choosing assize judges

Wales was at last given equal status with England by the Acts of Union of 1536-43. The lordships were transformed into 'English' shires, and English law and the structures of English justice were settled on Wales. The Council in the Marches continued, but with the aid of the assize judges responsible for Welsh counties. Most importantly, the crucial central institutions of Tudor rule, the Secretaries of State and the Privy Council, took a close interest in ensuring good government in all corners of the realm.

Welsh law suits also flooded into the courts at Westminster, and Welsh gentry entered royal administration. By 1603, Welsh interests had become intermixed with those of the English.

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Detail from Edward I creating his son Prince of Wales. By permission of the British Library.
Detail from Edward I creating his son Prince of Wales. By permission of the British Library.