Henry VII was twenty-eight when he returned to England from Brittany in 1485 after an exile of fourteen years. Griffiths makes the point that ‘Illicit relationships may have flourished,’ which is a very polite way of saying that penniless male Lancastrian exiles may have looked for a little local female company on occasion.
It turns out that Henry Tudor may have been one of the exiles who sought some company because he had, if we’re going to be accurate – may have had, an illegitimate son called Roland de Veleville. Of course, being Henry Tudor he didn’t announce to the world at large ‘here is my son’ no title ‘Fitzroy’ was given the boy and there was certainly no flashing of the cash. So there is an academic argument about exactly who fathered Roland and sadly there isn’t a birth certificate stating the father or even a diary entry in Henry Tudor’s handwriting that would clear up the mystery. It’s a question of looking at the circumstantial evidence and deciding from there. Alison Weir lists him as Henry VII’s natural son but other academics are less certain. De Lisle makes no mention of him, and neither does Penn, both these authors are telling the story of Tudor’s rise to power not what was happening on the sidelines.
Henry VII’s key twentieth century biographer Chrimes discounts the possibility that the boy was his as does Griffiths who wrote after Chrimes and was undoubtedly influenced by Chrimes’ writing. Chrimes, writing in 1967, stated that de Veleville was knighted following Bosworth and was just another of the Lancastrian victors who got his share of the spoils. de Veleville definitely came to England with Henry Tudor, so was undoubtedly at Bosworth – it’s just that he was somewhere between eleven and fourteen years old at the time which would have made him a very talented youth indeed if he was being rewarded with a knighthood and 40 marks per annum! He was actually knighted twelve years after Bosworth in 1497 following the Battle of Blackheath.
We know that Henry VII did have an illegitimate son. The Calendar of Salusbury Correspondence, 1553-c. 1700, ed. W. J. Smith (1954). p. 265, mentions an ‘illeg. Son,’ though the letter is a secondary source written some hundred years after de Veleville’s death. Nor do we know that the son is Roland – which is frustrating.
So what do we know? Henry VII kept the boy with him after he became king. He lived at the Palace of Westminster but doesn’t appear to have been a servant. He went hunting and hawking and spent time jousting. He handled the royal falcons – these were expensive birds and were symbols of royalty…plebs were not permitted to handle them. Whoever he was, Roland was favoured by Henry Tudor.
In 1509 following a role as mourner at Henry VII’s funeral de Veleville became Constable of Beaumaris Castle. Parliament tried to block the pension that went with it but failed. Henry VII had granted Roland lands in Penmynydd – which were part of the lands which had belonged to the Tudors prior to Owen Glyndower’s rebellion of 1400. When Roland died he was buried in Llanfaes Priory.
In between being sent to North Wales and dying in 1535 he turns up on more than one occasion at the court of Henry VIII including to mourn the death of Henry’s infant son. According to the antiwhitequeenblog https://antiwhitequeen.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/a-tudor-enigma-roland-de-veleville/
“De Veleville was imprisoned for several months in 1517 for “slandering the king’s Council.” He was released when he wrote an apology (though it seems to have taken him some time to agree to do so), but his release was contingent upon him “attending upon the king and not departing without license.” De Veleville having been ordered to stay in the household of the king until given permission to leave means that he had to stay with the king, at court, until the king released him so he could return home to Wales. It is a weird way to punish a criminal, but the crime itself is one that shows how close he was to the king. Keep in mind that he is not a peer of the realm, but his speaking out against the members of the king’s council was enough of a threat to their positions at court to warrant an arrest and imprisonment. This means that he had a close enough connection to the king to be able to influence him and damage other courtiers. This is not the kind of influence you would expect from a random knight in Wales, and shows that he had a connection to the king beyond his position as Constable.”
Roland was indeed imprisoned in The Fleet for slandering the King’s Council – something not to be done lightly. However, whether Roland was Henry Tudor’s illegitimate son is not a certainty. He could, for example, just as easily have been the illegitimate son of Jasper Tudor who is known to have had an illegitimate daughter – more of her in another post; though why Jasper’s illegitimate son should have been shrouded in mystery by the Tudors is beyond me. If Roland was Henry Tudor’s son then perhaps it was sensible for Henry not to advertise the fact given the unstable nature of the realm in 1485 when he had legitimate sons to beget with Elizabeth of York. There is also a theory that Roland wasn’t illegitimate that Henry Tudor might have married whilst he was an exile, Roland’s mother wasn’t a serving wench- if this was the case it would have been difficult to broker a peace deal between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians with a legal son already on the scene – though you’d think Richard III would have been quick to advertise that fact unless the marriage was also shrouded in secrecy: which makes for rather a lot of skeletons rattling in various cupboards. But it’s all speculation. This last paragraph has moved away from history into supposition, as tends to happen with figures on the margins of history text books. Without dna testing there is no way of knowing who Roland was or, indeed, wasn’t.
Chrimes, S.B. (1973) Henry VII (Yale English Monarchs Seres)
Griffiths, R.A. (1985). The Making of a Tudor Dynasty