The 7thAugust 1485 saw Henry and Jasper Tudor land at Milford Haven in Mill Bay. four hundred or so years later in 1840 small boys were prohibited from climbing chimneys and in 1914 Lord Kitchener proclaimed that our country needed us for the first time of the 7th August.
Henry Tudor was twenty-eight in 1485. He arrived with 2000 mercenaries in an area of Wales where Jasper Tudor was Earl of Pembroke with allies, one of whom was Sir Rhys ap Thomas of Carew Castle. According to legend Thomas was waiting at Mill Bay to great the Lancastrian claimant and having said that Henry would enter Wales over his dead body according to the story he lay beneath a bridge whilst Henry walked over the bridge – but this seems to be an interesting embroidery.
What is apparent is that the previous year several letters had crossed the Channel garnering support for an invasion and rebellion. They were all signed H.R. so it was quite clear that Henry wasn’t simply returning to claim his father’s earldom in the manner that Edward IV had returned to England or, more famously, Henry IV. The last person to simply arrive by ship and claim that he had a better right to be king than the person on the throne was Richard of York – it hadn’t ended well for Richard III’s father mainly because the concept of deposing the anointed king who had been on the throne since his infancy was repugnant to most magnates at the time.
This spate of letter writing also meant that Henry was reliant on his Beaufort claim, which was tenuous to put it mildly. Depending on viewpoint the Beaufort claim was an illegitimate one and besides which Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother, was alive and well. It is not surprising that Henry swore to marry Elizabeth of York and equally it is not surprising that Richard III would have wished to have prevented that particular eventuality.
It is unlikely that Richard would have married his own niece – he wasn’t a Hapsburg but it is telling that he arranged the marriage of her sister, Cecily, to the brother of Lord Scrope, a man within his own affinity and of far lesser rank – appropriate for an illegitimate daughter of royalty. Skidmore suggests that Richard planned to marry Elizabeth to a cousin of John II of Portugal. In doing that Richard would have weakened Henry’s strategy for kingship at a stroke. As it was the plan came to nothing.
Thomas ap Rhys probably received a letter from Henry and also Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland. Percy had helped put Richard on the throne but his family were Lancastrian by inclination. The Stanley family were probably involved and Margaret Beaufort undoubtedly stirred the pot on behalf of her absent son with the aid of her agent, Reginald Bray.
England spent the summer of 1485 ready for war. On June 21 Richard signed a proclamation against Henry in Nottingham Castle – it stated that Henry was in receipt of French backing and then it attacked Henry’s claim to the throne by attacking his bloodline and legitimacy. It was effectively a call to arms. Commissions of array followed soon after. Commissions of Array were letters sent by the monarch to sheriffs and men of authority in each county commanding their presence on the field of battle with a group of armed men – the medieval equivalent of Lord Kitchener’s Poster but in this case rather less successful.
On 29 July Henry and his fleet left the safety of Harfleur. At sunset on the 7thAugust Henry set foot in Wales. His landing at Mill Bay meant that it escaped the attention, albeit briefly, of Richard III’s observers. The chronicler Robert Fabyan stated that Henry fell to his knees and gave thanks to God. Then, once all Henry’s mercenaries were offloaded his fleet sailed away – it was do or die for Henry Tudor.
A fortnight later at the Battle of Bosworth Henry Tudor, with his very tenuous claim to the Crown, became Henry VII – the last English king to gain a crown on the battlefield.
Skidmore, Chris. (2013) The Rise of the Tudors. New York: St Martin’s Press