Owen Tudor

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Michael Drayton, Richard Hathway, Anthony Munday, Robert Wilson (1600)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 67 (Greg I.117)

Lent vnto mihell drayton antony monday mr }
hathwaye & mr willsone at the apoyntment } iiijli
of Thomas downton in earneste of a playe }
Boocke called owen teder the some of . . . . }

Diary fragment in the collection of the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle

Foakes (p. 267)

               ye 10 of Jenewary 1599
Receyved in pt of payment & in er[e]nest
of a playe called Owen Tweder the somme
of foure poundes wittnes or hands ... iiijli
Ri: Hathwaye R Wilson. An: Mundy
Robt Shaa

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's Men at the Rose laid out £4 for "Owen Tudor" at some time between the 10th and 18th of January 1600. Across Maid Lane they could see the building materials of the Globe at ready, while the plans for the Fortune Playhouse were still on paper, the contract by Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe with Peter Streete having been signed on 8 January 1600. The previous November the company bought a play called "Henry Richmond, Part 2," which by its title starred Owen Tudor's grandson and thus had a historical and genealogical connection to "Owen Tudor."

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) is a logical but slender source for historical details in the life of Owen Tudor and wife, Katherine, widow of Henry V, whose son Edmund was the father of Henry Richmond (Henry VII). In a passage of the death of Katherine in January 1437, the chronicler recalls the circumstances of her second marriage as follows:

… being young and lustie, following more hir owne wanton appetite than freendlie counsel and regarding more priuate affection than prince-like honour, [Katherine] tooke to husband priuilie a gallant gentleman and a right beautifull person, iudued with manie goodlie gifts both of bodie & mind, called Owen Teuther, a man descended of the noble lineage and ancient line of Cadwallader last king of the Britains. By this Owen she brought foorth three goodlie sonnes, Edmund, Iasper, and another that was a monke in Westminster, and liued a small time: also a daughter which in hir youth departed out of this transitory life” (vol. 6, sec. 15, p. 615 Holinshed Project).

For Tudor himself, the Chronicles focus on his fatal stand at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross (February 1461): “The earles of Penbroke and Wilshire fled, but sir Owen Teuther father to the said earle of Penbroke (which Owen had married king Henries mother, as yee haue heard before) with Dauid Floid, Morgan ap Reuther, and diuerse other were taken, and beheaded at Hereford” (1587, Vol. 6, sec. 15, p. 659 Holinshed Project).

According to R. A Griffiths Oxford DNB, Welsh sources provide both fact and rumor about key aspects of Owen Tudor's life: his social/political status, his meeting with Katherine, the circumstances of his marriage, and the drama surrounding his execution. On status: Tudor had the reputation in Europe of being “the bastard son of an alehouse keeper”; in Wales his father was considered “a fugitive murderer”; Richard III proclaimed him a bastard, but his sons (Edmund and Jasper Tudor) were “acknowledged to be the king’s uterine brothers” and given earldoms. On meeting Katherine: there are claims but not evidence for Tudor's being in France before the Battle of Agincourt; there are also claims of his having a position post-Agincourt at the English court, where he is associated with the queen’s household, perhaps as tailor or sewer. As dowager queen, Katherine had many suitors, but stories of their courtship include an anecdote about his falling in her lap while dancing and another about her seeing him swimming. Another source emphasizes her desire for him. The couple lived at the queen’s estates beyond London (where the marriage was not “common knowledge”). After the queen’s death in 1437, Owen and his sons prospered along with the Lancastrian cause, martial support of which brought him to Mortimer's Cross and his beheading at Hereford.

James Gairdner provided sensational details of Owen Tudor's execution (Gairdner, p. 211): "Owyn Tetyr ... was be heddyde at the market place [Mortimer's Cross], and hys hedde sette a-pone the hygheyste gryce of the market crosse, and a madde woman kembyd his here and wysche a way the blode of hys face, and she gate candellys and sette a-boute hum brennynge" (p. 211). Gairdner, expanding on that fateful day, said further that Tudor went to the market place "trustyng all eway that he shulde not be hedyd tylle he sawe the axe and the blocke, and whenn that he was in his dobelet he trustyd on pardon and grace tylle the coler of hy redde vellvet dobbelet was ryppyd of. Then he sayde, 'That hede shalle ly on the stocke that was wonte to ly on Quene Kateryns lappe,' and put hys herte and mynde holy unto God, and fulle mekely toke hys dethe" (p. 211).

England’s Heroical Epistles by Michael Drayton (1598) is the likeliest source for the love story of Owen and Katherine if for no other reason than that it was a recent English publication by one of the dramatists at work on the Admiral's play.

The first poem in the pair is Katherine’s (Works, Internet Archive). In her letter, Katherine asks Owen not the think the less of her for being so forward. She couches her suit in terms of her former husband, Henry V, and his having won her through war; Owen, in contrast, has won her with a courtier’s skills. She recalls her first sight of him at Windsor, and in a neat couplet parallels the two courtships: “A march, a measure, battell, or a daunce,/ A courtly rapier, or a conquering launce” (ll. 33-34). She also addresses the difference in their status, saying the only titles that matter of hers are “Wife, Daughter, Mother, Sister to a King” (l. 59). She rehearses her lineage and his, indirectly celebrating Welsh history. She again praises Henry and “Englands flower” of knighthood before turning to blazon-like compliments of Owen’s physical beauty. She ends by urging him to ignore the impediments to their love.

The second is Owen’s response (Works, Internet Archive). The letter opens with an expression of his excitement and delight at the receipt of her letter. He says that destiny drew him to England so that Wales could be united through their marriage with England and France. He too remembers the meeting at Windsor and adds a charming detail about his missing a step in the dance and falling into her lap. In a modesty trope, he catalogues the mythological ancestry he cannot claim, then praises his Welsh descent and the honor of Wales in defending their land and language. He acknowledges that he has competition for her hand and expresses an impatience in having to wait. He ends with a fervent declaration of love.

Pancharis (1603) by Hugh Holland was too late to be a source for the dramatists in 1600, but it serves to document the popularity of the courtship of Owen Tudor and Queen Katherine. Holland describes (through an aspiring but unworthy observer of the court) the royal entertainment attended by the queen: "Some in their cinqueapase did nimbly bound,/ Some did the Cros-point some high Capers cut." As midnight drew near, Owen joined the revelers in a galliard; but "with a turne vpon the toe" he lost his balance (perhaps he caught a glance of the queen? or Cupid turned his head?), and "fell and (as he forwarde dovvne declinde)/ His knee did hit against her softer thigh."

Critical Commentary

Knutson suggests a relationship of Owen Tudor as first part to the play called "the second part of Henrye Richmond" in Henslowe's Diary (24). Supposing that the play might have ended in the Battle of Mortimer's Cross and Owen Tudor's capture, she points out that "the fate of his grandfather would ... have provided additional motive for Henry Richmond to lead an army against Richard III," the teleology (presumably) of the Henry Richmond play.

For What It's Worth

In 1751, a novel entitled The Life and Amours of Owen Tideric, Prince of Wales, Otherwise Owen Tudor was published; its author (unnamed) claimed that the novel was based on history and its story widely current in France. The gist of the narrative is that Owen Tudor was sent to the court of France as a representative of Wales. He and Katherine fell in love before Henry V invaded France and defeated the French forces, but believing himself unworthy Owen went away, leaving Katherine at the disposal of her father when Henry claims her as a war prize. The novel has enough conventions of the romance—a relatively low-born but morally superior foreigner falls in love with an unattainable beauty and choses exile over rejection—to remove any doubt that the story is unhistorical, but if its elements were known in England also as early as 1599, it could nonetheless have provided the Admiral's Men with a counter-narrative to that in the Globe play by Shakespeare, Henry V.

Works Cited

Drayton, Michael. England's Heroical Epistles. 1598. (Works, Internet Archive)
Gairdner, J., ed. The historical collections of a citizen of London in the fifteenth century, Camden Society, new ser., 17 (1876).
Griffiths, R. A. “Tudor, Owen [Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur] (c.1400–1461), courtier.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2008. 19 Nov. 2009 Oxford DNB
Hollland, Hugh. Pancharis: The First Booke. 1603. EEBO.
Knutson, Roslyn L. “Toe to Toe Across Maid Lane: Repertorial Competition at the Rose and Globe, 1599-1600.” Acts of Criticism: Performance Matters in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Ed. June Schlueter and Paul Nelsen. Madison & Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005. 21-37.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 22 November 2009.