The Tudor Connection to King Arthur

Claiming King Arthur lived in one’s postal code is a frequent pursuit. But claiming descent from Arthur has always been a trickier issue, because he is not said to have any surviving children. Or did he?

Even in the fifteenth century, lawyers were mucking things up. The three decade-long War of the Roses had depleted the male lines of both families claiming the Throne of England, and was finally ended by the victory of Henry VII, formerly Henry Tudor, over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne came through his maternal great-grandfather, John Beaufort, who was born illegitimate, though later legitimized. Dodgy legal papers filed by Beaufort’s older half-brother, Henry IV, declared the Beaufort line ineligible for the throne, so Henry needed some additional weight to his claim.

That extra weight came from his paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, who claimed direct descent from Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd in north-west Wales in the mid to late seventh century. Cadwaladr was considered the last of the Ancient Kings of Britain, and, some claimed, a descendant of King Arthur. There might have been some haziness at the time about Arthur being Welsh rather than English, but stories of Arthur were extremely popular since Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, released three and a half centuries earlier. In fact, the same year that Henry won the field at Bosworth, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory was published, unleashing a frenzy of renewed Arthurian excitement.

When Henry crossed the English Channel and landed in Wales with his army of English and Welsh exiles and French mercenaries, he was heralded by the Welsh bards as “The Son of Prophecy”, and Henry flew the Red Dragon of Arthur and Cadwaladr. These came from the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote that Cadwaladr had relinquished his throne when a prophetic voice promised his sacrifice would mean that a great leader would one day return to free the Britons from their English oppressors. The Red Dragon banner, long a symbol among the Welsh, was from another of Geoffrey’s writings, in which he described the prophecy of Merlin explaining the Red Dragon of the Britons eventually conquering the White Dragon of the Saxons.

Following Henry VII’s ascension to the English throne, he married Elizabeth of York, uniting the Houses of York and Lancaster. Their first child, a son, was born at Winchester, thought by many to be the mythical Camelot. They named their son Arthur. But another King Arthur was not to be. The prince fell ill and died when he was only 16, devastating the king and queen.

King Arthur fandom continued for many years in England, with Arthurian themed festivals, tournaments and pageants. Today you can visit Winchester and see a large round table hanging on the wall, bearing the names of various knights of the Arthurian Romances. But this table is from the thirteenth century, not the fifth or sixth century, when Arthur would have lived.

So, was Henry VII descended from Arthur? It’s doubtful. Certainly the Welsh would love to have been able to claim Arthur’s line lived on, but their early legends were quite clear. All of Arthur’s sons pre-deceased him. And, no, Modred was not Arthur’s son in the early legends.

However, it is possible that Henry was distantly related to Arthur through the family of Arthur’s father, Uther. There are clues that Uther was from the north-west of Wales, and that Arthur had many uncles and cousins. It is quite possible that one of these was the ancestor of Cadwaladr, and possible that the Tudors were descended from the ancient king.

This article was previously published for the site, The Anne Boleyn Files, as part of their interesting and clever Advent Calendar, which you can see at this link

3 thoughts on “The Tudor Connection to King Arthur”

  1. Please let me know what sources you have for saying there were claims that Cadwaladr was actully descended from Arthur instead of merely being his successor as King of the Britons.

    You write:

    “That extra weight came from his paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, who claimed direct descent from Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd in north-west Wales in the mid to late seventh century. Cadwaladr was considered the last of the Ancient Kings of Britain, and, some claimed, a descendant of King Arthur.”

    Of course Owen Tudor would really be a descendant of Cadwaldr ap Cadwallon, as well as a descendant of everyone important in Cadwaladr’s Wales who had descendants in Owen Tudor’s era. As I remember, one of Owen Tudor’s ancestors a few generation earlier married a Welsh noblewoman whose ancestor a few generations earlier married one of the daughters of Llywelyn the Great ap Iorwerth, whose father Iorwerth was son of Owain Gwynedded, son of Gruffud son of Cynan son of Iago and so on back generations to Rhodri the Great, who father Merfyn’s mother was a Gwynedd princess descended from Cadwaladry ap Cadwallon – I think she was cadwalladrs great great granddaughter.

    The tricky part is finding a line of descent from Arthur to Cadwaladry ap Cadwallon – or from Arthur to anyone else for that matter. In medieval manuscripts, the paternal ancestry of Merfyn (father of Rhodri Mawr) is traced back through the centuries, through Llywarch Hen (“The Old”), to Coel Hen (“the Old”) who supposely lived about AD 400, and back for more centuries to Beli Mawr who might have lived about 100 BC.

    And the ancestry of Merfyn’s mother is traced back to her great great grandfather, I think, Cadwaladr, son of Cadwallon, son of Cadfan, son of Iago, son of Beli, son of Rhun, son of Maelgwn Gwyneed, son of Cadwallon Lawhir, son of Enion Yrith, son of Cunedda, who supposedly lived about AD 400 and was a son-in-law of Cole Hen. And the ancestry of Cunedda is traced back for centuries to Beli Mawr, making Cunedda a distant cousin of Cole Hen.

    King Arthur is not in the pedigree of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, at least not with the name of Arthur – and if he is listed under some other name which he might possibly have also used, how could we tell? The mothers of many of Cadwaladr’s ancestors are named, with the names of their fathers, and it possible that Cadwaladr was descended from Arthur though one of those women. But if so, that descent was not mentioned in medieval times.

    So I wonder what srouce you have for stating that there were claims that Cadwaladr was descended from KIng Arthur.

    And there is also a medieval manuscript which traces the ancestry of various noble families of Wales. One family in it are the ancestors of Ednyfed Fychan (d. 1246), the seneschal of Llywellyn the Great, and Ednyfed was the ancestor of the Tudors. It claims Ednyfed was descended in many generations and centuries from Llywarch Hen, from Coel Hen, and from Beli Mawr, if I remember correctly, thus making the Tudors distant cousins of all the great heroes in Welsh history and legend.

    And that was not a grand enough ancestry for Henry Tudor when he became King Henry VII. He commissioned another version of the Tudor ancestry which traced his ancestry to King Arthur.

    It is quoted in my post number 127 at:

    https://historum.com/threads/propaganda-explanation-for-king-arthur.129808/page-13

    I also mentioned that in Scotland the Campbells and MacArthurs are branches of the same clan. Since “mac” means “son or descendant of”, the MacArthurs naturally claimed that they are descended from someone named Arthur. And almost as a naturally, they claimed that their Arthur was KIng Arthur.

    There is also the Cornish family of Carminow. A bit over 600 years ago, a Carminow claimed to be descended from King Arthur.

    I said above that Cadwaladr was descended from Maelgwn Gwynedd. A medieval manuscript claimed that Maelgwn Gwynedd was a great grandson of someone named Amlawdd Wledig; Maelgwn’s mother’s mother was a daughter of Amlawdd. King Arthur was also said to be a great grandson of Amlawdd though Arthur’s mother, Thus making Maelgwn Gwynedd, the ancestor of Cadwaladr, of the Tudors, and of many other present day people, a second cousin of King Arthur.

    Iestyn ap Gwrgant, last king of Morganweg, was deposed by invading Normans and English about 1090. Some present day families trace their descent from Iestyn in the male line, including the Williams Family of Aberpergwn. Iestin was the great great grandson of King Morgan te Old. One medieval source tracses the male line ancestry of Morgan the Old back though many centuries of previous kings of the region, of course. But it also gives another lne of descent, a line of descent through one, or maybe two females, from the old royal family of Cornwall.

    And that line of descent goes back to a first cousin in the male line of King Arthur. So the male line ancestry of the royal family of Conwall is claimed to also be that of Arthur, and it goes back for centuries to Beli Mawr, if I remember correctly.

    And that is all I can think of at the moment about claims of descent from King Arthur or from his close relatives.

    Please let me know what sources you have for saying there were claims that Cadwaladry was actully descended from Arthur instead of merely being his successor as King of the Britons.

    Reply
    • Great comment, thank you!
      I’m not sure if you read through the article, but at the end, I wrote:
      “So, was Henry VII descended from Arthur? It’s doubtful. Certainly the Welsh would love to have been able to claim Arthur’s line lived on, but their early legends were quite clear. All of Arthur’s sons pre-deceased him. And, no, Modred was not Arthur’s son in the early legends.

      However, it is possible that Henry was distantly related to Arthur through the family of Arthur’s father, Uther. There are clues that Uther was from the north-west of Wales, and that Arthur had many uncles and cousins. It is quite possible that one of these was the ancestor of Cadwaladr, and possible that the Tudors were descended from the ancient king.”

      It’s been a while since I wrote this article (on request), and the Tudor period is not an era of my interest, so I haven’t held onto my research. As I recall, any claims to Cadwaladr and Arthur were folkloric, not officially claimed or documented. They were early exaggerations from Welshmen in the excitement of Henry’s arrival to drive out the hated English and restore Britain to Britons.

      Anything more substantial was based on what you posted, or the link through Uther, which I find interesting. I like the theory that Uther was from northwest Wales, and the theory of Arthur being of the Cornovii. Uther is an interesting subject. Assuming he was Arthur’s father, he may be the link to the Cadwaladr line or the Maglocunus line. It is not unreasonable to consider that Arthur’s cousin was the ancestor of Cadwaladr.

      Lots of folks wanted to claim Arthur as a forebear (still do), and even the ancient official pedigrees are very dubious. Everyone wanted to be related to anyone of any importance. Thanks for posting, I love interesting comments like these.

      Reply

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