This is the story of a passionate romance and a secret marriage which gave its name to the most famous royal dynasty in the history of Great Britain: the Tudors.
When King Henry V and his bride, Catherine de Valois, are blessed with the birth of a son, their happiness is short-lived. Henry’s unexpected death leaves Catherine a widow at the age of twenty-one. Then her father, King Charles of France, also dies, and her son inherits both crowns. Henry VI, King of England and France, is just ten months old and needs all his mother’s watchful care to protect him from political intrigue.
The queen, an attractive young widow, is a foreigner at the English court and now finds herself regarded with suspicion, particularly by the Duke of Gloucester, who will seemingly stop at nothing to protect his own claim to the throne. But lonely, vulnerable Catherine has found true friendship with another foreigner at court, a young Welshman named Owen. Their friendship deepens, but their liaisons must be kept secret at all costs, because Catherine, Queen of England and forbidden to remarry, is in love with a servant …
‘Once upon a time …’
If you’re a visitor to this web site, chances are you like a good story. You do? OK – so, if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin. Once upon a time, I was a fairly average schoolgirl in an old-fashioned Grammar School in one of the mining valleys of South Wales. I wasn’t a particularly good student; in fact I remember spending more time looking out of the window than looking at the blackboard. Music lessons were fine, I liked those. I enjoyed being in the school choir and cello lessons were fun, with a delightfully eccentric music teacher whose infinite patience with generations of kids scraping away at violins and violas instilled a life-long love of music in all of us.
But, oh, how I dreaded History lessons! All those dates and names, the several kings called George (I never knew which was which) and, surely, not another William Pitt! History? I hated it! Moreover, despite the fact that our school was on a hillside in a South Wales Valleys town, the History curriculum appeared to have by-passed Wales in favour of all things English and, indeed, American. I knew an awful lot about the Boston Tea Party though it never sounded like any tea party I would have wanted to attend. So I’m afraid I must confess to having failed a major History examination. Gloriously. Not once but three times!
The ‘light-bulb moment’ came when I was bemoaning this fact to my friend Elizabeth. We were sitting in the family’s kitchen and her mother, busy making the supper while we talked, suggested that I might like to read a historical novel. It wasn’t a bit like a history book, she assured me, it was just a jolly good story and she bet me that I wouldn’t be able to put it down. Wiping her hands on her apron, she went to her book case and came back with a copy of ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton. I opened it. ‘Chapter One’, I read … ‘In the tender green time of April, Katherine set forth at last upon her journey with the two nuns and the royal messenger.’
Hold on. This wasn’t a history book, it was a story. It could just as well have begun with ‘Once upon a time …’. Suddenly, I wanted to know where Katherine was going. Why two nuns? Why a royal messenger? My affectionate memories of Elizabeth’s mother are of a practical, pragmatic woman but, somewhere beneath that slightly brusque exterior there surely beat the heart of a true romantic. Because she was right, I couldn’t put that book down. And I owe her a debt I can never repay because, many years later, she moved to Australia to be near Elizabeth who had emigrated by then and I lost touch with them both.
But the love of reading endured and my enjoyment of the historical genre has taught me that fiction woven around historical fact has a dual purpose; it both informs and entertains. So when, many years later and by now in the throes of a busy career in broadcasting, I found myself in Pembroke Castle filming a programme for BBC Wales, I was intrigued when someone said that the first Tudor monarch, King Henry VII was born there. Really? But he was an English king, wasn’t he? So what was he doing in Pembrokeshire? And why had his 13-year-old mother taken refuge here? Why did his uncle Jasper Tudor live in Pembroke? Why was his father Edmund Tudor in Carmarthen when he died? I was hooked.
As I learned more, I realised that the Tudors were not an entirely English dynasty, no matter what films and television series would have you believe. ‘Tudor’ is a Welsh name, not an English one. In fact, the very first Tudor was Owain ap Maredydd ap Tudur, a man of impeccable lineage, connected either by blood or marriage to the three princely families of medieval Wales.
Owain altered and shortened his patronymic Welsh name to become Owen Tudor and his place in history was assured when he first befriended and then fell deeply in love with Catherine de Valois, King Henry V’s lovely young widow. Being French, Catherine was a foreigner at the English court, as was the Welshman Owen Tudor. The pair embarked upon a thrilling, clandestine love affair which produced five children who were half Welsh and half French. And it was Catherine and Owen’s son, Edmund Tudor, whose young wife had given birth to the future King Henry VII in Pembroke Castle. It’s a fascinating story and in researching it, I came to realise what a crucial part Wales and the Welsh played in 15th and 16th century British history. They never told me that at school.
It seemed to me that it was time to put the record straight and what better way to do it than by incorporating the known historical facts into a novel. And, at last, I somehow found time to do it. And no one could be more delighted than I was when it hit the Number 1 slot in ‘Medieval Romance’ on the Amazon web site – and stayed there for several weeks!
The book is called Root of the Tudor Rose and among the many complimentary reviews for it is one which says: ‘If you have ever read ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton, here is another … (writer) who will make history come alive for you’. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. If only I could show that to Elizabeth’s mother. I know she’d be pleased. She might even have said ‘I told you so!’
I’ll admit I enjoyed History in school but I do love a good historical fiction novel. Throw some romance in and you’ve got me hooked! I am very grateful to authors who can use cold hard historical facts and weave them into a pretty story that inspires readers to find out more. All the best to you Mari!
Brought up in South Wales and a fluent Welsh-speaker, Mari Griffith began her career as a singer before moving into radio and television as a presenter of many different types of programmes for children, for adults and for the BBC Television Schools Service. Then a career change saw her take up a staff appointment with BBC Wales as a bi-lingual continuity announcer. Two years later, after an intensive training course, she became a multi-camera television director. Now retired from broadcasting, Mari has found time to concentrate on something she has always loved – writing. Her debut novel ‘Root of the Tudor Rose’ tells the little-known story of the astonishing love affair which founded the Tudor dynasty. The book met with considerable critical acclaim, became an Amazon best-seller and remained high in the charts for well over a year.