A Welsh courtier with the boldness to bed the queen lost his head this date in 1461 … but his career in usurpation was just getting started.
The House of Tudor that would come to rule England counted Owen its sire; the four-year-old grandson he left at his death grew up to become the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII.
That union was supposed to join the two great realms, but Henry V unexpectedly kicked the bucket in 1422, leaving an infant son who was not only unable to hold the French throne … he was too unstable to hold the English throne, either.
Unless he was a seer, suave Owen must not have been thinking dynasties when he took the Queen as his lover (and eventually his wife via a secret marriage in the early 1430s).
They produced six children, but it wasn’t the bedroom politics that did our prolific father in, at least not directly. Only decades later, when ownership of the crown was up for grabs in the War of the Roses and Owen loyally led Lancastrian forces at a battle he was unwise enough to lose, did he give up his head for the pedestrian crime of backing the wrong horse.
Owen reportedly thought he had stature enough to expect a reprieve until the very last moment, when the executioner’s ripping his collar caused him to sigh,
When first mine eyes beheld your princely name,
And found from whence this friendly letter came;
Is in excess of joy, I bad forgot.
Whether I saw it, or I saw it not:
My panting heart doth bid mine eyes proceed,
My dazzled eyes invite my tongue to read,
Which wanting their direction, dully mist it:
My lips, which should have spoke, were dumb, and kist it,
And left the paper in my trembling hand,
When all my senses did amazed stand :
Even as a mother coming to her child,
Which from her presence hath been long exil’d,
With gentle arms his tender neck doth strain,
Now kissing it, now clipping it again;
And yet excessive joy deludes her so,
As still she doubts, if this be hers, or no.
At length, awaken’d from this pleasing dream,
When passion somewhat left to be extreme,
My longing eyes with their fair object meet,
Where ev’ry letter’s pleasing, each word sweet.
It was not Henry’s conquests, nor his court,
That had the power to win me by report;
Nor was his dreadful terrour-striking name,
The cause that I from Wales to England came:
For Christian Rhodes, and our religion’s truth,
To great achievement first had won my youth:
Th’ brave adventure did my valour prove,
Before I e’er knew what it was to love.
Nor came I hither by some poor event,
But by th’ eternal destinies’ consent;
Whose uncomprised wisdom did foresee,
That you in marriage should be link’d to me.
By our great Merlin was it not foretold,
(Amongst his holy prophesies enroll’d)
When first he did of Tndor’s name divine,
That kings and queens should follow in our line?
And that the helm (the Tudors ancient crest)
Should with the golden flow’r-de-luce be drest ?
As that the leek (our country’s! chief renown!)
Should grow with roses in the English crown -
As Charles his daughter, you the lilly wear;
As Henry’s queen, the blushing rose you bear;
By France’s conquest, and by England’s oath,
You are the true-made dowager of both :
Both in your crown, both in your cheek together,
Join Tether’s love to yours, and yours to Tether.
Then cast no future doubts, nor fear no hate,
When it so long hath been fore-told by fate ;
And by the all-disposing doom of Heav’n,
Before our births, we to one bed were giv’n.
No Pallas here, nor Juno is at all,
When I to Venus yield the golden ball:
Nor when the Grecians wonder I enjoy,
None in revenge to kindle fire in Troy.
And have not strange events divin’d to us,
That in our love we should be prosperous ?
When in your presence I was call’d to dance,
In lofty tricks whilst I myself advance,
And in a turn my footing fail’d by hap,
Was’t not my chance to light into your lap ?
Who would not judge it fortune’s greatest grace,
Sith he must fall, to fall in such a place ?
His birth from Heav’n, your Tudor not derives,
Nor stands on tip-toes in superlatives,
Although the envious English do devise
A thousand jests of our hyperbolies;
Nor do I claim that plot by ancient deeds,
Where Phoebus pasture his fire-breathing steeds:
Nor do I boast my god-made grandsire’s scars,
Nor giants trophies in the Titans wars:
Nor feign my birth (your princely ears to please)
By three nights getting, as was Hercules:
Nor do I forge my long descent to rim
From aged Neptune, or the glorious Sun:
And yet in Wales, with them that famous be,
Our learned bards do sing my pedigree
And boast my birth from great Cadwallader,
From old Caer-Septon, in mount Palador:
And from Eneon’s line, the South-Wales king,
By Theodor, the Tudors’ name do bring.
My royal mother’s princely stock began
From her great grandame, fair Gwenellian,
By true descent from Leolin the great,
As well from North-Wales, as fair Powsland’s seal.
Though for our princely genealogy
I do not stand to make apology:
Yet who with judgment’s true impartial eyes,
Shall look from whence our name at did first rise,
Shall find, that fortune is to us in debt
And why not Tudor, as Plantagenet?
Nor that term Croggen, nick name of disgrace
Us’d as a by-word now in ev’ry place,
Shall blot our blood, or wrong a Welshman’s name,
Which was at first begot with England’s shame.
Our valiant swords our right did still maintain,
Against that cruel, proud, usurping Dane,
Buckling besides in many dang’rous fights,
With Norway, Swethens, and with Muscovites;
And kept our native language now thus long,
And to this day yet never chang’d our tungue:
When they which now our nation fain would tame,
Subdu’d, have lost their country and their name.
Nor ever could the Saxons’ swords provoke
Our British necks to hear their servile yoke:
Where Cambria’s pleasant countries bounded be
With swelling Severn, and the holy Dee:
And since great Brutus first arrived, have stood
The only remnant of the Trojan blood.
To every man is not allotted chance,
To boast with Henry, to have conquer’d France:
Yet if my fortune be thus rais’d by thee,
This may presage a further good to me;
And our Saint David, in the Britons’ right,
May join with George, the sainted English knight:
And old Caer-merdin, Merlin’s famous town,
Not scorn’d by London, though of such renown.
Ah, would to God that hour my hopes attend,
Were with my wish brought to desired end !
Blame me not, madam, though I thus desire,
Many there be, that after you inquire;
Till now your beauty in night’s bosom slept,
What eye durst stir, where awful Henry kept ?
Who durst attempt to sail but near the bay,
Where that all-conqu’ring great, Alcides lay ?
Your beauty now is set a royal prize,
And kings repair to cheapen merchandise.
If you but walk to take the breathing air,
Orithia makes me that I Boreas fear:
If to the fire, Jove once in light’ning came.
And fair Egina makes me fear the flame:
If in the Sun, then sad suspicion dreams
Phoebus should spread Lucothoe in his beams:
If in a fountain you do cool your blood,
Neptune, I fear, which once came in a flood:
If with your maids, I dread Apollo’s rape,
Who cous’ned Chion in an old wife’s shape :
If you do banquet, Bacchus makes me dread,
Who in a grape Erigone did feed :
And if myself your chamber-door should keep,
Yet fear I Hermes coming in a sleep.
Pardon (sweet queen) if I offend in this,
In these delays love most impatient is:
And youth wants pow’r his hot spleen to suppress,
When hope already banquets in excess.
Though Henry’d fame in me you shall not find,
Yet that which better shall content your mind;
But only in the title of a king
Was his advantage, in no other thing:
If in his love more pleasure you did take,
Never let queen trust Briton for my sake.
Yet judge me not from modesty exempt,
That I another Phaeton’s charge attempt;
My mind, that thus your favours dare aspire,
Shows, that ’tis touch’d with a celestial fire:
If I do fault, the more is beauty’s blame,
When she herself is author of the same;
“All men to some one quality incline,”
Only to love is naturally mine.
Thou art by beauty famous, as by birth,
Ordain’d by Heav’n to cheer the drooping Earth :
Add faithful love unto your greater state,
And be alike in all things fortunate.
A king might promise more, I not deny,
But yet (by Heav’n) he lov’d not more than I.
And thus I leave, till time my faith approve,
I cease to write, but never cease to love.