The Earls of Stafford were an established English noble family. When Thomas Stafford, the 3rd Earl of Stafford married Anne of Gloucester in 1390, the family joined with royal blood. Anne was the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of King Edward III. However, Thomas Stafford died two years later without children.
In 1398, Anne married Thomas's younger brother Edmund, now 5th Earl of Stafford following the death of his other elder brother William, the 4th Earl. Edmund and Anne had a son and two daughters. Their son, Humphrey Stafford, became a military leader of renown during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses. When his mother died in 1438, Humphrey acquired half of her inheritance, including the Earldom of Buckingham. In 1444 he was further ennobled as Duke of Buckingham and in 1447 made the senior English duke of non-royal blood.
Humphrey married Anne Neville, daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, the Earl with the surplus of daughters. By this marriage he became brother-in-law to Richard, Duke of York and to Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury. The couple had many children, the eldest two sons marrying into the Beaufort family. Humphrey Stafford, the oldest son, married Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Humphrey pre-deceased his father so the Dukedom passed to their son, Henry. Humphrey's brother, Henry, married Lady Margaret Beaufort, daughter of John, 1st Duke of Somerset.
Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham was to become a significant figure during the latter part of the Wars of the Roses and his descendants were prominent at the Tudor court, not always to their good.
One of the most contentious families of this period was the Stanleys. Thomas, 1st Baron Stanley lived from 1405 to 1459. Continuing his father's work, he had successfully built up substantial land and power in the northwest of England. Having served as Lord Chamberlain of Ireland in the 1430's, Thomas was appointed Comptroller of the Royal Household and in 1455 became Lord Chamberlain. By 1456, he was summoned to the House of Lords as Lord Stanley and was invested as a Knight of the Garter. Lord Stanley also held the title of King of Mann.
Thomas and his wife Joan had three sons and three daughters. The two oldest sons, Thomas and William were to become major figures in the Wars of the Roses developing a very distinct reputation. By the time Thomas succeeded his father the Stanleys had risen in three generations from obscurity to wealth and power. They were a family on the very cusp of real, lasting, significant power when the Wars of the Roses erupted.
The Tudors are often portrayed as erupting from nowhere to take the throne of England. Whilst this is true to some extent, it does not tell the whole of their story. Owen Tudor could claim descent from an ancient Welsh noble family, counting the Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffudd amongst his ancestors. During Owain Glyndwr's rebellion, Owen's father and uncles were staunch supporters of Glyndwr.
When the rebellion ebbed, the family lost their lands to the English crown and Owen's father Meredith sought to rebuild his fortunes in London. Welsh families rarely used a surname at this time. Meredith's name in Welsh was Maredudd ap Tudur, Meredith son of Tudor, Tudor being his father's first name. In order to distance himself from events in Wales Meredith altered his son's name from Owain ap Maredydd to Owen Tudor, giving Owen his grandfather's name as a surname. Had Owen not taken this step, we would later have been ruled by the Meredith dynasty.
Born around 1400, Owen was entered into service as a page to the King's Steward in the court of King Henry IV. In 1415 he fought at Agincourt for King Henry V after which he entered the service of Henry V's queen, Catherine of Valois. Following the death of Henry V he remained in the queen's service. Catherine now became something of an issue for the infant king's uncles who ruled in his name. She was a young French princess and likely to wish to marry again, but Humphrey of Gloucester, who acted as Protector, was concerned about the impact of a new husband and his possible influence on the young king. Catherine was likely to marry a foreign royal or perhaps a lower born English noble, so she was kept under close watch and a statute passed through Parliament forbidding anyone to marry a queen without the king's permission. The penalty for breach of this was forfeiture of land and possessions for life. With the king too young to offer any consent, it seemed Catherine was secured.
However, a secret affair ended in Catherine's marriage to her servant Owen Tudor. It is believed to have been a love match with a deep passion between them. Owen was a handsome young Welshman, Catherine a beautiful French princess. It also thwarted the legislation. Owen had no land or possessions to forfeit, so nothing to lose by marrying the queen.
In 1432, Owen applied to Parliament for naturalisation. Henry IV had robbed Welsh nationals of any rights after their rebellion and Owen tried to remove this obstacle, not least for his heirs. He was successful and it was around this time that Catherine gave birth to a son, Edmund, followed by Jasper, Owen and a daughter. By 1436, though, Catherine was gravely ill and died. Owen panicked that Humphrey of Gloucester would seek retribution now he was not protected and fled. The news of his mother’s remarriage had also been kept from King Henry VI and Owen must have feared his reaction to the revelation too. He was captured and placed in Newgate jail, escaping only to be returned and then moved to the Tower of London. Released on bail in 1438, Owen was pardoned in 1439.
His sons Edmund and Jasper were placed with the de la Pole family. His namesake Owen entered the clergy. During the 1440's Henry VI took an interest in his half-brothers, perhaps as a link to his mother or because he did not yet have an heir of his own. In 1452 he created Edmund Earl and Richmond and Jasper Earl of Pembroke. Owen had lived to see two of his sons created belted English earls.
Lady Margaret Beaufort was placed into the care of Edmund and Jasper. Her inheritance was appealing and Edmund, as was his right, married Margaret when she was 12 and he 24 years old. It was not usual to consummate a marriage at this time below the age of 14, but Margaret was quickly pregnant. Edmund may have had a ruthless, cynical approach to this, since any child, whether they survived or not, would secure Margaret's inheritance for Edmund as the father, making the vast wealth and lands his permanently, not by virtue of his wife.
As the Wars of the Roses erupted, Edmund spent time incarcerated in Wales during which he contracted the plague, which was to kill him before his wife delivered her child. Margaret was taken into the care of her brother-in-law Jasper and delivered her son Henry Tudor on a stormy night on 29th January 1457 at Pembroke Castle. The birth was reportedly difficult and may have been the reason that she never conceived again and devoted all of her efforts to protecting her precious only son.