Ty Gwyn and the Route to the Tudor Dynasty

It is difficult to imagine when we look at Barmouth today, with its sleepy harbour and busy, resort atmosphere that it once played its part in the intrigues of kings and powerful magnates and in this building called Ty Gwyn news was exchanged and schemes were made that would ultimately help to put Henry Tudor on the throne of England

Just over five hundred years ago, in the 1460s, Barmouth and this area of Wales was divided in its support for the houses of York and Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses. In Harlech castle, about ten miles north of here was a Lancastrian garrison while the rest of the region lay under the iron control of William Herbert, supporter of King Edward IV. Nevertheless there were still many Lancastrian supporters. One of these was Gruffydd Fychan of Cors y Gedol, an ancient estate about six miles from Ty Gwyn.

Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and uncle of the future Henry VII was a very active and daring Lancastrian supporter and tireless in his cause. So that Jasper could communicate with supporters in the hostile countryside of Gwynedd, Gruffyd Fychan is said to have built Ty Gwyn, to allow easy landing for a secret rendezvous with supporters and a quick escape to sea should the need arise. Gruffydd Fychan was a patron of the renowned poet Tudur Penllyn, and he wrote about Ty Gwyn and described it as a fine ‘house built half in the waves’, ‘Ty a’i hanner mewn tonnau’ It was said by Penllyn that Gruffydd knew just when to expect the arrival of Jasper, the ‘black eagle’ flying in from Anglesey or the Isle of Man.

In 1468, with relations between England and France quickly deteriorating, Jasper, aided by three ships and fifty men from the King of France, Louis XI, was encouraged to land in Wales to create diversions and cause trouble for the English king. He landed at the end of June, probably at Barmouth, and quickly gathered some 2,000 men on the way to Denbigh, over 60 miles inland, where he caused mayhem but without taking the castle there. A large force under Herbert defeated Jasper the following month but he managed to escape again to continue his efforts for the Lancastrian cause. Herbert went on to take Harlech castle, making it even more dangerous for Jasper to keep in touch.

By 1471, with the Lancastrians defeated, Jasper felt it wise to go into exile and he took his fourteen year old nephew Henry Tudor and sailed from Tenby for Brittany where they lived for the next 14 years. Henry’s grandfather, Owain Tudor had married Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, the dowager queen of England, and Jasper knew well that Henry had a justifiable claim to the crown and needed such protection that exile afforded. With the death of Edward IV in 1483, the fight for the crown of England renewed and Jasper saw his chance.

In July 1485, Henry, again with the help of the French set sail from Harfleur with a force of some 4,000 men and landed in Milford Haven. As Henry marched though Wales, men joined him from all parts of the principality and this was no doubt due to news of his plans being fed into Wales through ‘safe houses’ such as Ty Gwyn.

Henry finally arrived at Bosworth near Nottingham on August 21 with some 7,000 men and on the following day Henry defeated the much greater force of Richard III to become the first Tudor monarch, a dynasty that ruled until the death of Elizabeth 1 in 1603.

Having played its part in such exciting times, we hear little of Ty Gwyn for several centuries, but just imagine for awhile the secretive meetings of desperate and determined men and the business they were about.

Peter Thompson 1999