5 August 2016

The Tudors’ Road to Bosworth Part 5: Jasper Tudor at Château Josselin, Brittany


In this series I have followed Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry’s escape from Tenby in Wales to their long exile in Brittany. Young Henry Tudor found himself deep in the forest at the remote Forteresse de Largoët, outside of the Breton town of Elven. He would have missed the company of his uncle Jasper, who was now in a far grander place, the Château de Josselin.

Originating from the year 1008, the château overlooking the River Oust has changed many times over the centuries. Olivier de Clisson, Constable of France, became Lord of Josselin in 1370 and rebuilt the fortress with eight high towers and married his daughter Beatrice to Viscount Alain de Rohan. During the religious wars of the seventeenth century Duke Henri de Rohan commanded the Calvinists and his 
château was sacked by Cardinal de Richelieu. Only four of the original towers remain today but the château is still home to the fourteenth Duke Josselin de Rohan.


When Jasper Tudor arrived in 1473 his main concern would have been for the welfare and safety of his nephew. Duke Francis of Brittany gave his word to protect the Tudors but also promised King Edward’s ambassadors he would treat them more as prisoners than honoured guests.

As a consequence it seems Jasper began what must have been a frustrating three years in Josselin, with no visitors and no communication with Henry. Duke Francis might have sent messages reassuring him of Henry’s welfare, but the Tudors lived under the threat of abduction to England by Yorkist agents of King Edward.

It is likely that Jasper, a fluent Breton speaker, would have become close to the men guarding him and used the last of the money he’d brought to Brittany to pay for information on Henry. I’m sure Jasper would also have worried about the situation in England, where Edward IV was raising a formidable army to reconquer France in an alliance with Duke Charles of Burgundy. I imagine he tried sending letters to Henry, as well as Lady Margaret Beaufort, although there is no record of any correspondence at that time. Here's a short excerpt showing how I dealt with all this in my novel:

  Jasper stood at the window, watching the bridge over the river. An endless procession of people made their way into the walled town, yet none were leaving. Something unusual was going on. His attention shifted to muffled noises from within the courtyard, of horse’s hooves, shouted commands, the sharp clink of steel and the buzzing of many voices, like bees in a hive. The bolt on his door scraped and the door swung open to reveal one of his friendlier guards.
  ‘What’s happening?’ He spoke in Breton.
  ‘The King of England has landed at Calais with an army.’ The guard seemed surprised Jasper hadn’t heard. ‘And the Duke of Burgundy has invaded France from the north.’ He scowled at the thought.
  Jasper followed the guard down the narrow stone steps. Groups of armed soldiers gathered in the usually deserted courtyard, some waiting in line for the kitchens, others sleeping or playing games of dice. The duke was obviously taking the threat from York seriously. Jasper had never seen so many horses crammed into the château stables and guessed they were preparing to defend themselves.
  He sought out the captain of the guard, who was being helped to dress in his armour. The pieces looked mismatched and a poor fit, some showing the scars and dents of ancient battles. The captain questioned the parentage of the unfortunate man helping him, telling him not to pull the straps so tightly, as Jasper entered.
  ‘Is Duke Francis supporting the English, Captain?’
  ‘As you can see, Sir Jasper, he is moving men to defend the border. My orders are to take as many men as I can to him at the Château de l’Hermine.’
  ‘What is to become of me?’

I stayed in a gite by what is now the Nantes-Brest canal, with a view of the château from the window. On the opposite bank was a small public park with impressive arches, the remains of a house from the fifteenth century and in the walled town are narrow streets of traditional half-timbered buildings, offering a good impression of what Josselin might have been like in Jasper Tudor’s time.

Josselin Town
The present day château is still an impressive fortress towering high over the valley and dominating the sleepy town. There are guided tours several times each day but the de Rohan family don’t allow any photography of the interior. There was little to see inside from the fourteenth century, as most of the decoration dated from nineteenth century restorations, although there is an amazing life-sized statue, created in 1892, of Olivier de Clisson mounted on his horse.

It is possible Jasper might have been held in the original keep, now replaced by an open courtyard overlooking the deep Oust valley. I stood looking out over the forested countryside and realised the scene has changed little since Jasper’s time. He could have had a view from his window of a narrow bridge, close to the château, which still provides the main crossing point for anyone entering or leaving Josselin from the south.

At some point in 1476 Duke Francis, whose health was failing, decided to reunite Jasper and Henry. For the next six years, they lived at the Breton court until the unexpected death of King Edward IV, (either by poisoning or excess) and the rise of his ambitious younger brother Richard. The Tudors had made an unsuccessful attempt to invade England in 1483 but learned from the experience, and in 1485 sailed with their mercenary army for Mill Bay in West Wales – the next stop on my own journey.


Tony Riches


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