Ancestry and early life
Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle on 28 January 1457 to Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. His father, Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, died three months before his birth.
Henry's paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, originally from the Tudors of Penmynydd, Isle of Anglesey in Wales, had been a page in the court of Henry V. He rose to become one of the "Squires to the Body to the King" after military service at the Battle of Agincourt. Owen is said to have secretly married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois. One of their sons was Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII. Edmund was created Earl of Richmond in 1452, and "formally declared legitimate by Parliament".
Henry's main claim to the English throne derived from his mother through the House of Beaufort. Henry's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III, and his third wife Katherine Swynford. Katherine was Gaunt's mistress for about 25 years. When they married in 1396 they already had four children, including Henry's great-grandfather John Beaufort. Thus, Henry's claim was somewhat tenuous; it was from a woman, and by illegitimate descent. In theory, the Portuguese and Castilian royal families had a better claim as descendants of Catherine of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt and his second wife Constance of Castile.
Gaunt's nephew Richard II legitimised Gaunt's children by Katherine Swynford by Letters Patent in 1397. In 1407, Henry IV, Gaunt's son by his first wife, issued new Letters Patent confirming the legitimacy of his half-siblings, but also declaring them ineligible for the throne. Henry IV's action was of doubtful legality, as the Beauforts were previously legitimised by an Act of Parliament, but it further weakened Henry's claim.
Nonetheless, by 1483 Henry was the senior male Lancastrian claimant remaining after the deaths in battle, by murder or execution of Henry VI, his son Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, and the other Beaufort line of descent through Lady Margaret's uncle, the 2nd Duke of Somerset.
Henry also made some political capital out of his Welsh ancestry in attracting military support and safeguarding his army's passage through Wales on its way to the Battle of Bosworth. He came from an old, established Anglesey family that claimed descent from Cadwaladr, in legend, the last ancient British king, and on occasion Henry displayed the red dragon of Cadwaladr. He took it, as well as the standard of St George, on his procession through London after the victory at Bosworth. A contemporary writer and Henry's biographer, Bernard André, also made much of Henry's Welsh descent.
In reality, his hereditary connections to Welsh aristocracy were not strong. He was descended by the paternal line, through several generations, from Ednyfed Fychan, the seneschal (steward) of Gwynedd and through this seneschal's wife from Rhys ap Tewdwr, the King of Deheubarth in South Wales. His more immediate ancestor, Tudur ap Goronwy, had aristocratic land rights, but his sons, who were first cousins to Owain Glyndŵr, sided with Owain in his revolt. One son was executed and the family land was forfeited. Another son, Henry's great-grandfather, became a butler to the Bishop of Bangor. Owen Tudor, the son of the butler, like the children of other rebels, was provided for by Henry V, a circumstance that precipitated his access to Queen Catherine of Valois. Notwithstanding this lineage, to the bards of Wales, Henry was a candidate for Y Mab Darogan, "The Son of Prophecy" who would free the Welsh from oppression.
In 1456, Henry's father Edmund Tudor was captured while fighting for Henry VI in South Wales against the Yorkists. He died in Carmarthen Castle, three months before Henry was born. Henry's uncle Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke and Edmund's younger brother, undertook to protect the young widow, who was 13 years old when she gave birth to Henry. When Edward IV became King in 1461, Jasper Tudor went into exile abroad. Pembroke Castle, and later the Earldom of Pembroke, were granted to the Yorkist William Herbert, who also assumed the guardianship of Margaret Beaufort and the young Henry.
Henry lived in the Herbert household until 1469, when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the "Kingmaker"), went over to the Lancastrians. Herbert was captured fighting for the Yorkists and executed by Warwick. When Warwick restored Henry VI in 1470, Jasper Tudor returned from exile and brought Henry to court. When the Yorkist Edward IV regained the throne in 1471, Henry fled with other Lancastrians to Brittany, where he spent most of the next 14 years under the protection of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. In November 1476, Henry's protector fell ill and his principal advisers were more amenable to negotiating with the English king. Henry was handed over and escorted to the Breton port of Saint-Malo. While there, he feigned stomach cramps and in the confusion fled into a monastery. Following the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, Edward IV prepared to order Henry's extraction and probable execution. The townspeople took exception to his behaviour and Francis recovered from his illness. Thus, a small band of scouts rescued Henry.