Sunday, November 16, 2008

Question from Sam - Jasper Tudor and Stephen Gardiner

I'm facinated by the suggestion that Bishop Stephen Gardiner may have been the son of Jasper Tudor's illegitimate daughter (Elen or Helen). Does anyone know what the source of this is? I've often wondered whether, if it was true, either of the monarchs he closely served (Henry VIII, Mary Tudor) ever acknowledged the family relationship.


Blogger Lara said...

This is something I've been trying to track down for a while... I don't know where the initial claim came from, but I'm beginning to doubt it myself (which I know is in contradiction to what I have on my website, but that's due for some updates eventually). I've seen it mentioned in books from time to time, but I don't know the original source of the idea.

The ODNB entry on Gardiner suggests his mother's name was Agnes and makes no mention of the Jasper connection. There actually seems to be some confusion over the name of Gardiner's father too, but the ODNB suggests his name was John based on a will. I've also seen "William" as a possibility. Either way, he seems to have been a prosperous merchant.

Likewise, Jasper's ODNB entry, written by Roger S. Thomas (who as far as I know is *the* expert on Jasper - he wrote his PhD on him) doesn't think that Jasper fathered any children.

If anyone can come up with more concrete info, I for one would be very grateful since I still harbor a slim hope of writing a book on Jasper one of these days!

November 16, 2008 3:51 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

This always interested me, too! I first read about the relationship in Geoffrey Turton's 1969 The Dragon's Breed, complete with genealogical chart:

This is the period to which tradition ascribes the birth of [Jasper's] daughter Ellen, his only known child .. she grew up and married in due course, about 1490, a cloth merchant of Bury St. Edmunds, John Gardiner, and their son stephen ... became a Bishop under Henry VIII ...

There's no source cited, however, and a rummage through the collective bibliography at the back sheds no light, although Turton appears to have utilized some local history societies' pamphlets and prints. However, I bought Muller's Stephen Gardiner and the Tudor Reaction, which I believe exploded this idea. I can't find the book right now, confound it, but I remember there was no suggestion that Gardiner was Jasper's grandson.

I wonder if the rumor developed to explain Gardiner's extraordinary longevity under a host of short-tempered Tudors? He almost went to the block a couple of times, but survived to die under Mary.

November 16, 2008 4:12 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

I found some references that state Jasper's illigitimate daughter Ellen married William Gardiner and they had a son named Thomas. He became Prior of Tynemouth. These references cite the "Visitation of Sussex" as its source. I found them by Googling "Jasper Tudor" and "Visitation of Sussex".

I hope these references help. : )

November 23, 2008 5:43 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Still can't find Muller's book but I did dig up Glyn Redworth's 1990 In Defence of the Church Catholic: The Life of Stephen Gardiner, which probably represents the most recent thinking. Annoyingly, the author does not address the rumor about Jasper Tudor at all, but states unequivocally that Gardiner was the son of John Gardiner, a cloth-maker, and of a woman called Agnes, not Helen or Ellen. I would suggest that Redworth considers that the rumor of Jasper Tudor's lineage to be quite out of the question by the way he ignores it in this book.

I also found Andrew Chibi's Henry VIII's Bishops, published in 2003. The Jasper Tudor story is again not mentioned, either in the body of the book or in the brief bio of Gardiner featured at the end. However, in the introduction, Chibi says "Henry VIII (like his father) nominated no blood relatives [to the bishopric]", which would appear to confirm that Gardiner was not related to the royal family.

I'll keep looking for the Muller book, as it might contain not only a specific denial of the rumor but also identify its origin. It might be something as simple as a confusion of similar names.

November 24, 2008 9:31 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

I finally found Muller's book. He discusses Gardiner's purported Tudor connection in the first appendix, rather than the book itself. The allegation that Gardiner was the son of "Helen Tudor," daughter of Jasper Tudor, can be traced back to Cockayne's Peerage and from there to the 1795 Betham Tables, by the Rev. William Betham, but no further back. Apparently the Gardiners of the 18th century fully credited the story, because they called their seat Tudor Hall. Betham may have gotten his information from them and recorded a family legend as fact.

One Thomas Richard Gardiner self-published in 1991 the work Gardiner: Generations and Relations, which adds more detail to the story. But he admits there are no supporting documents.

March 24, 2009 4:19 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

Thanks for the update Foose! More pieces of the puzzle...

March 25, 2009 12:24 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Another intriguing note ... Francesca Claremont's 1939 Catherine of Aragon (often cited in bibligraphies of older Tudor works) mentions the Jasper Tudor rumor but also fingers "a brother of Elizabeth Woodville" as Gardiner's natural father. No source cited.

Fiction writer Susan Higginbotham has a Website (, Medieval Woman, that features an entry on Lionel Woodville and the Gardiner rumor. She says it's a claim found in older books, but there's nothing to support it.

I wonder why Gardiner was the focus of these sort of rumors? And not any of Henry's other clerics?

March 29, 2009 6:33 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Hilary Mantel's newly published Wolf Hall presents Gardiner as "some sort of semi-royal byblow," "the king's unacknowledged cousin"; the author evidently noted the rumor in the course of her research and utilized it to effect in this book, as Gardiner is an important character.

An excellent read, by the way, and a gigantic tome. Yet this is only the first of two projected historical fiction books on Cromwell's life and career by Mantel.

April 30, 2009 4:52 PM  

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