Meet my ancestors, my 15 x great grandfather, Sir Rhys ap Thomas (1449 – 1525), the chief Welsh supporter of Henry VII.
Sir Rhys was the third son of Thomas ap Gruffudd ap Nicolas and Elizabeth Gruffydd. Through marriage to Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Gruffydd of Abermarlais, Thomas ap Gruffudd ap Nicolas linked his family and thus this branch of my tree to the Welsh princes.
With the Yorkists in the ascendant, as a child Sir Rhys joined his father at the court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Father and son returned to Wales in 1467. On the death of his father, who had been predeceased by his two elder sons, Sir Rhys succeeded to the family estate.
Lancastrian by tradition, Sir Rhys’ family opposed Richard III and made overtures to Henry Tudor while the latter was in exile in Brittany.
Sir Rhys welcomed Henry Tudor when the latter landed at Milford Haven and used his considerable influence to rally support for the future king, recruiting 500 men. Henry and Rhys’ forces marched separately through Wales before meeting at Welshpool and crossing into England. Chroniclers described Rhys’ Welsh force as by far the most powerful being ‘large enough to annihilate the rest of Henry’s army.’
On 22 August 1485, Henry’s army supported by Rhys’ followers met Richard III’s army at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard launched an attack, which Rhys’ men repelled. In desperation, Richard and his knights charged at Henry. The king was unhorsed, surrounded and killed. Some sources claim that Sir Rhys personally delivered the death blow to Richard III with his poleaxe. Whatever the truth, Henry knighted Rhys on the battlefield.
Grateful for his support, Henry Tudor bestowed more honours on Sir Rhys, including the offices of constable and steward of the lordship of Brecknock, chamberlain of the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan, and steward of the lordship of Builth. Through these posts Sir Rhys held all the chief appointments that were in the king’s gift in South Wales.
In support of the new king, Sir Rhys commanded of a troop of horse at the battle of Stoke (16 June 1487), capturing the pretender, Lambert Simnel, and he participated in the expedition against Boulogne in October 1492.
At the battle of Blackheath (17 June 1497), Sir Rhys took the rebel leader, Lord Audeley, prisoner and was created a knight-banneret. Also, he was present at the surrender of Perkin Warbeck at Beaulieu Abbey in September 1497. For services to the king, he was was made Knight of the Garter on 22 April 1505.
Sir Rhys spent his latter years at Carew Castle. There, he held a great tournament to celebrate his admission to the Order of the Garter, inviting all the leading families of Wales. He also updated the castle, adding a gatehouse and windows.
Sir Rhys ap Thomas married twice, first to Eva, daughter of Henri ap Gwilym of Cwrt Henri, and second to Janet, daughter of Thomas Mathew of Radyr and widow of Thomas Stradling of St Donats. He died in 1525 and was buried at Greyfriars church, Carmarthen.