16 October 2019
The extraordinary story of a teenager who flip-flopped between two wives in a similar way – and at the same time - as Henry VIII was trying to change his spouse, suggests other couples were watching and being influenced by the impact the King’s case had on the law.
Experts from Bangor University and the University of Exeter have found parallels between events at the Royal court, and the complicated love-life of a member of a landed Welsh Gentry family living near Bangor in North Wales. The evidence suggests that society was watching what was happening at court with interest, and that we too could learn more about the society of the time by studying surviving legal records.
Edward Griffith, of the Penrhyn estate in north-west Wales, was married as a teenager to Jane of Cochwillan. Jane died aged 13. With permission from the King’s Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, Edward then married Jane’s sister Agnes in around 1527, but the next year she returned to live with her father.
Copying the king?
At the same time it became public knowledge that Henry VIII had started annulment proceedings to try to free himself from his marriage to his wife Catherine of Aragon – the widow of his brother. The legal experts think this influenced Edward to part from Agnes. The King’s divorce was mentioned in court documents about Edward’s case.
Edward remarried, to Jane Puleston, in around 1529. But he soon began living with Agnes again. He then returned to Jane Puleston and they had three daughters: Jane, Elin and Katherine. The chronology of these events also closely resemble the complicated ending of Henry’s marriage to Catherine.
The experts believe the similarity of the two cases suggest Edward was following events at court as he managed his own marriages.
Word from court
People from north Wales did travel to London for business, and news from court would have been brought home. Edward’s father, Sir William III, was a baronet, so the family would have heard court gossip, and may also have had a legal advisor.
Dr Gwilym Owen, from the Bangor Law School, said: "I stumbled across this case in investigating the tangled litigation as to whom should inherit the estate.The evidence is contained in witness depositions taken in Chancery proceedings. These depositions are the property of the Trustees of the Powis estate and I am very grateful to the Trustees for their kind permission to publish the results of our findings. Church records for the period are substantially lost.Therefore, these depositions are a lucky survival. This suggests Chancery papers may be a fruitful source for learning more about disputes over marriage in the Tudor period.”
Professor Rebecca Probert, an expert in marriage law from the University of Exeter, added: “We have compared the evidence we have about Edward’s life and it’s very striking that events in his life echo that of events in the royal marriage. This suggests what was happening at court did influence Edward.
“Viewed in isolation, Edward appears at best indecisive and at worst a complete cad. But if you put his actions in the context of the actions of the King, it seems he felt bound by the arguments put forward by his ruler. He may also have just been an impressionable teenager who saw the King believed his marriage was contrary to God’s law, and thought he should feel the same.”
(image copyright Wellcome Collection)
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