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King Henry’s rocky cove, 1485

In this extract, Claudia Myatt takes a look at why Henry Tudor landed at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire, close to his birthplace, Pembroke Castle, pictured here some three centuries later. Claudia says ‘It’s always interesting to look at history from a seafarer’s point of view.’

In August 1485, so the story goes, Henry Tudor sailed over from exile in France and landed at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire. Gathering support along the way, he then stomped eastwards, beat up Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth and crowned himself King Henry VII. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, here’s the question – why did he land in Mill Bay? We know why he landed in Pembrokeshire; because he was born in Pembroke Castle and wanted to gather men from Wales as he marched, and the English were keeping a watchful eye on the south coast in case he tried to sneak in that way.

I went to Mill Bay last weekend, a pleasant half hour stroll along the coast path from the car park on St Ann’s Head. It’s the first cove on the left as you sail into Milford Haven. The path dips down to the cove where a small valley tips a stream onto a rocky foreshore. You could land a small boat there, but I’d only attempt it in a very flat calm; negotiating the rocks and finding a flat piece of sand to beach would be tricky. Perhaps there was more sand in Mill Bay in the 15th century? Perhaps there was a stone pier? But it’s still an odd choice, as another half an hour’s sail brings you to the glorious sheltered bay of Dale, which is about as perfect as an anchorage and sheltered landing place could be, and would have saved the would-be monarch from an hour’s tramp along the cliffs. Apparently he sent some of his ships round to Dale, but he preferred to be put ashore at Mill Bay. I bet he got his feet wet.

Even more sensible than Dale would have been to save another day’s march and take the tide further upriver, to his birthplace at Pembroke perhaps, or to Milford. Even if the wind was unfavourable, the tide would have carried the fleet upriver very efficiently. Perhaps he had a girlfriend on St Ann’s Head?  Perhaps he’d had enough of being afloat and was desperate to get ashore? Perhaps nobody knows, but if you do, please let me know.

Visit Claudia’s blog to see what others think, or to post your own thoughts . . .
Dale, South Wales Map: Claudia Myatt