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Henry VII

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The History of the Reign of King Henry VII By Francis Bacon

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Henry VII (Henry Tudor; Welsh: Harri Tudur; 28 January 1457 – 21 April 1509) was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from his usurpation of the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Early life

Henry was born at Pembroke Castle, Wales in 1457, only son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and Lady Margaret Beaufort. His father died two months before he was born, meaning the young Henry spent much of his life with his uncle, Jasper Tudor. During the first reign of Edward IV, he was in the care of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke while his uncle fled from England. When the Yorkist Edward IV returned to the throne in 1471, Henry fled to Brittany, where he spent most of the next fourteen years.

By 1483, his mother, despite being married to pro-Yorkist Lord Stanley, was actively promoting Henry as an alternative to the unpopular Richard III. With money and supplies borrowed from his host, Francis II, Duke of Brittany, Henry tried unsuccessfully to land in England but his conspiracy unraveled, resulting in the execution of his primary co-conspirator, Duke of Buckingham.

Richard III attempted to extradite Henry through an arrangement with the Breton authorities, but Henry managed to escape to France. He was welcomed by the French court, who readily supplied him with troops and equipment for a second invasion.

Rise to the throne

Having gained the support of the Woodvilles, in-laws to the late Edward IV, he landed with a French and Scottish force in Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire, and marched into England, accompanied by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, and John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. Wales had traditionally been a Lancastrian stronghold, and Henry owed the support he gathered to his ancestry, being directly descended, through his father, from the Lord Rhys. He amassed an army of around 5,000 soldiers and went north.

King Henry the 7th of England


King Henry the Seventh of England

Henry was aware that his best chance to seize the throne would be to engage Richard quickly and defeat him immediately, since Richard had reinforcements in Nottingham and Leicester. Richard only needed to avoid being killed in order to stay on the throne. Though outnumbered, Henry's Lancastrian forces decisively defeated Richard's Yorkist army at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485. Several of Richard's key allies, such as the Earl of Northumberland and William and Thomas Stanley, crucially switched sides or left the battlefield. The death of Richard III on Bosworth Field effectively ended the Wars of the Roses between the two houses, although it was not the last battle Henry had to fight.

Henry VII's paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, is said to have secretly married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois. The result of their union was Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, father of Henry VII. Henry's claim to the throne, however, derived from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. His claim was somewhat tenuous; it was based on a lineage of illegitimate succession, overlooking the fact that the Beauforts were disinherited by Letters Patent of King Henry IV. Henry's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, claimed royal blood as a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and Gaunt's third wife Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. Katherine had been John's mistress for 25 years and they had four children; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort, by the time they married in 1396.

Nonetheless, John ensured his and Katherine's children were legitimized. His nephew, Richard II, issued Letters Patent, confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1397, that legitimized John of Gaunt's Beaufort children. Richard's cousin and successor, Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, issued an order disinheriting his Beaufort siblings from the throne. The legality of Henry's order proved doubtful, given the Beauforts were previously legitimized by an Act of Parliament. In any event, Henry VII was not the only monarch descended from the union of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. The Yorkist kings were as well, as Joan Beaufort, only daughter of the Gaunt-Swynford union, was the mother of Cecily Neville, wife of Richard, Duke of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

It is also noteworthy that the Tudors were said to be descended from Edward I through his granddaughter Eleanor of Bar, daughter of the Count of Bar, apparently without intending to create a connection to earlier Plantagenet's. If forged, that pretension was, however, unnecessary since Catherine of Valois was twice a descendant of Henry II through the Kings of Castile. However, the Wars of the Roses had ensured that any other claimants were either dead or too weak to challenge him.


The first concern Henry had on attaining the throne was the question of establishing the strength and supremacy of his rule. His claim to the throne being as weak as it was, he was fortunate that the majority of claimants died either in the dynastic wars or had been executed by his predecessors. Despite seeing off the Stafford and Lovell Rebellion of 1486, his main worry was "pretenders" including Perkin Warbeck, who, claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, and son of Edward IV, made attempts at the throne, backed by disaffected nobles and foreign enemies. Henry secured his crown principally by dividing and undermining the power of the nobility, especially through the aggressive use of bonds and recognisances to secure loyalty, as well as a legislative assault on retaining private armies.

He also honoured his pledge of December 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter and heir of King Edward IV. They were third cousins, as both were descended from John of Gaunt and his third wife, Katherine Swynford. The marriage took place on 18 January 1486 at Westminster. The marriage unified the warring houses and gave his children a stronger claim to the throne. The unification of the houses of York and Lancaster by Henry VII's marriage to Elizabeth of York is represented in the heraldic symbol of the Tudor rose, a combination of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster.

In addition, Henry had the Titulus Regius, the document that declared Edward IV's children illegitimate by citing his marriage as invalid, repealed, thus legitimizing his wife. Several amateur historians, including Bertram Fields and most particularly Sir Clements Markham believe that he may have been involved in the murder of the Princes in the Tower, as the repeal of the Titulus Regius gave them a stronger claim to the throne than his own. However, this theory does not account for the disappearance of the princes in summer 1483, two years before Henry seized the throne.

Elimination of Rivals

Henry's first action was to retroactively declare himself king from the day before the battle, ensuring that anyone who fought against him would be guilty of treason. It is interesting to note, therefore, that he spared Richard's designated heir, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. He regretted his leniency two years later, when Lincoln rebelled and attempted to set a boy pretender of peasant stock, Lambert Simnel, on the throne in Henry's place. Lincoln was killed at the Battle of Stoke, but Henry, seeing Simnel as a puppet of Lincoln, spared him and took him in as a kitchen servant.

Simnel had been put forward as "Edward VI", impersonating the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence. Edward was imprisoned in the Tower: Henry had, in 1485, imprisoned the boy and had him executed in 1499. He spared Edward's elder sister, Margaret Pole, who had the next best claim on the throne; she removed herself to Salisbury, and, at Henry's allowance, inherited her father's earldom — and survived well into her seventh decade, until she too fell victim of the fears and vengeance of royals, i.e., Henry VIII, who brought a bill of attainder, nominally for treason, against her. Thereafter she was killed in a brutalized execution.

Henry married Elizabeth of York with the hope of uniting the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides of the Plantagenet dynastic disputes. In this he was largely successful. However, a level of paranoia continued, so much that anyone with blood ties to the Plantagenets was suspected of coveting the throne.

Economic and diplomatic policies

It is generally accepted that Henry VII was a fiscally prudent monarch who restored the fortunes of an effectively bankrupt exchequer, (Edward IV's treasury was emptied by his wife's Woodville relations after his death and before the accession of Richard III), by introducing ruthlessly efficient mechanisms of taxation (though many of his policies can be seen to have been built on foundations laid by Richard III in his brief rule). In this he was supported by his chancellor, Archbishop John Morton, whose "Morton's Fork" was a catch-22 method of ensuring that nobles paid increased taxes. Royal government was also reformed with the introduction of the King's Council that kept the nobility in check.

Henry VII's policy was both to maintain peace and to create economic prosperity. Up to a point, he succeeded. He was not a military man and had no interest in trying to regain French territories lost during the reigns of his predecessors; he was therefore ready to conclude a treaty with France at Etaples that brought money into the coffers of England, and ensured the French would not support pretenders to the English throne, such as Perkin Warbeck. However, this treaty came at a slight price, as Henry mounted a minor invasion of Brittany in November 1492. This act of war was a bluff by Henry as he had no intention of fighting over the winter periods. However, as France was becoming more concerned with the Italian Wars, they were happy to agree to the Treaty of Etaples.

Henry had been under the financial and physical protection of the French throne or its vassals for most of his life, prior to his ascending the throne of England. To strengthen his position, however, he subsidized shipbuilding, so strengthening the navy (he commissioned Europe's first ever — and the world's oldest surviving — dry dock at Portsmouth in 1495) and improving trading opportunities. By the time of his death, he had amassed a personal fortune of 1.5 million pounds.

Henry VII was one of the first European monarchs to recognise the importance of the newly-united Spanish kingdom and concluded the Treaty of Medina Del Campo in 1489, by which his son, Arthur Tudor, was married to Catherine of Aragon. Similarly, the first treaty between England and Scotland for almost two centuries betrothed his daughter Margaret to King James IV of Scotland, a move which would ultimately see the English and Scottish crowns united under Margaret's great-grandson, James I. He also formed an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire, under the emperor Maximilian I (1493–1519) and persuaded Pope Innocent VIII to issue a Bull of Excommunication against all pretenders to Henry's throne.

Henry's most successful economic related diplomacy came through the Magnus Intercursus (1496). In 1494, Henry had a trade embargo (mainly the trade of wool) with the Netherlands (ultimately, Margaret of Burgundy and Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire), as he wanted to stop their support of the pretender Perkin Warbeck. This paid off for Henry as the Magnus Intercursus was agreed in 1496, which helped remove taxation for English merchants and significantly increase England's wealth.

However, towards the end of Henry's reign, it can be argued that he became greedy. In 1506, he agreed the Treaty of Windsor with Philip of Netherlands which resulted in the Malus Intercursus (the evil agreement). Again, from this treaty, Henry aimed to make English trade more profitable. However, France, Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Hanseatic League became annoyed with this and significantly reduced their trade with Henry. Philip also died shortly after the Treaty, which left Henry vulnerable and with debts of up to £30,000.

Law Enforcement and Justices of Peace

Henry's principal problem was to restore royal authority in a realm recovering from the Wars of the Roses. There were too many powerful noblemen, and as a consequence of the system of so called bastard feudalism, each had what amounted to private armies of indentured retainers (contracted men-at-arms masquerading as servants).

He was content to allow the nobles their regional influence if they were loyal to him. For instance, the Stanley family had control of Lancashire and Cheshire, upholding the peace on the condition that they stayed within the law.

In other cases, he brought his over-powerful subjects to heel by degree. He passed laws against 'livery' (flaunting your adherents by giving them badges and emblems) and 'maintenance' (keeping too many male 'servants'). These were used shrewdly in levying fines upon those that he perceived as threats.

However, his principal weapon was the Court of Star Chamber. This revived an earlier practice of using a small (and trusted) group of the Privy Council as a personal or Prerogative Court, able to cut through the cumbersome legal system and act swiftly. Serious disputes involving the use of personal power, or threats to royal authority, were thus dealt with.

Henry VII used Justices of the Peace on a large, nationwide scale. They were appointed for every shire and served for a year at a time. Their chief task was to see that the laws of the country were obeyed in their area. Their powers and numbers steadily increased during the Tudors, never more so than under Henry’s reign.

Despite this, Henry was keen to constrain their power and influence, applying the same principles to the Justices of Peace as he did to the nobility. i.e. a similar system of bonds and recognisances to which applied to both the gentry (Justices of the Peace) as well as the nobles who tried to exert their elevated influence over these local officials.

All Acts of Parliament were overseen by the Justices of Peace. For example, Justices of Peace could replace suspect jurors in accordance with the 1495 act preventing the corruption of juries. They were also in charge of various administrative duties, such as the checking of weights and measures.

By 1509, Justices of Peace were key enforcers of law and order for Henry VII. They were unpaid, which, in comparison with modern standards, meant a lesser tax bill to pay for a police force. Local gentry saw the office as one of local influence and prestige and were therefore willing to serve. Overall, this was a successful area of policy for Henry, both in terms of efficiency and as a method of reducing the corruption endemic within the nobility of the Middle Ages.

Later years

In 1502, fate dealt Henry VII a blow from which he never fully recovered: his heir, Arthur, died in an epidemic at Ludlow Castle. This made Prince Henry heir to the throne. In 1503, Henry VII's Queen, Elizabeth of York, died in childbirth. Not wishing the negotiations that had led to the marriage of his late son to Catherine of Aragon to go to waste, he arranged a Papal dispensation for Prince Henry to marry Catherine — normally a degree of relationship that precluded marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. Also included in the dispensation was a provison that would allow Henry VII to marry his widowed daughter-in-law. Henry VII obtained the dispensation from Pope Julius II (1503–13) but had second thoughts about the marriage and did not allow it to take place during his lifetime. Although he made half-hearted plans to re-marry and beget more heirs, these never came to anything. On his death in 1509, he was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII (1509–47). He is buried at Westminster Abbey. Popular lore suggests that Henry died of a broken heart following the deaths of his son and his wife.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 28 January 1457–22 August 1485: The Earl of Richmond (disputed)
  • 22 August 1485–21 April 1509: His Highness The King of England and France, Lord of Ireland

Henry's full style as king was: His Highness Henry VII, by the Grace of God, of England and France, King, Lord of Ireland


Upon his succession as king, Henry became entitled to bear the arms of his kingdom. After his union with his Yorkist wife, he used the red-and-white rose as his emblem — this continued to be his dynasty's emblem, known as the Tudor rose.


Henry and Elizabeth's children were:

Name Birth Death Notes
Arthur Tudor, Prince of England 19 September 1486 2 April 1502 Died in 1501 at the age of 15.
Margaret Tudor, Princess of England 28 November 1489 18 October 1541 Married (1) James IV, King of Scotland (1473–1513) in 1503. Married (2) Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489–1557) in 1514.
Henry VIII, King of England 28 June 1491 28 January 1547 Married (1) Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536) in 1509. Married (2) Anne Boleyn (1501–1536) in 1533. Married (3) Jane Seymour (1503–1537) in 1536. Married (4) Anne of Cleves (1515–1557) in 1540. Married (5) Catherine Howard (1520–1542) in 1540. Married (6) Catherine Parr (1512–1548) in 1543.
Elizabeth Tudor, Princess of England 2 July 1492 14 September 1495 Died young.
Mary Tudor, Princess of England 18 March 1496 25 June 1533 Married (1) Louis XII, King of France (1462–1515) in 1514. Married (2) Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1484–1545) in 1515. Mary was the grandmother to Lady Jane Grey).
Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset 21 February 1499 19 June 1500 Died young.
Katherine Tudor, Princess of England 2 February 1503 2 February 1503 Died young. Mother, Elizabeth of York, died as a result of Katherine's birth.

An illegitimate son has also been attributed to Henry by "a Breton Lady":

Name Birth Death Notes
Sir Roland de Velville or Veleville 1474 25 June 1535 He was knighted in 1497 and was Constable of Beaumaris Castle. If de Velville was in fact Henry's son, he was born during the period of Henry's exile in France. Roland de Velville's descendants included Katheryn of Berain, hence she is sometimes referred to as "Katherine Tudor".[1]

Further descendants

Henry VII's elder daughter Margaret was married first to James IV of Scotland (1488–1513), and their son became James V of Scotland (1513–42), whose daughter became Mary, Queen of Scots. By means of this marriage, Henry VII hoped to break the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Margaret Tudor's second marriage was to Archibald Douglas; their grandson, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley married Mary, Queen of Scots. Their son, James VI of Scotland (1567–1625), inherited the throne of England as James I (1603–25) after the death of Elizabeth I. Henry VII's other surviving daughter, Mary, first married King Louis XII of France (1498–1515) and then, when he died after only about 3 months of marriage, she married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk without her brother's (now King Henry VIII) permission. Their daughter Frances married Henry Grey, and her children included Lady Jane Grey, in whose name her parents and in-laws tried to seize the throne after Edward VI of England (1537–53) died.

Henry VII of England
House of Tudor
Born: 28 January 1457 Died: 21 April 1509
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Richard III
King of England
Lord of Ireland

1485 – 1509
Succeeded by
Henry VIII
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Edmund Tudor
Earl of Richmond
10th creation
1478 – 1485
Merged in Crown
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Richard III
King of France
1485 – 1509
Succeeded by
Henry VIII

References and Notes

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