Henry VII of England

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1500 and before (including Roman Britain); British History 1500-1750; Monarchs of Great Britain

Henry VII
King of England, Lord of Ireland
Reign August 22, 1485 - April 21, 1509
Coronation October 30, 1485
Born January 28, 1457 (age 52)
Pembroke Castle
Died April 21, 1509
Richmond Palace
Buried Westminster Abbey
Predecessor Richard III
Successor Henry VIII
Consort Elizabeth of York (1466-1503)
Issue Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502)
Margaret Tudor (1489-1541)
Henry VIII of England (1491-1547)
Elizabeth Tudor (1492-1495)
Mary Tudor ( 1496-1533)
Edmund Tudor, Duke of
Somerset (1499-1500)
Katherine Tudor (1503-1503)
Royal House Tudor
Father Edmund Tudor (c. 1430-1456)
Mother Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509)

Henry VII ( January 28, 1457 – April 21, 1509), King of England, Lord of Ireland ( August 22, 1485 – April 21, 1509), was the founder and first patriarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Henry allied with the Habsburg empire as a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Early life

Henry was born at Pembroke Castle, in Wales, in 1457, and he was the only son of Edmund Tudor and Lady Margaret Beaufort. His father died two months before he was born, which meant that the young Henry spent much of his life with his uncle, Jasper Tudor. When the Yorkist Edward IV returned to the throne in 1471, Henry was forced to flee to Brittany, where he was to spend most of the next fourteen years. After the failure of the revolt of his second cousin, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in 1483, Henry Tudor became the leading Lancastrian contender for the throne of England. With money and supplies borrowed from his host, Francis II, Duke of Brittany, Henry made an unsuccessful attempt to land in England but turned back after encountering Richard III's (1483–85) forces on the Dorset coast. Richard III attempted to ensure his return through a treaty with the Breton authorities, but Henry was alerted and escaped 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 in-laws of the late Yorkist King Edward IV, he landed with a largely French and Scottish force in Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire, and marched into England, accompanied by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, and the experienced John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. Wales had traditionally been a Yorkist 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 travelled north.

Henry was aware that this was his only chance to seize the throne since Richard had reinforcements that waited in Nottingham and Leicester and thus had only to avoid being killed in order to keep the throne. Though outnumbered, Henry's Lancastrian forces decisively defeated the Yorkist army under Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485 when several of Richard's key allies, such as the Earl of Northumberland and William and Thomas Stanley, crucially switched sides or deserted the field of battle. The death of Richard III on Bosworth Field effectively ended the long-running Wars of the Roses between the two houses, although it was not the final battle Henry had to fight. His claim to the throne was tenuous: it was based upon a lineage of illegitimate succession, and overlooked the fact that the Beauforts had been disinherited by an earlier act of attainder. Henry VII's paternal grandfather had married the widow of Henry V, while on his mother's side (Beauforts) claimed royal blood through an illegitimate line from John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III. The Tudors also said to be descended from Edward I through his granddaughter Eleanor of Bar, the daughter of the Count of Bar, apparently without any basis and intending to create a connection to the eralier Plantagenets. 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 most other claimants were either dead or too weak to challenge him. In the end Henry dealt with the act of attainder by claiming that it could not apply to a king.

The first of Henry's concerns on attaining the throne was the question of establishing the strength and supremacy of his rule. His own claim to the throne being weak as it was, he was fortunate in that there were few other claimants to the throne left alive after the long civil war. His main worry was pretenders including Perkin Warbeck, who, pretending to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower and son of Edward IV, made attempts at the throne with the backing of disaffected nobles and foreign enemies. Henry managed to secure 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 by a legislative assault on retaining, the practice of maintaining private armies. He also honoured his pledge of December 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter and heir of King Edward IV. The marriage took place on January 18, 1486 at Westminster. The marriage unified the warring houses and gave his children a stronger claim to the throne (although there is evidence that Edward was born illegitimate). 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 declaring Edward IV's children illegitimate due to his marriage being invalid, repealed in his first parliament, thus legitimizing his wife. Several amateur historians, including Bertram Fields and most particularly Sir Clements Markham believe that he also may have been involved in the murder of the Princes in the Tower, as the repeal of the Titulus Regius would have given them a stronger claim to the throne than his own. This theory has made its appearance in such notable cases as former William Rehnquist's show trial, aired on CNN, where he 'found' that "There is a sufficient lapse of time even considering the evidence most favorable to the State as to put it beyond the time when Richard III was in control of things and into the time when Henry VII was in control of things".

Henry's first action was to declare himself king retroactive to the day before the battle, thus ensuring that anyone who had 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 would have cause to regret his leniency two years later, when Lincoln rebelled and attempted to set a boy pretender, Lambert Simnel, on the throne in Henry's place. Lincoln was killed at the Battle of Stoke, but Simnel's life was spared and he became a royal servant.

Simnel had been put forward as "Edward VI", impersonating the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, who was still imprisoned in the Tower of London. Henry had imprisoned the boy at the age of 10, and though he did not release him at any point, he did not execute him until he had grown into adulthood, in 1499. Edward's elder sister, Margaret Pole, who had the next best claim on the throne, inherited her father's earldom of Salisbury and survived well into the next century (until she fell victim to a bill of attainder for treason too, under Henry VIII).

Economic and diplomatic policies

Henry VII was a fiscally prudent monarch who restored the fortunes of an effectively bankrupt exchequer (Edward IV's treasury had been emptied by his wife's Woodville relations after his death and before the accession of Richard III) by introducing ruthlessly efficient mechanisms of taxation. In this he was supported by his chancellor, Archbishop John Morton, whose " Morton's Fork" (the two "tines" of which being: "If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him because he is clearly a money saver of great ability he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance, tell him he, too, can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure.") 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 in both. He was not a military man, and had no interest in trying to regain the French territories lost during the reigns of his predecessors; he was therefore only too ready to conclude a treaty with France at Etaples that both directly and indirectly brought money into the coffers of England, and ensured that the French would not support pretenders to the English throne, such as Perkin Warbeck. Henry had been under the financial and physical protection of the French throne or its vassals for most of his career prior to his ascending to 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 a 1.5 million; it did not take his son as long to fritter it away as it had taken the father to acquire it.

Henry VII was one of the first European monarchs to recognise the importance of the newly-united Spanish kingdom and thus 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 one of Margaret's descendants, 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.

Law Enforcement and Justices of the Peace

Death mask of King Henry VII in Westminster Abbey
Death mask of King Henry VII in Westminster Abbey

Henry's principal problem was, indeed, to restore royal authority in a realm still recovering from the disorders of 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 themselves 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 very shrewdly in levying fines upon those that he perceived a threat.

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 dealt with by the new Court.

Henry VII used Justices of the Peace (JPs) 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 the Peace as he did to the nobility. i.e. a similar system of bonds and recognisances to which applied to both the gentry (who were most likely to be appointed as Justices of the Peace) as well as the nobles who tried to exert their elevated influence over these local officials.

The enforcement of Acts of Parliament was overseen by the Justices of the Peace. For example, Justices of the 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 the 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 double blow from which he never fully recovered: His heir, the recently-married Arthur, died in an epidemic at Ludlow Castle and was followed only a few months later by Henry VII's queen, in childbirth. Not wishing the negotiations that had led to the marriage of his elder son to Catherine of Aragon to go to waste, he arranged a dispensation for his younger son to marry his brother's widow — normally a degree of relationship that precluded marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. Also included in the dispensation was a proviso that would allow Henry VII himself to marry his widowed daughter-in-law. Henry VII obtained the dispensation from Pope Julius II (1503–13) but had second thoughts about the value of 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.


Henry VII's ancestors in three generations
Henry VII of England Father:
Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond
Paternal Grandfather:
Owen Tudor
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Maredudd ap Tudor
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Margaret ferch Dafydd
Paternal Grandmother:
Catherine of Valois
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Charles VI of France
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Isabeau of Bavaria
Lady Margaret Beaufort
Maternal Grandfather:
John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Margaret Holland
Maternal Grandmother:
Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Baron John Beauchamp of Bletso
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Edith Stourton

Marriage and Issue

Henry and Elizabeth's children are:

Name Birth Death Notes
Arthur, Prince of Wales September 20, 1486 April 2, 1502 Married Catherine of Aragon (1485 - 1536) in 1501. No issue.
Margaret Tudor, Princess of England November 28, 1489 October 18, 1541 Married (1) James IV, King of Scotland (1473 - 1513) in 1503. Had issue. Married (2) Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489 - 1557) in 1514. Had issue.
Henry VIII, King of England June 28, 1491 January 28, 1547 Married (1) Catherine of Aragon (1485 - 1536) in 1509. Had issue. Married (2) Anne Boleyn (1501 - 1536) in 1533. Had issue. Married (3) Jane Seymour (1503 - 1537) in 1536. Had issue. Married (4) Anne of Cleves (1515 - 1557) in 1540. No issue. Married (5) Catherine Howard (1520 - 1542) in 1540. No issue. Married (6) Katherine Parr (1512 - 1548) in 1543. No issue.
Elizabeth Tudor, Princess of England July 2, 1492 September 14, 1495 Died young. No issue.
Mary Tudor, Princess of England March 18, 1496 June 25, 1533 Married (1) Louis XII, King of France (1462 - 1515) in 1514. No issue. Elizabeth was half-sister. Married (2) Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1484 - 1545) in 1515. Had issue (was grandmother to Lady Jane Grey).
Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset February 21, 1499 June 19, 1500 Died young. No issue.
Edward Tudor, Prince of England Unknown Unknown Edward Tudor. He may not have actually existed. Suspected to be a mistaken name for Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset. However, this name is listed in official records as a child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Edward is also mentioned in Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir as having died young. She assumes the child to have been buried with his family in Westminster Abbey.
Katherine Tudor, Princess of England February 2, 1503 February 2, 1503 Died young. No issue. 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".


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 the elderly King Louis XII of France (1498–1515) and then, when he died after only about 1 year 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.

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