Reign: August 22nd 1485 - April 21st 1509
Born: January 28th 1457
Died: April 21st 1509
Father: Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond
Mother: Margaret Beaufort
Spouse: Elizabeth of York
Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales
Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots
Henry VIII of England
Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset
Royal House: Tudor
The rise of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond to the throne of England in 1485 represented a bold new beginning for England following decades of domestic strife and dynastic turmoil. The unassuming Welshman united the warring houses of York and Lancaster and founded the Tudor Dynasty, which ruled over the kingdom for almost 120 years. This period would see the emergence of the a truly English national identity, earth-shattering religious change both in England and all over Europe, England's first recognised female monarchs and a boom in both culture and trade. By the time the Tudor Dynasty died out in 1603, England had transformed from a semi-important backwater on the fringes of Europe into a wealthy and dynamic military and trading power.
But what of the first Tudor monarch? Henry VII may have been the one who made it all possible but he lacks the historical admiration enjoyed by his son Henry VIII and his granddaughter Elizabeth I. This is because Henry VII was a naturally cautious and austere man with much less of an outgoing personality than his descendants although he could have something of a fun side if the situation required it. Aware of the crippling expense of foreign wars, Henry pursued a policy of peace and was an effective diplomat, creating valuable strategic alliances and marrying his surviving children into the royal families of Europe. On the domestic side, Henry spent his 23-year reign establishing himself on the throne, creating an effective and stable administration, reforming the legal system and filling the royal coffers. Both famous and infamous for his fondness of money, by the time of his death he had amassed a personal fortune of around £1.25 million, the equivalent of around £650 million in today's money.
Although Henry Tudor is well-known for the fact that his claim to the throne of England was somewhat flimsy, there is no doubting that he had royal blood in his veins. He claimed descent from the English and French royal houses as well as from the ancient Celtic Welsh rulers and even the pre-Saxon rulers of Britain. Because of his illustrious Celtic ancestry, Henry was able to claim with some success that he was descended from the mythical British King Arthur.
On his father's side, Henry was the grandson of Owen Tudor, a Welsh squire who had served under Henry V and fought at the Battle of Agincourt. It was through Owen that the Tudors later claimed their descent from Rhys ap Gruffydd and the other great Welsh Princes. After Henry V's premature death, Owen entered into a secret (and possibly illegal) union with the dead King's widow, Catherine of Valois. The unlikely couple would go on to have several children including two sons, Edmund and Jasper. Catherine died giving birth to their last child in 1437 while Owen lived until 1461 when he was executed by the victorious Yorkists following the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.
Although he was of an enviable French, Welsh and Lancastrian pedigree on his father's side, Henry Tudor's actual claim to the throne of England was through his mother. The story of the Tudor Dynasty began in 1455 when the twelve-year-old Margaret Beaufort, a great-great-granddaughter of Edward III, was married to the 24-year-old Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond on the wishes of the groom's half-brother King Henry VI. Margaret's grandfather was one of the illegitimate children sired by Edward III's son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster by his mistress Katherine Swynford. These children and their descendants took the surname Beaufort and, despite being later legitimised by Richard II, were specifically barred from inheriting the throne due to a Letters Patent issued by Richard's successor Henry IV.
The year of Margaret Beaufort's marriage to Edmund Tudor also marked the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. Edmund Tudor was an early casualty of the bloody dynastic struggle. Having taken up arms for his half-brother's Lancastrian cause, Edmund was captured by the Yorkists in 1456 and died after several months in captivity. At the time of her husband's death, Margaret was thirteen and heavily pregnant. She was taken into the care of her brother-in-law Jasper at Pembroke Castle in Wales where, in January 1457, she gave birth to the future Henry VII.
The Rocky Road to Bosworth
Henry's early years were dominated by the Wars of the Roses, with both sides of his family at the forefront of the Lancastrian struggle. His half-uncle Henry VI was supplanted by the Yorkist Edward IV in 1461 but the Lancastrian resistance, although beaten, remained intact under Jasper Tudor's leadership. Henry VI was briefly restored in 1470 but six months later Edward IV was back. The Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury in May 1471 all but destroyed the House of Lancaster. Henry VI's son-and-heir Prince Edward was killed in the fighting whilst the ex-King himself was later murdered in the Tower of London. With all the other male Beaufort descendants having died as well, the fourteen-year-old Henry Tudor suddenly found himself to be the senior surviving Lancastrian claimant to the throne, despite stil being legally barred from the succession.
Because of his newfound status as standard-bearer for the House of Lancaster, Henry's family had good reason to fear for his safety in Yorkist-ruled England. Shortly after the Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury, Henry and his uncle Jasper went into exile in Brittany, leaving Margaret behind in England. Henry looked set to see out his life abroad were it not for the circumstances that led to the self-destruction of the House of York and allowed for his return. Edward IV had his own brother George, Duke of Clarence executed for treason in 1478 whilst the King's own death five years later led to scandal and usurpation as his other brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester had Edward's sons declared illegitimate. Gloucester took the throne for himself and became Richard III.
The murky circumstances surrounding Richard's usurpation of the throne and the disappearance of his young nephews in the Tower of London dealt critical damage to his popularity and created opponents who set out to look for an alternative. Besides Richard and his sickly son Edward of Middleham, the alternative male Yorkist claimant was Clarence's son Edward, Earl of Warwick but he had been barred from inheriting the throne on account of his father's treason. This left Henry Tudor, still exiled in Brittany, as the focal point for opposition to Richard's government. Henry attracted more support by promising to marry Edward IV's eldest daughter Elizabeth of York, a move which he hoped would give greater legitimacy to his own claim and finally end the conflict between York and Lancaster. The deal was arranged in secret between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth's mother, the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville.
Henry's marriage arrangement did much to attract disaffected Yorkists to his banner but his first attempt to wrest the throne from Richard III ended in failure. Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham initiated a rebellion on Henry's behalf in the Autumn of 1483 but the revolt was easily crushed. Buckingham was beheaded whilst Henry, who had been prevented from reaching England by bad weather, was forced to leave Brittany as Richard attempted to bribe the Duke of Brittany into giving up his guest. In 1484 Henry moved to the court of the French King in Paris, where he gained more support and, crucially, military backing for a future attempt on Richard's throne.
Henry did not have to wait long for the opportunity to try again. By the Summer of 1485 Richard's already unstable position had been left critically weakened by the deaths in quick succession of his son Edward and his wife Anne. Seizing the opportunity, Henry and his French-backed invasion force landed at Milford Haven in southwest Wales that August. Henry at once marched eastwards towards England, gathering support both from his Welsh compatriots and from Richard's English opponents. Having done everything possible to legitimise his claim to the crown of England, Henry now believed that God would judge the righteousness of that claim on the field of battle. That battle came on August 22nd 1485 at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, where Henry's swollen ranks confronted Richard III and his even larger army.
|The Tudor Rose|
The fighting was evenly balanced and Richard came very close to killing Henry at one point. The battle swung decisively in Henry's favour, however, when his stepfather Lord Thomas Stanley deserted Richard and sent his troops in to fight against the King. Richard III was cut down and killed in the fighting, handing victory to Henry and bringing the rule of the House of York to a violent and bloody end. Having recovered Richard's ornamental battle crown from a nearby hawthorn tree, Lord Stanley used it to proclaim his stepson as King Henry VII right there on the devastated battlefield. Henry's coronation took place at Westminster Abbey in October, followed by his promised marriage to Elizabeth of York in January 1486. The union was symbolised by the combination of the red and white roses to form the Tudor Rose, which became the symbol of the new royal dynasty and is still used as the floral emblem of England alongside the Scottish thistle, the Irish shamrock and the Welsh daffodil and leek.
Henry VII may have hoped that his marriage to Elizabeth would have killed off the dispute between the houses of York and Lancaster but his efforts to unite the warring factions did not win over everyone initially. Most of the English nobility had stayed away from the Bosworth campaign, preferring to hedge their bets rather than risk backing the wrong side. Those that had turned up on Richard's behalf were the first to face the new King's wrath. In a rather cunning move, Henry backdated the start of his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth Field, therefore making anybody who had fought against him a traitor and liable to have their properties confiscated. It was only a small minority of ex-Yorkists that fell foul of this trick but it was enough to stir up considerable resentment against the new regime. It did not take long for trouble to start brewing.
The first revolt, led by Lord Lovell, broke out in April 1486 but came to nought. The next one was far more significant and had its beginnings in Oxford where a local priest named Richard Symonds was planning to exploit the still circulating rumours surrounding the vanished Princes in the Tower. Symonds had noticed that one of his school pupils, a boy named Lambert Simnel, shared a resemblance to the likely-murdered Princes. He had initially planned to pass the ten-year-old Simnel off as one of the Princes but had a change of heart after hearing further rumours, this time concerning the last direct male Yorkist claimant that was still breathing, Edward, Earl of Warwick. The young Warwick had been imprisoned in the Tower of London on Henry's orders but the uncertainty surrounding his fate was enough to make Lambert Simnel a believable doppelganger.
Symonds took his young charge to Ireland, a hotbed of Yorkist sympathy, and was able to persuade the Irish Parliament that Simnel was indeed the Earl of Warwick. On May 24th 1487 Simnel was crowned King of England in Dublin, an act to which Henry naturally responded by having the real Warwick paraded through the streets of London to prove that he was both alive and in royal hands. Despite Henry's best efforts to expose the imposter, Simnel's cause continued to attract supporters, the most important of which being Richard III's nephew and designated successor John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Lincoln had been present at the Irish coronation and quickly became the driving force behind the Simnel revolt.
With Simnel as his figurehead, Lincoln led a ragtag band of around 2000 Irishmen on an invasion of England in June 1487 but was decisively beaten by Henry VII's army at the Battle of Stoke. Lincoln was killed in the fighting whilst Simnel and Richard Symonds were arrested. Symonds would spend the rest of his life in jail for his trouble but Henry was more lenient towards Simnel, who had throughout been nothing more than a puppet in the hands of others. The boy who would be King was put to work as a servant in the palace kitchens and eventually rose up through the ranks of the royal household to become falconer, responsible for looking after the King's prized hunting birds.
Perkin Warbeck and the Cornish Rebellion
Another imposter in the guise of a ghost from the past appeared in 1491. This time it was a handsome Flemish youth named Perkin Warbeck. Unlike Lambert Simnel, Warbeck was totally in control of his own actions and was able to gain international backing for his bogus claim. In 1491 Warbeck went to Ireland and began to look for support by claiming to be a number of Yorkists, including the Earl of Warwick and an illegitimate son of Richard III. The identity he eventually settled upon was that of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York and the younger of the two Princes in the Tower. Warbeck found the support he needed in the form of Edward IV's sister Margaret, the dowager Duchess of Burgundy. In November 1492 Margaret recognised Warbeck as being her nephew Richard, giving him the legitimacy he required to gain support for his claim in Europe.
Warbeck found himself some powerful backers, such as Charles VIII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Maximilian's support was crucial in persuading Warbeck to proclaim himself rightful King and launch an invasion of England. Warbeck returned to Ireland in 1494 to make preparations for his invasion but his plans were constantly scuppered by Henry, who was just as unfooled by this charade as he was by Simnel. Unable to stay a step ahead of Henry's skillful diplomatic maneuvering, Warbeck headed north and took solace in the company of another of his new friends, Scotland's James IV. James was more willing to provide military support and even allowed Warbeck to marry his cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon.
The promised Scottish invasion if England in support of Warbeck came in September 1496 but it amounted to little more than a few petty border skirmishes. Nonetheless Henry needed an army to deal with the Scots and duly made a request to Parliament for money. The money was granted but in June 1497 a revolt suddenly erupted in Cornwall. The Cornish rebels, angry about having to pay taxes to fund a war hundreds of miles away, marched eastwards unopposed to London and camped outside the city at Blackheath. It was only then that Henry was able to muster enough troops and disperse the rebels by force.
With his invasions of England coming up short, James IV soon began to lose interest in Warbeck and the pretender found himself on his own. In September he landed in Cornwall in the hope of capitalising on the resentment there. He raised a small force and besieged Exeter but failed to take the city. Warbeck then headed for London but no more support was forthcoming and he soon found himself arrested. Just as he had done with Simnel, Henry treated Warbeck with leniency, locking him up in the Tower alongside the still-incarcerated Earl of Warwick.
The fact that Warbeck and Warwick were confined in close proximity to one-another was probably a deliberate ploy by Henry to encourage the prisoners to plot against him and thus incriminate themselves in treason. If this was indeed the case then they fell right into the trap. Warbeck and Warwick struck up a friendship and made plans to escape from the Tower. Their escape attempt failed and Henry now had the evidence he needed to have them executed. Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 25rd 1499 whilst Warwick was beheaded at the Tower five days later. Warbeck's execution marked the end of any major challenges to Henry VII's authority whilst Warwick's brought about the final extinction of the direct male Plantagenet line.
Although he had proven himself at Bosworth to be an able soldier, Henry VII was not a military man at heart. He certainly had no interest in recovering the English territories in France that had been won and lost by his Lancastrian predecessors. The one thing that Henry loved above all else was money and he aspired to fill the coffers of the crown. Throwing cash away on expensive foreign wars was not the way to go about achieving financial stability, therefore Henry instigated a peace-orientated foreign policy.
The first country that Henry had to deal with was the old enemy, France. Charles VIII's support for Perkin Warbeck in 1492 had concerned Henry and prompted him to take action by bluffing the French into a peaceful settlement on his terms. A token invasion force invaded Brittany that year but, just as Henry had hoped, the French too preoccupied with the Italian wars and were in no mood to fight the English. In November 1492 the Peace of Etaples was signed. Under the terms of the peace Henry acknowledged French control over Brittany whilst the French dropped their support for Warbeck and agreed to pay a war indemnity of 742,000 crowns, payable at 50,000 crowns per annum. In a single stroke Henry had made peace with France, isolated Warbeck from his means of support and increased his income by more than half.
|Arthur, Prince of Wales|
In his next foreign policy venture, Henry would try his hand at political matchmaking, preparing the ground the royal marriage that would go on to have profound consequences for England. Henry was one of the first European monarchs to recognise the potential of Spain, which had recently been unified under the rule of the married monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. In the late 1480s Henry was keen to cement an alliance with Spain in order to gain international recognition for his new regime. The Spanish were also interested in such an alliance as it would mean the possibility of English aid in any future conflict with their neighbours in France.
Henry's trump card in the negotiations with Spain was his eldest son Prince Arthur. The Prince of Wales, born in 1486, was his father's pride and joy and, as his name suggests, was the very symbol of Henry's desire to create a new Anglo-Celtic Arthurian dynasty. In 1489 the alliance with Spain was formalised by the Treaty of Medina del Campo. It was agreed that Arthur would marry Ferdinand and Isabella's youngest daughter, Catherine of Aragon. Henry was obliged to provide military assistance to Spain when required but he was assuaged somewhat by Catherine's hefty dowry of 200,000 crowns. After twelve years of both sides niggling over the terms of the treaty and waiting for the young couple to come of age, the marriage eventually took place amid spectacular celebrations at the old St Paul's Cathedral in London on November 14th 1501.
Henry's third great diplomatic venture involved England's other old enemy, the Scots. Henry wanted not only to bring an end to the intermittent wars that happened on and off between Scotland and England but also to find some way of breaking Scotland's Auld Alliance with the French. His attempted solution was the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, the first peace treaty between the two countries for nearly two centuries, which he concluded with James IV in 1502. The following year James married Henry's daughter Margaret. Although this marriage ultimately failed to tear Scotland away from the Auld Alliance, it remains significant in the context of English history as it was the Scottish descendants of this union that succeeded the Tudors to the throne of England exactly a century later, uniting Britain under a single ruler for the first time.
The Spanish Question
As the 15th Century gave way to the 16th, Henry VII was sitting pretty. The pretenders and rival claimants were gone, the French were lining his pockets with cash tributes and England was on the verge of achieving peace with the Scots. The Spanish alliance was also looking increasingly like a political masterstroke as Spain's fortunes continued to grow in the years between Medina del Campo and the marriage of Arthur and Catherine. In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella earned the fawning admiration of Christian Europe when they conquered the Islamic kingdom of Granada, finally completing the Christian "Reconquista" of Muslim Spain which had been ongoing for centuries. That same year also marked the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, whose expedition, originally intended to find a westerly route to India, had been funded by the Spanish monarchs.
But then, in the Spring of 1502, Henry's reign was suddenly thrown into chaos by an outbreak of disease at Ludlow Castle, Prince Arthur's seat where he resided in his capacity as Prince of Wales. On April 2nd Henry's beloved son-and-heir died, leaving the Spanish alliance in jeopardy. Catherine of Aragon survived the outbreak to find herself a widow at just sixteen. Once it became clear that Catherine was not pregnant with Arthur's child, a devastated Henry VII recognised his only other surviving son Prince Henry, Duke of York as heir to the throne. Henry received another tragic personal blow in February 1503 when Queen Elizabeth died on her 37th birthday, a few days after giving birth to a daughter, Katherine, who also died.
|Catherine of Aragon as a young widow.|
Following Arthur's death, Henry VII was eager both to maintain the Spanish alliance and to avoid having to return Catherine's dowry money. He decided that the best way to accomplish both aims was for Catherine to remarry, this time to Prince Henry, who was five years younger than her. A special dispensation from Pope Julius II was required for the younger Henry to marry his dead brother's widow as doing so was against the teachings of the Bible. Despite the fuss which had been made over whether or not Catherine was pregnant after Arthur's death, the English managed to convince Rome that their marriage had not been consummated, meaning that the union had not been made valid in the eyes of God and that Catherine was free to marry Prince Henry. It would not be the last time that the issue of Catherine's marriage to Arthur came up for discussion. After fourteen months of widowhood, Catherine was officially betrothed to her former brother-in-law.
Although Henry VII had got his Papal dispensation, his son was not yet old enough to marry and circumstances soon conspired which gave the King second thoughts about the Spanish alliance. In November 1504 Queen Isabella died and Catherine's mentally-unstable older sister Joanna ascended to the throne of Castile along with her husband, the Habsburg Philip of Burgundy. This turn of events shifted the balance of power in Europe as it brought Spain and her overseas possessions under the effective control of the House of Habsburg, which already ruled Austria, Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire amongst other places. Catherine suddenly became a less enticing prospect as a daughter-in-law and Henry, still in a dispute with King Ferdinand over the dowry, went cold on the idea of an alliance with Habsburg Spain. Catherine was left in a state of limbo and remained so for the rest of Henry's reign. It was only after his death that her second marriage took place.
Having been left heartbroken by the deaths of his son and his wife, Henry VII's later reign was marked by his increasing reclusiveness, failing health and an even more intensive economic policy. With little else to motivate him other than the desire to accumulate as much money as possible, Henry effectively withdrew into his own private world and spent the rest of his life dedicated to the finances of the kingdom, seeing few people other than his two must trusted advisers, Sir Richard Empson and Sir Edmund Dudley. Empson and Dudley soon became the most unpopular men in the land for their roles in Henry's increasingly rigorous and barely legal money-making efforts.
|Henry VII with Empson and Dudley|
Under the stewardship of his advisers and overseen by the King himself, the crown's methods of raising income became ruthlessly effective. He was soon raising so much money that he did not even need to summon Parliament. By the end of his reign the royal income from customs duties had risen by a quarter whilst revenues from crown lands had risen tenfold. As part of his legal reforms, Henry greatly extended the range of offences punishable by fines, ensuring that those fines ended up in his own pockets. He also reasserted the ancient feudal rights of the crown, inflicting heavy fines on anyone who breached their feudal obligations. The nobility were understandably resentful of Henry's money-grabbing at their expense as well as the fact that they were being kept out of the King's inner-circle in favour of mere servants like Empson and Dudley. Henry countered this ill-feeling by creating the King's Council, which kept the nobility in check.
Increasingly weakened by rheumatoid arthritis and gout in his later years, Henry VII died of tuberculosis at Richmond Palace on April 21st 1509, having left a wealthy and stable kingdom for his son Henry VIII. Before his death, the old King left some of his dubiously-earned money so that 10,000 masses might be said to ease the passage of his immortal soul into the afterlife. He was laid to rest alongside Elizabeth of York in the newly-built Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey. The body of his mother Margaret Beaufort, the woman who did so much to help him onto the throne, joined them there after she died just two months later.