6 May 2010
King Henry VII of Tudor (1485–1509)
Reign 22 August 1485 – 21 April 1509
Coronation 30 October 1485
Predecessor Richard III
Successor Henry VIII
Earl of Richmond (disputed)
Predecessor Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl
Consort Elizabeth of York (died February 1503)
Arthur, Prince of Wales
Margaret, Queen of Scots
Henry VIII of England
Mary, Queen of France
Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset
House House of Tudor
Father Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond
Mother Lady Margaret Beaufort
Born 28 January 1457(1457-01-28)
Pembroke Castle, Wales
Died 21 April 1509 (aged 52)
Richmond Palace, England
Burial Westminster Abbey, London
Henry VII (before accession known as Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond; Welsh: Harri Tudur; 28 January 1457 – 21 April 1509) was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor.
Henry won the throne when he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of England to win his throne on the field of battle. He was successful in restoring the power and stability of the English monarchy after the political upheavals of the Wars of the Roses. He founded a long-lasting dynasty and was peaceably succeeded by his son, Henry VIII, after a reign of 23 years.
Although Henry can be credited with the restoration of political stability in England, and a number of commendable administrative, economic and diplomatic initiatives, the latter part of his reign was characterised by a financial rapacity which stretched the bounds of legality. According to the contemporary historian Polydore Vergil, simple “greed” in large part underscored the means by which royal control was over-asserted in Henry’s final years.
Ancestry and early life
Young Henry VII, by a French artist (Musée Calvet, Avignon)
Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle in South Wales on 28 January 1457. His father was Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond and his mother was Lady Margaret Beaufort.
Henry’s paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, originally from the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, had been a page in the court of Henry V. He rose to become one of the “Squires to the Body to the King” after military service at Agincourt. Owen is said to have secretly married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois. One of their sons was Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII. Edmund was created Earl of Richmond in 1452, and “formally declared legitimate by Parliament”.
Henry’s claim to the throne, however, derived from his mother through the House of Beaufort. Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, third son of Edward III, and his third wife Katherine Swynford. Katherine was Gaunt’s mistress for around 25 years; when they married in 1396, they already had four children, including Henry’s great-grandfather John Beaufort. Thus Henry’s claim was somewhat tenuous: it was from a woman, and by illegitimate descent.
Gaunt’s nephew, Richard II, legitimized Gaunt’s children by Katherine Swynford by Letters Patent in 1397. In 1407, Henry IV, who was Gaunt’s son by his first wife, issued new Letters Patent confirming the legitimacy of his half-siblings, but also declaring them ineligible for the throne. Henry IV’s action was of doubtful legality, as the Beauforts were previously legitimized by an Act of Parliament, but it further weakened Henry’s claim.
Nonetheless, by 1483 Henry was the senior male Lancastrian claimant remaining, after the deaths in battle or by murder or execution of Henry VI, his son Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales and the other Beaufort line of descent through Lady Margaret’s uncle, the 2nd Duke of Somerset.
Henry also made some political capital out of his Welsh ancestry; for instance, in attracting military support and safeguarding his army’s passage through Wales on its way to the Battle of Bosworth. He came from an old-established Anglesey family which claimed descent from Cadwaladr (in legend, the last ancient British king) and on occasion, Henry displayed the red dragon of Cadwaladr. He took it, as well as the standard of St George, on his procession through London after victory at Bosworth. A contemporary writer and Henry’s biographer, Bernard André, also made much of Henry’s Welsh descent.
In reality, however, his hereditory connections to Welsh aristocracy were not strong. He was descended by the paternal line, through several generations, to Ednyfed Fychan, the seneschal(steward) of Gwynedd and through this seneschal’s wife to Rhys ap Tewdwr, the King of Deheubarth in South Wales.
His more immediate ancestor Tudur ap Goronwy had aristocratic land rights but his sons, who were first cousins to Owain Glyndwr, sided with Owain in his revolt. One son was executed and the family land was forfeited. Another son, Henry’s great grandfather, became a butler to the Bishop of Bangor. Owen Tudor, the son of the butler, like the children of other rebels, was provided for by Henry V, a circumstance which precipitated his access to Queen Catherine of Valois.
Notwithstanding this lineage, to the bards of Wales, Henry was a candidate for Y Mab Darogan – ‘The son of Prophesy’ who would free the Welsh from oppression.
In 1456, his father, Edmund Tudor, was captured while fighting for Henry VI in South Wales against the Yorkists. He died in Carmarthen Castle, three months before Henry was born. Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke and Edmund’s younger brother, undertook to protect the young widow, who was 13 years old when she gave birth to Henry. When Edward IV became King in 1461, Jasper Tudor went into exile abroad. Pembroke Castle, and later the Earldom of Pembroke, were granted to the Yorkist William Herbert, who also assumed the guardianship of Margaret Beaufort and the young Henry.
Henry lived in the Herbert household till 1469, when Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’, went over to the Lancastrians. Herbert was captured fighting for the Yorkists and executed by Warwick. When Warwick restored Henry VI in 1470, Jasper Tudor returned from exile and brought Henry to court. When the Yorkist Edward IV regained the throne in 1471, Henry fled with other Lancastrians to Brittany, where he spent most of the next 14 years.
Rise to the throne
By 1483, his mother, despite being married to a Yorkist (Lord Stanley), was actively promoting Henry as an alternative to Richard III.
At Rennes Cathedral on Christmas Day 1483, Henry pledged to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, who was also Edward’s heir since the presumed death of her brothers, the Princes in the Tower. Henry then received the homage of his supporters.
With money and supplies borrowed from his host Francis II, Duke of Brittany, Henry tried to land in England, but his conspiracy unravelled, resulting in the execution of his primary co-conspirator, the Duke of Buckingham. Richard III attempted to extradite Henry from Brittany, but Henry escaped to France. He was welcomed by the French, who readily supplied him with troops and equipment for a second invasion.
Having gained the support of the Woodvilles, in-laws of the late Edward IV, he sailed with a small French and Scottish force. Henry landed in Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire, close to his birthplace. He marched towards England accompanied by his uncle Jasper and the Earl of Oxford. Wales was traditionally a Lancastrian stronghold, and Henry owed the support he gathered to his Welsh birth and ancestry, being directly descended, through his father, from Rhys ap Gruffydd.
He amassed an army of around 5,000 soldiers.
Henry was aware that his best chance to seize the throne was to engage Richard quickly and defeat him immediately, as Richard had reinforcements in Nottingham and Leicester. Richard only needed to avoid being killed in order to keep his throne. Though outnumbered, Henry’s Lancastrian forces decisively defeated Richard’s Yorkist army at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 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. Richard III’s death at Bosworth Field effectively ended the Wars of the Roses, although it was not the last battle Henry had to fight.
The first concern Henry had was to secure his hold on the throne. His claim to the throne being as weak as it was, he was fortunate that the majority of claimants had either died in the dynastic wars or had been executed by his predecessors.
He honoured his pledge of December 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York. They were third cousins, as both were great-great-grandchildren of John of Gaunt. 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 this marriage is symbolized by the heraldic emblem of the Tudor rose, a combination of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster.
In addition, Henry had Parliament repeal Titulus Regius, the statute that declared Edward IV’s marriage as invalid and his children illegitimate, thus legitimizing his wife. Amateur historians Bertram Fields and Sir Clements Markham have claimed that he may have been involved in the murder of the Princes in the Tower, as the repeal of Titulus Regius gave the Princes a stronger claim to the throne than his own. Alison Weir, however, points out that the Rennes ceremony, two years earlier, was possible only if Henry and his supporters were certain that the Princes were already dead.
Henry’s second action was to declare himself king retroactively from the day before Bosworth Field. This meant that anyone who had fought for Richard against him would be guilty of treason. Thus Henry could legally execute any noble he didn’t trust. He spared Richard’s nephew and designated heir, the Earl of Lincoln.
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. He also enacted laws against livery and maintenance, the great lords’ practice of having large numbers of “retainers” who wore their lord’s badge or uniform and formed a potential private army.
Henry was threatened by several rebellions in the next few years. The first was the Stafford and Lovell Rebellion of 1486, which collapsed without fighting.
In 1487, Yorkists led by Lincoln rebelled in support of Lambert Simnel, a boy who was claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, son of Edward IV’s brother Clarence (who was actually a prisoner in the Tower). The rebellion was defeated and Lincoln killed at the Battle of Stoke. Henry made the boy Simnel a servant in the royal kitchen.
In 1490, a young Fleming, Perkin Warbeck, appeared and claimed to be Richard, the younger of the “Princes in the Tower”. Warbeck won the support of Edward IV’s sister Margaret of Burgundy. He led attempted invasions of Ireland in 1491 and England in 1495, and persuaded James IV of Scotland to invade England in 1496. In 1497 Warbeck landed in Cornwall with a few thousand troops, but was soon captured and executed.
In 1499, Henry had the Earl of Warwick executed. However, he spared Warwick’s elder sister Margaret. She survived till 1541, when she was executed by Henry VIII.
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.