Henry VII, also known as Henry Tudor, was the first of the Tudor monarchs and reigned from 1485 until 1509. He ascended the throne after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. The Battle of Bosworth marked the end of the Wars of the Roses which had been a period of instability in England. He was succeeded by Henry VIII, his second son, leaving him a kingdom which was comparably wealthy and a crown which was far stronger in relation to the barons than previously. Physically he was above the average height and although slender was well built. Polydore Vergil, an Italian chronicler described him as ‘remarkably attractive’. He was a calculating king who made smart judgements as well as an excellent soldier.
Born on 28th January 1457 in Pembroke Castle, Wales, Henry as the only child of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and Margaret Beaufort, who was only fourteen at the time. His father died only three months after his birth fighting the Duke of York for control of West Wales. Henry spent most of his childhood in Pembroke Castle. In 1461 Lord Herbert seized the castle and the new king, Edward IV, sold him the guardianship of Henry for £1000. His mother remarried in 1464 and Herny saw seldom saw her during his childhood. Henry’s fortune improved when the Lancastrian Henry VI retook the throne a year after Lambert’s execution in 1469. When both Henry VI and his son Prince Edward died in 1471, Henry became the member of the Lancastrian family with the most claim to the throne. In order to protect his life he was sent to France by the Earl of Pembroke, Jasper Tudor.
The next fourteen years were spent in France where he was hosted by Francis II, the Duke of Brittany. Despite Edward IV offering a large reward for Henry, Francis did not hand him over. However in order not to anger Edward, Francis ensured both Henry and Jasper could not escape to Britain. He also replaced their English servants with Breton ones. Francis however put himself in danger due to the newly developed relationship between France and England, and eventually Herny and Jasper were to be handed over which was only prevented by Henry developing a fever on route.
England developed further into turmoil after Edward IV’s death in 1483 when Richard, Duke of Gloucester, took over and imprisoned Edward’s two sons in the tower – becoming the famous Princes in the Tower. This divided the Yorkist family and led some such as the widow of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, to seek to unite part of both families against Richard by marrying her daughter Elizabeth to Henry. In 1483 in Rennes Cathedral Henry announced if he became king he would marry Elizabeth and unite the houses, hoping that by announcing this he would gain support in England. Richard managed to persuade Francis to hand over Henry, but before he did so Henry was warned of what was happening by John Morton, Bishop of Ely, and thus escaped to France disguised as a servant.
In Paris Henry gathered followers including the Earl of Oxford who had military experience. He was forced to move quick due to Richard’s move to marry Elizabeth in order to scupper Henry’s plans, and thus on August 7th 1485 Henry landed and army at Milford Haven in Wales.
Against the Yorkists
In order to try to end the stability of the years of the Wars of the Roses, Henry attempted to unite the two most powerful families in marriage. This would bring his own family, the Lancaster family, together with the York family. Soon after he was crowned king therefore he married Elizabeth of the York family. He united the two roses as his badge, with the red and white roses overlapping. Despite this the threat of the York family never fully went away as they failed to recognise their defeat in the Wars of the Roses. In order to remove land from the Yorkists Henry placed the date of his kingship to the day before the Battle of Bosworth in order that those who fought against him could be branded traitors and thus have their lands confiscated.
Yorkist plots still developed in the early part of Henry’s reign. In April 1486 Lord Lovell who was a minister under Richard II led the first unsuccessful revolt. This was followed by a more serious revolt in 1487 by the Earl of Lincoln, John de la Pole. Pole had a strong claim to the throne as his mother, Elizabeth, was sister to Richard III and Edward IV. He secured the backing of his Aunt Margaret who was dowager duchess of Burgundy. The campaign was fought around a young impersonator called Lambert Simnel who was impersonating a Yorkist claimant to the throne, Edward the Earl of Warwick. Henry managed to defeat the rebellion in the Battle of Stoke. 1491 saw the arrival of another impersonator, Perkin Warbeck who impersonated Richard who was the youngest ‘Prince in the Tower’ and presumed to have been murdered in 1483. Margaret of Burgundy trained him to impersonate Richard, and he received the backing of Charles VIII of France, the emperor Maximilian and Scotland’s James IV. In 1497 he landed in Cornwall and proceeded towards London. He however failed to gain support and was captured and imprisoned in the Tower. When he and his fellow inmate Edward, Earl of Warwick made an escape attempt in 1499 they failed and were executed.
Against the Barons
A major factor in the Wars of the Roses had been the private armies of the English barons who had rented their armies to both families. While some of the nobility had been delanded by his backdating of his kingship, the majority had played safe and not taken sides in the Battle of Bosworth so retained their land and influence. In order to combat this threat Henry banned private armies, making it a treasonable (and thus punishable by death) offence to disobey this order. The power of the barony was also reduced through heavy taxes to reduce their wealth (which was also used to develop a royal army to combat the threat of the barons) and through the Court of Star Chamber. The Court of Star Chamber was run by men loyal to the monarch and thus would do his bidding in their punishment of barons. Henry realised that the key to keeping the barony under control was ultimately to make the crown far more powerful and wealthy than the barony.
Governance and Crown Revenue
Henry was more careful with crown revenue than many future monarchs, although he did spend on both gambling and entertainment. He would often tip musicians 33p which was a large amount for the time, and on June 30th 1492 lost £40 playing cards. In a less expensive hobby, he would enjoy playing tennis. The vast majority of royal revenue was spent through the household and to ensure there was no fraud Henry audited his own accounts personally. While previous monarchs often relied on members of the aristocracy to manage affairs of government, Henry appointed servants who he felt he could trust, his most trusted being John Morton. The others included Richard Fox, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley.
Many kings have problems with governing due to having to rely on parliament for taxation revenue, which in turn can limit the power of the king. Henry avoided this through increases in other forms of revenue. There was a greater than ten-fold increase in revenue from crown lands and a increase in customs duties revenue by roughly a quarter. Furthermore the number of offenses that carried fines increased, adding to royal revenues and from feudal rights of kings. The extended to quite personal issues for the nobility, the Duke of Buckingham was fined £2000 for failing to seek permission from Henry for his mother to remarry after her husband’s death.
Like many monarchs of the time Henry hoped to ensure peaceful relations with other European states through marrying his children to foreign royalty. His first son, Arthur, was married to Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. However after only five months of marriage Arthur died, leading Henry to arrange for his second son, Henry VIII, to marry Catherine. Due to Henry VII’s death this took place after Henry VIII took the throne. His daughter Margaret was married to James IV, the king of Scotland, in 1503. Henry succeeded in making peace treaties with three main potential threats – France in 1492, the emperor in 1496 and Scotland in 1499.
Upon his death England had gone from a country of civil war, bad foreign relations and little crown revenue to a country at peace with its neighbours, a powerful king and a large surplus which would take Henry VIII a long period to deplete. To ensure his passage into heaven Henry VII used some of the royal revenue to ensure that 10,000 masses would be held for him.
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