King Henry VII of England (reign from August 1485 to April 1509) was the first King of England of the Tudor Dynasty. He had a difficult reign at times – he had to fight to gain the English throne and fight to keep it, meaning that he was often suspicious of others. Juliana Cummings explains.
Birth of a Monarch
History tells us so much about King Henry Vlll; he had six wives, he was terribly fat etc. But we often don’t hear enough about his father, the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. While Henry Vlll feared illness, his father seemed afraid of something deeper. Despite being an admirable warrior who earned his crown, Henry Vll lived much of his reign in fear.
On the 28th of January 1457, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, gave birth to a son. She was only thirteen years old and the delivery almost killed her. That son, was Henry Tudor, the future King of England. Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond had been dead for three months.
Henry Tudor was placed under the protection of his Uncle Jasper Tudor at Pembroke Castle until trouble began again between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Pembroke was seized, Jasper Tudor escaped, and four year old Henry Tudor was taken into custody by Yorkist Sir William Hebert. While Henry’s time with Herbert could be looked at as a time of imprisonment, he was treated like anything but a prisoner. He was well cared for and brought up quite honorably by William Hebert’s wife. Henry would stay with the Hebert family for roughly eleven years until Hebert was killed in battle and Henry was reunited with his Uncle Jasper.
In 1470, the Lancastrian King, Henry VI was back on the throne but in 1471, Yorkist Edward lV reclaimed the throne once again and Henry Vl, along with his heir, were murdered. There now remained one Lancastrian with a claim to the throne; Henry Tudor. It was Henry’s mother Margaret, who provided the royal bloodline that gave him that claim. And, albeit small, it was a claim. Margaret was the great granddaughter of John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward lll. This gave her confirmation that her son had every right to seek the crown. But Richard lll, Edward lV’s brother, felt he had a right to the crown as well. And when Edward died on April 9, 1483, it was Richard who declared himself King.
A New King
Jasper Tudor would take the teenage Henry under his protection for the next fourteen or so years. With his mother’s financial support, and the help of the French and the Scottish, Henry Tudor would set sail for the Welsh shore. On the seventh of August, 1485, Henry Tudor and his men landed at Mill Bay in Pembrokeshire. He was twenty eight years. He dropped to his knees and asked God to favor his cause. And because Wales was a Lancastrian stronghold, Henry had their support as well. His army, although a bit muddled, would grow to nearly 5,000.
Despite the fact that King Richard lll had a bigger army, it was Henry Tudor who would prevail at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. With the support of his step father, Lord Thomas Stanley, Henry and his army pulled Richard from his horse and pummeled him to death. And it was Stanley who would then place Richard’s bloody crown on Henry’s head. At Westminster Abbey, on October 13, 1485, Henry Tudor was crowned King of England.
Henry’s reign would prove to be one of great fear for the new king. He knew that what had happened to Richard lll could happen to him and he was continuously reminded that his throne wasn’t far from being in jeopardy. His first action in securing his reign was to marry. During his time as King, Richard was believed to have locked up his two nephews, the sons of his brother Edward, in the Tower of London in fear that they would try to usurp his throne when they were of age. The detainment of the two boys divided much of Yorkist England and the supporters of the nephews needed somewhere to turn. They turned to Henry Tudor. They also pledged to give him their support if he married Edward lV’s Yorkist daughter, Elizabeth. Henry’s mother Margaret along with Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, greatly supported the union between their children. Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth York would not only strengthen his position as King but it would become a time of great love for them both. Elizabeth was intelligent and beautiful and Henry adored his new bride. And more importantly, she provided him with a male heir soon after their marriage.
While Henry Tudor continued to try to convince his people that he was the rightful King, many of them didn’t believe it. One of them was the de la Pole family, specifically John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. His claim was that Richard lll had already named him as the successor. In the year 1487, de la Pole would show to be a real threat to Henry Tudor. He was able to gather financial and military support from German and Swiss Mercenaries as well English rebels who were most likely supporters of Richard lll. But at the Battle of Stoke Field in June 1487, Henry Tudor and his battle hardened army would crush de la Pole’s men. And luckily for Henry, John de la Pole was also killed in that battle.
In 1493, Henry Tudor faced another very real dilemma. Yorkist exiles began to devise a plot to throw Henry from his throne. A man named Perkin Warbeck, considered a pretender, claimed to be Richard of York, the younger of the two Yorkist brothers who had been locked away in The Tower over ten years ago. Warbeck claimed that he escaped The Tower long ago and at nineteen years old would fight to take the crown back. The Yorkist exiles didn’t hesitate to use Warbeck as their scapegoat. And for those that believed the two cousins to be dead, Perkin Warbeck would test their loyalty to King Henry.
This uprising would send Henry Tudor into a downward spiral of paranoia and fear. He began to place spies everywhere; in people’s private homes, in the confessionals, even in his own palaces. By having this collaboration, The King was able to trace one of his enemies right to his Chamberlain, William Stanley. Stanley, who had fought alongside him at Bosworth, was found with Yorkist jewelry and enough money to raise his own army. Henry Tudor chose not to use clemency and William Stanley was beheaded in February of 1495. Realizing that support for the Yorkist imposter was growing, Henry grew even more vigilant. He kept to his apartments when at court and seemed to go into a lockdown in his privy chamber. Only a small group of his most trusted advisors were permitted in his company. He began obsessing over how the court’s money was spent and resorted to micro managing everything, even down to what to pay the servants. He continued to build his network of spies to track Warbeck’s every move. Warbeck, who been staying in what he believed was the safety of Ireland and Scotland had made a few failed attempts at invading England. His last attempt was on September 12, 1497, with only 120 men. But Warbeck was captured and sent to the Tower. He was hung for treason in November of that same year.
The Changing of a Kingdom
With the threats of Warbeck and de la Pole no longer there, King Henry Vll was able to feel enough confidence that his Kingdom was at peace. While he still kept an ever watchful eye on any known enemies, he was able to focus his attention on other matters. By the year 1500, his wife Elizabeth had already delivered him another son. Little Henry, or Harry, as they called him, was now nine years old. And the King and Queen’s daughter, Mary, was three years old. In 1501, Princess Katherine of Aragon would arrive in England as the betrothed of Henry’s oldest son, Arthur. Katherine came from powerful parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Her marriage to Arthur would strength England as it would now have the allegiance of Spain. The wedding was a splendid one and there was much celebration in the county over the union of the Prince and Princess.
Sadly though, Prince Arthur’s marriage would be a short one. On April 15, 1502, Arthur succumbed to the sweating sickness and died. Henry was absolutely devastated. Not only because of the loss of his son but because the death of the heir to the English throne would have a huge political impact on the country. The future of England now fell on eleven year old Harry.
Things would only get worse for Henry Tudor. On February 11 that next year, Henry’s beloved wife, Queen Elizabeth, died in childbirth. The King was beside himself. His marriage to Elizabeth had been one of happiness and love and her death not only threatened to tear him apart, but England as well. Many of England’s Yorkist supporters had only chosen to recognize Henry as King because of his union to Elizabeth. With her being gone, it left these people open to consideration about where their loyalties now lay. This caused the King to become paranoid once again and he was convinced he spotted treason everywhere he turned.
Henry got desperate and decided that if he couldn’t make his people like him, then he would make them fear him. He did this by giving people fines for the smallest things, which in turn indebted them to The King. Henry devised a new council called the The Council Learned in the Law, which answered only to The King and would overlook all other legal laws. Edward Dudley, one of the nation’s most prominent lawyers, went to work for The King’s new council. His expertise alone allowed him to enforce and stretch laws which would ultimately lead to charges on the townspeople.
The Aging King Henry Vll was in a constant state of fear and resentment towards his people. And he not only worried about his own health, he began to obsess over the fear of his son and heir, Harry. He was terrified that Harry would catch an illness or get seriously injured and so he kept him away from people as much as possible and refused to let him participate in jousts. But these restrictions would be hard for Henry to carry out. Harry was now a grown teenager, who towered over his father at more than six feet. Harry was handsome and athletic and had been building his loyalties with the common people as well as in the tiltyard. He was charismatic and had a way with people. More and more people came to really like Harry and began to form alliances with the soon to be new King.
When Henry Vll lay on his deathbed, perhaps his biggest threat was his own son. Young Harry had promised to be a different kind of king. One of fairness and goodwill. When Henry Tudor died on April 21, 1509 at Richmond Palace, less than fifteen people knew that he had died. His death was kept a secret for two days. While arrangements were made, the new King, Henry Vlll, wanted the people of England to understand that he was different. He ordered the much resented Edmund Dudley executed for treason. Thomas More, who would become one of Henry Vlll’s closest advisors, said that the new king was like the Spring. He was new and refreshing and offered a time of rebirth. However, if Henry Vlll was the Spring then his father had to have been the Winter; a time of darkness and solitude.
But despite the sometimes tyrannical reign of Henry Vll, he was a man who fought for what he believed was his. With what seems like the odds being against him for most of his life, he came out of exile and battled his way to the top. He was successful in putting his heir on the throne and succeeded in building possibly the most famous dynasty in England’s history.
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Finally, you can find out more about Juliana on The Savage Revolt site here.