Henry VII (January 28, 1457 – April 21, 1509), King of England, Lord of Ireland (August 22, 1485 – April 21, 1509), born Henry Tudor, was the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty.
Henry was born at Pembroke Castle, 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, 1st Duke of Bedford. 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. By 1483 his mother, despite being the wife of pro-Yorkist Lord Stanley, was actively promoting Henry as an alternative to the unpopular Richard III. With money and supplies borrowed from his host, Francis II, Duke of Brittany, Henry made an unsuccessful attempt to land in England but his conspiracy quickly unraveled, resulting in the execution of primary co-conspirator the Duke of Buckingham. Richard III attempted to extradite Henry through an arrangement with the Breton authorities, but the future King managed to escape to France. He was welcomed by the French court, who readily supplied him with troops and equipment for a second invasion. By 1485, Richard had so disaffected most of the English nobles that conditions were ripe for such an undertaking.
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 his chance to seize the throne would be to engage Richard quickly and defeat him in the first battle, 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.
Henry VII's paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, a Welshman, had married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois. However, Henry's claim to the throne derived from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. His claim was somewhat tenuous; it was based upon a lineage of illegitimate succession, and overlooked the fact that the Beauforts had been disinherited by Letters Patent of King Henry IV. Lady Margaret Beaufort claimed royal blood as a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and Gaunt's third wife Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. Katherine had been John of Gaunt's mistress for some 25 years and bourne him four illegitimate children, John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort, by the time they were married in 1396.
Nonetheless, John of Gaunt ensured that his children by Katherine were legitimized. Through his instrumentality, his nephew King Richard II issued Letters Patent, confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1397, that legitimized John of Gaunt's Beaufort children. Richard's cousin and successor, Henry IV, the son of John of Gaunt by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, later issued an order disinheriting his Beaufort half-siblings from the throne, but the legality of Henry's order is doubtful given that the Beauforts were previously legitimized by an Act of Parliament. In any event, not only was Henry VII, a Lancastrian, descended from the union of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, but the Yorkist kings were as well, as Joan Beaufort, only daughter of the Gaunt-Swynford union, was the mother of Cecily Neville, wife of Richard Duke of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III.
It is also noteworthy that the Tudors were 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 earlier 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 that the majority of claimants to the throne had died in the dynastic wars or were simply executed by his predecessors. Despite easily seeing off the Stafford and Lovell Rebellion of 1486, 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. 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. However, this theory does not account for the disappearance of the princes in the summer of 1483, two years before Henry seized the throne.
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. Henry had locked the boy up for safekeeping at the age of 10, he did not execute him until 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).
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, such that anyone with blood ties to the old Plantagenet family was suspected of coveting the throne.
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
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 decree. 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.
Yet by 1509 it was one of Henry VII's most unpopular policies, as it had led to thirty-six out of the state's sixty-two noble families being put under financial threat by the Justice of the Peace. As well as this only one duke was in his own position due to heritage, the rest had had their titles removed or changed, most notably the Duke of Norfolk (the second most powerful man in the country) had his lands confiscated and was declared a traitor. So unpopular was that when Henry VIII first came to power, he distanced himself from the policy by immediately freeing all the noble families from any financial threat from the government, as well as killing Empson and Dudley, the two people most closely linked with Henry's most ruthless financial demands as well as the council of law.
In 1502, fate dealt Henry VII a blow from which he never fully recovered: his heir, the recently married Arthur, died in an epidemic at Ludlow Castle and was followed in 1503 by Henry VII's queen, Elizabeth of York, 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 Papal 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. Popular lore suggests that Henry died of a broken heart following the deaths of his son and heir, Arthur, and his wife, Elizabeth of York.