Sunday, July 9, 2017

Founders: Who was King Henry VII of the Tudor Dynasty?

Henry VII
He established a controversial House that created so much impact in English and even world history. He ushered an era of stability after almost a century of conflict. Explore how Henry VII ruled England and secured the reign of his dynasty – the Tudors.

Early Life

Born on January 28, 1457 in Pembroke Castle in Wales, Henry Tudor was the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and Margaret Beufort. Upon his birth, he missed his father who passed away 3 months ago.

His parentage boasted great connections. His father was the grandson of Catherine of Valois, widow of King Henry V. His mother, on the other hand, was the great-granddaughter of John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and son of King Edward III. Thus, Henry was a descendant of the prominent Lancaster Family as well as has relations to the Crown of England.

His Lancaster heritage, however, made him involved in the long bitter civil war known as the Wars of Roses. The War erupted as 2 contending families the Yorks and Lancasters bid for the throne. The conflict lasted from 1455 until 1485 and embroiled 3 generations into the struggle.

In all of this, Henry seemed distant in becoming the candidate of Lancasters for the throne; however, with the death of several heirs with stronger claims, he rose up to become the Lancaster family’s contender.
Battle of Tewkesbury
On May 1471, the Lancasters lose the Battle of Tewkesbury against the Yorks.  Henry had to flee the country with the help of his uncle, Jasper Tudor. An unexpected storm brought them to the Duchy of Brittany in France. The Yorks assumed the throne with the young Edward V as King. The King’s ambitious uncle, however, Richard usurped the throne and imprisoned the young king and his brother to the Tower of London. The usurpation resulted to the divide of the House of York, which posed as an opportunity for Henry to return to England.
Elizabeth of York

In 1483, Henry supported the rebellion of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, against Richard III. It failed. He then sought the support of the Yorkist factions that opposed Richard by promising to marry Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. The promise of marriage joined Henry’s and some Yorkist forces to overthrow Richard III.

Other than the Yorks, Henry also received assistance from the French who feared war with England due to Richard’s incursions to France.

With much support, Henry sailed with his army to England and made a landing in Milford Haven in Wales. From there he began his march towards the capital London. During his march, to London, more supported flock his cause including his stepfather Lord Thomas Stanley. On August 22, 1485, Henry faced Richard in the Battle of Bosworth where the throne of England hanged in the balance. During the battle, Henry defeated Richard who fell in battle. With the death of Richard, Henry quickly claimed the throne for himself and on October 30, he was crowned King. Parliament then recognized him on the following month. Keeping with his promise to the Yorks, on January 18, 1486, he married Elizabeth of York uniting the 2 feuding families and putting an end to the long bitter Wars of Roses.

Tudor King

With his coronation, Henry had established the Tudor dynasty and peace returned to the realm of England; however, threats loomed against him and plots laid down to dethrone him. The greatest threat to his throne remained from the Yorkist factions. Although he married the Yorks, some within the house continued to plot against the Lancaster descent King. Henry remained vigilant to thwart these threats to his crown.

Equally bad for Henry, Europe underestimated him. Many countries remained in doubt over Henry’s strength to keep his throne, and so many gave refuge to Henry’s enemies in hope of taking advantage of a civil war.

Looming Yorkist Threats

The Yorks their strength in Northern England and Ireland. They also received the support of Richard III’s sister the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy Margaret of York.
Lambert Simnel carried on the
shoulder of his supporter

In 1486 a rebellion rose up led by Lord Francis Lovell who served as the chamberlain of Richard III. The rebellion, fortunately for Henry, erupted prematurely and the Tudor army managed to quell the rebellion quickly. The following year, however, another rebellion started inspired by boy named Lambert Simnel who pretended to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, and nephew of Richard III. Henry knew Simnel as a pretender due to the fact the real Earl of Warwick languished in the Tower of London. Another man who joined Simnel was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and designated heir of the late Richard III who augmented the rebels with forces of Irish chieftains. The Dowager Duchess of Burgundy also supported the rebels and sent 2,000 German mercenaries. Henry fought the rebels in Stoke on June 1487 where he dealt them with a blow that stopped the rebellion. After the rebellion, he discovered Simnel played only a role in the rebellion after being duped by Richard III’s supporters. In an act of mercy, he hired the rebel as a cook in the royal kitchen.

Rebellion continued to plagued Henry’s reign. In 1491 another pretender came forward – Perkin Warbeck. Warbeck pretended to be Richard, Duke of York and the brother of the late King Edward V. Edward and Richard disappeared from the Tower of London when Richard usurped the throne. Warbeck used the disappearance to pretend to be Richard who escaped from incarceration and to muster support. He did it under the instigation of the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy and supported by numerous European countries, like Maximilian I of Austria and James IV of Scotland.  Discontented Lords like William Stanley pledged their fealty as well to Warbeck.

Perkin Warbeck
He trice attempted to invade England. First he landed in Kent but was dislodged by a militia army who supported King Henry. The second invasion brought him to Scotland where he launched an attacked southwards that also ended in disaster. Lastly, he joined an uprising in Cornwall, known as the Cornish Uprising, in 1497.  Warbeck, however, failed with his rebellion and Henry’s forces captured in Beaulieu in Hampshire. He languished in the Tower of London for 2 years trying his best to escape. After 2 unsuccessful attempts, Henry decided to execute him by hanging in the Tyburn.

Plots and resistance against Henry continued well after Warbeck’s rebellion. In 1499 Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, and nephew of Edward IV escaped to the Netherlands. He plotted against Henry with the support of Maximillian of Austria. The plot to overthrow Henry came in light of the King’s son Edmund passing away in 1500 and followed by his eldest son Henry in 1502 as well as the death of the York Queen Elizabeth in 1503. The plotters, however, failed to materialize their plans and in 1506 Henry captured the Earl of Suffolk and threw him to prison in the Tower of London.

Foreign Affairs

Henry foreign affairs prioritized the security of his crown and the reconstruction of England. As much as possible he kept peace with his neighbors and dealt with them to prevent their support to his detractors. He only went to war if it brought gains to England or to neutralize any threat to his crown.

In the early years of his reign he resisted France’s annexation of the Duchy of Brittany, the Duchy that provided refuge to him during the Wars of Roses. He sided with Spain and the Holy Empire in a war to prevent France from succeeding as well as in exchange for hefty subsidies. He landed troops in Calais and besieged Boulogne. In 1492, however, he abandoned the cause of Brittany as the war drained the resources of his impoverished and war-torn country that might undermined his capability to prevent any threats to his crown. He successfully negotiated peace with France that resulted to the Treaty of Etaples and won France’s recognition of his position and his dynasty along with financial a subsidy that amounted to 5% of the annual revenue of the government. After the war, relations with France remained cordial and peaceful.
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, then Duke of Burgundy
Shaky relations existed also between Henry and Maximilian, Duke of Burgundy, later Holy Roman Emperor, and James IV of Scotland. The tensed relation came as a result of the 2 leaders’ support to the rebel leader Perkin Warbeck. Henry used England’s strong trade position in the economy of the Netherlands (then part of Maximilian’s domain) to force them to abandon Warbeck’s cause. He succeeded in making Maximilian drop their support of Warbeck in exchange for greater free trade between the two countries under the trade agreement called Intercursus Magnus.

Solving problems with Scotland, however, proved to be more difficult. Long standing animosity existed between England and Scotland. Nonetheless, Henry succeeded to overcome it in 1501 when the Treaty of Ayton was signed between Scotland and England. It was then followed by a political marriage that tied the House of Tudor with the House Stuart with the marriage of Henry’s daughter Margaret and the Scottish Prince James in 1503.

Political marriage seemed to be Henry’s best weapon to secure the Tudor Dynasty. He had his daughter Mary married to King Louis XII of France, thereby securing the support of one of Europe’s superpowers. He also gained the support of another continental superpower Spain by having his eldest son Arthur married to the Spanish Princess Catherine of Aragon in 1501 and under the Treaty of Medina del Campo. Even with the death of Arthur, Henry made sure the marital relation with Spain remained by having the widow Catherine marry his next eldest son, Henry (the later King Henry VIII). As a result of the marital union between the House of Aragon and Tudor, Henry secured the recognition and support of one of Europe’s superpower Spain.
Catherine of Aragon
In most of Henry’s reign, he knew England’s weakness against neighboring countries and his precarious situation, he kept out of war as much as possible. This allowed him to secure his country internally and to provide a time for the tired England to rest and to rebuild itself.

Internal Stability and Prosperity

Henry knew he needed to secure the crown by matching if not surpass the nobility in wealth and project power greater than that of Parliament. In order to do so, he needed money, which he planned to derive from customs duties. To increase customs duties, he needed to create a prosperous trading economy. As a result he promoted trade with other countries as exemplified by the Intercursus Magnus. He also developed England’s industries to prevent trade deficits and reliance on imported goods that might undermine England’s self-sufficiency, hence his position as well.

He also initiated navigation acts that promoted English shipping which enhanced the country’s seamanship skills. He also supported the exploration of new markets through patronage of explorers such as Joh Cabot.

Henry himself was rich already. His inheritance as the sole heir of the Lancaster gave him substantial lands. More came as he confiscated the lands of Lords who rebelled against him. As a result, he greatly expanded the crown lands that offered great income to the Crown.

Henry made tax and government revenue collection efficient. He made sure right taxes, fees, and dues especially from the nobility flowed smoothly into government coffers. He did this by keeping the Yorkist method of collection through servants under the supervision of the King himself rather than the Chancellor of Exchequer. As a result of his efficient administration of government finance, he left government coffers overflowing with coins.

To balance power with the powerful nobility, he empowered the sectors of lawyers, clerics, and lesser gentry to the Court of Star Chamber. The Council served as judicial council chaired by the King himself and presided over trials which lesser courts failed to fairly judge due to corruption.

Furthermore, he also secured the support of the small-landed gentry by giving them security of property. It meant that any gentry who pledge allegiance to the King who sat on the throne would have security of their lives and property making their ownership unalienable.

He also ceased the nobility in raising private armies through the Court of the King’s Bench. This council of justices also served as a judicial court that brought justice in special cases especially in Wales and Northern England. It became also responsible in sentencing of nobles suspected of raising illegal private armies.

Many men outside the prominent nobility rose to great importance. These men included his Chief Minister, Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, Richard Empson, Edmund Dudley, and John Stile, who contributed to English diplomacy by inventing the 1st diplomatic cipher. But Empson and Dudley greatly help to fill Henry coffers with ruthless efficiency. Their sometimes forceful ways led to their unpopularity and eventual execution in 1510.

In all of this, Henry placed intelligence as his strongest weapon in keeping internal security. He created an extensive network of spies and informants both home and abroad that kept him informed of developments and plots. This made him secure and his people especially his enemies anxious.

To his courtiers, he also showed great deal of wealth to intimidate and show confidence of his new position. Although characterized as frugal, it did not stop him from wearing exquisite clothing and magnificent jewels. He moved in the palace grounds with a canopy and great retinue following him. Jesters, minstrels, and leopards kept him entertained while he dined in opulent style in view of the nobility and courtiers.

End of Reign

On April 21, 1509, Henry VII passed away. He left England in peace and financial well-off. He passed this England to his son the controversial King Henry VIII. He also left a Tudor Dynasty that spawned a Golden Age during the reign of his granddaughter Elizabeth.

See also:


Churchill, Winston. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume II: The New World. London: Cassell and Company Ltd., 1956.

“Henry VII.” In Encyclopedia of Tudor England. By John Wagner and Susan Schmid. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2012.

Myers, Alexander Reginald. “Henry VII.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 11, 2017. URL:

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