Henry VII (1457-1509) was king of England from 1485 to 1509. He was a successful usurper, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, and an accomplished practitioner of Renaissance diplomacy.
Born on Jan. 28, 1457, at Pembroke, Wales, Henry VII was the only son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. Through the Beaufort family, Henry was descended from Edward III, and in 1470 he was given the title of Earl of Richmond by Henry VI, last of the Lancastrian Kings.
The Yorkist victories of 1471 brought death to Henry VI and his son, and Henry Tudor became a refugee in Brittany as well as heir to the claims of Lancaster. The death of Edward IV in April 1483 left the Yorkist monarchy to his 12-year-old son Edward V, soon deposed and imprisoned by his uncle, regent, and successor, Richard III. Henry attempted a Lancastrian uprising in October 1483 but was balked by bad weather and Richard's soldiers.
Aided by Charles VIII of France, Henry landed at Milford Haven in August 1485 with 2,000 men. A large Welsh troop under the banner of Cadwalader were among the following of 5,000 with whom Henry won the Battle of Bosworth Field (Aug. 22, 1485), where Richard was killed at the head of his forces. The victor was proclaimed King Henry VII by his own soldiers and some of Richard's. There were only three post combat "reprisal slayings" at Bosworth, and Henry made broad use of "temporary forfeiture" to encourage former opponents to earn back their estates by service to the king.
Henry's coronation on Oct. 30, 1485, was marked by expensive pageantry, as he considered an appearance of splendor appropriate to a monarch. On November 7 Henry opened Parliament, which accepted him as king, and attainted Richard for usurpation and "shedding of infants' blood," presumably explaining the fate of Edward V and Richard of York. Customs for life and an act of resumption were voted. On Jan. 18, 1486, Henry fulfilled a parliamentary petition, and his own promise to unite the families of York and Lancaster, by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV.
Threats to His Crown
But the Yorkist faction was not to be romanced out of existence. Lambert Simnel, son of an Oxford tradesman, was coached to an impersonation of Edward of Warwick, son of Edward IV's brother, George of Clarence. Henry demonstrated Simnel's imposture by having Warwick taken from the Tower of London long enough to attend High Mass at St. Paul's. Nevertheless, a serious Yorkist movement developed, supported by several councilors and the King's mother-in-law, among others. This uprising was checked only by Henry's victory in the Battle of Stoke (June 16, 1487). The captured Simnel was made a palace servant.
By 1489 Henry had settled on a foreign policy of limited rivalry with Charles VIII. This suited England's anti-French prejudices and gave Henry a diplomatic rationale for alliances with the emperor Maximilian I, the Duchess of Brittany, and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The 1489 Treaty of Medina del Campo linked England and Spain in policy and a promise of marriage alliance. Henry asked the 1489 Parliament for a subsidy of £100,000 to finance war against France. The policy was popular, but not the price.
Attempted collection led to tax riots, and only after a further grant of £60,000 was Henry able to stage a brief campaign in Picardy in 1492. By the Treaty of étaples, Henry agreed to give up the invasion, and Charles agreed to pay Henry an indemnity and a pension of £5,000 per year.
This settlement was viewed in England as a betrayal of the national investment to the profit of the King's treasury, and Henry's 1492 unpopularity encouraged one Perkin Warbeck to an impersonation of Richard of York (younger brother of Edward V). For 5 years the elusive Warbeck cultivated anti-Tudor interests in Ireland, Scotland, and on the Continent, with occasional forays into England to encourage a Yorkist faction. The attainder of Sir William Stanley was one result of these disorders. Another was the appointment of Edward Poynings to govern Ireland, resulting in "Poynings' Laws" on the relation of the English and Irish governments.
While Charles VIII's 1494 invasion of Italy preoccupied Europe, Henry remained neutral and solvent in anticipation of troubles at home. The prudence of this policy was shown when Charles's campaign collapsed in 1495 and when the Scots invaded England in 1496. Taxes for an army in 1497 provoked riots and a full-scale rebellion in Cornwall. Henry left the Scots to Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, who ended a successful campaign with the Truce of Ayton in September. The Cornish rebels advanced on London with a force of 15,000 but were driven back by Henry and an army of 25,000. Perkin Warbeck linked his fortune to the Cornish rebellion only to share its failure in the summer of 1497. Warbeck was captured, confessed his imposture, and was removed to the Tower.
These events were the last serious challenges to Henry's throne. Ralph Wilford's 1499 "Warwick" gained him only a speedy hanging. At the same time, Henry used a futile Warbeck and Warwick plot to escape as an excuse to make an end of both. Warbeck was hanged on Nov. 23, 1499, at Tyburn. Warwick, imprisoned since childhood, was beheaded at Tower Hill on Nov. 29, 1499, and the male line of York was no more.
Diplomatic and Domestic Policies
Henry negotiated marriage alliances for his children as part of his diplomacy. The 1503 marriage of his daughter Margaret to James IV of Scotland aimed at detaching James from the "Auld Alliance" with France and ultimately led to a union of English and Scottish governments.
Prince Arthur's Nov. 14, 1501, marriage to Catherine of Aragon was ended by Arthur's death on April 2, 1502, from a respiratory infection. Ferdinand and Isabella suggested Henry's younger son and namesake as a husband for their daughter, but the June 25, 1503, marriage contract made this dependent on Prince Henry's consent when he came of age on June 28, 1509. Consummation of the marriage to Arthur was a point in dispute, and Henry VII thoughtfully collected testimony that Henry VIII later used in his divorce of Catherine of Aragon.
Henry VII's 1508 proxy marriage of his daughter Mary to Prince Charles of Castile did not become a real union, and as a widower Henry was unsuccessful in his attempts to marry his own way into the control of another kingdom. He could not prevent Spain and France from growing into kingdoms of increasing solidity and strength, but Henry at least helped to save England from becoming the victim of France or Spain.
Henry VII continued the restoration of governmental effectiveness begun by Edward IV, following the bankruptcy and collapse of government under Henry VI. A more general enforcement of law and order earned Henry much of his support, despite particular abuses in Star Chamber cases or in the field of jury tampering. Government income more than doubled in Henry's reign, and he showed great sense in the use of money. The structure of Henry's government remained medieval in organization, but the King's investments in commerce, attention to technological changes in shipbuilding and mining, and sponsorship of John Cabot's voyage to America all gave to the general impression of Henry's government an effect which was both modern and national. Henry's selfishness and capacity for foresighted calculation won him many advantages but few admirers, and in later life Henry at times appeared dissatisfied with the ungenerous methods by which he had prospered. By any account, however, he was one of England's more successful diplomatists.
Further Reading on Henry VII
A study of Henry and his era is A.F. Pollard, ed., The Reign of Henry VII from Contemporary Sources (3 vols., 1913-1914). Biographies of Henry include James Gairdner, Henry the Seventh (1889), a standard work; Eric N. Simons, Henry VII: The First Tudor King (1968), a popular biography; and R. L. Storey, The Reign of Henry VII (1968), a fresh assessment. Henry is discussed in Kenneth Pickthorn, Early Tudor Government: Henry VII (1934), which is a brief commentary; J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558 (1952), a concise survey; and G. R. Elton's excellent England under the Tudors (1955).
Additional Biography Sources
Alexander, Michael Van Cleave, The first of the Tudors: a study of Henry VII and his reign, Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980.
Chrimes, S. B. (Stanley Bertram), Henry V, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1972; London, Eyre Methuen 1972.
Farrington, Robert, Tudor agent, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974.
Fox, Alistair, Politics and literature in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, Oxford, UK; New York, NY, USA: Blackwell, 1989.
Gairdner, James, Henry the Seventh, St. Clair Shores, Mich.,Scholarly Press 1969?; New York, AMS Press 1970.
Gellis, Roberta, The Dragon and the Rose, Chicago: Playboy Press, 1977.
Ide, Arthur Frederick, The mercantile policies of Henry VII, Irving, Tex.: Scholars Books, 1987.
Jones, Michael K., The King's mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, Cambridge England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Macalpine, Joan, The shadow of the tower: Henry VII and his England, background to the BBC tv serie, London, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1971.
Pitt, Derek William, Henry VI, London, Oxford U.P., 1966.
Plaidy, Jean, Uneasy lies the head, New York: Putnam, 1982, 1984; London: R. Hale, 1982.
Randall, Dale B. J, "Theatres of greatness": a revisionary view of Ford's Perkin Warbeck, Victoria, B.C., Canada: University of Victoria, 1986.
Rees, David, The son of prophecy: Henry Tudor's road to Bosworth, London: Black Raven Press, 1985.
Simon, Linda, Of virtue rare: Margaret Beaufort, matriarch of the House of Tudor, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.
Simons, Eric N., Henry VII, the first Tudor king, New York: Barnes& Noble, 1968; London: Muller, 1968.
Sisson, Rosemary Anne, The dark horse: a play, London; New York: French, 1979.
Stephens, Peter John, Battle for destiny, New York: Atheneum, 1967.
Stubbs, Jean, An unknown Welshman; a novel based on the early life of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, later King Henry VII of England, from 1457 to 1485, London: Macmillan, 1972.
Temperley, Gladys, Henry VI, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971.
Williams, Glanmor, Harri Tudur a Chymru = Henry Tudor and Wales, Cardiff: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1985.
Williams, Neville, The life and times of Henry VI, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973.