Henry VII 1485-1509

Born: Pembroke Castle, 28 January 1457.

Titles: King of England, Earl of Richmond (from birth).

Crowned: Westminster Abbey, 30 October 1485.

Ruled: 22 August 1485-21 April 1509.

Married: 18 January 1486, at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth (1466-1503), dau. of Edward IV.- 8 children. Henry allegedly had one illegitimate son, though this seems to have been disproved.

Died: Richmond Palace, 21 April 1509, aged 52.

Buried: Westminster Abbey.

The first of the Tudor kings of England, Henry's claim to the throne was extremely tenuous. He was descended from Edward III's son John of Gaunt, but only through his mistress Katherine Swynford. Their child, John Beaufort, was made duke of Somerset and his granddaughter, Margaret, was Henry VII's mother, giving birth when she was only thirteen. The Beaufort's claim on the English throne had once been declared illegitimate, but it was later legalised. Henry's more authentic claim was from the Welsh rulers. His father, Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, was eighth in line from Rhys Ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, and through him Henry could claim descent from the Celtic princes of Wales and as far back as the pre-Saxon rulers of Britain. Rightly or wrongly Henry argued that the blood of Arthur flowed in his veins, and he even named his first-born son Arthur to emphasise that connection.

Nevertheless Henry was aware that his right to the throne by descent was not strong, there were at least a dozen others with a better claim - even assuming he knew that Edward V and his brother (the "Princes in the Tower") were dead. His real claim was by right of conquest. He had defeated Richard III at Bosworth and was a popular claimant. His uncle, the notorious Jasper Tudor, a colourful adventurer had been amongst the staunchest supporters of the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses. The Tudor name brought with it an aura of daring and excitement. The nobility had not fully supported Richard III, but neither were they especially supportive of Richard's nephew, Edward, earl of Warwick, who was then only ten years old, but who had the strongest claim to the throne by right of descent. Henry VII grew to resent Edward's existence and found reasons to have him imprisoned and later executed for treason in 1499. Henry strengthened his claim on the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV, thereby uniting the houses of York and Lancaster under the new dynasty. Richard III had declared Edward IV's children illegitimate, and one of Henry's first Acts of Parliament was to legitimize them again. It only serves to emphasise, however, the questionable entitlement that Henry had to the throne. He knew this and was forever fearful of other claimants. It is no coincidence that during Henry's reign two significant pretenders came forward, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Henry was gracious to the first, and patient to the latter.

Henry's childhood had been one of exile and estrangement. His father had died before his birth and his young mother remarried. Henry was raised by his uncle, Jasper, until Pembroke Castle fell to the Yorkists in 1461, when Henry's custody passed to William Herbert, soon created Baron Herbert and earl of Pembroke. Henry received a good education and was raised as a prospective husband for Herbert's daughter Maud, but all this changed when Herbert was executed for treason in 1469, and soon after Henry was reunited with his uncle Jasper, who was welcomed back at court with the restoration of Henry VI in 1470. The king even recognized Henry Tudor as a likely heir. Fortunes changed again when Edward IV recovered the crown, and both Jasper and Henry fled Britain to seek refuge in Brittany. Despite attempts by Edward to find them they survived. Little is known of this period, but judging from Henry's later nature it was evident that he learned to survive by his wits and to trust no one. It was this wily but dashing soldier who defeated Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 and inherited the throne of England.

Yet Henry forever remained a nervous king. Despite his success over the various claimants to the throne, who remained troublesome throughout the first half of his reign, Henry was anxious to establish his authority amongst his peers in Europe. He received the backing of Pope Innocent VIII in 1486, who recognized his right to the throne and threatened excommunication to any who challenged that right. With the birth of his son, Arthur, in September 1486, Henry was keen to make a strong alliance with the rulers of Aragon, Ferdinand and Isabella, whose court was one of the richest in Europe. Their daughter, Katherine, had been born a few months earlier than Arthur, and negotiations over their betrothal began as early as 1489. They were eventually married in 1499.

The link with Spain became even more important following Columbus's discovery of a route to the Indies (or so was then believed) in 1492. Columbus claimed these islands in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella. Henry took considerable interest in trade and exploration, though he had failed to help finance Columbus's expedition. He certainly did not overlook a second opportunity and in 1496 authorised and financed a voyage of discovery by the Genoese sailor Giovanni Caboto, who set sail from Bristol in 1497 and discovered Newfoundland (five hundred years after the Vikings), though he also believed these to be the lands of the Great Khan. This was the dawn of the great voyages of exploration that would blossom in the sixteenth century and saw the great rivalry between England and Spain.

Henry was keen to avoid expensive wars and thus needed an alliance with England's centuries-old foe, France. Key to this was an alliance with Scotland. While pursuing one political marriage with Spain, Henry also negotiated another with Scotland. As early as 1487 plans were afoot to arrange no less than three marriages between the Scottish and English royal houses. The strength of James IIIís friendship with the English angered many Scottish nobles and resulted in Jamesís murder in 1488. Negotiations were not reopened until 1495, when the pretender Perkin Warbeck found favour with both James IV of Scotland and the scheming German emperor, Maximilian I, who agreed to support the Scots against the English. This forced Henry to enter into discussions with Scotland with a view to encouraging Scotland to drop the Auld Alliance with France. Whilst James IV never agreed to this, a peace treaty was agreed between England and Scotland in 1502 and James IV married Henry's eldest daughter Margaret in August 1503. Henry had also negotiated an alliance with Maximilian in February 1496.

Henry's ancestry meant he was held in high regard by the Welsh, and although he did not especially show them any favour, neither did he show them any hostility. In fact as his reign progressed, so members of the Welsh nobility were appointed to senior posts and granted territory in Wales, particularly the Marches. As a result the English domination of Wales by the marcher lords ceased. For the first time in generations, there was harmony between England, Wales and Scotland, with Henry's foreign negotiations bringing greater peace with his European counterparts. This was perhaps Henry's greatest legacy. Although he was only continuing policies already initiated by Edward IV, the upsurge of trade and exploration at the start of Henry's reign, against a background of increased peace, prosperity, and also enlightenment, gives the feeling that, with the arrival of the Tudors, a new age had begun. Admittedly this was probably more evident in hindsight than at the time.

However the final years of Henry's reign were ones of personal sadness and increasing loneliness. His eldest son, Arthur, had died childless of consumption in 1502, aged only fifteen. Henry's wife Elizabeth died ten months later following the birth of their eighth child, who also died. Henry, who had never been a trusting or a happy king, became all the more surly, and retreated further into private life. Under his instruction Sheen Palace, which had been badly damaged by fire in 1497, was rebuilt and made all the more lavish as Richmond Palace, and it was here that he retired, keeping himself more to himself. His health failed and he had increasing bouts of asthma and gout. He died at Richmond Palace in 1509, aged 52.

Although Henry's reign is seen as the start of England's glory and the birth of Modern England, with the end of the Middle Ages, in truth his main achievement was in uniting a previously divided England and bringing harmony with Wales and Scotland, which provided a solid base upon which his successors, Henry VIII and Elizabeth, could build. Personally Henry was a sad king - faithful to his wife, but cautious with his affections and perhaps never truly enjoying the success that he achieved.

The Two Pretenders

SIMNEL, LAMBERT. Crowned in Ireland as Edward VI of England on 24 May 1487. Simnel, who was aged only eleven or twelve, was a pawn in the dynastic struggles that had led to the Wars of the Roses and had not yet settled down at the start of the reign of Henry VII. Simnel was of humble origin, and his real name is not known - contemporary records call him John, not Lambert, and even his surname is suspect. He was purportedly the son of an Oxford joiner and had been born in 1475. He was raised and educated by a local priest, Richard Simon, and through him came under the wing of John de la Pole, earl of Lincoln, the son of Edward IV's sister, Elizabeth. Lincoln had been nominated as his heir by Richard III and he believed he could use Simnel as a means to attain the throne. Henry VII's claim to the English throne was primarily by right of conquest, not by descent. There had been considerable secrecy during the reign of Richard III over the fate of Edward IV's sons, Edward (Edward V) and Richard, duke of York - the "Princes in the Tower". Also, on his accession, Henry VII had imprisoned Edward, earl of War-wick, another nephew of Edward IV. Simnel was the same age as Warwick, and only slightly younger than Richard of York. When Lincoln first put forward Simnel's claim it was as Prince Richard, but this was soon changed to Edward of Warwick. For his safety Simnel was taken to Ireland in late 1486, where there were many Yorkist supporters. Although Henry VII soon discovered the truth about Simnel and declared him an impostor in February 1487, bringing the real Warwick out of the Tower to prove he was alive, the support for Simnel grew and he was crowned in Dublin Cathedral as Edward VI. With Simnel as his figurehead, Lincoln led an invasion force into England in June 1487 but it was decisively beaten at the battle of Stoke on 16 June, where Lincoln was killed. Simnel, being still a minor, was pardoned by Henry who was kind to the boy. He allowed him to work in the royal kitchens and he was eventually elevated to the role of the king's falconer. He died in 1525, aged about fifty. He fared considerably better than the subsequent pretender, Perkin Warbeck.

WARBECK, PERKIN. Who proclaimed himself as Richard IV in 1494. Like the earlier claimant, Lambert Simnel, Warbeck took advantage of the tenuousness of Henry VII's claim to the English throne and the uncertainty over the fates of rightful heirs. He was in truth the son of a French official, John de Werbecque, and had been born at Tournai in Picardy in 1474. He subsequently gained work as a merchant's assistant and, while in Ireland in 1491, he gained the support of the Yorkists, first claiming to be Edward, earl of Warwick, then an illegitimate son of Richard III, and finally Richard, duke of York, the younger son of Edward IV and one of the "Princes in the Tower", whose fate was still uncertain. Warbeck may have already intrigued with Edward IV's sister, Margaret of Burgundy who, in November 1492, recognized him as her nephew and the rightful heir to the English throne. Warbeck travelled through Europe, gaining support and recognition, most importantly from Maximilian I, the new German emperor, who urged Warbeck to invade England. It was with Maximilian's encouragement that Warbeck proclaimed himself as Richard IV in October 1494 and returned to Ireland to raise an invasion force. Henry VII, however, had been quick to respond, and had succeeded in arresting most of the English nobility who supported Warbeck. For over a year Warbeck vacillated between Ireland and the Netherlands, seeking to gain support, every time finding himself bettered by Henry VII. He eventually turned to James IV of Scotland who offered to help. James even married Warbeck to his cousin, Lady Catherine Gordon, daughter of the earl of Huntly, in January 1496. Their eventual invasion of England ended up as no more than a border skirmish in September 1496. By then Warbeck had already lost the support of the Emperor Maximilian and James IV. Warbeck emerged as a whinging, self-centred individual with a high opinion of himself but little ability. Warbeck's last refuge was in Cornwall, where the Cornish had rebelled against Henry VII's taxes. Warbeck raised a local force and in September 1497 besieged Exeter, but with little success. He fled and was captured a month later and imprisoned. Henry was lenient with Warbeck, allowing him to live at court, but when Warbeck sought to escape, he was imprisoned in the Tower, close to the real earl of Warwick. As was almost certainly intended, the two managed to communicate and plotted a conspiracy. As a consequence they were both charged with treason and executed. Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on 23 November 1499, aged twenty-five.


By kind permission of "The Kings and Queens of England Website" (http://www.frhes.freeserve.co.uk/)