Henry VII of England

Henry VII
King of England, Lord of Ireland
Reign August 22, 1485 - April 21, 1509
Coronation October 30, 1485
Queen Elizabeth of York (1466-1503)
Issue Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502)
Margaret Tudor (1489-1541)
Henry VIII of England (1491-1547)
Elizabeth Tudor (1492-1495)
Mary Tudor ( 1496-1533)
Edmund Tudor, Duke of
Katherine Tudor (1503-1503)
Royal House Tudor
Father Edmund Tudor (c. 1430-1456)
Mother Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509)
Born January 28, 1457
Pembroke Castle
Died April 21, 1509
Richmond Palace
Buried Westminster Abbey

Henry VII (January 28, 1457April 21, 1509), King of England, Lord of Ireland (August 22, 1485April 21, 1509), was the founder and first patriarch of the Tudor dynasty. [1]

Early life

Known greatly as the king of hearts, or the man of ruthless wonder, Henry was born in Pembroke Castle, Wales, in 1457, Henry VII was the only son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. His father died two months before he was born, which meant that the young Henry spent much of his early life with his uncle, Jasper Tudor. With the return of Edward IV to the throne in 1461, Henry VII was forced to flee to Brittany, where he was to spend most of the next fourteen years. After the failure of the revolt of his second cousin, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in 1483, Henry VII became the leading Lancastrian contender for the throne of England. With money and supplies borrowed from his host, Francis II, Duke of Brittany, Henry made an unsuccessful attempt to land in England but turned back after encountering Richard III's (1483–85) forces on the Dorset coast. Richard III attempted to ensure his return through a treaty with the Breton authorities, but Henry VII was alerted and escaped to France. He was welcomed by the French court, who readily supplied him with troops and equipment for a second invasion.


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 5000 soldiers and travelled north.

Though outnumbered, Henry was aware that this was his only chance to seize the throne. Using reinforcements that waited in Nottingham and Leicester Henry's Lancastrian forces decisively defeated the Yorkists under the King 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. This effectively ended the long-running Wars of the Roses between the two houses, though it wasn't the final battle. Henry's claim to the throne was tenuous: it was based upon a lineage of illegitimate succession, and overlooked the fact that he had been disqualified by an earlier act of attainder. However this proved to be no barrier to the throne. Following the battle all 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 monarchy was the question of establishing the strength and supremacy of his rule. His own claim to the throne was limited, but he was fortunate in that there were few other claimants to the throne left alive after the long civil war. His main worry was pretenders such as Perkin Warbeck, who pretended to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower and son of Edward IV. These pretenders were backed by disaffected nobles. Henry triumphed in securing his crown by a number of means but principally by dividing and undermining the power of the nobility, especially through bonds and recognisances, as well as forcing them to disband their 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. This unified the warring houses, gave him a greater claim to the throne due to Elizabeth's line of descent and ensured that his children would be of royal blood (athough there is evidence that Edward was born illegitimate).

Henry's first action was to retrospectively declare himself king as of 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 of London. Henry had shown uncharacteristic leniency in dealing with Edward and did not find a pretext for executing him until he had grown into adulthood, in 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.

Marriage and Issue

English Royalty
House of Tudor

Henry VII
   Arthur, Prince of Wales
   Henry VIII
   Edmund, Duke of Somerset
Henry VIII
   Henry, Duke of Cornwall
   Mary I
   Elizabeth I
   Edward VI
Edward VI
Mary I
Elizabeth I

Henry and Elizabeth's children are:

Name Birth Death Notes
Arthur, Prince of Wales September 20, 1486 April 2, 1502 Married Catherine of Aragon (1485 - 1546) in 1501. No issue.
Margaret Tudor, Princess of England November 28, 1489 October 18, 1541 Married (1) James IV, King of Scotland (1473 - 1513) in 1503. Had issue. Married (2) Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489 - 1557) in 1514. Had issue.
Henry VIII, King of England June 28, 1491 January 28, 1547 Married (1) Catherine of Aragon (1485 - 1546) in 1509. Had issue. Married (2) Anne Boleyn (1501 - 1536) in 1533. Had issue. Married (3) Jane Seymour (1503 - 1537) in 1546. Had issue. Married (4) Anne of Cleves (1515 - 1557) in 1540. No issue. Married (5) Catherine Howard (1520 - 1542) in 1540. No issue. Married (6) Katherine Parr (1512 - 1548) in 1543. No issue.
Elizabeth Tudor, Princess of England July 2, 1492 September 14, 1495 Died young. No issue.
Mary Tudor, Princess of England March 18, 1496 June 25, 1533 Married (1) Louis XII, King of France (1462 - 1515) in 1514. No issue. Married (2) Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1484 - 1545) in 1515. Had issue.
Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset February 21, 1499 June 19, 1500 Died young. No issue.
Edward Tudor, Prince of England Unknown Unknown Edward Tudor. He may not have actually existed. Suspected to be a mistaken name for Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset. However, this name is listed in official records as a child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Edward is also mentioned in Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir as having died young. She assumes the child to have been buried with his family in Westminster Abbey.
Katherine Tudor, Princess of England February 2, 1503 February 2, 1503 Died young. No issue. Mother, Elizabeth of York, died as a result of Katherine's birth.

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 efficiently ruthless 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 that both directly and indirectly brought money into the coffers of England. He had been under the financial and physical protection of the French throne or its vassals for most of his career as a pretender 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 million and a half pounds; it did not take his son as long to fritter it away as it had taken the father to acquire it.

As well as coming to terms with the French, Henry VII forged alliances with Spain — by marrying his son, Arthur Tudor, to Catherine of Aragon; with Scotland — by marrying his daughter, Margaret, to King James IV of Scotland; and with the Holy Roman Empire, under the emperor Maximilian I (1493–1519).

Law Enforcement and Justices of 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 degree. 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 thus dealt with.

Henry VII used Justices of Peace 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 Peace as he did to the nobility. i.e. a similar system of bonds and recognisances to which applied to both the gentry (Justices of Peace) as well as the nobles who tried to exert their elevated influence over these local officials.

All Acts of Parliament were overseen by the Justices of Peace. For example, Justices of 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.

Later years

In 1502, fate dealt Henry VII a double blow from which he never fully recovered: His heir, the recently-married Arthur, died in an epidemic at Ludlow Castle and was followed only a few months later by Henry VII's queen, 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 dispensation for his younger son to marry his brother's widow — normally a degree of relationship that precluded marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. Henry VII obtained a 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, more famous son, Henry VIII (1509–47).


Henry VII's elder daughter Margaret was married first to James IV of Scotland (1488–1513), and their son became James V of Scotland (1513–42), whose daughter became Mary, Queen of Scots. By means of this marriage, Henry VII hoped to break the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Margaret Tudor's second marriage was to Archibald Douglas; their grandson, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley married Mary, Queen of Scots. Their son, James VI of Scotland (1567–1625), inherited the throne of England as James I (1603–25) after the death of Elizabeth I. Henry VII's other surviving daughter, Mary, married first King Louis XII of France (1498–1515) and then, when he died of too much honeymooning, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Their daughter Frances married Henry Grey, and her children included Lady Jane Grey, in whose name her parents and in-laws tried to seize the throne after Edward VI of England (1547–53) died.

King Henry VII is buried at Westminster Abbey.


  • Henry VII by S. B. Chrimes & George Bernard (1972)
  • Henry VII by Jocelyn Hunt & Carolyn Towle (1998)
  • Henry VII by Roger Turvey & Caroline Steinsberg (2000)
  • The Son of Prophecy: Henry Tudor's Road to Bosworth (1985) by David Rees (ISBN 0851590055) is a discussion of how Henry's return to Wales was regarded by some as the fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy.



  1. ^ Had the eponymous sobriquet Henry the Navigator not already been given to Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator for his efforts during the early days of the Age of Sail, Henry VII would almost certain be called that today instead. He had a large role in establishing the vaunted British Sea Power and therefore laid the foundation of what eventually became the most successful and widest spread empire in history to date, the famous British Empire that is in modern times now the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, including the Former British Nations.

Preceded by:
Richard III
King of England
Succeeded by:
Henry VIII
Lord of Ireland
Monarchs of England
Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§
* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe

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