Henry VII brought peace, prosperity and national pride to England. His reign ended the bloody Wars of the Roses. He became an outstandingly successful English king.

He was born in Pembroke Castle on 28 January 1457. He survived thanks to his mother’s care during the Wars of the Roses. There was little likelihood of ever gaining the throne.

Early Life

Henry VII

His father, Edmund Tudor, died as a civil war prisoner three months earlier. Henry had no legitimate claim despite his great-grandfather Owen’s marriage to Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois.

His mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was a direct descendant of Edward III. Her grandfather was born illegitimate, although his parents eventually married.

He was separated from his mother when he was four years old. A Yorkist sympathiser, William Herbert, became his guardian and provided Henry with a good education. Herbert was later executed for treason.

Henry sought political asylum in Brittany where he remained a prisoner for fourteen years.


Elizabeth of York

Henry defeated Richard III’s superior forces at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August. Henry was proclaimed the new king of England, and he was crowned in a lavish ceremony on 30 October 1485.

Henry married Elizabeth of York on 16 January 1486, uniting the warring houses of Lancaster and York.

Elizabeth was an attractive twenty-year-old with a fair complexion and golden hair. Henry remained faithful although it was a political match.

The young Henry was tall, strong and striking with piercing blue eyes.

They had eight children. Only Arthur, Margaret, Henry and Mary survived to adulthood.

The Pretenders

However, Henry dealt with two pretenders. Lambert Simnel claimed he was the Earl of Warwick in 1487. Henry defeated Simnel’s forces at Stoke on 16 June 1487 and sent him to work in the royal kitchens. (The real Earl remained a prisoner in the Tower of London since 1485.)

Another pretender, Perkin Warbeck, claimed he was Richard of York, Edward V’s brother.

Henry no longer trusted anyone, especially when some of his nobles supported Warbeck. They were executed to discourage other Yorkist supporters.

Warbeck and James IV of Scotland’s large-scale invasion turned into a border raid. Warbeck was also defeated. Henry showed clemency. Warbeck abused his freedom so he was sent to the Tower.

Henry steadily grew richer. He gained control of crown lands. He was granted excise taxes (tonnage and poundage). Other revenue-raising involved forced loans (benevolences) from his wealthier subjects as they could afford it, strict fines enforcing law and order (and also enriching the crown). His taxes were unpopular.

Henry VIII Chapel

He spent money improving and renovating his palaces. He also built the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey—one of the Tudor age’s finest monuments.

He patronised learning, loved music and developed pageantry of the palace, elevating his kingship and endowing it with mystique.

Henry also funded John Cabot’s expedition to find new fishing grounds. Cabot discovered Newfoundland on 20 May 1497.

Henry’s foreign policies included strengthening European alliances through his children’s marriages.

Arthur married Catherine of Aragon in 1501. Arthur died from tuberculosis in April 1502, leaving Catherine a widow. Catherine was then offered as a wife to Henry.

Margaret was married to James IV of Scotland.

Elizabeth died from childbirth in 1503. The child died days later. Henry deeply mourned his wife.

Life as a widower

Prince Henry later repudiated his Spanish bride. Henry considered marrying Catherine but Isabella and Ferdinand opposed the match.

Henry spent his last six years sad and lonely.

He became overprotective towards his surviving son, but he failed to teach Henry how to rule a kingdom.

Henry died from tuberculosis at Richmond on 21 April 1509, leaving England a very wealthy nation.

© 2008 Carolyn M Cash


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© 2008 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 13 September 2008.

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