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Henry VII (before accession known as Henry Tudor; ; 28 January 1457 – 21 April 1509) was the King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Henry was successful in restoring the power and stability of the English monarchy after the political upheavals of the Wars of the Roses. He founded a long-lasting dynasty and was succeeded in non-violent circumstances by his son, King Henry VIII, after a reign of 24 years.

Although Henry can be credited with the restoration of political stability in England, and a number of commendable administrative, economic and diplomatic initiatives, the latter part of his reign was characterised by a 'financial rapacity' which stretched the bounds of legality. According to the contemporary historian Polydore Vergil, simple 'greed' in large part underscored the means by which royal control was over-asserted in Henry's final years.

Background and early life

Young Henry VII

Henry VII's paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, originally from the Isle of Angleseymarker in Wales, had been a page in the court of Henry V. He rose to become one of the 'Squires to the Body to the King' after military service at Agincourt. He is said to have secretly married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois. One of their sons was Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, father of Henry VII. Edmund had been created Earl of Richmond in 1452, and 'formally declared legitimate by Parliament'. Henry's claim to the throne, however, derived from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. His claim was somewhat tenuous; it was from a woman, and based on a lineage of illegitimate succession, overlooking the fact that the Beauforts were disinherited by Letters Patent of King Henry IV. Henry's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was as a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and his third wife Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. Katherine was John's mistress for around 25 years; they already had four children—John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort—when they married in 1396.

John of Gaunt ensured his and Katherine's children were legitimized. His nephew, Richard II, issued Letters Patent, confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1397, that legitimized John of Gaunt's Beaufort children. In 1407, Richard's cousin and successor, Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, issued an order confirming the legitimacy of the Beaufort children, but barring them from the throne. The legality of Henry's order was doubtful, given the Beauforts were previously legitimized by an Act of Parliament. In any event, Henry VII was not the only monarch descended from the union of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. The Yorkist kings were as well. Joan Beaufort, only daughter of the Gaunt-Swynford union, was the mother of Cecily Neville, wife of Richard, Duke of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

Henry's claim to the throne on his father's side was even less clear. Owen Tudor had come from an 'Angelsey family of no great pretension' - his father Meredith, had been 'butler to the Bishop of Bangor'. 'Much later', when the dynasty was secure, the Tudors were supposedly traced back to 'Cadwallader himself' and Royal Welsh bloodlines. In 1485, when Henry Tudor, flying the Welsh dragon, prevailed at Bosworth Field to take the crown, his lineage was of secondary importance. The Wars of the Roses had ensured that any other claimants were either dead or too weak to challenge him. Henry won the throne by right of conquest.

Immediately before Henry's birth, his father, Edmund Tudor, had been campaigning for Henry VI in South Wales against the Yorkists. He was captured and imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle, where he died in 1456, three months before Henry was born. Henry's uncle, Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke and Edmund's younger brother, undertook to protect the young widow, who was thirteen years old when she gave birth to Henry. When Edward IV became King in 1461, Pembroke Castlemarker, and the Earldom, were granted to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, under whose guardianship Margaret Beaufort and the young Henry were now placed. Jasper Tudor went into exile abroad.

Henry stayed with the Herbert household for some time until the Earl was executed for treachery by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the 'Kingmaker'. When Warwick restored Henry VI the following year in 1470, Jasper Tudor was able to return from exile and brought Henry to court. When the Yorkist Edward IV returned to the throne in 1471, Henry, who was a Lancastrian, fled to Brittany, where he spent most of the next 14 years.

Rise to the throne

By 1483, his mother, despite being married to pro-Yorkist Lord Stanley, was actively promoting Henry as an alternative to Richard III. With money and supplies borrowed from his host Francis II, Duke of Brittany, Henry tried to land in England, but his conspiracy unravelled, resulting in the execution of his primary co-conspirator, the Duke of Buckingham. Richard III attempted to extradite Henry via an arrangement with the Breton authorities but Henry escaped to Francemarker. He was welcomed by the French, who readily supplied him with troops and equipment for a second invasion.

Having gained the support of the Woodvilles, in-laws of the late Edward IV, he landed with a French and Scottish force in Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire, south Wales and marched into England, accompanied by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, and John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. Wales was traditionally a Lancastrian stronghold, and Henry owed the support he gathered to his Welsh birth and ancestry, being directly descended, through his father, from the Lord Rhys. He amassed an army of around 5,000 soldiers and went north.

Henry was aware that his best chance to seize the throne would be to engage Richard quickly and defeat him immediately, as Richard had reinforcements in Nottingham and Leicester. Richard only needed to avoid being killed in order to keep his throne. Though outnumbered, Henry's Lancastrian forces decisively defeated Richard's Yorkist army at the Battle of Bosworth Fieldmarker on 22 August 1485. Several of Richard's key allies, such as the Earl of Northumberland and William and Thomas Stanley, crucially switched sides or left the battlefield. Richard III's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field effectively ended the Wars of the Roses, although it was not the last battle Henry had to fight.


The first concern Henry had on attaining the throne was establishing the strength and supremacy of his rule. His claim to the throne being as weak as it was, he was fortunate that the majority of claimants had either died in the dynastic wars or been executed by his predecessors. Despite seeing off the Stafford and Lovell Rebellion of 1486, his main worry was "pretenders" including Perkin Warbeck, who, claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, and son of Edward IV, made attempts at the throne, backed by disaffected nobles and foreign enemies. Henry secured his crown principally by dividing and undermining the power of the nobility, especially through the aggressive use of bonds and recognisances to secure loyalty, as well as a legislative assault on the retaining of private armies.

He also honoured his pledge of December 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter and heir of King Edward IV. They were third cousins, as both were great-great-grandchildren of John of Gaunt. The marriage took place on 18 January 1486 at Westminstermarker. The marriage unified the warring houses and gave his children a stronger claim to the throne. The unification of the houses of York and Lancaster by Henry VII's marriage to Elizabeth of York is represented in the heraldic symbol of the Tudor rose, a combination of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster.

In addition, Henry had the Titulus Regius, the document that declared Edward IV's children illegitimate by citing his marriage as invalid, repealed, thus legitimizing his wife. Amateur historians Bertram Fields and Sir Clements Markham have claimed that he may have been involved in the murder of the Princes in the Tower, as the repeal of the Titulus Regius gave them a stronger claim to the throne than his own. Alison Weir, however, points out that the ceremony that took place at Rennes Cathedralmarker on Christmas Day 1483—when Henry vowed to marry Elizabeth of York and then took the homage of his supporters, including many prominent former Yorkists—could only have been possible if both Henry and his supporters were certain that the Princes were already dead, two years before Richard's death and Henry's accession.

Elimination of rivals

Henry's first action was retroactively to declare himself king from the day before the battle, ensuring that anyone who 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 regretted his leniency two years later, when Lincoln rebelled and attempted to set a boy pretender of peasant stock, Lambert Simnel, on the throne in Henry's place. Lincoln was killed at the Battle of Stokemarker, but Henry, seeing Simnel as a puppet of Lincoln, spared him and took him in as a kitchen servant.

Simnel had been put forward as "Edward VI", impersonating the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence. Edward was imprisoned in the Tower of Londonmarker: Henry had, in 1485, imprisoned the boy and had him executed in 1499. He spared Edward's elder sister, Margaret Pole, who had the next best claim on the throne; she removed herself to Salisbury, and, with Henry's permission, inherited her father's earldom — and survived well into her seventh decade, until she too fell victim of the fears and vengeance of royals, i.e., Henry VIII, who brought a bill of attainder, nominally for treason, against her. She was executed shortly afterward.

Henry married Elizabeth of York with the hope of uniting the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides of the Plantagenet dynastic disputes. In this he was largely successful. However, a level of paranoia continued, so much that anyone with blood ties to the Plantagenets was suspected of coveting the throne.

Economic and diplomatic policies

It is generally accepted that Henry VII was a fiscally prudent monarch who restored the fortunes of an effectively bankrupt exchequer (Edward IV's treasury having been emptied by his wife's Woodville relations after his death and before the accession of Richard III) by introducing ruthlessly efficient mechanisms of taxation (though many of his policies can be seen to have been built on foundations laid by Richard III in his brief reign). In this he was supported by his chancellor, Archbishop John Morton, whose "Morton's Fork" 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. He was not a military man and had no interest in trying to regain French territories lost during the reigns of his predecessors; he was therefore ready to conclude a treaty with Francemarker at Etaples that brought money into the coffers of Englandmarker, and ensured the French would not support pretenders to the English throne, such as Perkin Warbeck. However, this treaty came at a slight price, as Henry mounted a minor invasion of Brittany in November 1492. This act of war was a bluff by Henry, as he had no intention of fighting over the winter. However, as France was becoming more concerned with the Italian Wars, they were happy to agree to the Treaty of Etaples.

Henry had been under the financial and physical protection of the French throne or its vassals for most of his life, prior to his ascending 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 Portsmouthmarker in 1495) and improving trading opportunities.

By the time of his death, he had amassed a personal fortune of £1.25 million, (the equivalent of approximately £375 million in today's values).

Henry VII was one of the first European monarchs to recognise the importance of the newly-united Spanishmarker kingdom and concluded the Treaty of Medina Del Campo in 1489, by which his son, Arthur Tudor, was married to Catherine of Aragon. Similarly, the first treaty between England and Scotland for almost two centuries betrothed his daughter Margaret to King James IV of Scotland, a move which would ultimately see the English and Scottish crowns united under Margaret's great-grandson, James VI and I. He also formed an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire, under the emperor Maximilian I (1493–1519) and persuaded Pope Innocent VIII to issue a Bull of Excommunication against all pretenders to Henry's throne.

Henry's most successful economic-related diplomatic achievement was the Magnus Intercursus (1496). In 1494, Henry had imposed a trade embargo (mainly affecting the trade of wool) upon the Netherlands as punishment for Margaret of Burgundy's refusal to surrender the fugitive pretender, Perkin Warbeck. The Merchant Adventurers, the company which enjoyed the monopoly of the Flemish wool trade, relocated from Antwerp to Calais. At the same time, Flemish merchants were ejected from England. The stand-off eventually paid off for Henry. Both parties realised they were mutually disadvantaged by the reduction in commerce. Its restoration by the Magnus Intercursus was very much to England's benefit in removing taxation for English merchants and significantly increasing England's wealth. In turn, Antwerp became an extremely important trade entrepot, through which, for example, goods from the Baltic, spices from the east and Italian silks were exchanged for English cloth.

In 1506, Henry negotiated the Treaty of Windsor with Philip the Handsome, which resulted in the Malus Intercursus (the evil agreement). Philip had been shipwrecked on the English coast, and while the guest of his royal host, and in a disadvantageous bargaining position, agreed to terms which were so excessively favourable to England that the Flemings called the treaty the 'evil agreement'. France, Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Hanseatic League rejected the treaty, which was never fully ratified. Philip died shortly after the negotiations.

Law Enforcement and Justices of Peace

Henry's principal problem was to restore royal authority in a realm recovering from 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 (mercenaries 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 stayed within the law.

In other cases, he brought his over-powerful subjects to heel by decree. He passed laws against 'livery' (flaunting your adherents by giving them badges and emblems) and 'maintenance' (keeping too many male 'servants'). These laws were used shrewdly in levying fines upon those that he perceived as threats.

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 the 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: a similar system of bonds and recognisances to which applied to both the gentry (Justices of the 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 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

Late 16th century portrait of Henry VII
In 1502, Henry VII's heir, Arthur, died in an epidemic at Ludlow Castlemarker. This made Henry, Duke of York heir to the throne.

In 1503, Henry VII's queen, Elizabeth of York, died in childbirth. Not wishing the negotiations that had led to the marriage of his late son to Catherine of Aragon to go to waste, he arranged a Papal dispensation for Prince Henry to marry Catherine — normally a degree of relationship that precluded marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. Also included in the dispensation was a provision that would allow Henry VII to marry his widowed daughter-in-law. Henry VII obtained the dispensation from Pope Julius II (1503–13) but had second thoughts about the marriage and did not allow it to take place during his lifetime.

Although he made half-hearted plans to remarry and beget more heirs, these never came to anything. On his death in 1509, he was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII (1509–47). He was buried at Westminster Abbeymarker on 9 May 1509. According to Alison Weir, he died of tuberculosis.

Henry's titles

  • Up to 1485 The Earl of Richmond (disputed)
  • 22 August 1485–21 April 1509: His Highness The King of England and France, Lord of Ireland

Henry's full style as king was: Henry, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland


Upon his succession as king, Henry became entitled to bear the arms of his kingdom. After his marriage, he used the red-and-white rose as his emblem — this continued to be his dynasty's emblem, known as the Tudor rose.


Henry and Elizabeth's children were:

Name Birth Death Notes
Arthur Tudor, Prince of England 19 September 1486 2 April 1502 Married Catherine of Aragon in 1501.
Margaret Tudor 28 November 1489 18 October 1541 Married (1) James IV, King of Scotland (1473–1513) in 1503. Married (2) Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489–1557) in 1514.
Henry VIII, King of England 28 June 1491 28 January 1547 Married (1) Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536) in 1509. Married (2) Anne Boleyn (1501–1536) in 1533. Married (3) Jane Seymour (1503–1537) in 1536. Married (4) Anne of Cleves (1515–1557) in 1540. Married (5) Catherine Howard (1520–1542) in 1540. Married (6) Catherine Parr (1512–1548) in 1543.
Elizabeth Tudor 2 July 1492 14 September 1495 Died young.
Mary Tudor 18 March 1496 25 June 1533 Married (1) Louis XII, King of France (1462–1515) in 1514. Married (2) Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1484–1545) in 1515. Mary was the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey.
Edmund Tudor, Duke of Somerset 21 February 1499 19 June 1500 Died young.
Katherine Tudor 2 February 1503 2 February 1503 Died shortly after birth. Mother, Elizabeth of York, died as a result of Katherine's birth.

An illegitimate son has also been attributed to Henry by "a Breton Lady":
Name Birth Death Notes
Sir Roland de Velville or Veleville 1474 25 June 1535 He was knighted in 1497 and was Constable of Beaumaris Castlemarker. If de Velville was in fact Henry's son, he was born during the period of Henry's exile in France. Roland de Velville's descendants included Katheryn of Berain, hence she is sometimes referred to as "Katherine Tudor".

Further descendants

Henry VII's elder surviving 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, first married King Louis XII of France (1498–1515) and then, when he died after only about 3 months of marriage, she married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk without her brother's (now King Henry VIII) permission. 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 (1537–53) died.


See also



  • 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)
  • Henry VII by Sean Cunningham (2007)
  • The Son of Prophecy: Henry Tudor's Road to Bosworth (1985) by David Rees (ISBN 0-85159-005-5) is a discussion of how Henry's return to Walesmarker was regarded by some as the fulfilment of a Messianic prophecy.
  • Henry VII by Neville Williams, Weidenfeld & Nicholson (1972)
  • Monarchy by David Starkey, Harper Perennial (2006) (ISBN 0-00-724766-0)
  • Henry VIII, King & Court by Alison Weir, Pimlico (2002) (ISBN 0-7126-6451-3)
  • The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, Ballantine Books (1995) (ISBN 0-345-39178-0)
  • Richard III by P. M. Kendall, Cardinal (1973) (ISBN 0-351-17095-2)
  • The Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan (ed.), Oxford University Press (1988) (ISBN 0-19-285202-7)
  • 'The Consolidation of England 1485-1603', by Diarmaid MacCulloch, in Morrill, John (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor and Stuart Britain, Oxford University Press (1996) (ISBN 0-19-289327-0)
  • 'The Tudor Age (1485-1603)', by John Guy, in The Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan (ed.), Oxford University Press (1988) (ISBN 0-19-285202-7)

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