Henry VII

(1457—1509) king of England and lord of Ireland

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference


king of England (1485–1509). Though the belief that Henry VII was a new kind of ruler at the head of a new kind of monarchy has long been abandoned, he was certainly an unusual ruler. Despite the fact that he was a competent soldier, he did not hanker after military glory. Secondly, he seemed to take positive pleasure in the detail of government and administration, while many monarchs left the hard work to ministers. Thirdly he seems to have wished to amass money rather than spend it.

The weakness of Henry's claim to the throne has been exaggerated. Henry's father was a half‐brother of King Henry VI; his grandmother had been queen to Henry V and a princess of France; his great‐great‐grandfather was John of Gaunt, son of Edward III. Nevertheless, Henry's early life was inauspicious. His father Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, died three months before Henry was born at Pembroke castle. His young mother Lady Margaret Beaufort remarried. His grandfather Owen Tudor was beheaded at Hereford after the Lancastrian defeat at Mortimer's Cross in 1461, and his uncle Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, was forced to flee. On the brief restoration of Henry VI in 1470 he was reunited with his uncle, but after the crushing defeat at Tewkesbury, they both fled to Brittany. Not until Richard usurped the throne in 1483 did Henry's prospects brighten. In secret negotiations with Edward IV's widow, it was agreed that Henry should marry her daughter Elizabeth, thus uniting the houses of Lancaster and York. But an attempt on the throne in 1483 proved premature. His ally Buckingham was captured and beheaded, and Henry's own expedition to the south coast was scattered by gales. In 1484 Richard put pressure on Brittany to hand over Henry, who escaped to France in the nick of time. Thence he sailed with 2,000 men to Milford Haven in 1485 on the journey that brought him to Bosworth and the throne.

He needed to learn very quickly since his nomadic existence before Bosworth had left him short of experience in government. He learned early not to be too trusting. Lord Lincoln, who had fought against him at Bosworth, was forgiven, taken into employment, and attended the council to decide how to deal with Lambert Simnel—before riding off to join the rebels. But Henry became a good judge of men, and was well served by John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury from 1486, and by Richard Foxe, who finished as bishop of Winchester.

His main objectives were to secure his own position, to found a dynasty, and to establish a stable government. Of his four predecessors as kings, two had been murdered, one had died in battle, and the fourth (Edward IV) had been driven ignominiously from the kingdom in the middle of his reign. The foundation of Henry's success was the marriage to Elizabeth of York. The first challenge from Yorkist irreconcilables came in April 1486, was headed by Lord Lovel and the Hastings brothers, and was put down without difficulty. It was followed by the Simnel plot in 1487. Simnel claimed to be Edward, earl of Warwick, despite the fact that Warwick was in the Tower. His supporters, strengthened by German mercenaries, were subdued at Stoke near Newark only after hard fighting. Simnel, a mere boy, was given a place in the royal kitchens and lived out a long life in safe obscurity. Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Richard, duke of York, was received by James IV of Scotland as Richard IV, captured in 1498, but executed with Warwick the following year.


Subjects: British History.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.