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A Description of Henry VII by Polydore Virgil

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Last update: 5 February 2012

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Henry VII by an unknown artist
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Born: 28 January 1457
Pembroke Castle, Wales

Accession: 22 August 1485
Battle of Bosworth Field

Coronation: 30 October 1485
Westminster Abbey

Died: 21 April 1509
Richmond Palace

Buried: 11 May 1509
Westminster Abbey

 

The battle was over. On a stretch of high ground in the midland heart of the kingdom twenty thousand men had met in fierce, clumsy combat, and the day had ended in the decisive defeat of the stonger army. Its leader, the King, had been killed fighting heroically, and men had seen his naked corpse slung across his horse's back and borne away to an obscure grave. His captains were dead, captured, or in flight, his troops broken and demoralized. But in the victor's army all was rejoicing. In following the claimant to the throne his supporters had chosen the winning side, and when they saw the golden circlet which had fallen from the King's head placed upon their leader's, their lingering doubts fled before the conviction that God had blessed his cause, and they hailed him joyously as their sovereign.

The day was 22 August 1485; the battlefield was to be named after the small neighboring town of Market Bosworth; the fallen King was the third and ablest of English monarchs who bore the name Richard; and the man whom the battle made a king was to be the seventh and perhaps the greatest of those who bore the name Henry.

S.T. Bindoff Tudor England PROLOGUE: 1485

 

The very fact that Henry Tudor became King of England at all is somewhat of a miracle. His claim to the English throne was tenuous at best. His father was Edmund Tudor, a Welshman of Welsh royal lineage, but that was not too important as far as his claim to the English throne went. What was important though was his heritage through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III. This descent from King Edward was through his third son, John of Gaunt. John's third wife, Katherine Swynford had borne him several children as his mistress before he married her. The children born before the marriage were later legitmized, but barred from the succession. Margaret Beaufort was descended from one of the children born before the marriage of John and Katherine.

By 1485 the Wars of the Roses had been raging in England for many years between the Houses of York and Lancaster. The Lancastrian Henry later took for his bride Elizabeth of York thereby uniting the houses.

The real matter was decided on the battlefield, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. It was here that Henry and his forces met with Richard III and Henry won the crown. (see quotation above) It was truly through the defeat of Richard and the 'right of conquest' that Henry claimed the throne. It was solidified however, by his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of the late king, Edward IV.

The main problem facing Henry was restoring faith and strength in the monarchy. He also had to deal with other claimants, with some of them having a far stronger claim than his own. To deal with this, Henry strengthened the government and his own power, at the expense of the nobles. Henry also had to deal with a treasury that was nearly bankrupt. The English monarchy had never been one of the wealthiest of Europe and even more so after the War of the Roses. Through his monetary strategy, Henry managed to steadily accumulate wealth during his reign, so that by the time he died, he left a considerable fortune to his son, Henry VIII.

It could be debated whether or not Henry VII was a great king, but he was clearly a successful king. He had several goals that he had accomplished by the end of his reign. He had established a new dynasty after 30 years of struggle, he had strengthened the judicial system as well as the treasury and had successfully denied all the other claimants to his throne. The monarchy that he left to his son was a fairly secure one and most definitely a wealthy one.

Henry had seven children by Elizabeth of York, four of whom survived infancy: Arthur, who died shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (a point of some importance during "The Divorce"), Henry, Margaret and Mary.