Texts and Documents

Copyright, image use
and linking information

Contact information

Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)




NEVER was king so thoroughly disciplined by adversity before he came to the throne as was King Henry VII. Without a father even from his birth, driven abroad in his childhood owing to the attainder of his family, more than once nearly delivered up to his enemies and owing life and liberty to his own and his friends' astuteness, his ultimate conquest of the Crown was scarcely so much a triumph of ambition as the achievement of personal safety. He could not help his birth, and in spite of the imperfections in his title he could not help being regarded as head of the House of Lancaster after Henry VI. and his son had been cut off. He could not help, in short, being an object of suspicion and jealousy to Edward IV. and Richard III successively, even if he had made no effort to dispossess them of the throne; and, in truth, against Edward he seems to have done nothing for his own part, though the Earl of Oxford's expedition to St. Michael's Mount must have been with a view to advance his claims. He might, indeed, for anything we know to the contrary, have remained an exile and a refugee to the end of his days, had not the tyranny of Richard III. drawn towards him the sympathies of Englishmen in a way they were not drawn towards him during Edward's reign.

It was through his mother that he derived his claim to the Crown; for though his father traced his descent from Cadwallader, and the Welsh were pleased with his pedigree, it was only spoken of when he came to the throne as conferring some additional lustre on his title. Nor could the fact that his paternal grandfather, Sir Owen Tudor, a simple knight of Wales, was bold enough to marry the widow of Henry V., daughter to Charles VI. of France, in any way advance his pretensions, though it made his father a half-brother to Henry VI. and allied him besides with the royal family of France. But standing as he did in such close relations with the king, Edmund Tudor, the son of Sir Owen by the Queen-dowager Katharine, was raised by Henry VI. to the dignity of Earl of Richmond; and the title of course descended to Henry, who was his only son. This was all that he could claim by right of his father.

But his mother, Margaret Beaufort, only daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was the lineal heiress of John of Gaunt. It is true that her grandfather, John de Beaufort, was only a natural son, born before his father's, John of Gaunt's, marriage with his mother, Katharine Swynford. But the Beauforts had been legitimated by Act of Parliament in the reign of Richard II., and though a reservation of the royal dignity was introduced into the patent when it was confirmed by Henry IV., it is now well known that there was no such exception in the original grant or in the Act of Parliament of Richard II.'s time. So that, failing the issue of John of Gaunt by his two previous marriages, his descendants by Katharine Swynford, even by sons whom she bore him before marriage, were the true representatives of the House of Lancaster, and could claim the throne itself if that House had any claim to it at all.

It is by no means certain, however, that Henry knew he had this advantage, and the silence of the Act of Parliament declaring his right to the Crown, as to its true hereditary character, seems rather to imply that the ground was not thought safe. No doubt there was another reason for reticence in the fact that the assertion of Henry's own hereditary claim would have discredited that of his wife as heiress of the House of York, and alienated his Yorkist supporters. But it seems probable, in the nature of things, that the reservation inserted by Henry IV. in the original patent of Richard II. was regarded as a true legal obstacle which it was better simply to ignore than expressly to overrule it in the parliamentary confirmation of Henry's title.

Such, then, was the nature of Henry's ancestral claims. We come now to his personal history. He was born at Pembroke Castle on the feast of St. Agnes the Second (28th January) 1457. In after years, when he was king, his mother dated a letter to him, "At Calais town thys day of Seynt Annes, that y dyd bryng ynto thys world my good and gracyous prynce, kynge and only beloved son." St. Anne's day falls in July; but we have ample evidence that Henry was born in the beginning of the year, and that "Seynt Annes" means St. Agnes. The circumstances of his birth were peculiar. His father was already more than two months dead, and his mother, incredible as the fact may seem, was only fourteen years old -- in fact, had not quite completed her fourteenth year -- when the event occurred. At least this was distinctly stated in her own and her son King Henry's presence in a set speech delivered by Bishop Fisher at Cambridge as Chancellor of the University, so that its truth can hardly be questioned. The orator added, "And she, as we perceive, is not a woman of great stature." The birth was probably not unattended with danger to the sole living parent, and her very early maternity no doubt interfered with her growth.

Pembroke Castle, in which Henry was born, was the property of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. It is an imposing ruin at this day -- wonderfully perfect still, in spite of the battering Oliver Cromwell gave it -- and is thus described by the antiquary Leland, who visited it in Henry VIII.'s reign: "The Castel stondith hard by the waul (the town wall) on a hard rokke and is veri larg and strong, being doble wardid. In the utter ward I saw the chaumbre wher King Henri the VII. was borne, in knowlege wherof a chymmeney is new made with the armes and badges of King Henri the VII." In this strong fortress, while England was convulsed with civil war, the child and his mother remained in tolerable security under the protection of his uncle Jasper; and even after Jasper was attainted as a Lancastrian, when Edward IV. obtained the crown, young Henry being then four years old, both this and other fortresses for some time held out against the conquerors. But not for many years; for even Harlech surrendered in 1468, and it was the last stronghold that remained in Lancastrian hands. And it was doubtless in Harlech Castle, though our informant does not give the name of the fortress, that young Henry was at length besieged when the place fell into the hands of the victorious Yorkists, and he found himself a prisoner among strangers.

The winner of Harlech Castle was William, Lord Herbert, who had been created a peer by Edward IV. at his coronation, in recognition of his staunch devotion to the House of York. Just after this achievement he was advanced to the title of Earl of Pembroke, forfeited by the attainder of Henry's uncle, Jasper. And that it was into his hands that young Henry fell by the fortune of war we may look upon as certain, for in his hands we actually find him not long after. On the 16th of July 1468 the new Earl of Pembroke made his will, in one part of which he says: "I will that Maud my daughter be wedded to the Lord Henry of Richmond." He thus exercised the rights of a feudal guardian over an unfortunate lad who was now parted from his own relations. Harlech Castle, built upon a steep rock overhanging the sea in those days (though a mile of sand has since accumulated between it and the shore), had been supposed impregnable, and must have appeared the safest place in which the young earl could be kept. It was also the key of the country, and just before its capture Earl Jasper had been holding "many sessions and 'sizes in King Harry's name" throughout Wales. The castle, however, surrendered by composition, under what circumstances we do not quite know. Young Henry became a prisoner and his uncle was now an attainted refugee.

His new guardian, we see, had the most friendly intentions towards him, and though he was now only eleven years old, the match would probably have taken effect in due time but for further disturbances. But his new guardian was put to death in the following year by the insurgents under Robin of Redesdale, and in the year after that Edward IV. was driven out of his kingdom and Henry VI. restored. Nevertheless, during the brief interval between the death of her husband and the restoration of King Henry, Maud, Countess-dowager of Pembroke, continued to take care of the young lad's education and brought him up in her family. He had, of course, received the rudiments of scholarship already from teachers appointed by his mother and his uncle Jasper. His health had been delicate from childhood, and while he could be safely moved about in Wales, he was frequently sent from one place to another, under the care of sagacious tutors, merely for change of air. One of these tutors, by name Andreas Scotus, in after years at Oxford reported to Henry's biographer and poet-laureate, Bernard Andre, that he had never seen a boy who exhibited so much quickness in learning.

On the restoration of Henry VI. in 1470 his uncle Jasper took him again out of the hands of the Countess Maud and brought him up to London. He there presented him to King Henry, who, it is said, being much struck with the boy's "wit and likely towardness" (he was then in his fourteenth year), could not refrain from remarking to those about him, "Lo, surely, this is he to whom both we and our adversaries shall hereafter give place." Prophecies of this sort, no doubt, are seldom recorded until they have been accomplished; and it must be observed that if King Henry uttered it just as it is recorded, he could have had little confidence in the future of his then living son, who was more than three years Henry Tudor's senior. But it is conceivable that, looking at a bright and clever boy, he might have said something as to the possibility of his one day winning a kingdom. The saying, however, took its place in more than one contemporary history as a prophecy, and is embalmed accordingly in the third part of Shakespeare's Henry VI [Act IV. sc.vi.].

Fortune, however, soon changed again. Edward IV. recovered his throne in the spring of next year. Margaret of Anjou and her son the prince only reached England the day Warwick was defeated and slain at Barnet, and they were finally defeated themselves a month later at Tewkesbury. All was then lost for the House of Lancaster. The prince was killed on the field -- but apparently after the battle, not in it. His unhappy father, Henry VI., was a few days later put to death within the Tower. The civil war had already made politicians quite unscrupulous, and there was now no direct issue of the line of John of Gaunt remaining except the descendants of Katharine Swynford. Nor could there have been much immediate danger to the House of York from such a stripling as the Earl of Richmond, now little more than fourteen years old, even if there had not been some apparent defect in his title. Nevertheless it was clear now that he could no longer remain safely even in Wales; and his uncle Jasper took him across the sea, hoping to find an asylum for him in France. The wind, however, carried them into Britanny, then an independent duchy; and the duke, Francis II., received them with great satisfaction, knowing well the value of such political refugees if he should require the assistance of England against his powerful neighbour France.

It was at the urgent request of his mother, the Countess of Richmond, that Henry was thus conveyed abroad. She, however, remained in England, having probably before this time married her second husband, Henry, Lord Stafford, the son of the Duke of Buckingham. She, at least, was not an object of jealousy to Edward IV., who endowed her with lands in Devonshire, where it is supposed that she chiefly lived. But he made pretty persistent efforts to induce the Duke of Britanny to give up her son to him, urging that he intended not to treat him as a prisoner, but to marry him to one of his own daughters; so that at last Duke Francis delivered him up to an English embassy, which carried him as far as St. Malo, where they were about to have taken ship for England. Henry believed that he was going to his death, and, in the words of the old chronicler, "for very pensiveness and inward thought fell into a fervent and sore ague." But Jean du Quelenec, Admiral of Britanny, an old and faithful councillor of the duke, took alarm at what seemed to him like a stain upon his master's honour, and persuaded him at the last moment to stay the effect of his weak concession. Pierre Landois, the duke's treasurer, was despatched to St. Malo to intercept the embassy, to whom he made some plausible excuses for his coming, and detained them in conversation, while his men, unknown to them, got the earl conveyed into a sanctuary within the town; and the embassy were obliged to return to England without their prize. All that was conceded to them, in answer to their remonstrances, was a promise that since matters had taken this turn (for Landois imputed the escape solely to their own carelessness), the earl should be safely kept in sanctuary, or be again placed in confinement.

So Henry remained in Britanny, and was somewhat closely guarded for the remainder of Edward IV.'s reign; but it is not likely that his confinement was very severe. In 1482 [ed. note: this should be 1472] his stepfather, Lord Henry Stafford, died, leaving him, as it appears, by will, "a trapper of four new horse harness of velvet"; and his mother soon afterwards married her third husband, Thomas, Lord Stanley, at this time steward of King Edward's household.

The death of Edward IV. and the usurpation of Richard III. opened the way for new projects, in which Henry was no longer to remain a passive instrument or victim of the designs of others. Richard had really paved Henry's way to the throne by usurping it himself; for it was on the plea of the illegitimacy of his brother's children that he claimed it, some time before he put the two young princes to death. And this point seems to have been clearly perceived by Richard's chief instrument, Buckingham, who, we cannot but suspect, was labouring all the while prior to the usurpation, not so much for Richard's benefit as for his own. For he too was a descendant of the Beauforts, and being upon the spot, probably imagined that he could seize the prize himself before his exiled cousin appeared on the scene. He had vast influence in Wales, and laid claim also to the whole inheritance of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, of which one half had been annexed to the Crown during the sway of the House of Lancaster and should have come to him on the death of Henry VI. And Richard seems very nearly, in addition to other acts of liberality, to have released to him the moiety of these possessions, which had been so long detained from him. But he had higher aspirations still; and when Richard committed to prison as a dangerous intriguer the astute John Morton, Bishop of Ely, Buckingham begged that he might have his custody. This was granted and the duke took him down to Wales, where he had some remarkable conversations with his prisoner, which will be found reported in Hall's and Grafton's Chronicles, most probably from information derived from Morton himself.

The substance is that Buckingham simply encouraged his prisoner to speak his mind frankly about Richard III. and the best means of deposing him, declaring that he himself was quite alienated from him in heart, though he had parted from him with a pleasant countenance. He said he perceived clearly that Richard was disliked by the whole nobility, "so that" (as his speech is reported) "I saw my chance as perfectly as I saw my own image in a glass." For two days at Tewksbury he had dreamed about securing the Crown for himself. But he reflected that this would certainly involve the renewal of civil war, and that, if successful, he could only establish his rights as a conqueror, and incur the hatred of the whole nobility, as Richard had done. And after all, as he confessed to Morton, it suddenly occurred to him that he was not the true representative of the Beaufort line, for he was only descended from Edmund, Duke of Somerset, who was a younger brother. How he came to overlook this rather material fact he did not inform his prisoner, but he was very frank in stating how he was reminded of it. "While I was in a maze," he said to Morton -- that is to say, while he was indulging in his day-dream -- "as I rode between Worcester and Bridgnorth I encountered with the Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond, now wife to the Lord Stanley, which is the very daughter and sole heir to Lord John, Duke of Somerset, my grandfather's elder brother; which was as clean out of my mind as though I had never seen her, so that she and her son, the Earl of Richmond, be both bulwark and portcullis between me and the gate to enter into the majesty royal and getting of the Crown."

The countess, looking upon Buckingham as the most influential friend and supporter of King Richard, seized the opportunity to ask his intercession in her son's behalf, and prayed him, by the family ties which existed between them, that he would urge the king to let him return to England. She also alluded to the suggestion made in Edward IV.'s time that her son should marry one of that king's daughters, and said that if Richard were agreeable to such a match, now that the issue of Edward IV. were cut off from the succession, she herself would be well pleased that her son should take the young lady without any dowry. Evidently this suggestion opened the eyes of Buckingham more fully than the mere accident of his meeting with the countess. To get rid of King Richard and seize the Crown himself seemed on fuller consideration a policy beset with dangers, for on the one side he would be constantly opposed by those who upheld the right of King Edward's daughters, while on the other the claims of the Earl of Richmond were undeniably superior to his own. His life as king would, under the circumstances, have been intolerable; and if the two rivals should make common cause against him, the alliance being made fast by a marriage between the earl and Edward's eldest daughter, the game was simply at an end. All this must have passed through his mind when the countess asked his intercession for her son, a request which he very naturally evaded. But after their meeting was over, when she had passed on to Worcester and he to Shrewsbury, he set himself to recast his plan; and being fully resolved, at all events, to aid in dethroning King Richard, he conceived that it might best be done by that very combination which he saw would be so fatal to himself if he, in his turn, played the part of a usurper. He therefore informed Morton that he would be glad to assist the Earl of Richmond to the Crown as heir to the House of Lancaster, in whose cause both his father and his grandfather had lost their lives, if the earl would engage to marry Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the late King Edward.

Bishop Morton, who had always been an adherent of the House of Lancaster so long as there remained any chance, in Edward IV.'s time, of vindicating their pretensions, was simply delighted to hear of the duke's intention, and resolved that he should not be allowed to cool in it. He at once led the duke to confer with him as to the means of carrying out the project, and who should be taken into confidence. Buckingham would begin, of course, with the Lady Margaret, as she was commonly called, the earl's mother. Morton advised him to make use of the services of her dependant, Reginald Bray, to whom, with the duke's consent, he wrote, urging him to come at once to Brecknock. Bray accordingly came from Lancashire, where the messenger found him with Lord Stanley and the countess, and to him the design was first imparted. The duke and Morton desired him to advise his mistress first to obtain the assent of the Queen-dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, to the project and then secretly sent a message to her son in Britanny to tell him the high honour that was prepared for him if he would swear to marry Elizabeth of York. With this commission Bray was despatched, and the bishop next told the duke that if he were in his own Isle of Ely he could make many friends to further the scheme, and that the whole of that district was so well protected by nature that with four days' warning he could set Richard at defiance. This the duke well knew, but he hesitated about letting his prisoner escape, till Morton, taking the matter into his own hands, fled secretly by night in disguise. He first came to his see of Ely, where he found both money and friends, and then sailed into Flanders, where he remained, doing good service to the Earl of Richmond until the scheme devised at Brecknock had been realised and the earl had become King of England. It is needless to say that the Lady Margaret, the Countess of Richmond, entered into this scheme with the utmost satisfaction. In order to communicate with the queen-dowager she made use of the services of a Welsh physician named Lewes, then attending upon her, who was well known among people of rank for his skill in his profession. He readily undertook a journey to Westminster in order to seek out Queen Elizabeth in the sanctuary, and get her consent to the scheme, as he could confer with her in his professional character without incurring suspicion. And he no sooner opened the project to Queen Elizabeth than she too embraced it with joy,-- as might well have been anticipatcd. For she was really a prisoner in the sanctuary with what remained of her family, and she had had bitter occasion to regret having yielded to the smooth persuasions even of men like Cardinal Bourchier, who, thinking he might safely pledge himself, body and soul, for the security of the young Duke of York, had caused her to deliver that young prince into the tyrant's power. And now she was bereft of her two only sons, and shut up with five daughters in a sanctuary which was surrounded by a guard of Richard's soldiers, lest any of them should be conveyed abroad. But the marriage project, if it could only be effected, would overthrow the tyrant, release her and her children from their present discomforts, and restore them to their true position in the State.

So the matter was easily arranged between the two mothers. The next thing was to communicate with Richmond in Britanny, for which purpose the Lady Margaret, his mother, at first proposed to employ a priest, named Christopher Urswick, whom she had lately taken into her service, but considering that the plan had originated with the Duke of Buckingham, she ultimately chose an esquire, named Hugh Conway, as a more dignified messenger. The Earl of Richmond was then a free man in Britanny, for since the death of Edward IV. the Duke of Britanny had released him from such restraint as he had previously put upon him; and Conway was to advise him to return home as soon as possible and land in Wales, where he would be sure to find friends. At the same time, to make matters sure, another messenger, named Thomas Ramme, was despatched from Kent to land in Calais while Conway crossed the sea from Plymouth; and both messengers made such good speed that they arrived in the Court of Britanny within less than an hour of each other, and were able to confirm each other's message in communication with the Earl of Richmond, who soon sent them back to accelerate arrangements.

The conspiracy was now widespread, and consequently unsafe; but the confederates were trusty, and Richard, though suspicious of some things, was not aware that he was in any serious danger. It is not probable, although Polydore Vergil says so, that he seriously suspected Buckingham. But he had sent an ambassador to the Duke of Britanny ostensibly to propose a diet on commercial affairs -- really to keep watch lest the duchy should be made a basis of operations against him, and to persuade the duke to put Richmond once more in confinement. The duke, however, evaded his request, and while maintaining outward friendship with King Richard, promised Henry his hearty support in his project of invasion. He was, in fact, prepossessed in his favour, and sanguine of the success of the confederacy against King Richard. For, besides Henry, there were other English refugees at his Court, among whom was Sir Edward Woodville, the queen-dowager's brother, a naval commander of whom Richard stood in dread; and having with him two such prominent leaders of English factions, quite agreed in their aims, he could hardly doubt that the usurper would speedily be dethroned. So, in spite of Richard's watchfulness, his enemies matured their project in Britanny, not only without the smallest impediment but with substantial aid and encouragement from the duke. And they arranged with their friends in England that Henry should land somewhere on the English coast about the 18th of October, on which day a number of simultaneous risings had been planned to take place all over the southern counties from Kent to Exeter, while Buckingham on the very same day was to raise his standard at Brecknock.

The day came, and Edward Courtenay with his brother Piers, Bishop of Exeter, raised forces in Devonshire and Cornwall. In Kent Richard Guildford and others did the like, and there were risings at the same time in Berkshire and in Wiltshire. Maidstone, Newbury, Salisbury and Exeter were the four points at which a simultaneous movement had been planned to begin over the south of England. But the rebellion failed, more perhaps from physical causes which it was impossible to forecast than from the suddenly-awakened activity and watchfulness of Richard. The inundation of the Severn-- "the Duke of Buckingham's Great Water," as it continued to be called for a long time after-- cut off the leader of the whole movement from his allies. The Earl of Richmond's fleet was driven by storm back upon the shores of Britanny and Normandy. King Richard took measures to have the coasts well guarded, and himself came suddenly from Yorkshire to Salisbury, where the Duke of Buckingham, deserted by his Welsh followers and betrayed by a dependant, was brought before him a captive and ordered to summary execution. Finally the Earl of Richmond's vessel, separated from the rest of his fleet, sighted land near the harbour of Poole. But the coast was lined with armed men collected to resist his landing, and Henry was not deluded by a ruse by which they invited him to come on shore, pretending to be friends of the Duke of Buckingham. So he hoisted sail and again crossed the Channel to Normandy, from whence after three days he returned by land to Britanny.

His principal adherents in England, seeing how matters stood, contrived to escape by sea and join him in the duchy, among whom were the Marquis of Dorset, Sir Edward Woodville, Lord Wells, the two Courtenays above mentioned, Sir Giles Daubeney, Sir John Bourchier, Sir Robert Willoughby, Sir Thomas Arundel, Sir John Cheyney and his two brothers, Sir William Berkeley and Thomas his brother, Sir Richard Edgecombe, and some others of less note at that time, among whom was one Edward Poynings, afterwards knighted for his services in war, of which and of some other doings of his we shall have occasion to speak farther on.