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Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)




THE crowning of Henry upon Bosworth Field, although in itself but a piece of show, was the expression of a fact which could no longer be contested. England lay at Henry's feet. The issue of the battle had already given validity to his pretensions. The tyrant was removed, and there was no other rival to contest the Crown with him. Henry was therefore already king de facto, but how or by what right? The niceties of law cannot be considered in the stirring times of action, but the basis of all power must be right of some kind, and no one knew so well as Henry the disadvantage of reigning with an uncertain title.

How was he king? His title was Lancastrian, and the House of Lancaster had now for many years been set aside as usurpers. Moreover, the direct line had been extinguished and some doubt rested upon the legitimacy of his own branch. He could never have won the victory as heir of the House of Lancaster if his promise to marry Elizabeth had not brought him the support of a large number of Yorkists. But a crown matrimonial was not to be thought of, even on public grounds; for if he was king only by right of his wife, "he could," as Bacon remarks, "be but a king at courtesy," and his title would die with her, or depend upon a parliamentary settlement if she were removed before him. He was naturally, therefore, led to rest his claim as much as possible on his own inherent right, without, however, challenging minute investigation or discrediting the title of the rival House of York, whose heiress he was about to marry. And having been thus crowned upon the field of battle, he at once took upon himself the royal title without any further ceremony to intimate his accession. Indeed, it would appear by some evidences that he had even assumed that title before the battle, and summoned his Welsh subjects to his standard to enable him to wrest his kingdom from the hands of a usurper.

His first act after the victory was to send Sir Robert Willoughby to Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire, the castle to which the Princess Elizabeth had been sent by Richard's orders to be out of the way. Here was also Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of the unhappy Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV. He was a lad of ten years old, over whom his uncle, King Richard, had stood guardian and whom he had once designated as heir to the Crown, though he afterwards put him out of the succession, perhaps from a feeling that any recognition of the claims of the Duke of Clarence's issue would discredit his own title as Clarence's younger brother. Henry felt that it was just as well to make sure of the person of this lad, whose title as a male might possibly be preferred by some Yorkists to that of the Princess Elizabeth herself, and ordered Willoughby to bring him up to London. The boy accordingly came up in Willoughby's escort, and was immediately lodged in the Tower, where he remained for the rest of his days a prisoner. As for the Princess Elizabeth, she received directions to come up and join her future husband as soon as she conveniently could, and she very soon came, escorted by a number of noble men and ladies. She was placed at once in the keeping of the queen-dowager, her mother.

Henry meanwhile went on by easy stages to London, where, we are told by Bacon, he made his entry on a Saturday, "as he had also obtained the victory upon a Saturday; which day of the week, first upon an observation and after upon memory and fancy, he accounted and chose as a day prosperous unto him." Bacon was not without authority for writing thus; in fact he had the seemingly excellent authority of Henry's own poet laureate and historiographer, Bernard Andre. But nothing is more certain than that the battle of Bosworth was fought on a Monday, not on a Saturday, and the theory that the latter was Henry's lucky day arose, or at least was justified, only from later experience. Two great rebellions during his reign were each crushed upon a Saturday -- the one at the battle of Stoke, fought on the 16th of June 1487; the other at the battle of Blackheath, on the 17th of June 1497 -- and Andre only began to write his History three years after the latter event; so that it is clear he was thinking of more recent occurrences when he told his readers that the victory of Bosworth Field was gained on a Saturday. But he is right, doubtless, that Henry's entry into London was on that day of the week, when, as he informs us, he himself was present, and sung a Latin ode of his own composition to greet the conqueror. In fact a contemporary MS. says that Henry's entry took place on the 3rd of September, which was the second Saturday after the battle. It would appear, therefore, that his progress to the capital was slow enough -- a sure sign that he was well received in the country as he went along. He probably rested some days at St. Albans.

Another curious error that has crept into all our histories is also traceable, not indeed to the words of Bernard Andre, but to a singular misreading of them by one of Bacon's contemporaries. Bacon himself tells us that though accompanied in his entry by troops of noble men, Henry rode in a close chariot, "as one that, having been some time an enemy to the whole State and a proscribed person, chose rather to keep state and strike a reverence into the people than to fawn upon them." What Bacon, however, relates as a fact is only a conjecture in the pages of his contemporary Speed, who shows us clearly on what it was grounded. Henry, according to Speed, eschewed popular acclamations, "for that, as Andreas saith, he entered covertly, meaning belike, in a horse-litter or close chariot." The close chariot, then, is a mere inference from the words of Andreas (Bernard Andre) as read by Speed. But the MS. of Bernard Andre does not say that Henry entered the city covertly, but joyfully (laetanler, not, as Speed quotes the word, latenter), and the whole aspect of the matter is thus completely changed. Henry had no fear of a good reception by the citizens, and he was not so impolitic as to cool their ardour by reserve on his part. He was received by the Lord Mayor and city companies at Shoreditch, and met, as Polydore Vergil and Hall assure us, with a very warm and enthusiastic welcome, every one pressing forward "gladly to touch and kiss that victorious hand which had overcome so monstrous and cruel a tyrant." And so he rode through the city in triumph to St. Paul's, "where he offered his three standards" -- the first bearing the figure of St. George; the second the red fiery dragon of Cadwallader," beaten upon white and green sarcenet"; the third "a dun cow, painted upon yellow tartern." Then after orisons and Te Deum in honour of the victory, he took up his abode for a few days at the Bishop of London's palace.

Here he summoned a Council, in which the fulfilment of his promise to marry Elizabeth was the principal subject of discussion, and it is said the day was even named. But if so, there can be little doubt that he himself had his own views upon the subject, and was determined, as Lord Bacon intimates, not to have the marriage celebrated till after his coronation; nor even then till he had held his first Parliament.

Meanwhile the citizens showed their joy by processions and pageants, after the fashion of those days. A sum of 1000 marks had been voted to the king even before his arrival in London as a donation, and was doubtless presented to him by the Lord Mayor at Shoreditch, in behalf of the whole 435 persons who were there in their scarlet and violet gowns as aldermen and as citizens. Nor is there any reason to doubt the genuineness of a loyalty which, relieved from the fear of a capricious and violent tyranny, looked forward now to the cessation of civil war. But a dark cloud soon over shadowed their rejoicings. A deadly pestilence called the sweating sickness, unknown in England till that day, although other visitations of it followed at intervals during this and the succeeding reign, made its appearance in the city towards the close of September. On the 11th of October the Lord Mayor died of it, and his successor, elected immediately, died of it also five days later; so that a third Lord Mayor had to be chosen to carry on the functions of the mayoralty till the 28th day of the month, when the regular year of office expired. The disease also proved fatal to six of the aldermen. It was a malady which attacked men suddenly, and ran its course in four-and-twenty hours, so that if a man survived its attack so long he was safe. But some died within a single hour of the first sensation of illness, and many in two. "At the longest," wrote Dr. Caius, who as a physician had collected all the information he could get about it, "to them that merrily dined it gave a sorrowful supper."

But suddenly as it had come, so suddenly the dreadful scourge departed. From about the 21st of September, when it first made its appearance in the city, it prevailed till near the end of October, and then disappeared. Nor did the king think it necessary to put off his coronation, which took place on the appointed day, the 30th of October. He dined the three days before with Cardinal Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth, and passing from thence over London Bridge to the Tower, he there made twelve knights bannerets, and created three peerages (but only one new peer), in view of the approaching ceremony. His uncle Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, was created Duke of Bedford; his stepfather, Lord Stanley, was made Earl of Derby; and Sir Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon. This very sparing distribution of honours, however, was to be augmented a little later. On the day of his coronation -- thinking, well of the dangers that might beset him in the future, but veiling his purpose as if he only meant to add dignity to the Crown -- he instituted a bodyguard of fifty men, archers and others, continually to attend him. He had seen the value of this in France, where such a body of personal attendants had been instituted by Louis XI. some years before; and though the thing was new in England, and perhaps not altogether popular at first, it clearly tended to exalt the throne, which had certainly suffered in dignity to some extent by the familiarity of Edward IV. and the attempt of Richard III. to dress up his election with a semblance of popular support. The sovereign was now further removed from the populace, and the yeomen of the guard fulfil to this day at least one of the purposes for which they were originally instituted.

Parliament met on the 7th of November, in obedience to a writ of summons dated the 15th of September -- issued, that is to say, just twelve days after the king's arrival in London. Henry evidently was anxious that it should meet at the earliest possible opportunity, not so much to vote him money, which the revenues of the Crown themselves supplied, as to make a settlement of the Crown upon himself and to lay a basis for future tranquillity. Warmly as he had been received, he had still to make it manifest to all the world that he was not a usurper, nor yet a mere conqueror reigning by right of the sword. The first business, therefore, was the confirmation of his title. Yet the grounds of that title, as we have seen, were a matter of some delicacy, and Parliament very wisely passed them over in silence. It was enough that they found the title itself good and sufficient. The king himself, indeed, addressed the Commons with his own mouth, declaring that he had come to the Crown by just right of inheritance, and by the judgment of God in giving him the victory over his enemy in battle. But the words used in the Act were merely, "That the inheritance of the Crowns of England and France be, rest, remain and abide, in the person of our now Sovereign Lord, King Harry the Seventh, and in the heirs of his body." Whether this was a recognition of antecedent right, or a making of right for the first time, mattered little as regards its practical effect. The important thing to note was that the right was acknowledged to be in the king himself, without any reference to his prospective marriage. The marriage might strengthen him hereafter, but in law he was strong without it.

After the attainders passed by Richard III. against Henry's followers had been reversed, an Act of Attainder was passed against the usurper and those who had fought for him at Bosworth. But how could fighting for Richard be treason when Henry was not yet king? Only by a legal fiction, which Parliament was subservient enough to enact. Henry's reign was made to begin on the 21st of August, the day before the battle of Bosworth On that day the rebels -- that is to say, Richard III and his followers -- mustered at Leicester, and moving on towards Bosworth next day, gave battle to Henry, their lawful king. So the matter was set forth in the Act; and it was needless, of course, for the proscribed party to protest against a misreading of history expressly aimed at them.

We are happy to learn, however, from one of the very few writers of the period -- a monk writing within the seclusion of Croyland Abbey in Lincolnshire -- that few as the persons affected by it were, this arbitrary enactment did not pass without considerable question. There were, in fact, some who distinctly censured its injustice, and the monk himself, while recording the fact that it encountered this criticism, cannot forbear adding a reflection of his own as to the alarm which it inspired. "O God!" he exclaims, "what security are our kings to have henceforth that in the day of battle they may not be deserted by their subjects, who, acting on the awful summons of a king, may on the decline of that king's party, as is frequently the case, be bereft of life and fortune and all their inheritance?" The actual victims, however, were doubtless, for the most part, men for whom little sympathy was felt, and it was probably the king's purpose at the outset to inspire as much terror as possible through the Statute-book, that men might feel how much they owed to the royal clemency. For a general pardon soon afterwards gave assurance to all others who had been in arms against the king provided that they submitted and swore fealty within forty days; on which a great number at once came out of sanctuary.

We are told by Bacon that the king, enriched by many valuable confiscations, thought it advisable not to press for a money grant in this Parliament. As a matter of fact, however, the grant of tunnage and poundage, usually passed at the commencement of a reign, was voted at this time; and an Act of Resumption put him in possession of all the lands which had belonged to Henry VI. on the 2d of October 1455, invalidating all subsequent grants by which any of them had been given away.

Henry was careful of money matters from the first, and some of the laws passed in this Parliament, while devised in the supposed interest of English trade, to secure it from competition by foreigners, were also calculated to enrich his treasury with forfeitures.

Another Act passed in this Parliament, affecting the rights of the Crown, deserves more attention than it has hitherto received. The abuses of purveyance had been a fertile source of complaint for centuries; and though by various statutes, from the days of Edward III., some security had been given for the payment of a reasonable price for commodities taken for the use of the royal household, the grievance still remained. On this subject the commons made their "humble supplication" to the king, without apparently specifying any particular form of remedy; and the king, by the advice of his Council, drew up a scheme for the assignment of various portions of the revenue which actually belonged to him, amounting in all to £14,000, to the satisfaction of these claims, so that the expenses of his household should be fully provided for and all excuse for extortion taken away. The amount was charged in various definite sums on the Receivers-general of the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and of the forfeited lands of Warwick, the King-maker, and others; on the clerk of the Hanaper, the Warden of the Mint, the Chief Butler of England, the customs' dues at London and other ports, and the different farmers of Crown lands up and down the country. A clause was added, that if by any mistake payment could not be made of the particular sum charged on any particular officer, the Treasurer of England was to make assignment of the sum which was deficient upon some-other of the royal revenues, and to make this a prior claim to every other. The scheme in all its details was submitted to Parliament, and approved by both Houses; but from the form of the enactment we may judge that it emanated from the king himself.

On the 19th of November an oath was proposed in the House of Lords which, it was hoped, would tend to suppress disorders in the country. A man was to swear not to receive or shelter any known felon, and not to retain any man by indenture or oath, or give liveries contrary to the law, impede the execution of the king's writs, encourage the practices called maintenance and embracery -- that is to say, bring undue influence to bear in any form on a court of justice -- or give any assent to riots or unlawful assemblies. Before this oath was taken by the Lords themselves it was administered to a number of knights and esquires, both of the king's household and of the House of Commons, who were expressly summoned to receive it in the Parliament chamber. It was then recited once more in the king's own presence, and all the lords, spiritual and temporal, swore to observe it, each of the former laying his right hand upon his breast and each of the latter landing it upon the Gospels.

And now Parliament, having done so much for the public tranquillity, urged the king himself to complete the work. On the 10th of December the Speaker, Thomas Lovell, brought up a request of the Commons and laid it before Henry, who was present in person in the House of Lords, that seeing they had settled the Crown on him and the heirs of his body, his Majesty would deign to marry the Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Edward the Fourth. On this all the Lords rose from their seats, and standing before the throne with their heads bowed, repeated the same request. The scene of course had been arranged, and it suited Henry's purpose exactly that he should be solemnly entreated by the most august assembly in his kingdom to do what was really necessary for the security of his own position, even if he had not been bound to do it at any rate by the pledges given in Britanny. He replied with his own mouth that he was willing to satisfy their desire; after which Bishop Alcock, as Chancellor, prorogued Parliament to the 23d of January.

On his departure from France Henry had inflicted a most appropriate punishment on the Marquis of Dorset for his perfidious attempt to steal away from him at Paris. He left him and Sir John Bourchier in the French king's hands as pledges for repayment of the money advanced in aid of his expedition to England. But now that Parliament was prorogued, he sent at once to redeem the hostages, and at the same time despatched messengers to Flanders for Morton, Bishop of Ely, to whose warnings from a distance he was already so much in debted, that he might take, as he did from that time, a leading place at his Council board.

It was certainly owing to Morton's diplomacy more than to that of any other statesman of the day that Henry was now in possession of the throne; and it was only natural that he should receive, as he did, the highest honours that Henry could bestow. Next year, on the death of Cardinal Bourchier, he promoted him to the see of Canterbury; in 1487 he made him Lord Chancellor, and some years later, after many and urgent solicitations, he prevailed on the Pope to make him a cardinal. Yet it is difficult to say what kind of influence he exerted on Henry's policy as king, and one might almost judge, from the scanty notices in State papers, as well as from some casual expressions recorded in his conversations with Buckingham, that in spite of great natural astuteness he was only a politician by necessity and duty, considering the service of the Church as a higher object. We know that in the days of his prosperity he was a magnificent builder, and one who loved to encourage talent of every kind. Even as Bishop of Ely he did a still greater work in draining the fens of his marshy diocese and cutting a navigable canal right through it to the sea. We know also that he was the inventor of a notable argument for stimulating the liberality of subjects towards their sovereign. At the Council board, however, it is hinted that he opposed the severity of some of Henry's measures. But we know little of what he actually did, though we may rest assured, from the high respect in which he was held by Sir Thomas More, that his counsels were no less honest than far-sighted.

The leading members of Henry's Council at this time, besides Morton, were Richard Fox and Reginald Bray. The former was, like Morton himself, an ecclesiastic, whom in the course of his reign he promoted to the bishoprics of Exeter, Bath, Durham, and Winchester successively. It was a great advantage to employ church men in the service of the State, as they could be rewarded with bishoprics without putting the king to any expense; and it was among churchmen more than among any other class -- far more, certainly, than among the hereditary councillors of the Crown --that Henry discovered the tact and shrewdness needful to assist him in difficult negotiations. Besides the bishoprics just mentioned, Henry conferred upon Fox the office of Lord Privy Seal and employed him in various embassies. Reginald Bray, who is described by a nearly contemporary writer as "a very father of his country, a sage and a grave person, and a fervent lover of justice," was made a Knight of the Garter, and unquestionably had very great influence over the king; insomuch that, whenever taxation was felt to be oppressive in the earlier part of the reign, the people were apt to lay the blame upon him and Cardinal Morton, -- the fact, however, being that Morton and Bray were precisely the two members of the king's Council who dared most freely to remonstrate with Henry on any act of injustice, and that it was greatly owing to them that his government was not much more arbitrary.

Besides these it was only natural that the king should be influenced to some extent by his uncle, Jasper, Duke of Bedford, and also by the Earl of Oxford, who had fought and suffered long years of imprisonment for the cause of the House of Lancaster; by the Earl of Derby and his son, Lord Strange, whose head had stood in so much peril just before Bosworth field; and by Sir William Stanley, whom he made his chamberlain. There were also other friends in adversity, such as Giles Daubeney, whom early next year he created Lord Daubeney; John, Lord Dynham, whom he made Lord High Treasurer; Sir Robert Willoughby, the steward of his household, whom a year or two later he ennobled as Lord Willoughby de Broke; Sir Richard Guildford, Sir John Cheyney, Sir Richard Edgecombe, Sir Thomas Lovell, Sir Edward Poynings, and various others, who for their past fidelity and usefulness were admitted to his Council.

The long-delayed marriage with Elizabeth of York at length took place upon the 18th of January 1486. Henry had apparently forborne even to apply to Rome for a dispensation (for he and Elizabeth were within the prohibited degrees) until his title had been confirmed by Parliament. But, to satisfy public impatience, he did not wait for the arrival of the brief, having obtained a sufficient dispensation meanwhile from the Bishop of Imola, whom Innocent VIII. had despatched to England as legate, and the Pope soon afterwards issued two different bulls, not only confirming what had been done in the matter of the marriage, but also excommunicating every one who should rebel against Henry as king.

That Henry was "no very indulgent husband," his aversion to the House of York being manifest even in his chamber and his bed, rests only on the testimony of Lord Bacon, and seems to be, in the latter clause at least, rather an over-statement. The marriage was doubtless one of policy, and it was delayed, as we have seen, out of politic considerations also; it appears, moreover, to be a fact that the queen's influence over Henry was inferior to that of his mother; but there is no evidence of domestic tyranny or conjugal disagreements. On the contrary, we have positive testimony as to the wife's devotion, and even, in their later married life, as to the warm sympathy of both with each other on a domestic bereavement. But doubtless Henry was not uxorious, and it was not many weeks after his marriage that he set out on a progress through his kingdom, in which, with a wisdom fully justified by events, he left his queen behind him.

The north country, and especially Yorkshire, had been most devoted to Richard III., and Henry determined to go thither in person. He left London either in the beginning or middle of March, and rode by Waltham, Cambridge, Huntingdon, and Stamford to Lincoln, where he kept Easter, washing the feet of twenty-nine poor men on Maunday-Thursday, as he was twenty-nine years old. He then moved on to Nottingham, avoiding Newark, where a pestilence prevailed; then by Doncaster and Pomfret to York. His progress, however, was not unattended by warnings of coming danger; for at Lincoln he heard that Lord Lovell, and Humphrey and Thomas Stafford, adherents of Richard III., who had taken sanctuary at Colchester, had left their asylum and gone no one knew whither. At Nottingham he was informed of a rising in Yorkshire about Ripon and Middleham, but he seems to have thought little of it at first, and summoned a number of men from Lincolnshire to come to him, unarmed, believing that the display alone would have a good effect. At Pomfret, however, and between that and York, he was joined by a great body of nobility, gentry, and yeomen, hastily armed; and the insurgents, hearing of so strong a muster, speedily dispersed. At York he was received with great enthusiasm and gorgeous pageants, men, women, and children crying out, "King Henry! King Henry! Our Lord preserve that sweet and well-savoured face!" Yet the enemy was even then still pursuing his designs, and nearly succeeded in taking him by stratagem in York itself while he was celebrating the feast of St. George. The Earl of Northumberland, however, defeated the attempt, and caused several of those engaged in it to be hanged.

The plan seems to have been that Lovell should capture York and the Staffords at the same time take possession of Worcester. Neither attempt was successful. Lovell, deserted by his followers, fled in the night to Lancashire, and the Staffords took refuge at Culham near Abingdon. But the privileges of sanctuary could not be extended to men whose crime was treason. They were taken, and Humphrey Stafford was hanged at Tyburn; but Thomas, the younger, was pardoned, as having been misled by his elder brother. The king passed on from York to Worcester, where the bishop, Alcock, preached before him on Whitsunday in the cathedral, and in the end of the sermon declared the Pope's bulls in confirmation of his marriage and of his right to the throne. From thence he went to Hereford, Gloucester, and Bristol, meeting with a very good reception at each of these places, although at Gloucester there was no pageant such as greeted him in every other town. At Bristol he made careful inquiry of the mayor and burgesses as to the causes of the town's poverty, and being told it was due to the great loss of ships and merchandise they had sustained during the preceding five years, he encouraged them to build new ships, promising that he would find means to assist their enterprise. He thus won the hearts of the Bristol merchants, the mayor declaring that they had not received such words of comfort from any king for a hundred years. And we know that they were not vain words; for later in the reign the king again showed a very marked interest in the prosperity of Bristol by the encouragement he gave to Cabot's enterprise when he discovered Newfoundland. Not forgetful himself from the very beginning of his reign of matters which tended to the profit of the Crown, no king could have been more careful to ascertain and estimate the resources of his kingdom.

The king returned to London in June, ending his progress by water from his palace of Sheen to Westminster. He was met and welcomed by the Lord Mayor and citizens at Putney, who accompanied him down the river in a multitude of barges. After a brief interval he again went westward to hunt, and conducted his queen to Winchester, where on the 20th of September, only eight months after their marriage, she gave birth to a son. The child, however, was fair and healthy to look at, and his birth was hailed with delight by all who wished for an end of civil dissension. He was christened Arthur; and all the poets of the age endeavoured to assure the world that the glories of the legendary king of that name would be revived in a coming reign.

There remained yet one thing to be done for the satisfaction of the kingdom -- the queen's coronation, but it had still to be deferred for some time.