Henry VII ruled England from 1485 to 1509. Representing the Lancaster cause during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487), he defeated his predecessor King Richard III of England at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry VII was also the first Tudor king.
Rise to Power
Henry was born on 28 January 1457 in Pembroke Castle, the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and Margaret Beaufort, the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III of England. It was not much of a royal connection, especially as some regarded the Beaufort's as illegitimate. Nevertheless, in the midst of the ongoing dynastic conflict between the Lancastrians and the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, Henry emerged as the symbolic leader of the Lancastrians aiming to overthrow Yorkist King Richard III. Upon his return from exile in Brittany, he wisely allied himself with the Woodvilles, the family of Elizabeth Woodville (wife of Edward IV), and other English nobles eager to remove Richard III from power. These allies even included the new king Charles VIII of France.
The Lancastrian cause took a turn when Richard III's son and heir, Edward IV, died on 9 April 1484. Subsequently, on 8 August 1485, Henry Tudor landed with an army of French mercenaries in South Wales to claim the throne. His army swelled in numbers as it marched to face Richard’s army at Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. Richard, although commanding a considerable army, was deserted by some of his key allies at the last moment and was eventually defeated and killed on the battlefield.
The victorious Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII of England on 30 October 1485 in Westminster Abbey. A year later, he married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, and the two rival houses were finally united, thereby establishing a new one: the Tudors. Following these events, the battles of the Wars of the Roses were almost over and England was at last united as it left the Middle Ages and headed into the modern era.
After the apparent end of the Wars of the Roses, King Henry faced persistent challenges in his realm due to a lack of loyal followers. To maintain control, he established the Privy Chamber and Council, allowing close advisors to manage specialized committees supervised by him. However, there were still external threats, including two Yorkist pretenders, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who claimed the throne. Both were ultimately defeated, with Simnel humbled in the palace kitchens and Warbeck being executed. Moreover, Henry faced various minor rebellions instigated by lingering Yorkists. Once these were quelled and he had secured his throne, the King created the seal of the new dynasty: the 'Tudor rose', which symbolized the union of Lancaster's red rose and York's white rose.
Not only successful in getting rid of his rivals, Henry was also an efficient ruler in terms of finances. In this regard, he doubled state revenues through taxes, feudal dues, and fines. Notably, he issued penal bonds to those caught guilty of a financial misdemeanour, keeping nobles under financial pressure. Henry also profited from foreign affairs, briefly besieging Bolougne and receiving financial compensation from Charles VIII of France in exchange for backing down. Another source of income was the expansion of trade through treaties with Denmark, Spain, Portugal and Florence. However, his obsession with enriching the state eventually made him unpopular, but by then he had already established control over the nobility. This was done not only by imposing on them fines but also by establishing councils in Wales, the North and the West of England to better control them.
While governing with a firm grip, Henry indulged in grandeur, investing in royal residences and extravagant ceremonies, including his children's weddings. The King’s decline was caused by the death of his wife Queen Elizabeth in 1503. As a result, Henry opted to retreat from public life as much as he was allowed. Despite this, he witnessed positive diplomatic strides at the beginning of the 16th century, such as his daughter Margaret marrying King James IV of Scotland and another of his daughters, Mary, becoming the Queen of France, enhancing England's standing internationally.
Death & Legacy
Henry VII passed away on April 21, 1509, at Richmond Palace, Surrey, and was laid to rest beside his wife in Westminster Abbey. Although the King's financial policies had earned him some unpopularity during his last years of life, he successfully steered the state toward future growth and prosperity.
His eldest son, Henry VIII, succeeded him and was crowned on June 24, 1509. Inheriting a financially stable kingdom, Henry VIII, known for his youth and charisma, would become one of England's renowned monarchs. His reign, famously marked by his quest for a male heir and six marriages, witnessed significant events, notably the establishment of the Church of England.