1902 Encyclopedia > Henry VII of England

Henry VII
First Tudor king of England

HENRY VII (1457-1509), king of England, was the founder of the Tudor dynasty. On his mother’s side Henry belonged to the illegitimate branch of the house of Lancasterm being descended from John of Gaunt and Catherine Swinford, and it was only in the absence of nearer heirs that he was accepted as the representative of that house. On the father’s side he was sprung from the marriage of Owen Tudor, a Welsh gentleman, with Catherine, widow of Henry V., and this family name became the name of the line of kings which he founded. On the complete overthrow of the Lancastrians, especially after Richard had won the throne by putting his nephews out of the way, Henry, under the name of the earl of Richmond, appeared as the centre of the opposition. From his exile in Brittany or France he schemed for the overthrow of Richard, and made an expedition to England to support the unsuccessful rising of Buckingham. The increasing unpopularity of Richard gave him greater success in his second enterprise. He landed at Milford Haven in order to profit by the good-will of his kinsmen the Welsh, and marching into Leicestershire defeated Richard at the battle of Bosworth, thus ending the Wars of the Roses (1485). Soon after he married Elizabeth daughter of Edward IV., and so the White Rose and the Red were united. Henry, however, was not allowed to enjoy the crown in peace. Two pretenders, one after another, led a rising against him. Lambert Simmel, personating the earl of Warwick, son of the duke of Clarence, gathered the Yorkists about him in Ireland, and landing in Lancashire advanced as far as Stoke in Staffordshire, where he was defeated and made captive (1487). Next arose Perkin Warbeck, a Fleming, who, pretending to be one of the princes murdered by Richard in the Tower, received much countenance abroad and in Scotland, and had many supporters among the discontented at home. But when he ventured to land in Cornwall, he was captured and finally executed (1499). These risings troubled the reign of Henry, but did not shake his throne. He ruled with a firm hand; he took care to repress the nobles, already almost exterminated in the civil war, in this case continuing the policy of Edward IV.; he put down the practice of maintenance, by which they kept bodies of retainers ready to support them in battle, and in every way sought to concentrate in the person of the king the whole power of the nation. Henry was a parsimonious and calculating ruler, who avoided war, gained by diplomacy what other sovereigns attempted by force, kept a well-filled treasury, and made two brief expeditions into France the occasion of amassing additional wealth. His avarice led him even to revive old and forgotten statutes, and to exact heavy fines from whose who had transgressed them, in which evil work he was assisted by the two well-known lawyers Empson and Dudley. His reign is marked also by two marriage arrangement which had great influence on subsequent history. His son Arthur was wedded to Catherine of Aragon. When Arthur died in 1502, a few months after the marriage, Catherine remained in England in order to be united to the younger son Henry, though the nuptials did not take place till after his accession to the throne. The other marriage was that of the young princess Margeret to James IV. Of Scotland (1503), which a century after resulted in the union of the crowns. Henry VII. Died in 1509, leaving, it is said, a treasure of two millions pounds to his successor. He was by no means an amiable or popular sovereign, but did great service in settling and consolidating the kingdom after the long troubles.

The authorities for Henry VII. are—Memorials of Henry VII, (with which published Bernardi’s Historia de Vita Henric VII.), and Letters and Papers illustrative of Henry VII., both edited by Gairdner; and Bacon’s History of Henry VII., edited by Spedding.

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