Henry VII

Henry VII

Henry, the second son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and Margaret Beaufort, was born in Pembroke Castle in 1457. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Henry Tudor was therefore considered the future leader of the House of Lancaster.

After the Lancasterians were defeated at Tewkesbury in 1471, Henry was taken to Brittany for safety. Over the next few years there were several Yorkist attempts on his life.

In August 1485, Henry Tudor, the leader of the Lancastrians, arrived in Wales with 2,000 of his supporters. He also brought with him over 2,000 mercenaries recruited from French prisons. While in Wales, Henry also persuaded many skillful longbowmen to join him in his fight against Richard III. By the time Henry Tudor reached England the size of his army had grown to 5,000 men.

When Richard heard about the arrival of Henry he marched his army to meet his rival for the throne. On the way, Richard tried to recruit as many men as possible to fight in his army, but by the time he reached Leicester he only had an army of 6,000 men. The Earl of Northumberland also brought 3,000 men but his loyalty to Richard was in doubt.

Richard sent an order to Lord Thomas Stanley and Sir William Stanley, two of the most powerful men in England, to bring their 6, 000 soldiers to fight for the king. Richard had been informed that Lord Stanley had already promised to help Henry Tudor. In order to persuade him to change his mind, Richard arranged for Lord Stanley's eldest son to be kidnapped.

On 21 August 1485, King Richard's army positioned themselves on Ambien Hill, close to the small village of Bosworth in Leicestershire. Henry arrived the next day and took up a position facing Richard. When the Stanley brothers arrived they did not join either of the two armies. Instead, Lord Stanley went to the north of the battlefield and Sir William to the south. The four armies now made up the four sides of a square.

Without the support of the Stanley brothers, Richard looked certain to be defeated. Richard therefore gave orders for Lord Stanley's son to be brought to the top of the hill. The king then sent a message to Lord Stanley threatening to execute his son unless he immediately sent his troops to join the king on Ambien Hill. Lord Stanley's reply was short: "Sire, I have other sons."

Henry Tudor's forces now charged King Richard's army. Although out-numbered, Richard's superior position at the top of the hill enabled him to stop the rival forces breaking through at first. When the situation began to deteriorate, Richard called up his reserve forces led by the Earl of Northumberland. However, Northumberland, convinced that Richard was going to lose, ignored the order.

Richard's advisers told him that he must try to get away. Richard refused, claiming that he could still obtain victory by killing Henry Tudor. He argued that once the pretender to the throne was dead, his army would have no reason to go on fighting.

A few of his close friends agreed to accompany him on his mission. So that everyone knew who he was, Richard III put on his crown. After choosing an axe as his weapon, Richard and a small group of men charged down the hill.

Henry's guards quickly surrounded their leader. Before Richard could get to Henry, he was knocked off his horse. Surrounded by the enemy, Richard continued to fight until he was killed.

Tradition has it that Richard's crown was found under a gorse bush. Lord Thomas Stanley, whose intervention had proved so important, was given the honour of crowning Henry VII the new king of England and Wales.

Henry was determined that the Tudor family should rule England and Wales for a long time. To do this he needed to protect himself from those who had the power to overthrow him. His first step was to marry Elizabeth of York, a member of Richard Ill's family.

Henry was also worried that England might be invaded by Spain, the most powerful country in Europe. In 1488 Henry signed a treaty with King Ferdinand II of Aragon. By this treaty Henry VII agreed that his eldest son, Arthur, should marry King Ferdinand's daughter, Catherine of Aragon.

On 14 November 1501, Arthur, who was just fifteen, married Catherine at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Five months later Arthur died of tuberculosis. Henry VII was keen that England and Spain should remain united and arranged for his other surviving son. Henry, to marry Catherine. At that time, Christians believed it was wrong for a man to marry his brother's wife. Henry VII therefore had to gain special permission from the Pope before the marriage could go ahead.

In 1503 Henry arranged for his daughter, Margaret Tudor, to marry James IV of Scotland. This created an alliance between the two countries which ultimately led to the union of Scotland and England.

Henry VII died in 1509. His personal fortune of £1.5 million illustrated the success of his foreign policy and the commercial prosperity that England enjoyed under his rule.

Primary Sources

(1) Polydore Vergil, English History (c.1530)

Richard, because he expected victory, received Henry with great courage... Henry's army... were now almost out of hope of victory, when William Stanley with three thousand men came to the rescue... Richard's army fled, and King Richard alone was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.

(2) The Croyland Chronicle (1485)

King Richard received many mortal wounds and like a spirited and most courageous prince, fell in battle on the field and not in flight.

(3) John Rous, History of England (c. 1490)

King Richard, after receiving many mortal wounds/ died a fearless and most courageous death, fighting on the battlefield, not in flight. His body was found among the other dead... and after suffering many humiliations, it was taken to Leicester in an inhuman manner, with a rope around its neck.

(4) Polydore Vergil, English History (c.1530)

Henry VII's body was slender but well built and strong... His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful... his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow... his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at the moments of greatest danger, deserted him... In government he was shrewd... He was kind to his visitors... But all these virtues were obscured in later life by greed.

(5) John Major, History of Greater Britain (1520)

In every action of his life Henry proved himself a man of good judgement; he showed much wisdom in the suppression of rebellion, and he caused many nobles to be beheaded; yet he was given too much to greed, for he raised vast sums of money from merchants and other wealthy men.

(6) Christopher Urswick was Henry VII's almoner. He has left this record of a meeting between Henry VII and an astrologer, (c. 1509)

Henry had been for some time in a declining state of health, and this encouraged an astrologer to foretell his death, and that it would happen before the end of the year... So the king sent for this man... The king gravely asked him whether any future events could be foretold by the stars; "Yes, Sir." "Come then," says the king, "tell me where you are to be in the Christmas holidays that are now coming." The man faltered at first, and then plainly confessed he could not tell where. "Oh!" says the king, "I am a better astrologer than you. I can tell where you will be - in the Tower of London."