Henry VII: A Wise or Wicked Ruler? (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Henry VII: A Wise or Wicked Ruler?

Q1: Read the introduction and study sources 2, 3 and 4. Give as many reasons as you can why Henry Tudor became king of England.

A1: When Edward IV died in 1483, his son, Edward should have become king. Most people did not believe Richard III was the rightful king. Henry Tudor, as the head of the House of Lancaster, now had a claim to become king.

The regents of the young King Charles VIII saw the advantage of supporting Henry Tudor against Richard III and provided him with money, ships, and men to seek the crown. In August 1485, arrived in Wales with 2,000 of his supporters. He also brought with him over 1,800 mercenaries recruited from French prisons. While in Wales, Henry also persuaded many skillful longbowmen to join him in his fight against Richard. By the time Henry Tudor reached England the size of his army had grown to 5,000 men. This large army enabled him to defeat Richard III at Bosworth in August 1485.

Q2: Why did Henry VII marry Elizabeth of York?

A2: Elizabeth of York was the daughter of Edward IV. By marrying Elizabeth he united the Tudors with the previous royal family.

Q3: Study sources 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11. Use these sources to describe the appearance and personality of Henry VII.

A3: Polydore Vergil (source 5) says that " 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." Alison Weir (source 7) agrees that he was "tall and lean" but believes that he had "grey" rather than "blue" eyes.

John Major (source 6) claims that Henry "proved himself a man of good judgement" and "showed much wisdom". Christopher Morris (source 8) believes he was "an extremely clever man, possibly the cleverest man who ever sat on the English throne". Morris provides evidence that he used this intelligence to maintain control of the country. Vergil (source 5) supports this view by stating that "in government he was shrewd". Weir (source 7) adds that "he ruled wisely and well".

Vergil suggests that all Henry's virtues "were obscured in later life by greed". Major (source 6) supports this view by claiming that "he was given too much to greed, for he raised vast sums of money from merchants and other wealthy men".

The story told by Christopher Urswick (source 11) provides evidence that Henry VII had a sense of humour.

Q4: Jasper Ridley (source 9) says that "Henry VII... was not a vindictive man". Find evidence from the sources to support this statement.

A4: Historians have argued that Henry "was not a vindictive man" because of the way he treated Lambert Simnel who was crowned King of England in Dublin in 1487. When he was captured he was not executed and instead he employed him as a servant in his household. (sources 8 and 9)