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The Life of Henry VII

Henry VII

The Life of Henry VII

Henry VII was the first Tudor king of England, reigning from 1485 until his death in 1509. His reign was marked by the end of the Wars of the Roses, the establishment of the Tudor dynasty, and the beginning of a new era of stability and prosperity for England.

Early Life and Family Background 

Henry VII was born on January 28, 1457, in Pembroke Castle, Wales, the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and Lady Margaret Beaufort. Henry’s birth was difficult as his mother was only 13 years old at the time – in a sermon after the birth Margaret’s confessor even suggested it was a miracle due to her being “so little a personage”. Henry’s father died before he was born, having contracted plague, and his mother remarried shortly afterwards to Sir Henry Stafford and she went on to spend much time at Woking Palace, which she and her husband restored. Henry was raised by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, and educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Henry’s claim to the throne was tenuous at best. He was descended from John of Gaunt, a son of King Edward III, but his mother’s Beaufort family was illegitimate. However, after the Yorkist king, Richard III, seized the throne in 1483, Henry’s claim became more pressing, as he became the figurehead for the Lancastrian cause.

The Wars of the Roses 

The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York for the English throne. Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, was a staunch Lancastrian, was widowed as her husband died of wounds sustained at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Margaret went on to marry a Yorkist, Thomas Stanley – the Earl of Derby. Stanley would later play a key role at Bosworth where he declined to join the fight for Richard and thereby helped swing the battle for Henry.

Henry spent much of his youth in exile in Brittany and even evaded capture by Yorkist agents at one point by feigning a stomach upset. Eventually, with a force of around 5000 men, Henry landed in Pembrokeshire on 7th August 1485. Henry and his supporters than began a march through Wales. Henry managed to attract some local support and convinced Richard’s Lieutenant in Wales, Rhys ap Thomas, to defect to his side – helpfully he brought around 2000 men with him. Henry’s force moved to Shrewsbury where he picked up more support before his army from Lancastrian leaning nobles and disillusioned Yorkists. Henry’s slow move toward Bosworth enabled him to increase in strength until the battle at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. At the battle itself, despite the personal bravery of Richard III, Henry emerged the victor after key supporters of the Yorkist either switched sides or left the battlefield. Henry did not take part in the actual fighting at Bosworth even seeking to conceal himself amongst his men to present less of a target to the Yorkist, in contrast to Richard who displayed courage and bravery and personally killed Henry’s standard bearer, Sir William Brandon. However, despite his bravery, or perhaps because of it, Richard was killed in the fighting and the Yorkists then became disheartened and started to leave the battle. Henry had Richard’s circlet placed on his head on the field and ordered the that his body be striped and paraded in Leicester before being buried in a plain tomb. 

Henry was and was crowned king at Westminster on 30th October 1485. As a sign of the nature of his reign, Henry had himself declared King retrospectively to 21st August 1485 – the day before the Battle of Bosworth. The effect of this was that anyone who fought for Richard at the battle could be declared a traitor and could be found guilt of treason and therefore have their land legally confiscated.

Henry’s Reign

Notwithstanding his, perhaps understandable, efforts to eliminate possible threats to his power,  Henry VII’s reign was marked by his efforts to establish a stable and strong monarchy. He married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, to unite the houses of York and Lancaster and legitimize his claim to the throne. This was helped by having the ten year old Edward Plantagenet, son of the Duke of Clarence and now heir to the Yorkist claim to the throne, imprisoned in the Tower where he was kept in confinement until he went so insane that “he could not discern a goose from a capon.” Henry later put the unfortunate Edward on trial for treason in 1499 and had him beheaded.

Henry also established the Court of Star Chamber to strengthen the power of the monarchy and suppress the power of the nobility. He banned nobles from having large retinues of armed retainers and enacted laws to restrict the use of livery badges – both measures to prevent private armies with loyalty to nobles rather than the King.

Henry was also known for his financial policies, despite no previous relevant experience, which were designed to build up the royal treasury. He established a national tax system, reformed the coinage, and promoted trade and commerce. However skilled Henry was at filling the Royal coffers, his methods were often seen as ruthless, unfair and arbitrary. Despite this, he did restore stability and prosperity to some extent although this was at the expense of the wealth or freedom of others and by the consolidation of power by the monarchy and by extension London over the provinces. That said, although he was afflicted by avarice when it came to the nobility, her was personally generous to family, giving his daughter a lute made of gold and buying his wife a lion for her personal zoo. 

Henry founded the Royal Navy, which would later play a key role in England’s rise as a maritime power. Henry also had the first dry-dock constructed in Europe at his naval yard at Portsmouth and gave letters patent to the explorer John Cabot, who was the first European to explore North America since the Vikings. 

Despite his successes, Henry’s reign was not without challenges. He faced several rebellions, including the Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck rebellions, which were supported by those who claimed to be the rightful heirs to the throne. 

He also faced diplomatic challenges, including conflicts with Scotland and France. Henry hope to break the alliance between these two hostile powers by having his daughter Margaret betrothed to King James IV of Scotland in a deal to ensure peace. This act that would later lead to the union of the two crowns when King James I became King of England and Scotland after the death of Elizabeth I. Margaret it seems was less than happy and even wrote to her father, asking to come home but Henry had no choice but to deny this due to the political implications of his agreement.


Henry was to die of tuberculosis at Richmond Palace on 21st April 1509 – he was 52 years old. He was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII, who would lead England into the Protestant Reformation during his reign.

Personally Henry was said to be intelligent, friendly and amiable but physically delicate and with poor general health.

Henry VII’s rule marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. His son, Henry VIII, would become one of England’s most famous kings, and his granddaughter, Elizabeth I, would preside over a period of great cultural and political achievement.

Henry’s financial policies and emphasis on trade and commerce set the stage for England’s rise as a global power. His establishment of the Royal Navy and his support for exploration laid the foundation for England’s later colonial empire.

Henry VII was a pivotal figure in English history, despite some negative personal traits and policies as King. His reign marked the end of a long period of civil unrest and the beginning of a new era of stability and prosperity. His legacy can be seen in the enduring strength of the monarchy, the growth of English trade and commerce, and the establishment of England as a global power.


The House of York during the Wars of the Roses (Article about the key figures in the House of York)

The House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses (Article about the key figures in the House of Lancaster)


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Richard III Collection – (Richard III themed merch from High Speed History)

Tudor Collection – (Tudor themed merch from High Speed History)

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1 Comment
  1. […] the Wars of the Roses, but these went unpaid when the hapless nobles were slain in battles. When Henry Tudor came to power, the bank was owed 51,533 gold florins – needless to say, these debts all went […]

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