Friday, 21 August 2015

Commemorating Bosworth: What Manner of King was Henry VII? by Louise Rule

The Coat of Arms for Henry VII

Whether you stand on the side of Richard III or Henry VII, The Battle of Bosworth Field, on Saturday 22nd August, 1485, was the culmination of The Wars of the Roses, and brought an end to the bloody civil war between The Houses of York, and Lancaster. 

Elizabeth of York
Henry VII

Henry VII was the last king to win his crown on the battlefield, a crown that was worn by Richard III. That same crown was placed on the head of Henry VII, on Bosworth's battlefield. Although we know that Henry VII founded the Tudor dynasty, and reigned for almost twenty-four years, what manner of king was he?

As with all monarchs before him, who had been schooled in the art of being a king, he, in contrast, had not been trained in either the arts of statesmanship, diplomacy or warfare, but came to the throne new to the prospect of ruling a country. This then, by the evidence of history, makes his achievements all the more remarkable.

The pennant of Henry VII

Henry had declared himself king By Right of Conquest, retrospectively, from 21st August, 1485, this would mean that anyone fighting for Richard III, would be committing treason. This would also mean that Henry could confiscate the lands and all the property of Richard.

While he was still in Leicester, Henry VII was already taking precautions to prevent a rebellion against his reign. He sent Robert Willoughby to Sheriff Hutton, which is about 10 miles north of York, to have Edward, Earl of Warwick, a ten-year-old boy, arrested and taken to the Tower of London. The ten-year-old represented a threat as a potential rival to the new king, as he was the son of George, Duke of Clarence. In 1486, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, and niece to Richard III, thus strengthening his right to the throne.

This stained glass window is in
St. James Church, Sutton Cheney
It commemorates the Battle of Bosworth
Richard III on the left
Henry VII on the right

Henry was very astute; he secured his crown by dividing and undermining the power that the nobility enjoyed, by the enterprising use of bonds and recognisances. It is known, that although he came to the throne with little or no fiscal experience, he did, overtime, however, restore the fortunes of an almost bankrupt exchequer. He also introduced stability in his financial administration, by keeping the same financial advisers throughout his reign; they being, Lord Dynham, and Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. They were the only two official holders of the position of Lord High Treasurer of England, throughout Henry VII's reign.

The red rose of The House of Lancaster, and the white rose of The House of York

Henry VII was threatened by several active rebellions over the next coming years.

Rebellion of the Stafford brothers and Viscount Lovall. This was the first uprising against
Henry VII.

Yorkists led by Lincoln, rebelled in support of Lambert Simnel, a boy who claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, son of Edward IV's brother, Clarence, (who had last been seen as a prisoner in The Tower).

Perkin Warbeck, from Tournaisis (now Belgium), claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, and gained support outside England.

Henry had the Earl of Warwick executed, but spared Warwick's elder sister, Margaret, however, Margaret, was executed by Henry VIII, in 1541.

The first son and heir-apparent, Arthur, Prince of Wales, died unexpectedly. He was staying at Ludlow Castle at the time, and although the cause is not certain, it is believed to have been what         was known at the time as, English sweating sickness. Henry, Duke of York, later to be Henry             VIII, became the new heir-apparent to the throne.

On 21st April, 1509, Henry VII died at Richmond Palace, it is said, from tuberculosis. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, next to his beloved wife, Elizabeth, in the chapel which he had commissioned. On 29th June, 1509, just two short months later, his mother, Margaret Beaufort, died. Henry VII was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII, a king who will live in infamy, because of The Reformation, and, of course, because of his eight wives.

There is much written about both Richard III, and Henry VII, and no matter whether it is fact, exaggeration, or mere myth, history has demonstrated that Henry VII made many good changes for England.

Richard III captured the nations interest more recently, when his remains were found in the car park in Leicester. A remarkable event that was, too. I do think, however, that because of the worldwide publicity, Richard III achieved a resurgence of interest. Henry VII, on the other hand, was not a charismatic king, but his reforms are well documented. Henry VII unfortunately fades into the background, as he was overshadowed by both Richard III, and his son, Henry VIII.

The memorial plaque for Richard III

Was Henry VII a better king than Richard III? It really does depend on where your loyalties lie, for, even after the intervening 530 years, there is still a rich debate about who was indeed the better king.

For me, I would have to say that Henry VII was, because of the overall benefits that he brought to England throughout is reign, although there will never be a definitive answer to that, of course. 

St. James the Greater, Dadlington.
The dead of The Battle of Bosworth
were buried here


  1. Henry couldn't have read "The Prince," but he might have provided a model for Machiavelli! He also set Cardinal Moreton to burn the royal library, or those parts of it that didn't suit the image he wanted to convey. Moreton created the image of the hunchback, spiteful King Richard, taught his pupil, Thomas More, who passed that image to Shakespeare. Henry was very aware of image, and Moreton carried that on, as did Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII. don't forget, although he was only king for two years, Richard started the reform of the legal system. Henry provided the stability the country needed to develop as an economic power in Europe.

  2. Lovely post Louise. Its always good to read about the other antagonist in the war.

  3. Enjoyed that very interesting.

  4. Henry VIII had SIX wives, not eight.

  5. I think Richard would have been a remarkable king had his reign continued. Henry did a good job under difficult circumstances though.