Henry VII (king of England)
Henry VII, 1457–1509, king of England (1485–1509) and founder of the Tudor dynasty.
Claim to the Throne
Henry was the son of Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, who died before Henry was born, and Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III through John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. Although the Beaufort line, which was originally illegitimate, had been specifically excluded (1407) from all claim to the throne, the death of the imprisoned Henry VI (1471) made Henry Tudor head of the house of Lancaster. At this point, however, the Yorkist Edward IV had established himself securely on the throne, and Henry, who had been brought up in Wales, fled to Brittany for safety.
The death of Edward IV (1483) and accession of Richard III left Henry the natural leader of the party opposing Richard, whose rule was very unpopular. Henry made an unsuccessful attempt to land in England during the abortive revolt (1483) of Henry Stafford, 2d duke of Buckingham. Thereafter he bided his time in France until 1485 when, aided by other English refugees, he landed in Wales. At the battle of Bosworth Field he defeated the royal forces of Richard, who was slain. Henry advanced to London, was crowned, and in 1486 fulfilled a promise made earlier to Yorkist dissidents to marry Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth. He thus united the houses of York and Lancaster, founding the Tudor royal dynasty.
Although Henry's accession marked the end of the Wars of the Roses, the early years of his reign were disturbed by Yorkist attempts to regain the throne. The first serious attempt, an uprising in favor of the imposter Lambert Simnel, was easily crushed (1487). The French invasion of Brittany aroused great antagonism in England, and ultimately, in concert with Spain and Archduke Maximilian (later Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I), Henry led (1492) an army against Boulogne. He soon made peace with France, however.
In 1494, Henry sent Sir Edward Poynings to Ireland to consolidate English rule there. Poynings drove out of Ireland the Yorkist pretender Perkin Warbeck, who then sought support from the Scottish king, James IV. James attempted (1496) to invade England, but the next year, under pressure from Spain, he expelled Warbeck. The latter was defeated shortly thereafter in an attempted invasion of Cornwall. A truce (1497) between England and Scotland was followed by the marriage (1503) of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor to James—a marriage that led ultimately to the union of the monarchies of England and Scotland.
Another threat to Henry's throne was posed by the Yorkist claimant Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk (see under Pole, family), who received some support on the Continent but in 1506 was surrendered to Henry by Philip of Burgundy (soon recognized as Philip I of Castile). In 1501, Henry had married his son Arthur to Katharine of Aragón, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. After Arthur died in 1502, an agreement was reached by which Katharine was to marry Arthur's brother Henry (later Henry VIII).
On the death of Philip I (1506) Henry VII, then a widower, proposed that he should marry Philip's widow and Katharine's sister, Joanna, but Joanna's madness made the match impossible. The English king then opened unsuccessful negotiations for the marriage of his daughter Mary to Philip's son (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). Relations between Henry and Ferdinand became strained; the latter allied himself with the French while Henry arranged treaties with Maximilian. Shortly thereafter Henry contracted an illness from which he never recovered.
Character and Influence
Henry was an astute political leader. He established the Tudor tradition of strong rule tempered by a sense of justice. His marriage and his relentless suppression of Yorkist plots to regain the throne brought order out of the chaos of civil war. In his suppression of the recalcitrant nobles he was greatly assisted by the use of the court of Star Chamber as a supremely powerful judiciary body. His diplomatic abilities kept England at peace, and he arranged a favorable commercial treaty with the Netherlands. England's navy was developed, and explorations in the New World began. In Henry's later years, however, his extortionist practices alienated many.
See biographies by R. Lockyer (1968), R. L. Storey (1968), and S. B. Chrimes (1973); A. F. Pollard, The Reign of Henry VII (1913–14); J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, 1485–1558 (1952); G. R. Elton, England under the Tudors (1955); A. F. Ida, Mercantile Policies of Henry VII (1986); T. Penn, Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England (2012).