Henry VII knew that at the start of his reign he was in a tenuous position. After the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Henry could not guarantee that he would remain as king. Faced with a succession of rebellions such as Lambert Simnel’s or Perkin Warbeck’s (both orientated around the legitimacy of Henry’s succession) and the Cornish Rebellion (based around a new tax), Henry adopted a two-fold approach to government. The first was to have a robust approach to those involved in rebellions that included the liberal use of an act of attainder. Henry literally had to show to all and sundry that he was in charge of England and people challenged him at their peril. However, Henry also knew that a kingdom at peace with itself was likely to be far more prosperous that one that was divided. He therefore combined his harsh approach to those who offended him with a system of good government that benefited the state as a whole. The War of the Roses had shown Henry that by and large the people of England were prone to obedience when government was seen as just and prone to violence when pushed to it. What Henry wanted to achieve was the right balance – fair to his people and harsh to those who challenged him.
Tudor society was based around what was known as ‘The Great Chain of Being’. This was a belief that everyone had a specific place in the strict hierarchy of society and that it was his/her duty to remain there. Sir John Fortescue, a Chief Justice under Henry VII, expressed it as this:
“God created as many different kinds of things as He did creatures, so that there is no creature which does not differ in some respect superior or inferior to all the rest. So that from the highest angel down to the lowest of his kind there is absolutely not found an angel that has not a superior and inferior; nor from man down to the meanest worm is there any creature which is not in some respect superior to one creature and inferior to another. So that there is nothing which the bond of order does not embrace.”
‘The Great Chain of Being’ meant that people from all ranks in society had to co-operate and that mere subjugation of those below you was not acceptable. Those in a position of power and responsibility held that power for the good of everyone – not just to advance the well being of those of a similar standing.
When this belief broke down, as in the War of the Roses, the cause of this was individuals who were trying to work against the ‘Chain’. In particular, Henry believed it was the nobility who had wanted all along to break this ‘Chain’ so that their power base was increased within their locality at the expense of the king. Nobles had effectively developed their own armies to assert their authority and any increase in their power had to be at the expense of the king’s. This was Henry’s most pressing challenge after the Battle of Bosworth. The Lambert Simnel Rebellion acted as proof to Henry that he was right to view the nobility with suspicion. Henry, however, also believed that a great and loyal nobleman was vital to his own authority as that nobleman could asset the ‘Chain’ in his own locality, thus benefiting the king. Henry’s task was a difficult one, as he wanted to instil in the nobility a sense of loyalty, obedience, and service to the Crown. Those who had developed their own regional power bases were almost certainly loath to fully subscribe to this idea. That Henry managed to bring the majority of noblemen onto his side is an indication of how talented he was at managing people.