Henry VII is also known as Henry Tudor. He was the first Tudor king after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. This battle saw the end of the Wars of the Roses which had brought instability to England. Henry VII was king of England from 1485 to 1509. His second son, also called Henry, inherited the throne and became Henry VIII. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I tend to dominate Tudor history and their lives do overshadow the importance of Henry VII’s reign.
The Wars of the Roses had been a constant battle between two of England’s most powerful families – the families of York and Lancaster. Henry was a member of the Lancaster family and to bring the families closer together he married Elizabeth of York soon after being crowned king.
However, Henry was a very difficult opponent. He was a clever man who was determined not to lose his throne. He quickly identified the main problem he faced – the powerful barons of England. They were rich and they had their own private armies. During the Wars of the Roses, they had not been loyal to either side – renting out their private armies to the family that paid the most. Henry had to control them.
Henry had a three-way plan to bring the barons under his control.
First, he banned all private armies. Any baron who disobeyed this royal command would be committing treason which carried the death penalty.
Secondly, he heavily taxed the barons to reduce their wealth. The money raised could be used by Henry to develop his own royal army. A powerful royal army was an obvious threat to the barons.
With these three potential punishments against them, the barons, though a threat to Henry VII, were reasonably well tamed by him.
Though he was very careful with money, he also enjoyed himself. He was keen on playing cards. On January 8th, 1492, he put aside the large sum of £5 for an evening of gambling. We know that he lost £40 playing cards on June 30th, 1492. He regularly tipped those who entertained him – especially musicians – the sum of 33p – not much by our standards, but a good sum of money for an entertainer in Tudor times. He was also very keen on playing Real Tennis.
To develop better relations abroad, and to avoid costly foreign wars, he had arranged for his eldest son – Arthur – to marry a Spanish princess called Catherine of Aragon. Aragon is in north-east Spain. Such political marriages were common among the children of royal families. Neither Arthur nor Catherine would have had the opportunity to say no to the marriage.
When he died in 1509, the country was by past standards wealthy and the position of the king was good. The barons by 1509 had been all but tamed. Many barons believed that it was better to work with the king than against such a powerful man.
Henry VIII inherited many advantages from his father’s reign as king. The reign of the Tudor family – 1485 to 1603 – is famous for many occurrences and two monarchs stand out (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I), but the 118 years of Tudor England has a great deal to thank Henry VII for as he got the Tudor family off to a stable and powerful start.