While Henry VII’s reign is famous for two rebellions that had political ambitions – Lambert Simnel’s and Perkin Warbeck’s – his reign also experienced rebellions over a much more basic reason – money. The first of these rebellions was in Yorkshire and was in 1489.
In 1489 Henry VII made plans to assist Brittany in the region’s efforts to maintain its independence within the old historic France. In fact, within France, Brittany was the only area to have this status. Henry’s logic was simple – if Brittany maintained its independence but partly relied on England this, England was have a potential foothold and ally in France. In 1489, Parliament voted Henry £100,000 in his quest to support Brittany. However, this had to be raised via taxation and the tax caused resentment primarily as it was an early form of income tax whereas many other taxes prior to this could be paid in kind as opposed to cash. Only £27,000 was raised.
The tax was least welcome in Yorkshire. There was clearly the strong resentment about a Lancastrian monarch especially as a Yorkist one had been overthrown. But Yorkshire had been badly hit by a poor harvest and many in Yorkshire saw this tax as a tax too far. Another cause of angst was the fact that other northern counties were exempted from the tax because they were expected to use their finances to defend the country from the Scots.
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, put the case of the people before the king. However, Henry was in a very difficult position. First, he believed that if he did not assert his authority so early into his reign, others would view him as a weak leader and take advantage of it. Second, Henry believed in the reason for which the money was being raised – supporting Brittany, which might assist England in the future. He refused to listen to Northumberland’s arguments and the Earl returned north with nothing. After informing the people in Yorkshire that the king would not bend, Northumberland was murdered almost certainly by those who were greatly angered by the news as opposed for any other more sinister reason. It probably did not help Northumberland that he was known to support the tax – presumably to maintain a positive relationship with Henry.
Sir John Egremont led the York rebels. The Earl of Surrey easily put down their rising and Egremont fled to Flanders. Henry in a conciliatory gesture travelled north and issued many pardons for those who were involved in the uprising. The new Earl of Northumberland was only a minor and the Earl of Surrey was made Lieutenant in the area governed by the murdered Earl. Surrey had no reason not to be loyal to Henry as his own social and political advance rested with the king. Henry faced no more problems in the north though he failed to collect the region’s tax quota for the Brittany campaign.