While Henry VII had won at the Battle of Bosworth, there was little guarantee that he would remain as king of England as there were many in the House of York who had a claim to the throne. Little known by many in the land before the battle at Bosworth, Henry clearly had a struggle on his hands to maintain his grip on the throne. That he was successful in this is down to a number of factors.
Henry was a very astute man. He knew that there were those who would question his legitimacy in terms of the throne, so he did all that he could to cover his tracks.
First his marriage to Elizabeth of York was a political marriage designed to unite both houses of York and Lancashire. That it developed into a strong marriage is not doubted – Elizabeth’s death had a major impact on Henry – but in its original intent it was to take the sting out of the friction that existed between both houses.
Second, Henry dated the time of his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth. Therefore, legally Richard and those that had supported him could be classed as traitors. As such anyone deemed guilty of treason could have all their property taken from them by an Act of Attainder. This was very convenient for a new king as he became the recipient of this land. It also meant that nobles would go out of their way to profess their loyalty to the king.
Third, Henry arranged for his coronation to be before the first sitting of Parliament after Bosworth. Henry was crowned on October 30th and Parliament met on November 7th. Therefore Henry could very publicly state that he did not need Parliament to declare him king as he was king before Parliament met.
Fourth, Henry applied to the Pope for a Papal Dispensation to marry Elizabeth – both were distant cousins. By the very nature of the difficulties of transport and travel then, there was bound to be a delay of some months between Henry, a devout Catholic, asking for a Papal Dispensation and him receiving such permission. Henry married Elizabeth on January 18th 1486. Therefore, he could argue that his crown did not owe anything to his marriage to Elizabeth. He was crowned in October 1485 and married some two-and-a-half months later.
Fifth, Henry had to ensure that those in the York family remained loyal to him. Henry took a two-pronged approach to this. He was either generous in his approach or harsh. The most important person Henry had to deal with was the 10-year old nephew of Richard III, the Earl of Warwick. Though only ten in 1485, he was still a figure that Yorkists could rally around. Warwick was sent to the Tower where he lived in comfort though he was not allowed to leave the fortress. John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had been named as Richard’s heir. However, he professed his loyalty to Henry and this was sufficient for the king. Lincoln was to join the king’s council though he was to flee to Ireland during the Simnel affair and was killed at the Battle of Stoke by Henry’s army. The Earl of Surrey was kept in prison until 1489 until Henry was convinced of his loyalty. The Duke of Northumberland, who had refused to fight for Richard at Bosworth, was imprisoned shortly after Bosworth but was quickly released and allowed to continue with his old post in the north where he had a great deal of power. This has led to some historians believing that the Duke had a prior agreement with Henry that he would not deploy his troops at Bosworth in lieu of retaining his position in the north. Whether this is true will never be known but the lack of any military input by Northumberland at Bosworth was a major setback for Richard III. Other senior York family members were required to pay a surety to ensure their good behaviour. This happened to Viscount Beauchmont whereas other families had a family member attached to the royal court acting almost like a hostage for good behaviour – this happened to the Earl of Westmorland.
His policies clearly worked as it was clear that by 1490, Henry was supreme in his power. There were problems such as the one that surrounded Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, but in general Henry was the supreme authority of the country by 1590.
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