Henry VII

Henry VII defeated Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field. This battle is considered the final battle in the War of the Roses. Henry VII worked to reconcile the York and Lancaster factions by marring Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV. Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty.

Henry VII (1457–1509), king of England and lord of Ireland, was the son of Edmund Tudor, first earl of Richmond (c.1430–1456)—half-brother of Henry VI through their mother, Catherine of Valois]]—and his wife, Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509), only daughter of John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, and great-great-granddaughter of Edward III through the liaison of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, with Katherine Swynford.

Early life

Henry VII
Henry VII

Henry's parents' marriage, arranged by Henry VI in 1453 to strengthen his loyal Tudor kin, was brief. When Henry was born at Pembroke Castle on 28 January 1457, his father had been dead, probably of plague, for almost three months. Soon Henry was also separated from his mother, as the triumphant Edward IV granted his wardship to William, Lord Herbert, his leading supporter in Wales, in February 1462. Herbert brought Henry up at Raglan Castle, intending to marry him to his eldest daughter, and doubtless counting on the eventual restoration of his father's estates and title. Henry was tutored by two clerics, Edward Haseley and Andrew Scot, and perhaps trained in gentlemanly pursuits by Sir Hugh Johnys; he had certainly learned some archery by 1469. In July of that year, however, Herbert was executed after the battle of Edgcote, to which Henry had accompanied him. Through the political convulsions of the next fifteen months Henry stayed at Weobley with Herbert's widow, while his mother and her husband, Henry Stafford, engaged in anxious negotiations over his future.

The Lancastrian readeption of 1470–71 brought Henry an audience with the restored Henry VI on 27 October 1470, an occasion on which it was later claimed that the saintly king prophesied his nephew's future reign. Henry seems to have spent most of the readeption period with his uncle, Jasper Tudor, the restored earl of Pembroke. They were in south Wales when Edward won back the throne in 1471, and by September they were besieged in Pembroke Castle. From there they escaped to Tenby and took ship, heading for France but landing in Brittany late in the month after a stormy voyage. François (II), duke of Brittany, offered them an asylum that steadily, under Edward's diplomatic pressure, turned into house arrest in a succession of castles and palaces. In 1474 they were separated and deprived of their English servants, and for the next two years Henry stayed with Jean de Rieux, marshal of Brittany, at Largoët. Late in 1476 François agreed to surrender Henry to Edward's envoys, but at St Malo Henry's embarkation was delayed by illness until François countermanded his orders; in the ensuing confusion Henry took sanctuary and Edward's men returned empty-handed. Edward and Louis XI each made other efforts to secure custody of Henry and Jasper Tudor, but from 1476 they seem to have lived at the Breton court, in receipt of generous expenses from the duke, but under the supervision of Breton noblemen.

Henry's return to England need not have been as a prisoner. Margaret Beaufort's last marriage to Thomas Stanley, second Baron Stanley and later first earl of Derby, lent her influence at the Yorkist court, and by 1482 arrangements were well advanced for Henry to return. He would be pardoned and granted rights of succession to his mother's estates, probably be restored to his father's title and possessions, and possibly even marry Edward IV's eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York (1466–1503). In 1483 Edward's death, Richard III's usurpation, and the presumed death of Edward's sons in the Tower of London, opened more dramatic possibilities. The direct Lancastrian line had been extinct since 1471, and other potential claimants to the throne had died in the intervening years, leaving Henry as a credible candidate by his Beaufort blood, despite Henry IV's declaration of 1407 that the Beauforts, though legitimized, should not be allowed to inherit the crown. Margaret began plotting with various other opponents of Richard, including the dowager queen Elizabeth Woodville, to place her son on the throne, duly married to Elizabeth of York. In October 1483 a series of rebellions broke out across southern England, loosely co-ordinated with the revolt in Wales of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, who had himself been in contact with Henry. All collapsed within a month. Henry was proclaimed king at Bodmin on 3 November, but did not leave Brittany with the ships and money lent him by Duke François until after 30 October. His fleet was scattered by a storm, he found the coasts of Dorset and Devon occupied by Richard's soldiers, and further storms blew him back to Normandy, whence he returned overland to Brittany. There he met those of the rebels who had escaped from England, some 400 in number, most of the leaders being relatives of the Woodvilles or veterans of Edward IV's household. At Christmas 1483 he vowed to marry Elizabeth of York, and they swore homage to him as king.

Winning the throne

A new assault on England was planned for spring 1484 with French encouragement, but never got under way. Instead the exiles spent the year at Vannes while Richard treated with Duke François's treasurer, Pierre Landais, for their surrender, promising him English archers for use against his noble opponents and their French allies. Landais was about to strike in late September or early October when Henry, forewarned, slipped in disguise over the border into France. François, perhaps ashamed of what had been done in his name, let the other exiles join him. Henry was welcomed to the French court at Montargis and followed its travels to Paris, Évreux, and Rouen in the first half of 1485. His party was swollen by the arrival of supporters such as John de Vere, earl of Oxford, who had escaped from Hammes Castle in the Calais pale, but weakened by the attempted defection of Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset. At length, as the regents for the young king, Charles VIII, managed to pacify their domestic opponents and saw the advantage in challenging the bellicose Richard III, Henry secured sufficient support in money, ships, and men to seek the crown once again.

Henry's fleet sailed from the mouth of the Seine on 1 August, carrying perhaps 400 English exiles, and similar or rather larger numbers of French and Scottish troops. Letters had been circulated since at least December 1484 encouraging his friends to prepare men to fight Richard, and valuable promises of support seem to have come from Wales, where some bards would hail Henry with his red dragon standard as a native redeemer king. Thus Henry headed for Milford Sound, landing on 7 August, probably in Mill Bay. For more than a week he marched across Wales, slowly gathering support until Shrewsbury opened its gates to his army. Some Englishmen joined him at Newport, Stafford, Lichfield, and Tamworth, which he reached on the 20th. But much stronger forces were converging on Nottingham, where Richard had been awaiting invasion since June, and on Leicester, where the king met his southern levies, also on 20 August. Next day the two armies marched towards each other, and on Monday 22 August battle was joined near Market Bosworth. The details of the encounter are hard to reconstruct, but the stout fighting of Henry's vanguard under the earl of Oxford seems to have laid the foundation for his success, aided by the failure to engage—perhaps deliberate—of the earl of Northumberland and other of Richard's followers. At the moment of decision the Stanleys, who had been shadowing the rival armies throughout the campaign without as yet committing themselves, intervened on Henry's side and Richard was struck down in a last desperate attack on Henry and his entourage. Henry, crowned on the battlefield with Richard's crown, marched into Leicester and then, slowly, onwards to London. On 3 September he entered the capital in triumph.

Some Ricardians fought on, notably at Harlech Castle, on Jersey, and in the Furness Fells. A few were executed, more imprisoned, and some fled into sanctuary. But most hastened to make their peace with the new king, at least for the moment. Henry had little choice but to accept their service, especially in the north, where few of his own adherents might claim any influence. His supporters did not go unrewarded, however, and the greatest received new dignities, foremost among them Jasper Tudor as duke of Bedford. Henry was crowned on 30 October and parliament sat from 7 November to 10 December, attainting Richard's closest followers and petitioning Henry to marry Elizabeth of York. Papal support, probably secured in advance by Bishop John Morton on a trip to Rome early in 1485, facilitated the match with a dispensation from the impediment to their union provided by their shared descent from John of Gaunt, and on 18 January 1486 they were married.

The Simnel conspiracy

Henry and his successors made much of the theme that this match between Lancaster and York had healed the dynastic wounds of past generations. Some of those who became Henry's most influential counsellors were veteran Lancastrians, such as Bedford or Oxford. Others were servants of his mother such as Sir Reynold Bray, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, whose promotion was an early sign of the influential role Lady Margaret would play throughout her son's reign. Others again were recruits from Henry's time of French exile, such as Richard Fox, the king's secretary and later keeper of the privy seal. But more were old servants of Edward IV. Thus John Morton was soon promoted archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor, and John, Lord Dynham, treasurer of the exchequer; Thomas Stanley was made earl of Derby and his brother Sir William chamberlain of the household; and the exiles of 1483, Sir Giles Daubeney and Sir Robert Willoughby, were made barons in 1486 and about 1489. Even those who had fought for Richard at Bosworth were allowed to work their way gradually back into favour, most notably Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, who eventually succeeded Dynham as treasurer. The image of united red and white roses, prominent in the pageantry and court poetry of the reign, reflected a political reality.

A terracotta bust of Henry VII
A terracotta bust of Henry VII

Yet Henry was never able to free himself from Yorkist plots against his throne. The blend of insecurity and magnificence characteristic of his reign was typified by his rapid establishment of an armed bodyguard, the lineal ancestor of the present yeomen of the guard. On his first progress in 1486, north to Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, Nottingham, and York and west to Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester, and Bristol, he had to face not only loyal pageants laid on by one corporation after another, but also risings in Yorkshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire stirred by Francis, Viscount Lovell, and Humphrey Stafford of Grafton. Worse was soon to follow, despite the dynastic stability brought to the new order by the birth of Henry and Elizabeth's first son Prince Arthur at Winchester on 19 September. By February 1487 Lambert Simnel had appeared in Ireland, claiming to be Edward, earl of Warwick, the young son of Edward IV's brother George, duke of Clarence. Henry had placed Warwick securely in the Tower at the start of his reign, and now he had him exhibited in London, while Queen Elizabeth Woodville and Robert Stillington, bishop of Bath and Wells, suspected of involvement in the plot, were placed under arrest. John de la Pole, earl of Lincoln, nephew of the Yorkist kings, fled to the Netherlands to join his aunt Margaret of York, dowager duchess of Burgundy, and take up the reins of the conspiracy together with Viscount Lovell. Henry consulted with his leading subjects in a great council at Sheen, strengthened his defences in East Anglia, and then moved to Coventry and Kenilworth to await invasion.

Lincoln sailed from the Netherlands to Dublin, with some 2000 mercenaries supplied by Margaret. Whether out of fond memory of the Irish administration of Richard, duke of York, resentment at Henry's restoration of the Butler earls of Ormond, or sheer opportunism, most of the Irish political community had recognized Simnel as king. At Dublin on 24 May, led by Gerald Fitzgerald, earl of Kildare, the lord deputy recently confirmed in office by Henry, they crowned him as Edward VI. Backed by several thousand Irish troops in addition to Margaret's mercenaries, Simnel and his patrons landed at Foulney Island on the Cumbrian coast on 4 June and marched across northern Lancashire, over the Pennines and rapidly southwards, gathering support from Ricardian die-hards. Henry moved through Leicester to Nottingham, steadily assembling a large army—probably twice the size of his rivals'—from the retinues of loyal peers and household knights. At East Stoke, near Newark, on 16 June, Henry's archers decimated the unarmoured Irish levies, and after hard fighting his vanguard, again under Oxford, put the rebels to flight. Complete though his victory was, Henry spent the next four months moving cautiously through the midlands and north, venturing as far as Newcastle to secure the region's loyalty.

Consolidation continued into the autumn, as parliament met on 9 November and the queen was at last crowned on 25 November. Of the leading rebels, Lincoln and Kildare's brother, Thomas, had been killed in the field, Lovell may have fled to Scotland but afterwards disappeared, and Simnel was taken into the royal household as a menial. Comparatively few of their supporters were executed or attainted, but a number were heavily fined or bound over to keep allegiance to Henry in future, a characteristic procedure of the king's already used in the wake of the rebellions of 1486. Henry's commissioner Sir Richard Edgcumbe was instructed to take similar bonds from Kildare and other Irish noblemen in summer 1488, though in practice all they would offer was a solemn oath of allegiance. Henry was not entirely free from concerns about his safety at home—in December 1487 an obscure plot was discovered within his own household—but for the moment he could turn to events in neighbouring realms.

Scotland, Brittany, and France

From the start of the reign Henry had sought good relations with James III of Scotland, but James's responsiveness alarmed some of his border nobles. James's death in battle against the rebel lords at Sauchieburn in June 1488 led Henry, while concluding truces with the Scots in 1488, 1491, and 1492, to patronize opposition to the new regime, just as James IV soon began to dabble in Yorkist plots. Meanwhile François (II) of Brittany found the effective independence of his duchy under increasing pressure from Charles VIII of France. English volunteers under Edward Woodville, Lord Scales, served in François's army in summer 1488, but Henry tried to arbitrate a settlement between his two former hosts. By autumn the defeat, capitulation, and death of François, leaving as his heir his twelve-year-old daughter Anne, forced Henry out of his neutrality. He called a great council of peers and burgesses to Westminster and, having secured their advice, sent ambassadors to France and Brittany but also to potential allies against France: Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, and Maximilian, king of the Romans.

Parliament met in January 1489 and voted an unprecedented subsidy, directly assessed on wealth and incomes and continuing in succeeding years without further consultation should the war continue. It was to be collected in addition to the more traditional fifteenth and tenth also levied in that year, and in rapid succession to two fifteenths and tenths granted in 1487. On 14 February 1489 the treaty of Redon promised 6000 English troops to defend Brittany at the duchess's expense, but also provided for Breton assistance should Henry reassert English rights in France. Parallel alliances were concluded with Maximilian at Dordrecht in February and with Ferdinand and Isabella at Medina del Campo in March. For Maximilian this brought English military assistance under Giles, Lord Daubeney, against the rebel Flemish cities, notably at the battle of Dixmude in June; for the Spanish monarchs, the promise of a marriage between their daughter Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur. In March and April, Henry's troops, some 7400 strong under Robert, Lord Willoughby de Broke, crossed to Brittany. Most were home by Christmas 1489, but in July 1490 Willoughby led a second expedition, fewer in men but stronger in ships. That year and the next brought English raids on the French coast and French attacks on Dorset. The war was complicated by Breton civil strife, in which Henry tended to support his old host Jean de Rieux, by popular revolt and by attempted papal mediation. Henry's alliance with Maximilian was broken when the latter settled with the French at Frankfurt in July 1489, but renewed at Woking in September 1490, a reconciliation marked by Maximilian's acceptance of investiture with the Order of the Garter in December. The final crisis of Breton independence came in 1491, as the French captured Nantes in March. Henry called a great council and levied a benevolence in July, funding a third, smaller expedition. But their task was forlorn. The French invasion ended in the marriage of Duchess Anne to Charles VIII on 6 December 1491. Henry had spent some £124,000 for nothing.

These foreign adventures did at least demonstrate the expansion in naval strength Henry had ordered early in his reign, exemplified by the heavily armed carracks The Regent and The Sovereign, larger than any ships built by his immediate predecessors. Navigation acts passed in 1485 and 1489, restricting the carriage of Gascon wine and woad to English ships, strengthened the merchant shipping available as a naval reserve and also kept trading interests happy. Yet in other ways the wars gave rise to domestic difficulties. The novel subsidy of 1489 raised only a third of what was expected, but prompted first calls for relief and then rebellion in Yorkshire. In April 1489 Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, was killed by rioters. In response Henry marched north from Hertford through Leicester and Nottingham, gathering an impressive army before entering York on 23 May. The rebels had already dispersed, but trials and executions followed. When Henry returned south in June, he compensated for Northumberland's loss by leaving Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, as his lieutenant in the north, a role the rehabilitated Ricardian performed with distinction, for example in his rapid suppression of another tax revolt in 1492.

Henry's dynasty received further reinforcements in these years, as Princess Margaret was born on 29 November 1489, Arthur was ceremoniously created prince of Wales on the following day, and a second prince, Henry (the future Henry VIII), was added on 28 June 1491. Yet Yorkist conspiracy, often under French patronage, revived repeatedly. Plots in favour of the earl of Warwick late in 1489 resulted in three executions and the imposition of a large fine on the abbot of Abingdon. The next plot to be revealed involved Sir Robert Chamberlain, who was caught at Hartlepool in January 1491 while attempting to leave for France. Most threatening was the conspiracy gathering in Ireland at the end of that year around a new pretender, Perkin Warbeck, presented as Richard, duke of York, the younger of Edward IV's sons. His appearance, then his transfer to Charles VIII's court in March 1492, stimulated Henry's preparations for a full-blown war against France.

Parliament, assembling on 17 October 1491, was induced to vote two fifteenths and tenths for collection in 1492, the first such double levy since 1429, all the more remarkable as its collection would follow that of a ‘loving contribution’ or benevolence, yielding some £50,000, approved by a great council in July 1491. A conspiracy to liberate Brittany with English assistance faltered, and Henry's fleet was at length repulsed from Normandy after devastating raids in June and July. He sent troops under Sir Edward Poynings to assist Maximilian's siege of the rebel stronghold of Sluys, but, despite what seem to have been good intentions on Maximilian's part, received no immediate help in return. Yet he continued to gather an army of 15,000 men, with which he crossed to Calais in October, rejecting the advice of his councillors to postpone the campaign again as he had done three times since June. On the 18th he besieged Boulogne, and on 3 November at Étaples he obtained perhaps the best he could now hope for, a peace providing for a generous annual payment in compensation for his expenses in the Breton war, and a French promise to expel Warbeck and his supporters. As his father had done when making the similar treaty of Picquigny with Edward IV in 1475, Charles VIII also granted pensions to eight of Henry's councillors, an additional incentive to English quiescence while he pursued his ambitions in Italy.

The Warbeck conspiracy

Unfortunately for Henry, Warbeck moved next to the court of Margaret of York, who welcomed him as her nephew and gave fresh impetus to his cause. This increased the urgency of pacifying Warbeck's starting point and future hope, Ireland. After 1491 English troops were sent out on several occasions and the influence of the Butlers was further increased to countervail that of the Fitzgeralds, who had done little to stop Warbeck. Stability was impossible, however, without the loyalty of Kildare. He was dismissed as deputy in June 1492, responded by feuding with the king's new agents, came to court in November 1493 to discuss matters with Henry in person, and within months of his return was arrested and attainted for treasonable contact with the Gaelic chiefs of Ulster.

Kildare's removal only complicated matters for the new regime led by Sir Edward Poynings, who was named deputy in September 1494, and was expensively equipped with English troops and administrators to pursue war against the Gaels and security against the Yorkists. By the time of his recall in December 1495, Poynings had achieved little against the first enemy but sufficient against the second. More famously, he and his colleagues had presided over a strengthening of royal control in Ireland epitomized by the enactment of Poynings' law, which limited the Irish parliament to legislation approved in advance by the king and his English council. Their success made feasible the restoration of Kildare; their dependence on English subsidies made it desirable. In October 1495 Kildare's attainder was reversed, and in August 1496 he was restored as deputy. He retained that position for the remainder of the reign, combining his unparalleled local influence with the wide powers granted him by the king to provide effective, if largely unsupervised, governance. Once, in 1506, Henry did consider personal intervention in his Irish lordship with an army large enough to subdue the Gaels, but after discussion with his council he resolved to leave Kildare to continue his successful holding operation.

Meanwhile Henry faced threats closer to home. From early 1493 such senior figures at the English court as John Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter, and even Sir William Stanley were apparently drawn into plots in favour of Warbeck. Though these were not yet revealed, Henry spent the summer of that year at Warwick, Kenilworth, and Northampton, poised to meet an invasion, his trusted supporters holding troops ready to march at one day's notice. At about this time he also increased his personal security, and perhaps also his freedom from importunate suitors, by creating a privy chamber staffed by servants of humble origin into which he could withdraw from the pressures of the court. In May commissioners were appointed to investigate treasons across fifteen counties and some plotters were arrested, but in June Sir Robert Clifford and others slipped away to Margaret's court. In July Sir Edward Poynings and Dr William Warham arrived in the Netherlands to denounce Warbeck's imposture, but they could not persuade the councillors of the young Philip the Fair of Burgundy, recently emerged from the regency of his father Maximilian, to restrain the dowager duchess's support for the pretender. Henry resolved to follow persuasion with coercion, suspending all direct trade to the Netherlands, the staple market for English cloth exports, in September. The ban hurt London, where unemployed workers rioted on 15 October against the Steelyard, home to the privileged Hanseatic merchants; but it did not yet hurt Warbeck, who with Margaret's help was rapidly becoming an intimate of Maximilian.

Early in 1494 more plotters were arrested, executed, or fled to sanctuary. Henry's spies and double agents were hard at work, but so were Yorkist recruiters. To distract attention from the soi-disant duke of York, Henry on 31 October 1494 gave that title to his second son, Prince Henry, a creation he proceeded to celebrate with a splendid round of tournaments. Then, in mid-November, a series of arrests began which by late January had brought in the leading suspects accused by Sir Robert Clifford, who fled Margaret's court to turn king's evidence. The knights, gentlemen, and clerics—including the dean of St Paul's and the provincial of the Dominicans—were tried for treason by the end of the month and executed or imprisoned within a week. Sir William Stanley was tried on 6–7 February and executed on the 16th, Lord Fitzwalter convicted on 23 February but imprisoned at Guînes in the Calais pale, only to be executed in 1496 after trying to escape.

Undaunted, Warbeck and his backers prepared to raise revolt in Ireland and invade England by sea in 1495, while Margaret petitioned Pope Alexander VI to remove his predecessor's excommunication, issued in 1486, of any challenging Henry's title to the throne. Again Henry moved through his kingdom watching for invasion; when he was in the west with his eyes on Ireland, Cardinal Morton stayed in London to co-ordinate defence of the southern coasts. Naval defences were strengthened by the construction at Portsmouth of a fortified harbour, dock, and storehouse. Warbeck's men landed at Deal on 3 July but were attacked on the beach by local levies: 163 were captured and perhaps 150 killed. Henry's vengeance was implacable: fifty-one Englishmen among the prisoners were tried for treason and subsequently executed at various sites around the country, while the foreigners were tried as pirates and many of them likewise put to death. Warbeck sailed on to Ireland while Henry toured the Welsh marches and the Stanley heartlands of Cheshire and Lancashire, doubtless with Sir William Stanley's recent treason in mind. In Ireland Warbeck joined Maurice Fitzgerald, earl of Desmond, who had rebelled on his behalf, in besieging Waterford until Poynings relieved the city on 3 August. Thwarted in Ireland, the pretender moved on to Scotland, as the welcome guest of James IV. Meanwhile parliament, assembling on 14 October, testified to the insecurities of king and subjects alike by passing what was to become known as the De facto Act: not, as later misinterpretation made it, a grand statement distinguishing between rightful and merely de facto rulers, but an assurance that those fighting for Henry could not be charged with treason by some future king, just as he would not henceforth count traitorous those who had fought for Richard III when he was generally recognized as king.

Scottish war and Cornish revolt

Warbeck's transfer to Ireland, then Scotland, enabled Henry to improve relations with the continental powers. Trade with the Netherlands was restored in February 1496 by the treaty later known as the Intercursus Magnus. Meanwhile Henry negotiated both with the French and with the members of the Holy League who sought their expulsion from Italy; in July he joined the league, but without committing himself to fight the French. As James prepared for war in support of Warbeck, Henry repeatedly offered him peace and the hand of his daughter Margaret, but James pressed ahead. In September he invaded, but Warbeck soon left him, perhaps disillusioned by the failure of his manifesto to raise revolt by its denunciations of Henry's harsh taxes and low-born ministers. James demolished a few small fortifications and then also withdrew, but Henry was bent on retaliation. While Surrey raided across the border, the king secured consent from a great council in October–November for a forced loan of over £50,000 and then from parliament, assembling on 16 January 1497, for £120,000 in taxation, half of it in directly assessed levies like those of 1489, though with fixed county quotas. This was the heaviest taxation of the century, raised to fund a large fleet carrying 5000 men, an army of which the vanguard alone numbered about 10,000, and an imposing artillery train for a stunning blow against the Scots.

The blow never fell. In mid-May 1497 the Cornish rose in revolt against Henry's taxes and marched east, drawing on the support or acquiescence of militant clergy and Somerset gentlemen, themselves inspired either by residual Yorkist loyalty or resentment at Henry's favour to his few local intimates. Led by James Tuchet, Lord Audley, Thomas Flamank, a man of property in Bodmin, for which he was MP in 1492, and Michael Joseph an Gof, a blacksmith of St Keverne, they headed for London; but at Blackheath, on 17 June, Henry and his loyal nobility and gentry defeated them. The leaders were executed by the end of the month and in the ensuing years thousands of their followers would be fined after painstaking investigations. Attention turned to the north, where Bishop Fox defended Norham Castle against James's siege and Surrey led a brief counter-invasion. But the south-west was not yet quiet. The rebels had called Warbeck to lead them, and on 7 September he landed near Land's End. Though he assembled perhaps 8000 men to besiege Exeter, Henry was far too strong for him, and his army dissolved in the face of forces under Daubeney and Willoughby de Broke after only a fortnight's campaign. Henry marched westwards in triumph, to Bath, Wells, Taunton, and Exeter. At Taunton he received Warbeck, who had left sanctuary on promise that his life would be spared. A truce was made with the Scots on 30 September, and collection of the outstanding quarter of the year's parliamentary taxes was cancelled. Having survived perhaps the greatest crisis of his reign, Henry was proceeding with caution.

Marriages and deaths

Even amid the convulsions of 1496–7, arrangements had been proceeding for the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon. They were solemnly betrothed in August 1497 and married by proxy in May 1499 and again in autumn 1500 when Arthur was aged fourteen. Alliance with Spain did not draw Henry into hostility towards France, and in July 1498 he renewed the treaty of Étaples with Charles VIII's successor Louis XII. From 1499 he again sought a secure peace with the Scots through the marriage of James IV to his daughter Margaret, finally agreed upon by treaties of 24 January 1502. In May and June 1500 he visited Calais for a meeting with Philip the Fair of Burgundy, to confirm the resolution of disputes between English merchants and the authorities in the Netherlands arrived at in 1497–9, and to discuss possible marriages for Prince Henry and his younger sister, Mary, born in 1496. This dynastic and diplomatic consolidation found its architectural counterpart in Richmond Palace, a development of the old royal palace of Sheen which was partially destroyed by fire at Christmas 1497. At a cost of some £20,000, and echoing the style of Burgundian ducal palaces, it was a grand setting for Arthur's and Katherine's marriage festivities. These took place in November 1501, marked by tournaments, disguisings, and abstrusely allegorical London pageants, the authors of which did not blush to identify Henry with God the Father and Arthur with Christ his Son.

Yet this Tudor apotheosis had a darker side. In February 1499 a pretender, Ralph Wilford, who claimed to be the earl of Warwick, was arrested, tried, and executed. In July 1499 Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, nephew of the Yorkist kings through his mother, fled to the Netherlands when facing indictment for the murder of a man engaged in litigation before the king's council. In August 1499 Warwick himself became caught up in a plot with Perkin Warbeck, who had been in the Tower since fleeing the court and being recaptured in June 1498; sympathizers were to free them both and place one upon the throne. On 12 November a council meeting more than sixty strong advised the king to do justice on the conspirators. Warbeck and Warwick were convicted and dead by the end of the month. The Yorkist threat seemed to have died with them: Suffolk had been persuaded to return home, and John Taylor, the co-ordinator of much of the plotting of the past decade, was in the Tower having been surrendered by the French in September. In January 1500 the Spanish ambassador wrote home that ‘England has never before been so tranquil and obedient as at present’ (CSP Spain, 1485–1509, 213). But in August 1501 Suffolk left the country again, assuming the Yorkist title of White Rose, demanding the restoration of the ducal title to which he had not been allowed to succeed on the death of his father, and seeking the support of Warbeck's old patron Maximilian. Within six months leading figures at court and in the garrisons of the Calais pale—Lord William Courtenay, Sir James Tyrell, and Sir Robert Curson—were under suspicion of plotting with him against the king. Another round of arrests, executions, and declarations of ecclesiastical censure upon those beyond Henry's reach was the result. Meanwhile Henry, having consulted a great council early in 1502, began again the weary diplomatic round of neutralizing all possible support for a pretender. In June and July he bought Maximilian's withdrawal of assistance from any English rebels for £10,000, and asked Louis XII to use his influence in Germany to arrange the purchase of Suffolk from whichever potentate managed to secure him next.

The political insecurities of the period were heightened by the deaths of a number of Henry's leading councillors and supporters: John, Lord Cheyne and John, Viscount Welles, in 1499, Cardinal Morton in 1500, John, Lord Dynham, in 1501, Robert, Lord Willoughby de Broke, in 1502, Sir Reynold Bray and George Stanley, Lord Strange, in 1503, and finally Thomas Stanley, earl of Derby, in 1504. Far worse for the king were the bereavements he suffered among his family. On 19 June 1500 his youngest son, Edmund, born on 21 or 22 February 1499, died at Hatfield. On 2 April 1502 Prince Arthur, holding court in the Welsh borders with his new wife, suddenly died at Ludlow. Henry and Elizabeth were each distraught, recorded one witness, but comforted one another, not least with the prospect that they might yet have more children. A daughter, Catherine, was indeed born on 2 February 1503, but lived only a few days. Elizabeth herself died nine days after the birth. Henry's deep but lonely grief was as characteristic of his later years as the readiness with which he secured the Spanish alliance and Katherine of Aragon's dowry, by agreeing to Ferdinand's proposal to betroth her to his younger son, Prince Henry. The papal dispensation necessary for Katherine's remarriage was slow in coming, but in August 1503 another link in Henry's chain of dynastic alliances was at length secured by the marriage of Margaret to James IV in Edinburgh, Henry having escorted her from Richmond to his mother's house at Collyweston before bidding her farewell. The book of hours that he gave her, inscribed with a request to pray for him, still survives at Chatsworth House.

Diplomatic turmoil

The death of Isabella of Castile in November 1504 shattered the framework of Henry's European alliances by making her widower, Ferdinand of Aragon, the rival of Philip the Fair, husband of their elder daughter, Joanna, for control of Castile. In 1505 each tried to woo Henry with a candidate for his own remarriage, paired with a match for Prince Henry. Ferdinand's accompaniment to his daughter Katherine was his niece Joanna, dowager queen of Naples. Philip offered his sister, Margaret of Austria, dowager duchess of Savoy, for Henry, and his daughter Eleanor for the prince. Meanwhile Louis XII tried to tempt either Henry or the prince with his cousin Marguerite of Angoulême. Philip sought additional leverage by obtaining custody in July 1505 from the duke of Gueldres of Edmund de la Pole. Louis appealed to Henry's knightly piety with the gift of the silver-encased leg of St George, with which the king processed in state through London on 22 April that year.

Matters were brought to a head in January 1506 when Philip and Joanna, on their way to Castile, were driven by storms onto the Dorset coast. Henry welcomed his involuntary guests to Windsor, where they were provided with lavish entertainment and encouraged to enter into a number of agreements. Renewed commercial disputes which had led to another suspension of the cloth trade were resolved on terms very favourable to the English merchants; Suffolk would be delivered to Henry, who undertook to spare his life; and Philip would press his sister to marry Henry. In return Henry would sustain Philip in his campaign for the Castilian throne, as he had already begun to do with generous loans, the first of a series to the Habsburgs which were to total between £226,000 and £342,000 by Henry's death. The amity was sealed by the exchange of chivalrous orders, Henry's Garter for Philip's Golden Fleece, the latter granted to the prince of Wales since Henry himself had already been chosen a companion of the Burgundian order in 1491.

Philip sailed onwards in April, but his undertakings were soon being unravelled by others. Margaret determined to stay a widow, and the authorities in the Netherlands dragged their feet over implementing the commercial treaty until Philip's sudden death in September threw affairs into turmoil once again. For his part Henry, who had steered between Philip and Louis in the summer by offering his arbitration over the latter's support for the duke of Gueldres, a thorn in the side of the Netherlands, now began simultaneous wooing of the ever reluctant Margaret of Austria, the equally reluctant Marguerite of Angoulême, and Philip's widow, Joanna. Though the last was already busy acquiring the sobriquet ‘the Mad’, it was suggested that a sensible husband such as Henry would do wonders for her. Henry, suspicious that her madness was a fiction convenient to Ferdinand, sought her hand on and off until his death, just as he did that of Margaret of Austria.

None of these matches came to fruition, but from Henry's continuing contacts with Margaret and Maximilian came another marriage agreement of enormous potential significance in the coming generation. This plan, tentatively broached by Philip and Henry in 1506 but firmly agreed in December 1507, was for Henry's daughter Mary to marry Charles of Ghent, son of Philip and Joanna, lord of the Netherlands in succession to his father, and heir apparent to his mother as king of Castile, his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand, as king of Aragon, and his paternal grandfather, Maximilian von Habsburg, as the most eligible candidate to be Holy Roman emperor. For the vistas opened up by this marriage, Henry's final abandonment of the commercial terms of 1506 and his expanding loans to the insatiable Maximilian looked a small price to pay. Henry ordered his subjects to celebrate the treaty, and towns from Shrewsbury to Dover lit bonfires of joy. In December 1508 the young couple were betrothed by proxy at London amid further celebrations. Equally remarkably, Henry had managed to draw near to the Habsburgs without finally alienating Ferdinand or the French. European politics now focused increasingly on Italy, as the powers combined in the League of Cambrai to dismember Venice's mainland empire, leaving Henry to ponder in peace his successful passage through a turbulent five years.

Avarice and wealth

The years after 1502 were marked by a decline in Henry's health and, some contemporaries felt, in the character of his kingship. His eyesight began to fail and he found writing difficult. At one point—the source, a report of treasonable talk, does not give the exact date—he lay seriously ill at Wanstead, reportedly ill enough for the great men outside his room to start to speculate on the succession to his throne. From 1507 he fell sick in the early part of each year, rallying in the summer. Meanwhile the deaths among his trusted councillors brought new men to the fore. Most notorious among them was Edmund Dudley, an able common lawyer who served as speaker of the last parliament of the reign in January 1504. This seems to have been a troubled assembly. Numerous attainders were passed, chiefly against minor followers of Warbeck or Suffolk, but other legislation met with more resistance. An act against retaining, stricter than that of 1468, was limited to the king's lifetime. Henry's request for feudal aids for knighting his eldest son and marrying his eldest daughter was deflected by the grant of what was in effect a peacetime subsidy, apparently so as to avoid the compilation of a register of tenancies-in-chief which might then have been used to extract further feudal incidents from those who held land from the king.

This opposition, in which the young Thomas More reputedly took part, was symptomatic of a feeling growing during Henry's last decade that he was becoming unduly rapacious towards his subjects. The notoriety of Dudley, who became president of the king's council by 1506, sprang from his role as a chief agent of those exactions, but how new, unjustified, or counter-productive they were is a matter of dispute. Henry had always been keen to maximize royal income. He steadily expanded his landed estate and improved its administration until it yielded an income of approximately £40,000 a year, nearly double that of Richard III. By the diplomatic encouragement of trade, the fervent prosecution of smugglers, and the introduction of a book of rates setting official values for taxable merchandise, he capitalized on a revival of European commerce to raise his annual customs income likewise to £40,000 or more, one-third above the level of the mid-fifteenth-century depression. Although until 1504 he levied parliamentary taxation only to fund wars, that taxation was, as already discussed, heavy in incidence and innovative in assessment. The clergy, too, were taxed more heavily than under his predecessors. Throughout the reign he exploited intensively his feudal rights over those who held land directly from him, selling the wardships of under-aged heirs and the marriages of his tenants' widows, charging livery fees to those inheriting estates, and investigating and fining heavily those who seemed to be evading these liabilities. Penal statutes for economic regulation, outlawries, and fines for negligent prison-keepers were all likewise turned to profit. Royal commissioners toured the shires with increasing frequency, uncovering potential victims for such fiscalism, while pressure was put on the county escheators to secure verdicts favourable to the king's rights. By Henry's last years all these sources of income were being squeezed hard, and others less reputable, such as the sale of office and even the sale of the king's favour in lawsuits, were being added to them.

The impression that Henry was driven more by avarice than statecraft was heightened by the administration of his finances. As the reign progressed he moved control over ever more areas of income from the exchequer to the chamber, a more flexible institution, more intimately under his own control, less transparent to his subjects in its operations, and more apt for dealing in the large sums of cash flowing in from his estates. Beyond the chamber stood a network of king's coffers for cash deposits so shadowy that it still remains unclear whether Henry left vast or merely modest reserves to his son. The resultant image of a king personally in control of important matters, and rich enough to meet all contingencies, was politically valuable, but readily became distorted into that of a ruler bent on amassing wealth for its own sake. After Bray's death in 1503, moreover, individual ministers or bodies with responsibility for the pursuit of different classes of income began to proliferate. Some were specific in their duties: the master of the wards, the surveyor of the king's prerogative, the general surveyors of crown lands. Others ranged more widely to take profit for the king wherever it might be found, as did Dudley and the king's council learned in the law, led by Sir Richard Empson. Thus was the impression of relentlessness and ingenuity added to that of avarice, while failures of co-ordination among these agencies lent an edge of arbitrariness.

King and nobility

Henry's exactions fell most visibly on his greatest subjects, noblemen, prelates, gentlemen, and London merchants. This was not only because they had more money for the king to take, but also because he used debt as a means of political control. As Dudley put it, Henry was ‘much sett to have many persons in his danger at his pleasure’ (Harrison, 86). Those fined for offences or made to enter bonds for their good behaviour had to commit themselves to pay large sums, of which Henry graciously demanded only a little each year so long as they retained his favour. Their friends and relations were drawn in as sureties for their debts, thus tying up much of the political nation in a web of obligation to the king. Bonds had been used by Henry to restrain those under suspicion from the earliest years of his reign, but their use seems to have accelerated sharply from about 1502.

The policy was of a piece with other aspects of the king's relationship with the nobility. Though quite prepared to give responsibility and reward to noblemen he trusted, he gave less wholeheartedly than most previous kings. Those he trusted from the start, such as Oxford and Derby, never gained untrammelled regional power. Those he grew to trust as they proved themselves, such as Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, and George Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, grew in influence only little by little. Those he never trusted, such as Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, and Henry Percy, fifth earl of Northumberland, he seemed to frustrate at every turn. These last were also prominent victims of his financial exactions. Meanwhile great offices which might have been vehicles for noble ambition were often kept in the king's hands, or were granted to his sons and exercised by deputies of knightly rank. The king's council, ever more influential in co-ordinating the work of government, was dominated not by great nobles but by clerics, lawyers, and household men. Henry's parsimony in making grants of land or annuities after the earliest years of his reign doubtless frustrated even these intimates, but they could use their political influence and the wealth it brought them to buy land as the wider nobility could not.

Although Henry relied heavily on his peers and greater gentry to recruit for his armies, he was also from the earliest years of his reign quick to prosecute those who retained followers illegally. From 1504 retaining licences were used to confine military force still more closely into the hands of the king's intimates, and councillors such as Sir Thomas Lovell constructed extensive retinues largely on the basis of the offices they held on crown and ecclesiastical estates. The king's lands served more widely to reinforce the local influence of the knights, esquires, and gentlemen who acted as Henry's stewards and receivers, who were in turn often personally tied to the king as office-holders in the expanding court. Conversely, many of the new crown estates had been confiscated from noble families, who resented their retention in the king's hands or had to pay large sums for their return. In national as in local politics, when confronted with the king's intrusive councillors and courtiers, many noblemen felt their rightful power constrained by Henry's rule, above all in his latter years.

Henry's financial concerns and suspicions of noble power were felt even in those areas of the kingdom where noblemen's freedom of action had been best guaranteed by distance from the capital, military necessity, and franchisal jurisdiction. In the far north he cut the wages of the wardens of the marches and captains of border fortresses, and tried to substitute southerners or lesser peers for the great border families in those offices, though the result seems to have been a decay of locally effective governance rather than any decisive strengthening of royal control. In Yorkshire he established a council to oversee local justice and government led by Thomas Savage, archbishop of York from 1501, but Savage fell out dangerously with the earl of Northumberland. In Wales, though considerable responsibility was given to Jasper Tudor, Sir Rhys ap Thomas and, latterly, Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert, Prince Arthur's council oversaw local government from 1489 and royal commissioners continued to do so after his death. Marcher lords were bound in recognizances to maintain good order in their lordships, but, as elsewhere, the king's fiscalism itself became a threat to stability. The inhabitants of the northern shires of the principality and some northerly marcher lordships were freed from their disabilities under English law by charters of 1504–8, but at the cost of heavy communal fines, while the attempt to make profit out of princely jurisdiction in Meirionydd prompted revolt there in 1498.

Everywhere the expanding judicial activities of Henry's council, the forerunner of the later courts of Star Chamber and requests, threatened to cramp noble freedom of action. At least one in three of Henry's peers, probably more, appeared before the council courts, and on occasion the king took notes of the evidence against them in his own hand. The commissions of the peace were enlarged to give more of the gentry a role in local government, and especially at moments of crisis Henry's most trusted councillors were added to the commissions to oversee their operations. Experimental conciliar tribunals and new statutes, some permitting prosecution by information rather than indictment before a jury, were introduced to punish local perversions of justice. In the midlands the king's mother's council operated as a regional equity court. At sea strict measures were taken against piracy, whether English or foreign. Disorder did erupt on occasion, sometimes indeed at the hands of Henry's aggressive courtiers, sometimes in ways that might have been contained by the hand of a locally dominant lord. Yet while it is hazardous to render any verdict on the state of law and order in Henry's England, it appears, from what indications exist, that at least by the end of the reign it was improving. Credit is due to Henry's councillors, among whom common lawyers were more influential than in the counsels of any previous king, and to Henry himself. But once again the achievement was marred not only by the rapacity of councillors such as Empson and Savage, who seem to have perverted justice to their own advantage, but also by the rapacity of the king, who found himself promising on his deathbed that, if God would spare his life, he would reform his ministers so that justice would be impartially done and would pardon his subjects for the old (and often technical) offences for which he continued to mulct them.

That Henry's noblemen continued to fight for him, indeed did so in ever larger numbers as the crises of 1487, 1489, and 1497 succeeded one another, was not solely attributable to intimidation. His reluctance to create new peers or promote individuals within the peerage, which allowed the number of peers to decline from fifty-five to forty-two over the reign, mostly by natural wastage, allowed more prominence to those who survived; his use of the great council as a consultative body, at least until his last decade, gave the wider peerage a formal role in government; and loyal peers even outside the king's inner circle drew some rewards and favours from the king. Noblemen, even those under fiscal pressure or political suspicion, were welcome at court, and many took part in the splendid tournaments and dances with which Henry celebrated great diplomatic and dynastic events. Here they featured both as part of the cast in a magnificent drama designed to impress foreign observers and English subjects alike, and as a key element in that domestic audience.

Courtly magnificence

The magnificence of Henry's court was calculated and expensive. He dressed richly, though latterly all too often in sophisticated but mournful black. His physical appearance as contemporaries described it—somewhat over the average in height, slender, strong, and blue-eyed—lent itself to a regal bearing, though late in life his hair turned white and his teeth were few and black. Formal crown-wearing ceremonies and regular touchings to heal his scrofulous subjects of the king's evil reinforced his majesty. Widespread use of his dynastic badges on buildings, charters, and the liveries of his servants proclaimed his inherited right to rule. An ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the canonization of Henry VI aimed to sanctify his Lancastrian lineage. Court poets glorified his achievements whether in the Latin of Pietro Carmeliano, the French of Bernard André, or the English of Stephen Hawes. Polydore Vergil of Urbino, deputy papal tax collector in England, was commissioned to write a history of England from the earliest times to the glorious Tudor present in the new humanist mode. Netherlandish and Italian artists such as Maynard Werwick and Guido Mazzoni came to work for the king. Royal residences were improved, sometimes beyond recognition. In addition to Richmond, Henry built new towers with more comfortable royal lodgings at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London from 1500, rebuilt Baynard's Castle, London, about 1501, and constructed from 1498 a completely new house at Greenwich, even closer in design than Richmond to the brick urban palaces of the Burgundian Netherlands. Tapestries, some depicting the great events of the reign, and several hundred thousand pounds' worth of jewels and plate were bought from the continent to adorn these royal palaces. Henry doubtless enjoyed the life of his court, playing tennis, gambling, shooting longbows and crossbows, and above all hunting and hawking day after day; but he also knew the advantages of visible greatness.

Henry's splendour was not confined to the capital and its environs. His earliest domestic building works were at Woodstock and Kings Langley from 1494—Woodstock may have cost more than Greenwich—and later he worked on houses at Woking and Hanworth. Though he became less peripatetic with age, his progresses still took him to such towns as Nottingham in 1503, Winchester in 1504, Salisbury in 1505, Cambridge in 1506, and Ely and Reading in 1507. In 1489 he issued the first gold sovereign, at 20s. the largest denomination yet issued by an English king. It depicted him enthroned and wearing a closed imperial crown rather than an open royal one. From 1504 his coins bore a profile portrait more individualized than that of any predecessor. His proclamations justified his policies in persuasive detail and he used printed propaganda of increasing sophistication, from a translation of the papal bull permitting his marriage in 1486, to the Latin and English tracts praising the marriage alliance made for his daughter Mary in 1508.

Henry's piety blended with his magnificence. Richmond and Greenwich housed friaries for the austere Franciscan Observants, his favourite religious order. His ecclesiastical building projects were conceived on a splendid scale, stressed his Lancastrian heritage, and were covered in Tudor badges. The continuation of the chapel of Henry VI's King's College, Cambridge, the lady chapel at Windsor in which Henry originally planned to be buried together with his sainted uncle, the Savoy Hospital, the Westminster almshouses, and the king's own lavish burial chapel at Westminster Abbey cost some £34,000 in the king's lifetime, and his executors added at least £22,000 more. Henry's flamboyant royal religion, echoing that he had seen at the courts of Brittany and France, came dear.

The morality of kingship

Henry's piety blended uneasily with his rapacity; indeed, much of the money he spent on his devotions was drawn from the church. His financial dealings with newly appointed clerical dignitaries came sufficiently close to simony for him to secure in 1504 a special clause in the papal licence for his confessor confirming whatever absolution he had been given for illicit receipts from the sale of spiritual office. He tended to choose administrators and diplomats trained in the law for his bishops, and to move them regularly from see to see to maximize his profits. He offered the church little protection against the assaults that common lawyers, led by some of his own councillors, made against the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, benefit of clergy, and the rights of sanctuaries. He expressed sufficient enthusiasm for the crusade to be named protector of the knights of St John at Rhodes in 1506, but never did much more. He was loyal enough to the papacy to be presented with the blessed sword and cap—gifts sent by the pope to specially favoured rulers—by three successive pontiffs, in 1488, 1496, and 1505. This was a unique feat for any ruler in Christendom, yet he was not loyal enough to see the English church taxed for the pope's benefit rather than his own until 1502, when two-thirds of the money raised was sent not to Rome but to Henry's ally Maximilian for crusade expenses. Henry's dedication to the God of battles was intense—he regularly offered up his banners in worship after victory—but his devotion to the church was more measured.

Henry's relationship with urban élites was as ambivalent as that with the nobility and the prelates. He invited burgesses on a generous scale to his great councils, and granted ‘close corporation’ charters consolidating the powers of the leading citizens of boroughs such as Bristol and Exeter. Many towns established a mutually beneficial relationship with one of the king's leading councillors: for instance, Bray at Bedford, Empson at Coventry, Lovell at Nottingham, and Sir James Hobart, the attorney-general, at Norwich. In commercial diplomacy Henry generally favoured the interests of English merchants against those of foreigners, or at least tried to secure reciprocal privileges for Englishmen abroad when conceding special terms to foreigners in England. He supported English traders to the Mediterranean and fishers off Iceland, and from 1496 patronized Bristol-based voyages of Atlantic exploration by the Genoese Cabot family. Yet his fierce attacks on customs evasion and other offences, leaving three former mayors in prison, were resented in London, as were his attempts to manipulate city politics in favour of the Tailors' Company against the Drapers, and the large fine he charged in 1505 for a new charter which failed to confirm rights granted in 1478. Once again his concern with control and profit soured his commitment to good government.

It seems that moral decline and political consolidation were inseparable. Repeated threats to the Tudor succession, from pretenders abroad and deaths at home, left Henry more concerned to be obeyed than loved. Rapacity gave him handholds for political manipulation, funded the magnificence that might inspire awe, backed the loans to the Habsburgs that bought him peace and security. What passed for avarice was not an adventitious moral failing but an aspect of his always intensely personal monarchy. The Henry who obsessively checked his accounts was the same Henry who in August 1488 went for a sail on Southampton Water in The Sovereign before she set out to the Breton wars; the same Henry who in April 1498 at Canterbury personally persuaded a heretic priest to recant his errors; the same Henry who in August 1501 at Richmond checked the design for the collars of Prince Arthur's trumpeters; the same Henry who, in September 1507, struck out the term ‘for life’ in a grant of local offices to Sir Richard Empson and inserted ‘during pleasure’. To his English contemporaries, the foreign character of Henry's political experience before he took the throne can only have amplified the impenetrability of purpose that accompanied such personal control. ‘He would like to govern England in the French fashion, but he cannot’ reported the Spanish ambassador in 1498 (CSP Spain, 1485–1509, 178).

Death and reputation

The tensions of Henry's later years were reflected in turbulence at court. Charges of corruption, of illegal retaining, and of old Yorkist loyalties, stresses between clerics and lawyers brought variously demotion, disgrace, fines, imprisonment, and even the threat of execution to such leading councillors and courtiers as Giles, Lord Daubeney, George Neville, Lord Bergavenny, Sir Richard Guildford, Sir James Hobart, Lord William Courtenay, and Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset. None the less, Henry's inner circle held together well enough to ensure his son's peaceful succession when at last the old king's recurrent, though now unidentifiable, illness got the better of him. By 24 March 1509 he was regarded as beyond hope of recovery, on 31 March he made his last will, yet he lingered at Richmond until 11 p.m. on Saturday 21 April, in an agony of pain and penitence vividly described by Bishop John Fisher in his funeral sermon. Those around him kept his death secret until the afternoon of the 23rd to smooth his son's path. Edmund Dudley and Sir Richard Empson were arrested next morning and rapidly cast as scapegoats for Henry's more unpalatable policies as the battle over the king's reputation commenced.

Most of Henry's provisions for his own immediate commemoration were carried out to spectacular effect. Thousands of pounds were spent on masses for his soul and alms to the poor and on 11 May, after grand funeral processions from Richmond to St Paul's and then on to Westminster, he was interred in his new chapel. In 1512 his executors commissioned Pietro Torrigiano, who had probably made the head for the effigy used during the king's funeral, to make a tomb with recumbent effigies of Henry and Elizabeth. By 1518 it was complete, its Italianate putti, saints, and angels making it one of the first great monuments of Renaissance art in England. Yet one striking memorial Henry envisaged was never put in place: a gold-plated statue of the king, kneeling in full armour, holding the crown as he had received it at Bosworth by the judgement of God, which his will ordered to be placed atop the shrine of Edward the Confessor, holy of holies of English monarchy.

Henry's contemporaries soon began to pass their verdicts upon him. Two verse epitaphs, one perhaps by Hawes, were printed, lamenting his death and praising him in rather vague or standardized terms. Fisher, preaching in St Paul's on 10 May, praised Henry's ‘polytyque wysedome in governaunce’ and the respect, peace, and prosperity it brought him at home and abroad, before describing at length his pious end. In lauding Henry's prudence and its benefits he echoed the comments of foreign ambassadors and others in the king's lifetime. Yet even he had to remind his auditors that if Henry were alive again ‘many one that is here present now wolde pretende a full grete pyte & tendernesse’ towards him (English Works, 269, 280). Such tenderness was conspicuously lacking in Thomas More's verse greeting the advent of Henry VIII, bitterly critical of the old king's treatment of noblemen and Londoners alike. Polydore Vergil, completing his history in manuscript about 1513, praised Henry's skills and achievements but charged him unequivocally with avarice in his last years, a charge toned down but not eliminated in his printed edition of 1534. For Edward Hall and later Tudor chroniclers, Henry's pacification of civil strife obscured the tension between wisdom and avarice, but the question was reopened by Francis Bacon in his account of the reign, written in 1621–2 as an exercise in the new ‘politic history’ inspired by Tacitus and Machiavelli. His depiction was conditioned not only by the need to shape an entertaining and instructive tale but also by his own concerns at the court of James I. Bacon found Henry skilful in the short term but somewhat lacking in foresight except with regard to his legislation, which he thought second in significance only to that of Edward I. Bacon especially valued the various statutes reforming judicial procedure, the Navigation Acts, and the (rarely enforced) statute against enclosure of 1489—this last for its defence of the yeomanry against aggressive landlordship. He also, however, found Henry obsessively and consistently avaricious.

Bacon's portrait of Henry held the field for two and a half centuries. The publications of record material from the 1850s by scholars such as James Gairdner and William Campbell did not much dent it, and curiously even Wilhelm Busch's demolition of its status as a primary source in 1892 left its judgements on the king's character largely intact. By this stage the moral argument was being bypassed by the assimilation of Henry's reign to a longer period of ‘new monarchy’, in which assertive rulers restored stability after the Wars of the Roses by repressing self-interested and over-mighty noblemen, and allying themselves with middle-class interests represented by gentlemen justices of the peace, merchants, and bureaucrats. In the mid-twentieth century detailed investigations of the machinery of government by J. R. Lander and B. P. Wolffe reinforced the impression of continuity between Henry and his Yorkist predecessors, as did G. R. Elton's stress on the 1530s as the great period of modernization of English government. Meanwhile a swing away from administrative and traditional constitutional history towards a social history of politics, led by K. B. McFarlane, questioned the need for Henry to tame the magnates, and made him look nothing more special than one of a number of later medieval kings successful in managing the political nation. Avarice returned briefly to the fore in a sharp debate between Elton and J. P. Cooper about Henry's last years, but now debate turned less on Henry's morals than on whether his exactions constituted a politically stabilizing reassertion of royal authority or a politically destabilizing tyranny. Since then wide-ranging research on local politics, Henry's court, council, and judicial machinery, his relations with the church, and other topics, has delivered a mixed verdict both on his novelty and on the success of his rule. Often inscrutable to his contemporaries, Henry seems destined to remain so. Though much of Bacon's history has thus been dethroned from its once authoritative position, the biblical motto on the frontispiece of his first edition still stands: Cor regis inscrutabile—‘Unsearchable is the heart of a king’.

S. J. Gunn

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