Henry VII ended the dynastic wars known as the Wars of the Roses, founded the Tudor dynasty and modernised England's government and legal system.
Image: King Henry VII of England (Getty Images)
Henry Tudor was born on 28 January 1457 in Pembroke, Wales. His father, Edmund Tudor, had died two months earlier and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was just thirteen.
Henry was born into a country divided by conflict. He belonged to one branch of the Plantagenet Royal Family, the House of Lancaster, who were fighting another branch, the House of York, for control of the throne – the so-called Wars of the Roses. Henry’s mother Margaret was a descendant of Edward III, which gave Henry a real, although tenuous, claim to the throne.
Mindful of Henry's vulnerability, Margaret entrusted her son to the care of his uncle, Jasper Tudor. When Henry was 14, Edward IV won power for the House of York in the Battle of Tewkesbury. Many Lancastrians died or were executed as a result of the battle. Jasper fled with Henry to France.
Claim to the English Throne
Edward IV died in 1483, leaving his wife, Elizabeth Woodville (the 'White Queen') a widow. His brother Richard usurped the throne from his 12-year-old nephew Edward V, making himself Richard III. Henry was now the leading Lancastrian claimant to the English crown, and saw his support grow. He promised his supporters that if he became king he would marry Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York; a move that would unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster, the opposing sides in the Wars of the Roses.
The Battle of Bosworth
In 1485, Henry landed at Milford Haven. He marched across Wales and England to meet Richard III's forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. In the battle Richard III was killed and Henry was crowned King Henry VII at the top of Crown Hill, near the village of Stoke Golding.
Having secured parliamentary recognition of his title as King of England he married Elizabeth of York thus uniting the House of Lancaster and the House of York. He adopted the Tudor rose as the emblem of England, combining the white rose of York with the red rose of Lancaster to symbolise an end to the dynastic war.
Henry VII's grip on power was far from secure. His claim to the throne was shaky and he was plagued by plots and conspiracies. He consolidated his position with a treaty with France that opened up trade between the two countries. His most important treaty was the 'Magnus Intercursus' or 'Great Intercourse', signed with the Netherlands, securing England's textile exports.
In 1503 he arranged the marriage of his daughter, Margaret Tudor, to James IV of Scotland in order to secure peace between the two countries. The marriage meant that James IV's descendants would have a claim to the English throne.
Henry also secured a marriage between his eldest son, Arthur, and the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, in 1501. But in 1502 the 15-year-old Arthur Tudor died suddenly at Ludlow Castle, leaving Catherine a widow and making his younger brother, Henry, the new heir to the throne. It was suggested that Catherine should marry the young Henry instead, but this wasn't agreed upon during Henry VII's lifetime due to wrangling over Catherine's dowry.
Henry VII rebuilt the royal finances by avoiding war, promoting trade and enforcing royal taxes to the point of ruthlessness. This meant he was able to leave a fortune to his son, the future Henry VIII.
Henry VII began the work of building a modern administration. The Royal Council was reborn as the Court of Star Chamber, set up to deal with judicial matters. Arrangements were made to promote better order in Wales and the north through the creation of special councils and more powers were entrusted to the justices of the peace.
The combined impact of Henry VII's reforms would increase significantly the power of the King and open the way for medieval rule, with its local law and customs, to be gradually supplanted by a more centralised Tudor state.
Henry VII died of tuberculosis on 21 April 1509 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. He left a safe throne, a solvent government and a prosperous and reasonably united country. Henry VII was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII.
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