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Birth of Henry VII: The Start of the Tudor Dynasty

Updated on September 20, 2014
Henry Tudor was born at the height of the Wars of the Roses and onto the wrong side.
Henry Tudor was born at the height of the Wars of the Roses and onto the wrong side.

On January 28, 1457, 13-year-old Margaret Beaufort gave birth to the future Henry VII of England. Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, had been dead for the last three months or so, after suffering from the plague while in captivity. It was the height of the Wars of the Roses and the House of Lancaster, the Tudor’s House, was starting to lose power. In just a few years, Henry Tudor would find himself exiled with England in the hands of the House of York.

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Henry VII’s Claim to the Throne

Henry VII had a claim to the English throne through his mother, Margaret. She was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III. However, Margaret’s great-grandmother was Katherine Swynford, John’s mistress. The eligibility for the throne came into question after the two married. While Richard II and the pope rule in favor, Henry IV ruled against it when he came to power. Whether he could do this or not, is still debated and leads to the debate.

Most of England followed Henry IV’s decision, which meant that Margaret Beaufort could never be Queen of England. However, she was still extremely wealthy and that meant many men wanted to marry her. There was one marriage when she was a child, but it was annulled. She always viewed her marriage to Edmund Tudor her first legitimate marriage. That was the man who would make her pregnant at 12-years-old, which would almost cause her death at 13. She never did have other children. However, whether that was due to complications during the birth or the mental scares that were left afterwards is unknown. It may have been a little of both.

Henry Tudor also had a link to the French throne. His grandmother through his father’s side was Catherine of Valois. She had married Henry V first, having Henry VI. After Henry V’s death, she has a relationship with Welshman Owen Tudor. There are still questions over the legitimacy of the births of Edmund and Jasper Tudor (their sons), so the claim to the French throne was never strong enough to do anything about it. However, the link to France did help young Henry Tudor and his Uncle Jasper later in life.

Learn More About Henry VII: The Winter King

Henry VII and Jasper Tudor

After the death of Edmund Tudor, Margaret’s life was uncertain. Luckily for her, she had a brother-in-law who was willing to care for her. Jasper Tudor allowed them to stay in Pembroke Castle and Henry Tudor was born. Jasper soon became a father figure for his nephew, despite Margaret marrying Sir Henry Stafford a year after her son’s birth.

However, Jasper was forced into exile when Edward IV came to power in 1461. Pembroke Castle was taken over by William Herbert, and Henry Tudor was raised in that house. He remained under the care of the House of York until 1469, when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, changed sides and had Herbert executed. Henry VI was placed back on the throne a year later and Jasper Tudor was able to return.

It didn’t remain perfect for the House of Lancaster. Edward IV got his throne back and Henry VI died, presumed murdered, shortly afterwards. Henry Tudor had no choice but to flee England for his own safety and left with Jasper Tudor. They remained under protection in France until the time was right to come back.

Henry VII married Elizabeth of York to strengthen his claim to the throne.
Henry VII married Elizabeth of York to strengthen his claim to the throne.

Henry VII Brings an End to the Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses was a difficult time for the whole of England, but it was a very harsh time for Henry. He was separated from his mother, who was continually working on getting him onto the throne. She later married Lord Thomas Stanley, who never remained loyal to one particular house. It helped him gain powerful positions, which in turned helped her.

However, they couldn’t help Henry Tudor. Edward IV refused to allow him to return to England. While Henry’s claim to the throne was weak, he was still someone the Lancastrians could use and Edward wanted to bring an end to the Wars of the Roses. It wasn’t meant to be. Edward IV died on April 9, 1483, leaving his 12-year-old King of England. Edward V didn’t last long, as Richard, Duke of Gloucester made his nieces and nephews illegitimate and took the throne for himself. Henry Tudor remained in exile in France, but his mother and Elizabeth Woodville had a plan in mind.

On Christmas Day, 1483, Henry Tudor announced his promise to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. She was now Edward’s heir after the presumed deaths of her younger brothers and it would help strengthen Henry’s own claim to the throne. Neither really had a choice in the betrothal as their mothers had created the plot to conspire against Richard III. Elizabeth Woodville was in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and Margaret Beaufort would do anything to put her son on the throne. She knew his claim was weak and a marriage to Elizabeth of York was the best thing.

The betrothal helped to gain more support and Henry Tudor was able to go to war. While in France, he had developed battle skills after being taught by his uncle. In August 1485, it was finally time to go to England and defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. With the help of Lord Stanley’s forces, the 26-year-old won and he became the first Tudor monarch. He upheld his promise and married Elizabeth of York on January 18, 1486.

BBC Documentary About Henry VII's Life

James I was a descendent of Henry VII of England.
James I was a descendent of Henry VII of England.

Henry VII Continues the Tudor Dynasty

The legitimacy of the throne was always a concern for Henry VII of England. He didn’t want the Wars of the Roses to start again. Marrying Elizabeth of York was not enough. They needed a son and heir to the throne. They were blessed with that straight away. By the end of 1486, Elizabeth of York gave birth to Arthur Tudor. They had six other children after that, but only three others survived childhood. Arthur would later die, but Henry VII could continue the Tudor dynasty through his second son, Henry Tudor.

There were pretenders to the throne, though. One of the most notorious was Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Elizabeth’s youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury. Had he been the real Richard, it would have caused major problems for the Tudor dynasty. Since Henry had made Edward IV’s children legitimate, Richard was the rightful heir to the throne due to the belief that the Princes in the Tower had died. However, Richard was supposed to be one of those princes. Richard explained that his mother had smuggled him out of sanctuary and the country, replacing him with an imposter. The imposter was the prince in the Tower with Edward V. After interrogation, Warbeck admitted the deceit.

Henry VII’s birth was just the start of an 118 year reign for the House of Tudor. It would only end due to Henry VIII’s children failing to provide any heirs. However, Henry VII’s family remained on the throne through his eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor. Margaret had married James IV of Scotland and their line led to James VI of Scotland and I of England. It was the start of the Stuart dynasty in England but technically a continuation of the Tudor dynasty.

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    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 

      5 years ago from Warwick, NY

      I think you are making me smarter, Aingham! I love learning all this history and never fail to be shocked by the events that transpired throughout history, especially those relating to marriage and having babies! Oh... and the endless ways to trump up an execution!

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