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The Death of Henry VII: The First Tudor Monarch

Updated on July 6, 2013

King of England -- Henry VII

The start of the House of Tudor, Henry VII
The start of the House of Tudor, Henry VII

April 21, 1509 was the day that the first Tudor monarch – Henry VII died. Along with starting the infamous Tudor dynasty, Henry VII brought an end to a war that was tearing the country apart – the War of the Roses. While he was a man of royal blood and descended from Edward III, he was never destined to be the King of England. Henry Tudor gained the throne after defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

A Brief Overview of the War of the Roses

The War of the Roses lasted for 32 years. It was a war for the throne between the Houses of York and Lancaster – the White and Red roses. By the time of the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was King of England. Richard III was part of the House of York, making Henry Tudor the House of Lancaster. In fact, Henry was the senior male of the House of Lancaster and the only option the House had to gain the throne back.

The civil war was causing political instability and financial problems for England. The people wanted it over and Henry VII managed to offer that. To make sure there was no backlash for the Battle of Bosworth, upon gaining the throne, Henry VII secured it by marrying Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth of York. The two Roses were joined together to create the Tudor Rose.

The Early Years of Henry VII

Henry VII was born on January 28, 1457, to Edmund Tudor, the 1st Earl of Richmond and Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Unfortunately, Edmund was never able to meet his son since he died three months before Henry’s birth. It was through his mother’s side that Henry Tudor laid claim to the throne.

Margaret Beaufort was John of Gaunt’s graddaughter, who was the son of Edward III. However, John of Gaunt was born before Edward III married John’s mother, Katherine Swynford and the third wife of the King in 1396. Illegitimate children could never become monarch during this time so the claim to the throne was weak and it actually meant that the royal families of Spain and Portugal had a stronger claim!

However, Richard II declared the children of Edward III and Katherine Swynford legitimate in 1397 through Letters Patent. This was further supported through Letters Patent by Henry IV, but he also stated that his half-siblings were not eligible for the throne. This further weakened the claim to the throne and meant that the battle to end the War of the Roses was the best way for Henry Tudor to succeed.

Margaret was just 13 when she gave birth to Henry Tudor but was looked after by Jasper Tudor, Edmund’s brother. However, Jasper had to go into exile overseas when Edward IV took the throne, since Edward IV was a Yorkist. When the Earldom of Pembroke passed from the Lancastrian hands to the Yorkists’ the guardianship of Henry and his mother passed to William Herbert.

The Lancastrians took the throne again with Henry VI being crowned in 1470 but the next year, Edward IV regained control. This time, Henry VII fled to France and spend 14 years there. His mother married a Yorkist but that did not stop her from making it clear that Henry Tudor was an option for the throne.

Henry VII Takes the Throne

Henry Tudor had a much smaller army than Richard III when he went into battle in 1485 but was lucky enough to have members of Richard’s army switch sides during the fight. Richard III was killed on August 22, 1485 and Henry Tudor paraded the naked dead body on the back of his horse. Henry was now King of England.

However, he needed to secure the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York. They married on January 18, 1486, but it was not enough to stop others claiming to have a stronger right to the throne. There was also the question of Elizabeth’s younger brothers – the infamous Princes in the Tower – who were thought to have been killed and disposed of by Richard III. There was no proof that the two young Princes were gone and it meant that people claimed to be them. Once of those was Fleming, Perkin Warbeck who managed to fool a number of people. He was eventually arrested and executed in 1497.

Elizabeth of York

Henry VII's wife -- Elizabeth of York
Henry VII's wife -- Elizabeth of York

Henry VII Strengthens the Country

England was in pieces due to the War of the Roses and Henry VII’s first point of business was to restore it. He needed to restore the faith and financial situation, which were both in dire states. In fact, the country was on the brink of being bankrupt thanks to the expensive civil war. The first thing he did was to introduce more methods of taxing the people – policies that were originally placed by his predecessor. Henry VII wanted more nobles to pay extra tax.

Another problem was that the people didn’t have faith in the monarchy anymore. Another part of securing the throne was to declare that he was King of England before he went to battle at Bosworth. It meant that those who fought against him were guilty of treason. All the property of those who fought for Richard III could be confiscated.

However, Henry wanted a peaceful nation – something England hadn’t seen for 32 years. To do that, he signed a treaty with France. France would no longer support those who claimed to have a stronger claim to the throne and would help to bring in more money into the country. Henry agreed not to go after nations that has been lost during previous reigns.

Henry also saw the growth of the Spanish nation and arranged for his older son, Arthur Tudor, to marry Catherine of Aragon. The Treaty of Medina del Campo was signed. Likewise, in an attempt to strengthen the relationship between Scotland and England, the Treaty of Perpetual Peace was signed and his elder daughter, Margaret Tudor, was betrothed to James IV of Scotland.

The Children of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

Henry VII’s marriage was blessed with seven children – although only four of those survived infancy and into adulthood. Arthur Tudor was the first born and named after the legendary King Arthur as a way to strengthen the claim to the throne. Margaret and Henry Tudor were the next.

The fourth child of Henry and Elizabeth was a girl, who they named Elizabeth after her mother. Elizabeth survived for three years, dying September 14, 1495. Just six months later, they were blessed with another girl, Mary Tudor, who went on to marry the King of France, Louis XII, and Charles Brandon.

The two had two other children after Mary, Edmund and Katherine Tudor. Edmund died when he was just a year old on June 19, 1500, and Katherine died just a few days after her birth. In fact, it was Katherine’s birth that led to the death of Elizabeth of York – who died of childbed fever.

Henry VII Grieves for His Son

Arthur Tudor died suddenly in 1502. This was not just devastating for the country but for Henry VII. Henry usually reserved himself in front of others, but the Court saw how much the death of the next King of England affected him. At the same time, Henry was concerned about his wife’s health and happiness – a clear sign that his marriage to Elizabeth of York was happy. In fact, Henry grieved after the death of Elizabeth, another sign that he did love her.

Henry VII wanted to keep the alliance with Spain and arranged for a papal dispensation for Catherine of Aragon to marry the new King-to-be – the young Henry Tudor (later Henry VIII). However, after the death of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII started to look at an option to marry Catherine himself. The political stability of Spain was not as certain by this point but Henry VII did not want to return the dowry for the Spanish Princess. Catherine was forced into poverty in a foreign country and the young Prince Henry was reported saying that he would not marry her. When Henry VIII was crowned King, his first point of business was to marry Catherine of Aragon.

The Death of Henry VII

Henry VII never did remarry – although he made some half-hearted attempts. It is unclear whether Henry was just getting too old or whether he was still grieving for his wife. On April 21, 1509, Henry VII died of tuberculosis and his son, Henry, became King of England – Henry VIII – and one of the most notorious monarchs in English history.

Henry VII was also the great-grandfather of Mary, Queen of Scots and the great-great-grandfather of James I of England (James VI of Scotland) through his older daughter, Margaret Tudor, and the great-grandfather of Lady Jane Grey through his younger daughter of Mary Tudor. Interestingly, the current monarch – Elizabeth II – is also a direct descendant of Henry VII through the daughter of James I of England, Elizabeth Stuart, who was Sophia of Hanover’s mother.


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