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The House of Tudors

Updated on November 20, 2016


Unlike other wars In Europe (France and Italy for example), the War of the Roses that was going on in England in the 15th century (1455-1487 to be precise) and that was the major event during the century on the island, was not a bloodbath, like others, but quite the opposite.

The war of the Roses could not even be compared to the ever-larger wars in Europe at the time. These wars demanded an extraordinary financial and moral commitment of the people to it. The War of the Roses, however, needed neither of those: the war was merely nobles gathering small forces, so-called “armies”, which were used in brief campaigns, which goal was to alter the shape of the royal government of England by eliminating key persons on the other side. Therefore, the war was not a continuous way of life of people in England, but flashpoints of domestic tension. The war scarcely affected the people who were not personally connected to it, unlike the other wars.

The so-called battle of Bosworth Field, which I am going to mention later, was a battle which was attended by a couple of dozen people, all of whom were close associates to the contenders. This battle was the battle where King Richard III was slayed and Henry Tudor came to power.

The Accession of Henry Tudor (Henry VII)

On the field of Bosworth, after the fearsome battle between the forces of Henry Tudor (Lancastrian) and the forces of Richard III king of England (Yorkist), where King Richard was killed, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was hailed King Henry VII of England. It should be said, that this famous battle: The Battle of the Bosworth Field, was one of the last to be fought during the War of the Roses.

To secure his position on the throne and the throne of his heirs, for a couple of heritage-based reasons, he had to marry Elizabeth of York – daughter of Edward IV. Through her, he could ensure that no other could claim neither his nor his heirs throne; but before he did marry her, he made haste to secure a parliamentary title for himself. The first point was that he himself should be personally and authoritatively recognized as de jure king of England against all other claimants. For these reasons, he delayed his marriage to Elizabeth of York until 1486, lest it should be pretended that he reigned only as her consort, and he deferred her coronation for another year. Altogether, this marriage made to ensure complete security for his offspring.

Nevertheless, Henry’s triumph over Richard, over England and over Elizabeth, extended the triumph for the whole house of Lancaster, which ensured the end of the War of the Roses.

Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York had four children: Arthur Tudor: Prince of Wales, first husband of Catherine of Aragon; Margaret Tudor: wife of King James IV of Scotland and great grandmother of James I of England; Henry VIII of England: Henry VII's successor; Mary Tudor: Queen of France and subsequently wife of Charles Brandon. Henry also had three other children who died shortly after birth: Elisabeth Tudor, Edmund Tudor and Catherine Tudor: her mother, Elizabeth of York died as a result of her birth.

His first son Arthur Tudor died in 1502 at the age of 15 leaving Henry VIII the only heir to the throne.

Henry Tudor (Henry VII) and Elizabeth of York

Henry Tudor (Henry VII)
Henry Tudor (Henry VII)
Elizabeth of York
Elizabeth of York

Henry VIII

Henry VIII was born on 21st April 1491, and became king in June 1509, only 2 weeks after his marriage to the widow of his elder brother. Henry VII, while still alive, made sure that Henry did marry Catherine, so as to maintain the good relationship between England and Spain (Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella kings of Spain). During the first years of his rule, Henry VIII was largely supported by his appointed Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, who was gathering power during this time. At some point, Wolsey had become very powerful indeed, almost as much as the king himself. He built Hampton Court palace which he then, for some reason (still unknown, the theory is that he understood that he became too powerful for young Henry and his surroundings not to notice it), presented Henry as a “gift of good will”. The Cardinal was replaced as Henry’s Lord Chancellor by Thomas Cromwell in 1529, for failing to persuade the pope to grant Henry a divorce with Catherine of Aragon, was arrested but died before he could be brought to trial.

Catherine of Aragon gave birth to only one surviving child: young princess Mary (Mary I to become), born in 1516, and due to her “elderly” age: her forties, was unable to give birth to another child, although Henry was thriving and desperate for a son which he did not yet have (There is an unproven, though not unlikely theory that due to England not yet having a ruling queen, the dynasty of Tudors was not as much secure on the throne to run the risk of handing the crown to a woman, risking disputed succession or domination of a foreign power through marriage). Henry tried to persuade the pope to grant him a divorce with Catherine, because firstly he was already in love with Anne Boleyn (this reason he did not convey to the pope) and secondly his marriage to Catherine was anyways illegal.

A fter a series of actions, Henry divided the Roman Catholic Church from England’s, therefore bringing forth the English reformation. The pope responded with excommunication, and a formal division of the church has been accepted in the parliament. The effect of this was a total reformation of England, the Roman monasteries were destroyed and sold off. Out of this money, colleges at Oxford and Ipswich were built.

The newly church approved the divorce of Henry and Catherine, and a week later Anne Boleyn was crowned queen of England. This marriage provided Henry with hope of a mail heir, but the hope was proved wrong, as Anne gave birth to Henry’s second daughter, Elizabeth (Elizabeth I to become). Henry charged Anne with treason (which was almost certainly false accusation), and executed in 1536. In 1537, Anne was replaced by Jane Seymour as Henry’s third wife. She was the one who produced Henry a son: Edward who became Edward VI after the king’s death. She died 12 days after giving birth to Edward in 1537. It is said that she was the only wife Henry truly loved in his life, maybe because of the fact that she provided him with a true heir.

Henry had three more insignificant marriages: to Anne of Cleves (whom he divorced very soon after marriage), Katherine Howard whom he executed on grounds of adultery in 1542 and finally Catherine Parr, who outlived Henry and thus survived. None of these wives produced any children for Henry. King Henry VIII died in London on 28th January 1547, was buried in the kings’ chapel at Windsor Palace.

A song supposedly written by Henry VIII to his second beloved: Anne Beloved

King Henry VIII of England

Edward VI

Edward VI, King Henry VIII only son, became king upon his father’s death at the age of nine in 1547. During his short reign, it was evident that many of the nobles used Edward to their advantage, extending their power and strengthening their own position. Edward was, nonetheless, very gifted in the mind: was fluent in Latin and Greek, kept a full journal of his reign, however he was not as mature physically, which gave him a big disadvantage against the nobles.

During his reign, the protestant church rose to great heights, and Edward himself was explicitly and fiercely protestant. The “common book of prayers” was introduced, Roman Catholic parts were changed, and the language of the prayers was replaced from Latin to English.

Edward received much help from his protector, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset, also great uncle of Edward’s. He was an able soldier, he led an expedition against the Scots or their failure to fulfill their promise to betroth Mary, Queen of Scots to Edward.

Edward, on his deathbed, accepted Lady Jane Grey, great niece of Henry VIII to be his Successor on the throne, and on 6th July 1553 she assumed the throne, after Edward’s death at the age of 16 of Tuberculosis.

Edward VI

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey was a genuine claimant to the throne due to her relation to Henry VIII. Her claim to the throne after Edward’s death, was recognized by the council, thus she became queen. However, the people rallied not to her, but to Mary, Catherine of Aragon’s daughter and a devout Roman Catholic. Jane resigned from the throne only nine days of rule, and was later executed with her husband in 1554.

Lady Jane Grey

Mary I

Mary I became the first queen regnant in the history of England (that is, that she ruled by her own right, rather than through marriage). She was of strong character that was built over the years, and was a true Catholic. Mary resorted the papal supremacy in England, abandoned the title of the head of the Church of England and reinstated the Catholic bishops.

Mary reintroduced the heresy law that secured the county’s religion. Any heresy on behalf of the citizens was regarded as civil and religious offence, mounting up to treason and therefore the person was executed (to believe in a different religion from the Sovereign was an act of defiance and disloyalty).

This situation not only caused many deaths on behalf of the believers, but it raised the peoples’ unhappiness of Mary, and showed that some people are willing to die for the new religion that was established during Henry’s rule.

Mary wanted to ensure England’s future religion by marrying and having children, therefore bringing an heir that would consolidate her religious reforms, and, moreover, removing her half-sister Elizabeth from direct succession from the throne (Elizabeth was Protestant, thus an enemy to Mary).

Mary decided to marry Philip, king of Spain was highly unpopular with the people of England. The marriage, however, was fruitless, childless. Philip spent most of his time on the continent, England received none of the profit of Spanish involvement in the new world, and the alliance with Spain dragged England into a war with France.

Dogged by ill health, Mary died in 1558, possibly from cancer, leaving the crown to her half-sister Elizabeth.

Mary I

Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I was the last Tudor monarch. She was born on 7th September 1533, and became queen on 17th November 1558. She was, as mentioned above, the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. At first, her chances to come to power were very slight, because of her half-brother and sister. Her early years were full of uncertainties, and she barely escaped with her head during a rebellion against Queen Mary in 1554.

Elizabeth came to the throne of England as a good-educated ruler (was fluent in six languages). Under her 45-year rule, England prospered as never before, and possibly ever again. It is counted as one of the most glorious times of England: the “golden age”. A formal stable religion was established through a compromise with the pope. The people accepted the religion, the compromise with Rome, thereby evading the religious wars like those in France in the 16th century.

During her reign, England has seen many great voyages and discoveries, including those of Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Humphrey Gilbert. These voyages and expeditions established England’s possibilities of colonization, and Elizabeth herself established the East India Company in 1600.

Moreover, during her reign, the arts in England flourished as ever before: Country houses were built, miniature paintings reached its high point, and theatres flourished and thrived with performances. Shakespeare lived in her day, different famous composers worked at her court, the Chapel Royal or St. James’s Palace.

The whole era was filled with an aura of an extraordinary good, success and triumph. The queen was therefore many a time called “Gloriana”, “Good Queen Bess” and “The Virgin Queen”.

Many times (no less than 25) during her reign, she rode, often on horseback rather than by carriage, throughout her realm, visiting different regions of England. These visits were called “progresses”. She did this in a glorious outfit to match the look of every sovereigns.

However, not everything about her reign was good, peaceful and flourishing. Her reign was constantly in considerable danger and difficulty for many, with threats from Spain and Scotland. Northern England was rebelling against her in 1569-70. There have also been plots against her life, which she discovered.

In 1588, The English scored a great victory of the Spanish Armada. The English fleet was under the command of Francis Drake. The Armada consisted of approximately 130 ships, under the command of Philip II who had a claim on the throne of England through his marriage to Mary I and also, the fight was a religious fight, the Catholics of Spain against the Protestants of England. The English drove the armada north to Scotland, where a storm brew over the Armada. As a result, the Armada had to retreat over Scotland to Ireland, and then back to Spain. Out of the 130 ships, only 3 returned, and the people on board were never let to stand upon solid ground again due to their sickness.

England also suffered economically during Elizabeth’s reign due to the campaigns and the fight with the Armada on the coasts of England, which were costly economically.

Elizabeth chose not to marry so as to not bring her country into more wars and conflicts. Nevertheless, her overall rule brought prosperity to England. Her strong hand, her shrewdness, decisiveness when needed, brought good to England at times of danger to England. She died at Richmond Palace on 24th March 1603, having become a legend. The date of her accession was a national holiday for two hundred years.

Elizabeth I

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