Henry Tudor was born to Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. His mother was thirteen years old at the time of his birth. She was born in 1443 to the Duke of Somerset, for reasons often attributed to suicide “as it was generally said” she was left orphan when she was just an i…nfant. As the King’s cousin, she was placed under the care of the Earl of Suffolk, a personal favorite of the Queen (Marguerite of Anjou) however this never went into effect. The Earl of Suffolk’s pretensions to wed the young Lancastrian heiress to his son John de la Pole were not well seen and after his death, the King was in search of a new husband that would be looked more favorably. The answer came in the form of his half brother, Edmund. Edmund along with his other famous brother, Jasper, was the son of the late Queen Dowager, Katherine of Valois (Henry VI’s mother) and the Welsh upstart Owen ap Meredith ap Tudor. For a mistranslation his last name became Tudor instead of Meredith. Regardless of this, their union was frowned upon as Katherine had married without permission and both suffered for it but after a while both parties were pardoned. Katherine was the first to die leaving Owen and their large brood. Of this, the two eldest sons figured and it was Edmund whom Henry VI chose as his cousin’s groom. In spring of 1453 Margaret was asked to swear before the court that she denied her betrothal to the late Earl of Suffolk’s son, John de la Pole. As a young girl of nine, she would be too young to understand the implications. Later in life she gave a colorful story that she was asked to choose between Edmund and John, and that she prayed to God to give her guidance and after he’d spoken to her she gave members her reply: Edmund.
She and Edmund were married right after her twelfth birthday in 1455, the same year that the dynastic conflict between Lancaster and York erupted, a conflict that changed both their lives and that of their son. Edmund did not live to see his son’s birth. The year it became known she was pregnant he became captured by Yorkist forces and released afterwards only to die. For Margaret this was a crucial point in her life. Not only was her husband dead, but the country was at war as well and on top of it, she was only thirteen years old and pregnant. She traveled to Pembroke Castle where she immediately entered into confinement. Weeks later she gave birth to a healthy boy and chose for him a Lancastrian rather than a Welsh name. Henry.
Regarding his appearance there are discrepancies in contemporaries and later sources, some describe him as dark, others as fair, the contemporary portrait that survives is of the last years of his reign where he is indeed shown of a dark appearance, darkening brown hair and dark eyes.
For Henry life would never be easy. He would always be on the move but his mother would never stop fighting –and contrary to many popular myths Margaret never had any visions her son was meant to be King. She was certainly pious –as many ladies of the time were- but she was not delusional. Throughout her life she fought for her son’s restitution of his lands and title.
When he was a year old Margaret remarried, the spouse chosen for her: the Duke of Buckingham’s second son, Henry Stafford and as far as the records can tell us, this was a happy marriage and Henry allowed Margaret to visit her son as much as possible. But a reversal of fortune in 1471 after the brief restitution of the Lancastrian regime was toppled once and for all would force her son and his uncle, the Lancastrian loyalist, Jasper Tudor, former Earl of Pembroke, to flee. After this, mother and son would not see each other again until the aftermath of Bosworth field, 1485 where the last Yorkist King, Richard III was killed in battle and when against all odds Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond was crowned King Henry the Seventh of England.
As a child, Henry was lucky to have a literate mother and one interested in his well-being and education. Unlike what was shown in the popular TV drama “the White Queen” Henry Tudor was not a lonely, timid child who was scared of his own shadow. His grandfather, Owen Tudor, was killed in the aftermath of the battle of Mortimer’s cross. In the same fashion of the late Duke of York a year earlier, he was beheaded and his head stuck on a pole for all to see. There was only one woman keeping vigil of his head lighting candles every day, something many frowned upon and while her identity will never be confirmed, it is likely she was the mother of his illegitimate son, David ap Owen. Living very near Henry Tudor, he was likely his playmate and Margaret delighted to teach both children how to read and advance their education. Furthermore, after he became Sir William Herbert’s ward, he had the benefit of great tutors, some of them Oxford graduates. During his exile in Brittany his charisma and charm were highly spoken of, it was on Breton soil in Rennes Cathedral on the Christmas of 1483 where he declared he would marry Elizabeth of York and take the English throne. Their marriage did not come about until 1486 and while their union is described as happy, it was not without its obstacles. Rebellions, deaths were just a few, when Elizabeth died in 1503 and her infant daughter followed her soon after, Henry went into seclusion and it is here that the popular image of the ‘miser King’ comes into play.
“The shadow of Arthur’s death was long and dark, and it changed the whole character of Henry VII’s reign … But this was nothing next to the misery that followed on February 11,when Queen Elizabeth also died … The king’s general mood shifted from celebratory to suspicious.” (Jones)
His tax policies became more excessive and he was rarely seen except for state occasions. He died in 1509 at the age of fifty and was buried in Westminster in the Lady Chapel he had constructed for himself and his wife.
Also on this day, 90 years later, Henry VII’s youngest son and successor, Henry VIII died at Whitehall Palace. His near 40 year reign is famous, mostly in part because of his six wives.
By early January French Ambassadors were reporting to Francis I that Henry was deathly ill, on the twenty seventh of January it became clear he was dying and he asked for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Thomas Cranmer asked him if he trusted God to give him a sign, Henry was only able to squeeze his hand then closed his eyes.
His long-life dream to ensure the continuity of his father’s line would not come through his direct descendants but his eldest sister’s –Margaret Tudor. His favorite niece, Margaret Douglas’ son -Lord Darnley was married to his cousin, Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots in 1565, their son James (b.1566) would inherit both crowns, uniting England and Scotland.
While the images we have of Henry is of the big corpulent man in Holbein’s painting, or the attractive Johnathan Rhys Meyers, the Henry that came to succeed his father in 1509 was of a handsome, young man of seventeen who as his maternal grandfather Edward IV, was said to be the “handsomest Prince” in Christendom. He surrounded himself by scholars and the best known men of the age. His break with Rome changed English history and divided England into two factions, much of which no doubt had a deep effect on his eldest daughter Mary who had once been regarded as his “pearl”. He left his nine year old son, Edward as his successor, but of all his children, the one who would be most remembered and would carry on his legacy would be his youngest daughter, Elizabeth who is known today as “Good Queen Bess” and “Glorianna” and celebrated as one of the greatest monarchs in English history.
In this painting commissioned by Henry VIII, he and his father with their respective Consorts lean next to a giant altar that is meant to boost Henry’s image and asks the question which Henry was better, father or son? ‘The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his citizens’ but adds ‘the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.’
- Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
- Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
- Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
- Henry VIII by Derek Wilson
- Henry VII by SB Chrimes