Henry VII’s Coronation: The Beginning of the Tudor Dynasty

Henry VII

On the thirtieth of October 1485, two months after his unlikely triumph at Bosworth, Henry Tudor, formerly the Earl of Richmond, was crowned at Westminster Abbey. His uncle Jasper had the honor of holding the crown while his stepfather, Thomas Stanley, carried the sword of state. The two men had been amply rewarded days before when they’d been created duke of Bedford and Earl of Derby respectively.

The ceremony was performed by the John Shirwood (Bishop of Durham) and Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells), supported by Courtenay (B. Exeter) and John Morton (B. Ely). Although the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t play a prominent role, as the head of the church in England, it still fell on him to anoint the King and place the crown on his head.

Henry VII in the
Henry VII in the “White Queen” placing the bloody crown on his head.

As with every monarch, when he was formally proclaimed as King of England, the ministry asked the crowd if they accepted him as their new monarch, to which everyone chanted: “Yea, yea!”

It was an expensive ceremony fit for a king, especially one who was doing everything in his power to convince his new people that he, and no other, was chosen by God to rule England.

“Accounts of the coronation were drawn up by Sir Robert Willoughby, and they spoke of a flurry of activity among the goldsmith, cloth merchants, embroiders, silkwomen, tailors, laborers, boatmen and saddlers of London. Instruction went out for yards of velvet and silk in royal purple, crimson and black, which were then run up into beautiful jackets, hose, hats, robes, wall hangings, cushions and curtains. Henry’s henchmen were ordered hats plumed with ostrich feathers, boots made from fine Spanish leather and striking costumes of black and crimson.” (Jones)

As for the King himself, his mother was determined that he would outshone his Yorkist and Plantagenet predecessors. And he certainly did. Not only were the courtiers dressed for the occasion (as was their new King), but the Abbey itself was filled with splendor. Margaret’s confessor wrote that upon seeing her con crowned “she wept marvelously.” And she a lot to be happy for, but her tears weren’t of joy but of fear. Margaret had lived through a tumultuous time we now know as the wars of the roses. Kings and Queens were humiliated, deposed, and it had turn everyone against each other. Henry, for all she knew, could be just another passing King. Historians such as Norton and Lisle make a point, that Margaret did become a force to be reckoned with, in her son’s reign. “What power she would have” Lisle writes, “would be behind the throne.” But in the meantime, all their worries were left behind, as Henry enjoyed this moment of triumph.

Following the Mass, Henry returned to the Tower of London for the coronation banquet. Jasper took precedence over the other nobles, riding ahead of them, his horse trapped with cloth of gold trimmed ermine. After the first course, Henry’s champion, Sir Robert Dynmock came in, issuing the customary challenge, demanding who would challenge the King’s authority. There were more performances to be found that day, among them the iconic representation of the royal arms of England and France along with those of their new king emphasized his Welsh ancestry. But more prominent among them was the Tudor rose. Henry Tudor was a religious man, and as those that came before him, he chose a rose because of its religious significance. The red rose was a symbol of Christ’s passion, while the five petals corresponded to the  five wounds Christ had suffered on the cross. Roses were ones of the most notable symbols on the Abbey, and on the courtier’s clothing.

Tudor Rose

But it wasn’t just the red rose, it was the white one as well which became representative of the late House of York. The York dynasty had relied on other symbols to represent their dynasty. Although it was a preferred symbol of Edward IV, he had also used the Sun in Splendor, to commemorate one of his victories, and his youngest brother, Richard III had opted for the white boar. Henry used this because it was simple and because it represented a new era –one in which Lancaster and York would be united and were there would be no cause for war.

While this wasn’t entirely true, it still worked because for many people, centuries afterwards, the Tudors would come to represent the union of these two warring houses, and become one of the most famous dynasties in world history. Ironically, before Henry became King of England, when he was just a child, the bards sang songs in honor of his late father (Edmund Tudor) and predicted that great things awaited his son. When he landed on Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales, the bards sang louder, praising now his uncle as well, saying “Jasper will breed us a dragon” claiming that Henry was the chosen one, the prince that was promised, of an ancient Welsh prophecy. Never forgetting who was responsible for his rise, he rewarded many of his Welsh supporters with lands, titles and offices.

Henry VII would go on to reign twenty five years. On his death, he was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII whose reign would eclipse his father’s, and to prove his greatness, he commissioned one painting known as the ‘Dynasty portrait’ where he asks viewers an important question. Who was better, the son or the father? He acknowledges his father’s achievements but says they pale in comparison to his. While Henry VIII is the most famous of the three Tudor kings, it is unfair to leave Henry VII behind. As a kid, his future was always being negotiated by his mother, uncle, and his caretaker (William Herbert), and as a teenager, he spent his teenage years and most of his young adult life in hiding, fearing for his life. When he finally came back, the odds were stacked against him and still, he won. As King, he continued to fear for his life, and although he was a good husband and father, he became a shell of his former self after his son died, followed by his wife and baby daughter a year after that.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Buried at Westminster Abbey, next to his wife, at the chapel he constructed for him and his descendants, is a testament to the appeal this dynasty has had -and no doubt will continue to have in many years to have.

Sources:

  • Henry VII by SB Chrismes
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • Margaret Beaufort by Elizabeth Norton
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
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1415: The Battle of Agincourt

Henry V Agincourt depictions

On the 25th of October 1415, St Crispin’s day, Henry V fought valiantly against the French in what became one of the most significant battles of the One Hundred Years War and of his reign. But if we are to believe this narrative, we are ignoring all the facts. The truth is that Henry’s army was sick and tired. Most of them were hungry as well, and the capitulation of the town of Harfleur (who had no choice but to give in to Henry’s demands) did little to motivate them. The sources vary, but all of them agree that the French outnumbered them, and it was going to be one hell of a fight –and as some of them viewed it, a massacre.

“The French army was disposed, according to the regular medieval way, in three “Battles” or divisions, one behind the other … The first, or “vaward” consisted of about 13,500 men; of these 8,000 were men-at-arms, and 5,500 were archers, who stood behind the men-at-arms … Ring Henry, also, after prayers had been held and mass celebrated, drew up his army in three “battles” or divisions, not, however, like the French, one behind the other, but each division in line with the other, so as completely to fill up the space between the two woods.” (R. B. Mowat)

Henry V shakespeare

Henry had risked everything for this enterprise, yet even he couldn’t break his rules of engagement. Besides citing his claim to the French throne, he had also cited the bible which said that unless provoked, he wouldn’t attack. Until now, he had manipulated the situation to make it seem as if he was the injured party; hence his reluctance to attack. But as it became evident that the French were not going to attack, he decided to draw first blood.

Ian Mortimer points out that one of the reasons why the French lost the battle was because they had cornered the English, preventing them from reaching Calais, but “in doing so they had placed themselves in a narrow confined space between two woods, and with ground sloping away on either side.” Furthermore, “they were encamped in a ploughed field that had turned into a quagmire as a result of the recent heavy rain –and conditions were going to get worse.” 

And they did get worse. Henry V relied on his bowmen as his great-grandfather, Edward III, had done, and the French, believing they wouldn’t be as vital, pushed their crossbowmen to the back. Approximately, Henry’s army consisted of a thousand knights, esquires, and other fighting men, excluding the archers, on each division. Archers numbered 5,000. And the latter, besides the muddy terrain, did the most damage to the French army.
When their king gave the order to attack, they put a piece of earth on their mouths and charged towards the French. Although the French were prepared to take them on, their position made it difficult to fight, and the shower of arrows on their cavalry overwhelmed them. And the speed in which they fired was thanks to their light armor which made it easier for them to move their arms.

“The French commanders could only look on with dismay and mounting consternation as the riders on the wings rode chaotically back into the vanguard. Even those who had not lost their horses, and how had clung on, had great difficulty controlling their steeds as they careered in panic away from the arrows … There was only one option left open: to sound the trumpets commanding a full onslaught of all the troops. And to overwhelm the English through sheer force of numbers.” (Mortimer)

Nonetheless, the odds as it’s been described, were not in their favor. And despite their bravery, some of the commanding officers, realizing what the outcome would be, had to yell at their men to retreat.

Henry V Hellraiser1

The fighting lasted about three hours. Among the English casualties were the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk. The French suffered more casualties, along with many being captured. The author of the Gesta wrote that never had the Englishmen “fallen upon their enemies more boldly or fearlessly, or with a better will.” One might be wondering what was Henry doing the entire time, and the answer was that he was fighting “as a famished lion for his prey”. Before the battle began, he said some words of encouragement to his men. Shakespeare would later immortalize this battle by having Henry delivering a glorious speech in which everyone cheers, and is convinced by Henry’s mighty words that the battle will be won. Shakespeare like most historical fiction authors today was writing from hindsight. In real life, the people fighting that day didn’t know what the outcome would be. The French were confident in their numbers, but the confidence was shattered as soon as arrows rained down on them, and the fierce hand-to-hand combat broke down. As for the English, famished and tired, they were unsure whether they would win, but the terrain, the number of bowmen (and their armor), helped them. And no doubt, seeing their King fight with the same ferocity, and charging at the enemy when his younger brother Humphrey was stricken, helped too.

But there is a darker aspect -one that is often forgotten or dismissed entirely: The Slaughter that came afterwards. After hearing that what remained of his enemy forces, intended to launch a second attack, Henry ordered that the prisoners be killed.

“The order was met by his own men with incredulity rather than horror since it entailed the loss of so many valuable captives, and the threat of hanging was used as an incentive for any soldier inclined to disobey.” (Matusiak)

Over a century after the event, the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall made the event more gruesome, adding that the great majority were stabbed, their skulls bashed “with poleaxes” or “slain with mallets.” While this can be interpreted as dramatic license, the truth is not less horrifying. Regardless of Henry’s fears, his actions were cruel, and a perfect reminder that just as Henry V could claim to be the purveyor of divine justice, he could also be an angel of vengeance.

Henry5

Those that weren’t executed were because of their ranks and lineage (including the Duke of Orleans), Henry told them: “Look at my men. They never mounted on women, nor robbed men or the Church” while another account has him saying that the reason the French lost was because they “had committed sacrilege in robbing and violating churches … taken by force all kinds of people … they had robbed the whole population and destroyed them without cause.”

This victory validated Henry’s ambition, and it also pushed him to the limits, to keep proving to his nations that his enterprise was well justified and blessed by God. And 600 years after the battle, Agincourt continues to capture the imagination of many history buffs, but beneath the romantic myths spawned by the nationalist sentiment that the one hundred years war helped spawn, and that the play-writers and other fiction authors gave it, lies a more interesting (and complex) story.

Sources:

  • Henry V by R.B. Mowat
  • Henry V: The Warrior King of 1415 by Ian Mortimer
  • Henry V by John Matusiak
  • The One Hundred Years War by Desmond Seward

Edward of Westminster ‘the most comfortable earthly treasure’ is born

Edward of Westminster and his parents

On the 13th of October 1453, on the feast of St. Edward the Confessor, Prince Edward was born on the Palace of Westminster. He was the son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. There are many misconceptions regarding this prince, the principal one consisting of an apocryphal story where Margaret presents her son to her husband and he says that he must have been conceived by the holy spirit. In the “White Queen” the Neville sisters repeat this myth saying adding there is no way the prince is the king’s son because the king was asleep at the time of his conception but this story is false and didn’t come about until 1461. Henry VI was within his mental capabilities at the time of his son’s conception. When Margaret knew she was with child, she and the Duchess of York went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin.

cecily_neville_hours
Cecily Neville wrote the unborn child was “the most precious, most joyful, and most comfortable earthly treasure that might come unto this land and to the people thereof.”

But then something happened. On July 17 the town of Bordeaux was lost, it was a humiliating defeat for the English and when Henry was told he went into a catatonic state. Nothing could wake him up. Margaret went into her confinement uncertain of what the future would hold for her and her baby. She gave birth to her only son in Westminster. Immediately the birth was announced to London, according to Bale’s Chronicle:
“Wherefore the bells rang in every church and Te Deum was solemnly sang.”

The next day the prince was christened by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester (Henry’s confessor). His godparents were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Beaufort (Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beaufort’s uncle), and Anne Stafford nee Neville the Duchess of Buckingham who was also Margaret Beaufort’s mother in law and Cecily Neville’s sister.
But as one historian points out, “if the birth was cause for great joy, it was also clear that the condition of the boy’s father could no longer be ignored.” His son was presented to him but Henry could not recognize him and his mother tried to make a bid for power and establish a regency council in her husband and son’s names but the nobles favored Richard (including the Tudor brothers, Edmund and Jasper).
With the destruction of the royal house of Lancaster, Margaret of Anjou remained in England for some time, until she was ransomed back in France where she died. If Edward had become King, given the education he was given, and the models he was taught to admire, he would have likely taken after his warring ancestors, including the much admired, Henry V. His life was cut short in the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. His father followed suit. The official story was that he died of melancholy after he was informed of his son’s death. Not many believed this story, and the rumors abounded that Edward IV had him killed. Not long after his death, a cult grew around him, and during Henry VII, Edward’s tomb was also visited by many pilgrims.

Sources:

  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster 1453-1471 by Susan Higginbotham
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
  • Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence

God Save the First Queen of England, France and Ireland!

Mary I coronation

On Sunday, the 1st of October, Mary Tudor was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. She was the first female King in English history. Her day began early when she departed from the Tower of London, she was accompanied by her ladies and other nobles. As before, there were elements that were identified with the coronation for queen consorts, but also others that were of Kings. Instead of riding a litter as queen consorts had done, she chose to walk barefoot to the Abbey. She dressed splendidly for the occasion, wearing “parliament robes of crimson velvet under a rich canopy borne by the five barons of the cinque ports” in addition to having her hair loose with a circlet of gold around her head.

Following her were her ladies and gentlemen (by two) which included knights, aldermen, the French and Latin secretaries, councilors, the knights of the Garter, and those carrying the three swords which represented Spiritual and Temporal Justice, and Mercy. The sword of state was carried by Edward Courtenay (who’d recently been ennobled as the Earl of Devonshire), the Duke of Norfolk carried the crown, the Marques of Winchester carried the orb, and finally the Earl of Arundel carried the scepter. Mary’s train was carried by the Duchess of Norfolk who was assisted by Sir John Gage. Behind her were her sister and stepmother, the ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves.

Westminster Abbey Mary I Tudor's coronation

When she reached the Abbey, she would not have been surprised to find it decorated with heraldic symbols and popular Tudor images. The pulpit was covered in rest worsted, with the porch of Westminster Hall decorated with blue cloth. In addition, there was the royal chair which was covered in damask gold with the three lions and the fleur-de-lis representing the crowns of England and France –the latter which England still lay claim too and enabled Mary to add to her title of Queen of France as well.

Stephen Gardiner then turned to the crowds and gave the following announcement:
“Sirs, here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man the crown and royal dignity of this real of England, France, Ireland, where upon you shall understand that this day is appointed by all the Peers of this land for the consecration, inunction and coronation of the said most excellent Princess Mary; will you serve at this time, and give your wills and assent to the same consecration, inunction, and coronation?”

To which everyone shouted “joyfully Yea, yea,” followed by “God save Queen Mary!”

Mary then made an offering to the altar and following with ancient tradition, she prostrated herself before it on cushions while prayers were being said for her. Then she rose and listened to the sermon from the Bishop of Chichester which had to do with obeisance to kings.

Mary Tudor coronation engraving painting

Then came the moment of truth. The moment that Mary had anxiously been waiting –and preparing- for all her life. The actual coronation. Still lying before the altar, she took the sacrament and said her oaths, and listened to the rest of the prayers. Then she went behind a screen at the left of the altar to make her first change of clothing. She was helped by some of her ladies. After she emerged she was anointed with the holy oils (by Gardiner) on her breasts, shoulders and forehead.

“Because so much depended on her anointing Mary had taken special care to ensure the validity of the ritual. She feared that the oils to be found in England were tainted as a result of the ecclesiastical censures brought against the nation by the pope many years earlier.” (Erickson)

This is true. Mary went above and beyond to make sure everything was perfect. So the oils were brought from Flanders. Judith M. Richards in her journal article about “Gendering the Tudor Monarchy” about Mary Tudor, discusses a lot of the issues regarding the first Queen of England’s coronation. Mary wanted to present herself as more than just a King, she wanted people to perceive her as both a woman and a king. Elizabeth would follow this model many years later when she addressed the troops at Tilbury in 1588 when she was at war with Spain. England never had a queen, and the concept of a female monarch was still very alien to many, even those that accepted Mary. So she had to thread very carefully. And one way she could be accepted without eliciting much criticism was by presenting herself as the paragon of virtue and morality (wearing her hair down and with a circlet as queen consorts traditionally wore) while at the same time, showing herself as ordained by god like monarchs before her. So here was a woman who was took the role of mother and guardian of her country, but also as an enforcer. And she made sure that people remembered this glorious day by having pamphlets be printed and distributed across Europe. (Not for nothing, her sister would take on the same roles, when on the eve of her coronation she would be compared to biblical figures like Esther and Deborah who were famous for upholding the moral values and preserving their people’s faith).

With a canopy being held over her head, she was given privacy to change back into her velvet robes. She then sat on the royal chair and was given the spurs and swords, had the ring placed on her finger then had the crown of Edward the Confessor placed on her head, followed by the Imperial crown and then another crown that was especially made for her.

Her subjects, including Gardiner and some of the courtiers that had carried the canopy and the heraldic symbols for her, knelt before their new monarch and swore their allegiance to her.  With the ceremony at an end the Te Deums being sung, Mary made her final offering to the Abbey (still carrying the orb and the two scepters of king and queen in her two hands) before departing for the state dinner that awaited her at Westminster Hall.

Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from

Feeling triumphant, Mary didn’t let the exhaustion win her over. Her sister and her stepmother were her guests of honor, seated next to her, basking in the attention and enjoying the spectacle that was being played out before them. There were some (like Renard) who didn’t like the Queen trusting Elizabeth with such honors, but Mary didn’t pay any attention to them. She was after all the daughter of a King and now the sister to the Queen, and she and her stepmother were awarded the highest positions that any man or woman could wish for. No other lady sat next to the queen or rode in a chariot that outranked the others. But there was a big difference between the sisters that Mary wouldn’t find out (or admit to it) until much later when the two became bitter rivals. For now though, she had no cause to worry. This was her moment and as far as she was concerned, it was meant to last.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor by David Loades
  • Gendering the Tudor Monarchy: Mary Tudor as ‘sole queene’ by Judith M. Richards/Journal article