Henry VII: The Man Behind the Legend

Henry VII portrait

Henry Tudor was still young when he became King of England. His reign heralded a new era for the British Isles, including their troublesome neighbor to the North. While he loved to gamble, drink (moderately), and joke, he was a cautious man -something his granddaughter and last monarch of his dynasty, Elizabeth I, inherited.

This is due to his difficult upbringing. He became fatherless before he as born with his mother giving birth to him at the tender age of thirteen -something that wasn’t completely unusual, but advised against when a woman was not fully developed and her husband was older than her- leaving her unable to have any more children. He was quickly christened and handed over to his uncle. His mother visited him as often she could or was allowed to by her new male guardian, her second husband, Henry Stafford.

By the time that Edward IV became King, Henry became a ward of the notable Herbert family. The Herberts were up and comers in the English court with noble Welsh roots like the Tudors, but unlike them they happened to back a winning horse. In his biography of Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, notes that it is highly possible that the new Earl of Pembroke (a title that once belonged to Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor) planned to marry him to his daughter and heiress.

Novelist Barbara Kyle wrote a brilliant article on this topic and how lucrative the wardship business was. What we would denounce as a sex crime or kidnapping or stepping over a parents’ rights, it was non-existent back then. It was very common for men to marry their female wards, especially if they were orphans and rich heiresses. Such was the case for men as well. Henry became a ward of William Herbert and his wife Anne, after the start of the Yorkist regime.

Henry’s time with the Herberts was idyllic but after Lord William was executed during the fiasco of Warwick’s rebellion, Henry temporarily went to his mother. Things seemed fine for the two when the dullard king, Henry VI, was reinstated as king of England in a period known as the “Lancastrian Readeption.” Unfortunately, this did not last and I say unfortunately because while many soon realized that the king was beyond redemption and had become a shadow of his former self, for the Beauforts and Tudors, including Henry, this was a major setback.

The first time that Edward IV had become king, he had presented himself as a noble, just and merciful leader but the time for pleasantries was over. He was done giving second chances. Following Warwick’s defeat at the battle of Barnet and the Henry VI’s son and his wife’s army at the battle of Tewkesbury, the Lancastrian royal and male Beaufort lines were wiped out.

All seemed well except for one thing … There was one young boy who could still posed a threat to the Yorkis regime. If left alive, he could grow up to become a figurehead, rallying men to his cause to usurp Edward or his descendants’ throne in the same manner as Edward and their ancestor, the first Norman king, William the Conqueror, had done.

Edward IV acted immediately and sent armies to get Jasper and Henry who had fled to Wales. They managed to hold them off for two months. But eventually Jasper realized that they wouldn’t for much longer. He and his nephew headed to France but powerful winds threw them off course, with them landing on Brittany instead.

The Duke of Brittany became Henry’s mentor and ironically, his protector. Initially, Francis II did not have Henry’s best interests at heart, he saw him and his uncle as two piggy banks he could cash in, demanding Edward IV grant him special favors or pay handsomely so he could have his prized possessions back. But time has a way of changing people and perhaps it was Henry’s character, something he saw in the boy, that made the Duke change his mind.

It’s too bad that wasn’t passed unto his courtiers. Intrigued by the youth’s clever wit and will to survive, they had to think about their duchy first. If Edward IV looked to France, then that could mean two powerful kingdoms against them and the last thing that Brittany wanted was to lose what was left of their sovereignty. Francis II’s advisers convinced him to hand him over.

It all seemed too easy. A young man about to be handed over to the Yorkist king who’d lock him up, place him under house arrest or marry him to a family deeply loyal to him, successfully neutralizing the last Lancastrian threat. But since when do things go according plan?

They didn’t factor in Henry’s acting skills or his quick thinking. As Henry was being led away from the Breton court, he probably pondered on these possibilities and before they made him board their ship, he feigned sickness and as quick as their backs were turned, he ran off to the nearest church and claimed sanctuary.

Henry lived to fight another day. This experience shaped Henry into the king he’d later become -a ruler who was suspicious of even his own shadow and left nothing to chance.

Henry Tudor TWQ.jpg

In her biography of the Tudors and Stewarts (Tudors vs Stewarts), Linda Porter says the following of the young man who had returned to England to claim the English throne after fourteen years of exile:

“At twenty-eight Henry Tudor was no longer a pretty land. In looks he was still personable, but an itinerant and uncertain youth had shaped a cautious personality. He was not a man who took anything for granted. The immense challenged of ruling the larger of the two realms that formed the island of Britain lay ahead of him. He had come by his crown in blood and battle.”

It is not hard to see why he had become this way, and why he looked more rugged than any youth.

Like him or hate him, Henry VII’s reign was a major game changer for the modern world. Prior to his reign, nobles could still muster armies at will, with kings struggling to keep control over them, leading to endless strife. Henry eliminated the last embers of a broken system that was also being abandoned in other parts of Europe. This system was feudalism and Henry recognized how useless it was becoming, and amending it would be like beating a dead horse.

Humanism the illustrated man

There was also a new religious revival that was being experienced throughout Europe that put man at the center of everything. While Henry was not an enthusiast of this current like his contemporaries, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella I of Castile, and his successors were (especially his son and granddaughters), he recognized that the times were changing and that if he was going to have a successful reign, England had to keep up.

He and his mother encouraged many religious thinkers, and after hearing of many sea-faring voyages that promised new discoveries, he founded some of them. This naval exploration would experience a revival during his granddaughter, Elizabeth I’s reign, who sponsored many of these voyages to compete and out-rival her Catholic enemies.

henry-vii-sovereign-spink_410

The sovereign had never been at the center of everything as when the Tudors became the new ruling House. This goes hand in hand with the new current of man being placed at the center of everything. Man is divine, man is the conduit between heaven and earth, and likewise, the king is more sacred than his subjects. Coins from his reign, show Henry, seated in the throne, holding the orb and scepter, wearing the crown of the confessor. He was the first English King to do this.

Tudor chronicler, Polydore Vergil, wrote the following of the first Tudor monarch in his mammoth work ‘Anglia Historia‘, a series of books chronicling the history of England:

“His body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow. His spirit was distinguished, wise and prudent; his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him. He had a most pertinacious memory. Withal he was not devoid of scholarship. In government he was shrewd and prudent, so that no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile. He was gracious and kind and was as attentive to his visitors as he was easy of access. His hospitality was splendidly generous; he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours of them. But those of his subjects who were indebted to him and who did not pay him due honour or who were generous only with promises, he treated with harsh severity. He well knew how to maintain his royal majesty and all which appertains to kingship at every time and in every place. He was most fortunate in war, although he was constitutionally more inclined to peace than to war. He cherished justice above all things; as a result he vigorously punished violence, manslaughter and every other kind of wickedness whatsoever. Consequently he was greatly regretted on that account by all his subjects, who had been able to conduct their lives peaceably, far removed from the assaults and evil doing of scoundrels. He was the most ardent supporter of our faith, and daily participated with great piety in religious services. To those whom he considered to be worthy priests, he often secretly gave alms so that they should pray for his salvation. He was particularly fond of those Franciscan friars whom they call Observants, for whom he founded many convents, so that with his help their rule should continually flourish in his kingdom, but all these virtues were obscured latterly only by avarice, from which…he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice, since it is harmful to everyone, and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the state must be governed.”

It would be good to end this on a happy note but Henry’s life as his early struggles was anything but happy or peaceful. He faced many rebellions, dealt with one impostor and a pretender, and other personal struggles that worn him down, including the loss of his uncle, eldest son, wife and newborn daughter.

Almost everyone who had joined Henry in exile and marched with him to Bosworth, had died. The man who became like a father to him, his paternal uncle, died before the century was over. And then he lost his son, a young, handsome boy whom he had named after the mythical Welsh (and Anglicized) king who united all of the British Isles to fight the Saxon army, King Arthur. He represented his vision for the future, a future where the Tudor dynasty reigned supreme. When he lost Henry, his vision died with him.

Bernard Andre commented that the King was absolutely distraught. He and Elizabeth took comfort in each other’s presence, with his wife assuring him that they were still young and could still have more children. And while this is true, Elizabeth was young, the birth of her new daughter was too much for her. She died on her thirty seventh birthday with her newborn, princess Katherine, dying a day letter.

Henry was outlived by his daughters, Queen Margaret who had married James IV of Scotland in the North and whose descendants would rule England (and continue to rule England) after the death of the last Tudor monarch, his youngest, Princess Mary (whose descendants would be beset by tragedy), and his only surviving son, Henry VIII and of course, the woman who had always worked hard to ensure his survival, even from afar, his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

His reign is also a transitory period, representing the end of an era and a dawn of a new one, that space between the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the modern world.

Henry was buried at the lady Chapel next to his wife, Elizabeth of York. Their two effigies are a testament of their undying love, and his personal sacrifices.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Barbara Kyle’s ‘For Sale: Rich Orphans’
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Book Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by Samantha Wilcoxson

Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen collage with real ones

Looking for a good historical fiction to read that is true to Elizabeth of York and the tumultuous era she lived in? Look no further, the Plantagenet Princess is all this and more!

It is very hard to find a good historical fiction that is appreciate of Elizabeth of York, without downplaying on her strengths or ignoring her weaknesses.

Many novelists think it’s better to alter their female subjects, the ones who aren’t deemed “interesting” or “strong” in order to sell more books, by marketing them as progressive or ahead of their times.

This wouldn’t be a problem if novelists were honest with their audience but as it happens, they are not. So you can imagine my sigh of relief when I read this book and found an author who honored Elizabeth by staying as true as possible to her silent -yet strong- demeanor.

There is strength in silence and that is something that Samantha Wilcoxson emphasized on every chapter where Elizabeth comes out as an observant, proud, and pragmatic young woman who is aware of her importance, and is determined to be treated with the respect she rightly deserves.

As the firstborn of Elizabeth Woodville and Edwar  IV, Elizabeth was well aware of her value. To quote from Susan Higginbotham in her biography on Elizabeth’s maternal family: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.”
And a man like Henry who’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Elizabeth’s father, he needed a good marriage to keep himself in power.

Elizabeth is a caring young woman who is witty and at times outspoken, someone who has learned from her relatives’ mistake, has had to endure loss, but never feels sorry about herself. Her strength lies in knowing who to trust, her religious devotion and faith in herself. Sounds trite, but this is as close as you will get to time travel and meeting the real Elizabeth in historical fiction. The book is beautifully written, highly descriptive and character driven, with Elizabeth being not the only character that shines from this tale, but those are there with her at the end of her journey.

If you are a history buff who’s read plenty on the wars of the roses, and is fascinated by Elizabeth of York’s story, this is the book for you. If you are new to this era but wish to know more about the story behind the White Princess, this is the book for you too. Well researched, masterfully written, highly descriptive, Plantagenet Princess: Tudor Queen brings back the wars of the roses and the early Tudor era back to life, and gives justice to a figure who’s been easily discredited, altered, and her queenship dismissed.

They say that the good you do won’t do you any good. Sometimes this is true, but for a woman who had seen many kings deposed, murdered and killed in battle, and queens’ reputations dragged through the mud, sweetness and piety became her greatest strengths and her fertility a shield against anyone who’d think twice about her harming the new Tudor Dynasty.
Experiences shape us, and they certainly shaped Elizabeth but as I’ve previously pointed out, it is often our willingness to get back up despite how many times we’ve been brought down that makes all the difference. And Elizabeth never gave up. Although her weapons were invisible they were no less effective and as it happened, they guaranteed her success. She went down in history as one of the most successful English consorts, and gained a cult-like status.

Dead Men tell no Tales: The black legend of Henry VIII

It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.

The Forgotten Monarch:

Henry VIII young and old
Henry VIII as a young man (left) and later in his reign (right).

It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.

 In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:

“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”

Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.

Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.

“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story.  The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self.  When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become …  As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”

In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.

“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”

In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.

Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot

Henry VIII young
Henry VIII by the Venetian Ambassador who was impressed with the young King’s physique and pursuit of knowledge: “The handsomest potentate Ii ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with n extremely fine call to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman.”

Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.

Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.

I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.

The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood

In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:

Pro … defensione was the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”

David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.

EOY and Henry VIII signatures
“Henry’s handwriting has always been a bit of a mystery. The ‘Y’s with that little back loop. The ‘R’s look much like ‘z’ in modern handwriting and the ‘H’s are quite unlike the handwriting of Henry’s known teachers. On the other hand, it is rather like this.’ David Starkey motions to show a book listing other primary sources that contains a letter written by none other than Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York. ‘And this is one of the very few surviving specimens of the handwriting of Henry’s mother. ‘This book is mine. Elizabeth, the King’s daughter.’ It says. It is only eight words and thirty-nine letters. And yet it is characteristic enough in weight, rhythm and letter forms to prove conclusive (I think) that Elizabeth herself was the first teacher of her daughters and her second son, Henry. It’s a charming picture, Henry the little prince and a loving family.” He described this as unusual “for sixteenth century monarchs.” And it certainly is but I think that has to do with the simple fact that he was the second son, the “spare”. Given that Arthur was destined to be King and going to receive a top-notch education, Elizabeth of York probably felt her other children, including Henry, could be more carefree. It must have felt terrible for the young boy when he lost his mother and his father (with good reason) became paranoid. Henry VII felt he had to protect him at all cost and until his father died, there was little indication of what Henry wanted. What Henry VII said, his son did. When he became King, he realized the enormous power that he had and how quickly he could win the people over by showing them that he was the opposite of his father. Like his mother, he was amicable, surrounding himself with people of low and high stature. And like his maternal grandfather, he was eager to be loved.

In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.

But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.

Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle

Henry VIII full body red and grey classic portrait
An older Henry VIII at the end of his reign. By this time, he had become obese, the ulcer in his leg had worsened and it is possible he was suffering from other illnesses. His over-eating and desire for glory, as well as his position as head of his church, wishing to secure his legacy, didn’t help. Yet, aware of the power of words and images, he made sure that he’d become immortal through them, especially with the latter. His pose is perfect and can be seen in other paintings where his expansive clothes help cover up his weight and give the impression that he is all-powerful. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this.  And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.

Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.

Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.

Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.

Sources:

  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
  • Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
  • “Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
  • Katharine of Aragon’s education
  • Katherine and Henry VIII’s marriage & their joint coronation

 

The Sweating Sickness & Greyscale

Sweating sickness GOT

There is great book by Claire Ridgway that I recommend if you are new to the Tudor era or just new to some of the diseases that were plaguing the population during that time. The sweating sickness is by far one of the greatest mysteries of the Tudor era because no one knows exactly how it originated, although many scientists and medical historians have a good idea given some of the contemporary records.

“A remarkable form of disease, not known in England before, attracted attention at the very beginning of the reign of Henry VII.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

“It was referred to by many different names, including the Sweat, the Sudor Anglicus or English Sweat, the Swat, Stup-Gallant, Stoupe Knave and Know thy Master, Sweating Sickness and the New Acquainance.”(Ridgway, Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell)

Claire Ridgway makes the distinction that she is not a doctor but has done a great deal of research on this topic (and she has also made a video on this topic which is a shorter version of the book) and has come to several conclusions, the main one being that this disease could have been the result of several things, including lack of hygiene in universities, homes and other places.

“Erasmus, in a letter to Francis, physician to the Cardinal of York, wrote of how English houses were not constructed to make a through-draft possible and that their rush floors were unhygienic because sometimes they were not renewed for around twenty years and so they allowed “spittle, vomit, dog’s urine and men’s too, dregs of beer and cast-off bits of fish, and other unspeakable kinds of filth” to fester.  Oothers blamed the damp, foggy English climate and Caius mentioned flooding: “rot in the groundes after great flouddes, in carions, & in dead men”, but these factors are unlikely to have caused such an epidemic.” (Ridgway, Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell)

She goes on to elaborate on other possible factors such as this being a new strain of influenza or a combination of various factors that made it possible for this to spread so fast and kill so effectively.

Henry VII BUST

One thing she does dispel is that this was NOT brought over by Henry’s soldiers. This is something that is still perpetuated in some novels and while it makes for entertaining read, it is simply false. There are records of the disease before Henry and his army of mercenaries, disaffected Edwardian Yorkists and staunch Lancastrians landed on Milford Haven. In fact, one such account that she gives more details about in her book reads as follows:

“The disease was obviously known in England before the Battle of Bosworth because, according to the Croyland Chronicle, when Richard III called on Thomas Stanley to travel from his home in Lancashire to Nottingham, after news of Henry Tudor’s landing had broken, Stanley “made an excuse that he was suffering from an attack of the sweating sickness, and could not possibly come”. It appears therefore, that Henry Tudor and his forces cannot be blamed for its introduction.”

Sweating sickness death lament

The Luminarium project website has an article on this subject that is straight from the Encyclopedia Britannica, third edition that dates back to 1910, leaving it clear that the disease hadn’t been brought to England by Henry’s soldiers but that it was already native to England.

Sweating sickness dance of death
“It was known indeed a few days after the landing of Henry at Milford Haven on the 7th of August 1485, as there is clear evidence of its being spoken of before the battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August. Soon after the arrival of Henry in London on the 28th of August it broke out in the capital, and caused great mortality. This alarming malady soon became known as the sweating-sickness.”

The symptoms according to Thomas Forrestier, a French physician, who lived in London and wrote a treatise on the disease, were the following:

  1. “A great sweating and stinking.”
  2. Redness of the face and body.
  3. Unquenchable thirst
  4. Headaches
  5. High fever
  6. Breathlessness

English physician John Caius was more detailed in his description of the disease, adding that the muscular pain would be accompanied by redness, abdominal pain, cardiac palpitations and dizziness.

Jorah greyscale

Game of Thrones, being partly based on the wars of the roses and the era after it, has sided with many novelists by having Ser Jorah on the show and Young Griffin’s (fake Aegon –sorry guys but I don’t think he is the real deal) guardian in the books be the ones that bring a horrible disease back to Westeros.

The show and books could surprise us by having these two characters finding some sort of miracle cure that stops it from spreading –sort of like what happened to Shireen- but it is unlikely. And it might be that the Stonemen’s disease or Greyscale, be Martin’s version of the sweating sickness in Westeros.

This would certainly make things difficult for Dany. The sweating sickness certainly did for Henry as it prevented him from going to certain places, or traveling alongside his wife years afterward. The sweating sickness was more deadly on England, killing many people and making no distinction between rich and poor.

Henry VII’s surviving son and heir, Henry VIII, could have come this close never to marrying Anne Boleyn because she happened to be one of the victims of this sickness. Thankfully for her and her family, she recovered. Other members of the nobility and the royal family weren’t so lucky. Take the Brandons for example. Charles Brandon’s last wife, Catherine Willoughby gave him two sons who survived infancy but didn’t live beyond that. During the reign of Edward VI they died, leaving the poor Duchess devastated.

The sweating sickness would go on to hit again with the last recorded incident in 1652 in Leipzig. This new variant of the disease would also be seen in other parts of the globe such as in France, Spain in Holland during the nineteenth century.

There were many attempts to cure it or control it with Henry VIII, who like his paternal grandmother, had a fascination with the natural world, keeping a detailed journal where he came up with several tonics and remedies to combat this disease.

game-of-thrones Shireen side face

In Game of Thrones we aren’t given a full explanation as to how Shireen’s father managed to stop the disease from spreading. Season five just reveals that Stannis hired every physician and magician from across the known world to come to Dragonstone so they could stop the disease from taking over and transforming her into one of the hideous creatures we saw that reside in Old Valyria. Like lepers in the ancient and medieval world, Stannis was advised to send his daughter away to live the rest of her life among the other people infected but he chose not to because he was convinced that she could be saved. It could have been a combination of his obstinacy (because Stannis is a proud man) and his love for his daughter that prevented him from making a poor decision that would see his only heir being sent to live the rest of her days as an animal. (Unfortunately, he would go on to make a worse mistake when he listened to Melisandre, and sacrificed her, believing that Shireen’s death would bring him victory.)
Daenerys sends Jorah away to find a cure. Some fans believe that Jorah will find himself back to the Quaithe, the mysterious masked figure viewers were introduced to in season 2 and whom book readers have long speculated about since we were introduced to her in ‘A Clash of Kings’. The first trailer for season 7 shows us as a disgusting looking arm with ridges, dried up blood and stone looking skin which leads us to believe it is Jorah and that maybe (like Shireen) he has found a way to stop the disease from spreading or that he hasn’t and like the rumors surrounding Henry’s men bringing the sweating sickness to England, he will bring a deadlier strain of the disease to Westeros, causing more deaths and more additions to the army of the undead.

Sources:

  • Ridgway, Claire. The Sweating Sickness: In a Nushell. Made Global. 2014.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • “What was sweating sickness?” YouTube, uploaded by The Anne Boleyn Files, 5 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwSjvIixzP8
  • “English Sweating Sickness.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th, 1910

Henry VII & Daenerys: Two Dragons of the same scale who’ve broken the wheel

Henry VII Daenerys comparisons

A Song of Ice and Fire is rich with detail and characters that are as complex as the world they live in, and the faith they practice. The war of the five kings which was based on the wars of the roses is over. We have come to the Tudor period with strings of the last stages of the wars of the roses.
Henry Tudor failed to invade England in his first attempt. Buckingham’s Rebellion was supposed to destabilize the government but it did nothing of the sort. Henry didn’t give up and in his darkest hour he vowed that once he won, he’d marry Elizabeth of York, uniting the two houses of York and Lancaster and bringing peace to England.
It is unclear if the book series or the TV adaption will follow history but given that the latest trailer has made the similarities between the two more obvious, it is safe to say that it will come close.
We don’t know what Dany’s exact reaction is when she finally arrives to Westeros, specifically to Dragonstone. Dragonstone is the equivalent to Wales in the world of ice and fire.
Rhaegar was Daenerys’ older brother and thus, the crown heir and Prince of Dragonstone. Like his historical counterparts, the Princes of Wales, he was tasked with carrying out the King’s justice and ensuring that his subjects’ would stay loyal to the crown. Crown heirs as young as twelve would be sent here and like the princes of Wales, they would have their own household with a governor and tutors which would help them with the task of ruling and administering their principality.
After Rhaegar died at the battle of the Trident, many people saw his siblings as the sole heirs of the Targaryen dynasty. Like Henry Tudor, Daenerys was forced to flee along with her brother and seek refuge across the narrow sea. Her claim to the throne has been described as slim because of her gender and her father’s reputation as a tyrant, not to mention her older brother’s actions with Lyanna. But Daenerys insists that she, and only she, is the rightful heir to the throne and there is nothing she won’t do to get what she wants.

The Ones who were Promised

Tudor banner and Targaryen banner

Daenerys is also seen as a savior by the followers of the red god. Coupled with the myriad of sell-swords, former slaves, hordes of Dothraki and disenfranchised aristocrats from her homeland, it is no surprise why she’s become the biggest contender.
The way Dany looks up in the latest trailer of season 7 after she lands in Dragonstone (way to make it obvious who these people are based on, am I right?) in an almost reverential manner is so similar to Henry’s reaction when he arrived to England after fourteen years in exile.
Besides claiming descent from the legendary Welsh King, Cadwallder, Henry also claimed to be a descendant of King Arthur, through his father, Edmund Tudor, who claimed to descend from Welsh Princes that went all the way back to ancient times. Henry Tudor adopted the symbol of the red dragon of Wales as his main banner, and as soon as the Welsh heard of his arrival, they began to sing songs about him, claiming that he was the one who had been promised.
According to the chronicler Robert Fabyan, upon arriving to Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales, on the 7th of August 1485, Henry “kneeled down upon the earth, and with meek countenance and pure devotion began this psalm: judica me deus, and discern causmam.” (Psalm 43: Judge me, Oh God, and distinguish my cause.) Then Henry kissed “the ground meekly, and reverently made the sign of the cross upon him.”

Daenerys hasn’t shown herself to be pious but like her historical counterpart she has a strong sense of purpose. She believes that it is her right to rule because of her bloodline and her actions towards the slavers at the former slaver’s bay (now renamed Dragon’s Bay). But will that be enough to vanquish the forces of evil and more importantly convince the people to join her cause?
Only time, and in this case, shorter time (since the clock is ticking) will tell. Henry’s defeat of Richard III didn’t end the dynastic conflict, though he made it seem when he married EOY as if it did. And assuming that the theory of Dany marrying Jon Snow is correct, that won’t guarantee Westeros any peace as there will still be plenty of factions looking for ways to undermine their reign and gain the upper hand.

Fashion Statement

Dany and Heny

Another thing I noticed is Dany’s new look which mirrors Henry in his later years. Contrary to popular opinion, Henry didn’t always dress so dour. In her latest book, historian Tracy Borman talks about how he closely guarded his money and his possessions but he still spent a significant amount on clothing.

 

 

“… he had a more light-hearted side. His household accounts reveal that he was fond of playing cards, even though he regularly suffered heavy losses … Physically fit from his years of campaigning, he held regular jousts and liked to play tennis. The latter was a particular favourite with the king and was commended by a contemporary expert on courtly refinement as a “noble sport which is very suitable for the courtier to lay … for this shows how well he is built physically, how quick and agile he is in every member” … Miserly he may have been, but Henry Tudor was shrewd enough not to repeat this mistake. A man’s clothes –far more than those of a woman –were of great symbolic importance … Henry spent the greatest sums on his apparel during the early years of his reign, when he felt most insecure on his newly won throne.” (Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors)

Dany’s latest appearance mirrors that of Henry during the last years of his reign after he’d lost nearly all of his loved ones, including his wife and son.
Daenerys has this rich apparel with jewels and expensive fabrics, and she is finally wearing her house colors, but in contrast to previous seasons and other contenders, she appears more reserved. Even Cersei boasts of more jewelry and outlandish headgear than her! It could be that as Dany attempts to make her final claim at the Iron Throne, she wants to be seen more as a protector than a bejeweled tyrant.

Game Changers & Altering History

Richard III ASOIAF

So after everything that I’ve written, you might be asking: Does this mean that Daenerys will end up as Henry Tudor? Beloved savior turned miserly female king who loses nearly all of her loved ones? As I previously stated, given that this is Game of Thrones, it is hard to figure out what the outcome will be but one thing is certain and that is that Daenerys as Henry Tudor have changed the rules of the game. As she told Tyrion in season four, she isn’t determined to be another spoke in the wheel, she wants to break it.
“Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell, Stark … they are all just spokes on a wheel … On and on it goes … I am not just going to change the wheel, I am going to break it.”

This is an allusion to the wheel of fortune. A medieval concept that can be simplified to good luck vs bad luck. Either you were favored by God, or you weren’t (in which case you were pushed to the bottom of the wheel). Henry’s candidacy as the last scion of the House of Lancaster changed all that. If we looked critically at this claim, and forget about the outlandish tales he and his descendants weaved about his dynasty, we see someone who rose to power thanks to the in-fighting that was going on at England at the time and the tragedy of the princes in the tower, and who through his wit and cunning, won many people over, and who in spite of living on the run for most of his teenage and young adult life, grew up to be a very determined and cautious individual.

Daenerys says that it is her destiny to rule. Henry swore before an audience of disaffected Edwardian Yorkists and staunch Lancastrian loyalists at Vannes Cathedral in Brittany that he would bring them victory and peace by defeating Richard III and marrying Elizabeth of York. The way he spoke and interacted with his new allies, convinced them that he was a man worthy to follow. Over a century later, William Shakespeare wrote the conclusion to his history plays on the wars of the roses, ‘Richard III’. Richard III is filled with Tudor propaganda where he drew from plenty of sources written during Henry’s reign and his successors, that painted Richard as a hunchback and a twisted individual. It is no different than what we see Tyrion or Cersei being depicted at. While Cersei borrows the worst qualities assigned to Queen Regents and Queen Regnants during the Tudor era, the role she is playing in Daenery’s story is similar to that of Richard III.

There have been many fan theories that speculate that while the book series are told from different characters’ point of view, and we see this being expanded on the show, the whole story might not be nothing more than a single person’s take on these events. Someone who has interpreted these events based on what his best friend has told him, or how he wishes them to be remembered. Of course, I am referring to Samwell Tarly. The season 6 finale closed the chapter on Samwell’s story with him and Gilly and her son arriving to Old Town where they meet one of the grand maesters. He is examining a document with a special lens and as he guides Sam to the main library, we see the astrolabe which is largely featured at the beginning of the credits. Could it be that this story is showing Jon Snow and Daenerys in such a light, because that is how Sam prefers the population to remember it?
Let’s recall what Varys told Tyrion in season 2: “A very small man can cast a big shadow.”

Indeed, he can. If there is one thing we have learned from history is that it is bias and whoever is victorious, gets to control the narrative. The pen is mightier than the sword, and it might be that Varys’ sermon about how power is nothing more than “a trick, a shadow in the wall” and the greatest trick of all is the one that changes people’s perception to the point that their view of the world is whatever you tell them.

This doesn’t undermine Daenerys and Henry VII’s respective rise to power. On the contrary, it only highlights their genius and their ambition. Henry’s claim rested on his mythical roots to King Arthur and Cadwallder, his right of conquest (which was valid and was also claimed by his and the Plantagenets’ ancestor, William the Conqueror), and finally from his mother who was a direct descendant from John of Gaunt, 1st. Duke of Lancaster, albeit from an illegitimate branch. While Richard II had legitimized John of Gaunt and his former mistress, Kathryn Swynford (who was his wife by then), his successor, John of Gaunt’s oldest son, had undermined their legitimacy by adding a new clause that barred them from the line of succession. Henry’s victory made many of his supporters forget this little detail, but not the Yorkist remnants who continued to wage war against the Tudors -a war that escalated when Henry VIII broke away from Rome and created his own church.

Without a doubt, Henry and Daenerys are two of the best examples that the people who start off as the most inconsequential can become the most important players of the game and through a number of misfortunes and strokes of luck, break the wheel, and true examples that destiny is what you make of it.

“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation and the compromises that he had been forced to make, including the support from France and his former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved a victory that he should not have won.” (Skidmore, Rise of the Tudors)

Ironically, even when Henry VIII tried to outdo his father in the Tudor Dynasty Portrait that has him, Henry VII, leaning next to a monument while their respective wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour (who was dead at the time this was painted) are on the other side, claiming that his achievements were better than his father; he had to admit that without him, none of that would have been possible.

Decades later, during Elizabeth I’s coronation, Henry VII was featured once again, this time through the device he created after his union to Elizabeth, that symbolized the union of their two houses, the Tudor rose. Elizabeth I would often invoke the past to justify her actions and lend validity to her claim. Like her grandfather, she saw herself as the rightful heir to the throne, not just because of her father’s will, but because her mother had been an anointed queen and like her paternal grandmother and namesake, she viewed herself as a symbol of unity who was destined to pull England out of darkness and into the light.

“On Saturday, January 14, 1559, at about two o’clock, Henry VIII’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, rode through London, from the Tower down to Westminster, on the eve of her coronation. As usual, a great series of pageants had been organized to illustrate the many ways in which the new queen’s majesty was righteous and worthy. At the corner of Fenchurch Street was Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted with battlements” and built on three separated levels. The official record of the procession recorded that “on the lowest stage was made one seat royal, wherein were placed two personages representing king Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of king Edward the Fourth … [not] divided but that the one of them which was king Henry processing out of the house of Lancaster was enclosed in a red rose, and the other which was Queen Elizabeth being heir to the house of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of which two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to the second stage … wherein was placed one, representing the valiant and noble prince king Henry [VIII].”
… Buildings were decorated with the Tudor roses and other associated emblems of the dynasty. Great stained glass windows installed in churches during the sixteenth century blazed with red and white petals. Anyone who had been lucky enough to brose the books of the royal library would have found the exquisite illustrations on the pages decorated with roses red, white and Tudor –in many cases these were added to books that had been inherited from earlier kings- particularly Edward IV. Other books, too, were emblazoned with the simplified dynastic story of the Wars of the Roses … By Elizabeth’s reign, the mere sight of red and white roses entwined was enough to evoke instantly the whole story of the fifteenth century: the Crown had been thrown into dispute and disarray by the Lancastrian deposition of Richard II in 1399; this had prompted nearly a century of warfare between two rival clans, which was a form of divine punishment for the overthrow of a rightful king; finally in 1485, the Tudors had reunited the families and saved the realm. It was that simple.” (Jones, Wars of the Roses: Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors)

Perception is everything and it is more effective when the person twisting historical events is full of conviction and if there was one thing the Tudors had was plenty of conviction -something their founder’s fantasy counterpart also has.

Henry VII and EOY history posthumous portrait
“Now civil wounds are stopped peace lives again: That she may long live here, God say Amen!” ~The Tragedy of Richard III by  William Shakespeare (1592)

The last book in the series will be called ‘Dreams of Spring’ and given how Shakespeare’s Richard III ends with Henry Tudor being crowned and promising a new beginning for England, it can be inferred that the last book’s title refers to a bittersweet closure to the song of ice and fire, with the war ending, some form of peace being achieved but at a great cost. And perhaps it is revealed at the end, that this was nothing more than someone else’s view of these events, leaving many questions (as with the wars of the roses and the era after it) unanswered.

Sources:

  • Martin, George, et. al. World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. Bantam. 2014.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors. St. Martin Press. 2014.
  • Porter,  Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. St. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Richard III. 1592.
  • Weiss, Daniel Brett and Benioff, David, creators. Game of Thrones. HBO. 2011-?

I also recommend all the other books in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, including the latest spin off “Dunk and Egg” which expands on this world.

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

Red and White it flows: The Birth of Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor rose

On the 20th of September 1486, Queen Elizabeth of York gave birth to the first prince of the Tudor dynasty, a baby boy named Arthur at St. Swithun’s Priory next to Winchester Cathedral. This was no coincidence as Henry wanted his crown heir to be born in the place where it was believed Camelot once stood.

Henry was proud of his Welsh roots and he wanted to exalt them, by naming his crown heir, Arthur after the legendary king who unified all Britain. From the start, Henry VII, was doing his best to solidify his place in English history and the rest of Europe. When he married Elizabeth of York that same year, their union was widely celebrated. A new emblem was a created.

“Henry had been born at Pembroke Castle in Wales and spent his early years at Raglan in Monmouthsire. His paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor claimed descent from Arthur and he had marched under the banner of a red dragon, the Pen Draig, or Pendragon, at Bosworth. Breton minstrels and early Welsh texts had been drawing on the legend long before the Tudors …The present round table in Winchester’s Great Hall has been carbon dated to 1250-90 … Even Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, had been drawn to Arthurian ideals and produced genealogies to justify his wresting the throne from Henry VI.” (Licence)

Tudor banner

Not surprisingly then, Henry VII felt even more drawn because of his Welsh roots. On the road to Bosworth, he chose for his main standard the dragon of Cadwalldr and thanks to his uncle Jasper’s popularity in that area, the bards sang songs about him being their prophesized savior.

Arthur was the embodiment of these myths, being born at the place where many believed Arthur’s fabled city of Camelot once stood, and where a replica of the round table was held at the ceiling of Winchester Cathedral, and of his father’s ambitions. He was a prince of both Lancaster and York.

For her part, Elizabeth had been preparing for the birth since Easter with the help of her mother-in-law, the indomitable Margaret Beaufort [Countess of Richmond]. Besides her, Elizabeth had the company of her mother and other female relatives. Birth in this period was exclusively a female thing and although doctors were present, they were not normally involved in childbirth. They were just there to act as consultants. It was up to Elizabeth’s women and the midwives to assist her during the birth.
When her labor began on the 19th, natural creams would be applied on her abdomen. These would mostly consist of a mixture of distilled marjoram and saffron and brandy to “aid the contractions and help lessen the intensity” of these.

Although medical knowledge was limited, Alison Weir writes that the “practices employed by midwives” were fairly modern.

“Documentary evidence suggests that women were encouraged to give birth in a sitting or squatting position. They were encouraged to do breathing exercises for labor, much as they are today, but there was no pain relief beyond opiates and herbs.”

Weir adds that it is possible that Elizabeth of York might have had the protection of the Virgin Mary via her girdle which was held at Westminster Abbey and it “was sometimes lent to queens and high-ranking women, so that they could tie it around themselves in labor.”

Tudor Rose Prince Arthur of Wales

When his birth was announced, the country rejoiced and many poems such as the following, illustrate this:
“I love the red rose
but red and white it flows
is that your pure appetite?
To hear talk of them
is my delight
loved may we be
our prince to see
and roses three.”

Arthur was christened four days later at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his grandmother the Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, and his step-grandfather, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. After the ceremonies were over, the Queen’s sister, lady Cecily returned the baby to his mother. Less than a year later, Elizabeth would be crowned.
Margaret Beaufort was not present at this event, but she was very present in the child’s life.

“She had ordered, for example, that a physician supervise the nurse breastfeeding Elizabeth’s baby, and a yeoman test the king’s mattress daily … She was furthermore always there, her tiny frame an almost inescapable presence.” (Lisle)

While the proud parents would boast of more children, only three would survive them. Margaret, Mary and Henry Tudor would go on to become Queens and King, while their crown heir would die before his time.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen & her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • In bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

The Battle of Bosworth Field

Henry VII Bosworth

On the 22nd of August 1485, the battle of Bosworth Field was fought, making the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty and the start of the Tudor one. When the two armies met, Richard III had the advantage, mustering more than 10,000 men. Henry’s armies barely numbered 5,000. They consisted mercenaries (French, Scottish, German) and loyal Welsh and English noblemen. Previously, Richard had been woken up early requesting a Mass to be said, the rest of his men were startled by the arrival of Henry’s troops, which had arrived earlier than expected.

Richard iii
Richard’s last prayer before engaging into battle was:
“God deign to free me thy servant King Richard from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed and from all the plots of my enemies… and defend me from all evil, from the devil and from all peril present, past and to come.”
Shortly after, the two armies clashed.

Henry’s loyal supporters also included the Queen Dowager’s closest relatives, Edward Yorkists, and the Earl of Oxford (John de Vere) who was a renown Lancastrian loyalist and saw Henry as the last scion of Lancaster. He was a well seasoned warrior who studied from the best military books in history, from Roman Generals to Christine de Pizan who had also written extensively on the art of warfare. He knew how to push the enemy to the point of exhaustion and that’s exactly what he did with Norfolk’s forces. After driving a wedge through his vanguard, he allowed Henry’s infantry to push right through and slay most of his men. In addition Richard III’s ally, the Earl of Northumberland faced desertion from some of his men, and others had rebelled the day before prompting the Earl to keep himself neutral during the whole ordeal. But nothing proved more decisive than the Stanleys who switched sides the moment William Brandon -Henry’s standard bearer- fell.

“Backwards we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and doubtful friends.”
“Backwards we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and doubtful friends.”

Before the battle began, Henry gave his own motivational speech which comes from a secondary source, the Edward Hall Chronicle written nearly seventy years after the event, but it’s likely true. Thomas Stanley was reminded of his oath the day before, his brother William, promised him that they would join. Now both stood still, watching as the two armies clashed. According to the ‘Ballad of Bosworth’, a much later account, William scouted on ‘a mountain full high’ where he looked down ‘into a dale full dread’, waiting to see what happened. While Henry doubted his stepfather’s loyalties, Richard had no reason to. He had taken his eldest son, Lord Strange, hostage. This guaranteed Stanley’s neutrality, however some historians like Chris Skidmore have stipulated that in the confusion, George Stanley must’ve fled his captors or either they were killed in battle, which would make sense why as soon as Henry’s standard bearer (Brandon) fell, he and his brother’s forces moved in to aid him.

According to various sources, when Richard saw Stanley’s men galloping down from the hill to join Henry Tudor he cried “Treason! Treason! Treason!” He was unhorsed and killed then stripped off all his clothing and put on a horse for everyone to see.

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

The story that his crown was found in a thornbush is a myth, it was picked up by William Stanley who handed it to his brother Thomas who “unto the King Henry then went he, and delivered it, as to the most worthy to wear the crown and be their King.”

Henry VII’s rule would last twenty nine years, his son would go on in history as one of the most infamous kings, dividing historians in their opinions as to whether he was a good or bad king, and his granddaughter would become one of the greatest female monarchs in history. But it all started with the first Henry Tudor, an obscure boy who was born in an uncertain time but who was destined for great things.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • Foundations: England from its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd

Richard III’s Final Journey: Road to Bosworth

Richard iii

On the 18th of August Henry’s army did a detour, heading south east instead. Richard III feared he would be heading through London so he quickened his army’s pace. Leaving Nottingham for Leicester on August 19, he reached Leicester on the twentieth. Richard III’s forces now surpassed 60,000 (according to the French Chronicler Molinet). Richard III had issued proclamations threatening every man of property on pain of death and loss of his lands if they did not march with him, he also issued proclamations ordering every town to close their doors to their invader, Henry Tudor’s forces.

“Leicester had been important since Roman times, with the Normans building a castle, around which it developed into a medieval market town with an abbey and three friaries, as well as a number of active guilds. The city had Lancastrian connections earlier in the century; Henry IV had passed through it on his way to claim the throne … In Richard’s short reign, he had already paid two visits there, staying in the castle, from where he had mustered loyal troops to defeat Buckingham in 1483. Vergil relates that on that August day, he marched into the city at dusk, as the sun was setting over the town’s spires and rooftops.” (Licence)

Henry VII White Queen

This did not deter Henry however. He kept on marching and so did Richard. Spending the night at the Blue Boar Inn, bringing his own bed with him, he resumed his journey the following day. Richard III’s last night on this earth was uneasy. According to Shakespeare’s play he saw the ghosts of those he had killed. There is no evidence that he poisoned his wife or that he was the mustache twirling villain in his play and many other versions that came during the Tudors’ regimes. But given that he knew that the battle was only days away, he must have felt some dread. Though he was the more experienced fighter, Richard III was a soldier first and foremost. He knew that nothing was certain when it came to battle. It could swing both ways. One sixteenth century chronicler said that there was a tale about somebody from Henry Tudor’s camp pinning a jest on Norfolk’s tent mocking him and Richard, and warning of their impending doom. “Jack of Norfolk be not to bold, for Dickon they master is bought and sold.” Polydore Vergil (another sixteenth century chronicler) said that Richard also slept badly and that the following morning, hours before the battle, he complained of “a multitude of demons” making his face “even more pale and deathly.” The Crowland Chronicle reported that his ill dreams made him rise up early and search for his chaplains for an early Mass.

Richard III forces

It is hard to make assumptions on this subject when most sources are from much later, however given that Richard III was a very pious man who had previously expressed interest in going on a crusade and had forced his brother’s mistress Jane Shore to do harsh penance –by walking on the streets barefoot wearing only a chemise and carrying a lamp- it is very possible that he spent his last night praying to God for victory. A Spanish mercenary commander named Salazar returned to his native country after the battle was over to report what the last words spoken to him by the King to the Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabella). When he warned Richard that his men would betray him, Richard told him: “God forbid that I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win.”

With his men assembled near Fenn Lane, between the villages of Dadlington, Sutton Cheney and Shenton, Richard III prepared to meet his enemy. Henry, Vergil also says, was “somewhat appalled” and worried that Stanley would not make true on his promise, but appearing as stoic as the Plantagenet King, he marched on. The fight would be over in two hours. As Richard III had predicted, he would die a King or win. And Henry would gamble everything as well. But in the end, it would be Henry who would be left standing, taking Richard’s crown and becoming the founder of a new Dynasty that would eclipse the once powerful Plantagenets.

Sources:

  • Richard III: Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Henry VII by SB Schrimes
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

Daughter of Tragedy: The Birth of Margaret Pole

Margaret Pole

Margaret Pole was born at Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Bath on the 14th of August in 1473. Her parents were George Plantagenet -the younger brother of Edward IV- and Isabel Neville -the eldest daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, better known as the “Kingmaker”. As a daughter of York, Margaret Plantagenet was entitled to a life of privilege, however her mother’s sudden death in childbirth and her father’s arrest and execution (after he took the law by his own hands and punished two of his servants after he suspected they had been bribed by his brother’s wife’s family to poison his wife and went on a mad rampage) changed everything. Even before Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond became King; Margaret’s position was very delicate. Her custody, along with that of her brother, was given to Anthony Woodville. After Richard became King, he and her brother were placed under a new protective custody. Although Richard III was the youngest brother, Margaret and Edward, Earl of Warwick were barred from the line of succession since their father died as a traitor.

George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville in
George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville in “The White Queen”

Nevertheless, Margaret enjoyed a comfortable living. Had Richard not died, it is safe to speculate that he might have married either one to one of his loyal subjects to neutralize possible threats? Perhaps to someone of lower rank whom he knew would not use their spouses’ positions to incite rebellion. With limited data, it is impossible to know for sure. Richard III is after all still a mystery. But Anne Neville being his wife, it is highly possible he showed more affection towards them than to his other nieces and nephews.

Margaret was the only one of her siblings to live to old age. During Henry VII’s reign she was married to Sir Richard Pole. The marriage was a happy one, and the couple had many children. Her brother was not so lucky. Being one of the Plantagenet males, Henry was fearful that he could be used against him as he  was used against Richard III, so he placed him in the Tower of London. He remained there until his execution in 1499, after he was implicated in a pllot with the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

There is no record of what Margaret felt or if she was present for his execution. Probably not, but given all that she had been through, it is likely that she felt very bad about his death but could say very little for fear of upsetting the new regime. Oddly enough, his death was also the result of the King of Aragon’s insistence. His youngest daughter, Katherine, was betrothed to the Prince of Wales and Henry needed that marriage to secure his dynasty but Ferdinand felt that the Tudor dynasty would never be secure as long as one of the Yorkists lived.

Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor in
Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor in “The Tudors”

Regardless of this, Margaret became a good friend of the Spanish Princess since her arrival until her death. As a reward for her friendship, she was awarded the Earldom of Salisbury, becoming Countess in her own right. In 1538 however she and several members of her family were implicated in the Exeter plot and three years she was executed in one of the most gruesome scenes in Tudor history. As Lady Mary Tudor’s governess, the Countess influenced her in more ways than one and the former Princess never forgot about her and neither did she. During her execution, Margaret’s last words were about the King, his son and of course, her former charge the Lady Mary.

Sources:

  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle