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.

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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.

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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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The Death of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland

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On the 18th of October 1541, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Methven Castle, Scotland. She was married thrice, first King James IV of Scotland, then Archibald Douglas the Earl of Angus, and lastly to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. She had children from her first two marriages: James V and Margaret Douglas. Their offspring, Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley’s union produced James VI of Scotland who became King of England after Elizabeth I died without leaving any issue.

James IV and Margaret Tudor

Being her parents’ eldest daughter, meant that she was going to expect a grand marriage and given that England desperately needed an alliance (following the Perkin Warbeck fiasco whom the Scottish King had backed) it wasn’t surprising who was picked for her. When she arrived to Scotland in 1503 and met her future husband for the first time, they hit it off immediately. The two danced, partied and spent several nights talking about the upcoming wedding ceremony. Margaret urged him to cut his beard, and James agreed. As with her brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, Margaret suffered many miscarriages until she finally gave birth to two healthy boys. Of these two, only one reached adulthood and became King after his father’s tragic death in the battle of Flodden in 1513.

Margaret Tudor has been criticized for her decision to marry the Earl of Angus, citing that it made her lose the Regency which her husband had left her with (with the condition that she didn’t marry), and it nearly brought a civil war with her constant fighting with her son’s new regent, the Duke of Albany. Although all of this is true, for Margaret marrying Angus had nothing to do with lust and much less with love. A pragmatic woman like her father and namesake, she wanted someone from a powerful family who could help her rule in her son’s name, and offer her military support in case the other lords turned against her. When she realized the mistake she’d made, she looked for other options. And although her brother was initially supportive of her, when he heard that Margaret had annulled her marriage to Angus, he was furious and heavily criticized her, telling her that she had made a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. This is really ironic considering what he did less than two decades after he had his marriage annulled to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and not long after that, annulled his second marriage so he could marry again.

Margaret_Tudor_Portrait

While Margaret wasn’t highly influential in her son’s reign, she was very close to his second wife, Mary of Guise, and comforted her when she lost both of her sons (from her first marriage) in May of that year.

She was buried in St. John’s Abbey in Perth where most of the Scottish monarcha are buried and two decades later, at the height of religious unrest, the Calvinist stormed in the Abbey, desecrated her grave and burned her skeleton. “Her ashes were contemptuously scattered” Porter writes in her biography on Tudors and Stewarts, and therefore “like her first husband, she has no monument.” But her legacy got to live on through both of her offspring when their descendant became King of England, and since then, every monarch that sits on the English throne can trace their ancestry back to her.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Thistle and the Rose by Hester W. Chapman
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

The Queen is delivered of a ‘fair young lady’

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On the 7th of October 1515 Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Countess of Angus ‘was delivered and brought in bed of a fair young lady’ she called Margaret after herself and her grandmother. Lady Margaret Douglas was christened on the following day ‘with such convenient provisions as either could or might be had in this barren and wild country’. This referred to Margaret’s hasty departure, running away from her son’s Regent, the Duke of Albany whom she and her husband were at bad terms. She had left Linlithgow where she was supposed to start confinement for Tantallon Castle which was the Douglas stronghold. She didn’t stay there for long and ended up in England where she gave birth at Harbottle Castle. Lord Dacre gave the news to Henry.

Margaret Douglas would become a vital figure in Tudor politics, from being a best friend to her cousin, Queen Mary I, and being considered at one point her heir, and then conspiring during her second cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to marry her eldest son (Darnley) to their distant cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots; to working arduously to ensure the safety of her grandson James VI of Scotland and future I of England.

The Lennox jewel as it is known shows her dedication to her family, as well as her dynastic ambitions. Out of all the Tudor girls, it was Lady Margaret Douglas, future Countess of Lennox through her marriage to Matthew Stewart, who took the most after her namesake Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort SOT and HVII

Margaret Beaufort tried very hard to ensure her son’s lands and title would be restored, and when that failed and the princes disappeared, she began conspiring to crown her son King. After the battle of Bosworth, she became one of the most powerful women in England and suo juror becoming Countess of Richmond in her own right. She sponsored scholars, founded colleges and after her death, her chaplain (John Fisher) gave a beautiful eulogy where he commended her courage and determination, and also her scholarship.

Similarly, Margaret Douglas, held strong ambitions for her family. She was very learned as many high-born ladies at the time, and she wanted the best for her family, especially her eldest son and jewel, Henry Stewart. While Elizabeth I made no plans to leave an heir, she told Mary’s ambassadors that she would consider her naming her, her heir, if she married someone she would approve. Mary, Queen of Scots waited but eventually she got impatient and took the first offer that came to her. Lord Darnely was a distant cousin, both descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter and he was English and reputedly Protestant, which would endear her to her detractors. Unfortunately for both, the marriage went downhill pretty fast and after his murder (for which Mary always claimed she had no part of), his mother turned against her and focused her attentions on their son, James who became King shortly after his mother was forced to abdicate.

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After his first regent died, Margaret’s husband became his protector and when he was killed, Margaret became depressed but no less determined to ensure his safety. The Lennox Jewel shows her grandson being crowned and blessed by the heavens, much like Margaret Beaufort wanted the Tudor dynasty to be portrayed: as a dynasty blessed by God.

In the end, after she had made her peace with everyone and became convinced that Mary had nothing to do with her son’s murder, she ingratiated herself to Elizabeth’s councilors, primarily Lord Burghley and after falling ill in 1578 after a dinner she had with Robert Dudley, she made her last arrangements for her funeral. Like her namesake, she was buried with full honors, and the funeral was not one of a noble but as a princess and her efforts also paid off when nearly three decades later, after her cousin died, James VI became the I of England.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

James V: The Legacy of the Thistle and the Rose

James V

10 April 1512: James V of Scotland was born at Linlithgow Palace. He was the only surviving child of James IV and Margaret Tudor-eldest daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.

James V has gone down in history was one of the most “unpleasant and rapacious, priest-ridden” monarchs. His father has also gotten the same treatment. James IV lost his life -along with half of the Scottish nobility- in the battle of Flodden. James V was not so unlucky, but a month after the horrible defeat (yet again) of Scottish forces by English forces; he fell ill. Sensing his death he made arrangements, appointing Cardinal Beaton, the Earls of Argyll, Huntly and Moray as his daughter’s Regents. There is a myth that was proliferated to make it appear as the Stewarts -especially Mary, Queen of Scots- were the worst things that happened in the history of the world. This was that on the day of his death, James V’s last words were “It started with a lass, it will end with a lass”. In her biography of the Tudor and Stewart dynasties, Linda Porter points out that at the time of his death, James V would be so sick that he would be unable to move his lips, let alone speak!

James IV and Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
James IV and Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

James V was no fanatic but he did enforce harsh laws against his population. In this he was no different than other monarchs. He married two times, first Princess Madeleine of France and later Mary of the notorious and ambitious Guise family. With the latter, he had many children although only one survived, and she became the first Queen Regnant of the British Isles: Mary I Stewart of Scotland otherwise known as Mary, Queen of Scots.

“Until more balanced judgments appeared in recent years, James V was dismissed as the most unpleasant of the Stewarts, a rapacious, priest-ridden seeker of international recognition … But such a view overlooks his achievements: The cultural riches of his court and the importance he placed on good government .. Though half a Tudor by birth, [James V] was entirely a Stewart in his approach to kingship and more than equal to the prolonged rivalry with the uncle that he never met.” (Porter)

While people continue to view him according to Tudor historiography; the real James V as the rest of the Stewarts, was an incredible, fascinating man. His father had started great architectural projects that were largely influenced by Burgundian architecture. He surrounded himself with musicians and scholars, and when he met his young bride, Princess Margaret, she was surprised to find a great spectacle and pageantry waiting for her that lasted for almost three days. Their marriage ceremony was also very grand. James V inherited his father’s taste for architecture and war. Not one to engage openly against other countries, he nonetheless continued to aggrandize his navy by building better and bigger ships, and it was during his reign that Scotland earned the reputation as one of the most illustrious courts in Christendom. James V had been impressed by the French court when he went to visit there to marry his first wife (Madeleine) and he wanted his country to be on part with the other major Christian powers. Although James V’s childhood was surrounded by ambitious and rapacious courtiers who kidnapped him and held him hostage -such as his first stepfather, the Earl of Angus- he was nonetheless a strong and effective King who traveled the countryside often and loved to be seen by his people. He was not as learned as his uncle, Henry VIII, but he surrounded himself with many who were, and invited many scholars to his court to encourage the Humanist current among his subjects.

Not surprisingly his daughter has been given the same treatment. Until recently this has changed but there are some who still follow the popular view. Mary, Queen of Scots was James V only legitimate heir. In the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry, it would "have been better if she had not been born". This goes to show how the myth of the "evil" and "ineffective Stewarts" still predominates. Furthermore, he adds, she was "hot-tempered" and lacked "political judgment."
Not surprisingly his daughter has been given the same treatment. Until recently this has changed but there are some who still follow the popular view. Mary, Queen of Scots was James V only legitimate heir. In the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry, it would “have been better if she had not been born”. This goes to show how the myth of the “evil” and “ineffective Stewarts” still predominates. Furthermore, he adds, she was “hot-tempered” and lacked “political judgment.”

His daughter’s Regents soon encountered problems because of the Scottish Reformation. Although Mary I of Scotland returned to her native land after the death of her husband and her mother (who was her last Regent); by then, the Reform movement had grown too strong. Scotland was split between Catholics and Protestants. The latter fought ardently as the former. John Knox was their best known leader and he penned many pamphlets against the “monstrous rule of women”, criticizing female Catholic rulers (while abstaining himself from criticizing the Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I). Mary, contrary to popular myth and the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry who perpetuated this in his book; was an active Queen who like her forefathers traveled the countryside, loved riding, reading, composed verses and poetry, and was a Renaissance Tomboy who would not be afraid to use men’s clothes when playing tennis. Her decision of marrying her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley however proved her undoing. To this day it is unclear if she was her murderer (many historians have begun questioning the authenticity of the Casket letters). Trying to escape, she was captured by Bothwell and in spite of her armed guards, his men overpowered her and it a Queen in a time when women were little more than property and when family honor meant everything, she had to swallow her anger and her “shame”, and deny that he had raped her and to achieve that, she married him. As everyone suspected, he fled when her enemies captured her and miscarried their twin children. She escaped thanks to her allies and fought to regain her kingdom (even after she had been forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, James). But her forces lost a major battle at Langside and this convinced her cause was lost. And what she did later proved to be the greatest mistake in her life: Pleading to her cousin Elizabeth I for help. Unlike the  romantic take on Mary’s story in the famous 70’s movie Mary, Queen of Scots; the two women never met. As soon as Mary stepped into England, she was aprehended and for the next two decades she was transferred from house to house under the guise that it was for her own protection. Finally, her involvement in the Babbington plot, doomed her and convinced her cousin that she had to go. She was exectued on February 1587.

James VI of Scotland and I of England.
James VI of Scotland and I of England.

What seemed like a defeat for the Stewarts proved to be anything but.  Fate, true to Mary’s motto “In my end is my beginning”; favored James V’s grandson -James VI. James VI became King of England in 1603 after Elizabeth I died. Nearly a hundred years later, the last monarch of the Stewart dynasty through an act of parliament officially united both Crowns creating what is now known as the United Kingdom.  James V might have lost the battle that day when he was taken by illness; but his line was far from finished. In his end was his beginning, his daughter’s beginning, and in her end was her son’s beginning and the beginning of the Stewart dynasty as the rulers of a United Britain.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Kings and Queens of England & Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry