Henry VII reign as King in Tudor England is often seen as a precarious and unstable one. England was left largely isolated by 1509 and the lack of foreign victories also contributed to Henry becoming unpopular. However, he left the crown solvent, proving stability for Henry VIII and the transition of the crown was both smooth and unquestionable. The reign of Henry VII is seen as a major turning point in English history; the pivot of change between medieval and early modern periods. It is evident that passing the crown onto his son was a major accomplishment and in this essay I will look the significance of this achievement as well as also looking into Henry VII’s other achievements and failures throughout his reign.
By the beginning of the 16th century, the Henry VII’s prestige in Europe and his security at home were assured. He had survived the ambitions of pretenders to the throne and was strong in central government and generally obeyed throughout the realm. He was successful in foreign war even though he wasn’t absolutely heroic in the eyes of his subjects. However, despite all of this, Henry was deeply unpopular throughout England. Henry never established a sense of security and spent much of his reign trying to protect his position. Although Henry did pass on the throne peacefully there had been many plots and conspiracies against him and was disliked. Henry VII spent much of his life ensuring he produced a son, an heir to the throne. The passing on of the throne itself should not be underestimated as an immense achievement, as no other Tudor was able to pass down the crown in such an unquestionable transition.
There were many threats and conspiracies, trying to obtain the throne from Henry from both abroad and internally. Conspiracies against the King were common and he spent much of his reign in an unstable position. The Wars of the Roses had not ended with the death of Richard III, for there were still ambitious supporters of the House of York. In theory, many of the claimants could be discounted; Henry himself had married Elizabeth of York and married off most of her younger sisters to his own supporters. Of their cousins, Henry imprisoned the Earl of Warwick and the de la Pole brothers had made their submission to Henry after Bosworth. Therefore, the main threat to Henry’s security came not from the scions of York themselves but from impostors. In 1487 Henry crushes a revolt by the Earl of Lincoln on behalf of Lambert Simnel, who claimed to be one of the missing princes from the Tower and for much of the 1490’s his attention was taken up with the threat of the imposter Perkin Warbeck. Warbeck claimed again to be one of the princes from the Tower with claims the throne and attempts to overthrow Henry.
Perkin Warbeck, was a more serious and long term threat to Henry VII, since he was recognized as ‘Richard Duke of York’ by many of the sovereign rulers of Europe and his continuing existence dominated Henry’s foreign policy until his execution in 1499. Warbeck gained many supporters and together they may have decided that this was the best moment to try and overthrow the King. Kildare’s support for Warbeck led to Henry making a determined attempt to increase the power of the crown in Ireland, but Warbeck was also supported by the Irish Nobles who wished to weaken further influence of the English Crown in Ireland. Both the Cornish and York rebellion had originated in Ireland, which was significant. Henry considered that too much independence had been allowed to Ireland by the Yorkist overlords of the previous reigns. In 1942 Warbeck gained his first protector in King Charles VIII of France, which was currently at war with England. The Treaty of Etaples set the end of the imposters’ career, and so Warbeck moved to Flanders and was welcomed by Margaret of Burgundy – a considerable threat to Henry VII who supported Simnel as well as Warbeck in their impostures.
Maximilian, annoyed by the Kings treachery in making the Treaty of Etaples without his agreement, also joined Warbeck in his conspiracies against the King to get his own back, but lacked the money to fit out a proper invasion force for Warbeck. Warbeck also gained support from Scotland (James IV). The age-old traditional warfare between neighboring kingdoms was a threat the Tudor monarch could not be ignored. Peasants from the south-west who had been disturbed by the Cornish rebellion in 1497 also supported Warbeck. In 1497 Warbeck was captured, but his influence was immensely strong and reached into the Royal Court. He might have been awarded the same mercy as Simnel (who now worked in the royal kitchens) had he not tried to escape from prison in the Tower. Henry could not afford now to let him live, and he was executed in 1499. As well as the conspiracies made against him, Henry also fought in the Battle of Stoke (1487) to secure the throne. It is the strengths in all these achievements that made it possible for Henry to pass on the throne
Passing on the throne was an immense achievement, but Henry VII did also accomplish other achievements of value. The Treaty of Etaples shows the success of Henry’s Foreign Policy and meant that the French King wouldn’t help the Yorkists and paid Henry and the dynasty ï¿½5000 a year. This not only reduced the threat to the throne (ie. Burgundy) but also created a marriage alliance with Scotland, temporally removing a source of potential challenge. Monarchs were also able to create a powerful joint kingdom between England and Spain due to the marriage of Catherine of Arrigon with Arthur. This led to a controlled Nobility, a revenue to pay for large armies. England also gained real power and influence with the marriage of Isabella and Fendinand and overall, England ended on good terms with most of Europe with no defeats and general Peace throughout England.
Henry created the Committee of the Privy Council, a forerunner of the modern cabinet, as an executive advisory board; he established the Court of the Star Chamber to increase royal involvement in civil and criminal cases; and as an alternative to a revenue tax disbursement from Parliament, he imposed forced loans and grants on the nobility. Henry’s mistrust of the nobility derived from his experiences in the Wars of the Roses – a majority remained dangerously neutral until the very end. His skill at by-passing Parliament (and thus, the will of the nobility) played a crucial role in his success at renovating government. Henry VII refined procedures of revenue collection and the apportioning of money to government. This made sure that, by his personal supervision, he made the Crown solvent for the first time in many years and, at his death, left an immense reserve to his heir.
There were however, also areas of Henry’s dynasty which left him unpopular. There were many plots against him and two major rebellions resulting in him becoming immensely disliked. Henry also overestimated the threat posed by the Nobles. He used Bonds as a technique of binding his Nobles to him causing a Noble backlash. Because he was obsessed with controlling the nobles he did not have the opportunity to reform local governments and was unable to keep control in the localities. Henry made several attempts to remarry to ensure of a son to be an heir to the throne, but both Elizabeth of York and Arthur died. Henry’s reign lacked power and popularity and had none of the charisma of the later Tudors. Nor did he receive recognition for all his achievements and success.
Passing the throne was very important and a huge achievement, but there were other achievements, and failures. Henry VII created a stable diplomatic environment for England, especially during the first fifteen years of his reign and re-established order quickly after the uncertainties of Richard III. This demonstrates how passing on the crown was not his only achievement, and it is also clear how he managed to suppress any threat that nobility or imposters might have posed. However, although the crown was solvent, much of its wealth was cumulated by illegal or highly unpopular means. The issue of the crown being passed over in such a smooth transition as a huge achievement is also questionable.
No other Tudor monarch died without being in debt and yet this had not diminished their reputations. Perhaps Henry was lucky to die when he did. By the end of his reign he was deeply unpopular and the severity of the rebellion was mearly a matter of time. Henry VII was again fortunate that his son was old and wise enough to accept and maintain the throne. It could be debated whether or not Henry VII was a great King, but he was clearly a successful King. He had several goals that he had accomplished by the end of his reign. He had established a new dynasty after 30 years of struggle, he had strengthened the judicial system as well as the treasury and had successfully denied all the other claimants to his throne. The monarchy that he left to his son was a fairly secure one and most definitely a wealthy one. It is clear that Henry VII had to work harder to keep the throne and pass it over than other Kings, and his loyalty and thoroughness were perhaps his personal qualities which allowed him to keep the crown in the Lancastrian dynasty.