Henry VII 1457–1509 King of England

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Henry VII
King of England

The founder of England's Tudor dynasty, Henry VII strengthened the English monarchy and brought peace and stability to his country. He helped bring Renaissance ideas to England from Italy and Burgundy and served as a patron* of poets and humanists*. His greatest architectural monument is his chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Henry's claim to the throne of England came from his mother, who was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III. In the Wars of the Roses, an extended struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster for control of the English crown, the Lancasters supported Henry's claim to the throne. Forced to go into exile in Brittany and France in 1471, Henry became a serious threat to the Yorkists after the death of Edward IV in 1483. Two years later he gained the throne by defeating Edward's brother, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth.

King Henry used marriage as a tool to strengthen his hold on the English throne. In 1486 he wed Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV. However, he still faced opposition from the York family, and he had to put down two Yorkist-led rebellions in the 1480s. In 1502 he averted the threat of a war with Scotland by marrying his daughter Margaret to the Scottish king James IV. He created ties with Spain by marrying his son Arthur to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. Henry also tried to strengthen his connections with the Habsburg dynasty through matrimony. He offered to take Margaret of Savoy, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor* Maximilian I, as his second wife and arranged the marriage of his daughter Mary to Maximilian's grandson, the future emperor Charles V.

Henry showed great talent for government administration and finance. He ruled through committees of his governing council, which allowed him to bypass common-law courts and procedures. He also increased royal revenues by persuading Parliament to enact taxes on various imports and exports. This source of income grew steadily through his reign. In 1487 Henry tightened control over the collection and distribution of taxes as well. However, the high taxes imposed to finance a war in Scotland led to a rebellion in 1497.

Henry VII regarded most of the English nobility and gentry* with suspicion. He took steps to reduce their power within the judicial system by expanding the power of justices of the peace. He also tightened laws that regulated the relationships between lords and citizens. Such actions angered many members of the upper classes. Fearful of plots against him, Henry also employed a network of spies to keep watch on his subjects. As he grew older, Henry's rule became harsher. Despite his growing unpopularity, Henry survived politically and produced an heir, the future Henry VIII, who carried the Tudor dynasty to great heights.

(See alsoDynastic Rivalry; England; Holy Roman Empire; Scotland. )

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* Holy Roman Emperor

ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806

* gentry

people of high birth or social status