Henry VII (England) (1457–1509; Ruled 1485–1509)

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HENRY VII (ENGLAND) (14571509; ruled 14851509)

HENRY VII (ENGLAND) (14571509; ruled 14851509), king of England. Henry Tudor, later earl of Richmond, was born in Pembroke Castle, Wales, on 28 January 1457, the son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. He was directly related to the Lancastrian royal family through both his mother and his father and, as such, became a key figure in the dynastic struggles of the Wars of the Roses. In 1471, with his uncle Jasper, he was forced to flee to the Continent when the Yorkist Edward IV (ruled 14611470; 14711483) recaptured the throne from Henry VI (ruled 14221461; 14701471). The next fourteen years of his life were spent in exile, first in Brittany, then in France, before he set sail at the head of a small band of English exiles and French mercenaries in August 1485 to capture the English throne. On 22 August he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was crowned king of England.

On 18 January 1486 Henry married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, to fulfill a promise made in exile to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster. Despite this, Henry still faced challenges to his rule from disaffected Yorkists. The first serious rebellion came in 1487 when Lambert Simnel, claiming to be the Yorkist earl of Warwick, was crowned king of England in Dublin. Henry defeated Simnel and his followers at the Battle of Stoke in June. A more serious challenge came in the person of Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Edward IV's youngest son, Richard. Aided by Margaret, dowager duchess of Burgundy, and the Scottish king, James IV (ruled 14881513), Warbeck attempted invasions of England in 1495 and 1497 but was eventually captured and imprisoned in the Tower. The Tudor succession was, however, further threatened in April 1502 by the death of Henry's eldest son, Arthur (born 19 September 1486), and by a continuation of Yorkist claims in the person of Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk. Most of the diplomatic efforts of the latter part of Henry's reign were designed to secure the succession: first, by ensuring that foreign princes did not support his dynastic opponents, and second, by arranging a marriage between his second son, Henry, and Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon.

Traditionally, the reign of Henry VII has been seen as the end of the Middle Ages in England and the beginning of the "New Monarchy" of the Tudors. In three ways the monarchy of Henry VII was seen to be significantly new. First, Henry was alleged to have broken the power of the "overmighty" nobility, largely responsible for the Wars of the Roses. Second, he introduced "modern" bureaucratic methods of government, rescuing the crown from the financial crisis of the mid-fifteenth century and putting the monarchy on a secure fiscal base. Finally, Henry rejected the traditional bellicosity of English kings and sought to strengthen England's position in Europe through diplomatic and trading alliances. More recent accounts, however, have stressed the continuity of Henry's reign, especially with his Yorkist predecessor, Edward IV. His continued reliance on his nobility as the essential link between the crown and the localities has been stressed, while the novelty of his financial policies has been downplayed. Moreover, by invading France in 1492 and waging war with Scotland in 1496, Henry could be seen to be continuing the traditional policies of English medieval kings.

Nevertheless, Henry's policies represented, in some respects, a significant break from the past. He used the crown's landed patrimony, augmented through forfeitures and dynastic accident in the fifteenth century, to build up the crown's military and political strength in the localities, at times riding roughshod over local sensibilities. Henry's willingness to tax his subjects led to rebellion in 1489 and 1497, and his use of suspended financial penalties ensured that most of the nobility and much of the wider political nation were bound to the king by the early 1500s. At his death Henry had amassed a fortune, probably in excess of one million pounds. While these policies may have caused resentment and unrest in certain parts of the realm, there were no significant plots or rebellions within England after 1499.

Henry died on 22 April 1509, although his death was kept secret while his unpopular ministers, Empson and Dudley, were deposed in a palace coup. A measure of his success in establishing a new dynasty on the English throne must be that he was the first English king since Henry V (ruled 14131422) to pass the throne undisputed to his son and heir, who was to reign as Henry VIII (ruled 15091547).

See also Henry VIII (England) ; Tudor Dynasty (England) .


Carpenter, Christine. "Henry VII and the End of the Wars." In The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution c. 14371509, edited by Christine Carpenter. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1997. Hostile analysis of Henry's reign.

Chrimes, S. B. Henry VII. New Haven and London, 1999. Standard biography of Henry, strong on administration but lacking in analysis of politics.

Condon, Margaret. "Ruling Elites in the Reign of Henry VII." In The Tudor Monarchy, edited by John Guy. London, 1997.

Cunningham, S. "Henry VII and Rebellion in North-Eastern England, 14851492: Bonds of Allegiance and the Establishment of Tudor Authority." Northern History 32 (1996): 4274.

Grummitt, David. "'For the Surety of the Towne and Marches': Early Tudor Policy towards Calais 14851509." Nottingham Medieval Studies 44 (2000): 184203.

. "Henry VII, 'Chamber Finance and the New Monarchy': Some New Evidence." Historical Research 72 (1999): 229243.

Gunn, S. J. "The Accession of Henry VIII." Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 64 (1991): 278288.

. "The Courtiers of Henry VII." English Historical Review 108 (1993): 2349; reprinted in The Tudor Monarchy, edited by John Guy (1997).

. "Sir Thomas Lovell (c. 14491524): A New Man in a New Monarchy?" In The End of the Middle Ages, edited by John L. Watts, pp. 117153. Stroud, U.K., 1998.

Jones, M. K., and M. G. Underwood. The King's Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1992. Biography of Henry's mother and analysis of her important role in the formation of the Tudor regime.

Luckett, D. A. "Crown Office and Licensed Retinues in the Reign of Henry VII." In Rulers and Ruled in Late Medieval England, edited by Rowena Archer and Simon Walker, pp. 223238. London, 1995.

. "Crown Patronage and Political Morality in Early Tudor England: The Case of Giles, Lord Daubeney." English Historical Review 110 (1995): 578595.

Pugh, T. B. "Henry VII and the English Nobility." In The Tudor Nobility, edited by G. W. Bernard, pp. 49101. Manchester, 1992.

Thompson, B., ed. The Reign of Henry VII. Stamford, 1995. Especially the introduction and the contributions of Christine Carpenter, Dominic Luckett, and John Watts.

David Grummitt

Henry VII

views updated May 14 2018

Henry VII (1457–1509), king of England (1485–1509). Though the belief that Henry VII was a new kind of ruler at the head of a new kind of monarchy has long been abandoned, he was certainly an unusual ruler. Despite the fact that he was a competent soldier and personally brave, he did not hanker after military glory, even against the French, as many of his predecessors had. Secondly, he seemed to take positive pleasure in the detail of government and administration, while many monarchs left the hard work to ministers. Thirdly—and this may have distinguished him from most rulers, then and now—he seems to have wished to amass money rather than spend it. Consequently, he left his successor, if not a fortune, at least a healthy competence, and though Henry VIII reverted to type, disliking business and pining for glory, it took him some time to undo his father's good work.

The weakness of Henry's claim to the throne has been exaggerated: ‘up to June 1483 Henry Tudor was hardly any more plausible as a king of England than Lambert Simnel or Perkin Warbeck were to be later.’ That is absurd. Simnel and Warbeck were commoners pretending to be someone. Henry's father was a half-brother of King Henry VI; his grandmother had been queen to Henry V and a princess of France; his great-great-grandfather was John of Gaunt, son of Edward III. Once Edward IV's sons had been murdered, only Clarence's son Warwick had an obviously better claim to the throne, and across that lay the shadow of Clarence's attainder. Nevertheless, Henry's early life was inauspicious. His father Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, died three months before Henry was born at Pembroke castle. His young mother Lady Margaret Beaufort remarried. His grandfather Owen Tudor was beheaded at Hereford after the Lancastrian defeat at Mortimer's Cross in 1461, and his uncle Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, was forced to flee. Custody of the boy was then given to the new Yorkist earl of Pembroke and he was brought up mainly at Raglan. On the brief restoration of Henry VI in 1470 he was reunited with his uncle, but after the crushing defeat at Tewkesbury, they both fled to Brittany. Not until Richard usurped the throne in 1483 did Henry's prospects brighten, his cause sustained largely by his redoubtable mother. In secret negotiations with Edward IV's widow, it was agreed that Henry should marry her daughter Elizabeth, thus uniting the houses of Lancaster and York. But an attempt on the throne in 1483 proved premature. His ally Buckingham was captured and beheaded, and Henry's own expedition to the south coast was scattered by gales. In 1484 Richard put pressure on Brittany to hand over Henry, who escaped to France in the nick of time. Thence he sailed with 2,000 men to Milford Haven in 1485 on the journey that brought him to Bosworth and the throne.

It is sometimes said that Henry is a ruler of whom we know little. That is not quite true. We have excellent representations of him, a bust by Torrigiano, a portrait by Sittow, a remarkable death mask, coinage likenesses, and a realistic tomb effigy. There are descriptions by foreign diplomats and by Polydore Vergil, who knew him in later years. It is more that people do not always admire what is known about him. He was clearly reserved and rarely affable: he had little of Henry VIII's false heartiness nor of Elizabeth I's adroit condescensions. ‘His appearance’, wrote Vergil, ‘was remarkably attractive and his face 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 ‘most cheerful countenance’ was noted in 1498 by a Spanish envoy. He was more than commonly dutiful in his religious observance and, while aspiring neither to scholar nor saint, founded many religious houses and left as his main architectural memorial the chapel in Westminster abbey. His relations with his mother and wife were good, perhaps close. His application to business was proverbial, though his attention to accounts is often held against him as unworthy of a monarch. His reputation suffered from Francis Bacon's very readable Life, which exhibited him as close and mean—‘a sad, serious prince, full of thoughts’. But it should be remembered that although Bacon is sometimes quoted as though a contemporary, he wrote 137 years after the battle of Bosworth, and his artistry often led him to caricature. ‘For his pleasures,’ wrote Bacon, ‘there is no news of them.’ In fact there is plenty of news had Bacon wished to find it. Henry enjoyed hunting and hawking, music and dancing, tennis, dice, archery, and cards—often, unlike many kings, losing and, characteristically, recording his debts.

He needed to learn very quickly since his nomadic existence before Bosworth had left him short of experience in government. He was undoubtedly circumspect, as anyone who hoped to survive at the top of Tudor politics needed to be. He learned early not to be too trusting. Lord Lincoln, who had fought against him at Bosworth, was at once forgiven, taken into employment, and attended the council to decide how to deal with Lambert Simnel—before riding off to join the rebels. But Henry became a good judge of men, and was well served by John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury from 1486, and by Richard Foxe, who finished as bishop of Winchester.

His main political objectives were to secure his own position, to found a dynasty, and to establish a stable government. Of his four predecessors as kings, two had been murdered, one had died in battle, and the fourth ( Edward IV) had been driven ignominiously from the kingdom in the middle of his reign. The foundation of Henry's success was the marriage to Elizabeth of York, and though not all Yorkists were reconciled, his political opponents were divided. Lincoln proved implacable, but Lord Surrey (Norfolk), who had fought alongside Richard at Bosworth and been attained, worked his way back into favour, was increasingly employed by Henry, and had a military career of great renown under Henry VIII. The first challenge from Yorkist irreconcilables came as soon as April 1486, was headed by Lord Lovel and the Hastings brothers, and was put down without difficulty. It was followed by the Simnel plot in 1487. Simnel claimed to be Edward, earl of Warwick, despite the fact that Warwick was in the Tower, and was crowned in Dublin as Edward VI. His supporters, strengthened by German mercenaries, were subdued at Stoke near Newark only after hard fighting. Simnel, a mere boy, was given a place in the royal kitchens and lived out a long life in safe obscurity. Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Richard, duke of York, was received by James IV of Scotland as Richard IV, captured in 1498, but executed with Warwick the following year. Even then Henry had to face the claims of the de la Pole brothers and only for the last three years of his reign, with Edmund de la Pole in the Tower, was he totally secure. His dynasty by then hung on a single thread, since two of his sons, Arthur and Edmund, had died, leaving Henry as the sole surviving male heir. The marriage of Henry VII's daughter Margaret to James IV of Scotland reaped long-term dividends in 1603 when their great-grandson James VI united the two kingdoms.

Under these circumstances, Henry's foreign policy could hardly be very ambitious and he played a marginal role in the struggle between the French and the imperialists. He was unable to save Brittany from annexation to France but the task was impossible once the duchess of Brittany herself had married the French king, and Henry escaped creditably from his brief 1492 campaign. The short war with Scotland 1496–7 was not of Henry's making but arose from James IV's support for Warbeck. Henry stood on the defensive and used the large parliamentary subsidy to emerge with a handsome profit. By the end of his reign, England's standing in Europe had been greatly enhanced. At home the nobility was kept in check less by legislation against livery and maintenance than by large financial bonds hanging over them. Financial security, which had the advantage of allowing Henry to do without parliaments for much of his reign, was built up by the patient exploitation of the opportunities and dues open to the crown. Crown lands which brought in only £3,000 p.a. between 1487 and 1489 were worth £40,000 p.a. by 1502–5; wardships provided only £343 in 1491 but £1,588 three years later and had doubled again by 1504; bonds, bringing in £3,000 p.a. in 1493–4, had increased to £35,000 p.a. by 1504–5. Their zeal on Henry's behalf made his servants Empson and Dudley the most hated men in the kingdom and they were instant victims of Henry VIII's new reign in 1509.

The historical controversy about Henry's place in government derived in part from a desire to divide the past too categorically into medieval and modern. But both sides shared a somewhat simple misunderstanding—that innovation in government is everything. The first group credited Henry with new policies and new expedients, to which the second group replied by tracing many of them to his predecessors, and particularly to Edward IV—action against maintenance, use of loyalty bonds, and the establishment of councils. But it was of more consequence that Henry pursued his policies, whether new or old, with rigour, system, and tenacity. Many rulers begin with economy drives, but are blown off course. Henry was not and, as Bacon put it, ‘what he minded, he compassed’—though, again, it sounds more grim than appealing.

J. A. Cannon


Chrimes, S. B. , Henry VII (1972);
Grant, A. , Henry VII (1985);
Lockyer, R. , Henry VII (2nd edn. 1983);
Storey, R. L. , The Reign of Henry VII (1968).

Henry VII

views updated May 14 2018

Henry VII

Henry VII (1457-1509) was king of England from 1485 to 1509. He was a successful usurper, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, and an accomplished practitioner of Renaissance diplomacy.

Born on Jan. 28, 1457, at Pembroke, Wales, Henry VII was the only son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. Through the Beaufort family, Henry was descended from Edward III, and in 1470 he was given the title of Earl of Richmond by Henry VI, last of the Lancastrian Kings.

The Yorkist victories of 1471 brought death to Henry VI and his son, and Henry Tudor became a refugee in Brittany as well as heir to the claims of Lancaster. The death of Edward IV in April 1483 left the Yorkist monarchy to his 12-year-old son Edward V, soon deposed and imprisoned by his uncle, regent, and successor, Richard III. Henry attempted a Lancastrian uprising in October 1483 but was balked by bad weather and Richard's soldiers.

Aided by Charles VIII of France, Henry landed at Milford Haven in August 1485 with 2,000 men. A large Welsh troop under the banner of Cadwalader were among the following of 5,000 with whom Henry won the Battle of Bosworth Field (Aug. 22, 1485), where Richard was killed at the head of his forces. The victor was proclaimed King Henry VII by his own soldiers and some of Richard's. There were only three post combat "reprisal slayings" at Bosworth, and Henry made broad use of "temporary forfeiture" to encourage former opponents to earn back their estates by service to the king.

Henry's coronation on Oct. 30, 1485, was marked by expensive pageantry, as he considered an appearance of splendor appropriate to a monarch. On November 7 Henry opened Parliament, which accepted him as king, and attainted Richard for usurpation and "shedding of infants' blood," presumably explaining the fate of Edward V and Richard of York. Customs for life and an act of resumption were voted. On Jan. 18, 1486, Henry fulfilled a parliamentary petition, and his own promise to unite the families of York and Lancaster, by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV.

Threats to His Crown

But the Yorkist faction was not to be romanced out of existence. Lambert Simnel, son of an Oxford tradesman, was coached to an impersonation of Edward of Warwick, son of Edward IV's brother, George of Clarence. Henry demonstrated Simnel's imposture by having Warwick taken from the Tower of London long enough to attend High Mass at St. Paul's. Nevertheless, a serious Yorkist movement developed, supported by several councilors and the King's mother-in-law, among others. This uprising was checked only by Henry's victory in the Battle of Stoke (June 16, 1487). The captured Simnel was made a palace servant.

By 1489 Henry had settled on a foreign policy of limited rivalry with Charles VIII. This suited England's anti-French prejudices and gave Henry a diplomatic rationale for alliances with the emperor Maximilian I, the Duchess of Brittany, and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The 1489 Treaty of Medina del Campo linked England and Spain in policy and a promise of marriage alliance. Henry asked the 1489 Parliament for a subsidy of £100,000 to finance war against France. The policy was popular, but not the price.

Attempted collection led to tax riots, and only after a further grant of £60,000 was Henry able to stage a brief campaign in Picardy in 1492. By the Treaty of étaples, Henry agreed to give up the invasion, and Charles agreed to pay Henry an indemnity and a pension of £5,000 per year.

This settlement was viewed in England as a betrayal of the national investment to the profit of the King's treasury, and Henry's 1492 unpopularity encouraged one Perkin Warbeck to an impersonation of Richard of York (younger brother of Edward V). For 5 years the elusive Warbeck cultivated anti-Tudor interests in Ireland, Scotland, and on the Continent, with occasional forays into England to encourage a Yorkist faction. The attainder of Sir William Stanley was one result of these disorders. Another was the appointment of Edward Poynings to govern Ireland, resulting in "Poynings' Laws" on the relation of the English and Irish governments.

While Charles VIII's 1494 invasion of Italy preoccupied Europe, Henry remained neutral and solvent in anticipation of troubles at home. The prudence of this policy was shown when Charles's campaign collapsed in 1495 and when the Scots invaded England in 1496. Taxes for an army in 1497 provoked riots and a full-scale rebellion in Cornwall. Henry left the Scots to Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, who ended a successful campaign with the Truce of Ayton in September. The Cornish rebels advanced on London with a force of 15,000 but were driven back by Henry and an army of 25,000. Perkin Warbeck linked his fortune to the Cornish rebellion only to share its failure in the summer of 1497. Warbeck was captured, confessed his imposture, and was removed to the Tower.

These events were the last serious challenges to Henry's throne. Ralph Wilford's 1499 "Warwick" gained him only a speedy hanging. At the same time, Henry used a futile Warbeck and Warwick plot to escape as an excuse to make an end of both. Warbeck was hanged on Nov. 23, 1499, at Tyburn. Warwick, imprisoned since childhood, was beheaded at Tower Hill on Nov. 29, 1499, and the male line of York was no more.

Diplomatic and Domestic Policies

Henry negotiated marriage alliances for his children as part of his diplomacy. The 1503 marriage of his daughter Margaret to James IV of Scotland aimed at detaching James from the "Auld Alliance" with France and ultimately led to a union of English and Scottish governments.

Prince Arthur's Nov. 14, 1501, marriage to Catherine of Aragon was ended by Arthur's death on April 2, 1502, from a respiratory infection. Ferdinand and Isabella suggested Henry's younger son and namesake as a husband for their daughter, but the June 25, 1503, marriage contract made this dependent on Prince Henry's consent when he came of age on June 28, 1509. Consummation of the marriage to Arthur was a point in dispute, and Henry VII thoughtfully collected testimony that Henry VIII later used in his divorce of Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VII's 1508 proxy marriage of his daughter Mary to Prince Charles of Castile did not become a real union, and as a widower Henry was unsuccessful in his attempts to marry his own way into the control of another kingdom. He could not prevent Spain and France from growing into kingdoms of increasing solidity and strength, but Henry at least helped to save England from becoming the victim of France or Spain.

Henry VII continued the restoration of governmental effectiveness begun by Edward IV, following the bankruptcy and collapse of government under Henry VI. A more general enforcement of law and order earned Henry much of his support, despite particular abuses in Star Chamber cases or in the field of jury tampering. Government income more than doubled in Henry's reign, and he showed great sense in the use of money. The structure of Henry's government remained medieval in organization, but the King's investments in commerce, attention to technological changes in shipbuilding and mining, and sponsorship of John Cabot's voyage to America all gave to the general impression of Henry's government an effect which was both modern and national. Henry's selfishness and capacity for foresighted calculation won him many advantages but few admirers, and in later life Henry at times appeared dissatisfied with the ungenerous methods by which he had prospered. By any account, however, he was one of England's more successful diplomatists.

Further Reading

A study of Henry and his era is A.F. Pollard, ed., The Reign of Henry VII from Contemporary Sources (3 vols., 1913-1914). Biographies of Henry include James Gairdner, Henry the Seventh (1889), a standard work; Eric N. Simons, Henry VII: The First Tudor King (1968), a popular biography; and R. L. Storey, The Reign of Henry VII (1968), a fresh assessment. Henry is discussed in Kenneth Pickthorn, Early Tudor Government: Henry VII (1934), which is a brief commentary; J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558 (1952), a concise survey; and G. R. Elton's excellent England under the Tudors (1955).

Additional Sources

Alexander, Michael Van Cleave, The first of the Tudors: a study of Henry VII and his reign, Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980.

Chrimes, S. B. (Stanley Bertram), Henry V, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1972; London, Eyre Methuen 1972.

Farrington, Robert, Tudor agent, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974.

Fox, Alistair, Politics and literature in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, Oxford, UK; New York, NY, USA: Blackwell, 1989.

Gairdner, James, Henry the Seventh, St. Clair Shores, Mich.,Scholarly Press 1969?; New York, AMS Press 1970.

Gellis, Roberta, The Dragon and the Rose, Chicago: Playboy Press, 1977.

Ide, Arthur Frederick, The mercantile policies of Henry VII, Irving, Tex.: Scholars Books, 1987.

Jones, Michael K., The King's mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, Cambridge England; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Macalpine, Joan, The shadow of the tower: Henry VII and his England, background to the BBC tv serie, London, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1971.

Pitt, Derek William, Henry VI, London, Oxford U.P., 1966.

Plaidy, Jean, Uneasy lies the head, New York: Putnam, 1982, 1984; London: R. Hale, 1982.

Randall, Dale B. J, "Theatres of greatness": a revisionary view of Ford's Perkin Warbeck, Victoria, B.C., Canada: University of Victoria, 1986.

Rees, David, The son of prophecy: Henry Tudor's road to Bosworth, London: Black Raven Press, 1985.

Simon, Linda, Of virtue rare: Margaret Beaufort, matriarch of the House of Tudor, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

Simons, Eric N., Henry VII, the first Tudor king, New York: Barnes& Noble, 1968; London: Muller, 1968.

Sisson, Rosemary Anne, The dark horse: a play, London; New York: French, 1979.

Stephens, Peter John, Battle for destiny, New York: Atheneum, 1967.

Stubbs, Jean, An unknown Welshman; a novel based on the early life of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, later King Henry VII of England, from 1457 to 1485, London: Macmillan, 1972.

Temperley, Gladys, Henry VI, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971.

Williams, Glanmor, Harri Tudur a Chymru = Henry Tudor and Wales, Cardiff: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1985.

Williams, Neville, The life and times of Henry VI, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973. □

Henry VII

views updated May 14 2018

Henry VII

Henry VII (c. 1274-1313) was Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany from 1308 to 1313. He is often called the last medieval emperor, since his vision of the grandeur of the imperial office resembled that of his much more powerful predecessors.

When he was elected Holy Roman emperor in November 1308, Henry, Count of Luxemburg, was the ruler of a modest territory between Germany, France, and Flanders. The German ecclesiastical and lay princes to whom fell the lot of electing the emperor had established the policy since 1273 of electing a comparatively obscure candidate to the imperial throne in order to avoid the creation of too powerful an imperial monarchy. In that year they had elected Rudolf I of Hapsburg, and in 1291 Adolf of Nassau. Henry was elected precisely because of his meager personal resources, and, like his predecessors, he used some of the imperial resources to increase the wealth and power of his dynasty.

Not only Henry's relative obscurity, however, but his personal character and ability also appealed to the electors. Educated in France, he was a fair, slim man with intelligent features, courtly behavior, and considerable kindness. He was pious and temperate in his life-style, but he was also an excellent administrator who had succeeded in increasing his power and intelligently using his modest wealth even before his election. His reign as emperor was occupied with two major concerns: the extension of the Luxemburg family influence and the pacification of Italy.

In 1310 Henry took an oath to the Pope, promising to fulfill his imperial duties properly but also demanding a quick coronation in Rome. In the same year Henry raised Luxemburg to the status of a duchy and named his son John its duke. He then married John to Elizabeth of Bohemia. He backed a military expedition that placed Elizabeth and John on the Bohemian throne and began the aggrandizement of the Luxemburg house, whose Bohemian kingdom would provide three more emperors in the next century: Henry's grandson Charles IV and Charles's sons Wenceslaus and Sigismund.

In 1310 Henry also began his journey to Italy to pacify the faction-ridden cities and receive the Lombard crown at Milan and the imperial crown at Rome. Henry's arrival was hailed by many Italians, including the great poet Dante, as the coming of the "King of Peace." Indeed, something of Henry's character may be inferred from the tributes which Dante paid him, ranging from the poet's letters, to his political tract On Monarchy, to the moving lines in the Paradiso which depict the glorious throne and crown which await the Emperor in Heaven.

Henry was not, however, to bring the peace he wanted to Italy. As soon as he arrived in Milan, the political rivalries which tore the city involved the Emperor, and Henry found himself forced to take sides in political quarrels and successfully led his army against the cities of Cremona and Brescia. By 1312 he arrived in Rome, by then opposed by many cities, the King of Naples, and even the Pope himself. On June 29, 1312, Henry was crowned emperor by the cardinal bishop of Ostia, the papal legate, in the church of St. John Lateran, his enemies having occupied St. Peter's.

Faced with papal opposition to his continued presence in Italy and furious with the King of Naples for opposing his imperial mission to Rome, Henry called an imperial Diet at Pisa in 1313, assembled another army, and marched again toward Rome, determined to free the city from Neapolitan occupation. On his way, Henry, who was recovering from malaria, unwisely exerted himself, caught fever, and died on Aug. 24, 1313. His body was returned to Pisa, where it was buried in a magnificent tomb in the Cathedral.

Henry's sincere idealism, his respect for the imperial office and its duties, and his promise of justice attracted many men to him, including some of the most astute minds of Italy. Dante was not alone in his praises of the Emperor. But Italian political rivalries, traditional suspicion of a German emperor in the Italian cities, and the concerted opposition of Pope Clement V and King Robert of Naples destroyed any hope that Henry had of being able to accomplish his mission as imperial peacemaker. His frustrated Italian campaign weakened his diplomatic arrangements in Germany. His glorious concept of the imperial ideal was not sufficiently realistic to deal with the complex diplomatic forces which opposed the notion of a universal political authority—the power of France, the Avignon papacy, and the rising signorial power of city rulers and city alliances. For Italy as well as for Germany, Henry was indeed the last medieval emperor.

Further Reading

The most important work in English on Henry VII is William M. Bowsky, Henry VII in Italy: The Conflict of Empire and City-state, 1310-1313 (1960). Useful information is in J. R. Tanner and others, eds., The Cambridge Medieval History (8 vols., 1913-1936), and in a number of studies of Dante's work and thought, such as Charles T. Davis, Dante and the Idea of Rome (1957). □

Henry VII

views updated May 17 2018

Henry VII (1457–1509) King of England (1485–1509), founder of the Tudor dynasty. Having come to the throne by defeating Richard III in the final battle of the Wars of the Roses at Bosworth Field (1485), Henry united the houses of Lancaster and York by marrying the Yorkist heiress, Elizabeth. His financial acumen restored England's fortunes after the devastation of civil war. He took effective action against pretenders to his throne, securing the succession of his son Henry VIII.