The Life of Henry Tudor

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Henry Tudor was born in 1457 in Pembroke castle in Wales to high ranking noble parents, His father Edmund Tudor, who died shortly before his birth, was Earl of Richmond and was descended from the Welsh royal house of Gwynedd and his mother was Margaret Beaufort, a direct descendant of Edward III.

Through his mothers’ line, Henry was in line for the throne through the House of Lancaster who were in power at the time but involved in a civil war with rival claimants to the throne, the House of York.  The two families and their allies had been engaged in a series of wars that had started in 1455, known today as the ‘Wars of the Roses’.

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Henry Tudor (Source)

Power changed hands in England in 1471 with the murder of the Lancastrian king Henry VI and the Victory of the new Yorkist king Edward IV in the ‘Battle of Tewkesbury’.  This was a very significant battle according to historian David Starkey, as many of the highest ranking members of the English aristocracy were wiped out.

This put the 15 year old Henry in great danger as it left him as the last surviving male heir to the Lancastrian claim.  On his mother’s advice, he fled the country to Brittany, where he would spend the next 15 years.

In 1485, he set sail for England in a bid to reclaim the throne for the House of Lancaster.  With him were 3,000 men, 400 of them were English, mostly Lancastrian exiles and the rest were French,  They landed at Milford Haven in Wales on the 7th August, where the would-be king knelt and called for his troops to follow him in the name of God and St George.

While travelling through Wales, he attracted many Welsh nobles to his army although some withheld support for ether side until they could see who the likely winner of the confrontation would be.

Two weeks after landing in Wales, Henry emerged victorious in the ‘Battle of Bosworth Field’ defeating the last Plantagenet king Richard III.  In October the same year, he was crowned and in January of the following year, he married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth, heir to the Yorkist claim, ushering in the Tudor period and ending the ‘Wars of the Roses’.

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The Battle of Bosworth Field (Source)

It was also major turning point in British history because for the first time, there was a king of England who the Welsh accepted as also being their king, bringing a close to a 1,000 year period of on and off conflict between the two nations.

Ancient Welsh prophesies told of a ‘redeemer prince’, who would return from the dead and free the Welsh from English oppression.  Henry used these prophesies to his advantage and used them to win support from the Welsh both before and after he became king.  He sold himself as the ‘redeemer prince’ in the run up to his arrival in the country leading many Welshmen to fight in the Wars of the Roses even though it was a civil war between members of the English aristocracy.

One of the first things he did after being crowned was to bring back the ancient Celtic name of the island, Britain, fulfilling an ancient prophesy.  He also named his first born son after the most famous of the prophesised liberators, expecting him to one day become King Arthur.

However Henry spent most of his reign suppressing rebellion, the first coming just a year after his victory at Bosworth, started by disgruntled Yorkists.  In 1496, Perkin Warbeck claimed to be the Yorkist heir Richard duke of York, the younger of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, who were believed to have been, and probably were, murdered years earlier.  He gained backing from the Scottish, who had been enemies of the English for about as long as the Welsh had, and invaded North England.

While Henry was fighting them, a rebel Cornish army who were angry about taxes they had to pay for the campaign against Warbeck, marched unopposed across England and were joined with Warwick.  After nine months, the rebellion was finally suppressed and Warbeck was captured and executed.

In 1501, Henry’s heir Arthur died, probably of tuberculosis and two years later the kings’ wife Elizabeth died in childbirth.  Henry was devastated and changed after this time.  He became harder, narrowed his circle of trusted advisers and his rule became more authoritarian.

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Elizabeth of York & Henry VII (Source)

Even the smallest of transgressions committed by members of the ruling classes was met with heavy fines especially against those families who had any suspected involvement in the many plots against him.  This made him some powerful enemies and by the time of his death on April 21st 1509, the country was marred by political instability and had been ruled by what resembled an absolute monarch.

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