Henry VII: Better King Than Kingly

Harri Tudur, heir to the (7th) Earldom of Richmond, was born to the frighteningly young Margaret Beaufort on 28 January 1457.

Young Henry VII at French court

Through his paternal grandfather, Owain Tudur, the baby was a descendant of of Llywelyn the Great, and through his paternal grandmother, Catherine of Valois, a great-grandson of King Charles VI of France. Those lineages, though noble, were not as important in England as the bloodlines of the infant’s grandmother, though. Margaret Beaufort was a great-granddaughter of King Edward III through his third surviving son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster by his mistress (and later wife) Katherine Swynford.

As the sole heiress of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, Margaret had been a great matrimonial prize, and had been given to Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, as a gift by his half-brother, King Henry VI. As an Lancastrian heir, the baby boy was distantly in line to the throne. Alas for the Lancasters, the maternal descendants of King Edward III’s second son would usurp Henry VI’s throne and kill his son, become kings of England, and drive the young Henry Tudor and his uncle Jasper into France for safety before Margaret Beaufort’s little boy turned 14 years old.

Fortune is fickle, however, and if not – karma is a bitch and a half. King Edward IV died and his sons, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, were most likely murdered by their uncle, who at minimum usurped their throne to became King Richard III. The mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower turned almost the whole of England south of Yorkshire against King Richard III, and now the erstwhile Earl of Richmond, who would have had a pissant’s chance of taking the crown from either kings Edward IV or Edward V, was a reasonable alternate to sit on the throne.

With a little help from the Welsh genius Lewis of Caerleon, Margaret Beaufort and the widowed queen Elizabeth Woodville conspired together that all former Yorkists on Team Edward IV would league with the Lancastrians to put Henry Tudor on the throne over Richard’s dead body. In turn, Henry would marry the eldest princess, Elizabeth of York, and thereby make sure one of Edward IV’s grandsons would come be crowned in the fullness of time.

Henry Tudor’s forces met Richard III’s troops in battle at Bosworth in the summer of 1485, and when the king’s own men turned against him, the Earl of Richmond left the field as the new King Henry VII of England and the 3rd Duke of York’s youngest son left as a corpse. The new king came to London, was crowned, and as promised wed the beautiful Elizabeth of York.

It was a surprisingly happy union. Henry Tudor genuinely fell in love with his pulchritudinous and sweet-natured bride, and in turn Queen Elizabeth seems to have loved her rather taciturn and unhandsome husband as well. They had four children who survived infancy, and were caring parents as well as faithful spouses. Henry VII may have been a bit stern, and let Elizabeth do all the coddling, but it was his responsibility to turn out able monarchs, so his disciplinarianism was understandable.


Henry VII was a good husband and a good son. He installed his mother in court, and he actually listened to her sage advice. He also allowed his wife great latitude, and treated her respect as well as love. Rumors would later arise that Margaret had ‘bullied’ Elizabeth of York or that Henry had not paid his wife adequate attention or was too stingy with his purse, but there is no contemporary evidence of that. The court was in harmony, and while Elizabeth was alive the entertainments and gifts to charity were lavish. The queen was also given much more control over the upbringing of the royal babes than most monarchial consorts of the time.

The often denigrated Henry VII was also a much better king than he is given credit for. Just as he considered brains to be more important than gender in some cases, he also chose men to advise him for their abilities rather than their birth. Using judicious and learned men to guide him, Henry took a fiscally broken and war-torn country and made it whole again – both in coffers and in allegiance. England became less of a podunk backwater nation whose only glory was in warring with France, and became more of an international trading power under this wise king.

Of course, this earned him no popularity with the people. For the nobility and wealthiest, he was a nuisance because there were taxes to be paid, and he made sure they WERE paid. How very dare he? He dared because a country cannot run on wishes and taxation has always be the surest way for the state to move monies into the economy via redistribution. Leaving money all heaped up in the hands of a few is like keeping all the manure in one corner of the barnyard; you need to spread that shit all over if you want better growth and crop yields. The people with the biggest manure piles nonetheless acted butthurt that he took some of it from them. Like many greedy shitheads, they couldn’t ever have enough of a pile for their very own, and begrudged every tiny particle of poo that supported the state.

The poor and middleclass were no more enchanted with Henry. Building roads and facilitating trade is better for a country, and grows the middle-class which supports a robust economy, but it isn’t “sexy”. He wasn’t big and blustery like a proper king. He didn’t attack other countries and through good money after bad in useless international wars.  Who could brag about a prudent, responsible king? He didn’t even keep a bunch a mistresses or pee off the balconies!!

Thus it was that King Henry VII died largely unmourned on 21 April 1509. His only surviving son, now King Henry VIII, immediately did as advised as slaughtered his father’s best tax ministers. Londoners rejoiced. This monarch, the people cheered, would be way better than his father! Look at him kill the tax men for us! He’ll definitely Make Anglos Great Again!

Sure enough, Henry VIII would be a very popular king … mainly by being tall and handsome and going to war for no reason other than hubris. He also nearly destroyed the kingdom by wanton expenditures and little understanding of economic policy. Even before he went batcrap crazy in the early 1530s, Henry VIII was much more like his grandfather, King Edward IV, than his father, and it did no good for Britain.

I wonder if anyone had the wisdom to think or say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have that old stick-in-the-mud Henry VII back again?”

Henry VII became king in unlikely – almost fantastical – circumstances, but he was a good one nonetheless. He deserves to be remembered as more than just Henry VIII parsimonious and boring father, or the alternate scapegoat for the deaths of King Edward IV’s sons. He ruled as justly as any Medieval ruler ever did, and left his kingdom in better condition than he had come to it. What more could any king have done?


2 thoughts on “Henry VII: Better King Than Kingly

  1. Was it 1447 or 1457? I know Henry VIII died Jan 28, 1547 … creepy enough he died on his dad’s birthday, but even more so if his death date is the same digits as his dad’s birth.

    1. Henry VII was born on 28 January 1457 and his son died on his 90th birthday … my world is filled with typos and bad math!

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