The Tudors: The Rise of the Tudors

The Tudor Dynasty, one of the most powerful and influential dynasties in English history, was responsible for many dramatic political and religious changes in England throughout the 16th century, the most famous of which is the creation of the Church of England under King Henry VIII. “The Tudors: The Blossoming of England” takes you through the turbulent times of England’s golden age.

The Wars of the Roses

The white rose of the House of York
The red rose of the House of Lancaster

In the early 15th century, the House of Plantagenet, England’s royal dynasty since the deposition of the Normans, was split into two cadet branches: the Houses of Lancaster and York. The first Lancastrian king was Henry IV, who deposed of his cousin Richard II to become king. His son Henry V was able to maintain the crown, but later died, leaving his heir, the infant Henry VI, as king. Richard, Duke of York seized upon the opportunity and challenged Henry VI’s claim to the throne. Yorkist supporters first took up arms against the Lancastrians at the First Battle of St. Albans. Thirty years of war would divide England between the Houses of Lancaster and York.

The Tudors traced their lineage back to John of Gaunt, the founder of the House of Lancaster, thus giving them a legitimate claim to the throne of England. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII of England), was a Lancastrian supporter during the Wars of the Roses. Henry VI, the last Lancaster monarch, was executed in 1471, thus giving Henry Tudor the best claim to the English throne. The only obstacle to his coronation was the House of York, which also claimed sovereignty over England.

Henry Tudor soon rectified the his claim when he faced Richard III, the final York monarch, at the battle of Bosworth

Henry Tudor is crowned Henry VII of England following the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Henry Tudor is crowned Henry VII of England following the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Field. Outnumbered two to one, Henry’s 5000 men attacked the Yorkist army. During the battle, Richard III was slain, supposedly by a Welsh landowner named Rhys ap Thomas. With Richard III dead, there was no disputing Henry’s claim to the throne. He was crowned Henry VII soon after, drawing the Wars of the Roses to a close.

Henry VII as King of England 

Tudor_Rose.svg
The Tudor rose combines the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York.

Henry VII faced a difficult task as King of England: to keep his throne secure and unite a Kingdom divided for thirty years. Additionally, Henry was expected to pass the throne to his heirs, something which no King of England had done since Henry V. In 1486, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, thereby uniting the Houses of Lancaster (from which Henry descended from) and York. Thirty years of division and instability was repaired through a simple “I do.” The unification of Lancaster and York is symbolized by the Tudor Rose (seen left), one of the most widely recognized instances of English heraldry.

However, threats to Henry’s throne still remained and an air of paranoia existed. Many nobles with blood ties to the House of Plantagenet were suspected to covet the throne. To help maintain the security of his claim, Henry declared that he was King of England beginning the day before his victory at Bosworth Field, thereby making anybody who fought his forces there guilty of treason. This allowed him to arrest and execute his opposition as well as confiscate lands owned by Richard III and his followers. Additionally, Henry created the King’s Council, a council of select advisors loyal to the King, which kept the Feudal nobility, who were the greatest threat to Henry’s claim, in check.

King Henry VII of England

The royal coffers, which had been depleted during the Wars of the Roses, were in desperate need of funding. To rectify this problem, Henry and his advisers devised a ruthless and efficient method of taxation, which ensured maximum income for the crown. Henry also increased taxes on the nobility using the “Morton’s Fork” method of taxation, devised by Archbishop John Morton.

Henry’s greatest challenge as King was to restore central authority to the shattered kingdom. During and after the Wars of the Roses, England had developed a system of “Bastard Feudalism,” in which nobles hired private armies which were loyal not to the King, but rather to their lord. Henry allowed nobles loyal to him to maintain their regional influence. To deal with disloyal and powerful nobles, Henry revived the Privy Council, a council of select advisers, which could act quickly to dispense the King’s authority.

Later Years and Death

Henry VII's Coat of Arms as King of England
Henry VII’s Coat of Arms as King of England

In 1502, Henry’s son and heir apparent, Arthur, died suddenly of the “English Sweating Sickness,” a viral respiratory disease. Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabel I of Castile. Arthur’s sudden and unexpected death made Henry’s second son, Henry, Duke of York (later crowned Henry VIII of England), his heir. Desperate to maintain his alliance with Spain, King Henry tried to marry his new heir to Catherine. Although the marriage would have traditionally been forbidden, due to the affinity between Henry, Duke of York and Catherine (Catherine was Henry, Duke of York’s sister-in-law), a Papal Dispensation was granted by Pope Julius II, thus validating the marriage.

Henry VII died in April of 1509 of tuberculosis. The first Tudor monarch was buried in Westminster Abbey and succeeded by his son, Henry VIII.

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