Henry VII – king of ‘spin’?

henryviiHenry VII’s claim to the throne was weak – and that’s putting it mildly. There was only the thinnest of Plantagenet threads running through his blood. Even that had to be legitimised in 1397 by Richard II who issued Letters Patent to that fact when the children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford (they’d finally married the previous year) were bought into Parliament along with their parents to stand beneath a canopy of State. Pope Boniface IX had already issued a papal dispensation legitimising the Beaufort clan. However, Henry IV added a note into the legal record in 1407 stating that the Beauforts were not to inherit the throne. It might not have been strictly legal but it weakened Henry’s already weak claim.  In addition to which England did not have a salic law prohibiting women from the crown so technically the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth should have seen the crowning of Queen Margaret.


Henry was able to make a play for the throne simply because by 1483 there weren’t many Lancaster sprigs left – the Wars of the Roses took a terrible toll on the aristocratic male population who counted themselves as having direct male descent from Edward III whether they were for York or for Lancaster. George, Duke of Clarence’s son, Edward – the young Earl of Warwick, was a child. The Duke of Buckingham claimed Plantagenet blood but like Henry Tudor’s it came from the Beaufort line and a junior one to Henry’s. There were others descended from female lines including the de la Poles who would be regarded as a key threat to the Tudors.  After Henry came to the throne as well as demonstrating prudent fiscal policy Henry also demonstrated a dab hand at pruning the Plantagenet branches still further – as did his son, to ensure that the Tudor dynasty continued.


DSCF2105.JPGWhatever one might think of the twists and turns of the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, not to mention the Stanley turncoats, the fact is that Richard III’s army gave way to Henry’s and Richard lost his life. Henry became king of England on the battlefield by conquest and thus by God’s will – Divine Right – working on the principle that God had given Henry the power to overcome Richard III. Yes, I know that some of the readers of this post are going to mutter about treachery but the view is a valid one when one takes account of the medieval/early modern mind set. The badge to the left of this paragraph is in the keeping of the British Library and it reflects this fact.  Henry wasn’t shy about reminding people.

bosworth-windows.jpgThere were also ballads entitled ‘Bosworth Field’ and the ‘Ballad of Lady Bessie”.  The earliest printed version (well – a summary) dates from the sixteenth century and there is some question as to whether these ballads are pure fiction, their reliability is questionable. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that Henry would have encouraged ballads like this in order that ordinary people heard about the fact that someone who was really very obscure had taken the crown on the battle field.  According to the ballad – in a king on king struggle to the death Henry was personally victorious…history is after all the winners version and does not necessarily take all the facts into consideration. Double click on the image on the right to open a new window linking to the American branch of the Richard III society and a version of the ballad.


Henry was equally swift to ensure that the written word reflected not only the Tudor right to rule but how much better they were than their immediate predecessors.  Polydore Vergil arrived in England in 1502 to collect Peter’s Pence but as a humanist scholar Henry VII was keen to have him on board.  It is thought that he began writing the Anglica Historia in 1505, although it wasn’t published until 1534. Double click on the title to open a new window and the online version of Vergil’s unashamedly pro-Tudor writing.  In this excerpt we see Vergil extol Henry’s virtues as he took up the reigns of office:


His chief care was to regulate well affairs of state and, in order that the people of England should not be further torn by rival factions, he publically proclaimed that (as he had already promised) he would take for his wife Elizabeth daughter of King Edward and that he would give complete pardon and forgiveness to all those who swore obedience to his name. Then at length, having won the good-will of all men and at the instigation of the both nobles and people, he was made king at Westminster on 31 October and called Henry, seventh of that name. These events took place in the year 1486 after the birth of Our Saviour.


There were other contemporary chronicles, principally The Great Chronicle of London and the Chronicle of Calais as well as later chroniclers including Edward Hall who wrote The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, more commonly known as Hall’s Chronicle – Hall was born in 1497.  Sir Thomas More wrote about the reign of Richard  III – he was four in 1485. And, of course, there was Holinshed’s Chronicle which heavily influenced Shakespeare. It made its first appearance in 1577. All of them were vehicles for the Tudor State one way or another.

gold medal.jpgBack to Henry – having driven home the message that he was king by Divine Right and because he was better (yes, I know its Tudor spin) than his predecessors because he paid attention to the country and didn’t murder small boys he also needed to make it clear that the Tudor dynasty was a fresh start. The pope had been so glad that the English had stopped slaughtering one another that he didn’t hesitate in signing the dispensation that allowed Henry to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. He  was swift to honour his pledge to marry her, once the stain of illegitimacy had been revoked by Parliament. A medal was struck commemorating the marriage in 1486. This rare survivor is in the hands of the British Museum.  Double click on the image to open a new page with information about the medal. Elizabeth wasn’t crowned until the Tudor dynasty looked like becoming a certainty. Henry did not want to be seen as Elizabeth’s consort. He wanted it to be understood that he was king in his own right.

marriagebed + henry tudorBizarrely Henry VII’s marriage-bed came to end up in a car park in Chester.  However, since it’s identity has been verified the magnificent carvings can be used to tell the story that Henry wanted to tell in his union with Elizabeth of York Double click on the image to open a window and find out more.


DSC_0002Which – brings us back to the dodgy bloodline.   Henry got around the problem by simply using a much older legacy. He claimed that he was descended from the ancient British hero Cadwallader, and produced pedigrees to prove it.  He fought under the red dragon at Bosworth and a red dragon was swiftly added to the permitted armorial supporters before his coronation. Cadwallader was reflected on his coat of arms as shown in the first image in this post. The white greyhound is the Richmond greyhound but the red dragon, which flew on Henry’s banner as he marched through Wales from Pembroke belonged to the ancient king. Other images show Henry’s coat of arms also bearing a portcullis. This came from the Beaufort armorial bearings.

Penn’s acclaimed book about Henry VII demonstrates the lengths that Henry went to in order to secure his kingdom and his dynasty.  An article published in The Guardian in 2012 notes that Henry didn’t just use the red dragon he also made use of the red rose of Lancaster – a somewhat obscure symbol at that time- which was then united with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose signifying the union of the two houses and the end of the thirty years of conflict.  He then proceeded to plant his roses everywhere: on architecture, on pre-existing manuscripts and on new documents. Double click on the image of Henry’s banner to open a new page with the full article.


Another well used symbol locating Henry’s right to be king in conquest is the image of that crown perched on a wild rose bush. This was a reminder that Henry had won his crown on the battlefield. In an age of low literacy it was important for there to be symbolism that people understood. Henry was a master of propaganda, right down to the Tudor livery of green and white. White symbolised purity whilst green represented renewal.

DSCF2103Henry also looked to the legend of King Arthur.  Unsurprisingly Henry simply claimed him as an ancestor and reminded folk of Merlin’s prophecy that Arthur would return with the union of the red king and the white queen.  It probably isn’t co-incidence that Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was one of the first books off Caxton’s printing press in England. Elizabeth of York went to Winchester which Malory claimed was Camelot in order to have her first child.  Prince Arthur was duly born and baptised in Winchester.  The Italian humanist, Petrus Carmelianus wrote a poem to celebrate the birth and the end of the civil war.  One of the illustrated pages shows the royal coat of arms being supported by two angels (back to Divine Right). It might also be worth noting that Petrus went on to become Henry VII’s Latin secretary and chaplain.  Double click on Petrus Carmelianus to open a new page with an illustration of one of the pages from his poem. Henry also reinstated Winchester’s round table which dates from the reign of Edward III.  This together with a small number of King Arthur related tapestries and images, according to the article on the subject by Starkey, is all that remains of Henry’s arthurian public image strategy – one which he’d borrowed, it should be added from earlier Plantagenet kings including Edward III and Edward IV.roundtable.jpg

In other respects Henry simply took up long established traditions such as being portrayed in manuscripts as a king, including one where he was depicted as a classical hero and issuing coinage which showed a very lifelike looking Henry.

The most easily accessible online image in a manuscript of Henry as king can be found in the British Library. The book called Henry VII’s book of Astrology shows him sitting on his throne in royal regalia receiving the book of astrology as a gift. Obviously Fate and the stars were on Henry’s side when he became king. Double click on the image from the manuscript to open a British Library article about the imagery in the text.  The manuscript itself has been digitised and pages can be viewed on the British Library website Astrology was a ‘proper’ science. All the Tudors had court astrologers – the most famous being Dr John Dee during the reign of Elizabeth I.

henry vii receiving book.jpgHenry VII’s astrologers appear not to have been a particularly able bunch.  One predicted that Elizabeth of York would live until she was eighty whilst William Parron’s 1503 manuscript predicted that young Prince Henry would grow up to be a good son of the Catholic Church. Parron had originally found favour by predicting that all of Henry VII’s enemies would die…






Doran, Susan. The Tudor Chronicles. London:Quercus

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

Starkey, David, “King Henry and King Arthur,” in Arthurian Literature XVI, ed. James Patrick Carley, 171-196. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1998.





12 thoughts on “Henry VII – king of ‘spin’?

  1. Excellent Julia! Just one thing. It says ‘aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth should have seen the crowning of Queen Margaret’. Did you mean to say Elizabeth of York?

  2. No – I really do mean Margaret. Margaret Beaufort. Technically following modern rules, Henry should have won the battle on behalf of his mother. It’s significant I think that Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York often appeared at court on special occasions dressed in similar clothes (I’m not sure I would have appreciated Margaret as a mother-in-law). I think Henry was making the point that Margaret was queen in all but name – and she’d certainly worked hard over the years on behalf of her son.

  3. What ever I think is putting it strong dear lady. Richard was deserted by all and fought on like a tiger with just his two friends. He was not offered terms but slaughtered by seventeen sword cuts about his body. That traitor Henry the bastard waited in the distance and never took a part in war. He murdered the real King.

  4. We will not talk of Starkey from the council house behind cattle slaughter yard in Kendal. He makes what little he knows into theater. Told me my ancestor Kate Parr Queen Dowager was ugly. Pointed not to the Royal Wedding painting of her but to Anne Of Cleaves.The man is an oaf and remarkably rather nasty.

    • I think I may have misunderstood your comment. It initially reads as though you are criticising Starkey for his origins – which I’m sure can’t be the case because that wouldn’t really be very fair and you have stated at other times that a man or woman’s background is an irrelevance… not least of course because many excellent historians used to live and still do live in council houses. As I said, I’m sure I’m reading it wrong.

      • Sorry,yes you are correct but my comment on where he lived was to illustrate his haughty approach to all whom have met him. One must not look down to anyone as it rather tempts fate. The same you push may well be pushing you when the ladder collapses under one.Hope that covers things. Now beds,Had no idea that Henrys bed was found sold and on display.I know that in 1960 we saw an iron army bed in what was part of the Blue Boar Inn in Leicester. We had been so informed that this belonged to King Richard 111 who had slept in it before battle but failed to recollect later, being dead.Alterations to Old Bow Bridge end of that town closed off the Inn side and what happened to this camp bed is lost.Any facts you may drop upon on this singular subject please send me. Thank you for the chance to explain.

      • It does – I thought I’d managed to cross my wires. I’m intrigued about Richard’s bed and will have a little dig around.

  5. Dear Julia on subject of council housing may I just share a secret. Here in the sun a house with three beds standing in 3 acres of land went for just 23k . No rates no water charges no Tv license needed.BBC from Sky and food six times cheaper. We have a private beach I built the house and six acre landscaped gardens for just 34 k Here the sun in summer melts rubber soled shoes. Winter is snow and happy around log fires with the Brits who have sense to be here. We heavily party and why not for drink is just pence. We roasted a whole lamb costing 30 euro on the white sand beaches and fed sixteen hungry Brits. They have to do it next time and so it goes on. I love England but why go back it is stuffed shirt in London to rates so expensive and why.Did research rents and shocked that people are forced to pay up to 140 pound per month and then rates of 1000 per year.What the hell do the leaders do with all of that income? Here that money would buy you peace.A good home and car. I am buying new this Spring at about one third on UK prices which are made up of tax. It is beyond a joke.mOVE here great choice and still be in contact with real live English fun. It is not rocket science but it takes thought to do it.I came here four times in six years on holiday. Now little England has followed me. Not all are rich.One lady with her two children lost her husband and came her to see her brother who lives near me. She fell instantly in love with the countryside as all Latvian women go mushrooming to the forest lakes.She came back with basket fulls of Cherelles and swam in two lakes.She never went home and now rent in the hope to buy for 12000 euro.We are ready to help her and all agree she deserved to be loved by us all. Please forgive me as you are thinking I am so loyal to Britain i will not desert that ship. may i say my pal is David Cameron and he begs me to join him yet a fight with Labour or anyone else is not my way to deal. Yes i miss Uk but nothing is lost as it all comes here in shops.Good bacon no but buy smoked and slice it to own thickness is a joy to behold. Six fat slices coat about 40 pence here. You see it is the best kept secret in history.

  6. Dear Julia sorry to bother you.I have spent all morning rummaging through my old diaries. Found vague ref to that iron camp bed. A set of photographs in a publication of five pages by Leicester City Council museum dept.I have searched but to date cannot find the copy i once bought as a schoolboy.

    • I will see what I can find out. I do plan a visit to Leicester Cathedral so this looks like a good excuse to go to the museum as well! I shall also check out the Leicestershire Archives to see what they can come up with. I shall enjoy the hunt.

  7. If Richard III dies in a confusing melee as Stanley’s troops try to cut down the Yorkist Household Knights who were in the process of cutting down the main bodyguard around Henry Tudor, technically there is no rout like at Towton until well after nearly all in the melee are dead. A mere handful of RIII’s men who were less wounded followed poor Francis Lovell off of that bloody field. Henry Tudor and Richard III may have actually come to blows, considering the fates of their respective standard bearers. Stanley won a war of attrition. Had he been slightly bolder, he’d have crowned himself. I think the roundshot are from the morning’s clashes, if the confrontation between RIII and H7 happens between noon and Vespers, was it closer to Dadlington and Crown Hill? Mass graves were said to be in Dadlington. The Victorians mistook the previous night’s camping area of Ambion Hill for the battle’s location! Technically, RIII’s mounted charge of 300 knights takes him past Stanley’s foot soldiers. If Henry Tudor felt very secure when somewhat at the rear, the resulting confrontation was most unexpected. I think the Battle of Bosworth has more secrets, there is a vast plain that was fought over. —— The iconography in terms of Henry Tudor’s Id stems from how close he came to getting himself killed that he was that day. He might have toyed with Merlin’s White Dragon verses Red Dragon iconography earlier in his exile, but its the events of 1484 that perhaps are behind the “invention” of the Tudor Rose, the co-combining of white and red, given that they were more recent in his mind. Indeed, Malory’s first draft manuscript might have one almost thinking Edward IV was King Arthur reincarnated and in the flesh again, and then Caxton’s printed edition arrives in the summer of 1485, within weeks of Bosworth Field. Both sides drew upon the Grail myth, it is the unifying & underlying iconography of the epoch. If Henry Tudor was trying to come across as being less upstart, as he tries to cloak himself in a grand tradition, are we to be in shock? It can be said that primogeniture was not William the Conqueror’s main claim to England’s throne. Even in the 20th Century (when seeking the U.S presidency!) John Fitzgerald Kennedy plays up Kynge Arthur’s mythic A.D 500s Camelot as an idyllic tyme out of mind and quietly downplays his more certain line of descent from Brian Boru (941-1014) the great unifying and consummately diplomatic High King of Auld Ireland, who ruled roughly one thousand years ago!

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