Tag Archives: de la Pole

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.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, Legends, The Plantagenets, The Tudors, Wars of the Roses