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The Controversial King How The Tudors Came to Rule

On the 30th October 1485 a usurper to the English throne was crowned at Westminster Abbey and the most infamous dynasty was beginning.
Bella Organ explores how the Tudors came to rule....

Westminster Abbey where Henry VII was crowned on 30th October 1485.

Everyone has heard of the indulgent and merciless King Henry VIII and all six of his unfortunate wives, however few people know as much about the founding member of the Tudor dynasty, his father Henry Tudor, who's forces won him the English throne at the savage Battle of Bosworth in 1485. What were Henry Tudor's claims to the English throne? Were the Tudors really the true heirs to the English throne? Why was Henry so intent on taking it by force? Did you know that Henry VII actually had a stronger claim to the French throne?

To understand the Tudors and where they came from, we need to journey back beyond the battle of Bosworth to a time that is notably famous as the Wars of The Roses. During this violent period two factions of the royal Plantagenet line: The house of York and the house of Lancaster fought for the crown.

In 1457, at Pembroke Castle in Wales, a baby boy named Henry Tudor was born to parents Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor. Henry was born into royal but, due to family controversies, illegitimate Lancastrian blood via his Mother. His father, Edmund, and Uncle, Jasper, Tudor were recognised as half brothers to King Henry VI and given titles due to their loyal and brave services in battle, but barred from ascension to the throne.

Henry's Father, Edmund, was the son of Owen Tudor, a Welsh Squire, who had secretly married Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V and daughter of Charles VI of France. This gave their descendants, including Henry Tudor, a claim to the French throne.
Did you know that many historians believe Henry VII had a much stronger claim to the French throne than the English? Would you agree?

Elizabeth of York. Daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Mother of Henry VIII.

Henry's Mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the great-grandaughter of John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford. Katherine had been John's mistress for 25 years before they married, during which time she bore him 4 children. The children, although born outside of wedlock, were legitimised on their parent's eventual marriage.

After the defeat of Margaret of Anjou at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, the Lancastrian threat had been quelled, and the Yorks were in power with Edward IV on the throne. In 1483, following the death of Edward IV, his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester declared himself King Richard III ahead of Edward IV's own son. Much controversy will later surround Richard III – did he murder Edward IV's sons, his nephews – the rightful heirs to the throne - in the Tower of London? Had he plotted to take the throne from the moment he left his brother's deathbed? Or, were his actions simply those of a man trying to protect the future of England from the power hungry Woodvilles? Whatever his motives, Richard outlawed the Woodville marriage meaning that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville's (Queen dowager) children were no longer legitimate heirs to the throne, including their daughter Elizabeth of York.

In March 1485 Henry Tudor, after a collaboration of support from his mother Margaret and the Woodvilles, lands at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire and marches East to meet Richard III in battle at Bosworth fields. His goal is to take the throne by force and marry Elizabeth of York, which Henry had publicly vowed to do on Christmas Day at Rennes Cathedral in 1483, earning homage from the Yorkist supporters.

Henry VII. How much did he know about the fate of the 'Princes in the Tower'?

After a savage battle, Richard III is killed and Henry Tudor declares himself victorious. Straight away Henry sets about proclaiming himself King by right of conquest retroactively from 21st August 1485 – the day before the battle of Bosworth, making all who had fought for Richard guilty of treason.

One of the actions Henry took next is worthy of note, he repealed Richard III's Titulus Regius – the act that had proclaimed the Woodville children as illegitimate and not heirs to the throne - in order to legitimise his intended bride, Elizabeth of York.

Henry Tudor was, however, all too aware of his tenuous claims to the throne by right of succession – a papal bull had explicitly excluded the Beauforts and their heirs from the royal succession - and to marry Elizabeth of York immediately would mean admitting that Henry's position as King was only through his Queen, the rightful heiress of York – thus making him King consort and demeaning his patriarchal rule.

To have reversed Titulus Regius, it is argued that Henry Tudor must have been certain that the Princes in the Tower were deceased. Did he secretly know that they were dead? If they were alive, then the repealing of this act would have put them above Henry Tudor in the line for the throne. No historian is certain whether Henry knew the fate of the Princes or not, but we can conclude that he was a paranoid King, afraid of old Yorkist supporters and any other claimants to the throne.

The presumed deaths of the Princes certainly did act in Henry's favour. The assumption helped to create an evil, repugnant image of Richard III. Do you think Richard III had the Princes murdered? That belief held by many now made Henry VII England's saviour from the dark tyranny of a regicidal King.

The majority of negative opinion held about Richard III and the Yorkists are to this day down to the Tudor propaganda machine which helped secure and legitimise their claim to England's throne.

Despite his tenuous claims to the throne of England, Henry VII was successful in uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York through his marriage to Elizabeth of York and in ending the Wars of the Roses. He founded the colourful and controversial Tudor Dynasty who fascinate us still today, some 500 years later.

Written by Bella Organ for British History Tours

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