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Richard III versus Henry VII….

A king of honour Henry - Dodd, Old London Bridge 1745

No, not another story of Bosworth, or a comparison between both reigns, but rather a reluctant concession that Henry did have some merits. Please, no catcalls and brickbats, for I remain a staunch Ricardian. I will always support Richard. Hell will freeze before I desert him.

So, what are Henry’s merits? Well, maybe they would not be regarded as merits by everyone. As a writer of fiction, I have in recent years been spinning tales of both kings. We all know how spitefully Richard was treated by the Tudors, and by history in general. He was nothing like Shakespeare’s monstrosity, but a handsome, just, truly honourable prince who showed amazing courage and would have been a great monarch if he had lived.

Henry, on the other hand, was not handsome, nor an honourable prince. He wasn’t even a prince! He was an undeserving usurper who became unbelievably harsh and cruel. But . . . big but . . . how much was the fault of his hounded life as a boy and young man? The House of York wanted him because he had become the last Lancastrian heir. His claim was tenuous, and illegal, because his royal blood was Beaufort blood, and that line had been barred from the throne. Still, on the throne was where he ended up.

Writing about him, putting words and deeds in his mouth (the power of the novelist!) made me slowly begin to reassess him. Did he really want to become king? Or was he influenced by others around him, and eventually found himself on a roller-coaster from which he couldn’t fling himself to freedom without breaking his neck? Did he ever really think he’d win against Richard, who was an experienced warrior and clever commander? Henry was neither of these things, and I have no idea how much knightly training he ever received, if any. He was much more of a clerk than a fighter. He must have been terrified at Bosworth when he saw Richard thundering towards him, intent upon killing him on the spot.

But fate, and the Stanleys, saved Henry’s bacon. Poor Richard was betrayed and murdered on the field. Yes, I use the word murdered, because he didn’t die in the heat of battle, he died because he had been conspired against by those he believed were on his side. That’s murder. Regicide.

So there was Henry, wearing Richard’s bloodied crown, unable to believe what was happening. I am convinced he didn’t expect to win, no matter how thoroughly he expected the Stanleys to come over to him. Richard was not an easy man to beat, and was the rightful king, as Henry knew full well. So did everyone else, because Edward IV had married bigamously. Those who chose not to support Richard’s claim to the throne did it for their own selfish reasons, not because they believed he was in the wrong. Well, that’s my viewpoint.

Henry was immediately presented with problems. He was king by conquest, a usurper, not by blood right. His line of descent was weak to say the least, and he had to marry Elizabeth of York, the senior Yorkist princess, in order to satisfy many of his supporters. He struggled to assert himself as king before marrying her, to establish himself by his own right, not by right of her blood claim. And he held on to the throne, although I don’t think he enjoyed it very much. He overcame various pretenders, had amazing luck, and managed to stay where he was, becoming stronger by the day. It ruined his constitution and made a terrible man of him, but he was single-minded enough to hang in there until the day consumption and other ailments killed him. In agony. Much to the relief of his subjects, for he, not Richard, had become a monster and tyrant.

We will never know what Henry might have been like if left to his own devices. If he’d been able to return to Yorkist England, claim his father’s title of Earl of Richmond, and then live the life of a 15th century nobleman. Maybe he would have been horrible anyway, or maybe he would have been very different. I am inclined to think he was ruined, physically and mentally, by the cards life dealt him. The real Henry will never be known.

So, I’m afraid I have to admire him for his sheer doggedness. He took Richard’s crown and, unbelievably, he kept it. And he established his own House, and passed the crown to his son. As I said at the beginning, I am a staunch, devoted Ricardian, but I would be fibbing if I didn’t admit to admiration for Henry Tudor.


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7 thoughts on “Richard III versus Henry VII….

  1. How was Henry VII’ cruel’ or ‘horrible’? He was oppressive towards the end of his reign, but used various dodgy financial methods to oppress, rather than outright cruelty (such as his son demonstrated). Ultimately, he shouldn’t be judged in opposition to Richard: Henry VII ended the dynastic wars, and made England rich and stable after decades of turmoil.


  2. viscountessw on said:

    To me it’s all in the choice of words, David. Henry’s ‘dodgy’ financial methods were very cruel indeed, as far as I’m concerned, and his final years of awful ‘oppression’ were horrible. If Henry had lost at Bosworth, I do not doubt that the dynastic wars would have ended anyway, because Richard would have been a good, strong king. I don’t know why Henry should not be judged in opposition to Richard, unless you mean that the latter’s reign was too short for us to judge what he may or may have achieved ultimately. But I still admire Henry. As the modern phrase goes, “He was something else”.


    • I recently read S.B. Chrimes’ excellent bio of Henry, and he gives a very detailed account of the financial methods in question. Essentially, towards the end of his reign Henry temporarily imprisoned a number of people until they agreed to buy their release. He also used various ‘bonds and recognizances’ as a way of controlling the nobility. None of this was very just or pleasant, but it was small beer compared to the antics of, say, Ferdinand and Isabella, or the excesses of his son.

      I try not to judge what Richard III might have been. During his short reign he did commit a number of unjust executions and at least one outright murder – William Hastings – and dabbled in the same propaganda his successor is accused of (witness Richard’s proclamation of 23rd June 1485 in which he accuses Jasper Tudor, Edward Woodville, John de Vere and Peter Courtenay as murderers, adulterers and extortioners). Both men used the same methods.


  3. viscountessw on said:

    David, I’m afraid you and I will probably have to meet with pistols at dawn if we get into Hastings, etc. Morton’s Fork was criminal, and while I agree that Henry wasn’t as bad as others, especially his monstrous son, he was still a pretty hard nut. His executions of Warwick and John of Gloucester were truly dreadful acts, beside which the lopping of Hastings’ head pales to insignificance. To me, Hastings had clearly been rumbled in a imminent plot to assassinate Richard. A pat on the head was not going to remove that threat, but a timely removal of said head was just the ticket. And Richard did nothing illegal. He had full authority to act as he did. Before you say there was no trial, the fact that there are no records does not mean there wasn’t one.

    As for Jasper, Edward Woodville, de Vere and Courtenay being called murderers, adulterers and extortioners – they may well have been. I don’t know. But I should imagine Richard also called them ‘a load of scheming bastards!’ I would in his place. And he’d have been right, in a manner of speaking.

    So, I may just have to get out those pistols and give them a good polish….


    • The execution – or rather, judicial murder – of Warwick was hard, though Henry was pressured into it by Ferdinand and Isabella. He had kept him alive, albeit in tight custody, for many years before pulling the trigger.

      Regarding John of Gloucester, I’ve never seen any hard evidence that Henry had him killed. He is last seen being given a pension by Henry in 1487. The story of his imprisonment and execution appears to stem from George Buck writing much later, and Buck doesn’t even name him (my memory of the details may be a bit foggy).

      Re Hastings, we’re not likely to reach any agreement there. Hastings was bundled out of a council meeting and summarily beheaded on the chapel green. There was no time for any sort of trial. Nor have I seen any evidence of his conspiring against Richard save a suggestion in Mancini’s writings – the same Mancini dismissed by many Ricardians as source because he was a foreigner who spoke no English!

      There’s no evidence – nil, zip, nada – that Woodville (considered the last of the old-style chivalrous knights by his peers) Jasper Tudor, John de Vere and Courteney were guilty of rape and extortion etc. They were Lancastrian loyalists supporting the last viable Lancastrian claimant – in Jasper’s case, his own nephew. Richard may well have regarded them as scheming bastards, but his point of view was only one of many, equally valid.


      • viscountessw on said:

        We’ll have part amicably on this, David, because we’re unlikely to see eye to eye. I still hold to my views, and you to yours, so I’ll put the pistols away for another day. It has been a pleasure to meet you.


      • Likewise 🙂


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