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Not Hating Henry

I admit it: when I first fell for Richard III and through him, the House of York and Wars of the Roses history in general, I hated Henry VII. (I also hated his mother Margaret Beaufort, the perfidious Stanleys, the late queen Margaret of Anjou, and anyone else I could blame for bringing harm upon my beloved Yorkists). But blind hate – like blind love – doesn’t help an objective study of history. For some vehement anti-Ricardians, the absolute conviction that Richard III was a nephew-murdering usurper warps their entire view of the man, negating every positive achievement in his life before and during his reign, and denying the possibility that his character might have possessed any likeable or praiseworthy aspects. Similarly, for some vehement pro-Ricardians, Henry VII is akin to the anti-Christ, a snivelling, cowardly pretender for whose sake a good and rightful king was treacherously done to death. Initially, the latter was my view – but the more I’ve studied the period, its personalities and politics, the more sympathy I’ve come to feel for everyone involved in that difficult, dangerous time. So, at the risk of making myself thoroughly unpopular, I’ll tell you why I don’t hate Henry: basically, it wasn’t his fault. Yes, think about it: once upon a time, just like Richard III, Henry was an innocent child caught up in a political situation that was none of his making and beyond his control. By pure accident of birth he was deprived of his inheritance, separated from his mother, and in 1472, (as the last faint spark of the Lancastrian claim to the crown), forced to flee for his life with his uncle Jasper Tudor. En route to seek help from Jasper’s cousin, Louis XI of France, they were blown off course and landed in Brittany, where they were obliged to beg asylum from Duke Francis II. Recognising them as valuable pawns in any future diplomatic games with France and England, the Duke was pleased to grant this – and thus, at the age of fourteen, began Henry’s long term of effective, if luxurious, imprisonment. So as he entered his majority, instead of taking possession of the lordship of Richmond, building his affinity, developing his career, looking for a suitable wife and enjoying all the normal rights and privileges of his rank, this blameless youth was being shunted around the Duke’s chateaux under close guard, like some priceless piece of furniture, to prevent him either being rescued by the French or captured (and probably killed) by Yorkist agents. It’s easy to imagine the sense of burning injustice, festering resentment and outright hatred building up in his heart – he certainly had no reason to love the House of York. But he had every reason to leap at the chance of revenge, and of securing an unexpectedly glorious future, which presented itself in the aftermath of Edward IV’s untimely demise in 1483. I don’t blame him for that, either – and the rest, as they say, is history. I still don’t warm to Henry VII as a character, although I believe that his dislikeable traits including suspicion, domination and avarice are a direct result of the fear, deprivation and insecurity he experienced in his early life. Nor do I particularly rate him as a monarch – his first act, predating his reign to the 21st August 1485 in order to attaint the late king’s supporters, was a nasty trick; his later treatment of the unfortunate Princess Katherine of Aragon was heartless in the extreme; and he did plenty of other stuff in between that I can’t like or approve of. Having said that, he performed remarkably well considering his unpromising start and lack of training for such office, and was a paragon of competence compared to the previous Henry. And while I’d still prefer the result of the Battle of Bosworth to have been reversed, (I think Richard III was a good king and, had he lived, would have made a great one), I’d prefer it even more if that battle had never happened at all: if Edward IV had reconciled with the Tudors, made allies of the Earls of Pembroke and Richmond, and that Henry had subsequently supported Richard’s assumption of the throne – surely their combined abilities would have made them a medieval government dream-team! So while I might not exactly like Henry VII, I can no longer find it in my heart to hate him… because I suspect that if I’d been in his position, I’d have done much the same. And if you’re open to persuasion on the subject, try reading Chris Skidmore’s Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors – it might rouse your sympathy for Henry, as it did mine.

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23 thoughts on “Not Hating Henry

  1. Great post. People tend to want to see historical characters as heroes and villains, so we get a lot of exaggerations and black and white views of the people like Richard III and Henry VII. The hatred for Henry that a lot of Ricardians feel also seems to be a reaction to the centuries of official history shaped by the Tudor propaganda, which portrayed Richard as an Antichrist and Henry as an angelic hero who ended the Wars of the Roses and everyone lived happily ever after. But going into the opposite extreme is pretty unrealistic, too. I find Richard much more likable than Henry, but Henry had his good qualities, too, and both good and bad sides as a ruler; and I certainly have a lot of sympathy for him and for his mother, they both had really unhappy childhood and youth.

    The idea of some AU history in which Richard and Henry were not enemies and worked together is fascinating; who knows, maybe they would get along quite well under different circumstances? Certainly, Richard could have used someone with a talent for financial management, which doesn’t seem to have been his strong side, but I don’t think he would have ever gone for really harsh tax policies (and I don’t think John Morton would be involved).

    Generally, the more I get to know about the various historical figures of the so-called Wars of the Roses, it becomes hard to see almost anyone as an evil villain and to entirely hate them. There are some people that are more unlikable than others, but even most of them don’t seem as awful when you put yourself in their shoes.

    …Except Edmund Tudor. Ugh. No sympathy for him at all. I’m so glad he died of plague before he could enjoy the riches that he abused his 12-year old wife for and endangered her life.

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  2. Kalina on said:

    We cannot hate any historical person if we are going to understand his/her fate, motives, rationality and efficiency of his/her actions. But we can judge if this person did well or not after cultural and law principles of his country in his time. Then we can say that Henry Tudor was a maker of the quite new mental and cultural period. I am not sure if better one. The reign of Edward IV brought a few examples of the cruel elimination of the enemies of Yorks. After Tewkesbury the survived supporters of Henry VI were executed without any trial and mercy. It was of course the order of King but his brothers were very helpful. King Henry was murdered too. After it however the bodies of enemies were buried respectably, specially Henry VI. It was the obvious evidence of the respect for the dead, even if they were the enemies. Henry Tudor felt himself in duty to eliminate his enemies too. Legitimate King of England whom he killed with hands of the corruptible traitors, was dead. But his friends and supporters who survived, was murdered not after the battle, when the emotions were still fresh. They were murdered thanks LAW which was retroactive! And the most scandal: he permitted his troglodytes (or even ordered ) to profane the body of King of England and to bury it “lyke a dhogg”. His next actions were simile. His supposed rivals to the throne – last Plantagenets: Edward Warwick, John Plantagenet and supposed Richard of Shrewsbury were murdered by LAW on a false charge. James Tyrrel of course did not executed only for treason and support someone of de la Pole family. The quite new guilts were imputed him and even after his death:)) So it became the normal practice in Tudor period. It was the end of Chivalry and beginning of the period of worthlessness, treachery of own ideas and full of fear flatterers

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  3. Edmund just followed the customs of his time- if she menstruates and therefore can be impregnated she is ripe for bedding. The modern concept of pedophilia did not exist back then, the only thing frowned upon was if a groom bedded his bride before her menarche (first period) because the onset of menstruation was a clear indication of a female entering her fertile years. The concept of a fixed age of consent would probably have been completely alien then. The most anyone would have thought Edmund was inconsiderate, sadly for Margaret.

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    • Incorrect. No, Edmund was NOT following the customs of his time. It was NOT “normal” to have sex with 12-year old brides and get them pregnant. it was legal – but that does not make it normal, or something that people would be fine with, let alone a “custom”. (Marital rape was legal just a few decades ago, that didn’t make it normal or customary or ethical, or something that everyone did. Torturing animals was legal in my country until about a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean that it was customary or that people didn’t despise those who tortured cats and dogs.) Physicians were not clueless, people knew that pregnancy was dangerous for young girls and that young mothers had a much bigger chance of dying in childbirth, and that the child was also in much bigger danger of dying. Child marriages, or marriages where one party was a child, was not uncommon, was it was customary to wait for the consummation until the girl was at least 14 or 15. I can’t think of another noblewoman of that period who gave birth at age 13. A couple of centuries earlier, there queen consorts who married their kings of England at the age of 12 – Isabella of Angouleme and Eleanor of Provence – but while we don’t know when the consummation first happened, they didn’t bear their first children until years later, Isabella at 16 and Eleanor at 19, and both went on to have a bunch of other children. Cecily Neville and Richard, duke of York were betrothed as children, married when she was 14 and he was 18, and had their first child when she was 23 – and went on to have 11 more. Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry barely survived the childbirth, which most likely left her sterile and wrecked her undeveloped reproductive system, to say nothing of the psychological trauma.

      What Edmund was doing was following his own interests in ruthless and cynical manner – the purpose of the marriage to Margaret was to give Edmund Margaret’s huge fortune, so as soon as he could consummate the marriage according to the canon law, he did it, to ensure it’s not annulled like Margaret’s previous marriage before he could get a child out of her – and to ensure he gets to have her wealth. According to law, he would get interest from her estates even if both she and the child died. What a lovely human being.

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  4. great comments – thanks, all.

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  5. halfwit36 on said:

    If we were able to go back to 15th century England and meet Richard face-to-face, we might not (I say ‘might’) have liked him very much. And we might have liked Henry Tudor, at least as a young man, before he became king. Charm is the stock in trade of a successful pretender, so I’m sure he could be very charming. None of this should matter, either way, in wanting to see justice done.

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    • I don’t see charm as necessarily being particularly important for being a successful pretender, at least not in Henry’s case. He did not need to personally win any publicity campaigns, in fact, he was not even in England until he landed and launched his invasion. People who did or did not support him had likely made their decision on matters other than his personality. Whether or not he had charm wouldn’t have made any difference.

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      • Kalina on said:

        However we turn our attention at the appearance of historical persons:)) And we evaluate their after present-day criterions of course. By me – I like Henry Tudor, I mean – his portrait – sculpture by Pietro Torrigiano in Victoria and Albert Museum. It was made after his posthumous mask. We see the handsome, serious, mature man as probably he was.

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      • @Kalina: Oddly enough, his death mask looks far more attractive than most of his portraits, even though they were made during his reign and one would expect them to show him in a flattering light. That may because, with the exception of the Holbein portrait in which he is smiling, he has sullen expressions in them. He is known as a ruler who made people fear him rather than love him, and he doesn’t seem to have cared about charming people, as long as they respected his authority. It’s probably only a small circle of people – maybe just his family – that ever got to see a warmer side to him.

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      • halfwit36 on said:

        I’m not speaking of his charming the English, but of charming money and manpower out of the French. If you think that was easy, you don’t know the French. Probably used up 90% of his lifetime supply right there.

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      • @halfwit36: Would charm really have been a factor there? I assume that the French were simply thinking: “This guy is a potential problem for the English, let’s support him”. Especially against Richard, who was known to have been in support of the war against France and military support for Burgundy, French rival, whose Duchess was Richard’s sister Margaret.
        Though I love the image of poor Henry exhausting his lifetime supplies of charm n the French. 😉

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  6. Kalina on said:

    One of these portraits was painted for his possible bride. Nothing strange that she refused him:)) It is of “Holbein” as I suppose, however the painter is described as “Unknown Netherlandish artist” in National Portrait Gallery. Henry is smiling there with horrible smile:))

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  7. I find the bust handsome, but the faintly smiling portrait (which I used to loathe with deadly loathing) still gives me the creeps! Interesting to speculate on the expression, though, because the convention for portraits of the time was to look pretty serious.

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    • Kalina on said:

      It is possible that notorious portrait of Richard III staying in possession of The Antiquaries Societas in London was painted for Joana of Portugal. I do not find a painted man very charming – Richard is very pale there and looks like sick one. I much more prefer his portrait in Royal Collection in Windsor Castle – proud, comely, mature man as well as the portrait “with broken sword” of The Antiquaries Society – young and charming boy:))

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      • The Society of Antiquaries Portrait of Richard is NOT the portrait that was painted during his lifetime. None of them are. There are no surviving contemporary portraits of Richard, except for miniatures in books/manuscripts, coins (but the picture of kings on coins are so stylized that you can’t tell them apart and it barely can be considered a portrait of someone), and a head on the wall of the Barnard Castle Church. The Society of Antiquaries Portrait was painted after his death, in Tudor times, and is believed to have been copied from a contemporary original that was painted during Richard’s lifetime. Some have speculated that this, now lost, original was intended for a prospective bride, but I doubt that, since it was a part of a diptych with an equivalent portrait of Edward IV (which also did not survive, but a copy of it does).

        There are also two different versions of the Society of Antiquaries Portrait – the “Paston Portrait”, which looks much nicer and more normal-colored (probably painted around 1520) and the “Leicester Portrait”, of a later date, where Richard is unnaturally pale and his face generally looks creepier. (At least those are the names given to those two versions of the portrait in John Ashdown-Hill’s book “The Mythology of Richard III.”)

        Richard’s face on the “Broken Sword” portrait (which I don’t like much, either, since it gives Richard an arrogant expression) IMO was also probably copied from the same original as the versions of the Society of Antiquaries Portrait. The reason I think so is the Coventry Tapestry (made around 1500), where Richard is represented alongside several other figures. I think it’s quite obvious, looking at that tapestry, that the artist copied Richard’s face from the same original as “The Broken Sword” portrait, and the position of his hand (similar to the Society of Antiquaries portrait) makes it quite likely that the entire bust and face was also copied from the original version of the Society of Antiquaries portrait (the face and hair color is more similar to the Broken Sword portrait, but the facial expression is more like the Society of Antiquaries portrait). So, I think that all three (or four) were copied from the same lost original portrait that was painted while Richard was alive (though the Coventry tapestry and the Broken Sword take the face/figure and put it in a different context). The big differences in looks and expressions in them show how much difference and variation the artists gave those versions – so, I don’t think any of these portraits really give us an idea what the contemporary portraits of Richard really look like. They have the same basic facial features (though there are differences even there) and posture, but that’s all.

        The Royal Collection Portrait is terrible and has Tudor propaganda all over it – they made him look much older and gave him a mean expression with the narrow eyes and tight lips. Pamela Tudor-Craig has talked about all the changes they made for propaganda purposes, of course they also made sure the raised shoulder was much more visible and they made his fingers look like claws, and how the X-ray of the painting shows that all those changes were made after the first version of the painting. The National Gallery Portrait is a much nicer version of that basic picture; both obviously were copied from the same original, now lost. The differences between those two also show how much variation the artists made from the lost originals. The Royal Collection one gives him a mean expression, and the National Gallery one a serious, sensitive and sad expression. The National Gallery Portrait, although believed to have been painted late in the 16th century, oddly enough is the closest to the facial reconstruction in its features.

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      • Kalina on said:

        @timetravellingbunny

        Great post! Thank you very much, I am the museum worker and all these informations put me in Seven Haeven:)) And the greatest pleasure: I knew nothing about Coventry Tapestry. What,s a wonderful object! Richard is really the same like with “broken sword”. Regarding all these effigies of Richard we have to notice that all of them have common attributes: slim face, strong law jaw, tiny mouth and very beautifully built forehead, eyes and nose

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      • @Kalina: Are you familiar with the blog called The Dragonhound? The blogger analyzes 15th century miniatures, paintings and other images and speculates which of those represent portraits of contemporary historical figures, including Richard, Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville etc. She has had some great finds, there’s even a Flemish card deck from the late 1470s/early 1480s that seems to represent figures like Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, her husband Charles the Bold and stepdaughter Mary, and probably Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Kings, Queens and Knaves! It’s a post from March this year titled “Elizabeth Woodville and the Cloisters Deck: Popular Portraits of Royalty”.

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    • Well, there’s a difference between “serious” and “sullen and perhaps a little constipated”, which is what most of Henry’s portraits and busts look like! The vaguely smiling portrait makes him look sly, which is why it can be seen as creepy. It’s odd that the National Gallery portrait of Richard, done in Tudor times, has a much nicer and more appealing expression than any of Henry’s.

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      • Kalina on said:

        The National Gallery portrait of Richard is – as I know – the another replica (like the Royal Collection one) of an unknown original portrait. For me it is not a great work of art contrary to flemish portrait of Henry. However this portrait has something magical (please, do not laugh on me:)). Not only the inspector Grant was impressed by it.

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    • halfwit36 on said:

      My theory is that this portrait was painted when Henry went back on the marriage market. In order to erase some of the lines and marks of age from his face, the artist painted him in a harsh front light, which also erased most of the expression.

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  8. halfwit36 on said:

    Sorry, that was meant as a comment on Helen Rae’s comment, above.
    What comes across in the bust is wariness and weariness, in about equal measure. Maybe he had found his ‘victory’ had turned into Dead Sea fruit.

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