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.