Henry VII: History, Family Tree & Facts

Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Meet Henry VII, the young king who would use his rather distant claim to the throne of England to become King, end the War of the Roses, and establish the Tudor dynasty.

The Birth of a King

Henry Tudor, the boy who would become King Henry VII of England, was born in dark circumstances. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was only thirteen years old, and his father, Edmund, died three months before his son's birth while participating in a rebellion against the king. At the time of his birth, England was engaged in a civil war between two powerful families both descended by King Edward III. This civil war became known as the War of the Roses, because the sigils of the two houses were at the center of the conflict, the red rose of House of Lancaster and the white rose of House of York.

The Tudor Rose, later adopted as the sigil of Henry VII, symbolically combined the white rose of House of York and the red rose of House of Lancaster into one flower
Tudor Rose

Henry Tudor's path to the throne was a twisted one. His mother, Margaret, was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the third son of King Edward III.

With the death of Edward III, the throne would pass to his grandson, Richard II, the oldest son of Edward's oldest son. Richard II ruled for nearly 22 years; however, pressure from the French and from powerful nobles in England would eventually cost him his throne. Richard was deposed and imprisoned by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt.

After Richard II died in captivity, Henry declared himself Henry IV, King of England. Henry's succession to the throne was not unchallenged; the second son of King Edward III had also produced children who could have claimed the throne; however, these cousins were children while Henry VI was an adult with several male heirs that could inherit the throne. Henry gained the throne, but claims about his legitimacy would continue to plague his descendants, and his young cousins would establish themselves as his political opponents, the House of York.

After Henry IV died, his son, Henry V took the throne, but tragically died unexpectedly.

His son, who became known as Henry VI, was only nine months old when he was crowned king of England. England was ruled throughout Henry's childhood by a council. Henry VI had a difficult reign and was deposed twice. After his second removed, the descendants of the House of York took the throne, but they too would have difficulty holding onto political power.

The Rise to Power

Young Henry Tudor spent much of his youth in exile in France with his mother and his uncle; however, things changed in 1483. Richard III had seized the throne after his older brother King Edward V died. He imprisoned his nephews in the Tower of London, where they later perished as well. The imprisonment and death of the two boys led to upheaval and political dissent in England giving Henry the opportunity of a lifetime. Henry swept to victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field, defeating Richard III. He declared himself the legitimate heir of the long dead King Edward III and was crowned King Henry VII in 1485, the last English king to claim his throne through battle. In 1846, he married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward V and older sister of the poor princes who had died in the Tower, cementing his claim to the throne of England.

This 1825 portrait depicts King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York against a background of roses, a reference to the end of the political battling between the families of Lancaster and York
Dual Portrait of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

As king, Henry restored political order after the long years of upheaval during the War of the Roses. He took for his sigil a new symbol, the Tudor Rose, in which the white rose of House of York, his wife's family, and the red rose of House of Lancaster, for his own family, were combined as one flower.

Henry VII is widely regarded by historians as a good monarch. He reinstated a system of taxes that allowed the English government to make improvements on roads and other public works, and he made an alliance with Spain through the marriage of his oldest son, Arthur, to Catharine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Under Henry VII's rule, England grew in prosperity and in international power.

King Henry VII

Despite his successes as a monarch, Henry's last years as king were overshadowed by personal tragedy. His oldest son, Arthur, died of a respiratory illness at age 15 and his beloved wife, Elizabeth of York, died the next year after complications from childbirth.

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