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By 1485, Britain had experienced a long period of monarchy usurptions, called the War of the Roses. This disastrous period had been raging in England for many years between two main families, well known in history, the Yorks and Lancastrians. More than 500 years ago, King Edward IV died, leaving his sons, Richard and Edward, aged 10 and 12 respectively. This ongoing feud allowed the exchanging of the throne through usurption, or murder. The claiming of the throne was, as some say, easy, and it seems that anyone with a legible claim, however longwinded, could become king. The end of this ongoing feud came when ‘Henry VII later took for his bride Elizabeth of York, thereby uniting the houses’1
This essays intension is to explain how and also why Henry VII got the English throne in 1485. It will include details of the circumstances in which he claimed his place, and if, in other circumstances, would he have become the famous king and a great achiever who ‘survived a series of rebellions, to have restored the monarchy to stability and to have left government strong and solvent after disorder in the realm.’2 But the main question that arises in this essay is ‘would Henry have become king if he did not make his claim to the throne during the reign of an unpopular king, Richard III, and not only after the short-term past, but the long-term instability of the monarchy?’ In answering this question, this essay says that, due to the instability and unpopularity of Richard, and the way in which the monarchy worked, led to Henry’s crowning, and under other circumstances, Henry’s ‘thin’ claim would not have achieved him the throne.
Richard II, born on the second of October 1452, son of Richard duke of York, and brother of Edward IV, was in no immediate position for becoming king. Before him, the heirs to the throne, Edward IV’s sons, and also Richards brother, George. “In his will, the king named his brother Richard duke of Gloucester, protector of his nephew Edward, and protector of the realm.” 3
Richard became Richard III in 1483, after sneakily removing all other heirs to the throne before him, secretly plotting against them. He got Bishop Stillington of Bath and Wells to announce the bastard children of Edward IV, claiming they were illegitimate to the throne, only the days before Edwards’ coronation. Within days of his plan being achieved, parliament presented Richard with the petition for him becoming King. “He accepted, and on July 6th 1483, he was crowned Richard III, King of England.
“4 Rumour began that Richard had had the bastard princes murdered, and their bodies buried under the stairs of the tower in which they were kept, and in 1674, their bodies were found here. These ‘rumours’ introduced the idea of Richard being an evil and conniving king, which led to him being hated my most of his people. This was also shown in many plays. “It is Shakespear’s intense, compelling and utterly damning portrait of a usurper, tyrant and monster that has held the scene until today…”5
King Richard also seemed to think that he did not need support, as his trusting friend, Buckingham, and he made an agreement in which Buckingham would gain an amount of land. Surprise, surprise, Richard breaks this promise, causing him to rebel. One might think he likes rebellions! Other people which took a dislike to the new king were the Woodville family, although they are known as the evil family involved. “…gained popular support because he struck at the unpopular Woodvilles…”6 Also, the nobles, which were highly important in England, did not like him, and did not stand by him in his time of greatest need, which I will later explain.
From previous knowledge, gained from a lecture/presentation, information stated that ‘no support abroad, equals none at home’ This is, of course on the subject of Richards foreign policies, or lack of them. For some reason, most probably time, Richard did not make any foreign policies, although he attempted to with Spain. He seemed to be spending most of his time guarding his throne, which is the main problem during the War of the Roses.
The main thing on Henry’s side, was that most people disliked Richard, and so preferred Henry, wanting him to become king. The main people on Henry’s side included the following; The Nobles; Charles VIII of France, which made it difficult for Richard to make foreign policies with France; Margaret Beaufort of Burgundy who was Henry’s mother; Stanley, Bishop John Morton, who was high up in the English church, which this essay can relate to religion being a key factor in Tudor England life; and also key Yorkist figures, and with Richard being a Yorkist, this did not set a good example of what his own region thought of him.
Henry’s claim to the throne however was very weak, and the fact that Henry Tudor became King of England at all is somewhat of a miracle. Henry’s mother, was Margaret Beaufort, who was a descendant of Edward III. This was a long and complicated claim, as Henry’s mother was the daughter of John of Gaunt, who was Edwards third child, and his wife, before they were married, leaving her as a bastard child. However, he was better than Richard III, and preferred by the people!
During Richard and Buckinghams’ rebellion, Henry sat watching from France, and quite cleverly learnt from Buckinghams’ mistakes, so that when he went into battle with Richard, he would have a strategic plan. From one source, this essay can say that Buckingham seems to have an unimportant role in Tudor history, as it does not mention his name once, and when speaking of ‘ The Battle of Bosworth field’ on which Henry won his crown, it says that ” It was here that Henry and his forces met with Richard III and Henry won the crown”7
This essay perceives that the key factor which led up to Henry becoming King, was luck. It was luck that the only heir to the throne after Richard, his son, died. It was also Richards stupidity that led to his rebellion with his former friend, Buckingham. It was pure luck, as well as Richards ignorant personality that led people to despise him, also his lack of political rhetoric let him down, with him not having any present or recent glories which he could inform people of, only old glories. Also luck that Tudor propaganda was against Richard. “Tudor propaganda would later brand Richard as a monster who had killed Henry VI and his sons, and also his own brother, Clarence in 1478″8
The main event which led to Henry becoming King, was The Battle of Bosworth field. Although “Richard had the larger army in the battle, desertions from his standard, Stanley sans Perceys, cost him a victory”.9 This quote mentions desertions, meaning that his nobles, which were fighting on his behalf, betrayed him, and went to join the other side. From this, this essay can determine that even the people who appeared to like Richard, actually didn’t. Included in these betrayers was Stanley, who joined Buckingham, leaving Richard alone.
During the battle, after Buckingham had been fighting for some time, meaning that Richard’s men were weak, Henry joined in, with his men eventually killing Richard, due to his own stupidity when he charged, himself, into battle. This is not the view of everyone, as this essay can show, as some thought Richard to be brave. “…the day ended in the decisive defeat of the stronger army. It’s leader, the King, had been killed fighting heroically…”10This clever choice of words suggests that Richards men were the stronger side, although this essay considers them to be the larger side. Also, it is highly debateable as to whether Richard is ‘heroic’ as evidence clearly shows this essay that he is not, and his actions were a last resort, showing another weakness.
After Richard’s death, a new king was to be found. With Richards only son dead, There was no heir. Henry had a distant claim to the throne, as explained above, allowing parliament to consider him, and also he had defeated the previous king in battle.
It is this essays contention that Henry VII’s accession can be attributed to the instability of Richards’ short reign, to a great extent.
The fact that his reign was so short shows that his reign was certainly unstable, added to by propaganda techniques, portraying his as “… a malevolent murderer…”11 Richard, however did not need others to accompany his inability in the monarchy, and his lack of planning, which lead to his unsuccessfulness.
An excellent phrase in this essays’ view, concerning the people, that ” Rather than condemn the guilt of Henry IV, they dwelled on the villainy of Richard III, and rather than describe Henry IV as the scapegoat to his grandfathers sin, they canonized him as a saintly martyr to Richards murderous ambition, when they foresaw the redemption of England under Richmond”12 This sums up Richard, in comparison to Henry, and how the people chose to see them both, which is based partly on luck on Henry’s behalf, as he possibly only got the throne, as people detested Richard by the end of his reign, and preferred anyone to him, due to his malicious personality.
Richard’s reign, in conclusion, was unplanned and unstable, due to his actions and the way in which he treated people, for example; Buckingham. He was, in short, a king who people grew to dislike over a short period of only two years, and so his end of rule was near, suggesting that if Henry hadn’t ended it, then it would have ended shortly after for other unknown reasons.
It could be debated if Henry was a good king, but he was clearly a successful one, after accomplishing several goals during his reign, survived a series of rebellions, and successfully denying all other claims to his throne. He also created a wealthy monarchy, through gradually accumulating wealth during his powerful reign as King of England for 24 years, and creating a strong and solvent period after disorder in the realm.
The War of the Roses is remembered in history as a period of unstable Kings. From this essay, it can be understood that Henry altered this instability, so the Battle of Bosworth field is often considered to be “…highly significant, as it marked the foundation of a new dynasty. But did it also, as some claim, the end of Medieval England?”13 This period is the landmark that also divided medieval and modern England in history, making Henry IV, King of England the most efficient of the medieval monarchs.
2 John McGurk, The Tudor Monarchies 1485-1603 (Oxford University 1999) pg. 106
5 M. Hicks, Richard III (London: Routledge, 1997)
6 John McGurk, The Tudor Monarchies 1485-1603 (1999) page 17.
8 John McGurk, The Tudor Monarchies 1485-1603 (1999) page 17.
9 John McGurk, The Tudor Monarchies 1485-1603 (1999) page 19.
10 S.T. Bindoff Tudor England 1485 PROLOGUE.
11 George B. Churchill, Richard III up to Shakespeare ( 1900-1976) page iii.
12 George B. Churchill, Richard III up to Shakespeare ( 1900-1976) page 19.
13 John McGurk The Tudor Monarchies 1485-1603 (1999)page 19.