Mary recently has been fascinated and entertained by the historian Thomas Penn’s authorship. A decade ago he completed a book on the Henry VII with a title that even omits the name and number of this first Tudor ruler, Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. From the number you can think he fits in nicely with the six previous English Henrys and is the father of Henry VIII, the one with six wives. Only the latter is a true fact. The claim to royalty is very, very tenuous at best.
Much of what England is today is because of these two numbers, VII and VIII. There are some Englishmen who are much saddened by this fact, Penn among them. They lament the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth, where Henry VII’s men killed the York king, Richard III (the young Thomas More will bend history to his own will in writing a biography of Richard- upon which William Shakespeare will doom Richard on the stage). This killing is not a particularly unusual way that kings are chosen in England, especially up through the 15th century. Kings often met with a violent end in order for the new king to claim his ascendency; even a prince occasionally fought his father hoping to take over. History calls this era the War of the Roses –it was in this late 15th century period when kings sometimes mutilated their rival on the battlefield- Richard’s fate was gruesome. There are three roses involved in this era, but not really three kings according to Penn.
At the end of the war, a Lancaster, who had come from the most bogus and questionable descendent named Tudor, defeated his York rival. Lord Stanley found Richard’s crown on the field and delivered it to Henry for his crowning that day…..Henry later married a York princess as part of the prior negotiations, eliminated as many royal hopefuls as possible, and then deliberately denied the facts of how he gained his rule. His rule was one of supporting an embellishing and fabricating of the story he wanted his contemporaries to believe and history to record. There were some critical moments as this was happening when very important people knew there were lies being told, that Henry VII was punching way above his weigh class, and that the reign he was creating was beyond anything they felt honorable, tolerable or justifiable. Yet, they did nothing. History can and should teach lessons.
At that time many were not happy to see the Tudor Rose, but objecting to the choice was perilous in the short term for those that spoke out. There were some who attempted to point out the obvious, but even though they were correct, Henry VII eliminated them. He was the master of fake news. Yet, one has to dig pretty deep today to find evidence of any objection to having a Tudor Rose embellish the architecture that was constructed in the last decades of the 1400s and for nearly all of the construction completed in the 16th century. The Ricardians have attempted to redress many false facts and set the record straight for a long, long time. Even Shakespeare works against true history. That Richard III’s corpse was found in a recent excavation brought renewed interest to the story. Thomas Penn, a new name in the long line of distinguished Cambridge historians, is using his pen to bring the information out into the light of day. Richard has fascinated Mary and me, and we welcome Penn’s efforts to expose the moments when history could- should?- have been corrected. Note here that the Tudors have previous little royal DNA in their line with Thomas Penn explaining the myth himself in the linked documentary.
A recent review of Penn’s book in the Guardian mentioned the history of Henry VII as a time when his “rule brought marital sensation, renaissance spectacle and the reformation.” The Guardian rightly points out that other historians are more generous to number 7 and that Penn is more disparaging of the impact Henry’s rule had on the island’s future. In the review, the Guardian mentions Francis Bacon writing a history of Henry VII that was also dark, but Bacon was attempting to sway the Stuarts in their own method of rule (sadly the advice was not taken by Charles I and he lost his head).
I love Penn’s Ricardian perspectives. My own feeling is that the fall out from not stopping Henry VII of course did bring us Henry VIII, followed by a royal divorce that divided not only the island but Europe. A sensation it was, but devastating is the more appropriate adjective. It also brought an exacerbated, rolling reformation which led to a simmering tyrannical rule and suppression of religious freedom that followed the already disruptive ideas Luther had loosed in 1517 ( ideas to which Henry VIII had penned a rebuttal and for which he was named by Pope Leo X Defender of the Faith). Henry was more interested in the appropriation of church properties and possessing the church’s wealth than altering religious practice. His reign was more interested in elevating lackeys and competent followers in order to control the bureaucracy, economics and sovereignty over all in the land. The reign of Henry VIII was followed by greater disruption from his son, Edward, who was far more destructive of religious practice than his father. The next hundred years will see Puritanism rise, Anglicanism alter and Catholicism aspire to return. Edward’s short reign was followed by Henry’s Catholic daughter, Mary, from his first, Catholic, marriage. She amplified a different version of bloodshed and revenge and brought the intercession of Spain into English sovereignty with an increased vengeance. Mary’s short reign will be followed by Elizabeth, whose long reign ends without the issue of an heir satisfactorily being resolved. This led to a Scot taking over because of a marriage Henry VII had secured for his daughter, Margaret, with James IV of Scotland.This Scot, also a James, number VI (of Scotland) and I (of England), will lead to American Thanksgiving, Puritanism in America, Guy Fawkes in England, a Civil War, the beheading of the Scot’s son, a period of conservative hatred and Blue Laws in the Interregnum of Cromwell, followed by a disruptive return to the Scottish line and another revolution, followed by a complete change to a German line of the family that continues to this day (changing its name to the more palatable Windsor Dynasty in the Great War).
This Tudor line, followed by the Scottish lineage, will go on to try to conquer on the continent and then out into the growing world and impact the lives of millions in more than a hundred countries which fall prey to empire and colonial aspirations, carrying the English language and culture all over the world. Was this a good thing in all cases? Could England have done better, and world history given a more reasoned option, if Bosworth ended differently? If Stanley had simply decided not to send his troops into battle, would we have had a more humanitarian, stable England over those succeeding centuries? It appears Stanley later had second thoughts about what he had wrought. It is inescapable that Thomas Penn ponders such an option with his view of the reign of Henry VII. Can contemporary political power brokers take a lesson here…..please.
Of all the royal houses in history, a great deal of the world knows a bit of the story behind the Tudor Rose. It is this lovely symbol of the House of Lancaster and the House of York combined, as the first had a red rose and the latter had a white rose as their heraldic emblems. Yet, if you agree with Penn, it is one of the most egregious abominations of politic power the world has witnessed. But, as history writing is to the winners, it’s time for some perspective on what losers the Tudors were in reality and why there are more and more attempts at redressing the facts in a more honest way in recent times. Since we have a sketchy understanding of our former parent country, one could perhaps be forgiven in America for falling prey to the Simpson’s version of history. What questions might one pose after listening to this? That is an early version with which we Baby Boomers had to suffer. It’s much more important, though, to look at number seven to find our parallels in today’s history and what is the more valuable lesson; who decided on this name and number and why and what did the leaders of the day think of those choices at the time?
There is an interesting website called Primary Facts, with an English website writer. Here’re its offerings for Henry VII, with the link provided to expand upon the second bullet point as the most critical one to explore:
How Did Henry Make His Reign More Secure?
Because he had quite a weak claim to the throne, Henry VII quickly set about making it more secure. He did several things to achieve this:
- Henry VII married Elizabeth of York – uniting the Houses of York and Lancaster. This is symbolised by the red and white Tudor Rose.
- Henry declared that his reign started the day before the Battle of Bosworth Field. This meant that anyone who fought against Henry in the battle could be found guilty of treason. A useful threat to have up your sleeve!
- Henry overcame several rebellions during his reign, defeating those who tried to claim that they had a claim to the throne.
It would interesting to explore three incidents in this history and what they each meant to the outcome of history. First is the support the anemic army of Henry Lancaster received from Lord Stanley and his brother, the second was the changing of the date when Henry was crowned king in the transcripts of Parliament, and lastly Lord Stanley having second thoughts. Every leader needs support from a vital group to survive. In the end, this blog will ask for comparisons to today’s issues.
So Henry went about rewriting history. This would give him the ability to consider all Yorkists traitors by a maneuvering of the date of his coronation to one day earlier than it actually happened. He would make good on this slight of hand revisionist historicism. This obviously terrified those who saw this Machiavellian machination in the minutes of the Parliamentary minutes early in his reign. He was going to speak to a false reality and make it his own. We have always had rulers trying to manipulate the facts in their favor.
Another decision made by Henry today’s citizens and leaders could refer to and learn from is the Council Learned in the Law started by Henry VII. This group was a hand-picked group of yes men who met and decided issues completely outside of the rule of law. This council could override the law and deal with individuals behind closed doors, or find them guilty in court. The judges, juries and all members of power bent to the will of the king and this group of councilors out of fear.
History is still reassessing the methods of rule Henry VII used. Our own politicians should know it will not take five hundred years for their own names to be adjudicated in the historical record. Would that the Senate and especially Mitch McConnell could take the lesson Lord Stanley learned too late and apply it to their own understanding of how historical facts ultimately surface. Happy 2020.