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A statue of King Henry VII at Kings College in Cambridge, UK

Henry VII

Image Credit: | Above: A statue of King Henry VII at Kings College in Cambridge, UK

Henry VII was the founder of the Tudor dynasty. He joined together the houses of York and Lancaster by marrying Elizabeth of York and ended the War of the Roses.

Born in 1457, Henry’s father was Edmund Tudor, a Welshman of Welsh royal lineage, but his claim to the throne was his heritage through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III through his third son, John of Gaunt.

He was born on 28 January 1457 at Pembroke castle and became the main Lancastrian claimant to the throne, as his mother was descended from the third son of Edward III and his third wife Katherine Swynford, who had been his mistress for 25 years, had four illegimate children when they married.

Henry lived in the Herbert household until 1469 with his ward until William Herbert was executed by the Earl of Warwick. When the Yorkist Edward IV regained his throne in 1471, Henry travelled to Brittany where he spent the next 14 years in exile.

The Tudors had been involved in a long and bitter war against the house of York, known as The War of the Roses. At Bosworth Field in August 1485, Henry led his men against the forces of Richard III.

The Lancastrians, followers of Henry Tudor, defeated Richard, who died in the battle on 2 October: Henry Tudor now became King Henry VII of England and Wales. He was the last monarch to win his throne on the battlefield.

Henry's claim to the throne was solidified by his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of the late King Edward IV. Henry had seven children by Elizabeth, four of whom survived infancy.

The main challenge for Henry was to restore the strength and confidence of the monarchy. He also had to deal with other claimants, some of whom had a far stronger claim than his own. Over time he increased his own power at the expense of the barons and nobles.

During the first years of his reign, Henry had to deal with several rebellions. The first being the Stafford and Lovell Rebellion in 1486, which collapsed without fighting.

In 1487, Lincoln and Yorkist supporters rebelled against the King, claiming a boy called Lambert Simnel was actually the Earl of Warwick, the son of Edward VI's brother. The real earl was already in the Tower of London. Lincoln was killed at the battle of Stoke and Henry made Simnel a servant in his household.

Arguably the biggest threat to Henry's throne came in 1490 when a young Fleming called Perkin Warbeck claimed he was Richard, the youngest son of Edward IV, who had gone missing from the Tower of London.

He gained the support of Edward IV's sister Margaret of Burgundy who helped Warbeck invade Ireland in 1491 and England in 1495 unsuccessfully. In 1496, he was crowned the king of England by the king of Scotland James VI, who also tried to invade. In 1497, Warbeck landed in Cornwall with several thousand troops before being captured and executed.

Henry also faced a treasury that was nearly bankrupt. The English monarchy had never been one of the wealthiest of Europe and was even less so after the War of the Roses. However, he managed to steadily accumulate wealth during his reign so that, by the time he died, he left a considerable fortune to his son, Henry VIII.

In order to preserve good relations with Spain, Henry arranged for his eldest son, Arthur, to marry a Spanish princess called Catherine of Aragon, but Arthur soon died in 1502. Henry then arranged for Catherine to marry his second son, Henry (the future Henry VIII).

Henry VII died in 1509.