Medieval style coin issued by Henry VII

Henry VII

A more modern and lifelike coin introduced by Henry VII

Domestic and foreign policy


Henry VII and the nobility

bullet Henry VII took various steps to curtail the independence of the nobility.
bullet Henry was reluctant to hand out titles - making those servants he wanted to reward Knights of the Garter rather than hereditary noblemen. When added to natural wastage as families died out without heirs, this meant that there were only forty-two nobles by Henry's death. (There had been fifty-five at his accession.)
bullet Natural deaths also helped decrease the threat from major magnates. The estates of the houses of York and Lancaster, and of Warwick the Kingmaker, all fell to Henry VII. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland died in 1489 leaving a child of eleven as his heir.

Moreton Hall,
 begun by the Moreton family during the 15th Century

Henry tried to reduce the power of great nobles in the localities by appointing to important local offices lesser men who were more dependent on royal favor.

bullet The head of another powerful family of magnates - Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham - had been executed by Richard III. His heir, Edward was only seven years old when Henry acceded, and appeared to be no threat. Henry VII took no steps against him and even made him a Knight of the Garter, but Henry VIII had him executed on flimsy charges of treason (May 1521.)
bullet Henry VII used financial measures to ensure that Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset (son of Elizabeth Woodville) remained obedient. He took the administration of Grey's estates out of his hands, and obliged him to enter into bonds and recognisances that meant he would forfeit large sums of money if he acted against the crown.
bullet Henry VII also kept a careful watch over the marriage alliances of England's great noble families to ensure that no rival power base was established.

The ceiling of a chapel in Westminster
commissioned by Henry VII and constructed 1503-19.

Henry's advisers

bullet Unlike earlier monarchs, Henry VII did not choose his chief secular advisors from the higher ranks of the nobility. In keeping with the main ideas of Humanism, Henry VII promoted people on the basis of merit even if they were not very high born.
bulletOne of Henry's closest advisors was John Morton (died 1500.) He had been made Bishop of Ely by Edward IV in 1479, but fell foul of Richard III and joined Henry in exile. After Henry's accession, he was made Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury (1486.)

 Morton's Fork

When levying money from Henry's subjects, John Morton (according to Sir Francis Bacon) argued that those who lived in luxurious style were obviously rich, with cash to spare, and so could easily afford to pay. On the other hand, people living frugally must be saving their money and so could easily afford to pay.

An argument of this type - where apparently contradictory facts support the same conclusion - is known as "Morton's fork."


bullet Henry did not exclude the nobility from all access to power. Two in three noblemen attended his council at some point, and some noblemen held high office:  a minor baron, John Dinham was Lord High Treasurer from 1486 to 1501; he was succeeded in the post by (the former Yorkist) Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.
bulletTwo of Henry's most important advisers - Reginald Bray and Giles Daubeney - were of comparatively humble origins.
Reginald Bray (d. 1503) was one of Margaret Beaufort's advisers who then became the most important financial administrator in Henry VII's government.
Giles Daubeney (1451/2-1508)  had been knighted by Edward IV, and later joined Buckingham's rebellion against Richard III, then Henry's invasion and was (unusually) rewarded with a baronage in 1486. He was in charge of most military matters under Henry VII.

Richard Fox's chantry in Winchester Cathedral

Richard Fox, who had been trained as a lawyer, was already Henry's secretary before Bosworth. He became Bishop of Winchester and Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1487. Fox acted as Henry VII's chief diplomat, conducting the negotiations necessary to conclude foreign treaties and marriage alliances.


bullet Towards the end of Henry VII's reign, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley became important (and extremely unpopular) royal debt collectors.


bulletThroughout the Wars of the Roses the penalty of attainder was freely used to punish political enemies. A Bill of Attainder was passed in Parliament summarily declaring that the offenders were traitors and had perpetually forfeited their titles and lands - and heads.
bulletBefore Henry VII, most of these attainders were later reversed in exchange for promises of loyalty:  - Henry VI reversed all 21 attainders, Edward IV 86 of 120, and Richard 99 of 100.
bulletHenry VII attainted 138 men, but was far slower in reversing them.  Only 46 were reversed, and many were conditional reversals (where restoration of property was conditional on continued good behavior.) The attainder of John, Lord Zouch, for example, was not reversed until 1495. Moreover, Henry continued to attaint people throughout his reign: more were attainted in his last parliament of 1504 than in earlier parliaments.
bulletAnother attainted nobleman, Thomas Earl of Surrey - the son of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk - was imprisoned until 1489, not allowed to assume the title of Duke of Norfolk; his lands were kept permanently in trust; and this despite the fact that Thomas served the King faithfully and rose to the office of Treasurer.

Clopton Bridge, Stratford upon Avon.
Its construction 1480-90 was financed by Sir Hugh Clopton, Lord Mayor of London



bullet Another tool Henry VII used to control the nobility were bonds and recognisances. These were legally-binding undertakings to act as Henry commanded or else forfeit a large fine.
bullet Thousands of gentlemen and 75% of noble families were bound in this way, and the sums of money involved were often very high. Just one of Henry's agents (Edmund Dudley) collected roughly 50,000 p.a. from 1504 to 1508 from such bonds.
bullet These bonds were often aimed against the practice of keeping private armies of retainers. George Neville, Lord Burgavenny, for example, was fined 70,650 for the breach of such a recognisance (though the fine was later reduced.)

Yeoman of the Guard

The end of the "super magnates," and the absence of strong rivals helped Henry VII in his policy of disarming the nobility. The Yeomen of the Guard formed a small personal royal guard, but Henry relied on the system of levying militias from the shires when military force was needed.


bullet Edward IV had tried to bypass the cumbersome bureaucracy of the Exchequer, and use the Chamber (an office of the royal household) to control finances.

Henry VII's initials against each entry of Book of Chamber Receipts

The Exchequer tried to regain its old position at the center of financial administration, but Henry continued to use the Chamber.
He took a close interest in every detail of its activities - initialing every page of the account book.

bullet Henry paid as much attention to crown lands - revenue from which went up about fourfold from Edward IV's days. Customs revenues increased by about one fifth as trade improved.
bullet Henry rarely levied direct taxation from Parliament (it did not even meet between 1497 and 1504, or from 1504 to 1510.) Nevertheless, between 1491 and 1509 he had enough excess cash to spend about 250,000 on jewels and precious metal.

London, thou art of towns A per se.
Sovereign of cities, seemliest in sight,
Of high renown, riches and royalty;
Of lords, barons, and many a goodly knight;
Of most delectable lusty ladies bright;
Of famous prelates, in habits clerical;
Of merchants full of substance and of might:
London, thou art the flower of Cities all.

(William Dunbar, 1465-1520, Excerpt from a poem In honour of the City of London, written 1501.)


Foreign policy

bulletWhile Henry VII was increasing the power of the English crown, Spain too was becoming increasingly important. The marriage of Ferdinand, King of Aragon and Isabella, Queen of Castile united the two largest states in the Iberian peninsula - creating the kingdom of Spain; later, they expanded its borders by conquering Granada; after Isabella's death, Ferdinand also conquered Navarre.

bulletHenry VII recognized the weakness of England relative to France and Spain, so he allied with Spain and avoided aggressive adventures in France.
bulletThe Anglo-Breton Treaty of Redon (1489) was designed to prevent French annexation of Brittany, but failed. Charles VIII took the province and married its duchess (Anne.) Henry retaliated by laying siege to Boulogne (1492), but was willingly bought off with 745,000 gold crowns. (France was set upon invading Italy, and simply wanted peace with England.)
bulletThe policy of pursuing good relations with Spain led to the Treaty of Medina del Campo (March 1489) and the marriage (1499) of Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon (younger daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella).


Henry VII was also able to turn others' misfortune to England's advantage. In January 1506, Archduke Philip of the Netherlands set sail for Spain with his wife Joanna (elder sister of Catherine of Aragon.) A perfect storm in the Channel forced the ship aground at Melcombe Regis.
Henry showered Philip with hospitality, invested him as a knight of the Garter, and concluded a trade treaty so favorable to England that it was known in the Netherlands as the Malus Intercursus (evil treaty.)


bullet In fact the Malus Intercursus was not ratified before Philip's death (September 1506,) and the treaty which it was intended to replace (the Magnus Intercursus of 1496) did not grant the same concessions to English cloth merchants.
bullet Henry VII's horizons were not limited to Europe. He took an active interest in overseas trade and exploration. To John Cabot, he granted exemption from customs for goods brought back from any new country he might discover.

Like Christopher Columbus, John Cabot hoped to discover Asia by sailing west. In fact, in June 1497 he made landfall somewhere in Newfoundland - probably where Cape Breton now is.
On a second voyage in 1498, John Cabot and three of his four ships disappeared in stormy weather, never to be seen again.


bullet Henry VII died 21 April 1509 - possibly of tuberculosis or some other lung disease.

" his politic wisdom in governance, it was singular; his wit always quick and ready; his reason pithy and substantial; his memory fresh and holding; his experience notable; his counsels fortunate and taken by wise deliberation "

(John Fisher, Funeral sermon for Henry VII, [spelling and punctuation modernized].)

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