The Early Tudors

Early Tudors 2
Henry VIII
With wife Jane Seymour and parents
Early Tudors 3
The Sinking of the Mary Rose
Early Tudors 4
Field of Cloth of Gold
Early Tudors
Rievaulx Abbey
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The old order is overthrown by the outsider Henry Tudor, who heads a dynasty which takes England and Britain out of the medieval period and into a new world.

Henry Tudor came to the throne by right of conquest, like William the Conqueror. He was not a foreigner but he was almost a stranger to the English corridors of power. However, he was sustained on the hopes and ambitions of his mother, the influential Margaret Beaufort, who had nurtured his tendentious right to the throne from his earliest years.

She was the only child of John Beaufort first Earl of Somerset, head of the senior branch of the Beaufort family descended from John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Her father died leaving her heir to his fortune and inheritor of a weak claim to the throne.

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When she about seven years old, the Duke of Suffolk, favourite of King Henry VI, organised her marriage with his son John de la Pole in 1450. Following Suffolk’s downfall, her marriage to de la Pole was dissolved and her affairs were put in the hands of Jasper and Edmund Tudor, who were half-brothers of King Henry VI, born to his mother Queen Catherine de Valois by her second husband Owen Tudor. Margaret was next married to Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond in November 1455. Shortly afterwards Edmund was taken prisoner by the Yorkist side and died of the plague in Carmarthen Castle in November 1456. Aged about thirteen, Margaret gave birth to their son Henry in January 1457 at Pembroke castle. It was a difficult and harrowing birth and she was never able to conceive another child.

The infant Henry was entrusted into the care of his uncle Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke. During the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, young Henry’s inheritance was taken away and given to the Duke of Clarence, brother of the new king Edward IV. Henry became a ward of the Yorkist Sir William Herbert, who also took control of Pembroke castle. In 1471, following the death of her latest husband Sir Henry Stafford from wounds inflicted at the battle of Barnet, Margaret was once more a widow at the age of 28. At the same time, Jasper Tudor was able to take possession of Henry and remove him to France. Margaret was not to see her son again for fourteen years.

She then married her fourth husband, the Lord High Constable Thomas Stanley, one of the most powerful men in England. As his wife, she attended Edward IV’s court and was on good terms with Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Although she remained at court when Richard III took the crown, she played a leading role in the organisation of the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion. Following the failure of that revolt, Richard stripped Margaret of all her titles, but her estates were merely transferred to her husband Lord Stanley and she continued to correspond with her son. Stanley was present at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire when Henry Tudor and Richard III confronted each other with the crown of England at stake, but Stanley would not commit his force to either side. It was his brother who came to Henry’s assistance and carried the tide of battle in his favour. Nevertheless, it was Lord Stanley who placed the crown on Henry’s head and was created Earl of Derby. The new king honoured his mother as a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter and she remained a powerful voice at court throughout his reign.

At some time during the intrigues at court, Margaret had considered the idea of marrying Henry to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV. After Edward’s death, the girl’s mother ex-queen Elizabeth Woodville agreed to her scheme. Henry and Elizabeth of York were duly married a few weeks after he took the crown. He adopted the red and white Tudor rose motif to stress the unification of Lancaster and York, but all Europe’s crowned heads regarded him as a parvenu and he must have been well aware that Yorkist supporters would be looking around for a figurehead to lead a revolt against him.

Edward Earl of Warwick, the ten year old son of the Yorkist Kings’ late brother George Duke of Clarence, was a potential claimant to the crown and Henry put him out of harm’s way in the Tower. At about the same time, a priest called Richard Symon took a young man named Lambert Simnel, who was about the same age and appearance as Richard of York, one of the princes who had disappeared in the Tower, and began to educate and train him in courtly behaviour so that he could pass as the late prince. Hearing rumours that Warwick had died in the Tower, Simon changed his plan; he took Simnel to Ireland and claimed the boy was the Earl of Warwick who had escaped from custody. Garret Fitzgerald the Earl of Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland, who had always harboured strong Yorkist leanings, appeared to believe the story. He paraded Simnel through the streets and presided over his coronation in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin as Edward VI in May 1487. John de la Pole Earl of Lincoln, with his own eye on the crown, also entered the plot by claiming he had helped Warwick escape from the Tower. He sent a force of Flemish mercenaries to Ireland, paid for by his aunt Margaret Duchess of Burgundy, and, together with Irish troops under command of Kildare’s brother, they crossed to England.

By this time the king had paraded the real Earl of Warwick before London’s citizens and the invaders gained only limited support. They met King Henry’s army at Stoke Field and, although both sides incurred heavy casualties, the rebels were crushed and their leaders were killed. Two Woodville allies and his uncle Jasper fought for the king. Henry realised Simnel was merely a puppet in the hands of the conspirators; he was pardoned and given a job as a scullion in the royal kitchens. Kildare was also pardoned as he was essential to the effective government of Ireland. Warwick remained in prison until 1499 when he planned to escape with a fellow pretender and was executed.

The second imposter who was persuaded to claim the throne was Perkin Warbeck who originated from Flanders. In 1491 he was in Cork, Ireland, modelling his master’s expensive clothes, when the local citizens decided he must be royalty. Excited Yorkist sympathisers persuaded him to masquerade as the missing prince Richard of York. He returned to Flanders where the real prince’s aunt, the dowager Duchess Margaret of Burgundy coached him in his role of a royal prince. The Kings of France and Scotland and the Holy Roman Emperor were all persuaded to support him. Two feeble attempts to invade England failed in 1495/6, but Warbeck was able to mobilise some 6,000 men in 1497 when he landed in Cornwall, where people were upset by the heavy taxes being levied by King Henry. However, when faced by royal troops, Warbeck fled and was arrested. Once more the king treated the imposter leniently; he kept him and his wife (a daughter of the Scottish Earl of Huntly) at Court until Warbeck tried to escape. He was then sent to the Tower for a while. In collusion with Edward Earl of Warwick, the other inmate with a claim to the crown, he foolishly tried to escape in 1499 and was then hanged.

The Warbeck affair affected Henry’s relations with Ireland. The Earl of Kildare, the Deputy Governor, was again suspected of being in collusion with an imposter. He was briefly attainted and put in the Tower in 1494. Sir Edward Poynings, the replacement Deputy, had the Irish Parliament pass a series of repressive acts and one, known as Poynings’ Law, declared no acts of the Irish parliament should be valid unless it were approved by royal authority. This rendered the Irish parliament completely subordinate to the King of England. Kildare was then tried before the king. Accused of burning down Cashel cathedral, he said he only did it because he believed the Archbishop was inside. His Irish wit amused Henry VII, not known for his humour, and he was returned to his post.

Henry’s other immediate problem was the bankrupt Treasury. He appointed John Morton Bishop of Ely to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and then Lord Chancellor in 1487 with instructions to improve the royal income. Morton devised the infamous Morton’s Fork when raising benevolences, a name for money, disguised as a gift, extorted without Parliament’s consent. The Fork was essentially a dilemma or a Catch 22 situation. Morton’s tax collectors worked on the principle that if a man lived well he was obviously rich and if he lived frugally then he must have savings; either way, he must pay up. Morton’s methods, backed by the persistence of Empson and Dudley, the main tax gatherers, transformed the Treasury, but left many people in penury and gave rise to much unrest in the country.

Henry took a personal interest in the Treasury accounts. He examined the books in detail and in the process progressed from parsimony to avarice in his quest for greater wealth. He raised money in preparation for war with Scotland or France and then failed to use it for the stated purpose. His subjects groaned under the weight of his tax-gathering processes, but Henry’s fiscal prudence restored the fortunes of the previously penniless Exchequer.

He was a moderate reformer, who established the avoirdupois pound as the standard measure of weight. He used trade as a weapon in foreign affairs; after a standoff due to Burgundian support for Perkin Warbeck, trade with Flanders was restored and brought improved benefits to English merchants trading through the great entrepot port of Antwerp, which in turn enriched the whole English economy. Henry also built a dry dock at Portsmouth and strengthened England’s naval presence in the Channel. Columbus’ discovery of the New World excited his curiosity and he encouraged exploration of the North American coast and a search for a north west route to the Indies by John and Sebastian Cabot.

Reforms were put in place to regulate the independence of the greater nobility. The Statute of Liveries 1504 banned the private use of livery and maintenance, by which the magnates maintained private armies of retainers. Livery could now only be used by royal licence and retainers could be maintained only for the king’s purposes in war and peace and must not be misused for other purposes. Retaining continued, but was now firmly under royal control. The Court of Star Chamber was also devised to ensure powerful men were unable to evade judicial procedures. It was a tribunal consisting of Privy Council members and judges, designed to speed up justice in cases where ordinary courts would probably hesitate to convict. It was conducted in a chamber at Westminster with a star-patterned ceiling.

In 1492, after a brief invasion of France, Henry made peace at Etaples by which he recognised the takeover of Brittany by Charles VIII of France in return for an indemnity of £159,000 and withdrawal of French support for Perkin Warbeck. The peace was maintained for the rest of Henry’s reign.

Henry was also keen to ensure close ties with Spain, which was becoming a recognised state after Aragon and Navarre were unified by the marriage of their respective monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. The Moors were driven from Granada, their last toehold in the Iberian Peninsula, in 1492 - the same year that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. Ferdinand and Henry distrusted each other, but each was keen to agree a common policy about France and wanted to seal a mercantile agreement with a marriage of Arthur Prince of Wales and Princess Katherine of Aragon. She actually had a stronger claim to the English throne than the Tudors, due to her descent from John of Gaunt by both his first two wives. The stumbling blocks to the marriage were the dowry payment and the fragile legality of the Tudor monarchy. It is possible Henry engineered the attempted escape of the two pretenders from the Tower in order to execute those rivals to the crown. The marriage terms were re-negotiated twice before the marriage finally took place in 1501. Tragically Arthur died five months later of the sweating sickness, a mysterious disease about which little is known.

Queen Elizabeth then became pregnant with another child, but both she and the child died in 1503. The dispute with Ferdinand was renewed when he demanded the return of Katherine’s dowry. Eventually he agreed she should marry Henry’s second son and heir, also named Henry, although the wrangle over money continued. It was necessary for Katherine to testify that her marriage to Arthur was not consummated, in order to comply with Canon Law which forbade a man marrying his brother’s widow. Katherine was a shrewd, intelligent and likeable young woman, but young Henry rejected the marriage idea when he was able to do so at the age of fourteen. Consequently, she lived in near penury until the new King Henry VIII changed his mind and, a few days after his father’s funeral, announced he would marry the Spanish princess after all. The marriage took place in June 1509 and shortly after they were crowned king and queen.

Henry VII had consolidated his position in the eyes of the world by other royal marriages. His eldest daughter Margaret was married to King James IV of Scotland in 1503 to seal the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. It was foreseen that this marriage could possibly give rise to a union of the two crowns at some future date, but Henry was sanguine about it, saying the greater would absorb the smaller. His youngest daughter Mary was betrothed to the future Emperor Charles V, but that was called off by her brother Henry VIII, who arranged her brief marriage to the French King Louis XII.

After the death of Henry’s queen consort, his elderly mother Margaret Beaufort Countess of Derby became the principal female presence at court. By this time she was living apart from her husband, whose brother Sir William Stanley had been executed in 1495 on suspicion of treason. When Henry VII died in April 1509, she arranged his funeral and the coronation of her eighteen year old grandson Henry VIII, before she herself passed away in June. One of the most remarkable women in English history, the Tudor dynasty was her creation. She was ruthlessly practical and a first class political manipulator. She had a passion for education and Christ’s and St John’s colleges, Cambridge are among her enduring monuments.

Margaret’s only child Henry VII had relied on her advice throughout his life. His reign was clouded by suspicion and conspiracies that were mostly a continuation of the Lancastrian-Yorkist feud, which he usually overcame by skilful political and diplomatic activity. He himself trusted few people and developed into a suspicious and rather mean character, although he was affectionate and generous with his wife and family. He took a close interest in finance; the Treasury’s complete recovery to financial health was his achievement, although it earned him the dislike of most of the nobility who not only contributed greatly to new revenue streams, but found their former status trimmed and controlled by the regulations on Livery and Maintenance. However, Henry VII had fostered trade and commerce so that England was a richer and safer place in which to live after the long period of disruption and fear which prevailed during the Wars of the Roses.

His heir and successor Henry VIII was a very different character. At the age of eighteen Henry was handsome, athletic and flamboyant; he was well-educated, loved music and dancing and intended to cut a dash after he ascended to a secure throne backed by a full Treasury. Although he had not been keen on the idea initially, he was married to a pleasant and clever young woman whose parents ruled the increasingly rich and powerful country of Spain, which made him a figure of importance in continental politics. One of his first acts, which earned him great public approval, was the arrest and execution of the tax collectors Empson and Dudley on charges of treason.

Queen Katherine quickly proved fertile; she gave birth to three boys and a girl, but they were all stillborn or died soon after birth. Finally a daughter Mary was born in 1516. Henry said that ‘boys will surely follow’, but Katherine had no more living children. Nevertheless, she proved herself an able queen in other ways. In 1513 she was made regent and captain general in England when Henry went off to France, eager for military action with Maximilian I the Holy Roman Emperor and his ally Spain. The allies overwhelmed and chased off a French force at the Battle of the Spurs, taking some distinguished prisoners. Henry went on to besiege the town of Tournai in Picardy. Back home, the Scots had invaded and Queen Katherine, heavily pregnant and in full armour, rode out and gave a rousing address to the assembled English force on its way north. The Scots suffered a catastrophic defeat at Flodden Field, where their King, James IV husband of Henry VIII’s sister, was killed. The queen sent his bloodied coat to her husband for use as his banner. A few days later Tournai fell to Henry’s troops.

However, this short, moderately successful campaign had helped empty Henry’s treasury and his allies did not make good his losses. Henry decided to make peace. He married off his younger sister Mary to Louis XII of France in 1514. Like Henry, Louis was desperate to father a son, but he died three months later without achieving that ambition. He was succeeded by his cousin Francis I. Mary swiftly married her first love Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk, who remarkably sustained a close friendship with her brother Henry VIII throughout his reign. He and Mary were grandparents of Lady Jane Grey, one of the most tragic figures in British history.

Meanwhile Maximilian had died. The new Emperor Charles V, who had inherited the crowns of Spain and Sicily/Naples from his mother in addition to his father’s Habsburg possessions in Germany, the Low Countries. Italy and part of Burgundy, visited England in 1520 seeking Henry’s support against France. Henry then met Francis I near Calais at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where each vied to outdo the other in an extravagant display of opulence. Francis wanted Henry’s support against the encircling Habsburg Empire, but Henry eventually took the queen’s advice and went into alliance with her nephew the new Emperor and Pope Leo X. Henry had little to do with the Italian war, in which Francis was captured at the battle of Pavia and Charles V added Milan to his other vast territories. During this episode, Henry had written a tract against Martin Luther’s ideas for reformation of the Church, which were attracting powerful attention on the continent. Henry received from the Pope the title Defender of the Faith. The shortened Latin version of the phrase, Fid Def, still appears on British coinage to this day.

Henry’s extravagance and military adventures drained the Treasury and Cardinal Wolsey, his chief minister, began to increase the money supply by debasing the currency. Silver coins were made from alloys containing increasing amounts of base metal, which led to inflation, as sellers increased the price of their goods and people hoarded the older, more valuable, sterling silver coins. The practice was continued for twenty five years until new coins were worth only a quarter to a sixth of their 1526 value.

Henry was becoming impatient with Katherine’s failure to give him a male heir. He already had children by other women, possibly including two by Mary Boleyn. In 1525 he fell in love with Mary’s sister Anne, who refused to become his mistress, but indicated she was willing to share his marriage bed. Henry began considering ways of putting Katherine aside. He was an orthodox Catholic, utterly opposed to the Lutheran and Lollard beliefs which were causing increasing problems for the Church, and he expected Cardinal Wolsey to work with the papal authorities to find a formula for dissolving the marriage. Unfortunately, the Pope’s chief supporter was Katherine’s nephew the Emperor Charles V and the Pope was not going to upset such a powerful ally. By 1529 it was clear he would never consent to Henry’s petition for annulment of the marriage. The king blamed Wolsey for the failure of his plea. Charged first with Praemunire (denying the primacy of the monarch’s jurisdiction in England) and then with outright treason, Wolsey died on his journey to London and execution.

Thomas More, a devout Catholic then became Lord Chancellor. He was willing to denounce Wolsey, but struggled to avoid conflict with the Pope and resigned in 1532. The marriage was doomed, but Queen Katherine would never accept divorce and repeated, with humiliating detail in open court, her testimony that she was a virgin when she married Henry. She was banished from court and cut off from contact with their daughter Mary.

In November 1532, the king secretly married Anne Boleyn, who was well-educated and a firm supporter of the Protestant reform movement. This was followed by a second wedding in January, when she was already pregnant. In May, the new Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who also held Protestant views, declared the marriage to Katherine nul and void. The Pope then excommunicated King Henry and Cranmer. Henry VIII, once the Defender of the Faith, was now in open conflict with the Pope and authorised the discrediting of the papacy in pamphlets and sermons throughout the land.

He relied on his new chief minister Thomas Cromwell, to sort out the political ramifications. Under Cromwell’s guidance the Reformation Parliament agreed statutes which recognised the king as Head of the Church of England, stipulated that appeals to Rome were forbidden, members of the clergy were to be tried in the same courts as everyone else and money previously paid to Rome was now to be paid into the Treasury. Everyone was required to swear an oath recognising the rights of succession of Henry’s and Anne’s children. Elizabeth, their only child, was born on 7th September 1533. The clock was ticking: Anne had about six more years in which to produce a son.

Anne had a strong will and a sharp temper; her intellect and vivacity were not appreciated by many at court, especially those who admired the steadfast nature of Katherine, but Thomas Cromwell accurately summed her up as a woman of intelligence, spirit and cunning. In 1534 she had a false pregnancy and Henry began to look elsewhere for his domestic pleasures. Ex-Queen Katherine died early in 1536. Her last letter to the king was signed Katherine the Queen and said “Mine eyes desire thee above all things.” Anne was pregnant again and fervently hoped a son would end her problems with the king, because she knew that, should he wish to be rid of her, he was now free to enter a new marriage with no religious or legal taint of bigamy.

About this time Henry was violently unhorsed in a tournament and was unconscious for two hours. Five days later, the very day Katherine was buried, Anne had a miscarriage. Soon after that, a young lady in her entourage named Jane Seymour was moved into royal quarters. After that, the end came swiftly. Anne was sent to the Tower on May 2nd, accused of adultery with numerous men, incest with her brother and treason. She was tried and found guilty on the 15th and the royal marriage was annulled by Cranmer, which caused him much distress because he had been a close supporter and friend of Anne’s. She was executed within the Tower precincts on the 19th May 1536. Anne, like her predecessor Katherine, also sent a final letter to Henry in which she pleaded for the lives of the men who were accused alongside her; she signed off ‘From my doleful prison in the Tower, your most loyal and ever faithful wife, Anne Boleyn.’

Ten days later Henry married Jane Seymour. A second Act of Succession was passed, legitimising any children born to them and declaring Princess Elizabeth illegitimate. Edward their son was born in October the following year, closely followed by his mother’s death. Henry had lost three wives in the space of two years. He was aging and his personality was becoming markedly darker and unbalanced after his serious accident and the marital sagas of 1536/7.

Meanwhile, John Fisher Bishop of Rochester and Thomas More, who would not sign the oath accepting the Act of Succession, were found guilty of treason in 1535 and were executed. Thomas Cromwell emerged as the new chief minister and was designated Royal Vicegerent and Vicar General. Cromwell, who had long sympathised with Lutheran and Lollard ideas, was low-born, like his patron Wolsey, and was despised by the nobility at court, although many of them had been willing to connive with him in the downfall of Queen Anne Boleyn. Cromwell had a strong disagreement with her when his investigation of the monasteries resulted in the suppression of all monastic houses with a total income less than £200 a year. Queen Anne Boleyn wanted the proceeds to be used for educational and charitable purposes, but Cromwell expropriated all their property for the king, who was in desperate need of money. Anne made an enemy she could ill-afford to upset.

The suppression of the minor monasteries in 1536 provoked an uprising in the North called the Pilgrimage of Grace. People were suspicious of the new Protestant tendencies creeping into the Church. The causes of the revolt were not entirely religious; a poor harvest had led to high food prices and, with the dissolution of minor monasteries, many people were deprived of food and social care. The Pilgrimage was eventually put down and many of its leaders and sympathisers including nobles, gentry, abbots and monks were executed.

This event occurred at the end of an earlier uprising in Ireland, led by Silken Thomas Fitzgerald, hot-headed son of the Lord Deputy, Garret Earl of Kildare. He besieged Dublin castle, but eventually lost support and was executed in London with his five uncles in February 1537. Ireland had not occupied much royal attention, but Silken Thomas caused Henry and his ministers to give fresh consideration to Irish matters. The result was the 1541 Kingdom of Ireland Act passed by the Anglo-Irish dominated Parliament. In order to formalise the king’s rule, the convention whereby Kings of England were Lords of Ireland by permission of the Pope, was abolished. The English monarch henceforth became Ireland’s supreme ruler and head of its Church. Henry also decided to rid Ireland of its ancient Gaelic clan culture by means of Surrender and Regrant. Irish chiefs were to give up their clan customs in return for title to the land being granted from the Crown, in line with feudal custom and English Common Law. From this time onwards, Irish affairs loomed large in the political considerations of the rest of Britain.

Following the Pilgrimage of Grace, Thomas Cromwell introduced further religious reforms. He ordered that an English Bible, recently published on the continent by Myles Coverdale, be made available in every church. This came to be known as the Great Bible. He pursued a campaign against pilgrimages, holy relics and all forms of idolatry: images and rood screens were removed from churches and in September 1538 the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury was destroyed. The next year he instructed all the remaining monasteries, some of the largest institutions in the land, to surrender their property into the king’s hands. All objects made of or containing precious metals were impounded, all the monastic buildings were sold off or appropriated by royal officials and favourites.  The lead was taken from the roofs and anything else of value was stripped out of the buildings; libraries were emptied and thousands of manuscripts were burned or put to other uses. The monks were sent off with small pensions to live in the greater world and thousands of servants were laid off. The sight of those hundreds of great historic institutions standing empty, defiled and derelict must have appalled most of the ordinary people, for whom religion and the Church were an essential prop and comfort through the hardships and vicissitudes of life.

Cromwell decided that, for diplomatic reasons, Henry’s next wife should be from one of the princely Protestant families on the continent. With a flattering picture painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry was persuaded to choose Anne of Cleves. She met the king on New Year’s Day 1540. Henry was not impressed and, although the marriage took place, he refused to have conjugal relations with a woman whom he found unattractive. Cromwell was made Earl of Essex a little later, but the gathering conservative opposition at court saw an opportunity to overthrow him. He was arrested in June by his chief enemy the Duke of Norfolk. The Order of the Garter was stripped from him and he was charged with a long list of indictments - legal, religious and treasonable. He was sentenced to death without trial and was beheaded on Tower Green. He was a remarkable man, celebrated lately in a trilogy of novels written by Hilary Mantel. King Henry soon regretted his loss and spoke darkly of ministers bringing about Cromwell's downfall by false accusations. He was left with no sage councillor to assist him through a difficult time of personal and political turmoil.

Anne of Cleves was probably not unhappy to have her marriage annulled and she was well-provided for. Cromwell’s triumphant enemies already had another candidate standing by to entice the king - Lady Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk’s niece and cousin of Anne Boleyn. They were married the day Thomas Cromwell died on the scaffold. She was aged about seventeen and Henry was forty nine. He suffered pain from ulcers on his legs, was becoming grossly overweight and was subject to vicious mood swings. His gay youth was long gone and he was not a fit companion for a flighty, high spirited young woman. Cranmer, old friend of Cromwell and no friend of Norfolk, was informed about Catherine’s easy morals. She was undoubtedly guilty of adultery with a young courtier and was stripped of her regal title in November 1541. She was taken to the Tower, her place of execution, the following February.

During this unhappy time, Henry became agitated about invasion rumours. From 1539 to 1547, resources were poured into a series of artillery defences around the Channel and North Sea coasts, some of which still survive. They were manned by garrisons of professional gunners and soldiers, paid for by the crown. This was a new commitment as local defence had previously been the responsibility of local authorities. Henry mended his relationship with Charles V and, once more, they prepared to wage war with France.

He decided to knock out the usual response from Scotland by launching an attack of his own. The Scots were routed at the battle of Solway Moss, Cumberland in November 1542 and it is likely that news of the disaster led to the death of James V, who was son of Henry’s sister Margaret. Once more, the Scottish throne was occupied by an infant. James’ daughter Mary was six days old when he died. She survived to become Mary Queen of Scots. Henry soon had ideas of uniting the two crowns by a marriage of the baby Mary with his young son Edward. The Scots rejected the idea and eight years of sporadic warfare, known as ‘the Rough Wooing’ ensued.

Henry then turned on France in 1544 and had some military success. English troops captured Boulogne, but the Emperor called off his campaign. French troops sent to invade the Isle of Wight in 1545 were repulsed at the naval battle of the Solent off Portsmouth. Henry VIII was present and from a vantage point on land witnessed the English ship Mary Rose founder during the action. She lay on the seabed for 437 years before being salvaged in 1982. Both sides agreed to call off hostilities. Henry had spent all the money raised from selling off the monasteries and the Treasury was effectively bankrupt again.

However, he had the satisfaction of being in a marriage which suited his last years, when he needed the comfort of a nurse and the companionship of an intelligent woman. Catherine Parr was twice a widow aged 31 when Henry married her in 1543. She got on well with his three children. She was a well-educated Protestant who published three religious books after her royal marriage. She acted as regent while Henry was campaigning in France and handled her responsibilities with good sense and dignity. However, her religious leanings did not go down well with the conservative courtiers, especially Stephen Gardiner the Bishop of Winchester, who was seeking to reverse the Protestant reforms put in place by Archbishop Cranmer. Gardiner attempted to have her arrested, but she retained the king’s trust. She was fortunate, because at this time Protestants who could not reconcile with the Six Articles of the Church of England which embraced all the Catholic sacraments, were being burned at the stake.

Henry VIII died 28th January 1547 in the Palace of Whitehall. Beginning his reign as a gilded youth presiding over a glamorous and extravagant court, he ended it a decrepit tyrant ruling a bankrupt kingdom. He was a sportsman and athlete and a skilful musician who enjoyed witty and cultured company, but he was never steadfast in his affections or a reliable supporter of his ministers and their policies. He took over the pope’s position and powers, but he clung to the Catholic religion despite having nurtured the seeds for its overthrow in England. His matrimonial career was disastrous, except possibly for the last marriage. He veered from being a generous and cultured renaissance prince to becoming a monster riven by suspicion and vengeance. He strutted the stage, enjoying the acclaim of admirers, the fear of opponents and the heart-break of those whose affection and respect he tossed aside.

For all his faults, he put England on a path which set it apart from its continental neighbours. European Protestantism became divided between followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin, whereas England’s established religion developed a third path which was basically a compromise between hard-line Protestantism and the traditional Catholic faith. In Henry’s reign, the religious reformers had not reached the end of their journey. The English church was still essentially Catholic, with the pope replaced by the king as its supreme governor. Protestant martyrs were burned at Windsor in 1643 for refusing to subscribe to the Six Articles which set out the official, legally enforceable, dogma of the English Church.

Henry VIII had been happy enough to enjoy the financial rewards which flowed from the abolition of the monastic orders in England, but he still believed in the cardinal principles of the Catholic faith. Cranmer, Cromwell and their supporters had moved way beyond the official remit by abolishing worship of images and relics etc., but Bishop Stephen Gardiner and others were preparing to bring England’s Church back to its original roots. The situation was unresolved when Henry died and the religious revolution he wrought would continue to play a primary role in national affairs for many years to come. Meanwhile, in Scotland John Knox would shortly embark on his campaign to turn Scotland into a Calvinist and Presbyterian nation.

Henry also began the policy of holding Ireland close, which gave rise to injustice and division in the centuries ahead. His similar policy to anglicise the government of Wales was more successful. His efforts to bring Scotland within the English Commonwealth by marrying his only son to Mary the infant Queen of Scots was almost wishful thinking and was never going to succeed.

During the reigns of the two Henry’s, the social structure of England had changed significantly. The Wars of the Roses had thinned out the ranks of the old aristocracy. Affluent men of noble lineage, capable of entertaining the king adequately and putting on an opulent display at court, still provided much of the courtly and military support to the crown, but their powers had been trimmed and they no longer paraded around with a great train of retainers. None of them now spoke French as a first language. In contrast to that privileged caste of people, Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith/brewer, and Cardinal Wolsey, the son of an Ipswich butcher, showed how far men from humble beginnings could rise in the Tudor world.

The old feudal system was on its deathbed. More and more land was being enclosed, which led to the growth of the yeoman class and provided the impetus for ambitious men and women to become upwardly mobile. Within two generations they could be part of the new class called the gentry, who mostly lived off the rental income of an agricultural estate. Some gentlemen might be city dwellers of the clerical, merchant or legal professions, but they usually aspired to own a country property.

Many of the gentry were descended from the junior branch of a noble family, or had acquired a university education. They often became lawyers or clerics or found a position in one of the crown offices such as the Chancery or the Exchequer. The gentry filled the ranks of the justices of the peace and were coming to more or less run the country at a local level. The House of Commons was dominated by the gentry and some gentlemen were coming to see that their education and life experience gave them as much right to a voice in the affairs of the country as the great lords who had brought it to near ruin in the previous century.



1485 Henry Tudor, descended via his mother from John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, is crowned as Henry VII. He marries Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), sister of the lost princes, and founds the new Tudor dynasty.


1487 Gerald (Garret) FitzGerald (c1456-1513), 8th Earl of Kildare, premier peer of Ireland, joins a Yorkist rebellion proclaiming Lambert Simnel (c1477-c1525) as the rightful king of England.
~ Henry VII puts down the rebellion, Fitzgerald is pardoned and Simnel is put to work in the royal kitchens.
~ The dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville retires from court to live at Bermondsey Abbey.

1488 Disaffected nobles, acting on behalf of his son, fight James III of Scotland at the battle of Sauchieburn. He is killed and succeeded by James IV (1473-1513).

1489 Coinage Reform. The first gold sovereign is minted. A sign of the transformation in the English finances brought about by aggressive taxation policies such as Morton’s Fork, invented by Cardinal Morton (c1420-1500), Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury.

1490 Treaty of Woking with the unified realm of Aragon and Navarre. Arthur Prince of Wales (1486-1502) is betrothed to marry Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536).

1492 The Peace of Etaples brings peace with France for the rest of Henry’s reign.

1494 Poyning’s Law or the Statute of Drogheda stipulates the Irish Parliament may not meet until its proposed legislation is approved by the English monarch and Privy Council.

1495 As part of his naval support policy, Henry VII commissions the first dry dock at Portsmouth.
Lord Chamberlain Sir William Stanley (born c 1435), who came to Henry Tudor’s aid at Bosworth is executed for treasonable remarks.
~ The University of Aberdeen founded.

1496 The Italian navigator John Cabot (c1450-c1500) is commissioned to sail out of Bristol to begin the exploration of the North American coast.

1497 Cornish rebels against high taxes are defeated at Blackheath.

1499 Perkin Warbeck (born c1474), claiming to be Richard Duke of York one of the princes in the Tower, makes several attempts to lead revolts. He is eventually captured and executed this year.

1502 Arthur Prince of Wales (born 1486) dies, succeeded by his brother Henry, who also later married his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536).
~ Treaty of Perpetual Peace is signed with Scotland, the first peace agreement between the two countries in more than 170 years.

1503 Princess Margaret Tudor (1489-1541) of England is married to King James IV of Scotland. Their great grandson James VI and I amalgamates the two crowns in 1603.

1504 Shilling coin worth 12 pennies is minted with the first recognisable portrait of an (English) monarch.

~ The Statute of Liveries bans private liveried retainers.

1507 The king’s youngest daughter Mary (1495-1533) is betrothed to Archduke Charles who later becomes Emperor Charles V (1500-1558). The arrangement was ended in 1513.

1508 Sebastian Cabot (c1474-1557) continues his father’s exploration of North America but on his return finds the new king is not interested in further exploration.

1509 Henry VIII (1491-1547) succeeds his father as King of England and marries his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon.
~ Lady Margaret Beaufort dies.

1510 The unpopular ministers Sir Richard Empson (born c1470) and Edmund Dudley (born c 1462) who are associated with aggressive tax policies are executed for ‘Constructive Treason’.

1511 England joins the Holy League, organised by Pope Julius II (1443-1513) against France. Henry VIII has plans to renew the English claim to the French throne.

1513 English and German forces win the battle of the Spurs. Henry is in command at the fall of Tournai.
~ A Scots army invades England in support of the Auld Alliance and is routed at the battle of Flodden. King James IV of Scotland, husband of the king of England’s sister, is killed leaving the crown to his seventeen month old son James V (1512-1542).

1514 Margaret Tudor, dowager queen of Scotland, marries Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus (c1489-1557). They lose the regency and possession of her children to John Stewart Duke of Albany (c 1481-1536).
~ Princess Mary Tudor marries Louis XII (born 1462) who dies 11 weeks later. She then marries Charles Brandon (1484-1545) Duke of Suffolk.
~ Charter granted to Trinity House for ‘the relief, increase and augmentation of English shipping’.

1515 Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530) Archbishop of York is appointed a Cardinal and Lord Chancellor.

1518 Treaty of London, designed by Cardinal Wolsey, a non-aggression pact between nations concerned by the European expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
~ The Royal College of Physicians is founded in London.

1520 The Field of the Cloth of Gold is organised by Cardinal Wolsey. Henry VIII meets Francis I (1494-1547) the new King of France near Calais in a display of opulence designed to seal a peace agreement, but Henry later concludes a friendship agreement with the new Emperor Charles V (1500-1558).

1521 Pope Leo X (1475-1521) awards Henry VIII the title Defender of the Faith for his defence of the papacy against the ideas of Martin Luther (1483-1546), the seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation of the Church.
~ Edward Stafford (born 1478) 3rd Duke of Buckingham, a nephew of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, is executed for treason.

1523 England joins the Emperor and the Pope against France but is not involved in a serious military campaign.
~ Anthony Fitzherbert writes Book of Husbandry a manual about agricultural practices.

1526 William Tyndale (c1496-1536), operating from Antwerp, begins to print and publish the Bible in English based on Greek and Hebrew texts.
~ Shortage of money causes Wolsey to debase the coinage.

1527 Henry VIII, desiring a male heir, starts proceedings to have his marriage to Queen Katherine annulled.

1528 James V, king of Scots, forcibly held in the custody of the Earl of Angus his stepfather (recently divorced by the king’s mother), escapes and begins to rule for himself.

1529 Cardinal Wolsey, who had failed to get the royal marriage annulled by the Pope, gives his palace at Hampton Court to the king but is stripped of his state offices.
~ The Reformation Parliament starts to pass measures which abolish papal powers in England, devised by Wolsey’s close advisor Thomas Cromwell (c1485-1540).

1530 Cardinal Wolsey, dies as he returns from York to London to face charges of treason.

1532 Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) resigns as Lord Chancellor.
~ Hans Holbein the younger (c1497-1543), who later paints the most famous portrait of the king, is invited to England by Thomas Cromwell, now one of the king’s closest advisors, and Anne Boleyn.
~ Thomas Harding is the last English Lollard to be burnt at Chesham.

1533 Henry VIII secretly marries Anne Boleyn (c1507-1536).
~ Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Archbishop of Canterbury, declares the king’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon is void and validates the marriage to Anne.
~ Princess Mary Tudor (1516-1558), only surviving child of Katherine of Aragon is deemed illegitimate. She is to be styled the Lady Mary.
~ Princess Elizabeth is born (1533-1603).
~ The king is excommunicated by the Pope.

1534 The Act of Supremacy confirms Henry VIII as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
~ Thomas Cromwell is appointed chief minister to the king.
~ ‘Silken’ Thomas FitzGerald (1513-1537), Earl of Kildare, son of the Lord Deputy of Ireland leads a rebellion against Tudor rule in Ireland and besieges Dublin Castle.
~ Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest publishing house, is licenced.

1535 Thomas Cromwell becomes Royal Vicegerent and Vicar General in charge of ecclesiastical affairs.
~ Thomas More and Bishop Fisher are executed for misprision (the deliberate concealment of knowledge of a treasonable act).
~ The Laws in Wales Act effectively integrates Wales and England into a single country.
~ Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) publishes the first complete printed translation of the Bible in English.

1536 Ex-Queen Katherine of Aragon dies.
~ Queen Anne Boleyn is charged with adultery and incest at a trial over which her cousin Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554) presides. She is executed in the Tower of London.
~ Princess Elizabeth is deprived of her succession rights.
~ Henry VIII marries his third wife Jane Seymour (1508-1537).
~ A Reformation of the Church is imposed in England with the Ten Articles of Faith being a compromise between conservatives and reformers.
~ The dissolution of Monasteries begins.
~ The Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion in the North which was immediately preceded by an uprising in Lincolnshire, is partly about food shortages and taxes but is mainly caused by the new Church reformation measures and is eventually put down.
~ William Tyndale is burnt at the stake in the Netherlands for heresy.

1537 Queen Jane Seymour dies after giving birth to a son, Prince Edward (1537-1553).
~ Silken Thomas Fitzgerald with five of his uncles is executed at Tyburn in London.
~ Janet Lady Glamis (born 1498), a sister of the Earl of Angus, is burned on Castle Hill Edinburgh for treason and witchcraft.

1538 The shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury cathedral is destroyed as part of the Reformation of the Church process.
~ James V of Scotland marries his second wife Mary of Guise (1515- 1560).

1539 Finding himself diplomatically isolated from the Catholic European powers, the king reasserts traditional Catholic doctrine as the basis of faith for the English Church. Parliament, led by the Duke of Norfolk, passes the Act of Six Articles and harsh penalties are imposed for violation of the articles. However, the dissolution of the larger religious houses is put into effect.
~ Thomas Cromwell directs that the Great Bible by Myles Coverdale (1488-1569), the first officially authorised English version, much of it based on Tyndale’s translation, is to be displayed in every church.

1540 The king marries Ann of Cleves (1515-1557) but the marriage is a disaster and ends in divorce after seven months.
~ Nineteen days later the king marries seventeen years old Catherine Howard (c1523-1542), cousin to the late Queen Anne Boleyn and niece of the Duke of Norfolk.
~ Partly because he had organised the Cleves marriage and been at odds with Henry’s aristocratic Privy Council on religious matters, Thomas Cromwell falls from favour and is executed without trial.
~ Waltham Abbey is the last abbey to be closed in the dissolution of the monasteries programme.

1541 Queen Catherine Howard is discovered in adultery and is beheaded at the Tower of London early the next year.
~ The Crown of Ireland Act is passed by the Irish Parliament. Henry VIII becomes the first English monarch to rule as King of Ireland, which retains its own parliament and legal system.

1542 The policy of Surrender and Regrant is progressively introduced in Ireland. It intends to persuade the Gaelic clan chiefs to give up their traditional tribal customs and in their place accept feudal grants from the crown based on English common law.
~ A Scottish army raised in answer to a massive English raid is defeated at the battle of Solway Moss.
~ James V of Scotland dies six days after his sole surviving child is born to become Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587).

1543 Consolidating Act of Welsh Union. 12 counties and the Council of Wales are established.
~ Henry VIII marries his sixth wife Catherine Parr (1512-1548), an educated woman who, as queen, publishes two books.
~ Three Protestant Martyrs of Windsor are burnt for objecting to the Catholic tenets of the Anglican Church contrary to the Six Articles.
~ The War of the Rough Wooing begins. England seeks to break up the Auld Alliance and forces a betrothal between the infant Mary Queen of Scots and the young Prince Edward of England.

1544 The Act of Succession restores the princesses Mary and Elizabeth to the royal line of succession, but both remain legal bastards.
~ Edward Seymour (c1500-1552) Earl of Hertford later Duke of Somerset, captures Edinburgh.
~ The English coinage is debased, signalling major problems in the economy.

1545 In alliance with the Emperor Charles V England goes to war with France. The king’s ship Mary Rose sinks in the Solent during a battle against a French invasion fleet.

1546 Cardinal Beaton (born 1494) the Scottish Lord Chancellor is murdered by religious reformers.
~ The Navy Board is founded to supply and administer the royal fleet.
~ Henry VIII founds Trinity College, Cambridge and refounds Christchurch, Oxford.

1547 Jan 28th Henry VIII dies.


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