Before discussing the rise of the Tudor dynasty it is necessary to step back and analyse some of the most important events that led Henry VII Tudor to claim the throne of England even though he did not belong to the royal family.

Henry V, Henry VI and the House of Lancaster

One of the main issues that will have a decisive effect on this crucial matter goes back to HENRY V, (belonging to the House of Lancaster – a cadet branch of the Plantagenet Dynasty) also known as Henry of Monmouth (1413-1422), he invaded France in 1415 and, in 1418 during the famous Battle of Agincourt, crushed the French Army. This military victory led to the Treaty of Troyes (1420). Among the most important provisions established by this victory on the part of England was, firstly, that Henry V was to marry Catherine de Valois, the daughter of the French king (Charles VI), secondly and even more relevant was that all of Herny V’s future sons were declared heirs to the French throne, thus disinheriting Charles, the Dauphin, from the line of French succession.

Catherine of Valois
Catherine of Valois

Due to these provisions at the death of Henry V, his son, Henry VI (1422-1461/1470-71) was heir of a dual monarchy, the English and the French. However, Henry VI was barely a new born when his father died and the first part of his reign was under regents (the duke of Bedford, the duke of Gloucester, Bradford, and Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York). When his minority ended, in 1453, he was in full charge of the still ongoing war – The Hundred Years’ War – to secure the French throne. In the mean time though, he had lost the previously precious support of the Burgudians and his army strongly ostracized lost all French possessions during the Battle of Castillon. This disastrous defeat caused a nervous breakdown to the king which lasted 17 months, during this time Richard of York (The House of York was yet another cadet branch of the Plantagenet Dinasty) was appointed protector of the realm, but the Queen (Margaret of Anjou) strenuously opposed him as he was the only one who could actually claim the throne since he too was a descendant of the Plantagenet Dynasty.

The War of the Roses

At this point in history England is in the mist of the War of the Roses.  Richard of York claimed the throne of England in 1460, the deposed King (Henry VI), his queen and son fled from England. At the death of Richard during the Battle of Wakefield (1461), his son Edward took over as Edward IV, but in 1470 Henry VI, Queen Margaret and their supporters were back in power although only until March 1471 when Edward, back in England, had the Queen captured, her son killed and Henry imprisoned in the Tower where he died, presumably murdered. The Lancastrians were definitely defeated, yet the war still raged England.

The House of York

Edward IV died in 1483 and his son was only twelve, his minority left a vacant rule and widespread corruption and mistrusting courtiers that strongly weakened his small entourage allowing Richard of Gloucester to usurp the throne and imprison Edward V and his brother (The Two Princes in the Tower) while executing all his rivals.

Several rebellions ensued to depose the usurper, the most successful was the one carried out by Henry Tudor in 1485; he claimed the throne on the basis that he was the grandson of Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor. As a matter of fact the late Queen, Catherine of Valois, at the death of her husband, king Henry V in 1422, began a secret affair with Owen Tudor, her wardrobe’s keeper, when rumours of this affair became too insistent the secret lovers married without the permission of the new king’s regents, as it has been said, her son Henry VI was still a minor and the reign was under a number of regents and since her marriage had not received the king’s approval it was considered invalid and all its offsprings illegitimate. Nevertheless, Henry Tudor claimed the throne as a representative of the Lancaster dynasty before battle and he then slayed King Richard at Bosworth. Immediately after, to unite the two warring dynastic families, he married Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter.

The Tudor dynasty was born and it was to last till 1603.

The Tudor Dynasty

Henry VII
Henry VII

Henry VII (1485-09). The most pressing problem he faced was to secure his dynasty from external attack and to do so he soon realized that he couldn’t merely reign, but above all, he had to rule. Henry VII, who was an astute monarch, then centred all the power in his hands and a very few trusted ministers, yet he was in charge of everything and nothing would be overlooked by his shrewd, observant eyes. He was cruel and ruthless with his enemies but rewarded those who proved to him their abilities and loyalty regardless of their backgrounds or their friendships. He made great efforts to encourage trade, the developing of the cloth industry; he invested in shipbuilding both for a merchant fleet and a strong military English defence.

Henry VIII and the Reform

Henry VIII -
enry VIII –

Henry VIII (1509-47) came to the throne at the age of 18 and can be considered a typical Renaissance Prince as his court was rich and luxurious, a patron of the arts, he was himself a scholar of theology and astronomy, and among his favourite past times like hunting, dancing and dallying, playing the lute must also be included. On the other hand he was also known for his cruelty, his selfishness and for his insatiable quest for vengeance.

Soon after ascending the throne he married his late brother’s widow thanks to the pope’s dispensation, Catherine of Aragon who, after five still born babies, gave him a daughter, Mary. Henry VIII and Queen Catherine were married for twenty years eventually though it was generally believed that the Queen was incapable to bear him other children but Henry was absolutely set on having a son to secure the Tudor dynasty. Moreover it is also common belief that being Henry, a very religious man, he came to believe that his childless marriage with the Queen was the divine punishment for having married his brother’s widow. It is in this overwhelming situation that he came to be close with whom would become his mistress, Anne Boleyn, and when she became pregnant  the king also became impatient to marry her in the hope of a male heir that would finally secure the English throne for Tudors. In order to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry wanted a competent authority in England to grant him a divorce so that, on the one hand, he could deny the Queen any legal right and, on the other, he would avoid international humiliation. Unfortunately due to the pope’s dispensation obtained to marry Catherine in the first place only the pope could repeal it.

However, since Queen Catherine was the aunt of Spain’s emperor Charles V, if the pope should comply with Herny VIII’s request this would seriously offend Spain’s emperor and Rome did not want to displease him so the pope refused to grant Henry VIII an annullment as he had hoped at which point England’s king went to further extremes and solved the issue by breaking off relationships with the Catholic Church and set up the Church of England.

The Act of Supremacy and the Schism from the Catholic Church

As a consequence he was excommunicated by the pope, and with the Act of Supremacy (1534) Henry VIII declared himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England”, moreover Parliament legitimised the rupture by suppressing all monks’ orders, closing down monasteries whose wealth was transferred to the crown. This eventually led to the execution of Thomas More, secretary, confidant and very close friend of Henry.

The execution of Thomas More and Protestantism

Thomas More was adamant against such a radical step, his death, in turn, paved the way to a translation in English of the Bible which he had opposed on the grounds of firm loyalty to the Papal authority. Once Henry VIII authorised the translation of the Bible it opened the road to Protestantism that, in the meantime, was spreading throughout northern Europe thanks to Martin Luther’s thesis that denounced the corruption among Rome’s higher clergy empowering the anticlericalism movement that was sweeping through England as in many other countries. So, even though, Henry VIII had originally no intention to replace Catholicism with Protestantism, as a matter of fact his breach with Rome did not mean a refusal of the Catholic dogma that he had kept in place for the Anglican Church as well, nevertheless the turn of events went beyond his original intentions and in spite of the fact that he considered himself a Catholic to the end, the English people slowly but steadily warmed towards a protestant religion that allowed their Church ministers to give up celibacy, and develop their faiths individually by reading the Scriptures and form their independent state of mind without relying on a prelate to tell them how to behave and what to believe in passive obedience and total submission to their authority.

Henry VIII Secures the Tudor Dinasty

As far as his main objective was concerned, Henry VIII succeeded in marrying Anne Boleyn who delivered shortly after another baby girl, Elizabeth; suspected of treason she was imprisoned in the tower of London and executed. Henry then married Jane Seymour who had a baby boy, thus securing the Tudor dynasty, and died during child birth. He married three more times but there were no other offsprings.

At the following link you may view an interesting video regarding Anne Boleyn

Edward VI

Edward VI -
Edward VI –

Edward VI (1547-53) became king in 1547, upon his father’s death, he was only nine and had a frail health; he died six years later. His uncle, Lord Seymour, was his tutor and he brought about financial reforms that helped to replenish England’s finances and also completed the Protestant reform with the Act of Uniformity that enforced the use of English Book of Prayers which replaced the Latin Missal for good. The study of the Bible therefore, became the way to salvation along with the Calvinistic outlook on life that hard-work, good behaviour and good deeds brought success as a proof of reward from God, many grammar schools were set up, on the one side, to allow people to learn to read and write and, on the other, to replace those culture centres that had been destroyed along with monasteries.

Mary I

Mary I -
Mary I –

Mary I (1553-58) reigned for only five years; she wasn’t very popular in England for two main reasons. In the first place she was a fervent Catholic and did all that was in her power to reunite England and the Church of Rome, including persecuting for heresy a great number of people that gained her the nickname of “Bloody Mary”. In the second place she married Philip II of Spain jeopardizing England’s independence. Yet, despite her strenuous efforts she failed in her first goal and, since she died childless, the throne of England was safe from Spain’s appetites.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I (1558-1603) reigned for forty-five years and her reign is considered as one of the most fascinating of English history especially because of her eclectic personality, in fact it was also called the Elizabethan Age; her time saw the flourishing of drama thanks to the works of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. She exploited to her advantage symbolism and propaganda, she came to be known as the virgin Queen, Gloriana, and Good Queen Bess.

"The Phoenix Portrait", c. 1575Attr. to Nicholas Hilliard National Portrait Gallery, London
“The Phoenix Portrait”, c. 1575
Attr. to Nicholas Hilliard
National Portrait Gallery, London

She devoted her life to her people and to her country and despite many of her counsellors encouraged her to marry to have an heir she refused her many courtships and never married declaring that she was married to the Kingdom of England. She tried her best to avoid war with France and Spain but when a conflict with Spain became inevitable Elizabeth succeeded in defeating Spain’s invincible Armada, the success was due to many factors, among which many miscalculations on the part of the Spanish, the superior design of English ships and the bad weather that severely damaged the Spanish fleet, this event noticeably increased her already high popularity in her realm. As far as the religious issue is concerned, Elizabeth was also successful in putting an end to the harsh conflicts that had permeated England among Catholics and Protestants since Henry VIII’s Reform.

Elizabeth’s I Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity and Her Book of Common Prayers

Her Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559) kept in check both contenders’ extremes and she became Supreme “Governor” of the Church. Moreover, her Book of Common Prayers satisfied the interpretation of moderate Catholics and Protestants as well; in addition her long reign provided enough time for her compromise settlement to sink in the minds of the people and finally sealed England’s independence from Rome on religious matters.

Elizabeth I and Her Economic Policies

In regards to economic and political affairs, historians still debate on Elizabeth’s policies, nevertheless it is a fact that during her reign the monarchy was in constant need of funds despite her efforts to avoid spending recklessly, yet she did invest in explorations of the lands of the far off new world, she encouraged expansion in commerce overseas, for which England became a commercial and seafaring power thus increasing merchants and towns’ wealth, furthermore she secretly supported the pirates’ raids of Spanish ships but it is also known that there was great corruption and nepotism in her court. She also had many enemies that conspired against her and her safety was often threatened. At her death she didn’t leave an heir to the Tudor dynasty that extinguished itself.

At the following link you may view an interesting video about Elizabeth I

Images taken from Google Search, videos from Youtube search


Video Lessons on this topic:

Video Lesson n. 1 on The Tudor Dynasty – Henry VII

Video Lesson n. 2 on The Tudor Dynasty – Henry VIII

Video Lesson n. 3 on The Tudor Dynasty – Edward VI and Mary I

Video Lesson n. 4 on The Tudor Dynasty – Elizabeth I

© L. R. Capuana

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