On 30 October 1485 Henry Tudor was crowned in Westminster abbey as King Henry VII. Having won his throne on the battlefield, his coronation marked the end of the Medieval era in England and ushered in a new dynasty and a new age of opportunity.
The real Game of Thrones?
Henry’s crowning on a crisp October day also marked the end the long series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. Ever since the death of the great warrior King Henry V in 1422, England had been in a state of turmoil: he had left the throne to his infant son, Henry VI, meaning he left England with a minority until Henry was old enough to rule.
Even as an adult, Henry proved to be an inept ruler, losing all the French lands conquered by his father during his reign.
By 1453 the English had lost finally lost the Hundred Years War with France and murmurs of discontent about Henry’s rule were growing louder. In 1455, these murmurs erupted into violence at the Battle of St Albans, as the powerful Richard, Duke of York, set upon the Henry’s men and captured the hapless monarch.
30 years of violence followed, where the crown passed to-and-fro between Henry – aided by his rather more formidable wife, Margaret of Anjou – and York’s son Edward.
Eventually, after twin victories in 1471 Edward appeared to have won and ruled henceforth as King Edward IV. His line of York appeared to have triumphed over Henry VI’s house of Lancaster, but the Lancastrians had one last hope hidden away overseas.
Henry Tudor’s genealogical claim to the throne was dubious at best, for it came through the female line and an illegitimate ancestor. However, decades of war had taken their toll, and he was the only male Lancastrian of suitable age left.
The son of a Welsh noble family on his father’s side, Henry had been forced to flee the country for Brittany following Edward’s decisive victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471: only quick thinking and support from the local townsfolk prevented him from being brought to the vengeful new king as a prisoner. His fortunes turned dramatically, however, in 1483 when Edward, a famous warrior and well-respected king, died aged just 40.
Though he had young sons, his brother Richard seized the throne. With this uncertainty, and bad blood over Richard’s perceived murder of his nephews, the young pretender across the channel knew that this would be his best opportunity to win what he saw as his birthright. Riding to the court of the King of France and gaining his support, Henry landed in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in the summer of 1485.
Pembrokeshire was an excellent choice. It was near Henry’s birthplace and his own Welsh blood ensured support from the locals, who had no love for English kings after Owain Glyndwr’s rebellions earlier in the century. The march through Wales swelled Henry’s ranks to 5,000 men, and he knew that if he met Richard in the field quickly he might have a chance of seizing his throne. This wish would be granted.
On 22 August 1485, the two rivals met at the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire. Henry’s army was outnumbered, but the forces of his father-in-law Lord Stanley switched sides at a crucial point in the battle, and after Richard was cut down, his men lost much of their will to fight. With his greatest rival out of the way and childless, the road to the throne was now all Henry’s.
Unifying the houses of Lancaster and York
Claiming the throne by right of conquest, Henry then marched on London, where he was crowned with little resistance. Realising that a diplomatic touch would be better for ending hostilities than brute force, the new King Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter, in 1486. From then on the symbol of the Tudor dynasty was a red and white rose – a combination of the symbols of houses Lancaster and York.
Henry defeated a few uprisings over the next few years before overseeing a relatively long and peaceful reign. He left the kingdom to his son, yet another Henry, in excellent shape in 1509. Everything we associate with the Tudor age, from Henry VIII’s six wives to the golden Elizabethan period of wealth and exploration, started with a young Welshman in 1485.