Henry VII : Strengths and weaknesses


Henry VII weaknesses

  • He was a usurper with only a weak claim to the throne. He could claim that God wished him to be king because he had let Henry win at Bosworth.
  • There were a number of Yorkist princes e.g. Edward, Earl of Warwick and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln who had better claims to the throne. Both were nephews of Edward IV.
  • Henry had little active support from the nobility of England.
  • Three of the last four kings of England had been violently overthrown during the Wars of the Roses. Henry VI in 1461 and 1471 – then murdered by Edward IV. Edward V murdered by Richard III. Richard III killed at Bosworth
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Henry VII strengths

  • He married Elizabeth of York and quickly had a son, Prince Arthur, thus gaining support from many Yorkists. They were now satisfied that an heir of the murdered Edward V would rule in the future.
  • He had the support of Lancastrians, since Henry VI’s direct line had died out with the death of his son Edward, Prince of Wales in 1471.
  •  Richard III’s only son had died as a child in 1484.
  •  Henry had not gained the throne with the aid of a great nobleman. He did not owe anything to anybody and would not face a revolt by a previously loyal supporter.
  • Whereas Edward IV had been overthrown by his greatest ally, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in 1470.
  • Richard III had faced rebellion in 1483 from Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who had supported Richard’s coup against Edward V.
  •  There were no ‘overmighty’ noblemen left who might mount a serious challenge to Henry’s kingship.
  • During the Wars of the Roses, the Dukes of York (i.e. Edward IV and his father Richard before him), Richard Earl of Warwick, and Richard Duke of Gloucester were all sufficiently powerful to overthrow the king.
  •  By 1485, these men were dead and their great lands, which sustained the political instability of the period, had largely been inherited by Henry as the new king.
  • Henry also had no brothers and only one uncle. Edward IV had been overthrown by his brother, George Duke of Clarence. Edward V was overthrown by his uncle. Lack of close relatives was a major bonus for Henry VII.
  • The Wars of the Roses, although they had unseated several monarchs, had not seriously undermined the machinery of government, which, for the time was fairly sophisticated.
  • Henry’s defeat of Richard III was seen as God’s judgement on a regicide, a man who had overthrown and killed the rightful king, Edward V. Although Henry was also a usurper, he had killed a tyrant.
  • Henry VI, whose reign had seen the start of the Wars of the Roses, was a weak man who suffered a serious mental breakdown, rendering him unfit to govern. Henry VII was an able politician who had learnt his trade as a powerless refugee. He therefore worked hard to retain his office.
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