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To what extent did Henry VII initiate a new approach to kingship?

An essay to help you out with your Henry VII history homework.

By Rebecca SmithPublished 2 months ago 7 min read
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The man himself... Henry VII

I have stacks of essays I did in preperation for my GCSE and A-Levels years ago, that I've never used. So I thought I'd share these with the world, for you to use for help with your homework.

To what extent did Henry VII initiate a new approach to kingship?

Kingship, the essence of a ruler and having ‘an aptitude for kingly duties,’ seems to fit with the image of Henry VII, through his new approaches. For example: the creation of the Star Chamber, aiding England to stay on her feet, bringing about the rise of the Tudor state since the fall of Richard III. Although it could also be argued that these apparent ‘new approaches’ were not unique to the Tudor king, “the rise of the Tudor state, itself, implies that something new had been created, either from nothing or from the ruins of something that had earlier fallen,” and such ‘initiations’ carried out, much like replacing the Exchequer and keeping the money in his own chambers, was similar to Edward IV - showing a lack of new approaches to the system.

One way in which Henry VII’s approach could be considered new, is how he made his system more professional based as opposed to wealth based like previous monarchs used to use "the council consisted of the main officers of both church and state [...] because of the high ranks of its leading members, the council could not be swayed or intimidated by over mighty subjects." This is an important point as. in previous years, there was a continued reliance on the wealthy to provide for the king; especially as they were the majority of the council. However, the role of the council during Henry's reign seems to have instigated the resurgence of the jury system, “there was nevertheless always reserved a high and preeminent power to the King’s council […] this court of star chamber is compounded of good elements for it consisteth of four kinds of persons,” while the privy council were better suited to deal with cases such as wealthy landowners, more civil courts and common law courts helped the commoners. Thus, this new approach is seen through the improvements made to the courts, in order to help improve the well-being of the people as well as having a more reliable judiciary system, making this approach unique to Henry’s reign and so, his kingship.

Henry's evolution of the council's for example criminal legislation was targeted towards Justices of the Peace to regulate their roles for keeping the peace "limited the granting of bail to suspected felons [...] Obliged them to enforce the vagrancy and game laws [...] Without doubt these measures enhanced the role of JP's as local administrators and judges." To the extent at which he is separate from the ‘traditional medieval king’ and bringing forward the idea that because of things such as his ruthless tax laws and strategic methods of the implementation of legislation so that his authority could be carried out, made him more of ‘a modern king.’ He could be seen as unique through his almost backward view of creating peace, compared to other figures including later on Henry VIII, who could be described as ‘warmongering’ or that war was the standard option, Henry VII preferred peace through treaties and marriage alliances. Popularity "and in having rejected all other ladies in the world that have been offered to us; showing hereby our singular love which we bear towards your majesty and the most illustrious house of Arragon."

Arguably what made Henry VII unique in his approach to kingship was his personality, particularly his ruthlessness. Henry VII stands out in history as being a very ruthless monarch, the extent of which is shown, in how he dealt with the collection of taxes or ‘bonds’ “not only offender but also his kin and friends […] were linked in a chain of obligation […] in the last years of his reign, Henry’s use of bonds to restrain his greater subjects became more oppressive. Between 1502 and 1509, two thirds of the English peerage lay under financial penalties either on their own behalf or as sureties for others.” The method of collecting money and the main victims of this harsh system is uniquely his and more notable during his reign as he wanted a stricter system of retrieving tax money. Although Henry’s personality was seen as strict because he isolated himself to mainly do a lot of paperwork, it has been seen as a strength in initiation. Because of how ruthless he was and how successful he was in achieving this status, it was a significant achievement and strengthened his kingship. For example, when looking at the role of Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson - “Neither did they, towards the end observe so much as the half face of justice, in proceeding by indictment; […] there used to shuffle up a summary proceeding by examination, without trial of jury; assuming to themselves there to deal both in pleas of the crown and controversies civil.”

Although the improvements to the judicial system are seen under Henry’s reign, his initiation of a new approach brought about a ‘reign of terror’ unique to Henry VII’s rule. Like how he treated his subjects because he wanted a stricter form of government. The excessiveness of his reign of terror was such that he became unpopular not seen with previous monarchs, “parliamentary attainders were not judicial proceedings: no evidence needed to be produced, no witnesses were examined and, no defence could be made.’ The acts of attainder allowed punishment without trial, the presentation of his ‘reign of terror,’ and how he dealt with people who did not fulfil the king’s requirements, shows the initiation of a new approach to Henry VII’s kingship of a stricter form of government.

Due to Henry’s personality and regards to privacy, the members of the privy chamber became a handful of gentlemen of significantly lower class. "This guaranteed them privacy; it was also, and this surely is what attracted Henry VII, an extremely effective way of keeping distance." Unlike other monarchs, including Henry VIII, there are no ‘politics of intimacy’ and perhaps it can be put down to the reign of terror as previously mentioned. Being inaccessible (even to the people at court) meant there was a reluctance to share information due to the resounding paranoia about Yorkist sympathisers, who trying to claim back the throne, had previously caused uprisings. His personality alongside his highly maintained privacy throughout his reign is a clear sign of a new approach to kingship, as the lack of intimacy he shared not only with the people of his kingdom but within his own court, brought about a new if not unpopular approach to kingship - not seen with other monarchs.

When looking in closer detail in the reign of Henry VII, we can see that although the way he handled certain matters, was a unique approach to his kingship, there are many signs suggesting more continuity. For example, it is interesting to note that in the obituary of Henry VII, it says: ‘He [Henry VII] well knew how to maintain his royal majesty.’ The implication that there was no newness but rather continuity as he ‘maintained’ the throne similarly to his predecessors, therefore considering the linguistics of the obituary, it is possible that his subjects also saw his rule as continuity.

Furthermore, it could also be argued that the policies, such as removing the Exchequer, was not a new approach to kingship. “Furst that alle the kinges officers of his court of eschequier use and execute hasty processe ayenst al maner persones accomptable and other being the kinges dettors as the caas shalle require and also to here and determyne accomptes of the same and thissues proffuytes and revenues commyng therof to be levied and paied into the kinges receipt without delaye .” as it was originally performed by Edward IV thus continuity remains and the.

Likewise, there was no need for new initiation because most of the ‘heavy lifting’ was performed by Henry’s predecessors “there are those who see Henry as reign as part of a process of state building, under Edward IV,." His significant financial reforms for example, delegated barons, collected money, removed bad tenants etc. Similarly, through this approach perhaps what made it unique to Henry VII was that he was more ruthless in his approach but these reforms were originally before the first Tudor king so, therefore there is a lack of newness in his approach to kingship due to Henry taking over an already ‘stable throne.’

Not only are there similarities in areas such as finance, Henry also kept members from the court of Edward IV in order continue the establishment of his reign for example, Giles Daubeney was knighted by Edward IV, and after joining Henry’s rebellion against the Yorkist’s, he was rewarded with a baronage. So in writing it seemed as though Henry had made new approaches in the system when they were a parallel to the kings before him.

Propagandists not only enhancing the role and reign of the Tudors, but also portrayed the Yorkist’s as villains:

Did York's dread curse prevail so much with heaven?

That Henry's death, my lovely Edward's death […]

If not by war, by surfeit die your king,

As ours by murder, to make him a king!

In Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ the defamation of his character is a common feature of the play. Therefore, in sources such as ones written by Shakespeare, there is a bias concerning the Tudors in order to emphasise the role they played in coming into power in order to free England from the hands of Richard III, following his demise. Yet propaganda such as this implies Henry VII had the essence of being a ruler which Richard did not.

Through the given evidence it is clear that Henry took new approaches in order to enhance his status as king, and to stand out amongst the mass with wealth and power in order to create a stronghold and a stricter form of government. However, as unique as some of his approaches ae, such as his harshness when collecting taxes, there still remain signs of continuity through his policies emulating those of his predecessors and thus, to a certain extent there is no newness to his kingship.

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Rebecca Smith

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