In a previous post, I brought up a few of the many contradictions surrounding the Tudors as they relate to Henry VII, a rather elusive figure. Contrary to the version spun for centuries by the Tudor PR machine, Henry VII was most likely inexperienced, ruthless, miserly, and hypocritical when it came to church matters. So what was the legacy he left?
–Wealth: Over many years, Henry VII amassed a substantial block of land owned by the crown as well as a well-stocked treasury, thanks in part to the large taxes he squeezed from the nation’s nobles. This plan to solidify his own wealth and power provided stability, enhanced his authority, and won him access to powerful foreign allies (most notably the Spanish who gave one of their princesses, Catherine of Aragon, to his oldest son in marriage; the Scots, whose king married Henry’s daughter Margaret; and the French, whose king married another Tudor daughter, Mary). In the end, he bequeathed a vast fortune to his son.
*Random trivia: Catherine of Aragon’s daughter Mary (Henry VII’s granddaughter) would one day wed Philip II of Spain, a man who was born this week 486 years ago.*
–Centralized power: Henry VII centralized power in London, empowering Justices of the Peace to maintain order and carry out laws throughout the kingdom. JPs were local land owners who weren’t paid for their services but were nonetheless motivated to promote law and order in their own back yards. Henry carefully cultivated this group of people so that they were loyal to him, not to any noble. In effect, Henry created a precursor of the neighborhood crime watch that didn’t cost him anything to maintain, yet answered to him, and so could be his eyes and ears on the ground to alert him if any local nobleman got out of hand.
–Exploration: Henry refused to give any money to Christopher Columbus (who died this week in 1506); however, he did give a small amount of money to fund the explorations of John Cabot. It seems Henry was quite interested in exploration and finding new trade routes, although he wasn’t interested enough to provide significant amounts of money to the explorer. Cabot’s voyages had mixed successes, but he did plant Henry VII’s flag in North America in 1497 (maybe Maine or maybe Newfoundland, different people have their own opinions since history is not clear), which did earn him a pension from the king.
–Trade: Henry established mutually beneficial trade agreements with France, Denmark, and Spain. The agreement with France accomplished two things. First, it opened up new financial opportunities for merchants from both countries, but perhaps most importantly for Henry, it tied French prosperity to Henry in such a way that discouraged France from aiding and abetting challengers of Henry’s throne.
Money, power, and prestige..all hard to beat!