The Tudor Dynasty, how Henry VIII ruined something beautiful

When Henry Tudor ascended to the English throne on 22nd August 1485, it marked an end to decades of bloodshed and strife. England’s fields had been painted red with the blood of Lancaster and York, and the country had begun to weary of it all. Tudor had been living in exile for some time before he finally landed on Welsh shores on 7th August, and he had been running from his enemies his whole life. Henry’s strenuous claim to the English throne derived from his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt.

The main Lancastrian line had been destroyed at Tewkesbury, when Edward of Westminster (the only son of Henry VI) was killed in battle. Edward of York had taken the throne by force from a king whose grasp on the country was weak, feeble, overly-pious and mad. Edward ruled well, but upon his death his younger brother Richard and his widow Elizabeth Woodville started squabbling over power. It ended with the disappearance and assumed murder of Edward’s two sons in the Tower of London. Richard, described by many as a petty-minded hunch-backed tyrant, died at the Battle of Bosworth Field, when the Tudor and Yorkist armies clashed. Thomas Stanley and his brother William turned their cloaks and joined with Tudor, putting an end to the Yorkist, and the Plantagenet line.

Henry Tudor, or Henry VII as he would become, had the potential to heal England’s wounds and restore peace and stability. He did these things to a degree, but his methods were vastly unpopular and often openly-tyrannical. The Wars of the Roses had been caused, on some level, by a nobility which simply had too much power. Nobles kept their own armies, and often had coffers to rival those of the crown. A problem which Henry was determined to fix. Henry had spent much of his life in France, where things were done very differently from England. French kings had a degree of power which was far greater than English kings could hope for-they could raise taxes on a whim, whereas English kings were forced to consult parliament before doing so. Henry brought these French ideas to the throne, and they very much showed in his dealings.

He was known to fine noblemen on the spot for employing servants which he claimed were soldiers. As his reign went on, he often resorted to full-blown thievery. Such was the extent of his money-grubbing that his death was marked by bonfires and street parties across the realm. Dynastically, Henry had done quite well. He had sired the perfect set of offspring that any king could hope for, an heir, a spare, and three daughters with which to buy useful alliances. His first son, Arthur, had been married to Catherine of Aragon, but when Arthur died before he could consummate the marriage, the second son was forced to marry his brother’s widow.

Henry VIII’s marriage resulted in one daughter, Mary, later to become known as ‘Bloody Mary’. The marriage grew stale and boring, a situation accentuated by Henry’s adultery, his obsession with Anne Boleyn, and the absence of a son. The king looked for a divorce, unsuccessfully applying to the Pope for an annulment. When he did divorce Catherine, he was only able to do so by splitting with the Roman Catholic Church and declaring himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. This was a monumental event on which enough emphasis can never be put.

Henry’s children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward would bicker over the national religion until the cows eventually did come home, burning many brave men along the way. Edward was the fruit of Henry’s third marriage to Jane Seymour, and his only legitimate son. He instituted numerous Protestant reforms, going further than his father ever did. Before he died he tried desperately to ensure that his Protestant cousin Jane Grey would succeed him, but his efforts were overturned by Mary. She presided over a reign of terror, killing over 280 Protestants, mainly through burning. I think it’s fair to say that this brutal slaughter was her way of resolving childhood issues regarding her parent’s marriage. But that’s only speculation, and should not be mistaken for gospel.

Mary left no heirs, and was succeeded by her younger sister Elizabeth, who brought stability back to the realm by way of religious compromise. Whatever the case, Henry VIII’s racing libido and soaring immaturity caused him to leave Britain with only one sickly male heir, undoing the good work of his father, and dooming Britain to suffer the Stuarts. To reconsider British history (assuming that Catherine had given him a son) would be a monumental task, and not one that should be attempted by the likes of me.

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