Henry VII, from a contemporary bust by an Italian artist
Henry VII, from a contemporary bust by an Italian artist

On the field of Bosworth, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was hailed as King Henry VII. Every king of England for three hundred years had been a Plantagenet; had been, that is to say, a direct descendant in the male line from Henry II. This was true even of the Yorkist kings, since the father of Richard, Duke of York, was the son of Edmund of York, who was the younger brother of John of Gaunt. Now there was a new dynasty; and the fundamental fact of Henry VII's reign was the king's need for securing that dynasty.

Now, if succession through females was barred, Henry could have no claim; for it was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, that he was descended from John of Gaunt. The heir to the throne in that case was the Earl of Warwick, the son of George of Clarence, the only living Plantagenet prince. If the succession of a female but not the claim through a female was barred, as was argued when Edward III claimed the Crown of France, the house of York still had the priority over the house of Lancaster because it descended in the female line from Lionel of Clarence, the elder brother of John of Gaunt.

On that hypothesis the De la Poles, the sons of Suffolk and of Elizabeth, sister of Edward IV, stood next to Warwick, or before him if he was excluded by the attainder of his father. If a woman in person could succeed to the Crown, the first claim lay with Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV., and after her with her numerous sisters in order. Further, as a matter of fact, if the descent through females was not barred, there were other descendants of John of Gaunt senior to the Beauforts, apart from the doubt whether the legitimation of that family in the reign of Richard II covered the claim to succession in any case.

Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, was descended through his mother from the full sister of Henry IV. The royal houses of Castile and of Portugal might be barred as aliens, but both descended from daughters of John of Gaunt, and this claim was actually to be asserted a hundred years later.

In all these circumstances, it is obvious that Henry could not claim the throne unless by right of conquest or by parliamentary title, like Henry IV himself. But if he married Elizabeth of York, then the only living person who could challenge the title of their offspring would be the young Earl of Warwick.

Therefore, in the first place, Henry made haste to secure a parliamentary title for himself. The first point was that he himself should be personally and authoritatively recognised as de jure king of England against all other claimants. For this reason he delayed his marriage with Elizabeth of York until 1486, lest it should be pretended that he reigned only as her consort; and he deferred her coronation for another year. But that marriage appeared to ensure complete security to his offspring, except possibly as against Warwick. And Warwick himself was held a secure prisoner in the Tower.

Nevertheless, Henry's succession was obviously a triumph for the Lancastrian faction, and it was quite certain that there would be attempts on the part of the Yorkist faction to overthrow him. And it is to be remarked in this connection, that Henry himself had given colour to the doctrine that a woman was personally barred from the succession by taking the crown for himself and not for his own mother.

Yorkist plots were certain to be fomented and fostered in the court of Edward IV's sister, Margaret of Burgundy, the widow of Charles the Rash and stepmother (not mother) of his heirs, who was prepared to go to any lengths to overthrow the usurper. Margaret did not, however, herself control Burgundian policy, though as dowager she held her own court and enjoyed her own estates.

In a position so open to challenge, it was not enough for Henry that he should reign by grace of parliament, which might withdraw its favour. It was indeed of first-rate importance that he should retain its favour, but the necessity remained for concentrating effective power in his own hands. Such a concentration of power was comparatively a simple matter for Edward IV. in his later years, when he reigned by a quite indisputable title. It was by no means so easy for a king whose title was so uncertain as Henry's. Henry therefore was faced with a constitutional problem which the house of Lancaster had failed to solve successfully.

Moreover, Henry had before him in a new field problems which had to be faced by all statesmen after his time, but had not presented themselves to his predecessors. Spain, by the union of the Crowns of Castile and Aragon, had created a new power. Maximilian, king of the Romans, the son and heir of the Hapsburg German Emperor, had married Mary, the daughter of Charles of Burgundy. She was now dead; but the Burgundian inheritance passed to Philip, the child of this marriage; and Philip would also be the heir of Maximilian.

The consolidation of France had been almost completed by Louis XI. Thus there had come into being a group of great powers with diverse and conflicting interests. An international diplomacy was called for which was without precedent; a new European system was coming into being; and England had to take up her place in that system.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's point of view may not be currently accepted by modern historians, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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