Henry VII and the House of York

By Nathen Amin

When the subject of Henry VII is often raised, attention inevitably turns to the allegedly draconian, even tyrannical, way he treated the Yorkist relations of his wife Elizabeth. The accusation goes that once Henry, the great Lancastrian hope, captured the throne from Richard III, he set about vanquishing the remnants of the House of York, securing the victory of the Red Rose.

The reality is, as with most things with the Wars of the Roses, far more complex. The Wars of the Roses cannot, and should not, ever been seen in binary – it was not ever as simple as Red Rose vs White Rose, or Good vs Bad. It has sometimes been referred to in recent years as the Cousins’ War, but even that doesn’t provide enough inside into just how intermarried the key figures in the Wars were. We all know that Warwick the Kingmaker, for example, was not only a cousin to the Yorks, but also the Beauforts against whom he waged such brutal war. But even the lesser nobles were often connected to the men who killed them.

So to return to Henry VII and the House of York. A key thing to consider is that Henry, although portrayed as the ‘Lancastrian’ heir, came to the throne on a tide of Yorkist support. After the death of Edward IV and the ascendancy of Richard III, what comprised the Edwardian Yorkist household effectively splintered. Some stayed loyal to Richard, and those who suspected he had killed the princes of their former master, fled to Brittany and France into the awaiting embrace of the unknown entity Henry Tudor. Their allegiance to the Tudor cause, rather than the Lancastrian cause, had as much to do with their opposition to Richard than their support for Henry. Therefore, at Bosworth and thereafter, the court and household of Henry VII had a distinctive Yorkist air to it. It was by no means a Lancastrian takeover.

With that in mind, from the outset, Henry did not, nor could he, simply vanquish the House of York as an entity, as a living, breathing, movement. He needed the allegiance of the remaining members, whether grudging or not, and more importantly required the assiduous service of their influential, and experienced, servants. Of those surviving children and grandchildren of Duke Richard of York, therefore, it becomes clear that Henry was far from heavy-handed, at least until given cause. Let’s take a look at what became of the House of York during the reign of Henry VII.

Children of Edward IV

We are unsure of the fate of the Princes in the Tower, although I am satisfied to believe they were disappeared in the summer of 1483 as seems the likeliest fate. Elizabeth obviously became queen of England through her marriage to Henry VII, and despite claims to the contrary, was treated well by a devoted husband, with both touchingly consoling one another after the death of Prince Arthur. But what of the other children of Edward IV that survived into Tudor rule? Were they wiped out by a vengeful Henry VII? Well, no.

Cecily of York had been contracted with marriage to Ralph Scrope, a member of Richard III’s northern affinity, but that union was annulled upon Henry’s accession. In 1487, she was married to the king’s half-uncle, John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles, a man of unquestionable loyalty to the king, and an astute choice in rendering any Yorkist-descended children from the union politically irrelevant. Any accusations that Cecily was harshly treated need to be discounted; Henry marrying his sister-in-law to a royal favourite of minor importance was the same tactic Richard had taken, and there is a suggestion Cecily enjoyed a happy marriage. The Viscount’s will in February 1499 makes reference to his ‘dere beloved lady and wife’, who he trusted ‘above all oder’.

Cecily of York remained around the royal court, and participated in the several Tudor royal ceremonies, even carrying Prince Arthur at his christening and then bearing the train of Catherine of Aragon at the prince’s wedding. She only found disfavour with the king when she impetuously married for a third time to an obscure squire named Kyme. This took place without the king’s permission, and Cecily was banished from court for a short time in disgrace, although the compassionate intervention of Lady Margaret Beaufort allowed her to eventually return. She passed away without surviving issue in 1507.

Like Cecily, Anne of York was also betrothed by Richard III to one of his supporters, in this case Thomas Howard, whose father and grandfather fought for Richard at Bosworth. Despite the potential threat of a Yorkist-Howard child eventually making a play for the throne, Henry VII allowed the married to go ahead in 1495. unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the Tudors when you consider Howard’s later actions in the reign of Henry VIII as 3rd Duke of Norfolk, the couple had no children surviving to adulthood. Like Cecily, Anne was treated as befitted her status as a royal princess, albeit Yorkist. She carried the chrisom at the christening of Prince Arthur and Princess Margaret, and was a regular around court.

Katherine of York was put forward in 1487 as a potential bride to the duke of Ross, a second son of James III of Scotland, by Henry, using her Yorkist blood to try to procure an alliance, although the death of the Scottish king a year later ended discussions. She was later married to William Courtenay, a royal commander and heir of the Earl of Devon, a supporter of Tudor at Bosworth. William proved to be untrustworthy, however, and was attainted in 1504 by Henry VII for joining a conspiracy with Edmund de la Pole, the duke of Suffolk. He would eventually be restored to his estates after the king’s death.

Unlike Cecily or Anne, Katherine did have surviving issue with her husband; Henry Courtenay, possibly named for the king, was born in 1496 and eventually became Marquis of Exeter under Henry VIII. His Yorkist blood would, however, become an issue during the 1530s and he was accused of colluding with his Pole cousins to overthrow his other cousin, Henry VIII. He was beheaded in 1538. Nonetheless, events 30 years after the death of Henry VII hardly make him culpable in the destruction of Exeter. Henry VII may have forseen such issues when marrying a Yorkist princess to a peer of the realm, but he nonetheless didn’t forbid such a union. This seems hardly in keeping with his alleged desire to destroy the House of York. Why not just force her to marry a nobody?

The last legitimate child of Edward IV to survive into the Tudor reign was Bridget of York; she caused Henry far less issues, for Bridget was prepared for a religious life, becoming a nun at Dartford priory. She remained in contact with her royal kinfolk, and survived until 1517, leaving no issue due to her vow to God.

Edward IV was a notoriously promiscuous man, and had at least one acknowledged heir, named Arthur Plantagenet. Presumably protected by his illegitimately, although something which could be overturned with the cooperation of a friendly parliament, Arthur prospered under Tudor rule. By 1501 he was part of his half-sister Queen Elizabeth’s household, and part of Henry VII’s after her demise, suggesting he was trusted enough by the Tudor king to be in his inner circle. Arthur’s rise accelerated in his nephew Henry VIII’s reign, becoming Viscount Lisle and Constable of Calais before finally falling foul of an increasingly tyrannical king in 1540.

Children of George, Duke of Clarence

The children of George, Duke of Clarence, suffered a considerably different fate under the Tudors than their uncle Edward’s offspring, although Clarence’s eldest surviving child, Margaret, shared a similar path to her female cousins during the reign of Henry VII. Having been retrieved from Sheriff Hutton Castle after the king’s accession, where she had been placed by her uncle Richard III, in 1487, Margaret was married to a Welshman named Richard Pole, whose St John mother was a half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, the king’s beloved mother. It seems likely the match was intended to lessen the chances of her being used as a figurehead for a Yorkist rebellion, particularly so soon after one was crushed at Stoke Field that same year, but although Shakespeare’s Henry callously uttered that Clarence’s daughter ‘meanly have I match’d in marriage’, she was nonetheless wed to one of Henry’s closest, and most trusted relations.

Richard Pole was not a wealthy magnate, and certainly not someone who may have anticipated marrying a niece of a king and a daughter of a duke, but he did rise high in his cousin’s court, becoming a Knight of the Garter in 1499 and entrusted with the position of Great Chamberlain of Prince Arthur’s household at Ludlow, receiving significant power in north Wales in the process. Margaret’s prospects dimmed somewhat after the death of the prince in 1502, when her own role as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon ended, followed by the demise of her husband in 1504, causing her to seek refuge with the nuns at Syon Abbey. She had five children with Richard, and although she and her sons would become bitterly opposed to the Tudor regime later in the sixteenth century, at the time of Henry VII’s death in 1509, there is little evidence of activity either way during the period in question.

Margaret’s brother Edward, Earl of Warwick, suffered a tragic fate under Henry VII, one which possibly marks the lowest point in the king’s reign from a moral standpoint, although conversely a demise which arguably secured the Tudor dynasty on the throne. Edward was ten years old when Henry won at Bosworth, but the child’s bloodline was unquestionably a threat to the king’s fledgling dynasty. Whilst true that his father Clarence’s attainder in 1478 technically barred Warwick from the crown, a technicality that cleared the way to Richard III to claim the throne in 1483, it was nevertheless very possibly he could become a focus for disaffected Ricardian Yorkists, prompting his imprisonment in the Tower of London. It wasn’t that the boy had done anything wrong himself, but rather that other’s may do wrong on his behalf, as ultimately happened.

It is unlikely Warwick’s imprisonment was a harsh one, and in 1490 he was even confirmed by the king as earl. It is unclear what his long-term prospects were, but Edward’s fate was sealed in 1499 during the negotiations for the king’s son Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. It was claimed that a plot was uncovered which implicated the earl in planning to escape the Tower with Perkin Warbeck, and on 21 November 1499, Edward was found guilty by his peers and executed on Tower Hill a week later. It was an extrajudicial murder that left a stain on Henry VII’s reign, an undoubtedly ruthless act but one, unfortunately, which was probably done at the bidding of the Spanish monarchs before they entrust their daughter Katherine into the care of the Tudors. Edward had to die for the Tudors to survive. Perhaps through guilt, Henry paid for Edward’s head and body to be buried at Bisham Abbey.

Children of Richard III

Richard III’s son and heir Edward famously died whilst his father was on the throne, a bitter blow to a monarch struggling to maintain his grip on a crown he had wrested so controversially from his nephew. Richard did leave two illegitimate heirs, however, who are known to have lived in the reign of Henry VII. John of Gloucester was Captain of Calais during his father’s lifetime, but was removed after the Tudor accession, it presumably deemed unwise to have Richard’s son in charge of the largest royal garrison. John wasn’t completely ostracised, as there is evidence he was granted an annuity of £20 by Henry VII in March 1486. After this, however, John, contemptuously known as John of Pontefract, disappears somewhat from records. There is no evidence whatsoever what happened to him, and to suggest he was executed by Henry based on a dubious 17th century reference is an unqualified leap.

John’s half, possibly full, sister Katherine was another illegitimate child of Richard III, who married William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, during her father’s reign. She didn’t live long under Tudor rule, however, passing away before the end of 1487 when her husband was referred to as a widower. Neither John nor Katherine had any known children.

Other Yorkist Descendants

Anne of York was a daughter of Richard, duke of York and therefore a sister to king’s Edward IV and Richard III. She was married at a young age to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter and an implacable Lancastrian who drowned in unclear circumstances in 1475, possibly even murdered on orders of Edward IV. Anne was divorced from Exeter in 1472 and remarried two years later to one of Edward’s followers, Thomas St Leger, later executed by Richard III as one of the Edwardian Yorkists who turned from Richard to support the Buckingham-Tudor conspiracy. Anne died in 1476, but her Yorkist blood endured in the daughter she had with her second husband, Anne St Leger.  The orphaned Anne was around nine years old at the time of the Tudor victory, and eventually married in her teenage years to George Manners, and another close companion of Henry VII and who became Baron de Ros in 1511. The Manners’ had numerous children together, including Thomas Manners, who rose to become 1st Earl of Rutland and a notable favourite of Henry VIII, dying peaceably in 1543. Other St Leger daughters made reasonably prosperous marriages into the English gentry during the sixteenth century, escaping any notable attention from the Tudor regime.

Margaret of York was another daughter of Richard of York, and her life took a different path to her siblings, married abroad in 1468 to the Duke of Burgundy, becoming duchess until her husband’s death in 1477. Although childless, with her stepdaughter becoming her father’s heir, Margaret remained in Burgundy, where she proved to be a thorn in Henry VII’s side until her death in 1503. Margaret’s sister Elizabeth succeeded where her sibling failed, giving birth to several York-blooded heirs with her husband John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk. The duke fought for his brother-in-law Richard at Bosworth, but after the Tudor victory, submitted to the new king and became a loyal royal servant until his death in the early 1490s. Unlike the rest of the Yorkist affinity, his children proved difficult for the Tudors. The eldest, John de la Pole, created Earl of Lincoln by Richard III and probably intended to be his uncle’s eventual heir, initially submitted and served as part of Henry VII’s council. Lincoln’s sudden rebellion in 1487 however ended in his death at the Battle of Stoke Field, where it is probable he was using the pretender Lambert Simnel to mask his own attempt to seize the throne.

Lincoln’s position as potential Yorkist heir was assumed by his brother Edmund de la Pole, who eventually inherited his father’s dukedom of Suffolk. Edmund’s head was turned, however, particularly after his demotion to earl in 1493. In 1501, Suffolk fled the kingdom, seeking refuge with the Burgundians, arguably a treasonable act and unquestionably a malicious move. He was forcibly returned to England in 1506 as a result of a new treaty between Burgundy and Henry VII, and remained imprisoned in the Tower of London until the king’s death in 1509. Suffolk would be executed four years later.

Humphrey de la Pole did not follow his brothers, entering the church instead, although William de la Pole, whether willingly or otherwise, found himself dragged into the conspiracies of his brothers. Whilst Edmund escaped abroad, William was deemed untrustworthy and imprisoned in the Tower in 1501. He would remain there for the entirety of Henry VII’s reign, eventually dying, still a captive, in 1539. The youngest de la Pole brother, Richard, also proved troublesome for the Tudors, although still a minor throughout Henry VII’s lifetime. He joined his brother Edmund in exile around 1504, and remained abroad for the remainder of the king’s lifetime, eventually dying fighting for the French in 1525.

Conclusion

As can be clearly determined from the, admittedly simplified, biographical accounts given above, the House of York was not systematically or cruelly destroyed by Henry VII during his 24-year-reign. Of the females, most were married to men close to the Tudor regime, and whilst marriages to comparatively low-born men has been interpreted as an act of callousness, none were slaughtered, killed, imprisoned or ruined. All were taken care of, and some raised families of their own, spreading the York blood through English society.

The de la Poles suffered under Henry VII, yet much of that was self-inflicted. The Duke of Suffolk was welcomed into the king’s circle after Bosworth, and there is every chance his York-blooded sons would have followed suit. Lincoln’s defection in 1487 put paid to that, as did the questionable choices of his brothers. The hand of peace had been extended to them, as Edward IV had done to his enemies in a previous generation, but it was smacked away. That is not Henry VII’s fault.

As mentioned, the execution of Edward, earl of Warwick, is regrettable, although one must acknowledge these were tough times where often the ‘ends justified the means’. That end was the consolidation of the Tudor dynasty on the European stage through a Spanish alliance. It was a small price to pay for such a large reward. Henry VII would not be the first, nor the last, king to approve such a tactic.

So, in conclusion, during the reign of Henry VII – one Yorkist heir was killed, albeit in accordance with the law of the land, and another died during a battle, having rebelled against the crown and denounced a traitor in the process. The rest survived the reign, and whatever happened thereafter, was clearly not Henry VII’s responsibility. Henry Tudor – the butcherer of York? The reality differs considerably from the myth.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort,  is scheduled for release in the summer of 2017. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.

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2 thoughts on “Henry VII and the House of York

  1. Re Cecily: Her first marriage to the second son of a baron (if it was a marriage and not just a betrothal) wasn’t a very grand one, but it was arranged by Richard III, not Henry, as you point out. Or was it a love match? Her third marriage, to Thomas Kyme, was, and Henry was seriously ticked off about it. Viscount Wells may not have been all that grand, but certainly of more status than the 2nd son of a baron.
    BTW, I don’t know any wealthy magnets. The ones on my fridge door have no money at all. 😉

    • It was quite common for monarchs to get annoyed about unauhorized or marriages without permission on the part of important nobles. This happened long before the Tudors. Henry III was angry when his sister married Simon de Montfort Earl of Leicester, King John levied a massive fine on the man who married his divorced ex-wife. So it can’t really be used against the Tudors.

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