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A-level History - The Tudors: England 1485-1603: Henry VII's policies, and the fallout

Last updated: May 2018

Henry VII and members of the nobility

(Source: wiki)

Henry VII had to develop a positive relationship with England's nobles if he was to survive after the Battle of Bosworth. There were nobles who supported Henry because of their Lancastrian background, and those who supported Henry VII as they saw him as a means to social and political advancement. There were also those nobles who were opposed to Henry as the Lambert and Warbeck rebellions showed. There were far more nobles than the king and bringing them all onto his side was a task that was to take Henry VII many years.

Henry VII took various steps to curtail the independence of the nobility:

  • Henry VII handed out very few new titles of nobility, preferring to reward servants by making them Order of the Garter. This bestowed much status on the recipient but it cost Henry VII nothing – whereas the creation of new titles invariably cost the king money as estates were usually granted from royal land. The number of nobles fell accordingly:
  Duke Marquess Earl Viscount Baron


1487 3 1 16 4 30 54
1509 1 1 10 0 29 41


  • Natural deaths also helped decrease the threat from major magnates. Research indicates that in every 25-year period during the Middle Ages, 25% of the nobility died and left no male heir. The estates of the houses of York and Lancaster, and of Warwick the Kingmaker, all fell to Henry VII.
  • Attainder: Nobles who had fought against the King were attainted by Parliament - this meant the forfeiture of all land and titles. In Edward IV's reign these attainders were soon reversed. Henry VII only offered partial reversals, with further reversal conditional on good service. Henry VII attainted 138 men, but only 46 were reversed.
  • Bonds and recognisances:Henry bullied important noblemen and gentlemen into entering into agreements with him, promising to do his will or else to pay large fines. Roughly 75% of nobles and thousands of gentlemen entered into bonds; and the sums involved were often extremely high. These bonds were often aimed against the practice of keeping private armies of retainers. The end of the "super magnates," and the absence of strong rivals helped Henry VII in his policy of disarming the nobility.
  • With the memory of the War of Roses, there were some magnate families that were not trusted such as the Percy Earls of Northumberland and the Stafford Dukes of Buckingham. Rather than openly antagonise these families, Henry simply kept them under surveillance using his very effective spy network. As Henry felt more powerful and less threatened he asserted his authority even more. The son of the murdered Earl of Northumberland in 1489 was not allowed to receive his land until 1499 at the age of twenty – only when Henry was convinced of his loyalty.
  • Henry prevented the emergence of new super-nobles by keeping an eye on noble marriage alliances to prevent any family becoming too powerful. As part of this, they only married to whom Henry approved, as they needed the king's permission to marry.

Edmund Dudley


Edmund Dudley (c.1462– 17 August 1510) was an English administrator and a financial agent of Henry VII. He served as Speaker of the House of Commons and President of the King's Council, a small body of lawyers and fiscal administrators that helped reestablish the payment of feudal dues and of fines for lawbreaking. Although he faced charges that he defrauded the king — he amassed a fortune — and was otherwise guilty of corruption, these were not proved.

After the accession of >Henry VIII, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed the next year on a treason charge. While waiting for his execution he wrote The Tree of Commonwealth. Edmund Dudley was also the grandfather of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, a favorite of Henry VII's granddaughter, Elizabeth I.

Summary of Henry VII's foreign policy

Improvement of Crown finances

Number of ways that Henry was able to raise money:


Henry VII has usually received much praise from historians with regards to his financial policies. For Henry's power, the extension of power and money all went together. A sound financial base was essential if Henry was to control both his people but more especially the powerful nobility in England. Henry also wanted to leave his successor a full treasury to ensure that he would have the means to fight for his succession if necessary.

The main earner for Henry was in the Royal Estates. Henry did not give many titles or lands to his supporters or relatives, as a result much more property was kept in the Kings personal estate, with the revenue gained from these holdings going towards the royal finances. He also, through Acts of Attainder, gained more land into his own assets, thus increasing earning for the running of the kingdom. Through escheats, instead of the lands of the deceased being passed to other nobles, the King absorbed them for himself, again increasing land and revenue for the royal finances This was so successful that in 1509 the king received £42,000 from his lands – a considerable increase on the £29,000 he received in 1485. Henry VII also improved tax collection within the realm by introducing ruthlessly efficient mechanisms of taxation.

Other than the ordinary revenues, these were extraordinary revenues to fund particular needs of the Kingdom, such as to fight wars, that the King would be unable to afford from his own resources. It was through these extraordinary revenues that Henry could gain more money for the royal finances.

Though there were reforms in his ordinary and extraordinary revenues, Henry remained poor by some monarchical standards – the annual income of the King of France was many times that of Henry. By 1509, Henry's income was about £113,000 a year. The king of France, at the same time, had an income of £800,000 – a significant difference.

Richard Empson


Sir Richard Empson (c.1450 – 17 August 1510), minister of Henry VII, was a son of Peter Empson. Educated as a lawyer, he soon attained considerable success in his profession, and in 1491 was a Knight of the Shire for Northamptonshire in Parliament, and Speaker of the House of Commons.

From 1494 Empson was sometimes styled "king's councillor" and, after becoming chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in 1504, was knighted; Henry VII then joined him and Edmund Dudley by act of Parliament to the feoffees responsible for carrying out his will. From that time these men were closely associated in carrying out the king's legal and financial policy, which made them unpopular.

The death of Henry VII left them without a protector, and they were arrested in April 1509, on Henry VIII's accession. Empson was sent to Northampton, where he was tried on a charge of constructive treason and convicted. He was brought back to London and executed.