Not everybody agreed in 1485 that the new Tudor King, Henry VII, had the best claim to the throne of England. It has actually been described as ‘flimsy’. He was the son of a formidable mother, Margaret Beaufort, and Edmund Tudor. Margaret was the great-great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third surviving son, and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine later married, but their children were often declared illegitimate – legitimacy was pretty important when it came to royal lineage. Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, was the son of Catherine of Valois (Henry V’s French wife) and Owen Tudor, a Welsh courtier. So Henry VII was Edward III’s great-great-great-grandson through his mother.
But what alternatives were there, given that many of those with a claim to the throne were dead, or missing?
Among the more bizarre attempted rebellions in British history were the cases of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck; or was it Lambert Warbeck and Perkin Simnel? Ten year-old Lambert Simnel was first considered as being Richard of York, the younger of the two princes in the Tower, and then the Earl of Warwick, nephew to Edward IV. He was crowned king in Dublin, a rebel army duly landed in 1487 at Furness and made its way in the general direction of London. It was halted and beaten by Henry’s forces near Newark and Simnel, who Henry recognised as being a mere pawn in the whole affair, was put to work in the royal kitchens. He later did quite well, I gather. Perkin Warbeck was a slightly different proposition. Claiming to be Richard of York (again), he made various attempts to invade with the support of gullible, or perhaps hopeful, allies in France, Ireland and Scotland and even managed to marry a Scottish princess. However, he was captured following one of these attempts and executed in 1499.
If Henry VII had a mission, though, it was ‘recovery’ after the years of war. His marriage to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, was a good move in uniting the houses of Lancaster and York. The Tudor rose, combining the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York, was an excellent bit of propaganda and branding. Henry enjoyed administration – his hand is all over documents in the National Archives. Though he has a reputation for being obsessed with money, Henry VII left England a more secure, stable, place than it had been for a very long time indeed, as well with a full royal treasury. He seems to have been cautious abroad – though he did sponsor the Genoese explorer, John Cabot, to investigate the New World, which resulted in the Tudor flag being planted in Nova Scotia. One of his daughters, Margaret, married King James VI of Scotland (remember that – she was Mary Queen of Scots’ grandmother) and another, Mary, married the elderly Louis XII of France (though he died, apparently exhausted, after three months). Henry’s son and heir, Arthur (named after the legendary British hero), married one of the catches of Europe, Catherine of Aragon. Arthur’s premature death at the age of 15 necessitated a rapid re-think to betroth Catherine to Arthur’s younger brother, ten-year old Henry. And it was young Henry who took his father’s throne as Henry VIII at the age of 17, in 1509, when his father Henry VII died.