Henry Tudor (or Tydder) was the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and the 13- year-old child prodigy, Margaret Beaufort. In 1456, Edmund was captured by the Yorkists and imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle, where he died by the end of the year. Edmund’s brother, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, took his young, pregnant sister-in-law back to his stronghold of Pembroke Castle. There, on January 28th, 1457, Margaret gave birth to her only child, Henry.
In 1461, when Henry was four, Edward IV took the throne, Jasper fled the country and the Earldom of Pembroke was given to William Herbert. Care of Henry and his mother came with the Earldom. Shortly after, Margaret left Pembroke to be with her new husband, Sir Henry Stafford. Henry Tudor, meanwhile, was brought up in the household of William Herbert; he was given a good education and was intended as a husband for Herbert’s daughter.
In 1469, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had William Herbert executed on a charge of treason. With the restoration of Henry VI, Henry Tudor was brought to court by his uncle Jasper. Henry VI is reputed to have said on meeting the young Henry for the first time, “This is he unto whom both we and our adversaries must yield and give over the dominion”. In 1471, with Edward IV back in charge, Henry and uncle Jasper fled to Brittany, to begin a fourteen year exile. With the death of Henry VI and his son Edward of Lancaster, Henry Tudor emerged as the focus for Lancastrian support. His exile was uneasy, as first Edward IV and then Richard III made attempts to capture him.
After his victory at Bosworth in 1485, he consolidated his power by marrying Elizabeth of York (Edward IV’s eldest daughter) and by eliminating any potential sources of opposition. An example of Henry’s style can be seen by the execution of the son of George, Duke of Clarence, on charges of high treason by plotting to overthrow Henry.
Henry favoured foreign courtiers and kept the English nobles in place by a series of stiff fines and bonds. He genuinely seemed distraught on the death of his eldest son, Arthur, and on the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1503. During his last six years of life, he became a virtual recluse and presided over a very sombre court.
Polydore Vergil in his Anglica Historia describes Henry as “remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair thin and white; his complexion sallow.” Henry’s obituary from the Anglica Historia (which he funded) includes the following: “But all these virtues were obscured latterly by avarice, from which he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice since it is harmful to everyone and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the State must be governed.”
He died within a few months of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, in 1509, his main legacy to the English royal house being his son, King Henry VIII.