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Reign of Henry VII

Defects of Henry VII.'s Title - Proceeds to London, and shuts up the Earl of Warwick in the Tower - Promises to marry Elizabeth of York, but delays - Crown settled on him and his Heirs by Parliament - His Marriage - Insurrection in Yorkshire - Birth of Prince Arthur - Lambert Simnel claims the Crown as the Earl of Warwick - Proclaimed King in Ireland - Henry confines the Queen Dowager, and exhibits the real Earl of Warwick in London - The Battle of Stoke - The Queen Crowned - Fresh Insurrection in the North, and the Earl of Northumberland killed by the Populace - Henry's Ingratitude to the Duke of Brittany - Battle of St. Aubin - Peace betwixt France and Brittany - Marriage of the Duchess of Brittany and Maximilian of Germany - Appeals to Henry from Brittany for Aid against France - Henry thinks only of his Money - The King of France seizes Brittany and marries the Duchess, spite of her being already married to Maximilian - Henry threatens War to France.
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though Henry Tudor had conquered Richard III. on the field of Bosworth, and released the country of a tyrant, he had no title whatever to the crown of England, except such as the people, by their own free choice, should give him. He was descended, it is true, from Edward III., through John of Gaunt, but from the offspring of not only an illicit, but an adulterous connection. When the natural children of John of Gaunt, therefore, were legitimatised by Act of Parliament, that Act expressly declared them incapable of inheriting the crown. Still more, the true hereditary claim lay in the house of York; and had that line been totally extinct, and had the bar against his line not existed, there were several persons of the line of Lancaster living, whose title was infinitely before his own. Farther still, he stood attainted as a traitor by Act of

Parliament, and could not, therefore, assert a Parliamentary right. Yet, as we have said, for years public expectation, overlooking the claims of all others of both the contending lines, had turned towards him, as the individual destined by Providence to put an end to the sanguinary broils of York and Lancaster, and unite them in peace. It seemed a silent but overruling expression of the will of God, that Henry Tudor, the grandson of a mere yeoman of the guard, should, like David the shepherd boy, come forward in due time to establish a new line and a better state of things; and Henry himself, on the field of Bosworth, received the acclamations of the army, and the imposition of the fallen crown of Richard, as if they occurred quite in the natural order of affairs.

The quiet, gentlemanly, and prudent conduct of Henry Tudor during his youth and exile had, no doubt, had much to do with the leaning of public opinion towards him. He appeared just the man to avoid further quarrels, and to rule the realm in peace. And, probably, had he remained in the uneventful and circumscribed rank of a nobleman, he might have maintained the character of a good sort of man - very prudent, very prosperous, and therefore deemed very wise and good. The world is always ready to heap all kinds of praises on your cold, cautious, and therefore undoubtedly highly respectable character; but when a man is elevated out of the mass of society, and placed on the artificial and be-worshipped pedestal of kingship, his temptations become too powerful even for the most consummate prudence; the flatteries of courtiers teach him that for him neither human nor divine laws are binding; the beguiling doctrine of expedience soon triumphs over the more welcome whispers of conscience; and the prudent, respectable man soon develops into the tyrant and the murderer. Through all the career of Henry VII. we scarcely see a single gleam of anything like generosity or nobility of mind, and his very first act as a sovereign showed that his prudence was wholly oblivious of justice, and was not likely to wear the mere gilding of kindliness.

The only son of the late Duke of Clarence, who, next to the children of Edward IV., was the heir-apparent of the line of York, had been confined by his uncle, Richard III., in the castle of Sheriff Hutton, in Yorkshire. Richard had at first treated this poor boy with kindness; he had created him Earl of Warwick, the title of his illustrious grandfather, the king-maker. On the death of his own son, he had at first proposed to nominate him his heir; but, fearing that he might be too dangerous a competitor, he had omitted that favour, and conferred it on the Earl of Lincoln, John de la Pole, the son of his sister the Duchess of Suffolk, and therefore nephew both of himself and Edward IV. He then carefully confined the unhappy youth, who now fell into the hands of as relentless, if not as reckless, a tyrant. He was still only fifteen years of age; he had been cut off in his joyous boyhood from all the freedom and pleasures of that ago by his dangerous proximity to royalty; and that fatal gift of a princely birth was destined to make him a miserable captive for life, his mind totally neglected, and his death a bloody one, accelerated by the same cause. Henry, the very first day after the battle of Bosworth, dispatched Sir Robert Willoughby to take the young earl from Sheriff Hutton and convey him to the Tower of London.

It was an act which fell with a strange presaging feeling on the public, in whose mind the murder of the poor boy's two cousins in that dungeon still vividly lived.

At Sheriff Hutton there had been at the same time another prisoner. This was Elizabeth, the princess royal, the undoubted heiress of Edward IV. When Richard had been deterred from marrying her, his own niece, not by any conscientious sense of its impropriety, but by the undisguised expression of public abhorrence, he had consigned her to the same distant prison as his nephew, the Earl of Warwick. Henry, who had pledged himself to marry Elizabeth if he succeeded in deposing Richard, now sent, and taking her from Sheriff Hutton, had her conveyed to London, with an attendance of noblemen and honourable matrons, befitting the future queen and the present head of the royal house of York. She was conveyed with much state to the house of her mother.

Henry then put himself at the head of his victorious troops, and commenced his march towards the capital. Everywhere he was received, not as a conqueror, but a deliverer. The Lancastrians regarded him as the only one of their princes who had the talents necessary to maintain a disputed crown; and the Yorkists, relying on his pledge to marry Elizabeth, the princess of their party, equally rejoiced in the prospect of a union which should at once restore peace and admit them to a share of favour. The few remaining adherents of Richard consulted their safety by keeping out of sight. Everywhere on his progress the country people hailed him as king, clapping their hands and shouting aloud. On his approach to the capital, on the 28th of August, six days after the decisive battle of Bosworth, the mayor and aldermen, all clad in violet, met him at Hornsey Park, and, after being permitted to kiss his hand, conveyed him through London to St. Paul's. The people crowded the streets to welcome the new monarch, from whom, in the usual witching influence of change, they hoped for every good thing, and were greatly taken aback at finding their champion not coming riding on his charger, as was the wont; of our English kings, but closed up in a clumsy sort of close carriage, as if afraid of being seen. This first introduction to his capital betrayed in Henry Tudor more pride and reserve than the prudence and policy for which he had so long had credit. While he thus eluded the gaze of his expecting people, before him were borne in triumph the trophies of his victory, the three standards taken on the field of Bosworth, the one bearing an image of St. George, another a red fiery dragon, and the third a dun cow. These were deposited on the altar of the church, Te Deum was sung, and Henry then took up his quarters at the bishop's palace.

Notwithstanding the ungracious demeanour of the new king, the people everywhere in the city celebrated plays and all sorts of pastimes in his honour. But their rejoicings were scarcely over, when London was alarmed by the re-appearance of the fatal sweating sickness, which was supposed to be revived and spread by the contact of the crushing crowds. It commenced on the 21st of September, and did not abate its ravages till about the end of October. As soon as the withdrawal of this virulent disease permitted, Henry prepared for his coronation. He set out from Kennington, and after dining with Thomas Bouchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, he proceeded, with a splendid attendance of lords, both spiritual and temporal, towards the city. The nobles, imitating the absurd custom of France, rode two together on one horse, to show how completely the rival parties had amalgamated, and in this ridiculous style they passed through the city to the Tower, where Henry for the present took up his residence.

There, on the 28th of October, he made a number of promotions. Jasper Tudor, his uncle, Earl of Pembroke, was made Duke of Bedford; Thomas Lord Stanley, who had put the crown upon his head at Bosworth field, was created Earl of Derby; and Sir Edward Courtney, Earl of Devonshire. Sir Gilbert Talbot, Sir John Cheney, Sir Humphrey Stanley, and nine others who distinguished themselves on that field, were made knights-bannerets. On the 30th he was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he immediately appointed a body-guard of fifty archers to attend constantly upon him. This was another indication of distrust in his subjects, or of the state of a conqueror, which astonished and dismayed the public; but Henry assured them that it was merely the state which, on the Continent, was now deemed essential to a king; and such an argument is all-powerful with the bulk of mankind.

The Parliament assembled on the 7th of November, to settle the new order of things. Before proceeding to business, they found themselves in a great dilemma. No less than 107 of the members were persons attainted during the two last reigns, and were therefore disqualified for acting. They were the most zealous partisans of the house of Lancaster, and immediate application was made to the judges for their decision on this new and singular case. They came to the conclusion that the attainted members could not take their seats till their attainders were reversed, and a bill was passed by the remaining members accordingly. The judges, who noticed the king's displeasure at their requiring a bill of reversals, did not dare to recommend a reversal of the attainder of Henry himself, but they broached the convenient doctrine that the possession of the crown clears the fountain of blood, and takes away all attainders and corruptions. A very comfortable reflection for all successful usurpers! The simple interpretation of this great legal maxim, amounted to nothing more than the ancient proverb of the people, that Might makes Eight. Separate bills were passed, clearing the king's mother, the Dukes of Bedford, Buckingham, and Somerset, the Marquis of Dorset, the Earl of Oxford, the Lords Beaumont, Wells, Clifford, Roos, Hungerford, and others.

When Henry met his duly qualified Parliament, he informed them that "he had come to the throne by just title of inheritance, and by the sure judgment of God, who had given him the victory over his enemies in the field." In this declaration he was careful, while he asserted what was not true, to avoid what would alarm the pride and the fears of the nation. He had no just title of inheritance, as we have shown, and he dared not use the words "right of conquest," for such right was held to imply a lapse of all the lands in the nation to the crown, since they had been held of the prince who had been conquered. Lest he had, in even speaking of victory, gone too far, he immediately added, that "every man should continue to enjoy his rights and hereditaments, except such persons as in the present Parliament should be punished for their offences against his royal majesty."

The just judgment of God he grounded on the common belief of the times, that God decided the fate of battles, and even private duels. Edward IV. had used the same language, as we find in Rymer's "Foedera," xi. 710. "In division and controversy moved betwixt princes upon the high sovereign power royal, more evident proof or declaration of truth, right, and God's will, may not be had than by the means of reason, authority, and victory in battles." There was another right which he might have pleaded - that of the choice of the people, and of the three estates of Parliament; but this was a plea that the pride of kings made them especially reluctant to admit. They would base their elevation on the will of God, in conquest, or usurpation; but the will of the people, over whom they wished to sit as demi-gods, was peculiarly abhorred

by them, and never was admitted till the reign of William of Orange in England.

Another claim to the crown which Henry was still more careful to ignore, though it was one on which he secretly placed confidence, was the right of Elizabeth of York, whom he had pledged himself to marry, and who was the undoubted owner of the throne. But as Henry would not owe his throne to his people, so he would not owe it to his wife. He therefore took every means to establish his own title to the throne before he in any way alluded to hers, or took any steps towards fulfilling his pledge of marriage. He renewed that pledge, indeed, on arriving in London, to satisfy the York party; but he proceeded to have his claims to the throne acknowledged by Parliament without any reference to hers. If he had mentioned the right of Elizabeth of York, his extreme caution suggested that he would be held to possess the throne, not by his own claims, but by hers - an idea which equally offended his pride, and alarmed him for the security of the succession in his offspring. Should Elizabeth die without children, in that case the right would die with her; and any issue of his by another marriage might be accounted intruders in the succession, and they might be removed for the next heirs of Edward IV. If she should die childless, and even before him, even his own retention of the throne might be disputed. All these points the mind of Henry saw clearly; and in a moment, and as if no such person as Elizabeth existed, and as if no pledge to marry her had helped him to his success, he procured an Act of Parliament, which provided that "the inheritance of the crown should be, rest, remain, and abide in the most royal person of the then sovereign lord, King Henry VII., and the heirs of his body lawfully coming, perpetually with the grace of God so to endure, and in none other."

These last words went even to exclude the children of Elizabeth, should he not marry her, and the children of all her sisters. It cut off the line of Edward IV., as well as every other, under all circumstances, except that of a union with himself. It made him essentially the fountain of right and honour, and the marriage even of Elizabeth, the true heir, became not what he in his own mind knew to be that of the only sure policy, but on his part towards her and her family and party, an act of grace and favour. So cunningly and proudly did this descendant of an illegitimate line - this grandson of a common yeoman of the guard - go to work.

But whilst he put the Princess of England thus, as it were, under his feet, he was equally careful, without directly acknowledging her title, to secure it. He therefore at once refused to revive the Act of Henry IV., which entailed succession in the line of John of Gaunt, his own line, or to repeal that of Edward IV., establishing it in the line of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, that of Elizabeth. In his own favour, he cancelled and removed from the file all mention of his own attainder, and annulled the Act of Edward IV., which had pronounced Henry IV. and his successors usurpers and traitors; and in favour of Elizabeth's claims he annulled the Act of Richard III., which pronounced the marriage of her mother with Edward IV. invalid, and she and her brothers and sisters illegitimate. When this bill was passed through Parliament, the body of it was not read, out of respect to the future queen;but the Act of Richard, containing the grossest scandals on the family of Elizabeth, was ordered to be burnt; and any one possessing copies of that Act was ordered to deliver them in to the chancellor before Easter, to be destroyed, under penalty of fine and imprisonment. The mother of Elizabeth, the queen-do wager, was also by Act of Parliament restored to her title, but not to her dower.

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