Henry VII of England



Henry VII of England


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Henry VII of England


January-February revision notes


Henry VII’s attempts to restore good governance


In order for Henry to be a successful monarch, it was vital that he was able to exert his authority throughout the kingdom. As well as attempting to bring both the regions and the nobles more under his control (we looked at his policy towards the nobility in the autumn half term) Henry had to reform local government if he was going to increase his control over the country.


Local govt


Local government was carried out by a network of officials, who were ultimately responsible to the king. Within each country, the two most important officials were the JP and the sheriff. The sheriff was in charge of arresting and prosecuting criminals, and was in charge of mustering the militia during times of need. The JP’s (magistrates) were the people who ran the courts and had tended to be made up of local landowners. The JP’s were in effect the local government as they ran the courts (they were therefore  in charge of defending public order, implementing Henry’s laws, and trying criminals). JP’s would also meet four times a year in Quarter sessions to try more serious cases, however more difficult cases would be passed to the assize courts where they were heard by professional judges.


What changes did Henry make?


Although Henry continued to select JP’s from the landholders, he started to rely on the second tier (e.g. those who were not nobles). This would reduce the power of the magnates and would hopefully prevent the corruption of justice. JP’s were given new powers e.g. they could question poachers or hunters in disguise, could replace members of the jury, and in certain cases operate without a jury completely. By the end of Henry’s reign it was they, rather than the sheriffs who held the real power in the counties.  


Were they all Henry’s ideas?


Edward IV had originally transferred the power to try criminals from the sheriffs to the JP’s. He was also one of the first people to start appointing JP’s from the second rank of landowners. Henry however continued with this policy and used it to a far greater extent than Edward did.


Why was reform so important?


The JP’s were in effect local government, as they were the people who supervised Henry’s laws and made sure they were obeyed. If his laws were being ignored it would seriously weaken his position. In addition to this, as monarch it was in Henry’s interests to uphold law and order. He had seen how the power of the nobles had grown during times of instability (e.g. the Wars of the Roses) and he realised he had to prevent this.


Problems with the system


As the JP’s were unpaid, Henry was dependent upon people’s goodwill. Although the system worked relatively well, it was extremely “medieval”. A system of paid local officials would have been far more efficient (e.g. like the stewards he had to look after land the crown had gained through attainder). The JP’s themselves could only try people who were brought before them, and as there was no standing police force, many criminals could easily escape. Henry also had no real authority over the JP’s; his only sanction was to threaten them with removal.


Despite having an intricate appeals process (which was headed by the king) we do not have a great deal of evidence to suggest this was used particularly much.


Although in certain cases it was necessary to appoint a Lord Lieutenant to oversee a particular region, Henry tried to appoint individuals who did not have a power base in that area. This would hopefully mean they would be impartial when passing judgements, and would prevent the growth of magnate power, leading to greater links between local and central government (a good example of this is the appointment of Thomas Howard Earl of Surrey as Lord Lieutenant of the north following the death of Percy).



Centralisation- (the process of ensuring government is run from the centre)


Henry was extremely keen to supervise the government of his kingdom from the centre, and ensure that all power came from him (e.g the Council of the North made sure Henry’s laws were obeyed, and was there to increase his own power). Rather than tour the country as Edward had done, Henry tried to direct all governmental operations from London. He tried to achieve this in 3 major ways


  1. Exploit crown land. As the king owned great amounts of land he could increase his authority as well as his income if he effectively managed his lands
  2. Encourage greater use of the royal council to settle disputes. This meant that the king could pass judgement over disputes, thus increasing his own power.
  3. Increase the power of the JP’s. These officials owed their positions to the king and obeyed his instructions (under a weaker king, the JP’s may not however have obeyed the kings instructions).


Henry’s use of Parliament


Parliament was not regularly summoned by Henry (7 times in 24 years). As its one major role was to grant taxation, Henry did not call it particularly often as he tried to avoid costly wars (he felt the expense could undermine his position as it would reduce his finances and may strain the loyalty of his subjects). Although parliament had certain judicial functions, these were becoming increasingly filled by committees such as the Council Learned.


When Henry did call parliament, he used it to ratify his own position. Legislation against retaining was passed, and in 1504 an act was passed which prevented corporations (towns) from passing laws unless they had the approval of the king (an attempt to show that power was held by him and not the towns). All acts of attainder had to go through parliament, therefore there was never any chance of Henry ever removing parliament as an institution.


Central Government


The King’s Council


The centre of government in this period was the king’s council. They would both advise the king and act in a judicial capacity when prosecuting nobles. Although there were 227 councillors during Henry’s reign, the council totalled around 40 active members. As Henry had little experience in dealing with the council (along with the fact he was a deeply suspicious character) he relied on a group of core councillors including: The Lord Chancellor John Morton, the Lord Privy Seal Richard Fox and the Lord Treasurer Lord Dynham. Other key councillors were Bray, Poynings and Dudley.


In order to improve efficiency, Henry set up smaller committees formed from the council. This meant that each committee could specialise in a specific area (e.g livery and maintenance- retaining). In addition to increasing his own revenue, more efficient committees would increase his control over the nobles. It was easier for Henry to supervise the actions of these smaller committees, thus allowing him to increase his own personal control. It is however interesting to not that Richard III had originally set up the Court of Requests (a committee to deal with legal cases)


Court of Star Chamber


This was a council that met in the Star Chamber (a room in Westminster with stars painted on the ceiling) to make judgements over disputes. The council operated without a jury like all committees did, and it could not order death. People could petition the king to have their disputes settled here (the king could however summon people to appear as well). This was a way of further reducing the power of the nobles as it allowed the king’s councillors to pass judgement over the nobles. This court was however open to all, and its appeal function was alos an attempt to make the common law courts more efficient.


Council Learned (in the Law)


This was established in 1495 and was the most notorious and feared of Henry’s committees. It was initially set up to establish Henry’s position as feudal overlord and was supposed to deal with all of his lands in order to check he was maximising his incomes. It dealt with wardships, marriage, payments on inheritance and administered bonds and recognisances. Although it was particularly detested it brought Henry a significant amount of money and helped increase peace as a result of the scrupulous enforcement of royal rights.


Who made up Henry’s Council?


Henry is often seen as using “new men” in his councils (e.g. the middle class/ gentry who had never previously been involved in government). Although some of his most trusted servants e.g. Bray and Poynings were “new men”, the make up of Henry’s councils changed little from that of Richard III




Just as before, the clerics (religious figures) made up half of Henry’s council. Morton and Fox, two of Henry’s chief ministers were both clerics.




Although many claim Henry tried to oust nobles from government, there were a number in his council. Henry did however demand loyal service from his nobles, and those who had served him well (e.g. John de Vere, Jasper Tudor etc) were well rewarded.


It did not make sense to immediately alienate Yorkists, therefore Henry was willing to give some Yorkist nobles a chance. Although Lincoln joined Simnel’s rebellion, Howard was eventually made a councillor and remained loyal to Henry.


New men


A great deal of Henry’s advisors were drawn from the lesser landowners, however this in itself was not new. Two of Richard III’s most loyal servants had themselves come from the gentry.


Many of these “new men” had years of experience of local administration, and at a time when Henry wanted to exploit his lands, he needed men who understood auditing and property laws and were skilled administrators.



How far did he establish good government?


Henry sought to restore law and order by increasing the authority of the monarchy. He recognised the threat posed by the nobility and largely stopped them from manipulating the law. Although he did rely on some magnates e.g. Thomas Howard, he strictly imposed the laws on issues such as retaining, and the threat of bonds, recognisances and ultimately acts of attainder ensured that magnates dare not disobey. Although historians criticise Henry by stating that he took few nobles to court, it appears a lot of cases were settled out of court with the payment of a recognisance.


Henry believed in supervision and delegation, with all power stemming from the centre. Although he built up the power of the gentry, he only gave power to those he felt could be trusted. By giving power to the JP’s, Henry was banking on the fact that they would be less able to resist the Kings will.


As the responsibilities of the various committees were clearly defined, Henry’s orders could be carried out, and his authority was felt throughout the country. There were however problems that Henry was unable to address; poor communications delayed the speed at which his communications could travel, and the lack of a police force or standing army ensured hat Henry remained reliant on the goodwill of local officials. In spite of this, England was relatively law abiding by the time of Henry’s death.



Henry’s financial policy


Henry was aware of how important it was to have strong finances if he was to remain on the throne. As a usurper himself, Henry was aware of the importance of money if he (or later his son) was going to have to put down a rival claim. Having accumulated wealth, it is then possible to fund armies and bribe opponent if necessary. Henry’s financial resources help explain why rebellions failed, as a rich king is generally a strong king.


Kings were under pressure to “live of their own”. The idea of this was that the king had certain types of regular income (ordinary revenue) which they should use to live off. Although the king could demand taxation form parliament during extraordinary circumstances he had to be careful, as regular taxation could provoke rebellion. Henry did not innovate particularly much in financial matters, although he greatly improved the efficiency of the existing methods.


Ordinary Revenue


Crown lands


As Henry did not give much land out as rewards (patronage) he was able to retain most of the profits for himself. The Acts of Resumption in 1485 increased his holdings, and he was able to rent far more land out. Aided further by Acts of Attainder, Henry’s income from crown lands increased from £29000 pa in 1485 to £42000 in 1509. This was the most important way in which he increased his income as he was able to let land out that he took from attainders (e.g. Stanley had vast estates). Henry employed stewards to look after his land for him in order to prevent other nobles becoming too powerful. Henry was able to further increase his holdings through escheats. Due to Henry’s lack of relatives, he did not have to share his land (this also increased his own position internally).





Customs duties


The king was supposed to receive the duty (tax) levied on all imported goods. Henry continued many of Edward IV’s policies by attempting to cut down on fraud. He attempted to block loopholes that some foreign merchants had enjoyed and updated the Book of Rates (the customs duties merchants had to pay). Smuggling however continued, and Henry was not able to significantly increase his revenue in this field.


Feudal dues


Henry was supposed to get money from those who held land and did not provide military service. Henry was also owed wardship (when a minor inherited land, it would revert back to the crown and would be auctioned to the highest bidder until the minor came of age) and relief (a form of inheritance tax) and was supposed to arrange the marriage of key nobles (for a fee- this was also designed to prevent the emergence of powerful blocks of nobles). The establishment of the committee system allowed Henry to increase his revenue in this field. In 1487 his income from wardships and marriage was £350, however by 1507 with the appointment of an officer to regulate this, income had risen to £6000pa. The Council Learned was initially set up to ensure that Henry was receiving his full feudal dues (although later it regulated crown land and bonds and recognisances as well). Katherine of Buckingham was fined £2000 in 1496 for marrying without the king’s permission.


Profits of justice


Henry was entitled to all profits from the judicial system. These would come from court fees and fines. Henry has been criticised for manipulating the legal system and although there is no proof of this, he often preferred to punish criminal acts by fines. Acts of Attainder would also bring the crown significant amounts of money (the attainting of Stanley brought the crown £9000 plus another £1000 pa)


Extraordinary revenue


This did not come in regularly, and came from people’s requirement to help the king during times of need, e.g. wars.


Parliamentary grants


Henry only called for tax when it was necessary, as he realised that if he asked for it too much then parliament may demand restrictions in his power. He demanded tax in 1487 to fight Simnel, 1489 to fight France and 1496 to fight Warbeck. It is interesting to note how the 1496 grant of taxation caused a major rebellion in Cornwall.


Tenths and fifteenths


This was the traditional form of taxation, although Henry also tried unsuccessfully to introduce a new style of tax, the “subsidy” (effectively an income tax) in 1496.




During times of emergency (e.g. Warbeck’s invasion), Henry could demand loans from landowners. These were hard to decline and tended to be paid back in full as Henry did not want to risk upsetting the nobles.




This was a forced loan, where subjects were asked to contribute as a sign of their goodwill towards the king. This could be effective if used sparingly, as demonstrated by the raising of £48500 in 1491 to fund the invasion of France.


Clerical taxes


When parliament made a grant, the convocation (a parliament for the church) would often follow suit and make a contribution (e.g. they gave £25000 for the 1489 French war). They could not however be forced into doing this. Henry also made money from simony (selling appointments) however he did not exploit this method of revenue particularly much.


Feudal obligations


The king could demand feudal aid to help pay for specific occasions such as the knighting of his eldest son, and the marriage of his daughter. Henry fully exploited these rights, and in 1504 received £30000 for the marriage of Margaret to James IV of Scotland (which took place in 1502) and the knighting of Prince Arthur in 1504, despite the fact he had been knighted 15 years previously and had died in 1502!


The French Pension


The Treaty of Etaples provided Henry with a pension of £5000 pa


Bonds and recognisances


The amount of money generated from bonds rose from £3000 in 1493 to £35000 in 1505, this those who fell behind pursued by the Council Learned. Of the 62 noble families, 46 were at some time financially at his mercy. 36 were bound by recognisances, 7 were under attainder and 3 were bound by other means. Some historians have concluded that the purpose of bonds and recognisances’ was to increase his revenue, rather than stabilise his position. It seems however that Henry tried to threaten financial ruin in order to win the loyalty of his subjects and therefore bolster his security. The best example of a recognisance is the £70,500 levied on Aberganvenny for illegal retaining.


How successful were Henry’s financial policies?


Aim no 1 Increase his own personal revenue (and personal security)


This was crucial, as a rich King was inevitably a strong King- money let them raise armies, and a full treasury was important on a monarch’s death so that their heir could fight rebellion (notice how Edward IV’s lack of money on his death had posed problems). Henry VII was keen to quickly become solvent as he was aware of the Yorksit threat, and was determined to die solvent, in case his heir should be challenged by a rival Yorkist claimant.


In terms of increasing his annual revenue, Henry VII was incredibly successful, and by his death his income was approximately £118,000 pa, more than any other monarch in the period, and he left £113,000 to his son! (the King of France did however have an income of approximately £800,000!)


Although this was his overall aim, in order to achieve this, he needed to achieve success in his other financial aims


Increase the efficiency of existing forms of revenue (making his main aim possible)


Henry can perhaps be criticised for not being particularly innovative. He came up with few new ways of boosting income, and tended to copy from the Yorkist kings, for example using receiver generals, “new men” and the chamber system. But the crucial thing to remember is that to be successful, Henry did not necessarily need to be innovative; what he tried to do was to increase the efficiency of existing forms of revenue- he did this so well he did not need to be innovative!


Although in the early stages of his reign (the first two years when he used the exchequer rather than the chamber) income from crown land dropped from £25,000 under Richard, to £12,000, by the end of his reign this had increased to £42,000. Rather than giving land away to nobles, Henry kept hold of it(he liked to give rewards such as making people Knights of the Garter, which cost nothing); this had the added bonus of reducing the power of the nobles, whilst allowing him to keep hold of crown land and thus make more money.


Henry was extremely successful in increasing the efficiency of his revenue systems as a result of his governmental reforms, especially his use of the committee system. The Council Learned in particular under Empson and Dudley (and before this the Court of General Surveyors) had the job of making sure that Henry received all he was due from both his crown lands, and any feudal obligations to which he was entitled (Henry’s use of the committee system could be seen as innovative). By 1507 Henry’s annual income from wardship had risen to £6,000 (from £350 in 1487). In addition, Henry was ruthless with his punishment, fining Katherine the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham £6,000 for marrying without his permission. Whilst he was successful in maximising sources of income here, the actions of the Council Learned in particular did start to anger people, and towards the end of his reign he risked the potential of rebellion by fraudulently exploiting his feudal rights in order to maximise his income.


Although incredibly successful in terms of increasing his income from crown lands and feudal dues, Henry did not quite enjoy the same level of success in terms of maximising his income from customs duties. Despite continuing Edward IV’s policy of employing port inspectors, smuggling remained a problems, and income from customs duties only


Reduce his dependence upon Parliament


It was essential for a King to “Live of His Own” as if he was dependent upon parliament and the nobility for money (which came in the form of taxation) he would quickly lose support, and may have to make concessions to Parliament in return for getting money. Henry was on the whole very successful here, and although he demanded tax 3 times


  1. 1487 to fight Simnel’s Rebellion
  2. 1489 to fight France
  3. 1496 to invade Scotland (and get Warbeck)


He was successful each time (shows parliament approved). Crucially he only wanted tax for war (unlike Henry VI who needed tax as he gave away too much land), and by 1496 he was so secure he did not need to demand money from parliament again. By reducing his dependence on parliament he had much more freedom of action, however he was only able to do this because of the way he had been able to maximise existing forms of revenue.


It is interesting that in the later part of his reign from 1505-09 he gave £342,000 in aid to the Habsburgs (the ruling royal family of Burgundy)- this freedom of action was only possible because of the massive wealth he had accrued. This is testimony to his level of success financially (although it could be argued that he wasted it by aiding the Burgunbdians!)


Use his financial policy to keep the nobles in check (an ulterior aim)


A crucial thing to acknowledge with Henry VII is how his noble policy, financial policy and reforms to government are all interlinked. Bonds and recognisances served two major purposes, and Henry used them incredibly well. They brought him large amounts of money (although Lord Abergavenny only paid part of the £70,550 recognise placed upon him this still greatly benefitted Henry) however more importantly they kept nobles in check. 46/62 noble families were at some point bound to Henry by either a bond, recognisance or suspended attainder, and the fact that he faced no rebellion from any major noble after 1487 (John De La Pole-Lincoln’s involvement in Simnel’s Rebellion) shows just how successful Henry’s financial policy was in achieving this ulterior aim.


Increase the gap between him and the nobles (another ulterior aim)


Henry’s use of bonds and recognisance certainly helped increase the gap between him and the nobility (unlike Edward IV who had been quite lenient of the nobility, such policies clearly showed Henry was in control). If however Henry was to establish his superiority over the nobles, he needed to make sure he earned far more than them (this would also prevent the emergence of over mighty nobles such as Warwick during the reign of Edward IV). Again, Henry was extremely successful here, as shown by the fact that on his death he earned 20 times that of the next leading noble.


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