Thursday, December 29, 2011


A review of S.B. Chrimes’ Henry VII (1972, original) (1999, my copy)

(Rating 4 of 5)

Henry VII has one of the more unlikely stories of any British monarch. Often times this king is overshadowed by his more (in)famous son, King Henry VIII. But King Henry VII has a greater tale to how he became king than his son does. Henry VIII was born a prince, becomes heir at the death of his older brother, and becomes King at nineteen at the death of his father. While Henry VII’s journey to the throne is much greater tale than simply inheritance, and is one of the least probable since William the Conqueror, this King Henry does not get the attention I think he deserves.

(King Henry VII)

Like the other rebel prince Henry, the Duke of Lancaster, the Earl of Richmond would have to led an army against an evil King Richard in order to claim the crown of England. However there are two key differences in their case. The first is King Henry IV captured Richard II and forced him to abdicate, where Henry VII had killed Richard III in battle. The second is Henry IV was, like his opponent, a grandson of King Edward III whose royalty was unquestionable. Henry VII was very distant in kinship with the crown. While even the sons of Richard, the Duke of York, had a clear claim to royalty, Henry was closer to French royal family than English one. Henry’s grandmother was King Henry V’s widow and a daughter of King Charles VI of France, but his English royal blood came from his mother’s family who were descended from John of Gaunt*, but through a line whose legitimacy was at best questionable.

(The evil King Richard III, who Henry must depose to take the crown)

Chrimes tells the story of this Welsh nobleman who never knew his father because he was born after his father had died. After King Edward IV takes back power from the pathetic King Henry VI, young Henry Tudor goes into exile with his uncle in France. In exile, Henry and his uncle Jasper plot a way to come power, which would not have been reached if King Richard III had not begin the demise of the York dynasty by undermining it from within. Richard deposed his nephew, King Edward V, and imprisoned him and his brother in the tower of London, never to be seen again. Henry Tudor would return at the head of an army and defeat Richard III and take the throne.

(Jasper Tudor, the uncle who raised his royal nephew when in exile)

From the point of Henry’s accession Chrimes’ story begins to turn dry. We began to lose narrative in favor of analysis. This is a shame because it loses a lot of drama that took place in King Henry VII’s reign. Henry VII had to deal various pretenders to the throne. These were pretenders not only in the sense that they just claimed to be King, but they claimed to be other people than who they really were. They would try to pretend they were the imprisoned Earl of Warwick or the late Duke of York. Henry VII would also become a diplomatic mastermind strengthening his position while not allowing his treasury to be wasted in long drawn out conflict.

One of ways this book change my outlook at King Henry’s reign was in his marriage to Elizabeth of York. I, like most, had always read deep political motivation in Henry taking the throne before marrying Princess Elizabeth. However Chimes makes the argument that there was really no other way for him to go about it.

(Elizabeth of York, begins life as the daughter of the King, briefly the sister of the King, then the niece of the King, ultimately the wife of the King, and post mortem the mother of the King.)

“Historians have often sought to make much of the fact that the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth of York, which he had solemnly promised to perform at the meeting in Rennes Cathedral on Christmas day, 1483, did not occur until some four months after Bosworth. Much play has been made of the idea that there was some profound political motive for getting himself crowned and his title declared in parliament before he entered into a matrimonial union with the Yorkist house. But it is difficult to see how he could have possibly proceeded any other way. He was necessarily obliged to ascend to the throne on the merits of his own claims, to which marriage to Elizabeth could add nothing.”

He also goes on to explain that Elizabeth was technically still a declared bastard by Parliament. Henry would have to undo this any he could only do that as King. King Henry VII also, as Henry Tudor, was attained person; Chimmes explains not once, but twice, in this book that Henry had to undo that and the only way he could achieve that was by becoming the King.

Chimmes wrote a very good book. It could have been better if it contained a tad bit more narrative a little less analysis. There are also some historical errors in book. They are little things like claiming King Charles II was never Prince of Wales and that King Henry VI was. Nevertheless, it is a very good book.

*Edward III’s son and Henry IV’s father.

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