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Henry VII (January 28, 1457 – April 21, 1509) was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizure of the crown on August 22, 1485 until his death in 1509. He was the first monarch of the House of Tudor.

Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle to Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. His father, Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, died three months before his birth. Henry’s paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, originally from the Tudors of Penmynydd, Isle of Anglesey in Wales, had been a page in the court of King Henry V.

Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland

Owen Tudor rose to become one of the “Squires to the Body to the King” after military service at the Battle of Agincourt. Owen is said to have secretly married the widow of King Henry V, Catherine of Valois. One of their sons was Edmund, Henry’s father. Edmund was created Earl of Richmond in 1452, and “formally declared legitimate by Parliament”.

Henry’s mother, Margaret, provided Henry’s main claim to the English throne through the House of Beaufort. She was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (fourth son of Edward III), and his third wife Katherine Swynford.

Initially Katherine was Gaunt’s mistress for about 25 years. When they married in 1396 they already had four children, including Henry’s great-grandfather John Beaufort. Thus, Henry’s claim was somewhat tenuous; it was from a woman, and by illegitimate descent.

Hereditarily the Portuguese and Castilian royal families had a better claim to the throne of England than the Beaufort family since they were descendants of Catherine of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt and his second wife Constance of Castile.

John of Gaunt’s nephew King Richard II legitimised Gaunt’s children by Katherine Swynford by Letters Patent in 1397. In 1407, Henry IV, Gaunt’s son by his first wife, issued new Letters Patent confirming the legitimacy of his half-siblings but also declaring them ineligible for the throne.

Elizabeth of York, Queen of England and Lady of Ireland

Henry IV’s action was of doubtful legality, as the Beauforts were previously legitimised by an Act of Parliament.

Nonetheless, by 1483 Henry Tudor was the senior male Lancastrian claimant remaining after the deaths in battle, by murder or execution of Henry VI (son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois), his son Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, and the other Beaufort line of descent through Lady Margaret’s uncle, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset.

By 1483, Henry’s mother was actively promoting him as an alternative to Richard III, despite her being married to Lord Stanley, a Yorkist. At Rennes Cathedral on Christmas Day 1483, Henry pledged to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV. She was Edward’s heir since the presumed death of her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, King Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Henry devised a plan to seize the throne by engaging Richard III quickly because Richard had reinforcements in Nottingham and Leicester. Though outnumbered, Henry’s Lancastrian forces decisively defeated Richard III’s Yorkist army at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 22, 1485. Several of Richard’s key allies, such as Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, and also Lord Stanley and his brother William, crucially switched sides or left the battlefield. Richard III’s death at Bosworth Field effectively ended the Wars of the Roses.

To secure his hold on the throne, Henry declared himself king by right of conquest retroactively from August 21, 1485, the day before Bosworth Field. Thus, anyone who had fought for Richard against him would be guilty of treason and Henry could legally confiscate the lands and property of Richard III, while restoring his own.

On January 18, 1486 Henry honoured his pledge of December 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York. They were third cousins, as both were great-great-grandchildren of John of Gaunt. Henry married Elizabeth of York with the hope of uniting the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides of the Plantagenet dynastic disputes, and he was largely successful.

However, such a level of paranoia persisted that anyone (John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, for example) with blood ties to the Plantagenets was suspected of coveting the throne.

Henry had Parliament repeal Titulus Regius, the statute that declared Edward IV’s marriage invalid and his children illegitimate, thus legitimising his wife.