Room 1: Early Tudors
© The National Portrait Gallery, London
The beginnings of the Tudor dynasty were established at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire on 22 August 1485, when he army of Henry Tudor defeated Kind Richard III. Henry was crowned as Henry VII and quickly strengthened his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, thereby uniting the two royal houses of York and Lancaster. Henry’s priority was the security of his crown and the Tudor succession, which was ensured by the survival of four of his children into adulthood. During his reign he centralised power and greatly improved the crown finances. Henry’s eldest son Arthur, died before his father and when Henry died his second son, the future Henry VIII inherited a relatively stable and prosperous kingdom.
Henry VIII’s colourful reign is exceptionally well documented. After his accession to the throne in 1509 he married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. However, after twenty years of marriage, Catherine failed to bear him a surviving male heir and Henry chose to see this as God’s divine judgement on the morality of marriage to his sister-in-law. As he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, Henry determined to get divorced. This decision plunged him into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope, and set the stage for the future Protestant England. Henry became head of the Church of England and Wales and dissolved the monasteries, seizing their wealth for his own purposes. Under his rule the birth of the Church of England was realised, the government was reorganised, the navy strengthened, and the middle classes enriched. But in personal terms Henry became increasingly ruthless and despotic.