King Henry VII by an unknown artist

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    King Henry VII,    by Unknown Netherlandish artist,    1505,    NPG 416,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
Henry VII, the first Tudor king and founder of the powerful Tudor dynasty.
King Henry VII
by Unknown Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, 1505
16 3/4 in. x 12 in. (425 mm x 305 mm) arched top
NPG 416
© National Portrait Gallery, London
On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Henry VII (1457–1509) was the first Tudor Connected with the time when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled England (1485–1603). king. He was crowned king of England on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485 after his army killed Richard III. The battle and Richard’s death brought years of civil war between the House of Lancaster The English royal family which ruled England from 1399 to 1461. The kings were Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. and the House of York The English royal family which ruled England between 1461 and 1485. The kings were Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III.    , known as the Wars of the Roses A period of fighting (1455–85) in England between the supporters of the two most powerful families in the country at the time, the House of Lancaster, whose symbol was a red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose. , to an end.

Despite many challenges and threats, Henry succeeded in establishing the Tudor Connected with the time when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled England (1485–1603). as a secure ruling Dynasty A series of leaders of a country who all belong to the same family. , and Tudor Britain England and Wales from 1485 to 1603, when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled.   as a wealthy nation. This laid the early foundations for Britain’s Empire A group of countries or states that are controlled by one leader or government. and its rise as a global power.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    King Henry VII,    by Unknown Netherlandish artist,    1505,    NPG 416,    © National Portrait Gallery, London
King Henry VII, by Unknown Netherlandish artist, 1505

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time - look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?

    • Henry is wearing a robe made of cloth-of-gold, an expensive, heavy, velvet-like fabric with loops of gold. This was only worn by royalty.
    • His robe is edged with ermine – the white winter fur of a small animal called a stoat, used to decorate the formal clothes of kings and queens.
    • Henry is also wearing a black cap and Doublet A short, tightly fitting jacket worn by men from the 1300s to the 1600s. .
    • Henry is holding a flower that looks like a red rose. It is thought this was to show his identity as a Lancastrian – as the symbol for the House of Lancaster The English royal family which ruled England from 1399 to 1461. The kings were Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. was a red rose.
    • He is wearing a chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The Golden Fleece was a symbol that is connected to the Habsburgs, a powerful European royal family. It shows Henry in a way that would impress them.
    • The portrait does not appear to Flatter To make somebody appear more attractive, more powerful or better than they are in reality. him and make him look more attractive.
    • He is shown with deep-set eyes and prominent cheekbones.
    • He has been represented as an older man rather than a young king.
… rightful and undoubted inheritor by the laws of God and man. 
Archbishop of Canterbury, 1485

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This is a marriage portrait. When this portrait was created, Henry was a Widower A man whose wife or husband has died and who has not married again. , following the death of his wife Elizabeth of York. He was now hoping to find a royal wife from Europe. He wanted to build relationships with European royalty through marriage, to help protect and build the new Tudor Connected with the time when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled England (1485–1603). Dynasty A series of leaders of a country who all belong to the same family. .
  • Marriage portraits like this were only created for the most powerful, wealthy people.
  • It was painted to show Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor The ruler of the Holy Roman Empire; in the Tudor period he ruled over lands in western and central Europe. , what Henry looked like. Maximilian was from the Habsburgs, a powerful European royal family. He was looking for a suitable husband for his daughter Margaret of Austria. The portrait was made to show a true likeness of Henry – not to Flatter To make somebody appear more attractive, more powerful or better than they are in reality. him.
  • Margaret wished to remain a widow and marriage to Henry never happened. Henry remained unmarried for the rest of his reign. 
  • Portraiture The recording of an individual's appearance and personality. in Britain started to grow during the Tudor period. Portraits were used by the Tudor dynasty as a tool to build relationships with other countries, show off their power and wealth, project identity and create historical narratives. They were also used to remember a Monarch A person who rules a country, for example a king or a queen. after they had died.
  • This portrait is the earliest painting in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. It was made in 1505.

Who was King Henry VII?

  • Henry VII was the head of the House of Lancaster The English royal family which ruled England from 1399 to 1461. The kings were Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. and founder of the Tudor Connected with the time when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled England (1485–1603). Dynasty A series of leaders of a country who all belong to the same family. .  
  • He unified the Lancaster and York Dynasty A series of leaders of a country who all belong to the same family. , bringing a series of civil wars called the Wars of the Roses A period of fighting (1455–85) in England between the supporters of the two most powerful families in the country at the time, the House of Lancaster, whose symbol was a red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose. to an end after 85 years. 
  • He married Elizabeth of York to bring the dynasties together. He adopted the red and white rose – the Tudor rose – as a symbol of this new dynasty. This was a blend of Lancastrian red and Yorkist white roses. 
  • Henry spent his entire reign building wealth and protecting his dynasty from powerful Noble Belonging to a family of high social rank. . By the end of his reign Henry’s wealth was well-known across Europe.
  • He created strong relationships with foreign countries. In 1503, Henry arranged the marriage of his daughter Margaret to James IV of Scotland, to make peace between England and Scotland.
  • That peace didn’t last, but 100 years later the couple's great-grandson would rule both countries. He was James VI of Scotland but was also crowned James I of England in 1603 after the death of Queen Elizabeth I (Henry VII’s granddaughter).
  • When he died his teenage son Henry VIII inherited a strong ruling dynasty and a wealthy, peaceful nation.

Questions

  1. What impression do you get of Henry from this portrait?
  1. How do you think this portrait might have been different if it had been made for Henry VII and not Maximilian I?
  1. Why do you think royal portraits are made today?