Renaissance and Reformation Henry VII
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0411


On his father’s side Henry VII (1457–1509), king of England and lord of Ireland, was a great-grandson of Charles VI of France. On his mother’s he was merely a great-great-great-grandson of Edward III of England, and that through the initially illegitimate Beaufort line, but such was the royal and aristocratic bloodshed of the Wars of the Roses that Henry, earl of Richmond, was able to make a bid for the crown in 1485 and was victorious in battle over the last of the Yorkist kings, Richard III. The Yorkist cause did not vanish overnight and the early years of Henry’s reign were punctuated by revolts in the name of one or another pretender to the throne. That opposition was steadily worn down by Henry’s command of government and diplomacy so that, after a reign of almost twenty-four years, he was (probably) the first English king to die of natural causes since 1422. The facts of his life and reign can be found in any number of Reference Works and their significance appreciated by means of Overviews. Contemporary Sources range from state papers to celebratory poetry. Lives and Times chart his Evolving Reputation from the 16th to the 20th century before focusing on the wealth of Modern Biographies. Journals and Collections of Papers are both rich sources of information. This bibliography then assumes a thematic character, focusing first on Rebels and Pretenders, a category that included Henry himself in 1485 and the Yorkist figureheads Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck thereafter. Most of the detailed literature on Henry’s reign concerns the relationship between the King and His Subjects and so extensive is it that a sub-division is required, though it does not follow that there is or can be a hard and fast distinction between Ministers and Officials, on the one hand, and Nobles and Citizens, on the other. These two sub-sections together lead to consideration of Henry’s style of Kingship. Easier to separate from the greater whole are works dealing with Wales and Ireland. Foreign Policy meshes together Henry’s dealings with popes and secular princes because they tended to form a strategic whole. There may be no “Religion” section, but the king’s piety is not ignored. It tended to be expressed in terms of building, not least in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, and is therefore grouped with his secular patronage as Christian Culture and Court Culture.

Reference Works

Reference works tend to do two things when dealing with individual historical figures: provide a potted biography and supply a bibliography. For Henry VII, his dynasty, and the leading figures in his kingdom, the former is done in print and online by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the latter by the Bibliography of British and Irish History, which was formerly a print publication but is now only available online. Links have been created between these two resources and that unified whole should meet the biographical and bibliographical needs of the average student, though that is not to undervalue the work that has gone into compiling biographical dictionaries or the reference books that exist on English/British government, the monarchy in general, or the Tudors in particular. A degree of variety may be sought by keeping an eye on the website of the Henry Tudor Society, which is as yet a pale shadow of the well-established Richard III Society.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History.

    This was formerly a print publication, but is now maintained exclusively online, being updated three times a year. It is a vitally important resource for any aspect and period of British and Irish history. Access is via the website of the publisher, Brepols. Searches can be done bibliographically or by subject, including places and persons. Alternatively, the subject tree allows users to home in on specific areas using progressively more detailed categories.

  • The Henry Tudor Society.

    Nearly a century after the foundation of the Richard III Society (see The Ricardian, cited under Journals), in 2013 Henry VII acquired his own fan club, the Henry Tudor Society. Its website presents a promising menu of historical information, resources, articles, book reviews, campaigns, and links to the personal websites of relevant authors but remains in an early stage of development.

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the authoritative reference work for all significant figures in British history. The article on Henry VII is by S. J. Gunn. Available in both print and online editions, the latter includes links to other individuals on whom there are entries, as well as to external resources. In addition, the online edition has an article by Sean Cunningham on the personnel of Henry’s council learned in the law.

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