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Henry VII: Nobility
Arguably the biggest challenge facing Henry VII was controlling the nobility. They had
been responsible in part for overthrowing the last 3 kings at one time or another,
hence the phrase `over-mighty subjects' that has been used to describe those such
as Buckingham and Warwick who sought greater power by replacing the existing king.
The king also relied on nobles to be in charge of the various regions of England and
to ensure that that law and order was kept. For a usurper who had to expect
rebellions the nobles played a crucial role in controlling unrest before it became a
There were two policies which Henry could follow. He could reward them and hope to
buy their loyalty. This was the policy largely adopted by Edward IV. Alternatively he
could frighten them so they did not dare to be disloyal. Henry actually used elements
of both policies, though you may decide that he used the second policy more readily
than the first. Having been brought up in Brittany it may be that Henry instinctively
did not trust the English nobles in the way that the Yorkist kings had done. His main
contact with them had been with those willing to show disloyalty towards Richard III.
Rewarding the nobles
The main way of rewarding nobles was through patronage, which is the awarding of titles,
land and positions. Henry was noticeably much less generous in this respect than his
predecessors. He created few new nobles apart from his own family so that by the end of
the reign there were only just over 50 nobles. He also rarely rewarded them with land. He
did not wish to create new over-mighty subjects and land was important to him as a source
of income. So giving away land reduced the king's wealth and increased the wealth of men
who were potentially his enemies. Instead Henry used the Order of the Garter, which gave
nobles status but did not reduce royal income or increase noble power.
Henry also occasionally allowed nobles to give him advice on the King's Council. During his
reign 43 nobles were members of his council and 70% of those attended more than one
meeting. However membership of the council was not automatic but only came through
Controlling the nobles
As mentioned above, Henry did not trust the nobility and so tended more towards harsh
measures to control them than rewarding them.
Act of Attainder. An act of attainder was an act of parliament which declared an individual
to be a traitor without that person being found guilty in a court. The original purpose had
been to punish traitors who fled abroad and so could not be brought before a court.
However Henry used them inventively to deal with Yorkists. By dating the start of his reign to
the day before the battle of Bosworth meant that all those who had fought against him were
by necessity traitors. They then had acts of attainder passed against them. However Henry
did not sign these acts so they remained as suspended sentences. If the noble remained loyal
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If the noble showed any sign of disloyalty they could be
executed and their lands taken from their family, which of the two was the more serious
Bonds and recognisances. Bonds and recognisances were agreements which the king
could make landowners sign in which they would agree to pay a fine if they broke the
agreement. This often involved agreeing not to fight a specific landowner.…read more
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Henry has a problem should he use those with experience but who he does not trust, or
those he trusts who have little experience? If he uses those with experience how can he
ensure they remain loyal to him?
Types of Nobles he relies on:
(a) Loyalists: e.g. Oxford (East Anglia, Essex), and Daubeney (the South-West)
(b) Former Yorkists e.g. Northumberland and Surrey.…read more
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Richard's reign when he had
secretly negotiated with Henry.
Was Henry harsh on the nobility?
· He was reluctant to create more peers: nobility declined from 50 to 35 during the reign.
· He promoted the interests of commoners, sometimes over and above those of peers.…read more