Henry VII: Controlling the Nobility

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The Problem with Nobility

  • Stability and security of the realm rested on the nature of the relationship between the King and his nobility, and their ability to co-operate
  • The nobility had a duty to serve their social superior (their King) who was held to be God's deputy on Earth; the King too was obliged to protect them and reward them for their loyalty - and above all to rule fairly and wisely
  • This theory of obligation was known as the Great Chain of Being; however this theory did not always work so well
  • The War of the Roses had temporarily upset this order, the crown being fought over by rival factions; this damaged and reduced the status of the monarchy
  • The nobility had profited from this the most, taking the law into their own hands 
  • Although they had always tried to control their localities, they were now using their retainers as their private armies to settle petty disputes 

Great Chain of Being - Belief in the divine order extended from God down through angels, humans, animals, vegetables and minerals. It was used by the church to justify the position of the king, through the nobles, gentry and peasants 

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Asserting Control over Nobility

  • Henry's probelm was how to purpress the magnates' abuse of their power while preserving the power itself
  • A great nobleman had power to provoke disorder and even revolt, but could act as a mediator between the poeple and central government
  • Henry hoped that imposing his will by ruthless impartiality the nobility would learn that their role/position was one of obedience, service and loyalty to the Crown
  • If this was achieved then the rest of his subjects would follow in suit as the nobility were the natural leaders of society 
  • It can be argued that Henry's reign was the end of an independent feudal nobility and the beginning of a service nobility

Magnates - A powerful nobleman

Feudal - The Medieval social and political system

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The Size of Nobility

  • Henry deliberately kept peerage small by limiting the unber of new lords that he created
  • He did this becase a limited noble class were easier to control
  • He rarely elevated anyone that when/if he did, it was considered a great reward 
  • A grant of a title often brought with it large estates granted from Crown lands; the creation of new peers resulted in loss of income for the King
  • Henry only had 3 Earls: his stepfather, Thomas, Lord Stanley (became Earl of Derby), Philibert de Chandee, Earl of Bath and Sir Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon.
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Shrinking Nobility

  • Henry's uncle, Jasper Tudor, who acted as his mentor and guardian, was promoted from Earl of Pembroke to Duke of Bedford; unlike Sir William Stanley and Sir Rhys ap Thomas, to whom Henry owed a lot to
  • The peerage shrank from around 62 in 1485 to aprox. 42 in 1509
  • Henry found the award of Order fo the Garter which was an old-established honour but involved no financial obligations 
  • 37 of Henry's closest followers (peers included) received this privilege, among those honoured were Sir William Stanley and Sir Rhys ap Thomas - however, Stanley was not content with this reward

Order of the Garter - Founded in 1348, this honour was bestowed on the most important knights who then attained the senior rank of knighthood

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Overmighty Subjects

  • Henry faced fewer overmighty nobles, one reason being that he had very few male relatives; whereas Edward IV had two powerful brothers, Henry only had stepbrothers who never received dukedom 
  • The King was also cautious in rewarding his followers and the lands that came to the Crown from extinct peerage families were not given away
  • Henry also controlled marriages of his nobles, making sure the leading magnates did not link themselves to great heiresses in order to create dangerous power blocs; he was able to do this becase as their feudal lord his permission was necessary
  • Overmighty families were kept in check, even if Henry was close to them, such as the Stanley Earls of Derby 
  • 1506, Henry took the opportunity to fine his stepbrother, Bishop Stanley the sum of £245,680 for illegally retaining; the greater magnates posed less of a threat to Henry than they had in previous reigns due to a carefully thought-out policy

Retaining - Employing and maintaining servants

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Attitude towards the Nobility

  • One of the reasons Henry kept some of his nobility close to him was so he could keep an eye on them
  • It is clear that the nobility involved themselves in political dynamics of Henry's court; it seems that whereas Henry mistrusted many of his nobility, he did favour a few
  • This imbalance may have contributed ot feuding at court
  • He never attempted to interfere with their authority in the localities and they continued to dominate local government 
  • He also contiued the medieval practice of granting the overlordship of the outlying ares of his Kingdom to the greater magnates as a gesture of goodwill
  • This is why Percy, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland was released early from captivity and was regranted wardenship of the north of England
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Henry and Patronage

  • Unlike his predescesors, Henry did not try to buy the loyalty of the nobility through the use of patronage
  • He was careful and selected those who were good and gave loyal service to the Crown to receive royal favour
  • This meant that it was not necessarily the nobility who fell into this category; Henry was willing to be fair and treat everyone the same, regardless
  • An example of this is Edmund Dudley, the Sussex lawyer; he rose to become one of Henry's most trusted advisers but was not made a peer 
  • Henry believed that patronage was not an automatic privilege of the upper class, but that it had to be earned

Patronage - The award and distribution of royal favours

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Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey

  • Howard's career illustrates how Henry was prepared to forget past mistakes if the perpetrators preformed loyally for him
  • After Henry's accession, Howard was imprisioned in Tower and attained along with his father
  • He was released in 1489 and put in charge of maintaining law and order in the north, probably because he had impressed the King by turning down the opportunity to escape during the Simnel plot
  • The attainder was revoked and his title restored; but Henry only returned some of his lands
  • He was also denied the ducal title; it was not until 1513 that Henry VIII finally rewarded him with the dukedom for his leading role in defeating the Scots in battle
  • Henry frequently used acts of attainder as a way to punish magnates, then after a period, he would arrange for Parliament to revoke them, but would only gradually restore the confiscated lands as a reward for acts of particular loylalty and support
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Financial Penalties

  • Used financial threats to strengthen royal authority and control nobility
  • He manipulated the existing system of bonds and recognisances for good behaviour to his advantage; an offender was forced to either pay up front or to promise to pay a certain sum of money as security for their future good behaviour
  • This method was used with all the elite classes to ensure their loyalty
  • He also did this as a way to raise royal revenue; the sums for these agreement ranged from £400 for an insignificant offender, to £10,000 for a peer
  • The greater the magnate, the more likely Henry was to bring him under this type of financial pressure
  • Even the clergy were not spared; Bishop of Worcester had to promise to pay £2000 if his loyalty was ever in question
  • Another example is of Edward IV's stepson, the Maquis of Dorset; he was believed to implicated in the Simnel plot and after further treachery in 1491, his friends signed bonds totalling to £10,000 as a promise of his good behaviour
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Livery and Maintenance

  • Henry condemned retaining, with two laws being passed against it in 1487 and 1504
  • He knew retainers could be armed and trianed to provide their masters with an army as the practice of retaining helped to perpetuate the War of the Roses, which explains why Henry was so keep to stop it
  • In 1487, Henry forced the members of both Houses of Parliament to swear they would not retain illegally; only licensed retainers were permitted by the Act in 1487
  • The size of a nobleman's retinue was determined by his status: a duke could retain 120 servants, and Earl could employ 80
  • The legislation of 1504 introduced a novel system of licensing whereby men could only employ retainers for the King's service alone
  • A lord had to have a special license endorsed with the privy seal to do this, and the entire retinue had to listed for royal approval
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Curbing the Practice of Retaining

  • Henry's seccess in this matter is seen in the reduction of retainers that magnates maintained; those employed were limited to the legal categories of servants, lawyers and officials
  • However, individuals like the Duke of Buckingham show that they might have got round official policy by employing more state officers than were necessary
  • It nobles did retain illegally while Henry VII was on the throne, they were careful not to leave any evidence
  • Magnates who did break the law were made examples of: such as Lord Bergavenny, who was fined £5 per month, which amounted to the sum of £70,550, Henry suspended this in favour of a recognisance; it was a warning for others not to offend/reoffend
  • The difference between Edward IV and Henry VII over retainers is that, whereas Edward turned a blind eye, Henry treated everyone the same
  • Among those who were charged with illegal retaining in 1504 were the Earls of Derbey, Essex, Northumberland, Shrewsbury, Oxford and even the King's mother, Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby
  • Retaining also contiuned into the reign of Elizabeth I, so it was certainly not eliminated, thought it was controlled
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