Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Image of His Grandfather

Henry VIII
The more I look at the turbulent times as the Plantagenet dynasty morphed into that of the Tudors, the more similarities I notice between Edward IV and his grandson Henry VIII. It is all the more interesting since Edward seems to be romanticized more and remembered as a golden warrior king, while Henry is infamous for his scandalous marital history. Yet, were it not for those six wives, their stories would be strikingly similar.

Both Edward IV and Henry VIII were confident young men and widely acclaimed when they came to the throne. Each was welcomed and celebrated in a way that their fathers had not been, the handsome teens capturing the hearts of the people more successfully than Richard Duke of York or Henry VII had. Looking much alike, with their tall, athletic frames and red-gold hair, anyone seeing them together would have immediately seen the family resemblance.

Of course, no one did see them together. By the time Henry took the throne, his maternal grandfather had been dead for twenty-six years, much longer than Henry had been alive. Surely, his mother, Elizabeth of York, would have noticed the similarities between her beloved father and spirited son. But by 1509, she was also dead. There were a few to take note that the new Tudor king looked much like a Plantagenet, but it is not likely that they commented upon it.

Elizabeth of York
(Edward IV's daughter and
Henry VIII's mother)
The Tudors did not necessarily announce themselves as a new dynasty the way we consider them as such. Henry VII saw his reign of one of peacekeeping. Putting back together the shards of Lancaster and York, rather than creating a new royal family. While it is easy for us to draw a dividing line through the year 1485, that is not quite the way it would have seemed to someone living at the time. Therefore, it would have seemed natural for Henry to appear to be a reincarnation of his warrior king grandfather. People undoubtedly hoped that he would also be as virile.

There was certainly every reason to think that Henry would sire many children. He was one of eight children, though only he and two sisters survived to adulthood. His grandfather had ten children by his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and at least a few illegitimate children. As the almost eighteen year old Henry accepted his new crown, few could have foreseen the obsessive quest for an heir that would define his reign.

Maybe it was because of the arrogance of youth or willingness to step out on their own that led both of these new kings to raise up new men to surround themselves with. Instead of calling upon the patriarchs of ancient families to advise them, Edward and Henry preferred to seek wisdom from whatever source provided it. Men like William Hastings and Charles Brandon are examples of this. Others, who might have been expected to hold greater positions, such as the Stafford men, were held at a distance by both kings.

Edward IV
These eerily similar kings lost the optimism of their youth and degenerated into cruelty and suspicion toward those who might challenge them. Edward IV executed his own brother, George of Clarence; Henry executed George's daughter. Neither had any serious charge against them. Margaret had not even had a trial.

Edward, a man who seemed to be at his best when at war, disintegrated into self-destructive habits when his kingdom was at peace. Known to gorge himself on food and then purge so that he could eat more, Edward lost the muscular physique of his younger years under layers of fat, just as his grandson would though Henry's was also due to injuries that made it painful to walk. As they aged and grew more cantankerous, both kings had problems with women.

Elizabeth Woodville was a strong, ambitious woman, which made her unattractive to most men of the 15th century. The marriage matches, titles, and positions given to her many siblings caused people to turn against her and Edward. Henry's problem was quite the opposite, it seemed that no matter how many women he married, he could not cause one of them to give him a son. While Edward struggled to balance the wants and needs of a large extended family and many children of his own, Henry became obsessed with his need for a son to inherit his kingdom. Even after the birth of his own Prince Edward, named for his illustrious grandfather, Henry carried on to marry three more women. As a younger son himself, Henry understood the need for an heir and a spare.

Raised up with great expectations and hopes for the future, both of the promising young kings died leaving young boys to inherit their throne. Edward's son is lost to history as one of the Princes in the Tower, but Henry's son did not fare much better. After reigning only six years, Edward VI succumbed to illness, and the princess who Henry never thought was good enough to be his heir became Queen Mary, England's first Queen Regnant.

The wars between cousins that put Edward on the throne did not end with his death. Instead there was a resurgence as the people failed to accept Richard III's rule. Henry Tudor was the most distant of Plantagenet cousins, but the familial infighting did not stop there. In order to secure her throne, Mary was forced to imprison her cousin, Lady Jane Grey, who the council had attempted to enthrone. Queen Elizabeth, Mary's sister, spent much of her life putting off making the decision regarding which of her cousins would be named her heir. Maybe it was not so much that Edward and Henry were so similar, but that some things just never change.


  1. I think Edward's indulgence at the end is slightly exaggerated. Some of three similarities are true, though. But Edward clearly is better and never became a tyrant.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kirsten. I agree that there are important differences, but I thought that the similarities were greater than we normally consider as well. It was a fun train of thought to follow.

    2. Oh, yeah. I never said the similarities you mentioned weren't true.It is kind of fun to consider.

  2. I do think though, that Edward's indulgences were certainly greater in the end than any monarch to have come before him. Wouldn't you agree? So from that perspective, not really an exaggeration. It truly is a fascinating train of thought to pursue. Thanks for writing this, Samantha!

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. As far as indulging himself in food, wine, & women, I'm not sure anyone challenges Edward! His wife is not currently popular, but one must give her credit for tolerating his behavior with dignity.