History

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

30 October 1485

Henry VII was the only child of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond (son of Henry V's widow Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor) and his 13-year old wife Lady Margaret Beaufort. He was born at Pembroke Castle in Wales on 28 January 1457. Edmund died a few months before the birth so mother and son were cared for by Jasper Tudor, Henry's uncle. After several years of exile in France Henry landed at Milford Haven in August 1485 to claim the English throne. He defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and his coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on 30 October 1485. His marriage in January 1486 to Elizabeth of York (born 11 February 1465), daughter of Edward IV, united the Houses of Lancaster and York (Henry claimed descent through his mother from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III). Their eldest son Arthur died soon after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and their second son Henry later married her. Several children who did not survive infancy are buried in the Abbey ie. Elizabeth (who has a small monument in the chapel of St Edward), Edmund and Catherine. The other daughters were Margaret, who married (firstly) James IV, King of Scots and Mary, who married Louis XII of France as her first husband.

The foundation stone of Henry VII's exquisite Lady Chapel at the east end of the Abbey was laid in 1503. Elizabeth died in childbirth that same year and Henry died on 21 April 1509. Their magnificent tomb in the chapel was designed by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano. The gilt bronze effigies can be seen through the fine grille which surrounds the tomb. The heads of the effigies carried at their respective funerals still survive and can be seen in the Abbey Museum, that of the king being from a death mask.

Lady Margaret Beaufort died in the Abbot of Westminster's house on 29 June 1509, shortly after Henry VIII's coronation, and her tomb effigy in the south aisle of her son's chapel is Torrigiano's masterpiece.

The inscriptions on the tomb can be translated:

“Here lies Henry the Seventh of that name, formerly King of England, son of Edmund, Earl of Richmond. He was created King on August 22 and immediately afterwards, on October 30, he was crowned at Westminster in the year of our Lord 1485. He died subsequently on April 21 in the 53rd year of his age. He reigned 23 years eight months, less one day”

“Here lies Queen Elizabeth, daughter of the former King Edward IV, sister of the formerly appointed King Edward V, once the wife of King Henry VII, and the renowned mother of Henry VIII. She met her day of death in the Tower of London on the 11th day of February in the year of our Lord 1502 [Old Style dating], having fulfilled the age of 37 years”

Translation of the inscription around the edge of the tomb:

“Here is situated Henry VII, the glory of all the kings who lived in his time by reason of his intellect, his riches, and the fame of his exploits, to which were added the gifts of bountiful nature, a distinguished brow, an august face, an heroic stature. Joined to him his sweet wife was very pretty, chaste and fruitful. They were parents happy in their offspring, to whom, land of England, you owe Henry VIII”

Photographs of the chapel, the tombs and funeral effigies can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"Henry VII" by S.B.Chrimes
"The King's Mother. Lady Margaret Beaufort" by M.K.Jones & M.Underwood
"Westminster Abbey: The Lady Chapel of Henry VII" edited by T.Tatton-Brown & R.Mortimer (2003)

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