Book Review: “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England” by Thomas Penn

61tqSL1PEdL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_The Tudor Dynasty and its beginning has often been viewed as a glorious dawn after the dark period that we call the Wars of the Roses. It established a firm foundation that the kingdom lost during the 30 years of civil war. It took a lot of effort from the victor of this tumultuous time, Henry VII, to transform England back to a relatively stable country.  To some, Henry VII was a virtuous leader who cared about his family and his country, saving money to make sure the dynasty was secure. For others, Henry VII was a figure who clung to his crown and his kingdom no matter the cost, which included conspiracies and underhanded methods. But what did Henry VII do in order to bring back order to England and how did he convince others that the Tudors were the rightful rulers? These are the questions that Thomas Penn wanted to answer in his book, “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England.”

Penn explains the premise of his book and why he chose to explore the last years of this particular king’s reign:

The last, claustrophobic decade of Henry VII’s reign, with an ageing, paranoid king and his dynamic young son at its heart, forms the focus of this book. It is one of the strangest episodes in English history. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion radiated from the royal court into the streets and townhouses of London and throughout England’s far-flung estates and provinces. Established forms of rule and government were bent out of shape, distorted in ways that people found both disorienting and terrifying. But these are also the dawning years of a dynasty. They see the coming of age of Catherine of Aragon, the young Spanish princess who would become Henry VIII’s first wife, and of Henry VIII himself- or rather, Prince Henry, as he is here. To explore these precarious years, and to gain a sense of how and why Henry VII behaved and ruled in the way he did, is to reveal much about the house of Tudor, the family that would, over the course of the sixteenth century, dominate and transform England. (Penn, xxi).

Penn begins his book by explaining how Henry came to the throne after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and how he proved that the Tudors had royal blood within their veins, therefore they were able to rule England. Henry and his beloved wife, Elizabeth of York,  would have four children who would survive infancy; Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. It is really Henry’s relationships with his two sons, Arthur and Henry, that Penn focuses on when it comes to Henry’s family. Arthur is married to the beautiful Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon in order to establish a strong alliance with Spain. Their marriage would not last long. Arthur tragically died a few months into their marriage, sending Henry VII into a deep despair, which only deepened when Elizabeth of York died a year later. Henry VII’s only heir was his son Prince Henry, a son who Henry VII did not really have a relationship with and now had to teach him how to become king.

On top of all the personal tragedies during the last decade of Henry VII’s reign, we see men in England and around Europe, trying to earn the king’s trust in order to gain prestige and power. One of these men was Sir Richard Empson who was in charge of the Council Learned, which was a legal committee who collected feudal dues and kept a close eye on the king’s land. Empson, as Penn explains, tended to use underhanded ways to get what he wanted, not only for his king but for himself. Henry VII also used his vast network of connections across Europe in order to gain information about those who wanted to remove him from power. Penn’s view of Henry VII is of a king who was extremely suspicious, aloof and a Machiavellian ruler. A man who trusted no one and valued financial gains over his own people. To Penn, Henry VII’s reign was dark and full of fear.

This is my first time reading a book by Thomas Penn and I must say it was a unique experience. I have to applaud Penn for the amount of details that he used when it came to ceremonial events at the court, such as the arrival of Catherine of Aragon and when Philip of Habsburg, Duke of Burgundy arrived in England. The way Penn described these events was quite enlightening. Penn also introduced a bunch of figures, from England to Italy, which are all fascinating and play a role in the running of Henry VII’s England. However, for those who are not familiar with these particular people might get confused. I know it was difficult for me to figure out who was who, which is why I wished Penn had a list of important people located somewhere in this book that the reader could refer to if they got lost. Overall, I thought Thomas Penn’s book,  “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England”, was a fascinating and different, darker view of the founder of the Tudor Dynasty as well as what the relationship between Henry VII and his heir Henry VIII was like.

Biography: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers

(Born around 1415/1416- Died May 30, 1472). Daughter of Pierre de Luxembourg and Margaret of Baux. Married to John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford and Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers. Mother of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England, Lewis Woodville, Anne Woodville, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, Mary Woodville, Jacquetta Woodville, John Woodville, Richard Woodville, 3rd Earl Rivers, Martha Woodville, Eleanor Woodville, Lionel Woodville, Margaret Woodville, Edward Woodville, Lord Scales, and Catherine Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham. Jacquetta of Luxembourg was a woman who married from love, just like her daughter Elizabeth of Woodville. She was accused of witchcraft later on in her life.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was born either around 1415 or 1416, but many believe it was around 1416, to Pierre de Luxembourg,Count of St. Pol, Conversano and Brienne, seigneur of Enghien and Viscount of Lille, and his wife Margaret of Baux. Not much is known about Jacquetta’s early life. She was born during the Hundred Years War between France and England. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed, making King Henry V and his heirs the next heirs to the French throne. In 1422, the brother of Henry V, John Duke of Bedford was named regent in France for the young English King Henry VI. John was married to Anne, sister of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1423. Anne died childless in 1432.

John wasn’t sure about marrying again, until Louis, Bishop of Thérouanne, convinced him to marry his niece Jacquetta; the couple was married by Louis in April 1433. The marriage was controversial because they had married so soon after the death of John’s first wife, making his brother in law, the Duke of Burgundy, upset. Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and the English regent to the young King Henry VI, requested that John come back to England to answer questions about neglect in his job in France. John also needed more funds for the war effort so he took Jacquetta with him to England in June of 1433. On July 8, Jacquetta was given the rights of English citizenship and that same year, her father Pierre de Luxembourg died. In 1434, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford was given the honor of joining the Order of the Garter.

The Duke of Burgundy was still fuming over the marriage of John and Jacquetta, decided to abandon his alliance with the English and join forces with the French. During this time, Sir Richard Woodville was appointed as lieutenant of the garrison at Calais. His father was Richard Woodville, the chamberlain of the Duke of Bedford. John Duke of Bedford, was very ill at this time, and would die on September 14, 1435; he was buried in Rouen. He had no children with Jacquetta.

Sir Richard Woodville was ordered by King Henry VI to bring Jacquetta to England under an agreement with Jacquetta’s uncle Louis. This allowed her to maintain one third of the Bedford estates and the title of Duchess of Bedford if she agreed to go to England and obtain the king’s permission to remarry. During the journey, Jacquetta and Richard fell in love and married in secret, without seeking the king’s permission. This angered the king and he fined the couple 1000 pounds and on March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized the marriage. Jacquetta did raise the money and was able to buy land in October. The couple had a long and happy marriage. They had 14 children, including Elizabeth Woodville, the future Queen of England.

Richard continued his military career even after his controversial marriage. He served under the Dukes of Somerset and York in France until 1442 and he was recognized as a premier jouster. In 1444, Jacquetta and Richard were part of a large group to help escort Margaret of Anjou to England; Jacquetta was related to Margaret through marriage as Jacquetta’s sister Isabel was married to Margaret’s uncle Charles, Count of Maine. Jacquetta was a favorite at court and in 1448, Richard Woodville was made Baron Rivers. In 1452, Jacquetta watched as her daughter Elizabeth was married to Lord Grey of Groby, a member of the Lancastrian family. The couple would have two sons.

In 1453, Jacquetta was there for the churching ceremony of Margaret of Anjou after she gave birth to her son Edward of Westminster. In 1457, Richard was made constable of Rochester Castle and his family was sent to live with him there. Richard’s job was not to guard against attacks from the French but to guard against an attack from Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. In 1461 at the Second Battle of St. Albans, Margaret of Anjou’s Lancastrian army were victorious over the Yorkist army, but Elizabeth Woodville’s husband and Jacquetta’s son in law Sir John Grey, was killed, leaving Elizabeth a widow.

After the Yorkist victory a few weeks later at Towton, Edward IV, the new king, stopped by at Grafton Regis for a couple of days, where it is said he fell in love with Elizabeth Grey, Jacquetta’s daughter. In 1464, the Lancastrian Woodvilles decided to side with Edward IV after he married Elizabeth in secret, angering his allies, especially Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was working on a marriage alliance with France. Jacquetta was there to see her daughter crowned queen and she was the godmother of Elizabeth’s first child, Elizabeth of York, born on February 11, 1466.

In 1469, Warwick decided to rebel against Edward IV and join the Lancastrian cause to put Henry VI back on the throne. After the Battle of Edgecote Moor, Jacquetta’s husband Richard and their son John were arrested and executed on August 12 at Kenilworth. Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick on the charges of witchcraft. She is said to have made two leaden figures of Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey and she practiced black arts to bring about the marriage between her daughter and the king. She was also accused of making a figure of Warwick and conspiring his death. These charges were dropped in February 1470, but they would resurface after Edward IV’s death in 1483.

In September 1470, Warwick invaded England and placed Henry VI back on the throne, forcing Edward IV to flee and Jacquetta, Elizabeth and her children sought sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. During this time, Elizabeth gave birth to her first son, the future Edward V. Edward IV returned and defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471. When Margaret of Anjou returned, she formed an army to march against Edward IV, which forced Jacquetta and Elizabeth to seek shelter at the Tower of London. After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Jacquetta and Elizabeth exited the Tower and Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI entered it; Henry VI would later die in the Tower. Jacquetta tried to bring charges against Warwick for the murder of her husband and her son, but they failed. Jacquetta would die on May 30, 1472.

Biography: King Edward IV

220px-Edward_IV_Plantagenet(Born April 28, 1442- Died April 9, 1483). Son of Richard, 3rd  Duke of York and Cecily Neville. Married to Elizabeth Woodville. Father of Elizabeth of York, Mary of York, Cecily of York, Edward V of England, Margaret of York, Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, Anne of York, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Bedford, Catherine of York, and Bridget of York. Edward IV was the first king from the house of York, but he was still a Plantagenet. He helped bring the country together, especially financially, but his one flaw was his private life, where he was unwise and naive. 

Edward IV was born on April 28, 1442 to Richard, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville, and was given the title of the Earl of March. Richard Duke of York, Edward’s father, was the Lord Protector when Henry VI had his bouts of mental illness, but once the king got well, York was removed from the position and his reforms were reversed. One of his biggest rivals was  Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. In 1455, York had enough of Somerset and marched against him at the First Battle of St. Albans, where Somerset was killed. It was then that Margaret of Anjou took up her husband’s cause. She encouraged the new duke of Somerset Henry Beaufort to fight against York. The battlelines were being drawn. The Yorkists were led by Richard duke of York, Richard Neville earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville earl of Warwick. The Lancastrians were under Henry VI, but led by Margaret of Anjou, Somerset, and Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland. In 1459, at the battle of Ludlow, the Lancastrians won and sent the Yorkists into hiding; however the Yorkists came back with a vengeance at the battle of Northampton.

In 1460 York officially declared his claim to the throne. After much discussion, it was agreed that after the king died, York and his sons would be the heirs to the throne, removing Edward of Westminster from the line of succession. Henry VI seemed to have been okay with this arrangement, but Margaret was beyond upset. She led the Lancastrian forces to face off against York at the battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460. York and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed in the battle. Edward was 18 at the time of his father’s death.

Edward was now in charge of the Yorkist faction and with the help of Richard Neville, the earl of Warwick, he was able to defeat the Lancastrian army at both the battle of Mortimer’s Cross and the Second Battle of St. Albans in February 1461. On March 4, 1461, Edward declared himself king of England, a move that his father never attempted to make. Three weeks later at the Battle of Towton on March 29, 1461, the bloodiest battle on English soil, Edward was able to decisively beat Henry VI’s forces and secure his claim to the throne. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou fled to Scotland to seek the aid of James III.

Edward was declared Edward IV. He was welcomed to the throne. His focus was to rule wisely and gain the support of the nobles by limiting the policy of court favorites and placed the control of Crown lands under court officials. He wanted to make sure that his court was politically and financially sound. Edward owed a lot to his cousin Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick, also known as “the Kingmaker”, and he rewarded him greatly. He was made the Chamberlain of England and he was considered the second most powerful man in England. Warwick’s son John Neville was made earl of Northumberland after the battle of Hexham in May 1464, a hereditary title that belonged to the Percy family.  

Warwick and Edward were considered close. However that would change very quickly. Warwick knew that Edward would have to marry well and so under his own initiative, he set to secure an alliance with the French King Louis XI by marrying Edward IV to the French king’s daughter Bona of Savoy. Edward wasn’t really thrilled about an alliance with France; he had actually prefered an alliance with Burgundy. Edward decided to take the issue of  his marriage into his own hands. In May 1464, he secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the daughter of the 1st Lord of Rivers and Jacquetta Rivers, and the widow of Sir John Grey. They were able to keep the marriage a secret for over four months and when it was announced, there was an uproar. Her family was always supporters of the Lancastrian cause and there was a rumor, that we cannot confirm or deny as of right now, that Edward entered into a similar marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler a year or two before he married Elizabeth.

Warwick was obviously the most upset about this marriage because he had spent so much time setting up an alliance  with France to be thwarted. With the rise of the Woodvilles, Warwick feared that they would overthrow his title of the second most powerful man in England. Edward thwarted Warwick’s plans to marry his family with the king’s and the final straw for Warwick was when Edward married his sister Margaret to Charles duke of Burgundy, cementing an alliance between England and Burgundy, which was not what Warwick wanted. Warwick realized that the gap between him and Edward was too large.

Warwick decided to side with Edward’s power hungry younger brother George Duke of Clarence, and Louis XI of France, who promised Warwick land in France if he overthrew Edward. Warwick’s plan was to depose Edward and  place George on the throne. In July 1469, Warwick successfully married George to his daughter Isabel, which was something that Edward did not approve of. Warwick then started a series of uprisings in northern England; Edward was a popular king but his marriage with Elizabeth Woodville sullied his image a little while Warwick was seen as a national hero. Edward did employ an army, but when he saw that he was outnumbered, he dispersed his army and allowed himself to be captured by Warwick. Warwick had Edward imprisoned in the Tower, but when his reputation began to suffer, he released Edward in October 1469. Warwick and George both  decided to reconciled with Edward but Edward never truly trusted either of them ever again.

Warwick knew that if he was going to restore his power, he had to discuss matters with Louis XI and Margaret of Anjou, which meant that he had to defect to the Lancastrian cause, which he did. In September 1470, Warwick and his rebellion made its way to England. John Neville switched sides, which left Edward unprepared and it forced him to leave England on October 2 and seek aid from his brother in law the duke of Burgundy. Warwick removed Henry VI from the Tower and restored him to the throne. Warwick made a mistake and decided to take Louis XI’s advice and declare war on Burgundy. This forced the duke of Burgundy, who had stayed on the sidelines this entire time, to help Edward IV raise an army. Edward returned to England on March 11, 1471. His army defeated Warwick’s army at the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick and John Neville were killed. On May 4, 1471, Edward faced off against the Lancastrian army at the Battle of Tewkesbury, where the Lancastrians were finally defeated and Edward of Westminster was killed. Margaret of Anjou was arrested and shortly afterward, King Henry VI died, possibly murdered under the orders of Edward IV.

Edward IV’s purpose on the second part of his reign was to work on establishing strong alliances, which he did with the dukes of Brittany and Burgundy, and the king of Aragon. In July 1475, Edward decided that he was going to try to recapture the English lands in France. His brothers George and Richard supported this idea, however this ended in disaster and Edward was forced to sign a peace treaty with Louis. George viewed this as a horrible defeat and so he plotted to remove his brother from the throne yet again. This was the last straw for Edward and he had George arrested and tried for treason. George was found guilty and was executed in February 1478; if the story about his execution is correct, he drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.

Edward was a great supporter of the arts and was the primary patron of printing. He encouraged William Caxton to pursue his goal of printing the first book in England in November 1477. Edward also financed  major building jobs at Windsor Castle and Eltham Palace in Kent. Towards the end of his life, Edward fell ill, and on April 9, 1483, he died from either pneumonia or typhoid. He was just 40 years old and he left the throne to his son Edward V.

Biography: King Henry VI

220px-King_Henry_VI_from_NPG_(2)(Born December 6, 1421- Died May 21, 1471). Son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois. Married to Margaret of Anjou. He had one son Edward of Westminster. Henry VI was a weak ruler who, combined with his bouts of mental illness and no desire to rule, led England to lose its lands in France and brought England into a 30 year civil war known as the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI was the only child of Henry V and his wife Catherine of Valois. He was born on December 6, 1421 and became king of England at the tender age of nine months when his father died on August 31, 1422. Six weeks later, he became king of France after his grandfather Charles VI died, which was agreed upon with the Treaty of Troyes. A regency council was called and Henry’s uncle John, duke of Bedford, became his first regent, and was charged with taking care of the French, led by the king that the French declared, Charles VI’s son Charles VII. Both Charles VII and John duke of Bedford kept the Hundred Years’ War dragging on. The English captured Orleans in 1427, but in May 1429, a young Joan of Arc led a siege on Orleans, which the French was able to reconquer. This led to French nationalism which allowed the French to drive the English out of the Loire Valley and Charles VII was officially crowned king of France in June 1429.

This made Bedford nervous so he quickly had Henry VI crowned king of England in November 1429 and crowned king of France in 1431.  He was the first English king who was also the king of France, but it did not last long. With the newly founded French nationalism, the English were losing their French lands that Henry V had conquered left and right. This made Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, an ally of the English, nervous, and so he signed the Treaty of Arras with Charles VII in 1435, which recognized Charles VII as the King of France. The Hundred Years’ War would continue for another 18 years until John Talbot, the earl of Shrewsbury was defeated at Castillon in 1453. The English lost all of their French territories, except for Calais.

John, duke of Bedford, was regent until his death in 1435. After Bedford died, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester became the protector, but he did not have the same control of the government that Bedford did. In 1437, Henry declared himself of age before his 16th birthday. Henry was a weak ruler who was not interested in ruling at all, so he allowed some of the least scrupulous people to control the government. One of these men was William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, who became the king’s steward in 1435. William was a peacemaker at heart, which led to the loss of France; his opponent at court was Humphrey of Gloucester, who wanted the war with France to continue. Suffolk was able to negotiate the marriage between Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1444, in exchange for Henry surrendering Maine to the French.  The couple was married on April 23, 1445. This was not a popular decision and Henry’s life was threatened so Margaret, Suffolk and Henry left London. Margaret and Suffolk convinced the king that Gloucester was plotting an uprising so Henry had him arrested and confined at Bury St. Edmunds in February 1447, where he would die a week later. The people were not satisfied with this and Suffolk decided to switch from peacemaker to warmonger and invaded Brittany in 1449. This brought Normandy into the middle of the Hundred Years’ War and Brittany was conquered by the French in 1450. This was the last mistake by Suffolk, who was arrested and banished, but his ship was intercepted at Dover and Suffolk was killed.

Suffolk’s allies were scapegoats for everything that was going wrong in France, which led to the revolution led by John Cade in May 1450. It was similar to the Peasants’ Revolt, however Henry VI was no Richard II and the revolt lasted for two months, until John Cade’s death. The purpose of this revolt was to purge the government, but the king did not live up to their expectations. Instead he polarized the government even further when he appointed Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset as his closest adviser. Somerset was a failure in France and he gained some notable enemies at court, especially Richard, duke of York, who was banished  to Ireland in 1447 for supporting Gloucester, but returned to England and to court in August 1450, demanding his place in the Council.

Somerset’s and York’s  rivalry simmered for several years, until  August 1453, when Henry VI had his first bout with mental illness. We are not sure what he suffered from but for weeks, he was unresponsive to everything. Some believe it was triggered by the loss of France. It affected him so much that he did not even acknowledge his only son Edward, believing that his son was born of the Holy Ghost. During this time, Richard Duke of York was made Lord Protector  in 1454 and had Somerset arrested. When Henry recovered, he restored Somerset and had York dismissed. This was the last straw for York. York and Somerset met on the battlefield at St. Albans on May 22, 1455, where Somerset was killed. This should have been the end of the conflict, however it was only just the beginning.

Henry was going to reconcile with York but another bout of mental illness hit Henry in November 1455 and York was made Lord Protector again; he was dismissed in February 1456. It was then that Margaret of Anjou took up her husband’s cause. She encouraged the new duke of Somerset Henry Beaufort to fight against York. The battlelines were being drawn. The Yorkists were led by Richard duke of York, Richard Neville earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Neville earl of Warwick. The Lancastrians were under Henry VI, but led by Margaret of Anjou, Somerset, and Henry Percy, third earl of Northumberland. In 1459, at the battle of Ludlow, the Lancastrians won and sent the Yorkists into hiding; however the Yorkists came back with a vengeance at the battle of Northampton. In September 1460, Richard duke of York officially placed his claim to the throne to Parliament. In order to avoid more conflict, York was declared the heir to the throne, in place of Prince Edward.

Henry VI seemed to be okay with this arrangement, but Margaret was not about to let this insult stand. On December 30, 1460 at the battle of Wakefield, York was killed. Margaret continued her march to London when in 1461, she met with Warwick and defeated him at the second battle of St. Albans. Warwick fled and raised another army with York’s son Edward and marched into London on March 1461. Then, in the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses, Towton, the Lancastrian forces were defeated and Edward became Edward IV. Henry and Margaret fled to Scotland to seek aid from King James III. In exchange for the aid, Henry gave the Scots Berwick. After a few years, Henry was seen as an embarrassment to the Scots and so they returned him to northern England, where he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London by English forces in July 1465.

It looked like Henry’s days were numbered, but then on October 3, 1470, he was removed from the Tower and made king yet again. What had happened was that the earl of Warwick switched sides and fought for Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Warwick even had his daughter married to Henry’s son Edward to show his allegiance. However, Edward IV came back in April 1471 and killed Warwick and recaptured Henry VI. On May 4, 1471, Margaret’s forces faced off against Edward IV at the battle of Tewkesbury. It was a devastating loss for the Lancastrians as Prince Edward was killed and Margaret was imprisoned in the Tower. On May 21, 1471, King Henry VI was murdered. It is unknown who killed him, but many suspect that it was under the orders of  King Edward IV.