HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW: ‘Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders’ by Nathen Amin

On 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor emerged from the Battle of Bosworth victorious, his disparate army vanquishing the forces of Richard III. Yet, all was not well early in the Tudor reign. Despite later attempts to portray Henry VII as single-handedly uniting a war-torn England after three decades of conflict, the kingdom was anything but settled. Nor could it be after a tumultuous two-year period that had witnessed the untimely death of one king, the mysterious disappearance of another, and the brutal slaughter of a third on the battlefield. For the first time in one compelling and comprehensive account, Nathen Amin looks at the myriad of shadowy conspiracies and murky plots which sought to depose the Tudor usurper early in his reign, with particular emphasis on the three pretenders whose causes were fervently advanced by Yorkist dissidents—Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck, and Edward, Earl of Warwick.

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Henry VII gets grossly overlooked in favour of his son Henry VIII, which is surprising given how dramatic his role and life truly was. Henry’s life and rise to power are largely known through the well-worn stories of the War of the Roses and the tragic reign of poor Richard III, culminating in the Battle of Bosworth. Henry Tudor became king and the wars ended, or so many tales go.

There are a few good biographies of Henry VII out there, but Amin gives a new look and refreshing enthusiasm for a king who desperately deserves the attention. The 1480s and 1490s did not give Henry a moment’s peace, punctuated by the belief he was not a true king, and several other men deserved the crown. Henry should have been able to concentrate on putting England back together – he won the crown legitimately, married the daughter of Edward IV, followed quickly birth of a son born of a dual royal line. England should have been grateful for the level of peace Henry could provide.

Instead, the Battle of Stoke and the rise of Lambert Simnel, posing as either the ‘dead’ Edward V or Edward, Earl of Warwick came in 1487, a murky battle and claim to the throne, which Amin gives in full detail. No sooner than Simnel was subdued came the murmurings of Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Richard, the ‘dead’ Duke of York. Children and young men posing as Henry’s beloved wife’s dead brothers would have placed significant strain on Henry and Elizabeth, who were doing their best to rule England. Throughout the constant rumours of planned coups, betrayals, even relatives and close confidants changing sides, Henry had to hold his country together, and the author shows him not to be the old miser commonly portrayed, but a man of kindness, loyalty, generosity and wisdom, all while seeing off years of undermining and instability.

The final main pretender is Edward, Earl of Warwick, who had been kept alive, like all pretenders, the sad son of the Duke of Clarence, who through no fault of his own needed to be kept under guard. Henry tried for years to be merciful, but if his Tudor dynasty was ever going to thrive, Henry needed to end the claims to his throne. Even after Henry’s grand coup of bringing Katherine of Aragon to England, the wannabes did not stop, and Henry worked harder than ever to secure England for his second son. The cobwebs of the old tales of Henry being a penny-pincher, a tax-collecting tyrant and generally miserable old man can be blown away by this book, showing the true Henry VII. Without spilling details that will create spoilers, Amin has gone to great lengths to find Henry’s true nature among the endless barrage of difficulties he faced. How Henry’s wife-collecting son gets more attention, I’ve never really understood.

This book is truly wonderful, well-planned and constructed, a real labour of love and determination that is a gift to readers.

no free book or money changed hands in return for this review

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