Dealing with the nobility

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Dealing with the nobility

We have seen how Henry dealt with threats from pretenders and from abroad in other Learn Its. Another threat that he had to contend with was the power of the English nobility. Prior to 1485, England had been tormented by 30 years of disputes involving the nobility (the Wars of the Roses). These wars were not so much about the dynastic destination of the crown of England so much as about faction between two opposing camps of noble families.

Some recent historians stress the point that the chroniclers of the Wars of the Roses writing in the late fifteenth century and the sixteenth century had a political agenda, and the first few accounts of the Wars of the Roses are little more than Tudor propaganda.

Dealing with the nobility

Here's what some historians have to say about the policies that Henry used to contain the nobility:

John Guy says that his policy was "politically necessary" but "morally dubious".
David Loades maintains he introduced nothing new: " He rebuilt the foundations of the royal authority, using, as it were, the same bricks as his predecessors, but in a different order."
J R Lander insists that Henry had to be ruthless, otherwise, "how else could Henry VII have controlled such a mob of aloof, self-interested magnates?"

What Henry did was to put most of the nobility on a kind of probation. To do this he used Acts of Attainder, Bonds and Recognizance's.

Acts of Attainder - These were Acts passed by parliament. They stated that a family's land was taken from them for good because of disobedience towards the crown. It usually involved the execution of a member of the family also. Obviously, this would cripple a family for good. It had the positive financial effect for the crown in that it increased the crown's lands and the crown's yearly revenue.

In all 138 of these were passed, although 46 were eventually wholly or partially repealed.

Bonds - This was a written obligation. The aristocrat agreed to pay a penalty if certain conditions set by the King were not met.

Recognizances - This usually involved a previous debt or misconduct towards the King. Like with the bond, the aristocrat would sign an obligation promising to behave him-self in future. There would be a very considerable fine for breaking the terms of the recognizance.

In all, two thirds of the aristocracy were placed under the supervision of the crown one way or another from 1485 - 1509. Most of these took place when Henry ruled virtually on his own, from 1500.

Many of these cases were probably exaggerated or completely fabricated. Henry's priority was to have the nobility answerable to him and completely under his direct control. Dudley and Epsom, his chief tax collectors, confessed before their execution by Henry VIII, that the King wished "to have many persons in his danger at his pleasure".

Notable nobles who fell under this sort of direct supervision included:

Lord Stanley, who had abused his position in the North of England, Lord Dacre and Lord Clifford (Lord Stanley was eventually executed for treason.) The King would often preside over the hearings in person. On some occasions he would cross-examine the accused himself.

As you already know, many of those who had served under Richard III continued to have a place in government under Henry. But not all of the Yorkist supporters were so lucky.

Dealing with the nobility

Henry tried those who had fought for Richard on grounds of treason. Now this would not have been legally possible (the King could not act arbitrarily, he had to work under the laws of the land) had Henry not taken the bizarre, and yet politically expedient, step of having himself declared King the day before the Battle of Bosworth.

We have seen in the third Learn It how Henry sought to keep some Yorkists in government, along with his own supporters. Henry also adopted the policy of promoting men of ability, rather than of noble birth. He needed men who could administrate effectively. After all, sound administration is one of the hallmarks of his reign.