Finance and administration

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Finance and administration

There were a number of ways that Henry was able to raise money:


The most significant source of revenue was the crown's lands.

Taxation: Henry did not tax harshly in times of peace. He probably realised that this would have been a bad move in times of such political instability.

Not only was Henry concerned with the raising of funds, he also concentrated on saving it rather than spending it (with the exception of spending lavishly on his household). He made very few gifts to his subjects (in contrast to previous rulers), and he carefully apportioned money to government needs.

Most historians are agreed that it was in this area that Henry made a significant impact in government. You could say that he streamlined the organisation of financial administration.

Henry arranged for all of the revenue to go directly to the chamber. By his death 80% of royal income did go straight to the chamber. Consequently, the treasurer of the chamber was in fact the receiver-general of all crown lands, and most other revenues.

He managed to secure an average annual income of around £100 000. This was nothing in comparison to the monies that the French Kings raised from their subjects, but it was £35 000 more than Edward IV ever had.

Henry oversaw the account logs personally initialling each page. Henry obviously equated good, strong government with solvent government.

The information that follows is a list of influential councillors:

John Morton He was a gifted churchman and politician. He had previous experience of administration at the court of Henry VI and Edward IV. He was Bishop of Ely, a cardinal from 1493, and from 1486 -1500, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was appointed Chancellor in 1486. Records show that he was a present at most council meetings.
Richard Fox A lawyer. Keeper of the Privy Seal, and often ambassador for the King. He held numerous Episcopal posts including Bishop of Winchester and Durham.
Sir Richard Bray A financial role in council. He was the chief financial and property administrator after 1485.
Giles Daubeney Well trusted by Henry. He was given areas of government, which required integrity like Lieutenant of Calais, Master of the Mint and Chamberlain of the Household.
Sir Thomas Lovell Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasurer of the Household, Speaker of the Commons.
Edmund Dudley The main legal advisor to the corporation of London. An MP and Speaker of the House of Commons. A leading figure in the Council Learned, President of the Council in 1506. Evidence indicates that he became corrupt, and may have been involved in royal blackmail.

During Henry's reign about 50 laws were passed concerning the economy. Many of these originated from petitions sent to the Commons. Royal assent was given for various measures regulating wages, merchant companies, prices, weights and measures.

The coinage was reformed from early on in the reign. New coins were minted which were of royal worth: the royal quarter, the royal agel, and the royal anglet. Silver coinage was also reformed into the groat, half groat, penny, halfpenny and farthing.

Enclosure of the land continued. That is the practice of surveying and partitioning land in a certain area, which is then fenced off, most often to be used for sheep farming. These were a source of anguish for the poorer members of the agricultural community, and it led to skirmishes and riots. Enclosure protests of one form or another is a constant theme throughout the Tudor period.

Some historians claim that Henry's approach to commerce was like that of the Medieval Kings before him, but the evidence would seem to contradict this view. Henry always gave dynastic concerns priority in foreign affairs over commerce, but this isn't to say that he didn't encourage trade when he could. In fact, Henry did a lot to improve the conditions and encourage commerce when possible.

Henry was aware that increased trades would be beneficial to the crown. It would:

  • Provide him with more customs revenues. (Financial)
  • Ensure that the merchants would not support any potential claimant. Wealthy merchants would see their rights and privileges to trade as protected by the monarch, and would be reluctant to put these rights in jeopardy. (Security)
  • Secure the constant support of London. The support of the capital city was essential in times of trouble. At this time London had a population of 60 000, and was by far the richest city in the country. (Security)
  • Give him a strong merchant fleet for defence purposes should a navy have to be assembled quickly. (Security)

As you can see, commerce was closely intertwined with national (and personal) security.

One of the major grievances of merchants was that a large proportion of the transportation of goods was in the hands of foreign traders. This was done by the Hanseatic (North German) states, Venice and the Mediterranean merchants. Henry took action to try to remedy this by reducing the privileges of foreign traders, and trying to secure privileges for English merchants abroad. He was successful in achieving substantial trading rights with Spain in 1489, Denmark in 1491, France in 1492, and Scotland in 1502. In 1496 he managed to fix custom rates at their traditional levels for the English merchants in the significant Magnus Intercursus treaty. There were other ways in which he demonstrated a concern for traders and commerce - he made sure that there was always sufficient alum in the country (used for dyeing wool), he commissioned the building of a dry dock at Portsmouth, and he funded the expeditions of John and Sebastien Cabot to the East coast of North America. All of these actions resulted in an increased export in woollen cloth - the most important export of this period - of 61%. This had a direct impact on the centres of the woollen centres of the late 1400s, like York, Norwich, Bristol, Salisbury and Lavenham.

Nevertheless, security was always Henry's main concern, and he was always ready to compromise commercial interests if by doing so he could protect dynastic security. There are two clear examples of this. In 1493 he placed an embargo on trade with the Netherlands because Maximilian was harbouring Perkin Warbeck. In 1504 he made it easier for the Hanseatic countries to trade in England, reducing customs dues as part of a bargain for the person of the Duke Of Suffolk, who was sheltered by German princes.

If Henry was going to curb the power of the nobility, and create a period of stability and peace, then it was crucial that he had effective control of the localities. Remember that it could take weeks to reach the North of England or North Wales in the 1400s, and a rebellion could be well under way before the King knew about it.

Here again, we see Henry resurrecting an old idea that had not been used for a long time, and contrasting to the ways that his immediate predecessors had administered the regions. Henry chose to have groups of nobles and men of gentle or knightly status in charge of an area, rather than having one noble as magnate for a large area (like Richard III had done). These men would have restricted powers. In addition to this we see JPs having an increased role along with the creation of other offices connected with the localities. In all there was a government official for every 400 heads of the population.

How successful was this policy? Following 30 years of unrest, Henry experienced only one serious rebellion in his 24-year reign: Cornwall.

When students of Henry VIII's reign are asked if Cromwell implemented a revolution in Tudor government students are often tempted to answer that this revolution was started by Henry VII. Is this an accurate analysis of the way that Henry VII chose to rule? Was there more change than continuity?


  • He had a glittering court
  • Use of Great council - although not a new idea, it was one resurrected from earlier in the Medieval period
  • Court of Star Chamber
  • Tribunals
  • Graves would argue that the Acts passed by parliament were significant to the realm.
  • He focused on saving money
  • He would not give gifts of land to nobles; he tried to increase the amount of crown lands.
  • Financial administration was reorganised so that all crown revenue went to the chamber, and the treasurer became receiver-general of all taxation and other monies.
  • He increased the crown's revenue significantly
  • He oversaw the account logs personally - he had direct control over financial administration
  • He would use men because of their abilities rather than because they of noble birth.
  • Coinage was stabilised and given real worth.
  • He tried to protect the trading rights of merchants. His attitude towards them was not ambivalent.
  • He used collections of men, not all of noble birth to rule the localities, rather than relying on the support of one noble.
  • The role of JPs was enhanced.
  • Administrators were specialised.


  • He used a council on a regular basis
  • No real change in the role of parliament
  • He died in debt
  • He still relied on a handful of councillors to act as his main advisors
  • The practice of enclosing land continued
  • The household ran along the same lines

David Loades has to say on the matter: "It was not a revolution, but a change of emphasis with major significance for the future."