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Henry VII, King of England (1457-1509)

Henry Tudor was born at Pembroke Castle in Wales during the turbulent reign of Henry VI. The fighting between the Houses of York and Lancaster in the later fifteenth century, popularly known as the Wars of the Roses, led to Henry becoming a claimant to the throne through his mother, Margaret Beaufort. In 1485 he defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, and ascended to the throne as the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, a line which ruled England for over a century.

In 1486 Henry married Elizabeth of York, in an attempt to unite the warring factions in England. In 1502 Henry commissioned Maynard Waynwyck to paint portraits of himself, and Elizabeth and their children. After Elizabeth’s death in 1503, suggestions of a second marriage for Henry to Margaret of Austria came to nothing, although her portrait by the Flemish artist Pieter van Coninxloo probably entered the Royal Collection as a result.

Other royal portraits may also have entered the collection during Henry’s reign, as part of elaborate marriage negotiations for his children, underlining the importance of portraiture as a functional part of courtly life and business. Henry himself may have commissioned a Flemish artist to paint The Family of Henry VII with St George and the Dragon c. 1503-9, possibly for the royal chapel at his new palace at Richmond. Portraiture here is used to reinforce the importance of family (lineage) and the right to rule (legitimacy).

Henry VII’s artistic patronage is associated particularly with architecture. He oversaw major building works at Windsor Castle, where among other alterations, he built the nave in St George’s Chapel and rebuilt the Lady Chapel. In 1502 he ordered (and paid for) the construction of the new Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, one of the prime architectural glories of late medieval England.

Henry’s reign coincided with the emergence of Renaissance and Humanist activity in England, notable chiefly for its Italian and classical influences. An example of this in the Royal Collection is the bust by Mazzoni, commonly identified as being of a young Henry VIII.

Henry also added significantly to the growing Royal Library, and commissioned manuscript artists to work on a lavish scale. Henry died at Richmond Palace on 21 April 1509.