Yorkshire and the Tudors Part I: Henry VII and Yorkshire

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This month’s piece is the first in a series of related articles called “Yorkshire and the Tudors”. The series will celebrate the way that Yorkshire has maintained its northern roots and strength throughout the roller coaster of a ride known as the Tudor era. The series will be in three parts and will highlight various places throughout Yorkshire.

Yorkshire has always been a unique and interesting place, a rebel if you will; fighting to maintain power and political importance. Not like Boris Johnson’s rebellious tendency to come up with fantastical ideas or his rogue head of hair, or like Michael Gove’s need to try and be relevant and important; but Yorkshire has remained distinct, managing to survive the dramatic sweeping changes of the late medieval and Renaissance worlds. The north, generally as well as the rest of the country, has always been a patchwork of various political and authoritative powers up until the early 1500s. Within the region of Yorkshire, the monarchy had several royal residences in York, Pickering, Tickhill, and Pontefract, until the reign of Henry VIII, when it all changed and was consolidated. During the late medieval period, power strongholds were not centralized in London but dispersed among powerful lay and ecclesiastical lords as the country was dominated by three law codes: common, civil, and canon. Yet through it all, Yorkshire remained one of these great powers.

As Henry VIII came through and radicalized the government from the top down, power and government became more centralized and powerful regions like Yorkshire lost individual control and authority and had to deal with the presence of royal government extensions like the Council of the North to take control, but the region did not give into the royal control and upheaval without a fight—hence the rebellious nature of this area.

But let’s back up a little bit, let’s start from the beginning with the Don Corleone of the Tudors, the Godfather, Henry VII (1457-1509).

Henry VII

Henry VII

Throughout the late medieval and early modern period (1300-1600), Yorkshire has tended to govern itself and be a very important piece in the game of medieval and early modern politics. This is evident in when during the War of the Roses beginning in 1422 came to an end with Henry’s triumphant victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. As a Yorkist territory, much of Yorkshire remained loyal to Richard III, who often favoured and put men from the north in high positions of government. (1) They certainly didn’t want this to end when Henry Tudor began his campaign or after his reign began in 1485. This story is one that many of us are familiar with. What makes the relationship between the Tudors and Yorkshire even more interesting is the fact that Henry VII made a royal progress to Yorkshire in 1486 continuing a long tradition of monarchs visiting the county. Henry visited Doncaster, Pontefract and York. (2) The heart of Yorkshire in this period was York, where the Archbishop had his seat of power at York Minster and this was the final destination for the progress.

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York

After marrying a member of one of Yorkshire’s leading families, Elizabeth of York, and securing his throne, Henry went on his royal progress through the north to York, to secure the region and ensure it was loyal to the crown. His physical presence provided a symbolic gesture of royal authority, and it would give the people of Yorkshire an understanding of who their king now was. This was his first act: to bring the country to heel, particularly Yorkshire and to “keep the obedience of the northern folk.” (3)

After a rebellion in Worcester and the King’s subsequent pardon, the city of York enthusiastically made preparations for the King’s arrival. He was met by an entourage – nothing like the tawdry entourage we see in The Only Way is Essex – of city officials at Tadcaster Bridge outside the city and was led through the primary gate of the city (known today as Mickelgate Bar) “clad in cloth of gold and ermine…” (4).

Ouse Bridge

Ouse Bridge

The king was then guided through the city over Ouse Bridge and onto Low Ousegate, turning onto “Conyng Strete” (Coney Street);

elaborate parties and pageants (or staged theatrical performances) were held, designed to impress Henry and deflect attention from the region’s behavior and recent involvement with the Yorkist opposition. The pinnacle of these pageants took place in Common Hall (otherwise known as the Guildhall).

Common Hall

Common Hall

Finally, the route ended at York Minster where King Henry attended a service in the cathedral. (5) Many of the pageants emphasized the marriage between Henry and Elizabeth.

York Minster

York Minster

In the end, York found temporary peace with the king who helped the city to financially rebuild. However, there were still small uprisings elsewhere in Yorkshire. (6)

These small risings were seen as a problem that never truly went away and a year later York received another visit from the King. On this occasion, Henry entered the city to enforce his power and authority and to crush a plot to overthrow him. Yorkshire’s favour with the King had diminished and Henry remained wary of the region, which would continue to be a problem. (7)

Yorkshire’s follies and rebellious nature does not end there. Stay tuned for the next part of the series as we see just how Yorkshire continues to fair with the most provocative of all the Tudors, Henry VIII

(1) Companion to Tudor Britain, Robert Tittler and Norman Jones, Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.
(2) historyofyork.org.uk/themes/tudortroubles
(3) Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy, Sydney Anglo, Clarendon Press, 1997. p. 21
(4) Spectacle, Anglo, p. 23
(5) Spectacle, Anglo, p. 23-27
(6) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Henry VII”
(7) Spectacle, Anglo

Dustin

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