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To what extent did Henry VII reduce the power of the nobility

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To what extent did Henry VII reduce the power of the nobility?

Henry VII reduced the power of the nobility to a large extent in contrast to King’s who had gone before him. Henry did however decrease and increase the power of the nobility by; the implementation and enforcing of restricting laws, calculated mercy and aggression towards his enemies and by keeping nobles within the structure of his government. The first two are clear reductions of power, however the last factor in the change of power is quite the contrary, he in fact increased the power of the nobility. Having said that overall he did diminish their power far beyond what any King had done before.

The implementation and enforcement of new and old laws was the second most important factor in how Henry VII reduced the nobility.  The use of attainders was heavily taken advantage of by Henry VII, although both his predecessors Edward IV and Richard III had the ability to appoint attainders on whoever fought against him, he took it to new extremes. A clear example of this is in the Parliament of 1504 where Henry issued 51 attainders, in contrast to the amount Edward the fourth issued from 1463 up until his death... 27. This just puts into context the amount of suppression that Henry VII used against his nobility, using his law enforcement power as far as he could take it. Another thing it shows is the reduction in powerful nobles, as 51 attainders had been sent to suppress the nobles of Henry’s choice. A second example of law enforcement under Henry VII is his use of bonds along with recognisances. Both of these, Henry VII did not make, they were already in place, having said that Henry VII milked them for all they were worth. As Pendrill says, “Henry was the law” meaning that he could put both bonds and recognisances on whomever he saw fit, and furthermore, “The victim had no right of appeal”. The fact that he had these powers didn’t reduce the power of the nobility as in previous reign Kings had this power yet the nobility rose, no it was Henry VII application of this power that reduced them. A crystal clear example of to what a large extent Henry used this power is in the statistics of its usage in comparison to Edward IV. Under Edward IV, he had bonds and recognisances on 20 peerage, however under Henry he had bonds upon 46 of the peerage, which was roughly 75% of the nobility. This just goes to show that he doubled the amount of suppression through bonds, although his motivation for the increase could have been the increase in revenue from the bonds, the fact remains that it suppressed the nobility as large amounts of their wealth had to be given to the King, the amount was in Henry VII control. The last way that Henry VII reduced the nobilities power is through the laws regarding illegal retaining, where many King’s previously had turned a blind eye to it, Henry VII was the exception.  He place a fixed limit to the amount a noble could have, any over exceeding of this was punished harshly, a event to fully back this up is his punishment of the Earl of Oxford. Oxford was very close to Henry VII as he had fought alongside him at Bosworth, however regardless after finding out that he had more retainers than allowed, he was “Fined no less than 15,000 marks”. To put into context this is nearly a 6th of the King’s estimated annual income. However it is valid to say that this only happened a handful of times so as an overall effect to the peerage as a whole it is relatively insignificant, however As a result it is reasonable to assume many of these severe fines crippled the nobility financially. As money was a significant part of power to the peerage, the implementation of these laws which restricted the nobility in terms of men at arms, finances and inheritance, severely lessened the power of the nobility, therefore being the second most significant factor in their reduction of power.

The application of calculated mercy and aggression is by far and away the most important factor in the reduction of the nobility. He used this form of calculation towards his subjects for both Personal Relations and for Security. This Factor is closely tied with factor 1 as many of his calculated acts of aggression are by ways of taxation and fining, a perfect example with the Earl of Oxford as previously stated. Both of these forms of calculation can be seen in the case of Thomas Howard, he was merciful in the sense that he let Howard free after he showed loyalty by not supporting Simnel, and was given many of his lands back. However aggression came in the way which he restored Thomas Howards lands, by no mean did he give him back all the lands he was entitled to, it would by fair to assume he did this for two reasons, revenue from the large estates of Howards father, giving them to Thomas would mean large losses in annual revenue and secondly by staggering Howard’s receiving of land Henry VII could be assured of his loyalty. He applied this idea of calculated mercy much into his actions which benefited him in his Personal Relations with the public, such as the aftermath of the capture of his nemesis Lambert Simnel, who was the last great threat to his reign. Henry showed mercy as instead of having Simnel executed he gave him a job in his kitchens, this was clearly a humiliation for Simnel whose aspiration was to become King only to find himself as a servant; however it did show that the King was merciful to his enemies. This is the most important factor in the reduction of power, as by using calculations of mercy and aggression, Henry VII was able to keep the nobility right where he wanted them, under his control whether it be through land restrictions in Howards case or in the literal sense of Simnel who was in his very household, no longer a threat. So by being able to control to what extent he could reduce their power as he pleased, we can see that he chose to reduce it to a large extent, giving reason as to why this is the most significant factor in the large reduction in power of the nobles under Henry VII’s reign.

The third and least significant factor is that of including nobles within parliament to a large extent, and as a direct result it made the nobility stronger rather than weaker. Although he kept the select few in his court as means of keeping his friends close but his “enemies closer” as said by Sun Tzu, this was few and far between. The main result whether intentional or not was that Henry VII’s appointing the peerage in his court meant they in fact had an increase in power through means of influence and advice. Pendrill states that Henry made use of 43 peers throughout his reign, which is close to 80% of the total peerage, giving way to the idea that the Nobility did increase or atleast stayed at the same level of power when advising the King as they did under previous kings such as Richard III and Edward IV. This also gives evidence against the historians (I know not of specific  ones) who believed Henry VII wished to oust the nobility completely from central government as many noblemen were rewarded for the contribution towards the government such as the Earl of Oxford and John de Vere. As a result this factor of power change goes against the thought that the nobles had a reduction of power, however this is only a small section of the change in power for the nobility and is the least significant factor in the large power reduction that took place during Henry VII’s reign as shown in factor 1 &2, however this factor should not be discarded as it shows not only Henry VII’s thought about diminishing the nobility completely, but also that in some circumstances he would allow them more power than usual.

To Conclude, Henry VII reduced the nobility greatly throughout the duration of his reign, with law and enforcement it was by a physical reduction of the peerage as well as a follow through with over the top fining when the law was broken crippling the nobility both in inheritance and finance. However this was not as influencial in the reduction as Henry VII’s calculated mercy and aggression, although not as widely used as law and enforcement it had much greater effect, most importantly binding nobles to him in terms of loyalty by restricting their power with promises of rewards for good service, this allowed for the nobility to be nicely place under Henry’s thumb and as a result is the biggest factor in severely reducing the power of the nobility. The last factor goes against the previous two as it shows that in the particular area of parliament and court he allowed the nobility to have substantial power in terms of influence, however the influence was Henry’s to choose whether to accept, on top of that it is but a small area of power they already enjoyed under previous King’s therefore does not cause enough power gain to counteract the previous two factors. So to finish, as a result of Law and order and calculated acts which overrule nobles within his court, Henry VII did reduce the power of the nobility to a large extent.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)

This essay has great strength in its knowledge and understanding of the period and the level of reasoning and explanation is excellent. It explores the different side to Henry's policy and weighs them up. There is sustained analysis which means that all the way through the essay the focus is on explaining the issue in the question rather than just describing it. ****

Marked by teacher Kate Forbes 01/03/2012

Here's what a star student thought of this essay

4 star(s)

Response to the question

The introduction suggests the student has a really good grasp of the two sides of the argument by pointing out the most important actions of Henry VII and saying why some led to increased power and some led to decreased ...

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Response to the question

The introduction suggests the student has a really good grasp of the two sides of the argument by pointing out the most important actions of Henry VII and saying why some led to increased power and some led to decreased power. They also keep this up through the essay, and respond brilliantly to the question by saying things like "The second most important factor...". This is good as it shows the student has the understanding to assess the factors and rank them in order. They could make it even better by putting them in order from most important to least important, as this would show they can organise their information. However, at some points it isn't clear if the student is answering the right question: they repeatedly suggest that Henry VII "reduced the nobility", but the question asks if the power of the nobility was reduced, not if the nobility itself was reduced. A good way to avoid doing this is to always read the question a few times before you start, and drop the wording of the question into your essay once or twice, as it will show you understand exactly what you have been asked.

Level of analysis

The student quotes historians and provides their names, such as "As Pendrill says...", which is good because it shows they can combine what historians have said with their own analysis. The student tries to avoid going into too much detail and start telling a story with examples, which is good because examiners want students to explain the evidence rather than just say what happened. The student says things like "by using calculations of mercy and aggression, Henry VII was able..." - this is explaining why Henry VII gained a power that he did, not just describing the power. However, in the same paragraph the student devotes a lot of space to describing what Henry did with Simnel: it would be better to condense this information then spend more space analysing it. The conclusion is very good because it ranks the factors in order of importance - "...to counteract the previous two factors" (see section 3 for the problems with how it is written) suggests the student has enough knowledge and understanding to say that one factor is more important than another. One way the conclusion could be improved is by always saying "to conclude" instead of "to finish", as in the last sentence. This is because "finish" simply means the end of anything, such as a story, while "conclude" means to decide which factor in an argument is the most important - you are arguing a case, not telling a story.

Quality of writing

The major weakness the student needs to improve on is the use of punctuation. The essay is at times hard to read, especially in the fifth sentence of the third paragraph: the student uses too many commas, and it suggests to the examiner that the student is unable to organise information properly. In section 2 I quoted the following line from the essay: "therefore does not cause enough power gain to counteract the previous two factors". "Power gain" does not make sense in the sentence, and it seems like it would be more sensible to write "therefore does not have enough credibility to counteract the previous two factors". This suggests the student has not proof read their essay: always leave time to proof read, and try your best to be clear and simple when writing, as it is better for examiners to spend time marking you on the strength of your argument or quality of knowledge rather than trying to work out what you mean.


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Reviewed by lordharvey 18/04/2012

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