Monthly Archives: March 2014

Modern Politicians can Learn from Henry VII

This post is different than my normal posts, because I am going to talk about politics a bit. It is hard to watch what is happening in the American government and not think about how far from the law we are, and how much more freedom the English people had under a king than we Americans do now.

In the minds of most Americans the British monarchy is synonymous with King George III. We hear the title “king” and our gut reacts like George Washington’s- “It will be Mr. President.” We think our government of “for the people, by the people,” this quasi-democracy, is the best it can ever get. And why not? A little less than half of the population gets their way and we’re supposed to all be happy.

The modern politician is an amalgamation of a fast-talking snake oil salesmen and a mini-tyrant. We’ve heard Former-Mayor Bloomberg telling us that he knows what we should eat and drink and will force us to comply. We’ve heard President Obama brag about being able to write laws unilaterally because he has “a phone and a pen.” This is all acceptable to them because under their logic the people voted for them, so any action they undertake is what the people want, or at least what they signed on for, by electing that politician. And, the logic follows, if we don’t like the policies or laws that one administration creates, once their term is up we can get in a new person to undo the damage. Let’s be clear: The damage is never undone and with each consecutive bad politician the policies get worse and the law oversteps into individual rights.

The US Constitution was based on a mix of the Magna Carta and the ideas of liberty that came from the Enlightenment. A major grievance of the colonies was that parliament and the king were ignoring the rules of law set forth in the Magna Carta, saying that it only gave protections to the people who lived in the British Isle, not to the citizens in the colonies. When the war was won and the US had to make its own laws, they took a great deal of direction from the Magna Carta itself. It was there that limits on taxation were first penned. It was there that personal protection from the government originated. It was there that due process under the law became standard. This comes back to the difference between a Limited Monarchy verses an Absolute Monarchy and how that difference effects the lives of the citizens of a country. France was an Absolute Monarchy and its people starved. England was a Limited Monarchy and its people thrived and grew wealthy. The Magna Carta, and the Constitution, both limited the powers and rights of the government, not of the people. A king is the personal embodiment of a government, and though not elected still has to keep the needs of the people in his focus or lose their support.

My plea for politicians to act more like Henry VII.

No, Henry was not a greedy miser who taxed the common people nearly to death. It was not possible for a king to enact taxes that were not approved of by parliament, and Henry was not in a solid position with parliament. There were still Yorkists who wanted him gone and dead, and other nobles who wanted to take the throne. Without parliament’s approval a king could not collect taxes, and the taxes that they approved had to fulfill very strict criteria. Unlike our modern system of taxes, taxation under the Magna Carta had to be for a specific purpose- a war or building project for example- and had to have a specific start and stop date. Taxes could not just give the monarch more money to spend however he wished, and could not be open-ended. Henry VII could not get around those rules, not even to attack France, the normal enemy of the English. When he asked for the taxes to do so parliament refused. And he had no choice but to work with them or give up. He couldn’t just say that all Englishmen must give him this much money every year indefinitely.

So how did Henry get such a full treasury, if he couldn’t tax the people in such a way? He was a shrewd businessman who invested his private money to support trade, which increased the amount of tariffs the crown received from such trade. He also managed the royal lands better than his predecessors, taking a personal interest in the management and cutting out waste. At the end of his reign the royal lands had produced 10,000-pounds under Edward IV, compared with 42,000-pounds per annum.

There was an increase in business due to the increase in security Henry VII fostered. He reigned in relative peace, while Richard III, Edward IV and Henry VI all reigned under violent civil war. This peace created a safer situation on the roads and on trade routes. As well, Henry VII extended the crown’s justice in the realm, so that disputes could be resolved quickly and fairly in his name. Security for the people breeds more income for the government.

“But wait!” I can hear you say. “He made lots of money by creating laws which forced noblemen to pay fines for keeping standing armies and made them bond each other, so he could get rich!” It may be a surprise to hear, but Henry VII did not create those laws, nor did he enact them often. The laws against Retaining and for supplying “Recognizances” were on the books prior to Henry’s reign and were used by both Edward IV and Henry VI. The laws against retaining had to do with noblemen paying for and keeping standing armies in times of peace. In war time every noblemen must bring an army to the field or else pay for it later, but in peace time they could not keep that army to fight among themselves with other nobles or be threatening the king. Under Henry VI and Edward IV it was illegal to do so, but with the constant warfare it wasn’t as enforced as it should have been.

“Recognizances” were a different system. One nobleman was found to be a “risk” to the crown and country, so one of his noble friends would promise to pay a sum of money to the crown if the first nobleman was found to be guilty of treason. If his friend turned on the king in rebellion the nobleman would have to pay the crown for the offense. In a time of warfare this system could have provided a nice income for the crown while giving the nobles a reason not to commit treason. But just as the laws against retaining were rarely enforced, prior to 1485 “recognizances” were rarely used as well.

It is true that Henry used them more, but he did not fill his coffers with these fines, taking an income from them that was only slightly higher than Edward IV’s. Because he was still very precarious on the throne, Henry preferred to have the noblemen feel indebted to him. When a nobleman was found guilty of breaking these laws the penalty would be levied by the courts and was expected to be handed over to the crown. But Henry forgave more of these offenses than he collected on, preferring to seem generous and forgiving and to give the noblemen an example of fair treatment. By forgiving the debts Henry made the noblemen thankful to him for their continued prosperity, and more likely to defend him if rebellion did stir up. He appeared to be merciful and gracious in his actions, and gained more support for his seat on the throne.

Henry VII knew that you catch more flies with honey. By taking actions to keep money in circulation and increasing trade with investment and peace in his realm, Henry gained more revenue than he could have if he had been allowed to increase taxation with a heavy fist. His time as a “beggar earl” in exile made him thrifty and never wanted to be at the mercy of others’ monetary support again. He made the mechanics of government more efficient and cut waste, and knew how to encourage the country to make money for themselves, which in turn made money for him in legal and fair ways.

This is something that is lost on our modern government, who believe that increasing fines and taxes will increase their own funds. It won’t. Instead of cutting waste and operating at a minimum expense they continue to pay for and encourage waste. We focus on things like the fact that some people make very large sums of money while others do not, instead of focusing on how high the standard of living is for even the very poor. The politicians promise to make income equal, instead of focusing on what we already have and how blessed we are. Our lives today are better than Henry VII’s- heat, AC, plumbing, TV.

Judge John Fortescue knew that a limited government made the people wealthy and happy, and that absolute government strangled the people, keeping them poor and miserable. Somehow this message has been ignored. And only by returning to it can we continue to have the freedom and standard of living that made this country a destination for the “troubled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Resource:

Grant, Alexander. “Henry VII.” Lancaster Pamphlet. 1985. Routledge: London & New York.

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The Tudors: Season One, Episode One

WARNING- Contains spoilers

Any work of fiction, either on film or in a book, has to show you what normal is before the real plot can begin. Plot arcs must start low before rising in exposition. If the audience doesn’t understand how the characters normally act and what their lives have been like there is no way to understand how much change happens once the plot begins to move.

This episode does a very good job of showing us what “normal” was for the character “Henry VIII” and his court. We see a young king who spends his days working on the problems of the realm and international politics, while playing games with his friends, interacting with courtiers and spending time with his wife and mistress. At the end of the episode we get the first look at Anne Boleyn, but Henry has not seen her or her sister Mary yet.

The very beginning of this episode shows an English ambassador being murdered by French soldiers while at the court of the Duke of Urbino. This man is later referred to as Henry’s “uncle,” which immediately causes confusion. Henry had no blood uncles. His father, Henry VII, was an only child, and his mother’s two brothers went missing in the Tower in 1483 and were believed to be dead. The only uncles Henry had were from the marriages of his mother’s sisters, or his half-great-uncles from Margaret Beaufort. After looking at the husbands of the sisters of Elizabeth of York the only one that could be a candidate for this position was William Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, but he was not stabbed to death in Urbino and this show is too late to show a reaction to his death. He died in 1511 of “pleurisy” and was buried at Blackfriars. I believe this was invented to give the show more drama to the show, to give Henry more of a reason to hate the French and seek war against them as revenge.

Many other writers have already pointed out many things from this episode that are inaccurate, such as the lack of a historical Anthony Nivert or how Katherine of Aragon was actually a redhead or that Thomas Tallis was not at court as a young man. I am going to try to give those issues limited space.

My best guess as to the date of this episode comes from Bessie Blount’s pregnancy. Her child was born in 1519, and after she was married to Gilbert Tailboys. This means that the episode takes place in 1518 to early 1519. This will create many problems in future episodes, because Henry’s sister Mary was widowed by Louis XI of France in 1515, and married Charles Brandon in the same year. This means that the entire setup for Bradon’s character (played by Henry Cavill) is inaccurate, even before his marriage to “Margaret Tudor” is shown in upcoming episodes.

Henry had always had mistresses, and according to The Other Tudors by Philippa Jones (2009, Metro Books), Henry was a man fueled by romance and was a serial monogamist. He had regular and long-term mistresses, often staying with one mistress for years. This is not the Henry we are given in The Tudors. We are given a lusty and whoring king, more along with the reports of the sexual appetites of Henry’s grandfather, Edward IV. I have read several authors who believe that Henry’s later appetites for food and women were an attempt to emulate his grandfather. Did Henry have meaningless one-night-stands with random women at court? Perhaps. But in his account ledgers he is shown as giving gifts to one specific mistress at a time who was well-known at court and in rumor.

Jones also points out in her book that Henry seemed to sour on his mistress when she would become pregnant, quickly finding her a husband and having nothing to do with her again. Her argument is that he may have found the production of a child as a betrayal since he had spent years of bed sport with these women without ever making a child, showing that they were using some form of birth control. He may have seen these pregnancies as a deliberate way to try to force his hand in their relationship, and he may have resented it. Of course this is speculation, but we do know that the pregnancies of his mistresses appeared close to the end of their relationships. The show does display this well, and when we learn that Henry’s paramour Bessie Blount is pregnant, Henry pretends he is learning who she is for the first time. In the history we know that married Sir Gilbert Tailboys and had three children with him. The marriage seems to have been a happy one that was entered into after the birth of her child, so the character’s statement that her husband was threatening her with scandal and the convent is a fabrication.

I have to admit that there is a point of confusion for me when the Duke of Buckingham makes a comment that Henry’s only claim to the throne was a “bastard’s on his mother’s side.” I am not sure if he is referring to Richard III’s claim that Elizabeth of York and her siblings were bastards, or if he is referring to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, since she was the only blood claim to the English throne that he had. The Beauforts started out as bastards and had been barred form the throne by Henry IV after they had been legitimated by Richard II and the pope. Buckingham’s comment works in both ways, even though his father had rejected Richard’s claim of bastardy of Elizabeth of York when he helped to plan the rebellion against Richard that we associate with his title, the Rebellion of 1483. In the same way he showed that he did not care about Henry VII’s Beaufort blood being a bastard line, because he agreed that if his rebellion had been successful he would have welcomed Henry of Richmond to the throne. We have no way of knowing if he was serious or if he planned to take the throne for himself, as he was executed for his efforts in the rebellion.

The girl who plays the child Princess Mary is just too darn cute! I adore the actress Sarah Bolger, who later plays an older Mary, and I became very excited when I heard her work on the video game “Bioshock.” But little girl Mary is adorable, and a wonderful casting. Wrong hair color, but I don’t think they could ask a child to dye her hair.

One of the biggest plot points of this episode is the setup for the Field of Cloth of Gold. This expedition to France happened in 1520. The other was the introduction of the lovely Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn. I will be discussing these topics more in future episodes.

Additional Reading:

The Creation of Anne Boleyn

The Tudors Wiki

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Henry Tudor, a Proud Welshman

I gotta say, I like the way Nathen thinks!

Nathen Amin

To the average member of the public, no Royal Dynasty has come to represent England and Englishness as the Tudors, a multi-generational 16th Century force that dragged England out of the bleak and dreary middle ages and into the renaissance period that enabled the Kingdom to become a superpower on the global scene. England became a mighty nation during the reign of sequential Tudors, rapidly growing in a self-assurance and assertiveness that would later blossom into the dominant British Empire under their successors. It was under this Dynasty that England broke with Rome, that the English vanquished their aggressive Spanish foe through the defeat of the infamous Armada and that the world was given the immortal playwright William Shakespeare. Arguably the most overlooked Tudor monarch is the very man who began the dynasty, Henry Tudor, that great opportunist who is arguably one of the country’s greatest overachievers. Born fatherless and…

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