Henry VII surrounded himself by able men he trusted. Rather than the magnate families, many of them were from minor families, many not noble, and they owed everything to the king’s patronage and support. They were therefore not just men of ability – they were deeply loyal. Here are a few of them.
Cardinal John Morton, d. 1500
Of gentry stock from Dorset, John Morton rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal. Witty. erudite, decisive, Morton was at the centre of Henry’s affairs and rule; and also has a claim to fame and the mentor of Thomas More. He could also ruthless when he needed to be, but his death in 1500 probably removed a crucial moderating influence of Henry which had important consequences after his death. Read the full article on Morton, and listen to the Members Only Shedcast!
Reginald Bray (Reynold) c.1440-1503
Bray was from Worcestershire, the son of a gentleman surgeon. He first appears in the records in 1465 in the household of Margaret Beaufort and Henry Stafford, her second husband. He travelled on their behalf, managing their estates and legal affairs. in 1475, he married Katherine Hussey, then 13. By 1485, Bray was already a middle aged, experienced servant and fixer of the great and powerful; 45 years old and the reliable, trusted, experienced servant of Margaret Beaufort and Thomas Stanley. He had proved himself in the fire; he supported the rebellion of 1483, though received a pardon from Richard III; and while he did not bear the badge of having flown to exile with Henry, he had been the crucial link man between Margaret and John Morton and Henry, making sure communications got through, drumming up support in England for the Tudor cause. He was with Stanley at Bosworth – even given credit for handing the throne to his master to then place on Henry’s head.
It was clear Henry trusted Bray, and it must have helped that Margaret would have sung his praises, and spoken of his long and loyal service. As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster he delivered revenues to Henry from his most important crown estates; he seems to have had oversight of the customs revenues, he held various castles. Bray was everywhere in the king’s service, a knight of the king’s body, member of the Council, constantly sitting on his legal counsels and a member of the bench, he was the king’s spymaster, helping to track down Perkin Warbeck. He was the most omnipresent of all of Henry’s councillors.
We have some descriptions; Polydore Vergil described him as ‘father of his country, a man of gravity’; which sounds impressive, but the London Chronicle’s description of him as ‘Plain and rough in speech’ rings true. We know nothing of his cultural interests, none of any book collection of his survives; maybe he simply had no cultural interests; though he was credited with a hand in the design of Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster and also St George’s Chapel Windsor.
Bray’s influence had nothing to do with the offices he held; it came from the trust the king put in him, and his relationship and proximity to the king; he was the king’s man. So strong was the relationship that Bray was reputed to get away with disagreeing, disputing with the king. Bray was an organiser, a fixer, a straightforward, effective doer, and a master of the arcane financial arts. He produced money for Henry, and he got things done; the Duchy of Lancaster turned a handy profit all the way to his death. It was Bray Henry chose to lead his instrument of judicial power, the Council Learned.
Bray was made a Knight of the Garter in 1501, but was dead by 1503, buried in St George’s Chapel.
Richard Fox c.1447-1528
Richard Fox was from a family of freemen in Lincolnshire, who had worked their way up to own a manor by the time of his birth in 1447. The family had earned enough to send their sons to Cambridge, from where by Fox 1484 was a canon and lawyer; important enough to reach the notice of Richard III since by 1485 he was in France with Henry. By 1487 he was Keeper of the Privy seal, again a position close to the king, and became Bishop of Exeter and later Bishop of the richest diocese in all Europe – Winchester. Fox was the king’s diplomat – it was Fox that lead all Henry’s major negotiations, Scotland, France, Spain the Netherlands. And say anything you like about Henry, he was a great negotiator, and some of that credit must go to Fox; the Spanish ambassador Carroz would later remark that he was ‘ a fox indeed’.
Fox was utterly loyal to the king; and maybe as close as anyone too. And you can see why – his wealth and success relied on Henry’s favour – Fox himself wrote that ‘the king that was my maker’. Fox was Keeper of the Privy Seal; he kept it so long that the designation ‘Lord Privy Seal’ came into use, and would stick. He stuck by his king in every turn of policy, into the darkest days of Henry’s obsession with nailing his nobilities feet to the floor through extortionate bonds and fines. So loyal was he, that his own Chaplain urged Thomas More not to trust him because, quote, ‘my lord my master, to serve the king’s turn, will not stick to agree to his own father’s death’.
When Cardinal John Morton died in September 1500, everyone looked expectantly at Fox – clearly he was a shoo in. Surprisingly it was not to be – though Fox became Bishop of Winchester in 1501. Clearly this stung. When, in February 1503 William Warham was made Archbishop of Canterbury, Fox’s is supposed to have snapped to Warham that ‘Canterbury had a higher seat but Winchester was more succulent’ – since Winchester was the richest see in England. The relationship between Warham, who became Chancellor under Henry VIII, was poisonous; Warham was overshadowed by Fox, and in return claimed that Fox ‘more regardeth his own private causes’ than ‘the common weal and defence of the realm’. Warham accused Fox of wanting ware and encouraging the young Henry VIII. Thomas More himself viewed Fox with great suspicion; for him it was Fox that was the malign influence behind ‘Morton’s Fork’ as a technique for extracting cash for the king.
It wasn’t until Fox was close to 70 that his political career finally came to an end at the hands of Cardinal Wolsey in 1516. Fox was a supremely competent statesman, a tough negotiator in the interests of the king or of the rights of his see of Winchester. He was aware of intellectual trends, such as the value of Greek in education. He amassed great wealth, but used it to build, give to the poor – and establish Corpus Christi College in Oxford. The picture of Fox was taken in his later years, by which time he had also lost his sight.
Giles Daubeney, 1451-1508
Sir Giles Daubeney was actually unusual in a bit exceptional in that he was in fact a knight. Daubeny had been one of Edward IVs household men; he was one of that group that Richard desperately tried and failed to win over, and he had rebelled against Richard III in 1483. From that time forward wads at Henry’s side; the quality of his relationship is marked by the fact that he was one of the very, very few that Henry elevated to the peerage. Again it was his closeness to the king that marked his influence – as deputy Chamberlain and then Lord chamberlain after the fall of William Stanley. it meant he was constantly at Henry’s side. Daubeney seems to have been Henry’s military man, alongside John de Vere; a commander of great bravery, leading men into France and Scotland, including wading through Flemish canals up to his armpits to lead an attack, and breaking the Cornish rebellion of 1495.
Katherine of Aragon told her father that Daubeney was the man who could do most in private with the king; Daubeney was constantly at court right to the end of the reign and his life. Interestingly, he secured the lease in 1505 of the manor of Hampton Court; a place we’ll hear much more about. Daubeney died in 1508 and was buried in St Pauls.
Edward Poynings, 1459-1521
Edward Poynings’ father Robert must have had quite an impact on the family reputation; remarkably, in the summer of 1450 he was one of a handful of gentry to join the Cade rebellion; in this he seems to have been motivated by the desire to win back land in Kent. He apparently acted as Cade’s carver and sword-bearer, which surely must have stuck in the throat a little. Anyway, the family name seems to have survived, although Robert was killed fighting for the Yorkists at the battle of St Albans in 1461; and it was this that lost the family lands, to the Percy family as it happens. Which mean that Edward was brought up in his mother and stepfather’s household. The next we hear is Poynings’ part in the rebellion of 1483 against Richard, and it was this that made his career, although it probably would not have felt like that when he had to run for his life to join Henry Tudor in France. But like others, it meant that he was Henry’s trusted man. Henry knighted him at Milford Haven at the start of the great adventure; after Bosworth, he gained some reward, including full restoration in Kent, though Poynings never seemed to have become wildly rich.
His reputation under Henry became one as soldier and diplomat as much as administrator. In 1492 he led 12 ships in support of Maximilian; he led a delegation to the Low Countries to discredit Warbeck. But it was in Ireland that his name survives for good or ill, send by Henry to re-establish the English position there. He was there for just one year; but during that year, he brought the Kildare faction to heel and passed a series of laws through the Irish parliament. One of these was the infamous Poyning’s law, which subordinated the Irish Parliament to that of Westminster until it was finally repealed in 1782. As it happens, despite Poynings’ success, his visit proved that Henry could rule Ireland without the Anglo Irish, and Kildare was soon more powerful than ever – this time with Henry’s approval.
Poynings’ return to take up the post of Warden of the Cinque Ports, and after 1500 he was part of diplomatic missions, present at Archduke Philip’s visit; he became at some point Comptroller of the King’s Household and Treasurer of the Household, and was regularly part of the king’s Council. His career survived then in Henry VIII’s reign; he was in northern France as governor, on diplomatic missions to the low countries, and Ambassador to Emperor Charles in 1516. In 1520 he was at Henry’s side at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
Poynings died in 1521; he and Elizabeth his wife had only one child, John, who had already predeceased him. He did have 7 illegitimate children though, for whom he provided; though most of his land reverted to the Percy family on his death. Poynings was the typical talented trusted late medieval household man; a varied career at home and abroad, remarkable challenges taken in his stride, trusted for his history with Henry and for his competence and therefore in Henry VII’s closest confidence. And like a core of councillors, when Henry VIII came along, he started with this group of his father’s trusted men – until Wolsey came along to take over!
Thomas Lovell, 1449-1524
Thomas Lovell was a member of the minor gentry in Norfolk. and for the first 30 years or so of his life, everything was going as it should do for such a man, or at least along well-worn tracks. He had been sent away to Lincoln’s Inn at the age of 15, to make his fortune like so many in his position as a lawyer; when he was done, he was steadily building a practice in East Anglian. But then in 1483, everything changed. He appears to have been part of the affinity of of the Woodville, Thomas Grey Marquess of Dorset, and in 1483 he therefore joined the rebellion against Richard III.
It’s not possible how enthusiastically he followed his lord, but after the period of exile he became part of the inner circle of Henry’s trusted men. Lovell was much more the technocrat than the likes of Poynings and Daubeney. This had a financial angle; he was chancellor of the exchequer from 1485; by 1503 he also became treasurer of the king’s household. He frequently sat with the king, while Henry famously audited the accounts. More brutally, he took bonds for payment from many victims of the king’s exactions. It was also legal; he was the second most regular attender in the Star Chamber, and one of the most regular in the Council Learned. He became very much [art of Henry’s tyranny.
By the end of Henry VII’s reign, Lovell had done well for himself; the fees and pensions from offices given by the king had allowed him to buy into land, until he had landed income around £450. He built and maintained a magnificent brick built house, maintained 85 liveried servants – all unheard of for a member of the minor gentry. Like Poynings, his career survived into the reign of Henry VIII, and he was a trusted councillor until his death.