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Henry VII
Henry VII

Henry VII (1457-1509), the first king of the House of Tudor, came to the throne in 1485 as a descendant of the House of Lancaster. He had killed Richard III at Bosworth Field, which was the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. The English nobility has so decimated themselves that Henry was able to create a new aristocracy which owed their positions solely to him. This was a great advantage and strength to him, considering the undue power the nobles had exerted over previous monarchs. To strengthen his claim to the English throne further, Henry married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, uniting the houses of Lancaster and York.

Henry was tough, cold, shrewd, and sly. He kept the nobles in fear by increasing the political power of the wealthy middle classes, and he taxed the common people heavily. He eliminated pretenders to the throne, and managed to survive several revolts and conspiracies.

Henry VII increased England's influence in European affairs by making important alliances. He arranged a marriage between his son Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. After Arthur died, the king succeeded in securing the young widow, and her dowry, for his younger son, Henry. He also negotiated a marriage between his daughter Margaret and James IV of Scotland. He kept England out of European wars, however, and by severe economy accumulated an immense fortune.

Henry encouraged overseas trade and exploration and it was during his reign, England first turned its eyes toward America. In 1497, Henry sent John and Sebastian Cabot to explore North America.