Henry Tudor was the most improbable king of an improbable age. He seized the throne from a king who himself had seized it from another. And he was only distantly related to royalty, for his mother, the formidable Lady Margaret Beaufort, was descended from John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III. Henry's father, who died before he was born, was the stepbrother of the tragic King Henry VI. When prominent Lancastrians were forced into exile following the triumph of the Yorkist King Edward IV, young Henry Tudor accompanied his uncle Jasper to Brittany. His mother remained in England, eventually remarrying another prominent nobleman and plotting her son's return. Lady Margaret was nothing if not ambitious. She realized the end of the usurper King Richard III would leave England without a king. And her son, with his nebulous connection to Lancastrian royalty, had as good a claim to the throne as any. She arranged his marriage to Edward IV's surviving heir, Princess Elizabeth of York, and Henry returned from exile to win the crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field, - at which, it must be said, he did not actually fight. He wed Elizabeth, thus uniting the houses of Lancaster and York, and ruled for twenty-four years.

Henry's personality was not attractive. Even his official historian remarked upon his avarice. But his throne was not secure in the early years and all his policies were necessarily directed at securing it. Success depended upon curbing the power of unruly nobles, filling his treasury, and establishing royal government throughout England. These policies did not earn him popularity. But he was respected and feared, and he firmly established his new dynasty upon the throne of England.

This page also features portraits of Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort, and his wife, Elizabeth of York, his daughters Margaret and Mary and his eldest son Arthur.

If I know the current location of a portrait, it is listed within the commentary. The National Portrait Gallery in London has the most comprehensive selection of Tudor portraits. You may visit their website to learn of special exhibitions, or purchase prints. I certainly recommend viewing the original portraits if you have the opportunity.

In chronological order

Henry VII, c1500, by Michael Sittow. This portrait shows Henry clutching the red rose of the house of Lancaster.

Henry VII, c1505, unknown artist. This is the most famous portrait of the first Tudor king and closely resembles the Sittow work above. It is on display at the NPG, London.

Henry VII, 16th century copy of a lost original, unknown artist. This is my favorite portrait of Henry. Once more, we see the red rose, not yet merged with the white into the famous 'Tudor rose'.

Henry VII's death mask

Henry VII and Henry VIII, cropped from 'The Whitehall Mural', by Remigius van Leemput after Hans Holbein the Younger, c1667.

In 1537, King Henry VIII commissioned Hans Holbein the Younger to create a mural of the Tudor dynasty to commemorate the birth of his son and heir, Edward. It was the only mural which Holbein made in England. It originally occupied an entire wall in Whitehall Palace, which had been designated the official residence of the monarch just a year earlier. The mural was destroyed during a palace fire in 1698. Luckily, King Charles II had already commissioned a small copy thirty years before by the Flemish artist van Leemput.

One of Holbein's preparatory sketches for the mural has also survived; click here to view it. I have also provided a black-and-white scan. This ink and watercolor cartoon can be viewed at the NPG, London. It gives some insight into the overpowering experience of viewing the mural.

The mural features Henry standing before (and dwarfing) the figure of his father, King Henry VII. On the other side, Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife and the mother of his son, stands before Elizabeth of York. Please click here to view the entire mural.

Elizabeth of York, c1500, unknown artist. This is the only surviving contemporary portrait of Henry VII's wife. Born in 1465 to King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth was the sole surviving heir of the house of York after her two brothers mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London. She married Henry VII a few months after his victory at Bosworth Field, where he defeated her uncle, King Richard III, but her coronation only occurred after she delivered a healthy son - and parliament pressed her husband for the ceremony. Elizabeth was a popular queen and seemingly content with her sheltered domestic role. She had little choice in the matter; her mother-in-law was always the dominant female at court. Elizabeth died on her thirty-eighth birthday, nine days after her eighth pregnancy ended in stillbirth.

Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour, cropped from 'The Whitehall Mural', see description above. Please click here to view the entire mural.

Lady Margaret Beaufort, c1500, by Rowland Lockey. This is the most famous portrait of Margaret (1443 to 1509). She kneels in prayer; the room is a superb representation of the typical royal 'closet', or prayer room. This portrait is held at Cambridge University, which Margaret generously supported during her lifetime.

Lady Margaret Beaufort, early 16th century, unknown artist. This non-contemporary portrait emphasizes Margaret's great piety and learning. It is on display at the NPG, London.

The Children of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York:

Prince Arthur Tudor, c1500, unknown artist of the Anglo-Flemish school. This portrait of Henry VII's eldest son, who died in 1502 at age 15, was made during negotiations for Arthur's betrothal to Katharine of Aragon. Arthur holds a white gilliflower, a symbol of purity and betrothal. This work was later recorded in the inventory of King Charles I. It is the only contemporary portrait of Arthur and numerous copies were based upon it.

Prince Arthur Tudor, date and artist unknown. This is the most famous portrait of Arthur, but it was not painted from life.

Princess Margaret Tudor, early 16th century, unknown artist. This portrait is often identified as Henry VII's eldest daughter, but the attribution is disputed by some.

Princess Margaret Tudor, date and artist unknown. This sketch of Margaret can be seen at the British Museum.

Princess Mary Tudor, c1515, unknown artist. This sketch commemorates the brief marriage of the youngest Tudor princess to King Louis XII of France.

Princess Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, c1516, unknown artist. There are two versions of this double portrait celebrating the marriage of Mary Tudor to her brother's closest friend. They wed secretly in 1515, a mere six weeks after her first husband's death. Mary was passionately in love and willing to risk her brother's wrath. Brandon was in love and very ambitious. Their granddaughter was the unfortunate 'Nine Days Queen', Lady Jane Grey. Click here to view another version of the marriage portrait.

to Tudor England: Images

to King Henry VII website

to Tudor England