As Rodney Dangerfield might have said had he been cast in a role as Henry VII, “I don’t get no respect.”
Henry VII is one of those English kings who never seem to get any attention, outside the rarefied realms of academia. Only of late, it seems, have a few writers and TV producers turned their heads towards him – no doubt because a lot of the other, more exciting monarchs have been thoroughly covered on screen and in print.
Although he was the first of the short Tudor dynasty, his reign is overshadowed by those of his son, Henry VIII, and granddaughter, Elizabeth I. His continental contemporaries – Louis XI of France and Ferdinand II of Aragon – also outshone him.
Take Shakespeare, for example. The Bard wrote plays about Henry IV, V, VI and VIII. Just skipped VII as if the old geezer hadn’t been worth the price of a goose quill and paper. Plus he wrote about Kings John, Richard II and II and possibly Edward III. H7 is ignored.
Well, okay not completely. Just as far as top billing goes. He’s called the Earl of Richmond in Henry VI, part 3, a youngster who shows up towards the end – Act IV, Sc IV, a bit player without even a speaking part. Not very auspicious for the man who would be king not many years later.
Later, in Richard III, set in the finals years of the War of the Roses, a somewhat older (28) Henry defeats the king (Richard III) at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Again, Henry doesn’t show up until the end: Act V, Sc II – and his character is dull and stiff, compared to the vibrant and dynamic – albeit evil – Richard. He takes the crown to become King Henry VII, although the coronation itself is not shown (Derby removed it from the dead Richard). Yorkists win, Lancastrians lose. Sic friat crustulum.
(Apparently the 2016 sequel to the BBC’s superb Hollow Crown series will include Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III plays, so you can watch them on DVD…)
Henry VII had long been dead by the time Shakespeare wrote Henry VIII, and so he gets short shrift there, too. Queen Katharine mentions him in passing in Act II :
The king, your father, was reputed for
A prince most prudent, of an excellent
And unmatch’d wit and judgment…
Henry VIII also mentions him in passing in Act III. Neither call him by his name or title, just “father.”
Otherwise, H7 was just bypassed by the Bard and other playwrights.
Continue reading “Poor King Henry VII”