Holy Henries : the first Tudor and the cult of the last Lancastrian Labun, Katrina
Throughout most of his reign, Henry VII of England was engaged in intermittent negotiations with the papacy regarding the canonization of his predecessor, Henry VI, as a saint. Henry VI, who had been murdered in 1471 by agents of Edward IV, was one of the most popular saints in England at the time, but Henry VII’s campaign for his official canonization eventually failed. While many historians have seen this campaign as motivated by Henry VII’s cynical political opportunism, I argue that in this matter Henry VII’s political aims cannot be understood as separate from his Christian piety. Contrary to his popular portrayal as the ultimate political manipulator, Henry VII was in fact a deeply pious man. His piety was very much informed by his upbringing in France and Brittany and by the pervasive late-medieval cult of holy monarchy. Medieval kings were believed to have a religious as well as a political role, and Henry VII demonstrated a strong interest in the sacral nature of his kingship. The cult of Henry VI also promoted the role of a divinely appointed king in establishing reconciliation and harmony, which accorded well with Henry VII’s objective to restore peace and piety in England following the Wars of the Roses. The campaign for Henry VI’s canonization thus can only be properly understood within its own cultural sensibility, and within the context of Henry VII’s piety and ideology of his reign as a whole.
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