How Henry VII Created One Of The World’s First Brands

What do you think of when someone says the word ‘brand’ to you?  Coke, McDonald’s, Prada, Estee Lauder, Kim Kardashian, Madonna?  Although these companies/people have created iconic brands that even pre-schoolers can recognise, when it comes to PR and creating an image, few can match the Tudors.

In case you slept through history class at school, the House of Tudor was an English royal dynasty which consisted of five sovereigns:

  • Henry VII (reigned 1485–1509)
  • Henry VIII (1509–47)
  • Edward VI (1547–53)
  • Mary I (1553–58)
  • Elizabeth I (1558–1603)

As a testament to the brand the Tudors created, it is likely that you recognise the names of all these monarchs and, with perhaps the exception of Edward VI, have at least a minimal knowledge of their achievements (and not so savoury qualities such as beheading wives (Henry VIII) and burning Protestants at the stake (Mary I)).

The same cannot be said for other great monarchs.  For instance, do you know when Edmund I reigned?  Or George II?  Both played significant roles in British history – the former re-established Anglo-Saxon control over northern England, which had fallen back under Scandinavian rule prior to his reign (939-46) and the latter was the last British monarch to lead an army into battle at Dettingen in 1743).  But few, if any books are written about these kings because they do not necessarily capture the imagination.

The need for a solid brand

Although Henry VII could not enlist the help of a publicist or content writer to help him build a long-lasting reputation, it seems he had an innate understanding of what we now call public relations (PR).  This was fortunate because Henry had a threadbare claim to the English throne at best.  According to Phillipa Gregory, author of the White Queen, history graduate and doctor of 18th-century literature, during the reign of Edward IV and Richard III, the Tudor family were considered little more than Welsh gentry.

The claim to the throne was based on the fact Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and third son of King Edward III.  Margaret was John of Gaunt’s great-granddaughter.  Her great-grandmother was Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt’s mistress and later wife.  Katherine’s second husband was Owen Tudor, Henry VII’s grandfather.  Upon marriage, the children of John of Gaunt and Katherine were legitimised by Richard II through Letters Patent in 1397.  However, Henry IV issued new Letters Patent in 1407 which declared the descendants of the line could never inherit the crown.

This did not stop Lady Margaret Beaufort and her son fighting for the throne and on 22 August 1485, Henry defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was crowned King of England.

PR magic

The first step Henry VII took to provide credibility to his reign was to marry Elizabeth of York.  She was the daughter of Edward IV and by making her his bride, he brought together the two Houses of York and Lancaster, which had been sporadically at war for the past 30 years.

As Thomas Penn stated in his biography of Henry VII, Winter King:

“Heralds and historians were good at these genealogical slates of hand.  On their brilliantly illuminated parchment rolls, coats-of-arm, badges, and portraits were erased and cut out: others appeared in their place.  A dynasty that had been eradicated could blossom miraculously like a rose in winter, its lineal descent fully formed, its succession inevitable.  Now with the merging of the red rose and the white, Henry was presented as the successor to Edward IV, the king who had all but obliterated his family and had only narrowly failed to do the same to him.  While the logic was flawed, the symbolism was irresistible.”

The Tudor Rose (or Union Rose as it is sometimes called) is a combination of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster.  Thomas Penn states:

“The “Lancastrian” red rose was an emblem that barely existed before Henry VII. Lancastrian kings used the rose sporadically, but when they did it was often gold rather than red; Henry VI, the king who presided over the country’s descent into civil war, preferred his badge of the antelope.  Contemporaries certainly did not refer to the traumatic civil conflict of the 15th century as the “Wars of the Roses”.  For the best part of a quarter-century, from 1461 to 1485, there was only one royal rose, and it was white: the badge of Edward IV.  The roses were actually created after the war by Henry VII.”

Henry VII used the Tudor Rose as a visual to cement his brand as the true monarch and the legitimacy of his dynasty.  He placed it everywhere and it was adopted as the national symbol of England.  It remains a common sight today, found on uniforms of the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London, and even on the back of 20p coins.

Changing history

Henry Tudor did not only use symbols to ensure his brand was identifiable, he also rewrote the history books to diminish the reputation of the man he defeated in battle, Richard III.

To secure his place on the throne, Henry VII declared himself king “by right of conquest” retroactively from 21 August 1485, the day before Bosworth Field.  By doing this, anyone who supported and fought for Richard III was immediately guilty of treason and all Richard’s lands legally became Henry’s.

But this was not the end of Henry’s fudging of historical records.  To strengthen his brand and his claim to the throne, he set about demonising his predecessor, Richard III.   The late John Ashdown-Hill, who paid a pivotal role in the project, ‘Looking for Richard’ and the author of The Mythology of Richard III, stated that the images we have of Richard, much of which has come down from Shakespeare, is mostly propaganda.  For example, when it comes to the last Plantagenet king’s reputation as a vicious murderer, he states:

“Shakespeare’s famous play, Richard III, summarises Richard’s alleged murder victims in the list of ghosts who prevent his sleep on the last night of his life. These comprise Edward of Westminster (putative son of King Henry VI); Henry VI himself; George, Duke of Clarence; Earl Rivers; Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan; Lord Hastings; the ‘princes in the Tower’; the Duke of Buckingham and Queen Anne Neville.

But Clarence, Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Buckingham were all executed (a legal process), not murdered: Clarence was executed by Edward IV (probably on the incentive of Elizabeth Woodville). Rivers, Grey and Vaughan were executed by the Earl of Northumberland, and Hastings and Buckingham were executed by Richard III because they had conspired against him. Intriguingly, similar subsequent actions by Henry VII are viewed as a sign of ‘strong kingship’!

There is no evidence that Edward of Westminster, Henry VI, the ‘princes in the Tower’ or Anne Neville were murdered by anyone. Edward of Westminster was killed at the battle of Tewkesbury, and Anne Neville almost certainly died naturally. Also, if Richard III really had been a serious killer in the interests of his own ambitions, why didn’t he kill Lord and Lady Stanley – and John Morton?”

In addition, Henry VII drew up new genealogies, linking his grandfather, Owen Tudor, variously described as  Katherine Swynford’s steward or Wardrober, to the Welsh royal family.

Final words

When it comes to creating a brand, few did it better than Henry VII.  His actions were formed out of desperation.  When he came to the throne, he was virtually unknown and England was emerging from a generation of civil wars.  And while his methods may be creative at best, downright fraudulent at worst, the Tudor brand he cultivated continues to endure and fascinate us to this day.

The Legal Copywriting Company is dedicated to helping law firms and barristers achieve their content marketing goals by creating engaging, SEO friendly copy for their websites and marketing materials.  To find out more, please call 01691 839661 or email corinne@thelegalcopywritingcompany.co.uk.

Tudor rose – Illustration

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