With the accession of Henry the Seventh ended the long bloodshed of the civil wars. The two warring lines were united by his marriage with Elizabeth: his only dangerous rivals were removed by the successive deaths of the nephews of Edward the Fourth, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, a son of Edward's sister, who had been acknowledged as his successor by Richard the Third; and the Earl of Warwick, a son of Edward's brother the Duke of Clarence, and next male heir of the Yorkist line. Two remarkable impostors succeeded for a time in exciting formidable revolts, Lambert Simnel, under the name of the Earl of Warwick, and Perkin Warbeck, who personated the Duke of York, the second of the children murdered in the Tower. Defeat, however, reduced the first to the post of scullion in the royal kitchen; and the second, after far stranger adventures, and the recognition of his claims by the Kings of Scotland and France, as well as by the Duchess-Dowager of Burgundy, whom he claimed as his aunt, was captured and four years later hanged at Tyburn. Revolt only proved more clearly the strength which had been given to the New Monarchy by the revolution which had taken place in the art of war. The introduction of gunpowder had ruined feudalism.
The mounted and heavily-armed knight gave way to the meaner footman. Fortresses which had been impregnable against the attacks of the Middle Ages crumbled before the new artillery. Although gunpowder had been in use as early as Crécy, it was not till the accession of the House of Lancaster that it was really brought into effective employment as a military resource. But the revolution in warfare was immediate. The wars of Henry the Fifth were wars of sieges. The "Last of the Barons," as Warwick has picturesquely been styled, relied mainly on his train of artillery. It was artillery that turned the day at Barnet and Tewkesbury, and that gave Henry the Seventh his victory over the formidable dangers which assailed him. The strength which the change gave to the crown was, in fact, almost irresistible. Throughout the Middle Ages the call of a great baron had been enough to raise a formidable revolt. Yeomen and retainers took down the bow from their chimney corner, knights buckled on their armour, and in a few days an army threatened the throne.
But without artillery such an army was now helpless, and the one train of artillery in the kingdom lay at the disposal of the King. It was the consciousness of his strength which enabled the new sovereign to quietly resume the policy of Edward the Fourth. He was forced, indeed, by the circumstances of his descent to base his right to the throne on a Parliamentary title. Without reference either to the claim of blood or conquest, the Houses enacted simply "that the inheritance of the Crown should be, rest, remain, and abide in the most Royal person of their sovereign lord, King Henry the Seventh, and the heirs of his body lawfully ensuing." But the policy of Edward was faithfully followed, and Parliament was but twice convened during the last thirteen years of Henry's reign. The chief aim, indeed, of the King was the accumulation of a treasure which would relieve him from the need of ever appealing for its aid. Subsidies granted for the support of wars which Henry evaded formed the base of a royal treasure, which was swelled by the revival of dormant claims of the crown, by the exaction of fines for the breach of forgotten tenures, and by a host of petty extortions.
A dilemma of his favourite minister, which received the name of " Morton's fork," extorted gifts to the exchequer from men who lived handsomely on the ground that their wealth was manifest, and from those who lived plainly on the plea that economy had made them wealthy. Still greater sums were drawn from those who were compromised in the revolts which chequered the King's rule. So successful were these efforts that at the end of his reign Henry bequeathed a hoard of two millions to his successor. The same imitation of Edward's policy was seen in Henry's civil government. Broken as was the strength of the baronage, there still remained lords whom the new monarch watched with a jealous solicitude. Their power lay in the hosts of disorderly retainers who swarmed round their houses, ready to furnish a force in case of revolt, while in peace they became centres of outrage and defiance to the law. Edward had ordered the dissolution of these military households in his Statute of Liveries, and the statute was enforced by Henry with the utmost severity.
On a visit to the Earl of Oxford, one of the most devoted adherents of the Lancastrian cause, the King found two long lines of liveried retainers drawn up to receive him. " I thank you for your good cheer, my Lord," said Henry as they parted, " but 1 may not endure to have my laws broken in my sight. My attorney must speak with you." The Earl was glad to escape with a fine of 10,000. It was with a special view to the suppression of this danger that Henry employed the criminal jurisdiction of the Royal Council. He appointed a committee of his Council as a regular court, to which the place where it usually sat gave the name of the Court of Star Chamber. The King's aim was probably little more than a purpose to enforce order on the land by bringing the great nobles before his own judgment-seat; but the establishment of the court as a regular and no longer an exceptional tribunal, whose traditional powers were confirmed by Parliamentary statute, and where the absence of a jury cancelled the prisoner's right to be tried by his peers, furnished his son with his readiest instrument of tyranny. But though the drift of Henry's policy was steady in the direction of despotism, his temper seemed to promise the reign of a poetic dreamer rather than of a statesman.
The spare form, the sallow face, the quick eye, the shy, solitary humour broken by outbursts of pleasant converse or genial sarcasm, told of an inner concentration and enthusiasm. His tastes were literary and artistic; he was a patron of the new printing press, a lover of books and of art. But life gave Henry little leisure for dreams or culture. Wrapt in schemes of foreign intrigue, struggling with dangers at home, he could take small part in the one movement which stirred England during his reign, the great intellectual revolution which bears the name of the Revival of Letters.