Life at Henry VII's Court

M.J. Tucker describes how, although he may have looked rather like a medieval miser, Henry VII attracted to his Court some of the best minds of the Renaissance

Whenever intellectual life at Henry VII’s court is discussed, invidious comparisons are made with his son’s establishment. Invariably the father comes off second-best, looking like an old miser: too penurious to promote the arts, too concerned with his own safety to foster carefree attitudes at court, and too practical to enjoy music, dancing, and festival. Often he is associated in the mind with a dour, sombre-hued character straight out of the Middle Ages, while his son represents the typically brave new world of Renaissance. The contrast is one of light versus shadow. If there is some truth that the first Tudor inhabited the shadows, there is also a truth that he emerged frequently enough from the secrecy surrounding his policy to be observed enjoying hunting, tennis, dicing, and court revels. The courtiers that he gathered about him included some of the finest European poets, humanists, historians, and scientists of his age— men who came in contact with the future Henry VIII, often as his tutors, the men most responsible for forming Henry VIII’s liberal attitude to intellect that without scholars ‘we should scarcely exist at all’.

If we wish to understand the intellectual climate of Henry VII’s court we must examine Henry’s cultural and athletic pursuits, the circle of educated men at court, the education of his children, and his reputation as a builder. We must remember that Henry VII was an avid hunter, that he enjoyed the company of intellectuals—Erasmus as well as Baldassare Castiglione appeared at his court—and that his own cultural pursuits are best reflected in the training given to his children, a training that made them proficient in dancing, music, the arts, languages, and theological disputation.

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