Henry reduced the power of the nobility throughout his reign significantly, creating no nonsense policies and imposing socio-economic restrictions and punishments such as attainders and bans on retaining. However, he also awarded his favourite nobles extensively and adopted a ‘stick and carrot’ approach which rewarded nobility when appropriate.
It’s undeniable that Henry VII began an attempt to reduce the power of the nobility during his reign, by reintroducing practices used but not exploited by his predecessors Edward IV and Richard III, such as attainders. This amplified use of attainders is illustrated in the figures; Edward IV, between 1463 up until his death, issued 27 attainders. Henry on the other hand, in Parliament during 1504 alone, issued 51. Throughout his reign Henry passed 138 attainders. Not only was this a way to directly suppress a chosen member of gentry or nobility, it also acted as a warning to others, as attainders were a serious threat to a nobilities status and income- losing land and titles could lead to social and economic ruin, and subsequently many members of the nobility paid Henry for these attainders to be reversed; an example being Thomas Tyrell who paid £1738 in order for his lands to be restored. By creating this no acceptance policy and punishing the nobility in a way which decreased their power both socially and economically, Henry sent a message to all other nobles who may have been influenced, and in turn reduced threatening nobilities power.
Further examples of ways in which Henry took existing ideas and amplified and adapted them to deliberately reduce the power of the nobility during his reign are bonds and recognisances, and the cut down on retaining. Henry’s application of bonds and recognisances further reduced the power of the nobility during his reign. As stated by Pendrill: “Henry was the law… The victim had no right of appeal.” Henry almost doubled the amount of suppression caused through bonds and recognisances in contrast to Edward IV. The application of bonds and recognisances not only reduced the power of the nobility directly (by taking money from them, belittling their power and restricting their resources to undergo actions such as illegal retaining) and indirectly by supplying the king with more direct income, which he could then invest in further protection both against the nobility and to act as a deterrent. Furthermore the way in which Henry cut down on the amount of soldiers which the nobles could retain substantially reduced the power of the nobility. The Act of Livery was passed in 1503: This banned the keeping private armies.
Over exceeding this fixed amount set by Henry was punished harshly, as portrayed by the Earl of Oxford. Oxford, a close ally to Henry VII who had fought alongside him at Bosworth was even fined heavily after it was discovered he’d retained an illegal amount of soldiers. He was “Fined no less than 15,000 marks”, which this is nearly a sixth of the King’s estimated annual income. By limiting retaining Henry clearly consequently limits the nobles power by reducing their resources and protection.
However, in contrast, Henry did award his nobility (in particularly his favourites) when appropriate. By adopting a ‘stick and carrot’ approach, the king reversed attainders bound upon nobility if they’d proved or redeemed themselves. In terms of patronage, Lord Stanley was awarded the Earl of Derby. The Earl of Oxford was made a member of the Garter thanks to his loyalty to Henry, and John Morton was made a King’s councillor. All of these are examples of how Henry awarded nobility who proved their worth to Henry, and didn’t cause a threat. When appropriate, Henry applied the ‘stick’ side of the method, appropriately punishing the nobility. For example, the Earl of Surrey had his lands attainted for his involvement in the Battle of Bosworth. This method was successful, as throughout this era kings would reward nobles to ensure loyalty. Henry adapted this practice and ensured the nobles loyalty before rewarding them. In this sense, Henry didn’t reduce the nobles power, as he was actively rewarding them with important titles and lands throughout his reign.
Henry actively reduced the power of the nobility in order to ensure their loyalty and prevent the nobles from becoming over mighty. He did this by putting bans and limits on retaining, and applying attainders, both of which can lead to a nobles social and economic ruin. These practices significantly portray this reduction of the power of the nobility, and suggest Henry was deliberately attempting to reduce the power of the nobles, particularly towards the end of his reign. However, the titles and lands he actively rewarded the nobility throughout his reign suggest otherwise, illustrating a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to reducing the power of the nobility. One statement is undeniable, and that is that whether it was to ensure the nobilities loyalty, or due to being paranoid towards the end of his reign, Henry definitely deliberately reduced the power of the nobility during his reign to a great extent