Royal Branding: Henry VII, the Dark Prince

Continuing my research on the monarchs of old, who give us the first examples of effective personal branding, I came across one writer who claimed that personal branding began with Henry VIII, the 16th century, larger-than-life king of England himself. While Henry makes a powerful image even today, the truth is that the origins of personal branding reach back all the way to the ancient Egyptians in the 15th century BC. And England’s monarchs took their cues from Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and others more than 400 years BC. Plato’s great work, The Republic, advised that the ruler should be a “philosopher king,” to be learned, thoughtful and make his decisions on what he believes is best for his people. Aristotle argued instead that the ruler should do less thinking, but take counsel from those around him, making decisions for the populace based on consideration of gathered information.

henry7sittow1By the 15th century AD, we come to Henry VII—father to Henry VIII and founder of the Tudor dynasty. He ruled almost a quarter century, 1485 – 1509. As Aristotle recommended, he surrounded himself with close advisors as well as a wider circle of nobles who could expand his awareness of the needs and opportunities in his realm. His reign was a time of transition, when violent feuds ended and the age of renaissance and reformation awaited.

But Henry VII had a challenge in creating his personal brand when he first took the throne. Exiled for most of his youth, he was 28 when he finally had the support he needed to fight for the kingdom. He returned to England, defeated and killed Richard III in the battle of Bosworth Field, and was crowned Henry VII on the spot. The House of Lancaster had defeated the House of York. The war of the roses was finally ended. Or was it?

The situation was messy. Henry was the last of the Lancastrian bloodline after Edward IV had killed all the others, including the weak Henry VI and his heir. But detractors said he was really only half-royal, descending illegitimately from a queen’s dalliance with a charming Welsh (Tudor) chamber servant. The two direct heirs, sons of Edward IV, had disappeared (the famous princes in the tower), but Edward and his wife had 10 children. Might there be another heir lurking about? How could Henry strengthen claim and stamp his royal boot once and for all on England?

Values based brand

After years of exile, instability and mistrust, what Henry valued most was stability in all things: familial, financial, legal, administrative and religious.

To begin, he needed to establish himself quickly and firmly in the minds of the people. First thing’s first: he not only declared himself king, but established his start date two days before the battle at Bosworth Field so that, by law, anyone who had fought against him or supported Richard was guilty of treason. That alone had people praising his virtues forthwith. Check.

Next, he dealt with the questionable bloodline issue. He married Edward IV’s eldest daughter, and in one stroke he combined two lines of royal blood, and unified Tudor and York. To confirm it, he quickly set about begetting an heir (Arthur) and a spare (Henry), establishing the Tudor dynasty.

He had artists and scribes illuminate parchment rolls, coats-of-arms, badges and portraits merging red rose (Tudor) with the white (York), and depicting him as the true successor to Edward IV. Check.

But that was just the beginning for Henry VII. He claimed his new reign would bring a “Golden Age” to his kingdom, a concept borrowed from Plato and first described by the Greek poet Hesiod:

“…And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief. Miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died it was as if they were overcome by sleep, for they had all good things…They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods.”

And Henry looked and acted the part as ruler of this rich kingdom. In 1497, Italian ambassadors meeting him at his summer palace in Dover admired the many heraldic devices and rich tapestries in the house, the elegant robes and trimmings on the nobility, and the king himself—(quoting from biographer Thomas Penn) “in a long violet, gold-lined cloak and, around his neck, a collar comprising four rows of ‘great pearls’ and many other jewels. On his head he wore a black felt cap studded with a pear-shaped pearl.” Another 17th century expert claims Henry VII spent the equivalent of £3 million on clothes. Check.

Conquering fear with formality

Henry’s great fear was civil war, and so he set up his kingdom with rigid adherence to due course and order of laws, with swift and decisive action to snuff out potential troubles. He focused on collecting the revenues due him to avoid a tax levy in peacetime. And he placed symbols of his royal authority everywhere, from statutes and proclamations to newly minted coins and the pope’s blessings.

The royal household reflected the same order. Services were below stairs and unseen. Public rooms were opulent. Access to the king was via succession of chambers, from the halls to lobbies, antechambers, closets, and galleries. And to maintain complete order, he established a French-style security force of 300—the yeomen of the guard—and placed spies in noble houses to root out suspected traitors.

His greatest political capital was in his two heirs, eldest son Arthur and second son Henry. Arthur was named for the legendary King Arthur. Henry insisted he be born in Winchester Castle, the ancient seat of King Arthur’s court, and claimed his son’s coronation was prophesied by Merlin himself. He named Arthur’s three-year-old younger brother Henry, Duke of York, thereby taking back the title from the Yorkists and establishing the child as a powerful leader.

Arthur’s wedding to Catherine of Aragon validated Henry VII’s rule by confirming an alliance between England and Spain. The wedding was two years in the planning, borrowing from every great ceremony on record to confirm and claim the most powerful English traditions, and took place in the larger and more magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral (instead of Westminster), so that as many people as possible could attend, experience, and therefore take ownership as a part of the great occasion.

The Legacy

King_Henry_VII_from_NPGHenry VII was not loved, he was feared. It's said that Shakespeare wrote no play for this king because era was just too painful, which may be true, but I would add that the story is so complex you need a full series to explain it. (Enter Starz and their series, The White Princess, based on Philippa Gregory’s novel.)

Henry VII’s reign was fraught with protests, uprisings, pretenders, and conspirators. He wanted to be thought of as a great man, but his focus on money overshadowed this persona. He intended to be known as a wise ruler, but surrounded himself with thug-like administrators and money collectors. One ambassador said Henry did not play by the rules people expected, but instead tried to change them to suit himself.

With quiet reserve he made sweeping changes to traditional English government. Outwardly, he showed the face of a strong, confident and knowledgeable ruler, astonishing foreign ambassadors by seeming to know everything before they reported it. Inwardly, however, he was suspicious and paranoid, willing to do anything to protect his hold on the throne. Eventually, his fear turned his personal brand into something far from what he had envisioned.

Arthur Tudor died suddenly at just 15 years of age, so that when Henry VII died from tuberculosis in 1509, he was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII.

Gems from the Crown:

  • In times of change or instability, establish your identity quickly and firmly
  • First impressions are critical. Look the part of your of your persona every time you represent your business. Clothing might seem an extravagance but it is an important business investment.
  • Well-planned public events can make a solid and lasting brand statement. The marriage of Arthur and Katherine was in the planning for two years, and the roles of each participant carefully designed.
  • Make decisions based on values, not fears. Otherwise your brand will be distorted and possibly lost.
Thanks to: Tracy Borman via the Daily Mail; Thomas Penn, The Winter King; John Dillon, Plato and the Golden Age; and the Creative Commons / Public Domain for images.

Create your own royal brand:

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropBrand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps gives you lessons learned from some of the strongest royal brands, and walks you through the process to create your own unforgettable brand, including vision and mission statements, persona and positioning, colors and tagline, and much more, plus communications planning to put your new brand into action. Available in soft cover and ebook.

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