At 11 o'clock on the night of 21st April 1509, King Henry VII died at Richmond Palace. It was not a sudden death, the king had been ill for some time and had shut himself away at Richmond since January.
John Fisher, the future Bishop of Rochester, recorded details of Henry VII's last days for a sermon. The king died a good Christian death but his last days were far from peaceful, they involved confession, prayer, weeping and a dying man trying to bargain with God, pleading with God that he would be a changed man if God sent him life. Fisher writes of how he received the sacrament of penance "with a marvellous compassion and flow of tears, that at some time he wept and sobbed by the space of three quarters of an hour."
Fisher goes on to describe how Henry prepared himself for death:
"That same day of his departure he heard mass of the glorious virgin the mother of Christ to whom always in his life he had a singular and special devotion. The image of the crucifix many a time that day full devoutly he did behold with great reverence, lifting up his head as he might, holding up his hands before it, and often embracing it in his arms and with great devotion kissing it, and beating often his breast. Who may think that in this manner was not perfect faith, who may suppose that by this manner of delaying he faithfully believed not that the ear of almighty God was open unto him and ready to hear him cry for mercy, and assistant unto these same sacraments which he so devoutly received, and therefore in his person it may be said 'Quia inclinauit aurem suam michi',"
The Latin is taken from Psalm 114 and means "Because he hath inclined his ear unto me".
Fisher's account, which goes on for pages, is one of a man in agony "not for the dread of death only, but for the dread of the judgement of almighty God" and it is actually quite upsetting to read. Henry VII was obviously panicked by what would happen to his soul after his death and was praying for mercy and deliverance. In his sermon, Fisher was using the king as an example of how worldly pleasures and vanity cannot bring us any comfort at the end.
Henry VII's death was kept secret for a couple of days and then it was announced to the Knights of the Garter at their annual St George’s Day Feast on 23rd April and then to the public on 24th April. The fifty-two year old Henry VII had ruled for over 23 years and was able to pass the throne on to his seventeen-year-old son, Henry, who became Henry VIII.
The King is dead, long live the King!
Notes and Sources
- The English works of John Fisher, published for the Early English Text Society, by N. Trübner & Co. in London, 1876, p274-288. You can read this online at https://archive.org/stream/englishworksjoh00mayogoog#page/n318/mode/2up