Henry Tudor's Road to the Throne

This activity was originally entitled ‘How on earth did Henry Tudor get to be king?’ which just about sums up why I developed it. Many students assume that Henry’s rise to the throne was almost inevitable because they aren’t able to spend enough time investigating his earlier life. Getting across just how unlikely a king he was can be difficult but this is important if A level students are to understand how effectively or otherwise he governed England. Modern interpretations of Henry’s kingship are more negative than those of even the early 1990s with the general political situation in 1485 being seen as favourable to Henry. It’s his misjudgements and inexperience which are now blamed for his inability to solve his problems and increase confidence in his regime.


A WORD version of this activity and accompanying handout and PowerPoint can be downloaded:

For Activity file [ click here ]

For the handout [ click here ]

For the PowerPoint [ click here ]


Constructing this living graph as a class enables students to understand:

1. that Henry’s rise to be King was far from inevitable and, indeed, extremely unlikely only two years before 1485.

2. the roles played in his rise to the crown by other individuals and countries.

Creating this graph early in an A level course also helps students to realise that learning is co-operative and doesn’t just involve sitting writing at desks.

Setting Up

1. You need enough floor space to create a living graph as follows:

The horizontal axis (timeline from 1457 (the year Henry was born) to 1485 – mark 1457, 1460, 1470, 1480 by writing the dates on A4 or A3 paper.

The vertical axis is graded 0-5 with 0 equalling Henry having no chance of being king and 5 him being king. Mark these simply as 0-5.

2. For all students or for pairs of students duplicate copies of the handout which gives full details of the 0-5 levels. To save you opening that file immediately they are:

0 – No hope! – Not even part of the royal family

1 – an unimportant member of the Lancastrian royal family

2 – the Lancastrian leader but no hope of being king

3 – the Lancastrian leader and main challenger but only a little support from nobles and knights

4 –the Lancastrian leader and main challenger with some support from nobles and knights and some support from other countries.

5 – King!

3. You need either the attached PowerPoint presentation or a print out of the screens, which list the events of Henry Tudor’s career before 1485.

The Activity

It’s quite repetitive really! You take each screen on the PowerPoint in turn and ask students where they’d grade Henry on the 0-5 scale for each one. You can ask the whole class or pick on a pair to make a suggestion and then see if the whole class agree. So, in 1457, Henry’s at level 1 so student stands on the graph at the intersection of 1457 and level 1.

By the time you have built up the graph it will be clear that from 1457 to 1483 Henry’s chance of becoming king was minimal but then changes rapidly but not inevitably. The screens introduce information about the events and people that affected Henry’s chance of being king, leading into the final slide which summarises the range of people and groups who could be credited for Henry becoming king.


1. Was it inevitable that Henry would become king? What were the turning points on his road to the throne?

2. Who deserves the credit for Henry being king? Divide up a bag of sweets among the 5 candidates shown on the last slide to show the balance of responsibility. This is a good group task with each group doing the task with their own tube of Smarties or whatever – do the groups produce the same distribution and why do they differ?

3. What are the implications of the way Henry became king for what happens next?

Notes & Variations

If you only have a small group the activity still works physically – use those old stand-by teddy bears or even gym cones or bean bags to create the graph or any other props you can think of. It’s the physicality of placing these items on the graph that helps students take on board the objectives.


1. How often have you used this kind of living graph activity before with this class? Does the frequency of use affect its effectiveness and, if so, what effects will this have on your overall course planning?

2. How did tackling this topic through this physical activity affect students’ learning? e.g. was understanding of the patterns of events deeper?

3. If used at A level, what was the impact of this activity on motivation to read and effectiveness of reading? [discuss with students]

4. Did this activity make a particular difference to any individuals’ understanding of Henry Tudor?

This Page




Setting Up

The Activity


Notes & Variations




The Early Tudors: England 1485–1558