How Stable and Well Served Were the Tudor Monarchy?

1 January 2017

After Henry VIII’s reign ended, many historians believe that there was a crisis because of a young King followed by a Queen however considering the details you can see that it was not a clear as first perceived. Many events in each monarch’s reign could show instability however all of the main rebellions that could have been considered a threat were overcome with quite small danger to the reigning monarch, if any.

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As none of the Tudor monarchs were successfully overthrown indisputably this shows their real ability to hold onto their position and control England, even if their popularity may have fluctuated through throughout their reign. Henry VIII’s reign was viewed by Witney Jones as one of the two Tudor ‘high noons’ however he had his own problems including many rivalry factions and rebellion which imply that his reign was not as stable as perceived when compared to Edward and Mary’s reigns. The struggle between the factions in his court is a key point when observing how well served Henry was.

The two main competitors were created when Anne Boleyn became queen because of the introduction of the Protestant religion, which meant he could marry her. She was crowned on 1 June 1533 and by 11 July Pope Clement VII had excommunicated Henry. But her faction had many enemies such as Thomas Cromwell on a personal level and the Aragonese faction as religious conservatives and these, led by Thomas Cromwell, plotted her downfall by fabricating evidence of adultery and treason resulting in her death on 19 May 1536.

Declaring Elizabeth a bastard and still refusing to legitimise Mary threw the succession into crisis with his bastard son dying in July 1536 as well. In addition to this, his cruel treatment of the Mary’s supporters helped fuel the Pilgrimage of Grace. His reign became unstable at this point as he had no legitimate heir in his eyes and no wife; because of the weakness the leaders of factions had the opportunity to act. Cromwell tried to advise him to marry Anne of Cleves so to create an ally with the German Protestants.

This ended in annulment within six months and the Duke of Norfolk and other such as Gardiner convinced him Cromwell was a traitor, which led to his execution in 1540 and no resistance to the introduction of Catholic Catherine Howard. This was again followed by accusations toward the Duke of Norfolk in 1546 leading to his execution and once again there was no resistance to placing another girl in court for Henry to marry, Catherine Parr, a devoted Protestant, showing their eventual victory.

This rivalry between the factions created an unsettled government and Henry seemed to have little actual control, the power being held by the rivalling factions with him as a figurehead, constantly being advised to follow differing paths by his advisers Also Henry started the Dissolution of the Monasteries, protest started in Lincolnshire in 1536 and even though it was stopped before it reached Yorkshire, a lawyer, Robert Aske took over the protest and it became the Pilgrimage of Grace, gathering around 35,000 protesters.

It spread to York, Hull and Doncaster, where the Duke of Norfolk intercepted them and promised them pardons and that their complaints would be heard but when a further protest broke out, he backed out of the promise, captured the leaders and they were later executed. Although the protest seemed to be completely religiously based the pilgrims only tried to restore 16 of the 55 monasteries leading it to be thought that there was more economic reasons for the protest as well.

These could have been the taxation measures or the two years of bad weather and harvests. Although Henry was quickly victorious over the uprising people he re-organised the Council of the North that shows that he clearly saw the North as a difficulty in controlling the country, being so far from London. He visibly felt threatened as he executed Robert Aske, Lord Darcy, Sir Thomas Percy and 177 supporters and surely if he thought himself well-served then why would such an act be required to keep control?

However you could argue that if Henry felt that his position was threatened then when appointing men to run the Council of the North would he not appoint only high ranking men not a mere gentleman such as Sir William Eure to the position of Warden of the West March? Although this rebellion could be viewed as a counter to the idea of Henry being well served, it was the only rebellion large enough to worry Henry into action and even then Aske never wanted conflict and this lead to Henry’s distinct advantage as he invited him to discuss the feelings of the rebels.

Aske returned to his followers and dismissed them but when another protest broke out in Cumberland; the Duke of Norfolk punished the rebel leaders and the rebellion fell easily. After Henry’s death, his son, Edward was crowned 1547; however being only nine years of age, the Duke of Somerset was appointed as his protector. On the king’s death, he and his ally Sir William Paget kept this fact secret for four days in order to rally support for Somerset, which quickly succeeded with Somerset being made Lord Protector with great power over the Privy Council by the end of February.

Even though in Henry’s will it dictated Northumberland and Somerset should work together to rule the country Somerset seemed to claim the greater amount of power of the two. However it is quite clear that he didn’t greatly use this power as the government used the same methods to deal with rising problems and he did not introduce any new reforms. Somerset clearly didn’t have the will to become an effective leader and so in 1547 when rebels started to form armies he was reluctant to withdraw troops from Scotland and France to support the ruling elites subdue the rebellions.

The Prayer Book Rebellion started in June 1549 with William Body tried to introduce religious reform, however because of his unpopularity caused by Protestant views and arrogance he was mobbed and run out of the county and murdered by local priests when he tried to return from London to impose the destruction of Catholic images. The main leaders of this rebellion were local clergy rather than gentry as they were unwilling to act against the government.

It was Devon that caused the most difficulty for Somerset as it raise an army of 6000 at Exeter led by a prominent local gentleman, Humphrey Arundell who was a skilled and experienced strategist. In East Anglia in the same year another rebellion was forming, but this for different reasons, not religious based as the Prayer Book Rebellion was the Ket Rebellion was set out to stop the rising taxes and enclosure of land by the gentry. Led by local yeoman, Robert Ket gathered an army of 16,000 and set up camp on Mousehold Health and within a month was able to capture Norwich.

The reason for this rebellion most likely lay within the strict organisation that Ket created, with every gentleman apprehended being brought before Ket and his council. However, as neither Lord Russell or John Dudley had the troops or resources to stop the rebellions, it was only when the Privy Council was able to grasp the significance of the rebellions and provide additional troops that Lord Russell and John Dudley were victorious over the rebels in the West country and East Anglia.

These rebellions showed Somerset as a man unwilling to take a firm hand to leading the country and therefore the newly victorious Northumberland has no problem in arresting him in 1549. It could be perceived that these rebellions started because of the sense of weakness in the government, with a child monarch, people would see more chance of an easy victory; this did cause some considerable instability in the government with Somerset’s fall in 1549 however Edward was relatively untouched by this and remained well served throughout the transition from Somerset to Northumberland and their respective phase of power.

Moving through to Northumberland’s rise to power, he increased the Privy Council to 33 members of whom he held trust, even releasing Somerset’s supporters of ability such as Paget and Cecil to increase his control over the government. As an extra precaution, taking Somerset’s fall into account, a perfectly reasonable one, he chose many men of military experience so he could be sure of immediate armed support in the event of more rebellions.

Also in response of the religious rivalry plaguing the kingdom he attempted to change the succession with the support of Edward so that Mary would not take the throne, but rather Lady Jane Grey, a devout Protestant. Even though there were large rebellions against the government, it seems to be just that and not aimed at Edward in a direct attack and so it is hard to argue that he was not well served in this time; as the two Lord Protector’s Somerset and Northumberland took the blame for the problems that England encountered in his reign.

His government might not have been the most stable of the Tudor monarchs however it does appear that he ever became unpopular with the people. In the change to Mary there were certainly complications to consider such as the Lady Jane Grey being forced onto the throne by Northumberland and her family and the rivalry between Protestantism and her own Catholicism in the country.

However she was greatly received by the public and even though Northumberland did his upmost to secure Jane Grey as queen when she was crowned in July 1553, within nine days she was overthrown by Mary Tudor and sent to the Tower of London, later executed. Mary quickly arranged her Privy Council, however she was forced to use several members of her Royal household and this therefore resulted in a Privy Council too large to function at times reaching 43 and with few people in a position to support her, lacking in any political ability.

She soon realised this was a problem and employed several of Northumberland’s supporters into her Council as councillors. Contrary to helping solve the problem, she had no faith in the councillors and even though they did have a vast supply of knowledge, the size of the Privy Council restricted how effective they could be with huge rivalry between the Protestants and the Catholics within the Council.

These wo factions were led by Pager and Gardiner, who were able politicians but even though they did help to create a stable government Mary did not seem to have any faith in her Council and avoided collecting them if possible, preferring to confer with Renard, a Spanish ambassador, on decisions of state. However this was a problem in itself as the anti- Spanish feelings were growing stronger in the country with the word of the queen marrying Philip of Spain.

This led to start of the Wyatt Rebellion that started in January 1554, led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, who supported her accession, Sir James Croft and Sir Peter Carew. Their plan was never to harm the queen ‘we seek no harm to the Queen, but better counsel and councillors. ’, but to convince her to stop the Spanish marriage as they feared that Philip would take control of England. Three rebellions started in Kent, the Midlands and the West Country causing the Queen to panic as there was also a French fleet blocking the English Channel.

The proximity of the uprising made it the most dangerous of the Tudor rebellions, and Wyatt took full advantage of this, by raising an army of 3000 men of his own and then soon after the deserter troops of the Duke of Norfolk’s army. However Mary proved to be well served when appealing to the citizens of London to help defend the city as although Wyatt enjoyed some success, they were eventually trapped and defeated at Ludgate. Mary ignored the rebellions and continued to marry Philip of Spain though his proposed coronation was postponed as the anti-Spanish feelings rose again and he left after just a few months in England.

Although her government became increasingly stable throughout her reign compared to the start as factions co-operated better and her council shrunk, her popularity dramatically dropped throughout her reign and her death in 1558 was as well received as her accession five years prior showing she was not well served in the sense of faith in her policies and views shown by the Wyatt Rebellion and continuous faction rivalry which she distanced herself from therefore becoming increasingly out of favour with her people.

The crown was peacefully given to Mary’s half sister, Elizabeth, crowned in 1558. She had a powerful Council around her, full of wise and influential men, yet what won her the most respect was her strong yet humble personality, she kept the classes in line and never relinquished her power to her councillors. However this sometimes led to her disagreeing with majorities in the Council such as the Puritans, who never persuaded her to alter religious settlement in 1559 nd her deep suspicion stopped her joining with the Dutch against Spain despite a clear majority in Council.

She also kept a strong hold on the government and her Council by refusing to name her successor for fear of men plotting treason against her. Still, her greatest challenge to power was by Mary, Queen of Scots, who after fleeing to England spent twenty years attempting to claim the English throne but the only plot that caused difficulty for Elizabeth was the Northern Rebellion of 1569.

Within the first week of November the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland tried to change the Queen’s policies with their first demonstration holding Mass at Durham Cathedral and they soon moved to Bramham Moor with over 5000 men. Although their clear advantage over Sussex, they turned back to wait for help from Catholic nobles and the Spanish. They were defeated by the end of December, both of the leaders exiled to Scotland and Elizabeth eager for revenge, though many of the proposed 700 executions were commuted.

Elizabeth was clearly well served as the rebellion was quickly disposed of and if she had felt threatened by Mary, then she would have imprisoned her or at least made a move toward stopping her create more plots against her. As for a stable government, her firm grip on her councillors and government showed her to have a very secure hold on her position for most of her reign only losing slight support in the last decade of her reign. Ultimately to make a judgement on how stable and well served a monarch was we must consider their reactions to events within their, how the people perceived them and how close they ever came to being overthrown.

Considering the Tudor monarchs in their entirety, it is clear that there were obvious threats to their power such as others in the line of succession or rebellions of powerful nobles. Nevertheless each Tudor monarch quite easily overcame these difficulties and kept their government and Privy Council in order in their own way, which leads to show that even though there were obvious problems in all of their reigns, their stability was shown by them keeping their throne until their death and how well served they were by the fact that all had enough loyalty within their country to stop any rebellions that arose.

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