In 1485 – 1603 to what extent was the government of England dysfunctional in the mid-Tudor period?
In the context of the years 1485 to 1603 to what extent was the government of England dysfunctional in the mid-Tudor period? During the Tudor Dynasty it is easily thought that the years between 1547 and 1558 were ones of crisis. With the succession of a child and the first woman within England, people have assumed that the years between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were an unproductive interlude. The mid Tudor period is seen as negative years within the Tudor Dynasty.
It is regarded that Henry VIII and Elizabeth I’s reputations were a factor in why historians such as A.F Pollard and S T Bindoff supported the ‘Mid Tudor Crisis’ . The ‘two little Tudors’, referring to Edward and Mary, seemed colourless in comparison to their surrounding successors, so much so that A Pollard says “Edward was portrayed as a sickly boy who, throughout his reign, was the pawn of two ‘regents’” while Mary was seen as an ‘intolerant, dogmatic and neurotic woman who failed to produce an heir’ .
Therefore it could be seen that people believed the years of crisis were at their most dysfunctional between the years 1547-1558. W R D Jones argued that Edward and Mary’s reigns were a period of religious disruption, large scale disorder and rebellion alongside the inefficiency and sterility in government and administration, social and economic problems and disastrous foreign policy. This supports the description of the mid-Tudor period being dysfunctional. However there could be influence from the 16th Century writers such as John Foxe who was author to ‘Book of Martyrs’, which was written just after Marys death and depicted her as a monster. Foxe was responsible for a lasting picture of Mary as it fitted prejudices of a confident.
Under these circumstances it was not surprising that the period 1547 – 1558 were marked by disasters. However historians such as David Loades, Jennifer Loach and Robert Tittler stress that there was much creativity in the period. Government under Duke of Northumberland and Mary continued to be effective; also there was continuity in religious beliefs and some foreign policy successes. There were problems within Edward and Marys reigns that were also found in times of Henry VIII and Elizabeth’s for example Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, Spanish Armada in 1588 and social and economic problems in late 1590’s matched those in 1540’s.
Therefore the significance of Edward’s and Mary’s reign was what did not happen rather than what did in supporting that their reigns were the least dysfunctional in England. But in order to gain an understanding of whether or not there was a “Mid-Tudor” crisis in this period, it is important to compare and contrast other periods of the Tudor dynasty. Some revisionist historians argue that certain areas of Henry VII’s reign, 1485-1509, involved a “crisis”, for example the Pretenders of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.
Also the death of the next heir to the throne, Arthur Tudor, in 1502, Elizabeth I and the Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536, the greatest rebellion that threatened England during the reign of Henry VIII, which would have caused the monarchy more concern then the alleged Mid-Tudor crisis . Above all this however, was the Spanish Armada in 1588 during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Spanish Armada threatened national security. Revisionist views of this period have already questioned the presence of a dysfunctional government during the reigns of the Mid-Tudors. Historians such as S. J Lee and D.
Loades argue that other parts of the Tudor regime were crisis ridden and that the Mid-Tudor period was relatively stable in comparison. When it came to foreign policy, Henry VII was far less extravagant than his son. Henry’s greatest achievement in foreign policy was possibly his alliance with the Catholic monarchs and the Treaty of Medina del Campo in 1489. After his policy successes he suffered a defeat in Brittany which was a low point for the King’s foreign policy. His main weaknesses in his foreign policy were not helped by the successive losses of his family members, firstly his son Arthur in 1502 and then his wife Elizabeth in 1503.
He then failed to re-marry and achieve stronger diplomatic relations outside of England following the death of Elizabeth creating a weak government in England. Also the death of Isabella of Castile was another problem for Henry as he would have Ferdinand as his rival instead of an ally over territorial gains in Europe and in the New World. The later years of Henrys foreign policy were definitely his most challenging and difficult period of foreign affairs allowing the government to be weak and therefore vulnerable to a crisis.
His son, Henry VIII was a commanding figure who immediately set about wanting to gain respect and authority in Europe. Henry VIII’s foreign policy can be divided into two separate periods of time in which he went to war. The first period was at the beginning of his reign, in 1509-1515, Henry enforced a policy of aggressive and glorious warfare, this policy allowed invasions to occur within in France and Scotland. He was victorious within both invasions however it was an expensive policy to initiate.
The second time period was during the years 1540-1547, this is when Henry, yet again, wanted more glory and domination over foreign affairs. This period of foreign policy was extremely expensive and came at a great financial cost. The gaining of Boulogne and loss of military personnel, costing ? 2,144,765, achieved nothing greater than personal glory for Henry showing his reign as one of dysfunction. The disastrous warfare policy in France and Scotland left Henry’s son Edward with little in the treasury and no financial platform to build upon as well as weak alliances with these countries.
Therefore Henry VIII weakened the government for his sons reign which could have created a crisis, this supports that the mid-Tudor period was highly influenced by previous successors allowing any dysfunction to be partially blamed outside the years 1547-1558. So when the death of Henry VIII occurred, the throne was left to his child Edward VI in 1547 with England’s financial stability and foreign relation being left in a poor condition with uncertainty on whether it will recover. As Edward was a minor, his two Lord Protectors, firstly the Duke of Somerset and later Northumberland advised Edward with his decisions.
Somerset’s administration was faced with rebellions and uprisings in 1549. The rebellions were part of a mixture of religious and social upheaval. Kett’s rebellion in Norfolk, suffered particularly seriously from the enclosure laws . They were not, however, a threat to the ruling dynasty in the way the Pretenders were to Henry VII. With Lord Somerset ruling at the beginning of Edwards reign, England yet again was at war with Scotland; however this time was without royal approval. Somerset funded his efforts against Scotland with money from the debased coinage.
It is possible to say that Somerset allowed the foreign policy to dominate over other royal problems, especially the king’s finances, which he lost all control of . The economy within England suffered from inflation after the debasement of the coinage. This was mostly seen in England’s wool and cloth exports as they collapsed in 1551, mainly because of prices rising. In 1552, an Act was passed regulating the manufacture of wool to try and encourage trade . The inflationary pressures increased due to a poor harvest in 1548.
This led to unrest within the country that then provoked uprisings the following year in Cornwall and Devon . To some historians, it can be viewed that Somerset’s ruling was as if he was the King. This was thought due to Somerset treating Edward as a child and not respecting the King’s authority. The lack of respect and underestimation of Edwards authority ultimately led to Somerset’s death. Due to the rebellions, this period under the ruling of Somerset it would be seen to be leading towards a crisis.
The situation was rescued and turned around by the more pragmatic approach of Somerset’s successor, the Duke of Northumberland. Once Edward replaced Somerset and appointed Northumberland as his new protector, Northumberland faced the task of restoring the Crown’s finances. To do this, the expenditure would be reduced to fund the campaigns in France and Scotland. Northumberland entrusted Cecil with reorganising the Crown’s finances. This was seen as an achievement as Cecil managed to gain extra revenue out of the Church.
Edward’s protectors Somerset and Northumberland had different ways of ruling. Somerset continued to debase the coinage and spend large amounts of money on placing troops in Scotland and going to war with France as if the king’s money was limitless. Northumberland on the other hand, helped by Walter Mildmay, the Treasurer, reorganised the governments finances which involved the stopping of debasement and pulling England out of conflicts with France and Scotland. This progress continued in to Mary I reign and then without Mary I, Elizabeth could never have completed the process of recoinage.
This is argued in Michael Hutchings article: “Elizabeth’s government could never have tackled the coinage problem so swiftly had the ground not been prepared” . This allows Edward and Marys reigns to show great improvement and only positive progress regarding finance, therefore turning away from the period being a ‘crisis’. But the greatest action of the Duke of Northumberland’s financial success as Edward’s protector was to put an immediate end to the disastrous foreign wars in Scotland and France, wars which Somerset had financed .
Northumberland had gained his funds by signing the Treaty of Boulogne in 1550 this stopped the expenditure flow out of Boulogne. Despite much criticism, Northumberland’s actions in foreign policy were positive due to England gaining financially, a profit of ?133,333 which was received from the French. Even though a truce was decided, there was still a constant threat from the Scots and French to the English security . J. Guy states that Northumberland’s success in foreign policy was due to ending Somerset’s wars . This is because Northumberland had recognised that foreign affairs should not be mixed into a domestic policy, which is something which Somerset failed to understand and led England towards a financial crisis.
Edward’s full authority and respect as King is hard to assess, mainly because of his short reign as King and the fact that he had two Protectors at his side constantly. It is well known that Edward was an intellectual and had a strong grasp on how the government and court functioned due to being well educated and taught about ruling from an early age. But Edward’s death occurred too early to tell if he would have made a successful king.
In theory it is thought that he had the skills and knowledge to rule England successfully. In David Starkey’s documentary about the reigns of Edward and Mary, it was said that Edward was “not a puppet King” and that he made decisions in court due to his knowledge of the government . Edward was naturally studious, intelligent and a devout Protestant. Apparently he was always self-disciplined and gained advanced knowledge of government, economics and the nobility from an early age due to his Father, Henry VIII, relying on his male heir to be his successor.
Edward made decisions in his own interests, for example the disposal of Somerset. The King showed a lack of emotion and was described as “mature and driven” which was a combination of qualities from his two previous successors. This does not support the belief of the mid-Tudor period being dysfunctional due to the qualities of Edward being a strong combination of the positive and successful qualities of the previous reigns, showing a solid base of a successful reign. After the death of the boy King Edward, for the first time a woman gained the throne of England.
Mary’s initial concern before her rise to the throne was marriage and producing an heir for her reformed Catholic society. Foreign policy was not high on Mary’s list of priorities. Therefore the preference of gaining a foreign husband in Philip II of Spain allowed an Anglo-Spanish alliance against European rivals and gained Mary a husband. But her aim to gain a foreign husband was not welcomed by the English people as many felt that a male foreign ruler would take the control of England from the authority of Mary.
This led the marriage to result in immediate discontent which brought uprisings in the country. The most threatening rebellion was Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554. The Wyatt rebellion arguably was the greatest threat to Mary’s reign. The social unrest brought into England, due to high unemployment figures was evident as many chose not recognise a foreign ruler in an English government. Although it represented a real threat to Mary the uprising never had the backing or strength to take over and control Mary so the possibility of a crisis was avoided.
One of Mary’s greatest achievements economically, however, was her government’s plans for recoinage. Even though the completion of the recoinage took place after her death in Elizabeth’s reign, according to C. E. Challis ‘Elizabeth could never have tackled the problem of the coinage either as quickly or as effectively as she did had it not been so thoroughly aired amongst government officials in the immediately preceding years’ . This supports the purpose of Marys reign and shows that her reign was not an unproductive interlude before Elizabeth’s reign.
David Loades supports the positive view towards Mary. He states that “she succeeded in enforcing her will over three major matters: her marriage, the return to Rome and the declaration of war” . In M. Hutchings article of Mary Tudor, he makes the statement that “Mary gave financial stability… countered unemployment and social problems. Above all, simply by establishing her own claim to the throne and maintaining it, Mary re-established the legitimacy of the Tudor succession” . The Succession of Elizabeth I after Mary I as Queen of England occurred in 1558.
The reputation of Elizabeth I is of high standard and she is considered as good as English monarch as some of the male rulers. The foundations of this reputation were found in the impressive nature of the Elizabethan court, the development of the English culture, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and her successful re-creation of the Church of England following the death of the Catholic Mary I . However, during Elizabeth’s reign as Queen was full of revolts and uprisings. These included key revolts the Northern Earls revolt in 1569, The Ridolfi plot of 1571 and the Babington plot of 1586 which aimed to remover Elizabeth from the throne.
The plots were due to the social, economic and religious unrest within England. The rise in population and vagrancy were issues in which Elizabeth had to contend with. Therefore these revolts do not portray a Queen who did not face crises throughout her long reign and also display more serious displays of dysfunction than that of the mid-Tudor period. During Elizabeth’s reign the Spanish Armada and social discontent was much more of a threat to the English crown than any other rebellion or foreign policy with the other monarchs in the Mid-Tudor period.
The real possibility of invasion from a foreign force was more of a threat than any other rebellion during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I but due to their successful reigns this was avoided. This is the Armada Portrait which was taken after her victory against the Spanish Armada. It depicts Elizabeth as the gloriana figure in her country. The picture portrays a stormy, defeatist view of the Spanish loss against the English navy with the picture showing light shaded sky, calm and steady water and the English navy in the foreground on the left side.
On the right of the picture is the defeated Spanish Armada. However what dominates the picture is Elizabeth herself. The portrait displays Elizabeth in all her glory, with her flame red hair and whitened face . Her dress and jewels show her power as well as beauty. The portrait captures Elizabeth as a very beacon of defiance which suggests that her reign was one of no dysfunction but as one of many successes and victory, however due to much propaganda within the era this could be an unfair representation of Elizabeth’s reign.
This portrait is named the Rainbow portrait and Elizabeth is displayed in a light tone again. The crown symbolises her royalty and her clothes suggest that her royal magnificence and aura over the English people is maintained due to their extravagance. Elizabeth is holding a rainbow in her right hand. The rainbow symbolizes peace, and the inscription reminds viewers that only the queen’s wisdom can ensure peace and prosperity . This could suggest that she is an idol to her people for showing defiance in the tough periods of the 1590s when poverty was rife and harvests failed in England.
The snake on her left arm also denotes the wisdom of the Queen. The whole portrait is one of a warning to those who oppose Elizabeth. At the time of this portrait, Elizabeth was 60 years of age, the light shades of the portrait show the Queen as a youthful and a beautiful figure who is in control of her country. In the rainbow portrait, Elizabeth is ageless . All this is powerful propaganda and shaped people’s opinions and views of her, this suggests that she needed to create a false view of herself in order to make up for the dysfunction during her reign.
During the years 1485 to 1603 it is certain that financially they were extremely unstable in many different moments during the reigns of each monarch. Henry VII was the only monarch that kept control of his money and died with money left to pass down, this is the main reason as to why Henry VII is regarded as a successful King. However the enclosure issue and the Cornish rebellion threatened to drain him financially. So at the end of his reign, Henry’s popularity suffered greatly but despite this, Henry VII was able to provide his son with a large treasury to start him off as King.
Henry VIII however failed to follow in his father’s footsteps. Even though Henry VIII did gain financially through the Break with Rome and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, within his second period of “aggressive and glorious” warfare he used all his money to go to war which left him with nothing financially. Even though during the next two reigns social unrest and major propaganda took hold, Mary in particular was effective in controlling the masses with her councillors and effective revenue and recoinage reforms.
Also Edward was able to manipulate his two Lord Protectors despite being a minor; he had very good intellectual knowledge of the process of government and had the power to implement his policy into the country. The governments of the two monarchs were kept intact and were not as faction-ridden as Henry VIII’s final years as King. The Mid-Tudors if anything strengthened the finances of the government; stabilized the government and increased the diplomatic skills of the monarchy.
The most significant part of the reigns is what didn’t occur as there was no breakdown in parliament, no overhaul of Royal Supremacy, no foreign invasion and no civil wars. Historians such as S. J Lee and D. Loades have presented the question of “Was there a Mid-Tudor crisis? ” They reviewed the Mid Tudor period and allowed an argument to support Mary’s and Edwards reigns as the opposite of a crisis. Therefore I believe that the “Mid-Tudor crisis” is an over-exaggeration to describe the period of Edward and Mary.
Even though there were a number of personal crises to test the Mid-Tudor monarchs such as being a child and the first woman on the throne, but nothing that threatened the public order, government and security. This is in comparison to other events during the period of 1485-1603, the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 threatened national security more than Wyatt’s rebellion of 1554. The pretenders to Henry VII’s throne, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck threatened to de-stabilize a Tudor regime that had only just begun following the Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century.
And Elizabeth was not the “golden monarch” that she was portrayed as following the succession crisis of 1603. The conclusion is that the Mid-Tudors have been unfairly criticized during their reigns due to the way in which they were depicted by their people and historian commentators, such as John Foxe, and it was until recently revisionist historians started to review the events of the Mid-Tudor period presenting an argument against the time period being a ‘crisis’ but as one of tests and tribulations that were all over come, showing a period of an effective government of England.