Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Elizabeth I and her Parliaments

Elizabeth is here presented as the true heir of Henry VIII. Her reign
ushers in peace and plenty, whereas Philip and Mary had
brought only war.
What was the situation of Parliament at Elizabeth’s accession? See here for a full account.

Historians know more about the Elizabethan parliament than its predecessors, largely because of the Journals of the two Houses. From 1510 the House of Lords kept a record of its proceedings and from 1547 the Commons kept its own Journal. By Elizabeth’s reign these records had become very full and in the seventeenth century the antiquarian Sir Simons D’Ewes collected copies of speeches and notes of debates.

St Stephen's Chapel, where the Commons
sat from 1547 to 1834
By Elizabeth’s reign, too, the Commons had a permanent chamber. In 1547 they moved into St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster, where they continued to sit until the great fire of 1834.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Edward VI and Mary

Edward VI (1547-53)

Henry VIII's death and the accession of his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, ushered in some of the most momentous changes in English history. Power now lay firmly with the religious reformers (‘evangelicals’), who, through Parliament ushered in a religious revolution.  
"Portrait of Edward VI of England"
by Circle of William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554) -
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 

The coming of the Protectorate

On 31 January the Regency Council heard Henry VIII’s will read, naming the king’s uncle, the earl of Hertford Protector and governor of Edward’s person, who a few days later became duke of Somerset.  On 16 February Henry was buried at Windsor in the same tomb as Jane Seymour. On 20 February Edward was crowned. The coronation sermon was preached by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, now free to declare his religious sympathies, who told the king that if he wished to be the second King Josiah, he must destroy the pope’s tyranny and remove images. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

'Henry VIII clauses'

I have been given a fascinating modern take on one of the most notorious statutes passed in Henry VIII’s reign.

In 1539 his Parliament, no doubt at Cromwell’s instigation, passed the Act of Proclamations, which appeared to give royal proclamations the force of law. 

Today the official Parliament site gives a fairly neutral definition and links the term to the Statute of Proclamations 1539.

The term 'Henry VIII Clause' is apparently always used in negative contexts, usually for when ministers attempt to obtain powers beyond those which are seen to be necessary.  For a typical view see hereSo although the Act was repealed at the King’s death in 1547, its spirit lives on - if we let it!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Henry VIII (2)

With the promotion of Thomas Cromwell to the inner council at the end of 1531, the parliamentary session of 1532 saw fresh moves  against the Church.
"Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01" by Hans Holbein the Younger -
The Frick Collection.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 

The Reformation Parliament 1532

The Act in Conditional Restraint of Annates: In March 1532 the Lords debated the Bill of Annates, marking the first serious attack on the papal power in England.  Hitherto the pope had received the ‘Annates’ that is, revenues of a diocese for one year after the appointment of a new bishop, abbot, or prior. By the terms of the act he would in future only receive five per cent and if, as a result, he refused to consecrate a bishop, then the consecration would take place without papal consent. 

Parliament’s reaction showed that it was not completely submissive to the King. The Lords opposed the bill fiercely, and the King conceded the addition of a clause that suspended the effect of the act until confirmed by royal letters patent (hence ‘conditional’). Even so, the bill met strenuous resistance, which called for Henry’s repeated attendance in the Lords. 

In the final division on 19 March, the spiritual peers voted solidly against it. Even in the Commons, the government faced problems. This shows, not that members were desperate for the pope to continue to receive Annates, but that there was real concern about a full-frontal attack on the spiritual prerogatives of Rome. Parliament felt the king was using it for his own purposes.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Henry VIII (1)

"Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger -
Portrait of Henry VIII -
Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons -
The reign of Henry VIII saw a huge increase in the importance of parliament. This was because of the king’s decision to use parliamentary statute in order to bring about the break with Rome.  Henry’s failure to produce a male heir before 1537 also raised two further issues: 

  1. in default of males, could a female succeed to the throne?
  2. who decided the succession – king or parliament?

"Catherine aragon" by Lucas Hornebolte -
(reproduced from collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry KT).
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 
Henry's Spanish-born wife, Katherine of Aragon had come to England in 1501 to marry his elder brother, Arthur. However, Arthur died suddenly after six months. It was not clear whether the marriage had been consummated. In December 1503 Pope Julius II issued a Bull of Dispensation allowing Henry to marry his brother's widow. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

King and parliament: the early sixteenth century

I have used the following books for these and other posts relating to the Tudors:
G. R. Elton, The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 1960)
John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford University Press, 1990)
Rosemary O’Day (ed.), The Longman Companion to the Tudor Age (Longman, 1995)
This depiction of Elizabeth I and her
parliaments shows Lords and
Commons in front of the

The nature of kingship

The dynastic troubles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had led to three depositions and four murders, but had not altered the potential power of the Crown.  The age was essentially monarchical and the king was held to be the centre of all political and social life. The Tudor monarchs employed new styles and placed a greater distance between themselves and their subjects. From the time of Henry VII the still continued to be referred to as ‘your grace’ or ‘your highness’, but increasingly the title ‘your majesty’ was used. As the sixteenth century progressed there was growing stress on the divinely ordained duty to obey the monarch.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The fifteenth century

Bastard feudalism

By the fifteenth century the feudalism introduced by the Conqueror was dead.  The idea that all land belonged to the king who then leased parcels to tenants-in-chief in return for military service was over. Instead the former tenants were now in full possession of their land and the Norman practice of primogeniture meant that this land could not be alienated. See here for the legal background. 

The result was the build-up of great estates and castles in the hands of a few magnates. These nobles built up a body of retainers from the country gentry who turned to them for protection and frequently wore their livery badges as signs of their allegiance. This system came to be known as livery and maintenance or 'bastard feudalism'

 Under these circumstances a strong queen could also be a powerful player by virtue of the estates she was granted on her marriage. This helps to explain the vital role played in the politics of the period by Henry VI's French wife, Margaret of Anjou.
 "MargaretAnjou" by Talbot Master (fl. in Rouen, c. 1430–60)
 Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 
Because Parliament was often packed with the supporters of the great lords, it was less assertive than it had been in the preceding century. If these lords supported whoever happened to be king, then parliament did as well. In 1461 it obediently acceded to Edward IV’s demand to attaint the former queen, Margaret of Anjou, and her son, Edward Prince of Wales. In 1483 it obediently declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate, and then re-legitimised them two years on the command of Henry VII.