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How Far Was the Monarchy Stronger in 1603 than in 1485?

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In 1485 the monarchy was relatively strong. When considering the circumstances at the time particularly after the War of the Roses. On the whole the monarchy was stronger in 1603 as Henry VII was simply continuing the same methods of ruling as many of the other previous monarchs and was not innovative. We are able to analyse a number of areas including the nobility, finance, religion and foreign policy to assess whether the monarchy was stronger in the last years of Tudor rule.

In 1485, the monarchy’s situation can be considered to be quite strong. It was rather strong because the nobility was quite reduced as a result of the War of the Roses. The leading nobles were not involved in the Perkin Warbeck or Lambert Simnel rebellion thus despite being out of fear or loyalty they do not rebel, and no other rebellions take place. The bonds and recognisances give the king more control, thus it was more efficient due to the act that such things were being imposed. Stricter control meant that they were unlikely to go against him; however, this could cause dislike and lead to a rebellion.

The new men, to a certain extent help to strengthen the monarchy. They were professional individuals who were promoted by the king and thus loyal as they could be demoted. They also rose at the expense of the nobles, who were nobles by birth. Thus it ensured that there were no over powering nobles. However, there is no partnership between the nobles and king; this is a source of weakness. We must take into consideration that he was brought up in exile and thus he doesn’t trust anyone, nonetheless he rules through fear and this is a weakness.

We see the abuse of power and factions in Edward VI’s reign. This leads to two rebellions and the councillors went against Henry’s wishes. This weakened the monarchy and created unrest. Thus it is perhaps right to say that with regards the nobility, the monarchy was perhaps only slightly stronger in 1603, but even then the same problems remained.

In 1603 there is a stronger partnership between the monarchy and the nobility which is reflected in parliament. Like with Henry VIII, Elizabeth is not weary of powerful nobles. We do see however, a lot of power being given to the new men, especially Cecil. This provides a balance between the new men and the old nobility and thus control is achieved. Rebellion does take place, however, in Elizabeth’s reign. The rebellion of the Northern Earls as well as the Essex rebellion aims to usurp the throne and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. These are prime examples of weakness and it can be said to be equally serious than the rebellions faced by Henry VII because all of these aimed to usurp the throne. Like in Henry VIII’s and Edward VI’s reign there is a reliance on the new men, Elizabeth’s reliance on Cecil ultimately brings weakness, the rebellion of the northern earls is to a certain extent caused by Cecil and his actions.

Foreign policy is also an important factor that contributed to several weakness exposed under Tudor reign. However in 1485 and the reign of Edward, foreign policy seems to an example of success. Henry’s diplomatic skills appear as a source of strength as seen in the Treaty of Medina del Campo and its outcomes such as the marriage alliance. Similarly the Treaty of Etaples and the Truce of Ayton are also key successes which strengthened the monarchy. The monarchy does however face serious threats in this reign. Both Simnel and Warbeck threaten the monarchy as Henry is a usurper with no heir and the foreign factor to both makes it a much larger threat. Henry VII is forced to deal with two rebellions, raised taxes leads to the Cornish rebellion. In this respect, Henry could have been deposed. However, there is no large support for these pretenders, and perhaps as religion is not an issue the monarchy is not that weak, religion does not provide an excuse for usurpation.

With Henry VIII there is a change in perspective and consequently the chances of foreign intervention was likely. Unlike other monarchs such as Elizabeth, Henry’s foreign policy was not always conditioned by factors concerning foreign powers but rather what was convenient for him personally as seen for instance in his divorce and break with Rome. In this aspect of politics, Henry VIII was less pragmatic, in contrast to his father. Thus it can be argued that in this period several weaknesses emerge.

There is always a potential foreign intervention in Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I’s reigns, however, this does not occur. Thus it is perhaps right to say that this does not occur because the monarchy is relatively strong in this respect. Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain does however, create tension amongst the English. This could have caused a rebellion as it was believed that he would take over and all councillors would be replaced by Spanish councillors. Although Elizabeth demonstrated qualities of a pragmatic queen as seen at the beginning of her reign and her cautious attitude towards foreign policy the Spanish Armada is in fact seen as the most significant conflict in Tudor reign. Thus we can argue that to a certain extent the monarchy was not stronger in Elizabeth’s reign.

In Henry VII’s reign, finance moves from the exchequer to the household chamber and he is personally involved making it more efficient, this is seen with the increase in revenue. He dies solvent showing strength in this aspect, however, Edward too dies solvent, and thus it is not a large achievement. No major changes, however, take place, Henry VII is not innovative. There is no standing army and he fails to introduce new institutions of financial administration. Officials largely remained unpaid and if money was needed for war taxes had to be raised. Therefore in this respect, it was rather weak as rebellion could arise as a result of raised taxes, and this is seen in the Cornish rebellion.

The wars with France and Scotland continue throughout Edward and Mary’s reigns. Thus debt is still seen. However, with Northumberland we see an attempt to regain control of finance and debts do go down. He is not however, very successful as Mary inherits a crown full of debts. Thus in this respect the monarchy’s power fluctuates. Henry VIII contributes to the debts seen throughout the Tudor Years as a result of his war with France. We do see an instance of weakness in the approach taken with the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII sells the lands at a normal rate as opposed to renting the land. Despite bringing income at first, it could have provided money to solve problems such as that of the standing army had he rented the land instead.

In 1603, the Spanish war makes the situation far worse and England faces enormous repercussions which consist of loans and the raising of taxes. It was a full blown war which lasted numerous years and could have precipitated rebellion. The fact that unlike in Henry VII’s reign, Elizabeth does not face rebellion as a result of raised taxes and bad harvests does show that the monarchy was stronger in 1603.

As far as the control of the localities is concerned, in 1485 the nobility’s predominant power in the localities remained assured. Henry uses the nobility in local and regional government, there were no major changes.

By 1603 it has changed as a result of Cromwell’s changes as well as her own. Thus it proves to be stronger. Centralization was one of the prime factors that strengthened the monarchy. The monarchy becomes more centralized with Cromwell and a new and more modern government seemed to be established. Here we can see that the monarchy had become stronger. Nevertheless the rebellion of the Northern Earls in Elizabeth’s reign shows how centralization did have some negative outcomes however such rebellion were immediately crushed therefore centralization was in most part a success.

Religion can be seen as a source of strength as there was no source of conflict and there was collaboration between the church and king; Henry VII did have the ability to appoint bishops and thus this is a strength. Through Henry VIII’s actions, religion becomes a source of conflict. The break with Rome forces people to choose. This problem escalates into the next two reigns; there is a lot of confusion. Despite there being continuity in Edward’s reign, the religious settlement changes in Mary’s reign. This causes further confusion and Mary’s harsh burning of Protestants causes further alienation.

As a result of such changes, Elizabeth comes to power with a catholic hierarchy; once again, the settlement is reversed. We see strength in the monarchy at this point because such a reversal in religion along with the bad harvests could have caused rebellion. She is however faced by Marian resistance to such changes, and we later get the rebellion of the northern earls partly as a result of a change in religion. The turn to Protestantism also leads to Elizabeth’s excommunication from the Catholic Church.

Religion causes trouble during the Stuarts’ reign; Puritans become very vociferate in James 1’s and Charles 1’s reign. We see the Gunpowder Plot take place. In this respect, the monarchy in 1603 can be seen to be weak as it does lead to this. However, Elizabeth was able to keep radicals under control thus it can be said that it was strong.

Similarly, the succession was peaceful when it comes to Henry VII thus in this respect the monarchy was already rather strong in 1485. Problems arise, however, with Edward VI’s accession. Henry VIII’s councillors manipulate the council in such a way that Somerset, against Henry’s wishes, becomes Lord Protector. Consequently the monarchy’s power is seen to fluctuate. Northumberland and the Lady Jane Grey affair are seen to weaken the monarchy’s power. Nevertheless, Mary does come to power, despite this incident, thus showing to a certain extent some strength. Elizabeth’s accession is an easy, smooth one, thus on the whole, the monarchy remains powerful.

Changes are evident throughout the years 1485- 1603. Nevertheless it is not easy to judge whether the monarchy was in fact stronger in 1603. In certain aspects such as religion it is clear that a Tudor revolution had taken place. However we can argue that in Elizabeth’s reign one of the most significant Tudor crises occurred, as seen in the war with Spain. England was, despite this, in fact stronger in 1603 as an institution. We do see a clear improvement with regard the recruitment and equipping of the army under Mary as well as additions to the fleet. Although England was generally stronger its position with regards to foreign affairs seemed to have declined by 1603 as England had lost its main ally Spain who had now established a partnership with France. However, the popularity of the Tudors seems to have been rather high during Elizabeth’s reign and the monarchy seems to be rather stable this is also evident in the Lady Jane crisis when the people of England proved to be loyal and showed a general sense of respect for the monarchy. Consequently it can be said that despite the weaknesses that were still present in 1603, the monarchy does seem to be stronger in this period.

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