Anthony is currently a high school history teacher in New York City. In addition to teaching, he has been published in several magazines and blogs such as “History is Now”, “Tudor Life”, “Discover Britain”, “The Odd Historian” and on the Culture Exchange blog. He is currently writing a book. Through continued research and writing, Anthony is able to share his findings with his students to engage them in learning and helping them succeed. Anthony can be followed on Twitter: @Anthony10290122
Throughout the sixteenth century, the monarchs of the Tudor dynasty each left a mark on England. For example, King Henry VII reorganized a country that was in disarray after years of civil war, while his son, King Henry VIII, established precedence through forming the Church of England. The Protestant Reformation also greatly affected the country. The Reformation challenged the practices of the Catholic Church, as well as the Pope’s authority in Rome. Many English people were critical of the Roman Catholic Church and embraced the Reformation.
While religion was one of the most important and persistent issues, the Tudor monarchs also handled foreign relations with two prominent Catholic and Western European nations at the time, Spain and France. These two countries engaged in an on-and-off rivalry during the sixteenth century, with Tudor England being placed in the middle. England’s involvement with Spain and France would have both negative and positive impacts on the country, such as war, marriage, and trade.
Prior to the Tudors, the political and social state of England during the fifteenth century was in disarray. The country was divided in a civil war between multiple noble families whom were all vying for the English crown. Fifteenth century England was a “prison-house,” where any progression seemed impossible to achieve due to the country’s political issues. Church officials, nobles, and knights controlled a majority of the aggregate land.
For example, between sixty and one hundred and seventy barons, earls, and duke controlled the land. These nobles produced two-thirds of revenue in the country. Additionally, there were between nine thousand and ten thousand church parishes in England. Resources produced on these manors were primarily being sold in local markets. Additionally, foreign advances in trade and alliances were scarce, despite England controlling lands such as Calais in France.
The year 1485 was a pivotal year in England’s history as it resulted in the rise of one of England’s most significant dynasties, the Tudors. Throughout the fifteenth century, the English crown was primarily divided between the ruling houses of Lancaster and York, which fought in a civil war known as “The War of the Roses.” By 1485, the York house had been restored, and King Richard III ruled over England.
Despite the restoration, the country was still engaged in a civil rebellion, now between King Richard III and Henry Tudor. Henry’s claim to the throne came through his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a descendant of King Edward III. Although his claim was questionable, Henry staunchly fought for his right to the throne. The two engaged in battle at Bosworth Field, where on August 22nd, 1485, Richard III was slain, and Henry, later styled Henry VII, emerged as the new king of England, effectively ending the War of the Roses.
During his reign, Henry VII managed to have multiple positive impacts on the country that helped move England from a decentralized, medieval state towards a stable nation. For example, Henry managed to unite the feuding houses in England through his popular marriage to Elizabeth of York, who was viewed as having a strong claim to the throne in her own right. Henry VII was also responsible for printing books, building more chapels and monasteries, helping reorganize Parliament, and establishing trading relations with the Netherlands and Spain.
The latter two resulted in more revenue for England, such as obtaining more trade products in cloth and access to fisheries to increase English food supply and trade circulation. The Spanish treaty also resulted in the marriage of Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, to Henry’s son Arthur, and after Arthur’s death in 1502, to Henry’s younger son, Henry. England under Henry VII experienced political stability, economic expansion and a royal marriage that addressed decades of animosity with Spain.
Following Henry VII’s death in 1509, his then seventeen-year-old son Henry VIII inherited the throne and would ultimately become one of England’s most famous and notorious monarchs. Henry VIII would ultimately be remembered for eventually breaking away from the Catholic Church; however, prior to these events Henry was a devout Catholic, raised with a strong knowledge of theology. Earlier in his reign, when German priest Martin Luther spoke out against practices of the Catholic Church that sparked the Protestant Reformation, Henry defended Catholic traditions and was declared “Defender of the Faith,” by Pope Leo X in 1521.
However, after the papacy refused to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry to produce a male heir to the throne, Henry sought autonomy from the Catholic Church and decided to break from the Church in what would be known as the English Reformation between 1532 and 1534. During this time, Henry and Parliament devised a series of acts that ultimately fashioned Henry as the Supreme Head of the newly-created Church of England. The Act of Restraint Annates, devised in 1532, forced the clergy in England to stop paying taxes to the church in Rome and required them to pay taxes to the Church of England, which ultimately meant the crown.
That same year Parliament would also pass the Submission of the Clergy Act that would force them to deny the authority of the Pope or face confiscation of their landholdings. Finally, the Act of Royal Supremacy in 1534 officially recognized Henry as the head of the Church of England. Although these numerous changes shared similarities with Protestantism, Henry’s new church possessed many Catholic traditions. For example, under the publication of his Six Articles in 1539, the clergy were recommended to take vows of chastity, which contradicted the Protestant views that the clergy should be allowed to marry.
This publication also declared private mass and Holy Communion valid, and any denial of these decrees was subject to excommunication and execution. Henry VIII had a lasting legacy and effect on England through his establishment of the Church of England. Despite these reforms, religion would remain a controversial and divisive issue through the reigns of Henry’s three children: Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.
England’s involvement with the two major European powers, Spain and France, would have significant impacts throughout the Tudor period. During the 1490s and early 1500s, Spain prospered from multiple explorations and accumulation of resources from the New World. During this time, King Charles ruled over the Catholic Spain and would later be created Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Despite both countries maintaining the Catholic faith, Spain would often clash with France.
Ruled by the Valois family, particularly under King Francis I, France plunged itself into war with Spain over claimed lands in Italy, known as the Italian Wars, throughout the sixteenth century. During this time both countries made attempts to rally England behind them. These alliances would alter throughout the fifteenth century and inevitably lead to conflicts between each country. Under both Henry VII and Henry VIII’s regimes, England’s relationship between both countries constantly shifted.
England’s treaty with Spain earned the country revenue and resulted in the marriage of Catherine and Arthur. England and France would engage in battle 1513 and would attempt to negotiate a treaty during the meeting called the Field of Cloth of Gold in the summer of 1518. This summit resulted in the betrothal of Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary, to the dauphin of France. However, Henry’s pro-French policies quickly soured, the betrothal of Mary to the dauphin was canceled, and Henry once again turned his attentions towards Spain.
This new alliance resulted in the betrothal of Mary to Charles V who was sixteen years her senior. However, the age gap was an issue for Charles, who ultimately called off the betrothal in favor of a more mature bride. This angered Henry who again looked to France for an alliance. This back and forth would ultimately continue through Henry’s reign, but would also occur throughout the reign of his three children.
The Tudor dynasty had a significant impact on England during their sovereignty over England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Henry VII brought stability to England following years of warfare. Although Henry VIII may be remembered by some due to his six marriages, his religious changes ushered in the English Reformation, impacting England for years to come. Furthermore, through Henry VIII’s three children: Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI, England would continue to experience various changes that would ultimately result in the country emerging as a world power.
Further reading: “The Reign of Mary I” by Robert Tittler, “The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America” by Thomas Hugh, “The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government and Religion in England, 1553-1558” by D.M. Loades, “England Under the Tudors and Stuarts” by Keith Feiling, “Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England” by Kevin Sharpe, “The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 1539-1563” by Whitney R.D. Jones, “The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660” by Conrad Russell, “Secular Cycles” by Peter Turchin and S.A. Nefedov