The below mentioned article provides a brief review on the history of the Tudors. After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Structure of the Tudor Government 2. Tudor Monarchy—Despotism by Consent 3. Relation of the Tudor Monarchs with their Parliaments 4. Henry VII and Parliament 5. Henry VIII and Parliament 6. Edward VI, Mary and Parliament 7. Elizabeth’s Relation with her Parliament and others.
- Structure of the Tudor Government
- Tudor Monarchy – Despotism by Consent
- Relation of the Tudor Monarchs with their Parliaments
- Henry VII and Parliament
- Henry VIII and Parliament
- Edward VI, Mary and Parliament
- Elizabeth’s Relation with her Parliament
- Elizabeth’s Attitude Towards her Parliament
- Privileges of the Tudor Parliament
- Early History of Anglo-Irish Relations
- Henry VII and Ireland
- Henry VIII and Ireland
- Edward VI, Mary and Parliament
- Elizabeth and Ireland
- Maritime Activities
- Tudor Navy
1. Structure of the Tudor Government:
Henry VII, the first Tudor had inherited a system of government based on the work of his predecessors. The main organs of government retained their characteristic attributes not only under him but throughout the Tudor rule. Crown, Council and Parliament, Central and Local administration and Courts of justice were the same as the pre-Tudor period.
The only difference was that these organs under the Tudors, came into the hands of prudent, resolute and far-seeing line of kings who made these more efficient and effective. ‘The beginnings of the Tudor rule do not take the form of a breach with the past, nor of sweeping constitutional innovation, but of a determined and successful attempt to make existing institutions yield their proper results.
Its ideal was an efficient central administration controlled by a strong and wealthy royal house.’
Wealthy and influential leaders of the baronial houses lost their lives either in the battlefield or on the scaffold. This gave rise to a new order of minor landowners who were originally traders or moneyed men, either by purchase or foreclosure of the estates of older territorial families.
This new class was speedily assimilated with the class of country knights and squires whose fortunes were established by the commercial prosperity of the age. These two classes had the common aim of the restoration of regular and effective administration and of peace and plenty.
Lacking the political tradition of local independence of the former aristocracy, they were willing to allow the Crown fullest control over the Central Government and to loyally serve the Crown as Justices of Peace and other positions of subordinate authority.
From these two classes which combined to form what was England’s middle class of propertied men, were drawn the most competent and devoted servants of the Tudor sovereigns both at home and abroad. ‘This dependence on the co-operation of the middle class of propertied men was the fundamental political characteristic of the Tudor rule, and deeply affected its constitutional nature.’
The Crown, Council, Parliament, Central and Local Governments and the Courts of Justice composed the structure of the Tudor Government. King’s command was the motive force behind the administrative departments which existed to give effect to his will. Officials were appointed and dismissed by the king at his pleasure. The ancient methods of expressing the king’s command had become formalised.
The chancery was entrusted with the task of authentication of royal acts such as charters, writs, letters patent by affixing the Great Seal. The Privy Seal became connected with financial business such as warrants of payment from the Exchequer. The Secretary was the simplest channel of communication of the king’s command to different departments of government.
While the functions of the Chancellor and Treasurer were confined within rigid limits, those of the Secretary were more pervasive and under the direct supervision of the monarch had a growing control over diplomatic negotiations, social and economic problems, trade and commerce, etc. In the second half of the sixteenth century the Secretary rose to the first rank among the king’s servants.
The Tudor government was government by the king yet it did not mean any abrogation of the constitutional tradition of the English state. The king acted by virtue of his legal authority. There was no need for any restrictive principles to be applied to royal authority, for during the feign of the early Tudors the danger was not that the Crown’s action would be too strong, but that it would be too weak.
It was due to their vigorous rule that the Tudors reorganised every part of the administration, and destroyed the powers of all other their own. Royal authority expressed itself in various forms, and it comprised personal and discretionary powers.
The king appointed and dismissed his ministers and all royal officials. His orders they were bound to obey, he could order the expenditure of revenue, intervene in the course of justice, grant pardon. The Council was a body of his nominees.
For certain purposes the law required that the royal authority must be carried on in conformity with the rules which the king by his personal act was wholly unable to change. The king had to move within the legal framework of the Common Law and statute law, although he enjoyed some freedom outside it.
His judicial power had largely been made over to the Courts of Common Law. Making of a statute was the authority of the king and the Lords and the Commons consented to it, yet in the absence of that consent the king could not make any statute.
The Council was predominantly aristocratic in its composition and had fallen increasingly under the influence of great magnates ever since the time of Edward III. It was as inefficient as faction ridden. But Edward IV had given it more efficient and official character.
Under the Tudors the Council had become not only efficient but was freed from aristocratic control. Its members were, in the main, men of middle class, professional government servants.
Henry VII’s chief advisers—members of the Council, were Morton, Dudley, Empson, Fox, Warden, Bray, Lovell, Poynings and others, who were ecclesiastics, knights or lawyers. The number of the members of the Council was indeterminate. The king might summon whom he pleased at wherever he pleased.
The most ancient and important function of the Council was to advise the king whenever he sought it and for whatever purpose he wished. But at times the advisory function of the Council and the Councilors was superseded by the action of one great minister, such as Wolsey. But the function of the Council was not confined to counseling, it did a variety of functions.
It possessed judicial powers, exercised legislative functions by issuing ordinances, proclamations and orders in matters of administrative details. It was presided over by the king, and in his absence by a Lord President of the Council. The authority of the king pervaded the whole existence and activity of the Council. It was always in attendance in the court and on the king.
This gave rise to two distinct bodies, the Council of the Court doing judicial functions, the Council in attendance on the king was concerned with political deliberations and carrying out king’s orders. The latter also had judicial functions.
In its origin, the Parliament was an extension of the king’s Council. Deliberations on the public affairs of the realm, grant of additional financial supply, making changes in laws affecting the rights of the subjects were the functions of the Parliament. “Parliamentary action was rather the medicine of the constitution than its daily food.” Individual Parliaments had no long life and met only infrequently under the first two Tudors.
Henry VII summoned six Parliaments in the first thirteen years of his reign and only three in the remaining years. The Parliament had already been divided into two houses, in the Upper House, met the peers of the realm and the archbishops, great ecclesiastics, bishops and abbots.
In the Commons sat the representative of the Commons of the realm—shires, cities and boroughs. In matters of finance the Commons had a more important share. Influence of the Crown and the Lords was much lower, in matters of taxation, over the Commons, than in legislation.
The judicial system was extremely complex. The Council and its satellites—the Court of the King’s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Exchequer, and the Justices of Peace were the day- to-day judicial organs of the Tudor administration. In the King’s Bench, and Common Pleas there were four judges for each—a Chief Justice and three puisne judges.
In the Exchequer Court there was a Chief Baron and three ordinary barons. Although the judges were appointed by the king and held office during his pleasure or in case of the judges of the Court of Exchequer—during good behaviour, their tenure was secure and their remuneration was largely independent of the Crown, for they derived more from fees than as official salaries.
The connection between the king and the judges was very close and they were very truly king’s servants. They advised as to the drafting and effects of legislation, answered questions of law referred to it, acted on assize as political and judicial representative of the Central Government.
Besides these courts, there were many minor local courts, such as Stannary Courts, Courts of special jurisdiction such as Court of High Commission, Council of the North, Council-of Wales, Court of Star Chamber, Chancery, etc., Borough Courts, Court of Constable and Marshal, etc., during the reign of the early Tudors.
The description of the government given above refers to the central administration. The local administration of Tudor England was practically the function of its judicial organisation. The Courts of the Shire, the manor, the franchise were both administrative and judicial bodies. Gradual loss of judicial function and power relegated them into simply organs, though of minor importance.
The Justices of Peace, on the other hand, were getting more and more administrative powers, to their essentially judicial functions. They controlled wages and prices, prevented profiteering in food-stuffs and other necessaries, examined by-laws of guilds, regulated apprenticeship, supervised weights and measures, etc. Through them the royal control over the social and economic life of the nation was extended.
Every Hundred possessed its high constable and every parish its petty constable. Maintenance of peace was also their job. They were appointed by the Justices of the Peace.
The system of jury was in vogue, and any man might be summoned to serve as a juror. The grand jury indicted offenders, the petty jury dealt with the question of guilt or innocence of the offenders. Military service was also organised on a local basis. There was no professional army under the Tudors. The naval forces were likewise of a local nature, although in a more limited extent.
2. Tudor Monarchy—Despotism by Consent:
It has been seen that the Tudors had inherited the structure of government which was already in existence from the days of their predecessors. The main organs of government retained their wonted characteristics throughout the Tudor period. The constitutional continuity was not allowed to be broken.
The only difference was that the organs of government came under prudent, far-seeing and resolute line of rulers who made them more efficient and effective. ‘The beginnings of the Tudor rule do not take the form of a breach with the past, nor of sweeping constitutional innovation, but of a determined and successful attempt to make existing institutions yield their proper results’.
A new spirit and a new vigour had been injected into the old form.
The Tudor government was government by the king and his acts were done by virtue of authority which was his. The royal authority expressed itself in the exercise of personal and discretionary powers. The king appointed and removed from office ministers and other state officials.
His orders the ministers and officials were duty bound to obey, he ordered expenditure of revenue, intervened in the course of justice by use of suspending and dispensing powers and by grant of pardon.
The Royal Council was an advisory body of the king’s nominees, who advised the king when asked for, conducted the king’s affairs and acted in conformity with his will. Tudor government was based on personal absolutism. ‘If the right of property belonged to the subject, the right to govern belonged as plainly to the crown.’ But then we cannot ignore the circumstances that had made the Tudor monarchs despots.
The Wars of the Roses had liquidated the leading baronial houses giving in their places rise to a minor land-owning class, the squires and the knights, the traders, etc., which formed the basis of the Tudor government and was willing to support the Crown that would maintain peace and help to bring about plenty. The danger to their minds lay not in having a strong king, but a weak one.
The result was that the Tudor monarchs got the habitual trust of the people and the Parliaments and were made repository of extensive powers which made them almost despots. The Tudor monarchs levied taxes, issued proclamations and ordinances through Its Council, granted monopolies, ordered imprisonment or execution of persons.
Under them the royal action in the public interest often went beyond the still indeterminate frontiers of law. Royal proclamations, for certain purposes acquired the force of statute. Statutes themselves conferred on the king the authority to suspend or amend their terms. Trade, industry, and the press fell under the control of the Crown.
The Crown could affect the property of the subjects by impositions, benevolences, forced loans, ship-money and the grant of charters and monopolies. The king’s power included those of arbitrary arrest, detention and examination of suspects. Torture, a formidable and effective spy- system, delation and domiciliary visits threw their shadow over the private affairs of the subjects.
The courts which were satellites to the Council at times used inquisitorial processes unknown to the Common Law. In times of crisis the subjects lost their legal rights and controlled passed to military men exercising martial law.
The executive thrust its influence into the Parliament, in fact influenced elections, manipulated Parliamentary procedure, suppressed unwelcome debate, intimidated recalcitrant members. Royal acts even outraged justice at times.
‘The Tudor government undeniably wore a dictatorial, harsh and remorseless aspect. It put reason of state above the letter of the law and rated the public interest, real or alleged, immeasurably higher than the rights of the subjects.’ The need of the hour made the people, the Parliament as well as the Church thoroughly subservient to the Crown.
No wonder, the Tudor monarchy might be regarded as absolutism. But this was only one side of the picture. Writers of constitutional history, such as Pollard, Griest, Keir and others hold that the Tudors were never mere lawless tyrants and the common description of their rule as Tudor despotism, given by constitutionalists like Maitland, Stubbs and Hallam, seriously obscures its true nature.
The Tudor government meant not only the Crown and the Council but also the Parliament. The Tudors combined royal authority and popular consent as the fundamental principle of governance. ‘The constitutional arrangements of the past were not destroyed to make room for a nakedly personal rule.’
The Tudor state continued constitutionally as also politically, to rest on the consent and co-operation which underlay its creation.
The Englishmen who rallied to the Crown against emergencies at home and abroad, and felt for it the loyalty which national achievement quickened into, an obedience at once humble and proud, did not thereby surrender to despotism.
For certain purposes the law required the king to exercise his authority in conformity with rules which the king could not change by his personal act. The rules of the common law and statute law formed a legal framework within which the royal power itself must move, although it enjoyed some freedom outside it. Thus, despite his wide and indefinite discretionary power, the law formed the true basis of the State.
It was again the law that invested the Parliament with an importance which was in no way reduced by its infrequency of meeting, the extent of its subservience to the Crown, the rudimentary nature of its procedure or from the looseness of its organisation.
The king could no doubt make statutes. But this required the consent of the Lords and the Commons. True that under the Tudors the Lords and the Commons consented to statutes made by the king. Yet unless the Lords and the Commons consented the king could not make a statute nor could do things the statute enabled him to do.
King could supersede an ordinance by making a statute, but the most that the king could do with it was to dispose of penalties in particular cases.
The king’s power to do justice, while a residue of it still remained with the Council and in himself, had been largely made over to the common law courts.
In view of the above limitations it will be a mistake to suppose that the Tudor monarchs were despots. Far less so, for they had no standing army which was so very necessary for exercise of despotic control. The Tudor monarchy did not go beyond the rule of law and their arbitrary acts were all within the framework of the law and were supported by habitual obedience of the people.
The decline of the baronage in a world undergoing profound social and economic change and the consequent rise of the middle class, professional government servants formed the basis of the Tudor rule. Side by side with these changes were the solicitousness of the Tudor monarchs for the welfare of the people.
The advantage of the Tudors lay in their ability to read the mind of the nation and to act accordingly. The Tudors knew when to yield, Elizabeth’s reign, particularly the end of it, is a good illustration in point. If there was monarchical absolutism during the Tudor rule, it was so by the popular consent.
The Tudors carried the representatives of the people— the Parliament with them. From the national point of view Tudor absolutism was a necessity and the Tudors were fortunately capable of meeting that.
3. Relation of the Tudor Monarchs with their Parliaments:
At no period of history permanence was combined with flexibility as during the Tudor rule. This characteristic has been regarded as having marked a transition from medieval to modern England in the sphere of government as in all other spheres of the national life.
This period saw not only the development of the Council and its offshoots, but also of the Parliament, ‘which increased its activities, enlarged its competence, added to its privileges, and formalised its procedure’.
The most fundamental characteristic of Tudor rule and the best illustration of the co-operation of the sovereign and subject, is recourse to the authority of the Crown-in-Parliament. It was the Crown- in-Parliament that accomplished the religious revolutions, and successfully overthrew every force which denied its supremacy.
Not only in matters of religion, but within its undoubted domain of secular affairs, the Parliamentary activity was stimulated to unprecedented extent, for instance by Acts enabled the king to repudiate debts, altering succession to the throne.
‘Relying, as the Tudor monarchs did on the strength of this mighty engine of sovereignty’, they did everything to emphasise its power and dignity and to promote the efficiency with which it performed the tasks they set for it.
Yet this mighty engine was held in reserve by the Tudor monarchs for particular and important affairs. It was summoned only occasionally. Its constitutional importance or significance, therefore, is not to be measured in terms of the frequency or infrequency of its meeting, or even the duration of its sittings.
The Parliament, however, still remained somewhat raw and amateurish body, its members lacked enthusiasm, knowledge and experience of the kind which the professional servants of the Crown had acquired, and in this respect the latter had an advantage over the former. It became necessary, and was natural for the Parliament usually to accept official direction and moved as the Crown would.
It was slow to assert an initiative, to criticise or impede the conduct of government, still hesitant and uncertain as to its precise position even where it felt emboldened to express an independent view.
But the experience it gained and the training its members received, being used as the supreme instrument of royal power converted them into a body capable of asserting, towards the end of the Tudor period, a necessary and ultimately a dominant place in the constitution.
The Parliament had long been divided into two Houses before the Tudors came to power. The Upper House, the House of Lords under the Tudors was on the whole a complaisant body composed of lay and spiritual lords who were closely bound to the Crown. The dissolution of monasteries had the effect of shrinking the membership of the spiritual lords and destroyed the balance between the spiritual and lay lords.
Breach with Rome gave the king the power and opportunity to create new peers from the episcopate. The composition of the lay peerage was under lesser control of the Crown and although the Crown could create lay peers, this was not frequently done.
But there was no need of packing the House of Lords with lords under king’s influence, for any inconvenient lord might be intimated to the effect that they would do wisely not to attend. Besides, the old nobility having been struck down, a new nobility loyal and serviceable had come into being.
The membership of the Commons had increased in number during the sixteenth century and election to it was most keenly sought for and more highly prized. ‘Its procedure was better defined, its privileges were amplified and made capable of enforcement by the independent action of the House itself.’
Under the Tudors the membership of the Commons was added to both by royal prerogative and statute. Henry VIII after the union with Wales added fourteen county and thirteen borough members. Counties and boroughs were freely created by statutes and by the close of the sixteenth century the membership of the House increased to 467.
The control of the executive over the Commons was always uncertain and much less than that over the Lords. There was of course interference in elections. The Tudors recommended the kind of persons the government desired to have returned. Not that such recommendations or persuasions always prevailed.
In fact, despite the position of subordinate partnership that the Parliament, and for the matter of that the Commons occupied, it was far from servile. The Commons showed its dislike of the Act of Annates in 1532, the Treasons Act in 1534. Under Edward VI Northumberland failed to dominate the Parliament.
In 1555 the Bill for restoring the first- fruits and tenths was passed by locking the Commons until they passed it. Even under Elizabeth when there was classic example of Tudor harmony between the Crown and the Parliament, there was the need for managing the Parliament, particularly the Commons.
Likewise with the progress of the Tudor period the Parliament, specially the Commons became more articulate, assertive and conscious of its own rights.
4. Henry VII and Parliament:
Henry VII came to the throne at a time when the Parliament had been discredited and the Lancastrian experiment of constitutional rule also had broken down. The power of the House of Lords had been very much reduced because of the reduction and liquidation of many of the leading houses of nobility.
Not so weak was, however, the Commons, but it was not representative because of the system of franchise, and therefore unable to govern. Henry VII, therefore, had an advantage both in the initiative to reorganise both the Houses of the Parliament and using them to supplement his own power.
Henry VII got his claim to the throne by right of conquest ratified and legalised by the Parliamentary sanction. But despite the fact that his title to the Crown was Parliamentary he ruled practically independently of the Parliament. He summoned six Parliaments in the first thirteen years of his reign and only one thereafter.
The wide gaps between Parliaments of Henry VII was mainly due to Morton, Dudley and Empson who by obtaining forced loans and benevolences from the people made the king financially strong. Without financial sufficiency, no government however despotic could run.
Henry VII realised this fundamental fact and took steps towards his financial independence. He asked Parliamentary grants only for five times. This naturally eliminated the need of frequent Parliamentary sessions.
This apart, Henry VII meant to be his own master. Nor was the Parliament sufficiently strong to impede Henry VII’s bid for personal absolutism. Yet Henry VII was never unmindful of the form of the constitution that he had inherited. He took assistance of the Parliament in getting a number of statutes passed by it, which contributed in a large measure to the establishment of a strong monarchy.
Certain reform measures such as regulation of weight and measures, prohibition enclosures, tariff act, etc., were also passed by the Parliament.
It also had sanctioned the resumption of the Crown land, granted tonnage and poundage to the king for life, gave the king £14000 a year for renouncing the old right of purveyance. All this shows that despite Henry VII’s attempts to make him and his government independent of the Parliament he would not ignore this august body, for he realised that the zenith of power could be reached when displayed in an august guise.
5. Henry VIII and Parliament:
During the early part of Henry VIII’s reign the domestic as well as the foreign affairs of the country were guided by Wolsey whose rule was unconstitutional. Although the Parliament was packed with royal supporters, it was not completely subservient. Wolsey became very unpopular in 1523 when he demanded a 20 per cent, property tax which the Parliament rejected.
Wolsey had to come to the House in person and interfere in the debate and the Parliament agreed to grant only 10 per cent.
It was since 1529 that the Parliament played an important part in Henry VIII’s reign. It was the Reformation Parliament that had snapped the bonds between England and Rome. It must, however; be a mistake to suppose that the Parliament then was -an ‘assembly of slaves’, it was truly representative of the orthodox, priest-hating and Crown-loving nation, although largely ‘packed’.
Although subservient to the king and although the Parliament had freed the king from his debt by repudiating it, gave him the right to limit the royal succession and later in 1539 gave the royal proclamations the force of laws, yet the fact remains, that the English Reformation was the work of the Parliament and the king both, not of the king alone. This was certainly of great constitutional importance.
The most important Act of the Reformation Parliament was the Act of Supremacy which declared the king as the head of the English Church. This Parliament passed numerous statutes of which thirty-two related to religion. It was the Parliament that had in 1536 suppressed the lesser monasteries and the greater monasteries were likewise dissolved in 1539 without any debate.
That the Parliament was ‘packed’ and subservient would be all the more explicit from Norfolk’s promise of a free Parliament as one of the aims of his rising, the failure of which precluded fulfilment of his promise. Yet it must be noted that under Henry VIII, there was a great harmony between the Crown and the Parliament.
He used the Parliament, representing England to carry through his religious, in fact, his whole home policy and despite Parliament’s subservience, the very fact that the Parliament was used, was most important in the constitutional history of the period.
It must also be remembered that, it was the same subservient Parliament that in 1523 strongly represented against heavy taxation to finance the French War and Henry had to yield consenting to bring it down to 10 per cent, from the original 20 per cent.
True that Henry would pack his Parliament with his supporters and treat his opponents with great cruelty, e.g. Montague, yet it was during his reign that certain important constitutional procedure, training, etc., grew up and the Parliamentary privileges were increased.
The presence of the king’s councilors in the Parliament and drafting of bills relating to the Reformation, by men like Thomas Cromwell helped training of the executive in developing the future Parliamentary procedure in legislative matters.
Maintenance of Journal of the House of Commons was another very important system which helped future Parliaments to guide the government as well as itself. Officially preserved records could be, and were actually, referred to irk’ times of defending Parliament’s privileges by citing precedents whenever there was any invasion of Parliament’s rights and privileges.
It must also be mentioned here that Henry VIII’s reign was a period of the growth of the privileges of the Parliament. Besides, the Commons had a mind of their own. “There were criticisms of the king’s policy, opposition to bills, divisions in the House, amendments and withdrawals of proposals emanating from official sources.”
There was complete freedom of speech in the Parliament. This privilege had been strongly insisted on by Henry VIII in face of Papal protests against the proceedings of the Reformation Parliament. This was the beginning of a great Parliamentary privilege.
Another important privilege that the members of the Parliament then enjoyed was freedom from arrest, during the session of the Parliament except on grounds of criminal offence.
This was a very important constitutional theory, indeed, as Pollard points out, for this established the fact beyond any doubt that King-in-Parliament was the real sovereign of the realm.
Further, use of the Parliament into exercise of the royal supremacy as in the matters of the Reformation, had the effect of uniting temporal and spiritual authority and passed them under the same control to be exercised in Parliament alone, not independently of it. Henry VIII’s reign saw a remarkable revival of the fortunes of Parliament.
6. Edward VI, Mary and Parliament:
Under Edward VI’s short rule the character and tendency of the Parliament continued to remain as under his predecessor. The Parliament was used in dealing with religion. The Six Articles Act was repealed by the Parliament; Statute of Treasons passed during Henry VIII’s reign was also repealed.
By the Act of Uniformity, the Parliament compelled the use of the Prayer Book. Likewise Forty-two Articles Act, Second Act of Uniformity enforcing Second Prayer Book were all work of the Parliament. In fact, almost everything under Edward VI was done by the Parliament.
Statutes regarding agriculture, enclosures, etc., were passed, Parliamentary constituencies increased by creation of forty-eight boroughs. The Parliament acquired a new characteristic under Edward VI by repealing the Subsidy Act due to the pressure of public opinion mainly pressurised by the cloth manufacturers and sheep farmers.
Mary wanted to use the Parliament in annulling all that was done during Henry VIII and Edward VI’s reign in matters of religion. Although the Parliament showed its independence by refusing to restore the lands confiscated from the Church, it however, passed laws against the heretics, repealed laws relating to religion passed under Edward VI, sanctioned Mary’s marriage with Philip II of Spain and annulled Catherines’ divorce.
While the annulment of Catherine’s divorce was in line with the popular sentiment which sympathised with Catherine, the other measures passed by the Parliament are explainable due to Catholic revival as also to the king-loving character of the English people.
7. Elizabeth’s Relation with her Parliament:
The English Parliament which was to make possible the growth of political liberty and democratic government throughout the western world, might have died a natural death, like its French counterpart had it not been given a share in the governance of the country by the Tudor monarchs.
This was true of Elizabeth despite her strong belief in Tudor absolutism. The Parliament’s competence was inimitably extended in the sphere of religion, and it became an instrument of so much change in every department of ecclesiastical affairs under Henry VIII. Thirty years later under Elizabeth the Parliament that made the Elizabethan Settlement became a more powerful body to snap the link with Rome.
Parliaments met more frequently now than they had done in the days of Henry VIII, although these were still occasional assemblies. True that Elizabeth summoned only eleven Parliaments which sat for only thirty-five months during a reign of more than forty-four years.
True that there were usually long intervals between sessions, and members could hardly begin to work out a policy of their own independently of the Crown, even if they wished to do so.
Yet within the framework of the constitution changes were taking place which added to the powers of the Parliament. The House of Lords had lost much of its influence after the removal of the mitred abbots. The greater part of Elizabethan aristocracy consisted of recently ennobled families who were not far removed from the gentry of the Lower House.
The Commons was gradually becoming the seat of power of the Parliament. Elizabeth had no love for Parliament, but she could not do without it, for Mary had left the treasury empty and a debt worth a million pounds.
The necessity for a strong government made Elizabeth despotic during the early part of her reign, yet due to certain circumstances that intervened the influences of the Parliament increased. The country members who were enriched by the spoils of the dissolved monasteries and often trained in New Learning made them of particular importance in the Parliament.
The borough members were likewise growing wealthier through trade and commerce and acquired great importance. These country and borough members were not too unmindful of their powers and rights and would not hesitate to express their dissatisfaction or disappointment with Elizabeth’s despotism. The growing Protestant radicalism in the Parliament also made it opposed to despotic control by the queen.
The fact that attempts were made by Elizabeth to secure return of Crown-nominees to the Parliament through the sheriffs and to control the Parliament through creation of new boroughs numbering thirty, shows that the Parliament had become a powerful body. Otherwise attempts to influence elections would be meaningless.
Under Elizabeth the Parliament also exercised privileges of the House of Commons although the queen had exercised the power of raising funds without Parliamentary sanction if these were not extra-ordinary revenues, summoned, dissolved or prorogued Parliaments and validate or invalidate measures passed by the Parliaments.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, in reality was a nominee of the Crown although in theory he was supposed to be elected by the Commons. Yet the Parliament in 1575 ordered the release of the servant of a member, who had been arrested and thereby claimed freedom from arrest for the members of the Parliament and their servants.
In 1585 the Commons expelled Dr. Parry, a member for calling a Bill against the Jesuits cruel and bloody. The Parliament also punished the borough of Westbury for bribery at election. The Parliament also vehemently tried to assert its right to freedom of speech and although the queen succeeded in restricting the right, the fact remained that the Parliament was growing very much sensitive on its rights.
In 1566 by a message to the Speaker of the Commons the Queen forbade further discussions on her marriage. In 1571 she admonished the House to restrict discussions to matters only ‘propounded to them’. But the spirit of the House on the other hand was no less important to mention.
In 1576 Peter Wentworth protested against the queen’s interference with the privileges of the House. He reiterated his protest when in 1586 the queen interfered when changes in the Prayer Book were proposed, and demanded of the Speaker to declare if anybody, except the Parliament could alter laws or whether the queen was above the Parliament, and refused to pass anything ‘before we understand what it is’.
The temper of the House was even more pronounced after the defeat of the Armada and the Parliament’s more assertive attitude towards its right to freedom of speech made the queen explain in 1593 that the House’s freedom of speech was “not to speak everyone what he listeth or what cometh into his brain to utter. Your privilege is Aye or No”.
The queen had imprisoned Wentworth thrice, Strickland was prevented from taking his seat in the House. Yet the queen could not have her way without yielding. The Commons succeeded in asserting their right to discuss religion, trade and foreign policy and matters related to these, although previously these were considered to be royal prerogatives.
The growing consciousness of the Parliament about its powers and privileges could be noticed in the dispute between the Queen and Council on the one hand and the Commons on the other.
When the debate on monopolies grew particularly bitter she told the Commons that she would herself cancel patents that were harmful to the public good and assured them ‘though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have ruled with your loves.
That my grants should be grievous to my people, and oppressions privileged under colour of our patents, our kingly dignity shall not suffer it. Yea, when I heard it, I could give no rest to my thoughts until I had reformed it’.
The Commons opposed the queen’s granting of monopolies and eventually, the queen seeing the temper of the House yielded and most of the monopolies were withdrawn (1601).
8. Elizabeth’s Attitude Towards her Parliament:
The Tudor rule relied on a full, even fulsome, recognition of the prince as visible embodiment of the State. Elizabeth maintained this tradition by the splendour and ceremony of her court and mostly by cultivating her appeal as a queen and a woman.
With her overwhelming personality, shrewdness, good sense, lack of bigotry and above all, her all-pervading presence and the brilliance of her court, she completely fulfilled the first duty of monarchy,— “to appear as the symbol of the nation and the sum of earthly allegiance”.
Elizabeth was a true Tudor and believed in a strong monarchy. The necessity for a strong government made her despotic during the early part of her reign. The theory of sovereignty resting in King-in-Parliament was a vacuum and in practice everyone saw that the queen mattered much more than the Lords and the Commons.
Elizabeth made every conceivable use of the royal prerogatives and wanted the Parliament to confine its activities within limits consistent with her own ideas of the Crown’s authority.
During Elizabeth’s reign the concept of sovereignty was differently held by two different groups of political thinkers. John Aylmer, Sir Thomas Smith, Hooker thought that the “highest and the most absolute power of the realm of England consisteth in the Parliament” and that the Parliament represented, as Hooker pointed out, “the body of the whole realm”.
Francis Bacon, Jean Bodin, and others however placed the sovereignty of the realm in the hands of the prince. Elizabeth held the latter view more or less and she as queen commanded loyalty, allegiance, devotion, even adulation.
She herself clung to high views of her prerogative but avoided definition. But her shrewdness and diplomatic acumen led her when occasion needed to behave like a limited monarch. But even in this regard she would like the Parliament to restrict its rights to extra-ordinary taxation, law-making and to a limited discussion and freedom of speech in the Parliament.
Elizabeth made attempts to control elections in order to secure return of trusted persons and like her predecessors would have packed Parliament. She tried to restrict discussions by the Parliament through messages to the Speaker or the House itself. In 1566 she forbade further discussion on her marriage question.
Five years later (1571) she asked the Commons to confine its discussion to only such matters as should be propounded, to them. Her interference with the right of the House led to the protest by Peter Wentworth once in 1576 and again in 1586.
Wentworth demanded of the Speaker to declare whether the members of the Parliament had freedom of speech, had the right to alter laws and whither the queen was independent of the Parliament.
Elizabeth even did not hesitate to get Wentworth arrested and imprisoned three times although in her habitual dissimulation she gave out that it had nothing to do with his speeches in the House of Commons. Even as late as 1593 she clearly told the Commons that their privilege of speech did not mean ‘to speak everyone what he listeth or what cometh into his brain to utter. Your privilege is Aye or No.’
The queen not only had arbitrarily committed Peter Wentworth to prison, but suspended Strickland, M.P. who had proposed reform of the Second Prayer Book from the House and was told not to take his seat.
Yet it must be noted that Elizabeth’s shrewdness made her realise that with the growing temper of the House there was need for yielding.
With the increased power and consciousness of the Commons due to the growing importance of the country and borough members enriched by the spoils of the monasteries or profits of trade and particularly the growth of Protestant radicalism, the Commons became more and more opposed to despotism.
But the fear of foreign aggression had rallied the nation round the queen, which situation was naturally taken advantage of by the queen during the early part of her reign.
With the defeat of the Armada which removed the fear from foreign aggression gave the Commons to look to the domestic grievances and to render Elizabethan despotism no longer necessary for the country.
With the growing sense of independence and consciousness of Parliamentary privileges when the Parliament began to assert its rights, we notice attempts made by the Crown to get men of its choice returned to the Parliament by controlling elections. This by itself was an index of the growth of the power of the Parliament and the fear it had given rise to the Crown.
Elizabeth was shrewd enough to recognise the fact of the altered temper of the Parliament. She therefore yielded on occasions without caring to solving the issue before her for good.
She did not oppose the Parliament’s right to freedom from arrest of its members and their servants when in 1575 the Parliament ordered the release of the servant of an M.P. Nor did she interfere when in 1585 the Parliament expelled Dr. Parry for calling a Bill against the Jesuits cruel and bloody.
In such cases she only accepted the fait accompli but did not seek to define or solve the issues once for all. In 1601 when the Parliament opposed grant of monopolies by the Crown, the queen yielded, seeing the temper of the Commons and in her usual tact, and most of the monopolies were withdrawn. But it must be noted that Elizabeth did not solve any issue, she only shelved them for the future.
9. Privileges of the Tudor Parliament:
The privileges of the Parliament, such as freedom of speech, freedom from arrest, expulsion of members, release of members, committing to prison and trial by compeers had their beginnings from the early sixteenth century.
In 1512 Strode’s case demonstrated that the members of the Parliament engaged on king’s business in his highest court, i.e. the Parliament were exempt from the jurisdiction of other courts.
In this case the Parliamentary privilege was treated not independent of the Crown as was done later, but as issuing out of the Crown itself. William Strode was imprisoned by a Stannary court, for his introduction of a bill regulating the privileges of tin miners. Strode was released from imprisonment.
In 1543 George Fewers, a member of the Parliament, was put under arrest by the King’s Bench for surety for debt of another.
The House obtained his release by sending the Sergeant at Arms and committed to prison all persons who took part in the arrest of George Fewers and thus established Parliament’s privilege of freedom from arrest even for debts, in other words, from the operation of ordinary law and the right to commit persons involved in the breach of Parliamentary privileges.
Strode’s case was also one that vindicated the Parliament’s privilege of freedom of speech. After releasing Strode by a Writ of Privilege, the Parliament passed an Act (1512) which declared void and of no effect any proceedings against any member for any speaking in the Parliament.
This ensured freedom of speech in the House. This privilege had been strongly insisted on by Henry VIII in fade of papal protests against the proceedings of the Reformation Parliament.
Under Elizabeth all these privileges were more and more consolidated. In 1559, the year in which Elizabeth had ascended the throne, she granted the freedom of speech to the members within the House subject to the condition that the “members be neither unmindful nor un-careful of their duties, reverence, and obedience to their sovereign”.
Naturally the privilege was a limited privilege and. topics touching upon the Crown’s prerogatives were excluded from this freedom.
It was also natural that some members at least should seek to enlarge the scope and exercise of their privilege of freedom of speech. Two brothers Peter Wentworth and Paul Wentworth were remarkable for the independence of their attitude towards the Crown and their resolute fight for the privileges of 15 the House, particularly that of the freedom of speech.
In 1566 asserted the privilege of the freedom of speech in the debate on the question of succession. Five years later, (1571) Strickland spoke on ecclesiastical supremacy and proposed a reform of the Prayer Book for which he was ordered by the queen not to take his seat in the House.
In the same year Yelverton in the debate in the House remarked “all matters not treason, or too much to the derogation of the imperial Crown, were tolerable there,, where all things came to be considered of”.
This was a claim to the widest freedom of speech and on everything that might come before the House. In 1576 Peter Wentworth protested against the queen’s interference with the rights and privileges of the House.
Ten years later (1586) when the queen interfered in the case of a member who proposed alterations in the Prayer Book, Peter Wentworth demanded of the Speaker to declare whether the members could not speak freely in the House, whether anybody except the Parliament could alter laws and whether the queen was independent of the Parliament.
This valiant fighter for the privilege of the Parliament was committed to the Tower. In 1593 Morice, a religious radical was committed to the Tower for his exercise of the privilege of the freedom of speech in the House. In the same year Peter Wentworth made a final attempt to raise the question of succession in the House which led to his life long imprisonment.
All this shows that the freedom of speech in the Tudor Parliament and for the matter of that under Elizabeth, was a privilege held on a precarious tenure.
Yet it must be noted that the gains made by the Parliament, although very limited, were very considerable. It had begun a process which was to end in no distant time in complete freedom of speech in the House and became a powerful weapon in Parliamentary democracy. Even Elizabeth had to yield at times to the demand.
In 1601 the House openly opposed the queen’s prerogative of granting monopolies and the speeches on the occasion showed the temper of the House and the queen had to yield. The Commons asserted their right to discuss foreign policy, trade and religion which had been formerly within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Crown’s prerogatives.
Under Elizabeth the privilege of freedom from arrest of members of the House and their servants was asserted by the House by ordering the release of the servant of a member. In 1572 in the House of Lords, it was asserted in Lord Cromwell’s case that freedom from arrest belonged to the peers from time immemorial.
In this case the Court of Chancery by an injunction sought to violate the freedom. In 1576 in Smalley’s case a borough member’s servant who had fraudulently got him arrested to avoid repayment of a debt was withdrawn from police custody and on its own authority ordered him to the Tower. In Digges’ case (1584) the Upper House liberated a gentleman in the service of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
These apart, the Commons also asserted their right to punish bribery at elections as they did in the case of the borough of Westbury. In 1585 the Commons expelled Dr. Parry, a member of the House, for calling a Bill against the Jesuits cruel and bloody.
10. Early History of Anglo-Irish Relations:
Anglo-Irish relations began in the reign of Henry II. In 1170 the English entered Ireland on what proved to be the beginning of their conquest of the country. Ireland during the 12th century resembled England of the 6th century. The country was ruled by tribal chiefs one of whom was customarily called High King of Ireland, five other chiefs were heads of the provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Connaught, and Meath.
It was in the wake of internecine quarrel between the chiefs that Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke was invited for help by one of the chiefs. Strongbow landed in Ireland in 1170, married Dermot’s daughter and succeeded him as king of Leinster. He did homage to Henry II of England and many Irish chiefs followed him. Ireland thereby became an English dependency.
During Henry VII’s reign Ireland gave a welcome to pretenders and Lambert Simnel was crowned King of England at Dublin. It had become a stronghold of the Yorkists. The most powerful of the Irish nobles at this time were the Geraldine’s, at whose head were the Earls of Kildare and Desmond, and the Butlers whose head was the Earl of Ormonde.
But primacy belonged to Kildare and had stood very high in Yorkist favour. It had been the practice for the English kings to appoint a nominal absentee governor, whose functions were discharged by a deputy and Kildare was appointed Deputy under both Edward IV and Richard.
11. Henry VII and Ireland:
Henry VII On his accession realised that the only way, in the circumstances, to keep Ireland quiet was to secure Kildare’s allegiance and support. Kildare had openly supported Lambert Simnel who was hailed as king in Ireland.
But after the battle of Stoke Henry VII in his shrewdness, allowed Kildare to continue as Deputy and pardoned him and his other followers who supported Simnel, and accepted their promise of allegiance.
But not long after when Perkin Warbeck appeared in South Ireland Kildare began to have correspondence with him and even covertly agreed to recognize. Warbeck as Richard Duke of York. Earl of Desmond espoused the cause of Warbeck and canvassed support for him in Scotland and France. But with the signing of peace with England, France withdrew his countenance from Henry’s enemies.
In the mean time, finding it impossible to ignore Kildare’s complicity in the Warbeck affairs, he was removed from the office of the Deputy and a new Deputy was appointed (1492). Kildare came over to England personally to explain his conduct to Henry but was detained there for two years.
Henry VII appointed his three-year-old son Henry (later Henry VIII) as the Governor of Ireland and made him the Duke of York (1494). Sir Edward Poynings was appointed Deputy.
For two years from 1494 to 1496 Poynings ruled Ireland with a strong hand, got the Poynings’ Law passed by the Irish Parliament, which fixed the constitutional procedure for a long time. Poynings’ Law made it obligatory that the Irish Parliaments were to be summoned with the approval of the King’s Council in England and measures to be placed before them were also to be approved by the Irish Deputy and Council.
The English laws in force in Ireland were to remain as such. It must be pointed out that Poynings’ Law did not impose greater restriction on the Irish Parliament than those to which the British Parliament had been subject. The English Parliaments were summoned at king’s pleasure and only the public bills were placed before them.
Henry VII’s Irish policy was in the nature of a compromise and based on the principle of conciliation. Naturally, it was not a policy that might lead to permanent solution of the Irish problem. Henry VII was on an unsteady throne and any ambitious policy towards Ireland, such as its thorough conquest which could only stop it from harbouring any anti- English thoughts, could not be followed at the early period of the Tudors.
Henry suffered from lack of finances, and the most important point with him having been to secure his throne, he avoided the war path. He, therefore, followed a policy of conciliation towards Kildare, his most powerful opponent in Ireland, pardoned him more than once and married him to his own cousin.
12. Henry VIII and Ireland:
Kildare was loyal to the English Crown since his reinstatement as Deputy by Henry VII.
On his death, his son Gerald Kildare succeeded him. Resembling his father though, Gerald lacked his audacity and resourcefulness. Earl of Ormonde, head of the Butlers and chief representative of the loyal section of the Irish soon began complaining of disorder and misgovernment, and eventually succeeded in securing his deposition in 1520. Earl of Surrey, son of Surrey, the victor of Flodden was appointed Deputy.
Surrey was a capable soldier and no sooner he assumed responsibility than he understood that the only way of solving the Irish problem was to bring the entire country under subjection. This, to his mind, could be done by leading series of campaigns against the strong and recalcitrant Irish chiefs and by planting settlements of English colonists., No half- measure would be of any use, he rightly realised.
But Henry VIII was not in favour of conquest of Ireland. In fact there were two alternatives, one, to govern by the sword involving military conquest of the country, the other, to win the Irish nobles to the English side and to govern the country through them. The second alternative recommended itself to Henry and, presumably, Wolsey was in accord with it.
Henry VIII virtually began to follow his father’s policy in relation to Ireland. Kildare was summoned to England, rated soundly and then after a brief period of detention restored. But when Desmond intrigued to the Emperor and Kildare covertly supported it he was again summoned to England and sent to the Tower.
This made Lord Thomas Fitzerald, Kildare’s son who was acting as his Deputy in his absence, very much excited. He renounced his allegiance to the English Crown and then raised the standard of rebellion at the head of his friends and followers. But Ormonde could not be won over, on the contrary he began a counter-move. Henry VIII appointed Sir William Skeffington as Deputy who after some desultory campaigns eventually succeeded in quelling the revolt (1534).
Many were hanged and a fatal blow was given to the very idea of insurrection. Leonard Grey, son of Lord Dorset was given the command of the army in Ireland, the Deputyship was however retained by Skeffington.
Ultimately Thomas Fitzerald surrendered to Leonard Grey and not long before Thomas and his principal adherents were executed. Geraldine power was thus at an end. Grey now became also the Deputy who now began to carry out Henry VIII’s policy of conciliation.
A Commission was sent to make matters straight. But application of the Reformation in Ireland posed a very difficult problem. Dissolution of monasteries was carried out without difficulty but revolt from Rome was contrary to the Irish feelings Grey was related to the Geraldine’s and it appeared that he was inclined to the Geraldine interest. There was another rising in 1539 by O’Neill and Desmond.
In the following year Grey was recalled, attainted and executed. St. Leger, his successor as Deputy was the agent of conciliation and by his judiciousness, tact and clear-headedness he succeeded where Grey did not. His Deputyship gave promise of initiating a new era. It also became clear that Irish problem would depend on the character and capacity of men to whom the task would be entrusted.
Hereto-before, the King of England assumed the title of Lord of Ireland on the traditional legal fiction that it was held as a fief from the Pope. But there was a significant change in Henry VIII’s time and after the suppression of the Geraldine revolt the English king assumed the title of King of Ireland (1540) and continued the old policy of anglicising the Irish chiefs by turning-them into earls. Ireland was, however, far from pacified or reconciled.
All hopes of a genuine settlement were rendered futile by the progress of the Reformation in Ireland.
13. Edward VI, Mary and Ireland:
Throughout the Tudor reign Ireland posed a military rather than a civil problem. Henry VII’s policy of conciliation worked only as a palliative, but did not show the way to any permanent solution.
Henry VIII’s policy showed some energy, destroyed the power of Kildare, Lord Leonard Grey succeeded more or less to overcome Irish resistance and Henry VIII assumed the title of the King of Ireland, but the country began to drift out of control. Edward VI’s attempt to extend Reformation to Ireland led to great resentment among the Irish.
Under Mary, however, Catholicism was restored but the policy of planting English settlements in Ireland led to widespread discontent.
The Irish landowners were not the tribal chiefs but the entire clan. When Englishmen were settled by arrangements with chiefs, the discontent spread among the people of the entire clan, as such the discontent became deep rooted as well as widespread. In Mary’s reign King’s County and Queen’s County were created out of tribal lands in Leix and Offaly nearest to Pale but these new shires were far from secure.
When Elizabeth came to the throne, the county was divided into English and Irish territories of which the former were Waterford, Youghal, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
14. Elizabeth and Ireland:
When Elizabeth ascended the throne the Irish Ireland comprised the four provinces of Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster where the tribal chiefs exercised effective rule. Leinster contained the lands of the Kildare, Munster contained lands of Ormond, Thomond and Desmond.
The former was the most loyal of the queen’s Irishmen. O’Briens of Thomond promised intermittent loyalty to the queen while the Geraldine’s of Desmond were one of the greatest dangers to English rule. Connaught was wild Irish.
Ulster was the real centre of the Irish resistance particularly of its inaccessibility and the savagery of the people. Tyrone, O’Donnell and Antrim provided an element of confusion and a source of mercenaries.
Ireland then was in a state of war, cattle raids, burnings, murders, etc. Outside the Pale and its extension in King’s County and Queen’s County, there was hardly anything like peace or order. Protestant religion had no hold at all there, even the old religion—Catholicism was on the decline.
The tribals were only nominally Christians. Their resistance to the English was neither for religion nor for nationalism. It was simply the struggle for an inferior civilisation against a superior one. From the English side there was no serious attempt to Subdue these menaces. Ireland was rather left alone so long as it did net thrust itself to the English attention.
Elizabeth’s breach with the Papacy necessitated serious attention to Ireland, for it was a likely landing-place for hostile forces, and in Elizabeth’s war with Spain it became a part of the enemy side.
The first and the foremost task of Elizabeth in regard to Ireland was its conquest. The power of the chiefs, was to be broken in the battle, effective civil administration restored and Elizabethan, that is Anglican Church to be established there. To accomplish this arduous task the entire period of Elizabeth’s reign was occupied and final victory was won almost on the very day of the queen’s death.
The difficult hilly and boggy terrain while helped the Irish to wage guerilla warfare with success, retarded the progress of the campaign of the English troops. Bad discipline and inferior weapon led to defeat of the Irish, yet the war could not be brought to an end. Rebellious chiefs would come time and again for making peace but would rebel anew.
During the first ten years of Elizabeth’s reign but for the loyal support of the Irishmen and the bases supplied by the towns, the English forces would have been pushed into the sea. Fortunately for the English, the rebellious Irishmen, not even Tyrone, could rise to the concept of a national resistance. Their feuds and rivalries kept them divided against the English, which naturally gave the latter their chance.
Yet the prevalence of malaria, shifting nature of the Irish character, added to by the folly and rashness led to prolongation of the campaigns against the Irish. Amazingly enough the home government thought for Jong that it could conquer Ireland very cheap and the forces placed at the disposal of the viceroys were as a rule ludicrously small.
It was not until 1596 that a realistic view was taken of the situation. Elizabeth’s policy of procrastination left Ireland without a governor on many occasions; her parsimony left the government in Ireland without the necessary funds.
This process ultimately led to a loss of blood, energy and treasure which used with concentration would have cost less. ‘The government learnt their lesson the hard way’ and provided Essex with all the necessary troops, stores, funds and organisation. Mount-joy was later equipped likewise.
The Irish warfare was mainly occasioned by the rebellion of Shane O’Neill between 1559 and 1566, the Fitzmaurice confederacy in Munster between 1569 and 1572, the Desmond rebellion between 1579-1583 and the great rebellion of Tyrone between 1594 and 1603.
With the surrender of Tyrone in March 1603 ended the rebellion in Ireland, his actual physical surrender of course took place after Elizabeth’s death. The conquest of Ireland was thus complete by the end of Elizabeth’s reign but the settlement could only begin under James Stuart.
The only answer to the Irish problem was its complete conquest which task was evaded under the early Tudors and it was under Elizabeth that a realistic view was taken, i.e. not to allow Ireland to remain a turbulent neighbour only nominally subject to her and a standing invitation to her enemies.
At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign Ireland was virtually ungoverned, rebellious and heathen. By the end of her reign it was firmly under English control and Roman Catholic in religion. The English conquest of Ireland gave her a chance to emerge from the welter of tribal warfare into an Irish nation, although it remained firmly adhered to the Church of Rome.
The Irish policy of the Tudors, as has been evident from above, was faltering, hesitant and piecemeal. Ireland was pro-Yorkist and only insofar as it supplied a foothold for the Yorkist pretenders that Henry VII’s attention was drawn to it. In fact, Ireland would not have drawn the attention of the Tudors unless it had thrust itself to it.
Under the early Tudor, or in fact, till we reach the time of Elizabeth, the English policy was one of somehow ensuring the allegiance of the Irish chiefs. Surrey’s plan, the only realistic one, was to conquer Ireland and to plant English colonists there. But Henry VIII also followed his father’s policy, i.e. of winning the Irish nobles to the English side. Such policy was neither constructive nor statesman-like.
The deep sense of independence the most important characteristic of the tribal peoples and their natural antipathy to English domination as well as their opposition to Protestantism were not sufficiently recognised by the English. The result was while the policy of physical subjugation of the rebels and execution of the leaders followed the allegiance of the Irish people ever remained an unattainable goal.
To add to the Irish resistance was the policy of plantation, i.e. establishing English colonists in Ireland. The Irish people were Roman Catholics and attempts at introducing Reformation there under Edward VI and Anglicanism under Elizabeth met with not only deep hatred but also open resistance.
The dissolution of monasteries and introduction of Englishry and the policy of turning the Irish as anglicised loyalists at best succeeded with a small fraction of the population. Elizabeth’s prolonged campaigning that cost blood and treasure led to the conquest of Ireland but even then it remained Roman Catholic.
Tudor policy towards Ireland, therefore, was only partially successful. It did not solve the problem; it only shelved it for the future.
The system of land settlement with the Englishmen created the absentee landlordism in place of land- ownership of the clans. The conquest of Ireland of course helped the emergence of the Irish nation but the fact also explained their firmer adherence to Catholicism. Looked at from the point of historical assessment, the Tudor Irish policy was short-sighted, un-states manly and largely unsuccessful.
15. Maritime Activities:
The traditions of maritime England go back no further than the Tudor century. ‘They began hesitantly in the reign of Henry VII and received but partial advancement under Henry VIII, it was not until the second half of the period that a real start was made.’
During the medieval times England had her seamen and the island must have its shipping. But under the Tudors the ancient traditions were being replaced by “a new national folklore of sea- heroes”.
The motives behind the early explorations were thirst for knowledge, conversion of the heathens and military ambitions. But the driving force was supplied by trade and search for wealth. Portugal and Spain took the lead and became rich through trading with newly discovered countries.
John Cabot a Genoese seaman settled in Bristol since 1490 offered his services to Henry VII promising to explore a route to Japan (Cipango) and China (Cathay).
Henry granted a charter to a syndicate of Bristol merchants headed by John Cabot. Cabot sailed in 1497 with eighteen Englishmen on board and reached the land westward which be called Newfoundland and what was known as Nova Scotia.
In 1498 John Cabot set out again never to return. Henry’s preoccupations in England and political situation which precluded falling foul of Spain, ended for a time the official enterprise. No attempt was made for trading and exploring new markets. In 1501 and 1502, however, licenses were granted to Bristol merchants to discover new markets. The result was the establishment of the great Newfoundland Cod fisheries.
In 1509 Sebastian Cabot made his first attempt at exploration but on his failure he found enthusiasm had waned in England and he left the country for Spain. Although there was a hesitant beginning of exploration under Henry VII, it was under him that England caught at the new spirit of adventure that Renaissance had ushered in.
Henry VIII’s efforts at forming a national company for exploration proved abortive due to opposition and lethargy of the London commercial community in whose memory of the failure of Cabot’s last voyage and John Rastell’s voyage was still fresh. “England at large cared little for explorations, and even individuals, whether statesmen or traders, who might have been interested, failed to share the spirit which in the 1520s was driving Spanish power across Central and Southern America. The initial impetus given by the voyages of Henry VII’s time thus seemed to have died when it was revived in the middle of the century by the trade slump of the 1550s and the ambitions of the energetic and enterprising speculators who had already exhausted the possibility of the land market.”
Of the revived maritime movement the Duke of Northumberland was the guardian angel. In 1548 Sebastian Cabot returned to England and with the remarkable career of John Dee since 1551 English explorations began. The propaganda literature like the Treatise of the New India and Decades of the New World or West India which were translations of continental works published by Richard Eden revived England’s interest in discoveries.
With fruitful co-operation of sailors, merchants and wealthy gentry excellent results were obtained. In 1551 and 1552 Thomas Wyndham led expeditions to Barbary coast and 1553 to Guinea coast and Benin Bay. Wyndham died in the expeditions but the survivors brought immense gold with them which led to renewed venture under John Lock.
Under Elizabeth in 1560s English maritime adventure was switched into the Caribbean. A regular trade went on with Muscovy and Guinea coast. The Newfoundland Fisheries grew in value. In 1574 Sir Richard Grenville laid plans for an enterprise through the Straits of Magellan and for Terra Australis.
In 1576 Martin Frobisher sailed on an expedition and discovered a strait which he had named after him. Frobisher was despatched on two more voyages in 1577 and 1578 to bring gold ore from the strait discovered by him. Frobisher discovered Hudson’s Strait and entered Hudson’s Bay. The Southern explorations were, however, kept alive by Grenville, which later fell into Drake’s hands.
In 1585 a small expedition set out from Dartmouth under the command of John Davis. This expedition had remarkable success, though not of commercial value. The Armada (1588) stood in the way of further follow up of these efforts. Davis was one of the most attractive of the Elizabethan explorers.
Thomas Cavendish was one of those explorers who went westward and proved at first most successful. In 1586-88 he became the second Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. He crossed the Atlantic from Sierra Leone to Brazil and entered the Pacific. He captured a rich prize coming from Manila with silks and spices.
But his next voyage in 1591 was unfortunate for he took little care to provide against the possible difficulties. He reappeared in Brazil and trying to gain treasure by fighting failed, returned empty-handed and died.
One more attempt at attacking the Pacific coast of the Spanish empire was made by Richard Hawkins, son of old Sir John Hawkins. Reaching the Pacific he encountered stiff resistance from the Spanish ships and chased by them was taken prisoner and sent to Spain only to return to England in 1602.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century the old times of plundering defenceless Spanish empire in the West were clearly over and a new era of trade— peaceful trade began to oust privateering, raiding and piracy as the first preoccupation of the sailors and navigators.
In 1591 the Levant Company, in 1600 East India Company heralded the new era of maritime trade. 1590s marked a decline in the maritime enterprise of the nature that characterised the earlier thirty, years.
The last Elizabethan enterprise was Raleigh’s attempt to discover the legendary gold mines of Eldorado. In 1595 he sailed for Trinidad and established a base there. But after weeks of reckless enterprise the attempt to reach his goal he gave up.
16. Tudor Navy:
Royal navy in England is said to date from Alfred’s time, but its history was discontinuous until the Tudors constructed ships, trained and employed naval officers and established shore installations. The Lancastrian navy had been dispersed when Henry VII came to power. He built a few ships the two most important of them were the Regent and the Sovereign.
These ships were of real value to form the nucleus of the Tudor navy. These ships were designed to protect England from invasion rather than for aggressive wars, and were just a modest beginning. Under Henry VIII the shipbuilding was undertaken on a much more impressive scale and he put much energy and considerable knowledge into the building of a fleet.
This was particularly necessitated by his plan of invading France when a sufficiently strong navy might hold the Channel and blockade the enemy.
In 1515 he caused the building of an effective fleet and a warship of 1500 tons—Great Harry, the famous ship and pride of Henry. But the prestige vessel did never see action. Fifteen years later when the threat of an invasion by France became serious, Henry and his minister Cromwell rebuilt the English navy on much more efficient lines.
In the naval actions of 1542-46, it was this navy that had fought with much effect. Henry VIII at his death had left a navy with a compliment of fifty-three seaworthy ships, a large part of it of larger size.
Before Henry VIII’s naval reforms, the English ships were commissioned with small calibre guns which fired chain and canister to sweep the enemy’s deck. There was no attempt at sinking the enemy’s ships. But sinking of enemy ships was included in naval strategy under Henry VIII, for the first time. Henry also fitted the ships with high-calibre broadside.
For better supply and repairs of ships Henry founded dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford in the Thames which were not exposed to enemy raids as Portsmouth and Dover. True, Henry’s ships were not magnificent as he himself would think them to be, yet it was he who had assisted in laying of sure foundations.
Under Henry VIII’s immediate successors his achievements were endangered by the general decay which had overtaken the administration. Peculation and neglect ruined Henry VIII’s proud battle fleet and by the time Elizabeth had come upon the throne (1558) its strength dwindled down to twenty-four. Many of the ships had ceased to be seaworthy due to neglect.
During first two decades of Elizabeth’s reign not much could be done for the English navy except small and piecemeal improvements. The pressing need due to danger of French invasion having been removed and the policy of dangerous parsimony dictated by financial difficulties, Sir William Winter’s competence as sea-captaincy could not save the naval administration during the first twenty years of Elizabeth’s government from the bane of peculation. Such was the pilferage and speculation that in 1575 when the Revenge was built it cost the queen four thousand pounds although its actual cost was only half as much.
But it was Hawkins who under pressure from the queen turned his skill to the reconstruction of the royal navy. “It was he above all who enabled the English fleet to face and defeat the Armada.”
Hawkins however, concentrated his skill and effort on the building of sea-going vessels rather than those necessary for the defence of the Channel. This was due to his idea of cutting off supply of American silver to Spain. The Revenge was the first ship built according to Hawkins’ plan. Hawkins thoroughly reformed the administration of the navy and dockyards.
The result of Hawkins’ efforts was that when he laid down his office (1587), Elizabeth’s navy comprised twenty-three ships and eighteen sea-going oared vessels, all of them eminently sea-worthy and representing a formidable fighting force. Among these was Ark Royal which the queen had purchased from Raleigh. Hawkins also reduced the proportion of men to tonnage with happy results, employed better men with higher wages. “Rebuilt, renewed, and ready, the queen’s navy was waiting in anchorages in 1587, while rumours and threats of invasion were flying up from the South.”
“Stories of fabulous lands rich in gold, silver, ivory, spices, and pearls, as well as wonders for the curious and adventure for the restless were” under the reign of Elizabeth “gaining a growing audience in England”.
Works of Thorne, Eden, and Gilbert, output of mathematical and navigational memorials, charts, maps and navigational instruments by John Dee the movement for colonisation and exploration would not have developed.
Richard Hakluyt the Elder’s work, the geographical literature translated from Spanish, Italian, Flemish and German works, mathematicians, map-makers assisted the movement.
The greatest of Elizabethan propagandists was Richard Hakluyt, the Younger, whose Divers Voyages touching the Discovery of America, A Discourse of Western Planting but specially his Principles Navigations and Discoveries of the English Nation had greatly enlarged the vision of the English colonists.
The desirability English settlement in America was indicated by Richard Hakluyt, the Younger. The English movement for colonisation during the reign of Elizabeth was in the hands of a small group of the English gentry of Devon, namely Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Grenville. From late 1570s the colonisation was taken up in right earnest. Unemployment at home worked as a spur.
Colonisation was recognised to be the most reasonable way of finding employment for the overpopulated England.
In the whole of North America, the Englishmen only knew the fishing banks of Newfoundland. But the success of other powers excited the rampant nationalism of the age to demand equal performance with other colonising powers like Spain, France, etc. In 1570 Anthony Parkhurst, after a thorough survey of Newfoundland advocated settlement there.
Sir Gilbert who had been a colonising enthusiast got a royal patent for settlement in North America. Associated with him were John Dee, Sir Philip Sydney, and Sir George Peckham. The queen and the count gave their support. After initial setback, the fleet reached Newfoundland, took possession of St. John but when the ships carrying the prospective colonists wrecked, there was nothing left but to return.
In 1584 Raleigh obtained a new patent for settlement to the South of Gilbert’s site and dispatched Amadas and Barlow with a fleet. The result was the setting up of colony named after the queen Virginia. In 1585 a second expedition to consolidate the discoveries of the first was sent under Sir Grenville who put the colonists ashore on Roanoke, now called Virginia, under governor Ralph Lane.
The first Virginian colonists were, however, not civilians but soldiers. But Lane could not do anything to put the colony on a sound footing. Besides, the awe for the white-skinned demi-gods soon was over when the natives found them to be no better than mortals with their own frailities. The colony was deserted soon after.
In 1587 a new group of colonists had been sent under John White with, sounder plans but worse execution. The colony was again deserted in 1591. “The sole outcome of all the high hopes, manifold hardships, and considerable expense was an abandoned stockade on an island off the unknown continent.”
“Gilbert, Grenville, and Raleigh with all their failures, and Dee and Hakluyt with all their miscalculations, remain the founders of the British Empire.”