6. The Structures of Power
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6. The Structures of Power

September 12, 2019


Prof: Well,
today we turn to politics and the structures of power under
the early Tudors. On the 22nd of August 1485,
Henry Tudor, who was then the Earl of
Richmond, defeated and killed King Richard III at the Battle
of Bosworth Field, a battlefield which is located
in central England in the county of Leicestershire,
and was crowned upon the battlefield with the crown which
was found in the King’s tent, and became king as Henry VII.
Now, in fact,
his claim to the throne was somewhat weak.
He was descended on his
father’s side from the widow of King Henry V,
who had married Henry’s grandfather after the King’s
death, but that didn’t establish a
direct claim to the throne. His claim came principally
through his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort,
who was a descendant of the fourteenth-century king Edward
III. Nevertheless,
weak though his claim was, Henry was the last of the
claimants of the Lancastrian House and he took the throne on
the behalf of that particular group in English politics,
which I’ll explain later. In the twenty-four years
following his seizure of the throne he made it his business
first of all to hang on to it, secondly to assert his
authority as best he could, and thirdly to pass on the
crown to his son, Henry VIII, who succeeded him
in 1509– and by doing so he founded a
new dynasty, the Tudor dynasty.
Well, today I want to look at
some of the early stages of that dynasty and in particular to
introduce the structures of political power and authority as
they were exercised under Henry VII and in the early part of the
reign of Henry VIII, and by doing so to show how
they managed to establish and consolidate the new regime.
Now by “power,”
of course, I mean that I’m concerned with
the capacity to secure compliance and obedience on the
part of others. By “authority I mean
legitimate power: those forms of power and its
manifestations which were deemed by most,
if not all, people to be legitimate,
to be binding, to put you under obligation to
obey. There were many sources of such
power and authority: economic, ideological,
political, military, and so forth.
And to a considerable degree,
as we’ll see, they all overlapped and
reinforced one another, but taken together they
comprised the polity of the time as contemporaries described it;
the polity, a system of established government and rule.
Now in approaching this kind of
subject it’s currently fashionable amongst political
historians of this period to speak of the need for what they
call a new political history as distinct from the old
constitutional history. It’s a central theme in John
Guy’s book, The Tudor Monarchy, from which
several of our key readings are taken.
By this people mean a political
history which is less narrowly focused upon the development of
the institutions of government. That was for a long time the
really central concern of historians of this period.
They were very focused on the
development of particular institutions.
Instead, now people are
recommending a concern instead with the changing contexts and
dynamics of political life and in particular the social and
ideological context of politics. Well, I’m very sympathetic to
that shift of perspective. I can still remember only too
well the old constitutional history in its heyday.
As a student I sat sometimes at
the feet of the great professor G.R.
Elton who was famous for
declaring that in getting to grips with the structures of
government it was essential that students should learn to be
bored.>
And when he could deliver a
whole lecture on one of the seals used in Tudor government
and the purposes for which the seal was employed and so forth,
he was a man who sometimes practiced what he preached
>But even if the approach has
changed somewhat over the years it’s still essential that we do
get to grips with the institutions through which
government authority was exercised.
They provided the forum for
political competition and they shaped the way
that–that–political competition was conducted.
So historians today are very
much concerned with political culture.
I’ve offered a definition of
that on your handout, but political culture involves
also institutions; they’re part of it.
So we’ll start by running over
some of the aspects of the institutional structure under
the early Tudors and then look at political society and then at
how political society could be animated and controlled and the
authority of government sustained by the effective use
of all of these institutions under the early Tudors.
Now the essential points about
some of these institutions are laid out on your handout,
so I’ll just quick march through some of them to briefly
introduce them. Right.
Well, in 1500 England was
already a very old and, by the standards of the day,
a quite intensively and uniformly governed monarchy.
It had existed as a single
monarchy for 600 to 700 years already.
The origins of its high degree
of centralization probably go back to the late Saxon kings but
in particular to the time of the Norman conquest of the eleventh
century and its consequences, but that’s not our business
today. Suffice to say that by 1500
many of the central institutions of royal government were very
old and had been established by the initiatives of medieval
kings and reflected the relationships which they had
hammered out over time with their subjects.
Above all with their most
powerful subjects, the nobility,
those who served the king but could also on occasion oppose
him and had done so many times in the past.
The king was of course at the
very center of the polity. He was described by one
sixteenth-century constitutional writer,
Sir Thomas Smith, as being “the life,
the head, and the authority of all things that be done in this
realm of England.” The principal functions of the
king were seen to be those of: keeping the peace and defending
the realm; maintaining the law and the
administration of justice; and upholding the church:
a relatively limited set of functions compared to modern
government. And to achieve those ends the
king enjoyed a variety of powers.
He enjoyed what were thought of
as his ordinary powers exercised within the framework of the law,
but in time of emergency he might also exercise residual
absolute powers which could go beyond the normal boundaries of
the law. Well, English kings already had
a very high notion of their dignity and their sovereign
authority. From the fourteenth century
onwards they very often represented–
in the coinage–they were represented wearing what’s known
as the “imperial crown.”
That’s a crown which is
enclosed at the top usually with a cross;
an enclosed crown. It was meant to symbolize the
fact that they recognized no authority higher than themselves
save God alone. And though the authority of the
pope was exercised within the kingdom over the church,
agreements which had been reached and statutes which had
been passed in the fourteenth century meant that in practice
in making appointments in the church the pope usually acted on
the advice and in consultation with the king.
They didn’t override his
authority. So a monarchy of considerable
dignity claiming a sovereignty represented in the imperial
crown. But high as the king’s dignity
was, England was also,
as one contemporary jurist, John Fortescue,
put it, a dominium politicum et regale–
he phrase is there on your handout–
which meant that royal authority was supreme–
that’s the regale part–but it was also sustained
and restrained by certain political expectations,
certain constitutional institutions.
First, kings were expected to
take advice. They were expected to be guided
by counsel, by the counsel of their leading subjects.
They ruled with the advice of a
variety of councils. Occasionally,
a great council of the leading nobility could be called,
especially when advice and support was needed in the making
of some major decision. Henry VII called such councils
of his leading noblemen on a number of occasions.
More usually,
for day-to-day administration, the king was advised by a
smaller council which attended his person on a day-to-day basis
and handled the executive business of government.
Some of its members were great
noblemen, but very often their position in the council was one
which was largely honorific. They tended on the whole to
proffer their advice to the king informally and occasionally when
they were in attendance at court.
For the most part,
for example, Henry VII’s day-to-day council
consisted in its principal members not of the great nobles
of the kingdom, but of great members of the
church, notably Cardinal John Morton,
who was one of his closest advisers in the early stages of
his rule, and in addition a number of
lawyers and professional administrators,
those who are sometimes described as ‘men of business’,
the nucleus of a kind of royal bureaucracy.
So the king was expected to
take counsel. In addition,
he was restrained by the law, the ‘common law’ of
England–described as common because it extended over the
whole realm. The king’s writ ran everywhere
in legal matters. The common law had grown up
over centuries by custom and by precedent.
It was administered in the
king’s name. All legal writs began with the
king’s title. It was administered in his
name, though under normal circumstances he was expected to
operate within the constraints of the law.
The administration of the law,
the provision of justice, and the redress of grievances,
the means of settling disputes peacefully,
was one of the principal functions of royal government.
Occasionally,
the king might still sit himself in judgment.
One of the courts which became
most feared under Henry VII was the king’s Court of Star
Chamber, which met in a chamber of the
palace of Westminster which happened to be decorated on the
roof with stars, the Star Chamber.
It was effectively the king’s
council sitting as a law court and the king might on occasion
be personally present, but for the most part the
principal law courts operated outside the royal household.
They sat permanently in
Westminster, in Westminster Hall that still
stands besides– beside–the houses of
Parliament, and they were staffed by royal justices.
The names of the principal
courts are on your handout. There was a Court of King’s
Bench which dealt principally with criminal matters,
the Court of Common Pleas which dealt principally with civil
cases, and the Chancery,
the Court of the Lord Chancellor.
That court was a little unusual
in that it was not a common-law court;
it was a court of equity. Equity.
That meant that in cases where
the common law didn’t provide a remedy principles of natural
justice might be administered by the chancellor,
and for that reason the chancellor was sometimes
described as being the conscience of the king,
could provide a remedy based on natural justice when the common
law did not. Okay.
In addition to the central
courts, the king also exercised justice by commission.
Twice a year royal judges left
Westminster and went out to ride–
to literally ride–six circuits going from county town to county
town where they heard cases arising–
civil cases and criminal cases arising–
in the provinces. Those were the assize courts,
the riding of circuits by royal justices.
And in addition the king
exercised justice through the commission of the peace.
In each county some leading
gentlemen were appointed as justices of the peace
commissioned to deal with crimes,
usually petty crimes, and other administrative
matters arising. They met in a court called
Quarter Sessions because it met four times a year.
Counsel and law came together
in another great institution that must be mentioned,
Parliament: the periodic meeting of the king,
the nobility who had the right to sit in the House of Lords,
and representatives of the commons of the kingdom.
The House of Lords consisted of
the leading lay and church nobility of the realm summoned
by a personal writ to attend. In 1510 for example,
when Parliament met there were 100 of them, fifty laymen,
fifty great men of the church. The House of Commons consisted
of a gathering of two representatives for each
county– they were known as the
“Knights of the Shire”–
and two representatives from each city which had the
parliamentary franchise; they were known as burgesses.
The city of London provided an
exception. It had four members because of
its size. Now theoretically the members
who came for the counties were elected by freeholders who had
land to the value of forty shillings,
though in fact contested elections were very rare.
Generally, the elite of the
counties would get together and choose from amongst their
numbers who would represent them.
They were selected rather than
elected. The urban franchise might vary.
In some cities all householders
had the vote. In others the choice of a
member for Parliament was restricted to a small oligarchy
of the leading citizens. Parliament, then,
represented the whole realm and it had two great functions,
long established. First of all,
only Parliament could make statutes: new laws which could
override or modify common law custom.
So the legislative sovereignty
of the realm lay in Parliament where the king,
the lords and the commons acted together.
Bills proposing new laws were
presented, they were read and debated in
each of the houses before being passed and passed on to the king
for his consent or his veto. Now if all that sounds rather
familiar, this is where it comes from.
Secondly, Parliament could
grant taxes, which from the fourteenth century required the
consent of the House of Commons. It was essential that the
Commons gave their consent to any tax bill passing through
Parliament. Okay.
One last word on institutions
and that concerns finance. The king was expected to
“live of his own.” That’s the phrase they used,
“to live of his own.” That meant he was expected to
live on the revenues of the royal land holdings,
the customs dues and other dues which were due to him as feudal
overlord of the kingdom, and for all normal purposes
that should provide for all his expenses.
The collection and the
disbursement of royal revenues was handled by an institution
called the Exchequer, at Westminster.
At least that was so in theory
since some late medieval kings took to handling financial
business in a more intimate setting within their own
household. This was known as “chamber
finance,” because they would deal with
these matters in the king’s own lodgings or chamber.
Henry VII, who was a notorious
workaholic and also extremely tight in financial matters,
actually personally went over, checked and initialed every
page of the chamber accounts to check his financial situation.
Reliance on taxation was rare.
Taxes would be voted by
Parliament for extraordinary circumstances and would then be
collected and returned to the Exchequer.
So for the most part the king
lives of his own; periodically taxes would be
granted for special reasons. Okay.
That’s a quick run through some
of the principal institutions of day-to-day administration of
royal government, but of course administration is
not synonymous with government. If we want to understand the
structures of power we need to look beyond this to the larger
political society within which these institutions functioned,
or sometimes failed to function. Obviously, the monarch stood at
the head of the structure of power.
This is still an age of
personal monarchy and the personalities of individual
monarchs colored and gave a particular texture to particular
reigns. Henry VII was a man who seems
by all accounts of him to have been of a cold,
somewhat detached, calculative,
suspicious, temperament. His son, Henry VIII,
in contrast, was energetic,
muscular, vain; a mixture of largesse on the
one hand but prone to bursts of terrifying wrath on the other,
and the personalities of different kings gave something
of the flavor to their reigns. Henry VII for example was only
twenty-eight when he won the crown at Bosworth Field.
He was only fifty-two when he
died, and yet it’s been said we never think of him as a young
man. His personality was such that
one doesn’t think of him that way, in contrast to his
flamboyant son, the young Henry VIII.
The various institutions of
government of course embodied the authority of the monarch.
They gave stability and
continuity, but the actual exercise of
power and the maintenance of the authority of government depended
very much upon the personality of the king and the way in which
the kings interacted with various important groups of
people, communities of interest within
the realm. By 1500, there already existed
a relatively broad political society which was involved in
government in one way or another.
Most ranks of society down to
the principal citizens of the towns or even the leaders of
village society were involved in government in one way or another
except perhaps the very poor, who were described by Sir
Thomas Smith as being born “to be ruled and not to
rule others.” But of course if many people
participated in one way or another in the exercise of royal
power, some people mattered a great deal more than others.
And those who mattered most
were of course the nobility and the gentry and their
counterparts, the leaders of the church.
And the crucial relationship
within the whole structure of authority was that between the
king and his central officers and those members of the social
elites who governed the localities.
It was those elites who
constituted the political nation proper,
and when historians of this period talk about the political
nation it’s primarily those people they’re talking about.
The nobility were absolutely
vital in two very obvious ways which were interconnected.
First of all,
by virtue of their enormous landed possessions they were the
natural rulers of the provinces. Social power and political
power in the realm intersected. The Percy family,
the earls of Northumberland, held absolutely vast lands in
the north of England alongside the Scottish border where they
had the responsibility of defending the border against the
Scots. Indeed, they still hold them.
The–they virtually ruled that
part of the north from their principal castles at Alnwick and
Warkworth, both of which still stand.
If you’ve seen a Harry Potter
film, you’ve seen Alnwick Castle.
It was used to shoot parts of
those movies. The Percys were based there and
it was said, with only a little
exaggeration, that in that part of the
kingdom they “knew no prince but a Percy.”
Secondly, the powers of
lordship which were conferred by these great estates translated
into military power. The king had no standing army.
Henry VII was unusual in that
he had a small group of royal guards permanently available,
the Yeomen of the Guard; otherwise, though,
there was no standing army. In time of war the king relied
upon the nobility coming in to support him with their armed
retainers and servants, and each great lord had his
‘affinity’ as it was called, his affinity of retainers:
men bound to his service by ties of personal loyalty and
often by formal contract. They wore his badge or his
livery and they were expected to follow him when called upon.
People as humble as farm
tenants in some parts of the kingdom still had to keep a
horse and arms as part of the conditions of holding their
farms from the gentry and nobility.
In the north for example that
was commonly the case, and when called upon by the
earls of Northumberland or the earls of Westmoreland,
who dominated what’s now the Lake District,
they would come in, especially for service on the
border. To give one example of the
importance of the military power of the nobility:
in 1536 at the outbreak of the rebellion against the
Reformation known as the Pilgrimage of Grace the Earl of
Shrewsbury, who was based in the north
Midlands, was able to mobilize no fewer
than 3,000 men in only six days. The rebellion had broken out in
Yorkshire; Shrewsbury was here.
The fact that he could mobilize
3,000 men so quickly was absolutely crucial because he
was able to move north and to halt the rebel advance,
to shadow the rebels until a larger royal force could be
mustered. In contrast,
his friend and former companion in arms, Lord Darcy,
based in South Yorkshire, sympathized with the rebels and
failed to move. He sat on his hands for a while
and then eventually joined the rebels.
He should have been mustering
his troops to stop them. That’s why such men were
crucial. Darcy didn’t act because he was
out of sympathy with royal policy in religion.
Shrewsbury acted and saved the
day. Such men were vital.
Having said all of this,
I must be careful not to exaggerate.
The nobility were rich and
powerful but they didn’t have fully independent jurisdictions
of their own where the king’s authority didn’t run.
Some of the great nobility of
continental Europe enjoyed that kind of power.
So did some of those of
Scotland in this period. In England such jurisdictions
had existed in the past but they had mostly gradually fallen into
the crown’s hand and been retained.
As a result,
English nobles depended ultimately for their power upon
grants of royal office. Their local authority was
granted to them by the king. King Edward IV,
who ruled between 1461 and 1483, had ruled very largely by
parceling out spheres of influence to the great nobility.
His system of government has
been described as being somewhat like the mob in the way that
each of the great nobles had his quasi-independent sphere of
influence. But that was an anomalous
situation. For the most part the nobles
depended upon royal authority formally granted.
Nevertheless,
they still mattered a great deal.
Maintaining authority over them
was absolutely vital. In the middle of the fifteenth
century, King Henry VI had failed to do
so, leading first of all to rivalry and factionalism amongst
his nobles and eventually to a bid by one of them,
the Duke of York, to overthrow him because York
had a rival claim to the throne. That led to the on-and-off
civil wars which ran between 1450 and 1485 usually described
as the Wars of the Roses. Now the feuding of the
fifteenth-century Wars of the Roses had taken out a number of
exceptionally over-mighty subjects amongst the nobility,
but in the reign of Henry VII there were still a dozen or so
who really mattered and not just in the north or along the Welsh
borders, which were areas of insecurity,
but in the very heart of the kingdom.
In East Anglia the dukes or
Norfolk, the Howards, were paramount.
In Kent, Lord Abergavenny was
paramount. In the west,
the Marquis of Exeter, the Courtney family,
were paramount. They still nurtured their
affinities of retainers, they still enjoyed great
prestige as regional leaders, and they still adhered to an
aristocratic code that certainly stressed loyalty,
honor and service to the king. But nonetheless they could be
very haughty, very touchy,
they assumed their right to rule,
they assumed their right to be consulted,
and they could be very dangerous indeed if they were
slighted. No Tudor king was ever likely
to forget that in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth the Stanleys,
William Stanley, Lord Derby, and his brother,
Thomas Stanley, brought their forces and then
sat on the hill waiting to see which way the battle between the
claimant, Henry Tudor,
and King Richard III would go. When they decided that it
looked like Tudor was gaining the upper hand they joined in on
his side leading ultimately to the death of Richard III in a
desperate last charge to try to break through.
That’s what had happened on the
day that Henry came to the throne.
He was unlikely to forget that
in his dealings with his nobility.
So then, how did the early
Tudors handle their relationships with the various
institutions and groups on whom the effectiveness of their rule
depended? I think one can suggest four
ways. They did it by propaganda,
by patronage, by consultation and,
when necessary, by simple coercion.
Two P’s, two C’s:
propaganda, patronage, consultation,
and coercion. At this point in time,
propaganda was perhaps the least important of the four but
it was not insignificant. Great stress was laid in royal
proclamations and ceremonial and symbolism upon the divine nature
of royal authority, on the fact that the king was
ordained by God and his subjects had a religious duty of
obedience. Henry VII was very careful
early in his reign to obtain the recognition of the pope.
He further bolstered his claim
to the crown by marrying the daughter of his predecessor,
King Edward IV, uniting the houses of Lancaster
and York through that marriage, adding to his legitimacy.
From the reign of Henry VII
onwards into the reign of his son,
the past, the public memory of the past,
was to some extent remodeled into an exaggerated picture of
the horrors which had attended the breakdown of royal authority
in the Wars of the Roses. They elaborated the myth of
Richard III as a kind of monster king.
I mean, true enough he was no
sweetie, but he was not the crook-backed monster portrayed
for example in Shakespeare’s history plays.
Historians were commissioned to
write appropriate histories celebrating the Tudor dynasty.
Polydore Vergil,
an Italian humanist, was brought in to write one
history in Latin. Edward Hall produced another
history in English entitled The Union of the Illustrious
Families of Lancaster and York, which sustained
the Tudors’ claim to the throne. Shakespeare’s history plays of
course reflect very much this Tudor interpretation of history.
The image of royalty was
cultivated in a kind of theater of majesty.
Tight as he was with his
finances, Henry VII never forgot the importance of having a
magnificent court and sumptuous clothing.
The pageantry of the court was
magnificent. Great tournaments were held.
Great buildings were erected,
perhaps the greatest of which, Henry VII’s chapel at
Westminster Abbey where he’s buried, still stands today.
Under the reign of Henry VIII
portraiture, royal portraiture, began to emerge as a means of
royal propaganda. Henry VIII always had himself
represented as something more than human.
In the National Portrait
Gallery in London you can see the cartoon which survives of a
great painting of Henry and the Tudor line which was once on the
walls of his palace of Whitehall.
Henry himself is shown much
larger than life size, dwarfing all those around him.
He was indeed a big man but
he’s represented as even larger than life.
You are probably familiar with
the Holbein portraits of Henry standing, arms on hips,
gigantic shoulders padded out with his doublet.
That kind of image of the king
is the one that dominates our memory and it was meant to
dominate those who saw his portraits.
It’s an image that is so
familiar to people in England that it was actually used to
sell potato chips>
a few years ago.
There was a brand of potato
chips–they’re no longer sold so this is not product
placement–called Tudor Crisps–we call them crisps in
England. Henry VIII on the packet
glowering out as you had your potato chips.
Of course, he was a king known
for his hearty eating.>
The nobles themselves of course
imitated all of this. The theater of the great
extended to them. Take a look in the Yale gallery
of British art where you’ll see some of–
well, we’ll go there later in the term to look at some of the
power portraits, as they’re called:
the calm, proud faces of these people staring down from the
walls. Well, the main impact of
portraiture and so forth was on the members of the elite
themselves. They were the ones who were
likely to see these paintings, but for a larger audience there
were processions; there were royal progresses
where the king would travel around an area in a magnificent
procession, staying in the houses of his principal
subjects. There were royal entries to the
cities accompanied by great ritual, pageants,
display, and everywhere the royal badge was displayed.
It’s an interesting topic,
the politics of display, the art and architecture of
power, and a great deal has been written about it.
If it interests you,
I can recommend some reading. Rather more significant than
propaganda of this type, and in fact vitally
significant, was the use of patronage,
the exercise of what they called good lordship.
That involved the conferring on
significant subjects of honors and prestige and material
benefits in return for their loyal service.
After all, the interests of the
king and his great subjects were not opposed.
The system ideally could be
utilized to the advantage of both,
and so from Henry VII onwards the Tudors were careful to build
up their own affinity, their own loyal retainers.
Royal lands were used to this
end. Those who had shown their
loyalty and who were trusted would be granted stewardships of
royal lands where they would share in the profits:
favorable leases, the constableships of castles,
offices of profit, and of course grants of local
authority which demonstrated the king’s trust and which conferred
honor and power within their localities of prominence.
All of this was not only to the
personal benefit of the individual noble but it also
enabled such men to dispense patronage themselves downwards
to their own clients and retainers.
It enabled them to maintain
their own affinities and enhanced their standing.
The Tudor kings had no
objection to building up powerful men of this kind so
long as they were loyal. But ideally patronage should be
spread around; it should be dispensed
judiciously in a way that would maximize the community of
interest in obeying the crown. Let’s look now at consultation.
The royal court was the very
center of the patronage system. Access to the king was vital,
and those who could control access to the king were in
positions of real power. Under the young Henry VIII,
the gentlemen of the privy chamber,
his personal companions, those who hunted and engaged in
other sports with the king, were absolutely central figures
in gaining access to the king, principal amongst them the
groom of the stool, an office which still exists.
In Henry’s day the groom of the
stool literally looked after the king’s chamber pot and brought
it for him when it was needed. These were people in an
excellent position to drop names into the king’s ear.
But the court was also vital to
the business of consultation more broadly.
Any person of significance was
expected to visit the court from time to time,
and when they were there the king could be quite
approachable. Henry VII was quite famously
approachable. He let people pop into the
privy chamber where he conducted business.
Henry VIII was famously
affable, something of a back-slapping hearty type when
he was in a good mood. Nobles in particular expected
that kind of personal access. They expected to be able to
give their counsel informally on matters of concern.
They weren’t part of the
regular executive, their main duties lay out in
their countries, but they did expect to visit
for part of the year and have that kind of personal contact.
More broadly,
the regular executive council was a point of contact with
these members of the political nation.
It received letters and
dispatched them. It expressed the king’s
gracious thanks for good service.
It handled all kinds of
business brought to its attention.
And then of course there was
Parliament, the greatest occasion of consultation;
the whole political nation gathered in common action.
Sir Thomas Smith said that
“every Englishman is intended to be there present,
either in person or by… attorney from the prince…
to the lowest person…
And the consent of the
Parliament is taken to be every man’s consent.”
The king, however,
only called Parliament when he needed money or new laws or
support. Before 1529,
the early Tudors called it only occasionally,
but then from 1529 to 1559 in the crisis of the Reformation
there were only eight years without a parliamentary session
and it grew in significance as a regular part of the political
process. The Tudor kings usually got
what they wanted from parliament but they did it by managing it
carefully. Its compliance could never be
simply taken for granted. It had to be managed,
and it was a genuine forum of debate.
The Speaker of the House of
Commons, who controlled the agenda,
was granted at the beginning of each session the liberty of free
speech, so that he could speak openly
to the king, and by 1547 that liberty had
been extended to every member of Parliament within the precincts
of the meetings of Parliament. They could address any issue
openly for the good of the prince and the commonwealth.
And these members in their turn
got what they wanted. Government bills might be
amended in the light of their local experience and a great
deal of private legislation intended for particular
localities was passed. So, Parliament as a place of
consultation was a very significant forum for the
resolution of potential conflict,
for the presenting of royal policy and its explanation and
justification. The Tudors used it very
carefully to achieve their ends. In fact, on one occasion Henry
VIII flattered it by saying that his royal dignity was never so
high as when he met with Parliament.
And the growing significance of
this institution is indicated by the anxiety of members of the
governing elite to serve as members.
But finally,
if propaganda, the use of patronage and
consultation didn’t succeed in welding together the interests
of the crown and the political nation,
there remained coercion, what was described at the time
as heavy lordship, as distinct from good
lordship–often evident under both Henry VII and Henry VIII as
they established their authority and their dynasty.
When necessary they would bring
to Parliament and rush through ‘acts of attainder’.
Acts of attainder simply
declared particular individuals guilty of treason,
depriving them of their lands and their status.
They were often used against
rebellious nobles. They could be reversed in the
interests of the heirs to those estates if they behaved
themselves, but they had to prove themselves compliant.
Henry VII made frequent use of
acts of attainder. He very cleverly dated the
beginning of his reign to the day before the Battle of
Bosworth. He got Parliament to agree to
that. That meant that everyone who
had opposed him, even though they were actually
fighting for the person who was the king at the time,
was automatically a traitor and their lands were forfeit.
Clever.
It enabled him to greatly
extend the royal lands in one move and there was more of that
to come. Acts of attainder were also
used against those who supported pretenders to the throne who
were foci of potential rebellions,
and actual rebellion in 1487 against Henry VII.
Henry VII was also willing to
use another coercive measure, the placing of his nobility
under recognizances: recognizance bonds.
They were like a bail bond,
a bond– a legal bond–that nobles were
forced to enter into to be of good behavior,
or if they failed to pay enormous financial penalties.
They usually had to find
sureties from amongst their kinsmen and supporters for those
bonds, which meant that those people
had an interest in making sure that the nobleman concerned
complied and would lose out themselves badly if he didn’t.
These were used,
for example, against any nobleman who in any
way infringed the requirements of new laws.
For example,
under Henry VII retaining, the retaining of an affinity of
clients, was regulated by license.
Only those who were licensed to
do so could retain armed retainers and they were
forbidden from retaining any member of the crown’s own
affinity. You could owe loyalty to the
king only. Anyone who infringed that was
likely to find himself hauled before the council and faced
with a recognizance bond. Lord Abergavenny,
the principal magnate in Kent, was put under a potential fine
of 70,000 pounds, a massive sum of money,
for such failure to comply. It wasn’t actually executed but
it hung over his head like the sword of Damocles and he
complied in future. And then there were the laws of
treason. In the fourteenth century the
law of treason had been introduced defining treason as
acts against the king’s person or his family or open rebellion
against his authority. Under the early Tudors the law
of treason was extended. By the time of Henry VIII,
it came to include even treasonable words such as,
for example, denying the legitimacy of the
king’s many marriages. Particularly dangerous
individuals were ruthlessly eliminated.
Under Henry VII,
the young Earl of Warwick– Edward, Earl of Warwick–who
was the last potential claimant to the Yorkist claim to the
throne, was imprisoned in the Tower of
London from childhood where he was kept until 1499 when in a
moment of danger to the throne Henry VII had him executed.
Sir William Stanley,
one of those who had supported Henry at the Battle of Bosworth,
fell under the king’s suspicion and was taken out in 1497.
Under the young Henry VIII,
the presumptuous Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham,
was executed on trumped-up charges in 1521.
His real crime was that he had
a distant claim to the throne. Henry didn’t yet have a male
heir and it was alleged that Buckingham had listened to
prophecies that Henry never would have a male heir,
and that he had made some resentful statements against the
King. When this came to the King’s
knowledge Buckingham’s days were numbered.
Like most nobles who fell under
royal displeasure, Buckingham died by the ax.
Lesser folk were hung,
drawn and quartered, a less honorable means of
execution. It meant that they were hung by
the neck until they were not quite dead,
disemboweled, their bowels burned before
their eyes, and then cut down,
their bodies cut into four quarters which were dipped in
pitch and sent to be displayed at the gates of the leading
cities of the kingdom as an example to warn other potential
traitors. And trial procedures and
treason trials could be extremely arbitrary.
The council could order arrest
at will. It could order the torture of
suspects–torture wasn’t normally used in English law.
Defense counsel was denied.
Evidence could be fabricated to
get rid of unsuccessful losers in court factional struggles.
At the very highest levels,
then, political conflict was played out to the death,
especially under Henry VIII. Indeed, one historian of Henry
VIII has said that in some parts of his reign his court had the
atmosphere of the Kremlin under Stalin,
with people going in constant fear of arousing the King’s
displeasure. So the crown could deliver
largesse to the loyal; it could consult with its
leading subjects; but it could also brutally
display its wrath. The majesty which it displayed
on the one hand was counterbalanced by terror.
All of this adds up then to a
political culture, a set of institutions of
government animated by certain understandings and rules and
practices which governed political conduct.
That unwritten consensus about
how things were done was very well understood throughout
political society, and political stability
depended upon sharing power in varying degrees at various
levels of the structure in accordance with these
understandings. Effective rule was the outcome
of the use of considerable political skills by the kings
and their advisers within this framework to bring about the
willing obedience and participation of their leading
subjects. And for the most part the early
Tudor kings proved very able in achieving that:
in rebuilding the authority of the crown which had been so much
shaken by the civil wars of the fifteenth century,
in instilling habits of obedience, in reestablishing the
latent power of the monarchy and indeed in enhancing it–
something that we’ll discuss in section.
But finally,
changing government in the sixteenth century involved more
than just reasserting royal authority.
It also came to involve
something else, the expansion of the very scope
and objectives of government, and to understand that we need
to see its development in the context of processes of change,
which were scarcely on the agenda as late as 1530,
but which were very soon to emerge.
And in the next few lectures
I’ll be looking at those by examining the most explosive of
these new issues, the issues of the succession
and the issue of religion.

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