UK Constitution and Government/House of Tudor

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Houses of Lancaster and York
Houses of Lancaster and York
House of Tudor
House of Stuart and the Commonwealth
House of Stuart and the Commonwealth
List of Topics
List of Topics
House of Stuart and the Commonwealth
House of Stuart and the Commonwealth


The House of Tudor (1485-1603)

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Henry VII

Henry VII was one of the most successful monarchs in British history. He was the Lancastrian claimant to the throne and lived in France so as to remain safe from the designs of the Yorkist Kings. At the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, he defeated and killed the Yorkist Richard III. His claim was weak due to questions relating to the legitimacy of certain births, but he was nonetheless awarded the throne.

Henry reformed the nation's taxation system and refilled the nation's treasury, which had been bankrupted by the fiscal irresponsibility of his predecessors. He also made peace with France so that the resources of the nation would not be spent trying to regain territories won during the Hundred Years' War. Henry also created marital alliances with Spain and Scotland. Henry's son, Arthur, married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Furthermore, Henry's daughter Margaret married James IV, King of Scots.

When Henry's son Arthur died, he wished to protect the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Therefore, he obtained a dispensation from Pope Julius II allowing Henry's son, also named Henry, to marry Catherine. (Papal permission was necessary since Henry was marrying his brother's widow.) Upon Henry VII's death, Henry took the throne as Henry VIII.

Henry VIII

King Henry VIII is often remembered for his multiple marriages. In his quest to obtain a male heir to the throne, Henry married six different times. His first marriage, as noted above, was to his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon. That marriage occurred in 1509 and was scarred by several tragedies involving their children. The couple's first child was stillborn, their second lived for just 52 days, the third pregnancy ended as a miscarriage and the product of the fourth pregnancy died soon after birth. In 1516, the couple had a daughter, named Mary, followed by another miscarriage. Henry was growing impatient with his wife and eagerly sought a male heir.

Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine. Ecclesiastic law permitted a man to marry his brother's widow only if the previous marriage had not been consummated. Catherine had informed the Pope that her marriage was non-consummate, so the Pope agreed to grant a dispensation allowing her to marry Henry. Now, however, Henry alleged that Catherine had lied, thereby rendering her marriage to him invalid. In 1533, an Act of Parliament annulled his marriage to Catherine, enabling him to marry Anne Boleyn. It was felt by many, however, that the Church, and not Parliament, could govern marriages. Henry had asked Pope Clement VII to issue a divorce several times. Under pressure from Catherine's nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Pope refused. Parliament therefore passed an Act denying appeals to Rome from certain decisions of English Archbishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, annulled Henry's marriage to Catherine. In response, the Pope excommunicated Henry. Soon, the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church. In 1534, all appeals to Rome from the decisions of the English clergy were stopped. An Act of Parliament passed in 1536 confirmed the King's position as Supreme Head of the Church of England, thereby ending any ceremonial influence that the Pope still had.

Anne Boleyn, meanwhile, was Henry's Queen, and the only surviving child from the marriage to Catherine, Mary, was declared illegitimate. Anne's first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1533. The next three pregnancies, however, all resulted in stillbirth or miscarriage. A dissatisfied Henry accused Anne of using witchcraft to entice him to marry her and to have five men enter into adulterous affairs with her. Furthermore, Anne was accused of treason because she had supposedly committed adultery while she was Queen. Anne's marriage to Henry VIII was annulled and she was executed at the Tower of London in 1536.

Within two weeks of Anne's death, Henry married Jane Seymour. In 1537, Jane produced the male heir that Henry had long desired. The boy was named Edward and would later succeed Henry to the throne. Meanwhile, his half-sister Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Shortly after the birth of the child, Jane died. Jane was followed as Queen by Anne of Cleeves, whom Henry married in 1540. Anne was the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleeves. Henry did not actually see Anne until shortly before their marriage; the relationship was contracted to establish an alliance between Henry and the Duke of Cleeves, a major Protestant leader. After Anne married him, Henry found her physically displeasing and unattractive. Shortly thereafter, the marriage was annulled on the grounds that Anne had previously been engaged to the Duke of Lorraine. After her divorce, Anne was treated well. She was given the title of Princess and allowed to live in Hever Castle, the former home of Anne Boleyn's family.

Henry VIII's next marriage was to Catherine Howard, an Englishwoman of noble birth. In 1542, she was charged and convicted of high treason after having admitted to being engaged in an adulterous affair. In 1543, Henry contracted his final marriage, wedding Catherine Parr. The marriage lasted for the remainder of Henry's life, which ended in 1547.

Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey

When Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, came to the throne, he was just ten years old. His uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset served as Lord Protector while the King was a minor. Several nobles attempted to take over Somerset's role. John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick was successful; he was later created Duke of Northumberland.

Edward VI was the first Protestant King of England. His father had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church but had not yet embraced Protestantism. Edward, however, was brought up Protestant. He sought to exclude his Catholic half-sister Mary from the line of succession. As he was dying at the age of fifteen, he made a document barring his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth from the throne. He named the Lady Jane Grey, daughter-in-law of the Duke of Northumberland, his successor. Her claim to the throne was through her mother, who was a granddaughter of King Henry VII. Jane was proclaimed Queen upon Edward's death in 1553, but she served for only nine days before being deposed by Mary. Mary enjoyed far more popular support; the public also sympathised with the way her mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been treated. Jane was soon executed. She was seventeen years old at the time.

Mary I

Mary was deeply opposed to her father's break from the Church in Rome. She sought to reverse reforms instituted by her Protestant half-brother. Mary even resorted to violence in her attempt to restore Catholicism, earning her the nickname Bloody Mary. She executed several Protestants, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, on charges of heresy.

In 1554, Mary married the Catholic King of Spain, Philip II. The marriage was unpopular in England, even with Catholic subjects. The couple were unable to produce a child before Mary's death from cancer in 1558.

Elizabeth I

Mary's successor, her half-sister Elizabeth, was one of the most successful and popular British monarchs. The Elizabethan era was associated with cultural development and the expansion of English territory through colonialism.

After coming to power, Elizabeth quickly reversed many of Mary's policies. Elizabeth reinstated the Church of England and had Parliament pass the Act of Supremacy, which confirmed the Sovereign's position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The Act also forced public and clerical officers to take the Oath of Supremacy recognising the Sovereign's position. Elizabeth, however, did practice limited toleration towards Catholics.

After Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570, Elizabeth ended her policy of religious toleration. One of Elizabeth's chief Catholic enemies was the Queen of Scotland, Mary. Since Elizabeth neither married nor bore any children, her cousin Mary was a possible heir to the English throne. Another possible heir was Lady Jane Grey's sister, Catherine. However, when Lady Catherine Grey died in 1568, Elizabeth was forced to consider that Catholic Mary was the most likely heir. Mary, however, had earlier been deposed by Scottish nobles, putting her infant son James on the throne. Mary had fled to England, hoping Elizabeth would aid her efforts to regain the Scottish throne, but Elizabeth reconsidered after learning of the "Ridolfi Plot", a scheme to assassinate Elizabeth and put the Roman Catholic Mary on the English throne. In 1572, Parliament passed a bill to exclude Mary from the line of succession, but Elizabeth refused to grant Royal Assent to it. Eventually, however, Mary proved to be too much of a liability due to her constant involvement in plots to murder Elizabeth. In 1587, she was executed after having been convicted of being involved in one such plot.

Following Mary's execution, Philip II (widower of Mary I of England) sent a fleet of Spanish ships known as the Armada to invade England. England had supported a Protestant rebellion in the Netherlands and was seen as a threat to Catholicism. Furthermore, England had interfered with Spanish shipping and trade. Using Mary's execution as an excuse, Philip II obtained the Pope's authority to depose Elizabeth. In 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail for England. Harmed by bad weather, the Armada was defeated by Elizabeth's naval leaders, including Sir Francis Drake and the Lord Howard of Effingham.

Towards the end of her life, Elizabeth still failed to name an heir. When she died, she was ironically succeeded by the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James. James was already James VI, King of Scots; he became James I of England in 1603 and established the rule of the Stuart dynasty.