Great Britain: Tudor England
The reign of the Tudors (1485–1603) is one of the most fascinating periods in English history. Henry VII restored political order and the financial solvency of the crown, bequeathing his son, Henry VIII, a full exchequer. In 1536, Henry VIII brought about the political union of England and Wales. Henry and his minister Thomas Cromwell greatly expanded the central administration. During Henry's reign commerce flourished and the New Learning of the Renaissance came to England. Several factors—the revival of Lollardry, anticlericalism, the influence of humanism, and burgeoning nationalism—climaxed by the pope's refusal to grant Henry a divorce from Katharine of Aragón so that he could remarry and have a male heir—led the king to break with Roman Catholicism and establish the Church of England.
As part of the English Reformation (1529–39), Henry suppressed the orders of monks and friars and secularized their property. Although these actions aroused some popular opposition (see Pilgrimage of Grace), Henry's judicious use of Parliament helped secure support for his policies and set important precedents for the future of Parliament. England moved farther toward Protestantism under Edward VI; after a generally hated Roman Catholic revival under Mary I, the Roman tie was again cut under Elizabeth I, who attempted without complete success to moderate the religious differences among her people.
The Elizabethan age was one of great artistic and intellectual achievement, its most notable figure being William Shakespeare. National pride basked in the exploits of Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, and the other “sea dogs.” Overseas trading companies were formed and colonization attempts in the New World were made by Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh. A long conflict with Spain, growing partly out of commercial and maritime rivalry and partly out of religious differences, culminated in the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), although the war continued another 15 years.
Inflated prices (caused, in part, by an influx of precious metals from the New World) and the reservation of land by the process of inclosure for sheep pasture (stimulated by the expansion of the wool trade) caused great changes in the social and economic structure of England. The enclosures displaced many tenant farmers from their lands and produced a class of wandering, unemployed “sturdy beggars.” The Elizabethan poor laws were an attempt to deal with this problem. Rising prices affected the monarchy as well, by reducing the value of its fixed customary and hereditary revenues. The country gentry were enriched by the inclosures and by their purchase of former monastic lands, which were also used for grazing. The gentry became leaders in what, toward the end of Elizabeth's reign, was an increasingly assertive Parliament.
Sections in this article:
- The Thatcher Era to the Present
- <named-content content-type="electronic">The 1960s and 70s</named-content><named-content content-type="print">The Late Twentieth Century</named-content>
- World War II and the Welfare State
- World War I and Its Aftermath
- Victorian Foreign Policy
- Economic, Social, and Political Change
- The Growth of Empire and Eighteenth-Century Political Developments
- The Stuarts
- Tudor England
- Medieval England
- Early Period to the Norman Conquest
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