The Tudor dynasty ruled England from 1485 to 1603. The Tudor era saw some of England’s most celebrated historical events and the monarchs from this period are among the most famous, or infamous, to have ruled. With wars, religious persecution, exploration, development of a more politically united British isles and a remodelling of the states relationship with the church, this period of history is fast paced and full of surprises.
The Tudor monarchy began at the end of the War of the Roses. The Battle of Bosworth Field saw Henry Tudor’s forces overcome those of King Richard III. With Richard dead on the battlefield, the crown was Henry’s. A marriage to Elizabeth of York helped to prevent further conflict and the monarchy enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence within England as a consequence.
Religion remained a huge part of daily life and the relationship between the church and the state in this period was tumultuous. Across Europe the Reformation saw changes to the power of the Papacy. It led to religious divides and continental wars. In England this mood of religious change led to unrest and persecution. Henry VIII separated the church in England from its governance from Rome, dissolved the monasteries and changed the way in which religious laws were enforced. In the years that followed there were conflicts between those loyal to the old ways of Rome and the new church. Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary, became known as ‘Bloody Mary‘ as a result of the number of executions that took place because of religious issues during her reign. Elizabeth’s government attempted to bring about a Religious settlement.
Uniting a Kingdom?
The Tudor dynasty also saw the relationship between England, Scotland and Wales change. An Act of Union linked England and Wales. In the modern day we still see the symbolic result of this as the male heir to the throne assumes the title, Prince of Wales. England and Scotland continued to engage in conflict. Military campaigns were a feature of several of the Tudor monarchs reigns. In the latter stages of the dynasty the relationship was complex as Mary, Queen of Scots, was seen as a threat to Queen Elizabeth I. The erratic reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, led to her fleeing to England to seek aid from her cousin, Elizabeth. However, Mary was implicated in plots and was eventually executed. This, despite Mary being the heir to the English throne.
On a world stage this was the period in which the New World of the Americas was colonised by European nations. The voyages of discovery led to more wars, piracy and privateers. It also led to new types of produce being available in England and Europe. Trade developed quickly and the colonial ambitions of many powerful nations saw the beginnings of Empires that would dominate world affairs for the next 300 years.
Poverty and famine have caused huge problems for governments and monarchs throughout time. In Tudor times there were the usual failed harvests and the problems of begging, hunger and cold were a regular drain on the resources of the authorities. Where the Tudors differ is that they not only did something about it, they enshrined it into law. Under Elizabeth’s rule the Poor Law came into existence. Far from perfect, it was however a huge change in the way that those in need were viewed by those in power.
The Tudor Court
Many of the sources that remain from the Tudor period relate to the Tudor Court. With several palaces and a large annual progress, the court was quite visible to many commoners. Henry VIII famously took his court to the Field of the Cloth of Gold to meet with the French King. Royal Palaces such as Hampden Court or Windsor were lavishly decorated. The court became famous for intrigue, gossip and the way in which families could become more prosperous. An example of that is the Boleyn family. They became popular at court. The ladies of the family becoming well known and quite adept at attracting the attention of more senior nobles. Through the court, Anne Boleyn became known to King Henry VIII and this led to his first divorce as he chose to marry her.
The Tudor period began with victory on the battlefield. Henry VII saw several final attempts by Yorkists to regain the throne. The War of the Roses was over within years of his victory at Bosworth. The Tudors invested in the Navy, Henry VIII‘s flagship, the Mary Rose being the most famous example. Europe was frequently at war. The religious divisions caused by the Reformation caused conflict into which England was occassionally involved. The wars that are taught the most are Henry VIII’s Rough Wooing of Scotland and England facing the Spanish Armada in the reign of Elizabeth I.
Preceded by the Plantagenets, succeeded by the Stuarts.