The century of Tudor rule is often thought of as a most glorious period in England history. Henry VII built the foundations of a wealthy nation state and a powerful monarchy. His son kept a magnificent court and his daughter Elizabeth brought glory to the new state by defeating the powerful navy of Spain. There is, however, a less glorious view of the Tudorcentury. Henry VIII wasted the wealth saved by his father. Elizabeth weakened the quality of government by selling official posts. And although her government tried to deal with the problem of poor and homeless people its laws and actions were often cruel in effect.
Henry VII is less well known than either Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. But he was far more important in establishing the new monarchy thaneither of them. He had the same ideas and opinions as the growing classes of merchants and gentleman farmers, and he based royal power on good business sense. Henry VII firmly believed that war and gory were bad for business, and that business was good for the state. He therefore avoided quarrels either wit Scotland in the north, or France in the south.
During the fifteenth century, but particularlyduring the Wars of the Roses, England’s trading position had been badly damaged. But in 1485 Henry VII made an important trade agreement with the Netherlands which allowed English trade to grow again. Henry was fortunate. Many of the old nobility had died or been defeated in the recent wars, and their lands had gone to the king. Henry had more power and more money than earlier kings. Theauthority of the law had been almost completely destroyed by the lawless behavior of nobles and their armed men. Henry used the “Court of Star Chamber”, traditionally the king’s council chamber, to deal with lawless nobles. Local justice that had broken down during the wars slowly began to operate again. Henry encouraged the use of heavy fines as punishment because this gave the Crown money.
Henry’s aimwas to make the Crown financially independent, and the lands and the fines he took from the old nobility helped him do this. Henry also raised taxes for wars. He never spent money unless he had to. He was careful to keep the friendship of the merchant and lesser gentry classes. He created a new nobility from among them, and men unknown before now became Henry’s statesmen.
When Henry died in 1509he left behind the huge total of £2 million. The only thing on which he was happy to spend money freely was the building of ships for a merchant fleet. Henry understood earlier than most people that England’s future wealth would depend on international trade. And in order to trade Henry realized that England must have its own fleet of merchant ships.
Henry VIII was quite unlike his father. Hewas cruel, wasteful with money, and interested in pleasing himself. He wanted to become an important influence in European politics. France was now more powerful than England, and Spain was even more powerful, because it was united with the Holy Roman Empire. Henry VIII wanted England to hold the balance of power between these two giants. He first unsuccessfully allied himself with Spain and when hewas not rewarded he changed sides. When friendship with France did not bring him anything, Henry started talking again to Charles V of Spain.
Henry VIII was always looking for new sources of money. His father had become powerful by taking over the noble’s land, but the lands owned by the Church and the monasteries had not been touched. In fact they were unpopular because many monks no longer leda good religious life but lived in wealth and comfort. Henry disliked the power of the Church in England because, since it was an international organization he could not completely control it.
In 1510 Henry had married Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his elder brother Arthur. But in 1526 she had still not had a son who survived infancy and was now unlikely to do so. Henry tried to persuade...