GOVERNMENT IN CHURCH AND STATE
Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley,
Elizabeth I's most important Privy Councillor
I. The Privy Council
The Privy Council was a body of about thirteen
officials which gave advice to, and implemented the decisions of, the
monarch in governing England.
initiated much, though not all legislation. Many of them sat in
parliament and pushed through the laws that they had drafted.
Another quasi-legislative function of
monarch and Privy Council was issuing proclamations - decrees
covering all aspects of administration.
The Privy Council
could act as a court of law; as Star Chamber, it often dealt
with cases involving public disturbances or riots.
Sitting as the Court of Requests, the Privy Council
heard the complaints of people who were too poor to afford the fees
and delays of regular courts.
Parliament consisted of the Monarch, the House of Lords and the
House of Commons. The consent of all three was required to make law.
Even after a piece of legislation had been passed by both Houses,
the monarch could stop it becoming law by a personal veto.
The Monarch summoned
the Houses of Parliament and could prorogue (temporarily suspend) or
dissolve Parliament at will.
appointed Bishops and created peers, and so had a more direct
influence on the composition of the House of Lords than of the House of
could make law and levy taxes. Parliament could
impeach royal officials.
The House of Commons
was made up of:
(i) Knights of the shire - each county sent two representatives
(ii) borough members - many towns (and a few villages) had acquired the right to
elect MPs (Members of Parliament).
Today the British
House of Commons has 650 MPs representing a population of 55
million; in 1600 there were 400 representing a population of 4
III. Prerogative powers
without showing cause
IV. The Civil
In order to be
valid, royal orders had to be stamped by one of three seals:
Great Seal (held by the Lord Chancellor/Lord Keeper)
Privy Seal (held by the Lord Privy Seal)
by the Secretary)
The Lord Chancellor
presided over the House of Lords.
Chancery was a court of law as well as part of the English
likewise both a state department (looking after royal finances) and a law court
(dealing with cases involving royal money). The
Lord Treasurer was the monarch's chief financial officer. Increasingly during
the sixteenth century, the top bureaucrats were drawn (not from
clergy or nobility but) from gentry or sometimes even lower down the
social scale. The central
civil service was small - only approximately 1,000 officials.
The monarch's will was made known in the localities through Assize
Judges who visited towns throughout the country to try cases and
communicate royal policy.
The main central courts
were King's/Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, and the Exchequer.
Sheriffs and Justices
of the Peace
The basic unit of local government was
the county (or shire).
|At the beginning of the Tudor period three
localities - the Palatinate of Durham, the Isle of
Ely and the County Palatine of
Chester - had special local
powers and privileges, but these were largely abolished in the
early sixteenth century
Local government was
administered by Justices of the Peace - unpaid local gentlemen who
maintained law and order in the localities, as well as enforcing royal policy.
alone, a single Justice of the Peace could imprison offenders; acting
together, in quarter-sessions (four times each year),
Justices of the Peace could impose
the death penalty on criminals.
England, the sheriff had been the most important official in the shire
but by the 15th century, his powers were limited to executing judicial
writs, administering the county jail, and supervising elections to
VI. The Church
Everyone in Tudor and Stuart England was subject
to the Church. Everyone was obliged to pay for the support of their
local clergyman. The church courts summoned and punished people for a
variety of offences - for instance, fornication, adultery, failure to
attend church, and malicious gossip.
The Church Courts' main penalty was
excommunication. This not only involved exclusion from church
services, but carried serious civil liabilities, such as not being
able to plead in court.
were handed over to civil authorities for burning.
person burnt for heresy in England was Edward Wightman in 1612
Blessed with a captive
audience each week, the clergy were also the Monarch's main propaganda
England was divided into approx 10,000 local
parishes; these were partly administrative units (for example, poor relief
was organized on
a parish level) but mainly their functions were ecclesiastical.
The minister (or
priest) of the parish
was the rector or vicar. Sometimes a deputy - or curate
- conducted the services on his behalf.
Higher church officers included
archdeacons, deans, and - at the top of the scale - 21 (later 26)
bishops; each bishop controlled a diocese from a cathedral
There were two
English Archbishops - of Canterbury and of York - who led the
two archdioceses of England.