& social reform;
the final years
The Tudor Revolution in Government.
Thomas Cromwell never became as personally wealthy and powerful as
Cardinal Wolsey, but he had much more influence on government because
of the administrative changes that he instituted during the 1530s.
Thomas Cromwell aimed at creating a bureaucracy that could administer
the whole of England in both secular and religious matters. He aimed
at uniform standards, the suppression of privileged jurisdictions, and
increased central control. These objectives were carried out through:
destruction of liberties and franchises
1540: sanctuary was abolished for most serious
1536: the jurisdictional exemptions of areas such as
Ely and Chester were ended.
Efforts to incorporate Wales, Calais, and (some of)
Ireland into the English system;
1536: Welsh local customary law was abolished and
replaced by English common law
Over the following years,
Wales was organized into shires on the
1536: Calais reorganized.
1536-7: After the Pilgrimage of Grace, Cromwell
Council of the North, and undermined the influence of local
Translation of Royal Supremacy over
the church into reality by the subjection of bishops to the King (acting through
his vicegerent Cromwell);|
1535: Cromwell used his power as vicegerent in spirituals
to make the Royal Supremacy a reality. He suspended non-compliant
bishops and controlled ecclesiastical appointments.
Institution of new departments of state to deal with
both new and old revenues and powers of crown. Moreover, these
institutions increasingly acted according to formalized rules, not informally
or subjectively as had often been the case in the Middle Ages;
Cromwell reduced power of the Chamber and cut its links with
He set up new courts to deal with revenue: these courts
were put on a formal bureaucratic footing;
Court of First
fruits and tenths (1540)
Court of Wards (1540)
of General Surveyors (1542; this dealt with established crown
lands). Other revenues were administered
by two older courts - Duchy of Lancaster (Lancaster estates);
Exchequer (customs, fines, taxes).
Reduction in size of the Privy Council, which acquired its own clerk
and minute book to document and detail decisions
1534-6: Privy Council reduced in size to 19 members
(and these were almost entirely officeholders - not old nobility).
1540: clerk appointed to record Privy Council
extension of the power of the Secretaryship.
Throughout the 1530s, Thomas Cromwell increased the
power of this office. It became accepted that the Secretary could
intervene in all aspects of government. In the second half of the 16th
century, William and Robert Cecil, and Sir Francis Walsingham
continued to use the Secretaryship as the basis for controlling
The subordination of all other
institutions to the King in Parliament.
Cromwell set up a unitary realm, all parts of which were subordinate to
The doctrine became accepted that all law (except the law of God
and nature) could be changed by Parliament; (canon law had earlier
been seen as separate and equal
to statute; now it was subordinate to it - canon law was deemed invalid if contradicted English
customs or statute.)
was also deemed superior to English customary law (common
law): it had earlier been held that disputes on who owned what land
should always be tried at common law by jury; but the Acts dissolving
the monasteries said that
statute could definitively resolve land disputes without a jury.
Acts of the Reformation
Parliament indicated that King-in-Parliament could change law on the
government of the church, and the doctrine developed
that King-in-Parliament could change anything. It remained unclear how
much the King could do without the other two houses of Parliament.
It is unquestionable that Parliament increased in importance
and prestige during
belief that there was a 'Tudor Revolution in Government' has been
criticized since Geoffrey Elton formulated the theory in 1953.
Many of Cromwell's institutional reforms were
ineffective or temporary.
The Privy Council again expanded in size under
Edward VI and Mary.
The Secretaryship was never again as important as
it had been under Cromwell, and arguably only Henry VIII's personal
favor (not institutional power) made it significant then.
However, massive and lasting changes did
result from Cromwell's period in power.
It led to increased unity of the realm, governed by one law,
administered by officials directly accountable to the King, and regulated by
passed in Parliament.
Parliament did became an institution of enormous importance.
Elton may have exaggerated the extent of bureaucratization
- government was still very personal under Cromwell and later - but he
was right to emphasize the crucial importance of
changes in the 1530s.
Cromwell followed current ideas in
attempting to prevent rural depopulation. An Act of 1534 limited the
number of sheep that anyone could own to 2,400. A 1536 Act was
directed against enclosure.
Cromwell sponsored legislation to
improve the quality of cloth: the 25% increase in cloth
exports 1533-34 may have been connected to government efforts.
Cromwell tried to combat rising prices by
laws setting an upper limit on the price of many goods including meat
and wine; but it proved impossible to enforce these limits - in the
case of meat at least.
In 1536, Cromwell proposed an
ambitious scheme for poor relief. It was based on the idea that the
able-bodied should be employed on public projects (such as road and
bridge building), while the infirm were supported from charitable
contributions. Unfortunately, he wanted to finance the scheme by an
income tax, so Parliament rejected it.
Cromwell's ambitious schemes for social reform
collapsed in practice because the Tudor state was
dependent on the voluntary cooperation of local gentlemen who
were unconvinced by the benefits of his reforms.
The last years of Henry VIII
declining years witnessed faction at court, the renewal of war with
France and nascent economic decline caused by the Great
The ever changing
fortunes of the various factions at court suggest that Henry was
deteriorating mentally as well as physically during the 1540s.
In 1540, Henry married Catherine Howard, but when Archbishop Cranmer
supplied him with evidence of her unchastity, she was executed (1542).
1543, Henry temporarily imprisoned Cranmer himself for heresy, but
then let him go free.
1544, Henry ordered the arrest of Stephen Gardiner but then pardoned him.
1546, Henry arrested the Duke of Norfolk and his son
Henry Howard Earl of Surrey. He executed
Surrey, but died before he could execute Norfolk (or change his mind
again). Gardiner fell from favor after he refused to exchange some lands with
the king; Henry's will omitted him from the list of names of councillors who
were to govern for young Edward VI.
1547, Edward Seymour (Edward VI's uncle) was in the ascendant when
Henry died, and so positioned to grasp power.
went to war with Scotland in 1542 and with France in 1544.
The English army won a major victory at Solway Moss
(November 1542). Many Scottish nobles were captured.
As the price of their release they agreed in the Treaty of Greenwich
(1543) to the virtual subjection of
Scotland to England by a marriage between Henry's son, Edward and the
French aid emboldened the Scottish to resist these
marriage plans and to renege on their earlier commitments. The war in
Scotland was directed at breaking the power of the "French party" (led
by Cardinal Beaton and Mary of Guise/Lorraine, James V's wife), and at
persuading the Scottish to agree to the planned marriage.
was therefore known as the "rough wooing".
The invasions of 1544 and
1545 were led by Edward Seymour (Earl of Hertford; later Duke
of Somerset). Seymour captured Edinburgh (1544) and Cardinal Beaton was
murdered 29 May 1546, but the English were unable to reduce Scotland to
Henry invaded France in 1544, carried in a litter at the head of an
army of 40,000.
The French attempted to invade England, but were defeated in 1545, by
the Lord Admiral John Dudley, Viscount Lisle (later Duke of
The great English battle ship, the Mary
Rose, sank during this campaign.
The only achievement of the French war was the capture of
Boulogne, but in the
Peace of Ardres
1546, Henry agreed to sell the town back in eight years time.
The wars were extremely expensive and achieved almost nothing. Indeed, arguably
Henry only strengthened the hand of the French in Scotland.
wars cost over £3 million. In order to pay for them, Henry had to sell
off much of the monastic land he had acquired, and to tax at an
unprecedentedly high rate.
He also began to debase the coinage from about 1542 onwards -
that is, to mix base metals with the silver that was used for most
English coins. Soon the silver coins were almost entirely copper, and
Henry himself became know as "old coppernose" from the appearance of
his portrait on the coins.
This expedient allowed the government to buy what it needed but soon
led to rapid inflation - as people lost faith in the value of the
currency and hoarded their old silver coins.
"Bad money drives out good"
Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79) gave early expression to the
when depreciated or debased coinage is in
concurrent circulation with money of high value in terms of
precious metals, the good money is withdrawn from circulation
Henry's debasement also made foreign goods far more expensive, as
traders on the Continent refused to accept worthless copper for their
The disruptive effects of debasement continued for many years, until
Mary began a partial recoinage that was completed by Elizabeth.