Henry VII, who came to the English
throne when the War of Roses ended, was the first king of Tudor
dynasty. During his reign he turned England into a strong modern
state which he administered like a business man. He got royal
land back from the Church and confiscated the lands of nobles
who had been defeated or had died in recent war. He avoided
war since it was too expensive. He began to choose his ministers
among the town middle classes and the country gentry. Henry's
foreign policy aimed at making England's trading position stronger
with Trade agreements and dynastic marriages. He also laid the
foundations of English naval power so that England could have
its own merchant fleet as well increase its military strength.
Henry died in 1509. The Tudor dynasty was set to play an important
role in world affairs.
When he succeeded his father,
Henry VIII was only 18. He was a typical Renaissance prince who
maintained a magnificent court. He was more ambitious than his
father and spent money on warships and guns, making the English
fighting fleet the best in Europe. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey refused
to follow the king on the road to Reformation.
As a young man, he had been married by special dispensation to
Catherine of Aragon, who some years later had given him a daughter,
Mary, but she couldn't give him a son. He had fallen in love with
Anne Boleyn and asked the Pope a divorce in order to marry her.
When the Pope refused, he broke with Rome and declared himself
"Supreme Head of the Church" . Clearly another victim
of Henry's policy was the Church, whose lands and monasteries
came under the power of English state. In breaking with Rome,
Henry VIII had not intended to transform England into a Protestant
country because he didn't approve of the ideas of Martin Luther.
In 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed and the king married Jane Seymour.
Cromwell wanted Henry to marry another Protestant, Anne of Cleves.
Henry married her but soon divorced to marry Catherine Howard,
his last wife. The last year of Henry's life were dangerous and
many were afraid of a return to the disorders of a civil war.
Edward VI, the son of Jane Seymour, made Protestant doctrine more
fully accepted. On his death, Mary I succeeded him and under her
reign there was a severe Catholic reaction: Protestant were persecuted.
When she died, in 1558, her half sister, Elisabeth (Anna Boleyn'
daughter) became queen of a divided nation, the majority of which
was anti - Catholic and anti - Spanish.
When Elizabeth I came to the
throne, she was 25. She had a strong personality, a lively intelligence
and a fiery temper. After 20 years of religious discord, economic
depression and social upheaval the country needed order and harmony,
and this is what it got. Her most pressing problem was to solve
the religious question. A modest Protestant with no strong religious
views, the queen tried to made a middle course, and her Act of
Supremacy and Uniformity formed the basis of the successful Elizabethan
In an age when assassination was all to common, the existence
of Protestant England depended on Elizabeth's life, since the
heir to throne was her cousin Mary Stuart, Catholic queen of Scots.
Mary married the Catholic Lord Darnley who was murdered and shortly
afterwards Mary married her husband's murderer. This conduct was
immoral and she had to go to England and she asked Elizabeth for
protection. However, this didn't prevent her from plotting against
the queen who executed her in 1587. Elizabeth recognised Spain
as her main trade rival and enemy, but she couldn't open war.
So she engaged Hawkins and Raleight and the capture the Spanish
treasure ships. Philip of Spain was left with no alternative but
a frontal assault. However the Spanish armada was defeated. The
remaining years of the queen's life paved the way to the struggle
between Parliament and the Crown.
With the death of Elizabeth
I in 1603, the Tudor line died out and James I of Scotland, son
of Mary, became the first king of Stuart dynasty in England.
He was Protestant, unlike his mother, he was a learned man who
wrote in Latin and English . Instead of basing his rule on "the
love of his people", he based it on the theory of "
divine right of king", in the belief that, as a monarch,
he was the representative of God. Like the Tudors, he worked with
small councils of ministers, rather than with Parliament; but
he didn't have the money and the power of Tudors. He summoned
Parliament only to ask for money. James surrounded himself with
Scottish favourites and his court was disreputable.
As in the early age of Elizabeth's reign religion was the most
urgent problem of the reign: Catholics were fined if they refused
to attend the Church of England and the Puritans disapproved the
rites and bishop of the Church of England. Those ministers who
refused to use the prayer-book or to accept the authority of bishops
were removed and many of them went to Holland or America. When
the Catholics understood that the king would favour them no more
than the Puritans, they started plotting to get rid of him but
the plot was discovered in time. The great ambition of James I
was to be a pacemaker, largely because war was expensive and would
make him dependent on Parliament. England power declined because
the king neglected the navy and pursued a vacillating foreign
policy. Great progress was made in English settlement overseas.
The Pilgrim Fathers left England for America on the Mayflowers
and founded New Plymouth.