The Tudors

The Tudors remain one of the most distinguished royal dynasties in history. This monarchical period spanned 118 years (1485-1603) and contained rebellion, discord, and a continual fight for consolidation. 

The Tudors The Tudors

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Table of contents

    The Tudors Timeline

    The best way to get an overview of this long period of reign is by showing you a timeline. Below, you will find the key events during the Tudor dynasty.

    Table 1

    Date

    Event

    22 August 1485

    Henry VII became King of England.

    18 January 1486

    Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York.

    21 April 1509

    Henry VII dies.

    21 April 1509

    Henry VIII becomes King of England.

    1 June 1509

    Henry VIII marries Catherine of Aragon.

    23 May 1533

    Henry VIII annuls his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.

    3 November 1534

    Henry VIII becomes the head of the Church of England, and the English Reformation begins.

    28 January 1547

    Henry VIII dies.

    28 January 1547

    Edward VI becomes King of England and Ireland.

    6 July 1553

    Edward VI dies.

    July 1953

    Mary I becomes Queen of England and Ireland.

    25 July 1554

    Mary I marries Prince Phillip of Spain.

    7 November 1558

    Mary I dies.

    17 November 1558

    Elizabeth I becomes Queen of England and Ireland.

    24 March 1603

    Elizabeth I dies.

    The Tudor dynasty

    We can break down The Tudors into three distinct periods: the consolidation of the Tudor dynasty (1485-1547), the mid-Tudor crisis, and the triumph of Elizabeth I (1547-1603).

    The Tudors family tree

    Henry VII was the founder of the Tudor dynasty.

    The Tudors The Tudor family tree StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Tudor family tree, showing the monarch of England in red and the monarchs of Scotland in blue

    The consolidation of the Tudor dynasty

    The reigns of Henry VII (1485-1509) and Henry VIII (1509 -1547) were a constant fight to consolidate the Tudor dynasty against an onslaught of various rebellions. Politics, religion, and economics played a vital role in many of these rebellions and established the themes and causes for the early insecurity of the dynasty.

    Henry VII 1485- 1509

    Henry VII (also known as Henry Tudor) became the founder of the Tudor dynasty after successfully ending the ‘Wars of the Roses’ between the houses of Lancaster and York.

    The Tudors Portrait of Henry VII founder of the Tudor Dynasty StudySmarterFig. 2 - Portrait of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor Dynasty

    These two rival Plantagenet families fought for the throne for decades, with the opposite believing that they were the rightful heirs through King Edward III. The political period before the Tudor dynasty was violently unstable, with a cycle of civil wars (the Wars of the Roses).

    Henry successfully took the crown by winning the Battle of Bosworth (22 August 1485), executing Richard III (The Yorkist King), and ending the War of the Roses. Henry VII claimed the throne through the right of inheritance and the right of war. Henry VII then secured his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, the daughter of King Edward, on 18 January 1486.

    The House of Plantagenet refers to a line of British Kings from the Plantagenet Dynasty. This dynasty started with the accession of Henry II and ended with Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

    Did you know: In 2012, archaeological excavations took place at an inconspicuous Leicester car park as it was believed that Richard III was buried at the medieval Greyfriars Church that stood here in 1485. There was a body found and through DNA testing it was confirmed that the body belonged to Richard III. Due to the location of where his body was found, he has been dubbed 'the car park King'.

    The Tudors Portrait of Richard III StudySmarterFig. 3 - Portrait of Richard III, the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet Dynasty

    Why did Henry VII face so many rebellions?

    Even though Henry Tudor had managed to ascend to the crown, his place was far from secure. This was because many aristocratic families and political elites contested his right to the crown. This acted as one of the main catalysts for the rebellions during his rulership.

    The main problem for Henry VII was that his mother was of Lancastrian heritage. When Henry VII took the crown, he had no allegiance to the House of Lancaster and wanted to ascend to the throne and create his own house, The House of Tudors. However, many Yorkists felt aggrieved despite Henry’s lack of association to the Lancastrian house and his marriage to Elizabeth of York. This led to numerous rebellions.

    Henry VII also faced challenges during his rulership due to his taxation reforms. These were seen by many as unfair, and there were many tax strikes and rebellions during his leadership.

    Henry implemented a tax to raise money for foreign affairs, as he wanted to help Brittany, a small independent region of France. Henry VII wanted to consolidate his ties with the small nation to have military access to France if the need ever came.

    Rebellions under Henry VII

    As with any reign, rebellions also happened during the reign of Henry VII, namely:

    • Lord Lovel Rebellion, 1486.

    • The Stafford Uprising, 1486.

    • The Simnel Rebellion, 1486-1487.

    • Anti-Tax Riots, 1489.

    • The Cornish Rebellion, 1497.

    • Warbeck Rebellion, 1491.

    Henry VII’s legacy

    Henry VII continually struggled to keep the crown and kingdom from many aristocratic noblemen who felt aggrieved by his rulership. He faced political tension from the House of York, who continually attempted to undermine his rights to the kingdom. This was a greater threat than the economic issues concerning taxes.

    Historians argue that Henry VII’s rulership was dominated by political unrest stemming directly from the War of Roses. Henry VII’s rulership ended in 1509. Even though his kingship was largely focused on retaining the Tudor dynasty, the Tudor kingdom continued to be insecure after his death, but for very different reasons.

    Henry VIII 1509-1547

    Henry VIII is best known for his six tumultuous marriages; however, his rulership was also unstable. He was aged just 17 when he took the throne of England in April 1509, and during his time faced many issues like his father Henry VII. This time the main theme was religion, and to a lesser degree, economics.

    The Tudors Portrait of Henry VIII StudySmarterFig. 4 - Portrait of Henry VIII

    Anti-tax riots 1513 - 1525

    Henry VIII faced no initial challenges to the security of the dynasty but did face staunch opposition from the peasants and commoners.

    Although these tax protests did not become fully-fledged rebellions, they highlighted recurrent fiscal issues in the Tudor dynasty. Henry VIII appointed Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. Wolsey urged Henry VIII to reduce costs, as he believed the King and government were extravagant. Henry VIII did not follow this advice.

    Through English tax reformations between 1513–1523, Henry VIII’s parliament essentially forced poor people who could not pay taxes on their personal property to pay taxes on their wages.

    In addition, Wolsey introduced tax assessments based on land, income, and personal assets, and many people could not pay the high rates. This led to tax protests in Richmondshire and a tax strike in Craven and Yorkshire in 1513. This meant that by 1525, the English were unhappy with the government’s continued tax reforms and their unrealistic tax rates.

    The Amicable Grant disturbances 1525

    In 1525, Henry VIII introduced the Amicable Grant tax. This was a non-parliamentary tax to raise funds for his planned invasion of France, with which parliament would not agree.

    This tax was poorly received, and many people refused to pay in Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Warwickshire, and Huntingdonshire. In Sussex, it led to a full-blown rebellion. The rebellion was eventually crushed; however, Wolsey abandoned the tax due to the huge backlash that had occurred. As a direct result of Wolsey’s failures and the collapse of his reputation, Henry replaced Wolsey with Thomas Cromwell in 1530.

    These events negatively affected Henry VIII’s leadership and reduced his economic power, which meant that he had to abandon his European plans.

    The English Reformation

    The most important event during Henry VIII’s leadership was the English Reformation. The Church of England (CoE) broke away from the Pope and Catholicism and became its own entity.

    The beginnings of the tension between Rome and England traced back to Henry VII, who had promised his son Arthur to the Spanish Princess Catherine of Aragon. Unfortunately, Arthur died, and King Henry VII forced Prince Henry VIII to marry Catherine.

    Henry VIII was unhappy in his marriage because Catherine failed to produce a male heir. Instead, their marriage only produced Princess Mary I. Henry VIII insisted on the importance of a male heir and would stop at nothing to secure one. Consequently, Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn, and he requested this from Pope Clement VII. The Pope refused. Henry VIII decided to remove the Pope as the head of the church and appointed himself instead to grant his own divorce. This was a significant turning point in English religious history, as divorce was a mortal sin in Catholicism. Henry VIII had effectively undermined England’s religious sanctimony and moral foundation.

    Although Henry initially remained Catholic, the divide between the CoE and the Pope widened as Henry VIII implemented policies that reduced the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the money the CoE paid to the Pope. As a result, the Pope excommunicated Henry VIII, who pushed to reform the English church system. For instance, in 1534, Henry VIII passed an act that made him and all successive English monarchs answerable only to God.

    Thomas Cromwell became the chief leader of the Reformation. After his appointment, it became clear that the CoE was converting from Catholicism to Protestantism.

    Dissolution of smaller monasteries 1536

    The conversion from Catholicism led to the abolition of monasteries in 1536, an attempt by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell to raise money. This bill removed and dismantled Catholic priories, convents, and friaries in England, Ireland and Wales. Monasteries were a source of income for many people, and their dissolution increased unemployment. The revenue accrued from seizing and selling off these estates was given to the crown to fund Henry VIII’s military campaigns.

    The Lincolnshire Rising 1536

    After the dissolution of the small monasteries, it became clear to many English Catholics that the crown was attempting to force Protestantism on the masses. The Lincolnshire uprising ran from the 1st-4th of October and rallied around 40,000 people.

    Lincolnshire people protested against the changes implemented by the crown and Cromwell, insisting on their right to continue practising Catholicism. Henry VIII quashed the uprising and executed the two main leaders and other local leaders in the days following.

    Pilgrimage of Grace | Bigod’s Rising

    The Pilgrim of Grace protest was the most serious rebellion Henry VIII faced. Much like Lincolnshire, the cause of this rebellion was Henry VIII’s decision to sever from the Catholic church alongside a growing discontent with fiscal policies.

    The original rebellion in Lincolnshire, which started in early October, was a protest against the dissolution of monasteries. Henry VIII was able to quell this protest. However, a new rebellion was rising, led by Sir Robert Aske, a landowner and lawyer in Yorkshire. The rebels compiled a list of demands, the 24 articles, which requested a series of changes in the religious and economic realm. The government didn’t have sufficient forces to stop this takeover. This uprising began as a success and even led to Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, negotiating with the insurgents.

    However, in January 1537, Sir Francis Bigod, another rebel leader, organised a new protest in the East Riding of Yorkshire without Aske’s knowledge or permission. The Duke of Norfolk interpreted this as further defiance against the King and refused to renegotiate. As a result, Aske and Bigod were captured, convicted of treason, and executed alongside 250 supporters.

    Treason

    The crime of betraying one's country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.

    Reorganisation of the Council of the North

    Richard III created the Council of the North to respond to Northern discontent. The Council was re-established by Henry VIII in 1537 to help tackle resistance to the Reformation in the Northern territories. The Council was created as a direct response to the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Bigod Rebellion and targeted Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Durham, Cumberland, Westmorland, and Northumberland.

    Henry VIII’s Legacy

    Henry VIII’s accession was less tumultuous than his father’s – he faced no real opposition to his right to the throne. However, he did face the threat of religious and foreign instability after the English Reformation while avoiding outright rebellion. Henry VIII was also on a constant quest to raise funds for his various European missions, none of which he managed to initiate. This motivated many of his tax reforms and even the later stages of the English Reformation. The real impact of Henry VIII’s rulership only really came into effect after his death and played a pivotal role in the mid-Tudor crisis.

    The mid-Tudor crisis

    The mid-Tudor crisis refers to events during the leadership of Edward VI and Mary I.

    Edward VI 1547- 1553

    When Henry VIII died in 1547, he left his throne to his son Edward VI. He was just nine years old. Although Henry VIII had daughters of ruling age, Henry insisted on a male heir. He set out in his will that a regency court – a council of 16 men – should govern the land. Although he had stated that the council should rule by collective majority, they appointed Edward Seymour as their leader. Seymour was eventually executed in 1551 after this leadership was given to the Duke of Northumberland.

    The Tudors Portrait of Edward VI StudySmarterFig. 5 - Portrait of Edward VI

    Western Rebellion 1549

    During Edward’s reign, the CoE became increasingly Protestant. In 1549, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, disseminated The Book of Common Prayer. The prayer book emphasised Protestant religious practice. In addition to Anglicising religious scripts, new liturgical practices suppressed the practice of Catholicism. For example, many Catholic practices were outlawed, and church ceremonies changed from Latin to English. There were also economic causes. Cornwall and Devon were some of the poorest regions of England. This factor was important because the government had implemented a sheep tax that many people could not afford. This led to regionalised tension, underpinned by religious and economic grievances, culminating in the Western Rebellion.

    Liturgy

    a form of public worship

    This rebellion saw protestors from Devon and Cornwall occupy Exeter and demand an end to the Protestant reforms. It continued for five weeks but was eventually curtailed at the battles of Clyst St Mary and Sampford Courtenay in Devon, where around 4000 rebels were killed.

    Kett Rebellion 1549

    Religious discontent also caused this rebellion. Many people were deeply troubled by the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, but even more people were suffering economically. This was because the Tudor kingdom began to prohibit the use of common land for sheep grazing, and because of this, peasants and yeoman farmers now found it hard to survive.

    The rebellion started because Robert Kett, a wealthy landowner, decided to enclose his land. Local peasants rebelled, and as they pleaded with him to remove the enclosures, Kett decided to become the leader of the rebellion.

    Enclosure

    The acquisition of ‘common’ or ‘wasteland' by an English Landowner. This act would often impact commoners’ access to the lands, impinging on their rights to hunt, farm or carry out any other activity that would help their livelihood. Social historians McCloskey and Lindy have argued that riots in response to enclosure were ‘the pre-eminent form’ of social protest in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Under his leadership, they marched and gained thousands of supporters, managing to beat the first number of government troops sent to challenge them. However, after this victory, Henry VIII sent the Earl of Warwick, who defeated Kett’s army. Kett and other ringleaders were executed in Norfolk.

    Edward VI’s Legacy

    Edward VI’s reign did not last very long. He was terminally ill by the time he was 15 and died in 1553. Edward VI’s rule faced all of the repercussions of Henry VIII’s religious and economic decisions. This meant that by the end of his reign, the country was beginning to enter both a religious and economic crisis. Furthermore, his death resulted in a succession crisis (a recurring theme of the Tudor Dynasty) between Lady Jane Grey and his Catholic half-sister Mary.

    Mary I of England 1553–1558

    Just before the passing of Edward VI, the rightful heirs to the English crown were Mary Tudor or her younger sister Elizabeth. As the older sister, Mary was first in line for the throne.

    Mary and Elizabeth were Henry VIII’s children, and the half-sibling of Edward VI. Mary was Henry’s only surviving child from his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Many factions wanted to prevent her ascendancy to the crown.

    The Duke of Northumberland concocted a plan to prevent Mary from attaining the crown by crowning Lady Jane Grey. Being Catholic and a woman, Mary would have challenged the English Reformation and undermined the idea of maleness as a requirement to rule. Edward VI opted instead for Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane was Henry’s VII’s great-niece, Protestant, and daughter-in-law to the Duke of Northumberland. In response, Mary Tudor decided to fight back, and before long, she had gained a multitude of support. The Duke of Northumberland tried to stop Mary but lost the council’s support. The Duke surrendered just as Mary assembled her troops for battle, and Mary was proclaimed queen that July in 1553. She was the first woman to be proclaimed the Queen of England.

    Female Monarchs of England and Britain

    Did you know that Empress Matilda (1102 - 1167) should have been England’s first queen and female ruler? However, the crown was seized by her cousin Stephen of Blois after the death of her father, King Henry I of England.

    The Tudors Portrait of Mary I of England StudySmarterFig. 6 - Portrait of Mary I of England

    Mary I and religion

    Mary was a staunch Catholic. At the beginning of her reign, she did not impose Catholicism on the country but soon abandoned religious freedom and imprisoned Protestant churchmen. From this, parliament rescinded some of the religious policies Henry VIII had created, such as the Treason Acts.

    This was well received. However, things began to go wrong for Mary when she thought it best to reinstate papal supremacy. Although people did not mind returning to Catholic religious practices, they did not want to pay taxes to the Pope. Nor did many people want a return of the monasteries because the land seized during the dissolution had made them wealthy.

    Papal supremacy

    The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church: the Pope has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole church.

    In 1554, Mary I and Pope Julius III came to an agreement, and Catholicism was restored in England. The Heresy Acts were also re-established. Mary had re-established Catholicism as the religion of the land, making it a crime to vocalise Protestant opinions. Many Protestants fled to exile, but those who stayed were punished by death. Mary’s treatment of Protestants gave her the name “Bloody Mary”. During her five-year reign, Mary may have burnt over 300 religious dissenters at the stake.

    Heresy

    Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.

    Mary I of England and marriage

    Mary’s second ambition was to marry and bear an heir to the throne. As she was keen to strengthen her ties with the Pope and Spain, she arranged to marry Prince Phillip of Spain.

    When this proposed marriage became public knowledge, it created an atmosphere of discontent.

    The Wyatt Rebellion 1554

    Mary’s decision to marry Phillip antagonised a number of nobles and aristocracy. This discontent was the reason for the Wyatt Rebellion, although many historians argue that this was the sole reason. Sir Thomas Wyatt raised troops in Kent to protest Mary’s proposed marriage. These planned uprisings failed to materialise, and as a result, Wyatt was captured and executed.

    Mary I of England’s legacy

    In 1558 Mary died without an heir, just five years after taking the crown. This meant that the crown went to Elizabeth I, Mary’s half-sister.

    Mary’s reign was heavily focused on religious Reformation and returning the nation to Catholicism. Mary I of England’s rulership worsened England and Ireland’s religious landscape and further destabilised the kingdom’s political, economic, and foreign relations.

    The triumph of Elizabeth I

    Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603, and historians often regard this period as the best era of the Tudors. Her reign was characterised by outstanding achievements in art and literature. Elizabeth I forged religious stability and won the war against the Spanish Armada.

    Elizabeth I, who is also often referred to as the Virgin Queen, was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

    The Tudors Portrait of Elizabeth I StudySmarterFig. 7 - Portrait of Elizabeth I

    Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She wanted to eliminate the religious unrest and tension throughout the nation. Elizabeth re-established the Protestant church and made herself the supreme governor.

    Elizabeth I drafted the Elizabethan settlement to end this turmoil and bring an end to the English Reformation era. Although this was not 100% successful, it alleviated religious tension. The Elizabethan era is also known as the English Renaissance, and poetry, literature, and music flourished.

    Elizabeth I successfully defeated the Spanish Armada’s invasion in 1588, and England set out to colonise North America for the first time. England expanded internationally through expeditions and commercial relations. Elizabeth’s reign saw the era of the Transatlantic slave trade begin, bringing enormous financial benefits to the country.

    Transatlantic Slave Trade

    The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history. African people were sold, captured and enslaved by slave traders and transported to the Americas. However, before humans were traded, the transatlantic trade referred to European nations’ trade routes for mercantile trade.

    Elizabeth I faced issues with her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. She imprisoned Mary and eventually executed her. She had been under pressure to make Mary next in succession for the throne, even though Mary had made plans with France to overthrow or kill Elizabeth. Elizabeth I also had problems with her rulership over Ireland and faced many uprisings due to the English plantation system.

    The Tudors Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots StudySmarterFig. 8 - Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots

    Elizabeth I’s Legacy

    Elizabeth I’s legacy is one of triumph. In just a few short years, she managed to rectify decades worth of monarchical issues, restoring the value of England’s currency by boosting international trade and commerce and ending religious turmoil by establishing a national church. The nation became stable. She restored England’s reputation internationally by defeating the Spanish Armada.

    Elizabeth failed to marry and produce children, so her death ended the Tudor dynasty.

    The Tudors - Key takeaways

    • The era of the Tudors started with Henry VII winning the Bosworth War as the Lancastrian side. He defeated Richard III and was crowned by “God’s wish”.
    • Henry VII faced conspiracy and rebellion from The House of Yorks, who felt he didn’t deserve the crown.
    • When Henry VII died, Prince Henry VIII was crowned King. Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, Princess of Spain, a few months later. This was to maintain peace with Spain.
    • Henry VIII wasn’t good with finances. He spent a lot of money on expensive pursuits and was advised by Thomas Cromwell to reduce expenditure. As a solution, Henry raised taxes, which negatively impacted many people and led to riots.
    • Henry became the head of the English Church, founding the Church of England during what is known as the English Reformation. The Pope wouldn’t permit Henry to divorce; Henry VIII was determined to produce a male heir as his successor.
    • After Henry VIII’s death, his only son Edward VI was crowned but could not rule due to his age. A royal council elected Lord protectors to lead until Edward reached maturity.
    • Under Edward VI, England officially became a Protestant country. The common prayer book was launched, which made English the official language of the church services.
    • Edward VI placed Jane Grey as his heir after influences from the Duke of Northumberland. His sister, Mary, the next in succession, fought to be recognised as Queen of England and successfully usurped Lady Jane Gray.
    • Queen Mary, I was crowned. She rescued both Catholicism and England’s relationship with Rome. Many Protestants were persecuted and burnt for heresy, and Mary I was awarded the nickname ‘Bloody Mary.’
    • Mary failed to produce an heir to the throne, which meant Elizabeth I became queen when she died.
    • Elizabeth I ruled for 44 years, and her era is often considered the best of the Tudor period. Elizabeth managed to quell the religious tensions that had begun decades earlier with the English Reformation, and English culture flourished.

    References

    1. Fig. 1 - The Tudor family tree (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:House_of_Tudor.png) by Wdcf (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Wdcf&action=edit&redlink=1) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about The Tudors

    Who were the Tudors?

    The Tudors were a Welsh-England family of monarchs who ruled England and Wales for 118 years from 1485-1603.

    How did the Tudors get to the throne?

    The Tudor Dynasty began when Henry VII won the Bosworth war in 1485 by defeating Richard III.

    What was England like in Tudor times?

     The country was agricultural – most of the population lived in the countryside. 

    What is Henry VIII known for?

    Henry is known for establishing the Church of England making himself the Head of Church (The Reformation). He also famously had six wives.

    Are there any Tudors alive today?

    No.

    Was Queen Elizabeth I related to Anne Boleyn?

    Yes, she was Anne Boleyn’s only daughter.

    What are the Tudors famous for?

    The Tudors are most famous for Henry VIII's creation of the Church of England.

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    Who was the first Queen of England?

    Which Tudor period is considered the best?

    How long did the Tudor dynasty last?

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