Tudor Dynasty


Tudor Dynasty
   Ruling family of England from the accession of King Henry VII in 1485 to the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Henry Tudor in 1485 claimed the throne by right of descent from the Lancastrian branch of the English ruling family, but in reality he be-came king because of his victory over the last Yorkist king, Richard III, in the battle of Bosworth, which marks the end of the Wars of the Roses. Henry's hereditary claim was weak, both because the Lancas-trian claim itself was inferior to the claim of the Yorkists and because his own line of descent from the last undisputed English king, Edward III (1327-1377), was shadowed by a possibly illegal marriage. He took steps to strengthen this claim by marrying Elizabeth of York, the eldest surviving child of King Edward IV. Thus while Henry's own claim to the throne might be disputed, he ensured that his children, de-scended from Edward III through the Yorkist ancestry of their mother and also through his own more disputable Lancastrian descent, would have an unimpeachable hereditary title. Henry VII kept the throne not because of his hereditary claim or even his military victory but be-cause of his political ability. A shrewd, cautious, and determined man, he took steps to weaken the great aristocratic clans who had run riot during the Wars of the Roses and to strengthen his own personal and institutional power as king. He also managed royal finances so care-fully that he soon had a sound financial basis for his government.
   By the time of his death in 1509, Henry VII left his son Henry VIII the sound political and fiscal foundations that made the second Tudor a far more impressive figure at home and abroad than his fa-ther had been. Henry VIII's ambitious foreign policy and wars eroded the monarchy's fiscal basis but did not destroy it, thanks in part to the confiscation of monastic properties that he carried out in the 1530s. Henry VIII's reign is noted mainly for a religious policy that marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in England. His per-sonal life is notorious for his complicated marital history, which pro-duced direct conflict with the papacy and led to his first moves to-ward religious change, beginning with his abolition of the authority of the popes over the church in England. Henry's theological tradi-tionalism acted as a restraint on those of his advisers who wanted to move the English church closer to Continental Protestant doctrines and practices.
   At Henry VIII's death in 1547, his son Edward VI was still a mi-nor. The king's uncles, first the duke of Somerset and then Somerset's rival, the duke of Northumberland, set the country on an openly Protestant religious path. Edward VI, however, died in 1553 at age 15 and was succeeded by his half-sister Mary I (1553-1558), the elder of Henry VIII's two daughters. Despite the growth of a strong Protes-tant movement among the educated classes under Edward, the nation was still largely Catholic (or at least not firmly Protestant) in 1553.
   Mary quickly gained control of the country and executed the ring-leaders of a plot to keep her from the throne. Her most urgent goal was to restore the Roman Catholic religion in England, and in the short run, she was successful. Many of the leading Protestants fled into exile. Mary carried through Parliament the legislation restoring England's allegiance to the papacy and reversing the religious poli-cies of her brother and her father, though she was not strong enough to undo the vast tranfers of landed property from the suppressed monasteries into the hands of powerful aristocratic families.
   Mary tried to strengthen her position by marrying King Philip II of Spain, who became king consort but was not given any continuing political authority if his wife died without children. Mary's effort to enforce Catholic orthodoxy involved a level of religious persecution that gave her an evil reputation among later English Protestants though it was not particularly bloody by the standards of the 16th century. Her greatest mistake in these persecutions occurred when she passed from the early executions of Henry VIII's archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and several other Protestant bishops to her later policy of hunting out and executing heretics among the com-mon people.
   When Mary died in November 1558 without children, the throne passed to her younger sister Elizabeth I, who was not a fanatical Protestant but whose personal religious preferences and political af-filiations favored a slightly more moderate restoration of the openly Protestant policy of Edward VI's reign. Elizabeth was by far the greatest of the Tudor monarchs, having much of the tough political realism of her grandfather Henry VII and showing great skill in choosing loyal and effective statesmen to administer the realm. Un-der her, England, which had been politically weak and militarily hu-miliated during the short reigns of Edward and Mary, played a major role in international politics and in 1588 defeated the naval expedi-tion, the Armada, sent by Philip II of Spain to conquer England. Eliz-abeth's greatest failure was her refusal to marry. At her death in 1603, the Tudor dynasty came to an end and the crown passed into the ea-ger hands of King James VI of Scotland, descended from a daughter of the first Tudor king, Henry VII.
   Under the Tudors, English culture was strongly affected by Re-naissance influences coming directly from Italy and indirectly through France and the Netherlands. Henry VII, a tight-fisted ruler with little munificence in his soul, made a few moves toward royal patronage of the new trend; his son Henry VIII was more supportive of the new culture but was too preoccupied by foreign wars and other po-litical interests to become an active patron of Renaissance art and liter-ature. Edward VI and Mary I both reigned for too short a time to have much impact on English culture, except for the spread of Protestant re-ligious beliefs among the educated classes in Edward's time. Eliza-beth's cultural role was more important. Though she herself was not particularly generous to the arts and humanistic learning, she had re-ceived an excellent humanistic education and gathered about her a cir-cle of courtiers who became patrons of the new culture, especially in the fields of poetry and drama. Thus the English Renaissance reached its peak much later than the Italian, flowering mainly during the reign of Elizabeth and her first Stuart successor, James I (1603-1625).

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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