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TUDOR ENGLANDBACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

A) Society

During the Tudor period England was mostly rural. The south was more densely
populated than the north, although some towns like Newcastle, York and Hull were
comparatively big cities.
Throughout the Tudor period there was growing urbanisation.
o 1500: 6% of population lived in cities
o 1700: 15% of population lived in cities
The population also grew steadily throughout the Tudor period. Until the Black Death
of 1348, the population had been growing in England. The Plague cut the population
between about one third and one half, and it remained low until the end of the 15 th
century due to other diseases, bad harvests, etc. However, it began to grow at the
end of the 15th century and through the 16th. This was due to:
o Good harvests
o No major famine, war or disease
o General encouragement to marry younger and produce more children

CONSEQUENCES:

A growing population = a younger population


More larger families had some severe impacts on society:
o The poor were pushed into poverty
o Wealthy families also had more children. This meant there were more second
sons looking for land due to primogeniture.

PRIMOGENITURE:
SOCIAL STRUCTURE IN 16TH CENTURY ENGLAND:
English society was very strictly ordered. Almost all people accepted the idea that society
had been ordered by God in a specific and hierarchical manner in order to preserve order
and peace. This ordering of society was known as the Great Chain of Being:
The Great Chain of Being:
God

Angels

King

Nobility

Gentry

Commoners

Animals

Plants

Rocks

Peoples ranks (nobility, gentry, commonerand all the sub-divisions in between) were
distinguished by many different things: title (Lord, Duke, Sir, etc.), income, occupation (job),
lifestyle, manners, etc.
To clarify distinctions between the ranks the Sumptuary Laws were passed. These regulated
things like the colour and fabric different groups were allowed to wear. Such laws demonstrate
the importance of rank in 16th century society.
The growth of the society made lines between the ranks more blurred. For example,
tradesmens wealth increased, who thus began to behave more like the gentry.
The Gentry:
The gentry were hard to define. They fell somewhere between titled nobility and tenant
farmers or small landholders.

Defined more by personal wealth than by title, occupation, etc.


o The gentry typically did not need to work for a living

B) Government
In the 15th century, government was an extremely personal affair, run by the King himself and his
advisors. This remained largely the same throughout the 16th century. The king mostly ruled
through decrees and proclamations. Monarchs reigned by divine rightthe belief that God had
chosen that monarch to rule, and thus their choices represented the will of God on Earth. This
made it a very serious crime indeed for people to disobey or speak against the monarch.

Royal Court: This was a slightly nebulous organisation. It was not based in any one
location, nor with any consistent group of people. Rather, the Royal Court went

wherever the king or queen went, and consisted of whoever at a particular time
was chosen to accompany him or her. It consisted of hundreds of people: courtiers,
scholars, advisors, artists, and servants. The Royal Council and Privy Council were
all part of the Royal Court.
o Below the stairsWhere the kitchens, scullery, buttery, etc. were located
and the servants resided.
o Above the stairsThe politically significant part of the royal household.

Great Chamber: The centre of patronage and communication


between the king and ministers and other gentry. This was made up
of important ministers, such as the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Privy
Seal etc. They met regularly to deal with matters of government, etc.

Privy Chamber: The private area of the Kings household. It allowed


kings to distance themselves from the hubbub of the Court. This
gained importance under Henry VIII. It became very politically
important. The key to the importance of the Privy Chamber was the
intimacy it allowed with the king.

Royal Council: A group made up of the kings most trusted supporters. This was
akin to todays Cabinet in the government. Ministers of the Royal Council gave
advice and took on some of the day-to-day tasks of government.
Parliament: had a very minor role. Only convened on the order of the monarch,
for as long as the monarch wished it to remain in session. Passed laws and allowed
extra taxes.
Star Chamber: Responsible for prosecuting anyone who behaved in a rebellious or
lawless manner.
o This was run by members of the Royal Councilthose who were highest of
rank and closest to the kingand therefore the most powerful.
Council Learned in Law: Used mostly under Henry VII (1485-1509). This was an
offshoot of the main Royal Council. All members had legal training (hence the
name) and acted as investigators and judges when noblemen did not pay their dues
to the Crown. It primarily controlled financial matters relating to Crown lands.
Because of this, the leading figures of the council were generally hated and
feared.

Key concepts:

PATRONAGE: The giving of jobs and offices to another as a reward or a show of


gratitude. By giving titles, land, offices, etc. the king could also bind people into
royal service. Patronage was very important in building and maintaining the loyalty
of the nobility.

FACTIONS/FACTIONALISM: Factions were groups of ambitious courtiers who


clustered around powerful nobles and ministers with the view to getting closer to
the King (for example, Wolsey would have a group of friends and followers who
would try to use his influence to get their way or become friends with Henry VIII.

Other important nobles or members of the Council would have their own factions).
Rivalry developed between different groups (factions).

PAGEANTRY: Pageantry means being surrounded by splendour and ceremony. The


grandeur of the court was necessary to preserve the royal image and prestige of
the Crown within England and abroad.

C) Economy
The English economy underwent some significant changes throughout the 16 th century.
However, the following aspects were typical of the time:

England was still a largely feudal economy. This meant wealth and power primarily
revolved around land ownership, and rights conferred by that. Lords gave land and
privileges to knights, who pledged service in turn to lords, and so on down a
specific hierarchical chain.
Farming was the main occupation for people in the country
o Poorer farmers rented a house and land from the lord and farmed to support
their family and to pay rent.
Nearby farms supplied food to larger towns
The Open Field System was often used
Woodland farming also important
Many families engaged in spinning, weaving, etc., cheese making, leather tanning,
etc. in addition to farming.

One of the major changes to the economy during the Tudor period was the growth of the
woollen industry and the subsequent enclosures it caused.

80% of Englands exports were in cloth, mainly to the Netherlands but also to
Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Venice
The Crown encouraged the woollen industry, as it brought greater wealth and
trade to the country
o This created tensions in the Tudor government. The government wanted to
maximise the wool industry but not to cause too much unrest by disrupting
arable farming and tradition.
To create more space for sheep to graze, and to ensure that they grazed without
interference from other animals and ate the right plants, landlords began to close
off areas of land with fences, hedges or ditches. This practice was called
Enclosure.
o Enclosure enabled farmers to grow food/pasture animals more efficiently
o However, it often resulted in tenants being evicted from their houses, losing
land they had traditionally farmed, or common land being closed off from
communal use.
Common lands had provided people with timber for fire and building,
a place to graze livestock if they did not have enough land of their
own, a place to walk for pleasure, hunting and fishing, gathering of
berries and other foods, etc.

Another key area of change during the Tudor period was the expansion of international
trade due to the conquest of the Americas and exploration in Asia.

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