The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign of Henry VIII

By G. R. Elton | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER II
THE BUREAUCRAT MINISTER

1. Henry VIII and his ministers

Before the administrative revolution can be studied, it is desirable to penetrate, as far as possible, into the mind and method of the man who presided over its beginnings, and before that can be done we must try to decide who that man was. In the first place, it will help if we collect here such evidence as there is on the relative importance in these matters of the king and his servants. As has been pointed out several times already, the fact that Henry VIII was not a business- like king who would attend personally to the dull routine of government greatly assisted the rise of Wolsey, but it is not uncommonly assumed that after Wolsey's fall the king turned over a new leaf and became his own prime minister. That is a large guess which there is little to support. Not even Wolsey could, or tried to, govern in defiance of the king or without consulting his wishes, a point which might be illustrated at length from such major issues as the cases of Richard Hunne and Friar Standish down to little details like Henry's displeasure at the meagre communication between Wolsey and ambassadors abroad,1 or his annoyed surprise at the inclusion of Sir Thomas Lovell in an enquiry where he would not, in the king's opinion, be impartial.2 Very wisely, and in a manner which contradicts the idea that until 1529 Henry was a child in affairs, he wished younger men to take over and be properly instructed as the tried councillors grew old.3 Henry VIII was never totally aloof from the business of government. He had all the remarkable mental powers hereditary in his family, and neither Wolsey nor anyone else ever held him in the hollow of their hands. It is possible, indeed it is likely, that he spent a greater part of the day on matters of government after the cardinal's fall, but he was never out of things at any

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1
L.P. II. 4673. Wolsey seems to have succeeded in shifting the blame on to wind and weather (ibid.4680).
2
L.P. III. 1437.

-66-

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