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

By G. R. Elton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE PRIVY COUNCIL

It has already been shown how the small official council of Richard II developed into the magnates' council of Henry IV and Henry V, how it collapsed in the Wars of the Roses, and how Edward IV and Henry VII restored an earlier type of council -- a fluid and indeterminate body of advisers and executive servants from which all elements of opposition were carefully excluded. Within that body there was an inner ring of more confidential councillors, and this inner ring assumed some permanence and institutional organization in the first years of Henry VIII. Wolsey, however, interrupted what promised to be the growth of a more restricted and more powerful council than any seen since the Lancastrian failure, and during his rule conciliar activity concentrated on the judicial business transacted in the public sessions held in the star chamber. The small council attendant on the king, the potential makers of policy and controllers of the administration, ceased to play any part in affairs; indeed, for all practical purposes they ceased to exist. On the other hand, the characteristic government of the later Tudors was the privy council, an organized board of -- normally -- less than twenty members, most of them leading officers of state and household, travelling with the sovereign and meeting very nearly every day. It concerned itself not only with the traditional conciliar duty of advising the crown on matters of policy, but attended in detail to executive and administrative matters which it usually debated and decided as a body and not necessarily with reference to the king (or queen) who were, in fact, potential rather than permanent heads of their privy councils. Elizabeth never attended its meetings.1 Although most of the medieval council's judicial work devolved upon the court of star chamber, the privy council retained a proportion of it -- either work of importance to nation or king, or work pressed upon it by suitors who saw in it their best hope of rapid and con

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1
J. B. Black, The Reign of Elizabeth ( Oxford, 1936), 170.

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