The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558

By J. D. Mackie | Go to book overview
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XVI
THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE AGE

N OT the least achievement of the age was the creation of a nation-state. This state was, after the manner of the times, a monarchy. The manifestations of the royal power were various, but behind the steady purpose of Henry VII, the massive strength of Henry VIII, the prim piety of Edward VI, and the bigoted devotion of Mary may be discerned the essential truth that the prince had authority simply because he was the prince. To the world of today the reverence given to the monarch is astonishing, but in the sixteenth century the royal office was invested with the sacrosanctity of the middle ages and at the same time accorded the deference due, in a practical world, to the actual head of affairs. The divinity which hedged the king did not come from the unction alone; the kings were kings and the queen was a queen before the ceremony of coronation. It might be said to come by descent were it not that the rules of descent were uncertain, and subject, with ill-defined limitations, to the adjustments made by parliament. It could not be pretended that the kings owed their authority to parliament; it was the king who summoned parliament and he summoned it, or omitted to summon it, according to his will. The first of the Tudors gained the crown on the field of Bosworth and he kept it because he could; his son succeeded because he was his father's son; and the children of Henry VIII held the crown in succession because they were the king's children, the son first and then the two daughters in order of seniority. On a last analysis it would seem that the essentials of monarchy in England were simply some title by descent, a power to wear the crown and -- this is vital -- an ability to gain recognition from the people of England. It is not to be disputed that the strong personalities of the Tudors developed the royal authority in England, but the crown picked up on Bosworth field had a magic of its own.

Writ all over the period is the compelling force of the royal sovereignty. Of an act passed in the first parliament of the newly enthroned Henry VII a contemporary wrote 'there were many gentlemen against it but it would not be for it was the

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