A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
The Early Tudors: a new imperium

KINGS, QUEENS, AND PEOPLE

AS WE move by the milestones of the years of the Tudor age ( 1485- 1603) we see that the strength of the feudal nobles was diminished. The sway of the Roman Catholic Church in England was ended. The astonishing magnificence of the Renaissance spread its manysplendored colors through an era of power and versatility. The country gentry and the merchants of the middle class grasped new tools of wealth and influence. Markets across distant seas called to English traders. The ships of English adventurers furrowed many waters. It was an acquisitive and superstitious age, at once ruthless and noble. Men were cruel to heretics and traitors, "witches" and imbeciles. Fallen courtiers, rebels, and old priests were marked for execution and carried in the Tyburn cart that climbed the heavy hill of Holborn. The Tudor century was filled with violent contrasts, kaleidoscopic shiftings of tumultuous patterns. The generations who won such success in these years were crowded with personality, talent and force. And these, too, were qualities possessed by the Tudor monarchs, all except one--and he was a little boy.

In the sixteenth century a masterful and rejuvenated monarchy helped England towards the power and unity of a united nation, a modern state. The early Tudors were Henry VII ( 1485-1509) and Henry VIII ( 1509-1547) and this chapter is about the legal and constitutional developments that took place when these two remarkable men were sovereigns.

Historians sometimes call the period from 1485 to 1603 "The Tudor Despotism." This title, like so many others bestowed upon periods in history, is convenient but not quite accurate. It is true that the rulers

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