THE LAST PHASE OF MEDIEVAL GOVERNMENT
Down to the end of Richard II's reign the history of English administration is, generally speaking, well known and fully studied; thereafter, we grope in the jungle, with few and indistinct paths blazed through it. No doubt there are gaps even in the high middle ages -- questions yet unasked, doubts yet unresolved -- but all is sweetness and light compared with the grim fifteenth century whose ever scantier records reflect the decay of good government at the centre. Yet if the significance of Tudor reforms is to be seen, it is necessary to arrive at least at a tentative view of what happened to England's institutions between the fall of Richard II and the fall of Thomas Wolsey. Those hundred and thirty years do, in a manner, form a unit; their discussion in this chapter is not arbitrarily determined. It is true that they comprehend a decline and revival of government; but it is the decline and revival of the same kind of government, that medieval system whose distinguishing feature, despite a growing complication of national institutions and offices, was a motive power supplied by the king's household. When the king's hand grows weak, when his household loses control of the reins, government founders and at times almost disappears; as the throne falls to strong men whose households are full of active administrators, so government revives. Exchequer, chancery, the privy seal, carry on throughout the years of anarchy of whose reality there is but slender evidence in their records, but in truth there is no one to govern because the king, his household, and his council (the administrative centre of that household) are powerless or inactive or corrupt. Without the driving force of king and household, national institutions and departments of state are ineffective.
Important though it would be to study in every detail the history of these hundred and thirty years, that is a task which cannot be undertaken on the present occasion. The history of the Tudor