The Nature of monarchy
- In theory the ruler was a hereditary monarch, this meant that the crown was passed down through the family line, normally from father to the eldest son and heir.
- It was beleived that the monarch ruled by his divine right, which means that he was given his right to rule by God and answered only to God.
- The monarch also had Royal Prerogative, this means that he had the right to rule without parlimentry decisions and was independant in matters such as foreign policy or the judicial system
- The Judicial system is the system of law courts which deliver justice.
- However it was expected that the monarch should call together parliament whenever he wanted to introduce new laws or taxes.
- Monarchs were often given magical mystical qualities by their subjects, like rumours. for example it was beleved that the Kings touch could cure scrofula!
- The power of the monarch lay on the fact that the nobility depended on royal patronage.
- The King was the richest man in the whole kingdom and had the power to give gifts and titles on any nobles who offered a service or their support.
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- Mid to late fifteenth century monarchs ruled a kingdom which incorperated England, Wales and Ireland.
- Ireland had been conquered in the 12th century but had not been subdued or anglicised (made englishy) despite the influence of Anglo-Irish families.
- For realsies English control in ireland did not really cover anything except from the area of dublin and the small bit around it called the Pale.
- Welsh Marcher Lords also had a lot of freedom under the english crown because they had secured 'liberties' in return for their loyalty in defending the Kings vulnerable borders.
- However England still controlled Calais in France following its capture by Henry V at Agincourt
- Calais was an extremely important outpost as it provided the main port through which England exported cloth to the rest of Europe.
- Consequently English Monarchs were reluctant to withdraw their claim to the throne of france.
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The Kings Council.
- The monarch was very reliant on the advice of his council.
- The council was made up by the greatest Magnates (magnates were the leading members of the nobilty) and other specially selected advisors who may have not been members of the nobility but whom had the kings trust.
- The council had a particularily important role in the government of the kingdom when the monarch had not yet come of age (14/15) so was too young to govern independantly.
- The council grew in power during the early fifteenth century because they were turbulent (unstable) years for the English monarchy.
- Richard II (1377-99) and Henry VI (1421-71) relied on the support of a strong council to govern the nation because they were too young! This was called Minority Rule.
- As a result of this the kings council gradually became a more powerful and influential institution as years progressed.
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- Parliament was divided into two chambers: the Lords (the upper house) and the Commons (the lower house).
- MP's were elected to the Commons by freeholders (owners of land) worth 40 shillings a year in land.
- These were suplemented by two knights per shire (division of land equal to a county) and two burgesses (a political official or representative) per borough. (a division of land equal to a town)
- The Commons played a vital role in giving consent to taxation. without which the monarchy would just mess up.
- Furthermore the commons presented petitions to the crown on shared matters of interest (e.g. £money£)
- The Lords was made up of the heads of the great landowning families and its role was to basically keep an eye on what the lower house is doing and to check on its power.
- By the mid fifteenth century there was growing bitchiness between crown and parliament over the authority to govern.
- In the 1380's parliament had attempted a purge of royal favourites when it had become increasingly concerned about Richard II's overpowering approach to government.
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- Approximately 20% of English society at this time were members of the landowning class
- this class ranged from yeomen (farmers who owned their own land) to gentlemen (lords of their own manor)
- however, there were only a handfull of nobles who acted as governors in the shires and advisors to the crown.
- most of these were lords or had titles (like Dukes and Earls) showing that they were part of the aristocracy.
- prior to 1455 there had been significant conflict between the nobility and the crown.
- many monarchs had faced challenges from the nobility and Edward II and Richard II were in fact deposed (removed from office suddenly) and murdered! :o
- Mid to late fifteenth century monarchs Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III were all deposed due to the result of intrigue amongst the nobility.
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- Although around 80% of society were peasants, England was a relatively prosperous society.
- Peasants rented land from their lords benefitted from the fertile soil and a shortage of labour following the black death.
- One noble noted that Englishmen of all classes ate 'every kind of flesh and fish in abundance' (Fortescue in Pendrill 2003)
- This was also a period of increased social mobility, for example the family the Patsons of Norfolk rose from poor yeomen farmers to major landowners in just two generations.
- Education through the church and the taking of Holy orders was one method of social advancement with most bishops originating from yeomen stock.
- Furthermore, men such as Sir William Catesby and Sir Richard Ratcliffe advanced from humble origins to make their fortunes through careers in the legal profession.
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- England was a catholic nation and the church was a vital political and social institution, everyone was expected to go to church reguarly and almost everybody did.
- The church taught that the world was 'a vale of tears' and that people were constantly being judged as to their worthiness to reach salvation (heaven)
- It encouraged obedience and deference (polite submission and respect) and that people should know their place in the world and should not attempt to change it.
- Rebellion against authority wether it was religious or secular (non-religious) was seen as an extremely bad sin and was punished with eternal torment in Hell!
- However the society was still not a place of order or decency.
- Violent crime was reasonably widespread and alleged criminals were often subjects to extreme punishment such as public hangings.
- As the church was the centre of social life, it organised rites, rituals, processions, plays, services and feasts.
- Saints days and Holy days were commonplace, on these days people abandoned work in favour of feasting and relaxation.
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