Henry VII: Governing the Kingdom

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The King's Council

  • The functions of the council were to advise on matters of state, administer law and order, and to act in judicial capacity
  • There were 227 counillors, but not more than 150 at any one time; most did not attend meetings - when active members met, it totalled to 40
  • The difficulty in controlling this led Henry to rely on a small, core group who met with the King regularly
  • This elite group included: John Morton, the Lord Privy Seal, Richard Fox, the Lord Treasurer, John, Lord Dynham and a handful of others
  • These men gave stability to the new regime because Henry kept them in power for so long
  • To improve efficiency, Henry decided to use smaller committees formed within the council; e.g: Henry revived Richard III's Court of Requests ('Court for Poor Men's Causes')
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The Council Learned

  • The Council Leraned in Law was a small/professional body; it came into being in 1495 to defend the King's position as a feudal landlord
  • It was responsible for keeping up to date with wardship, marriage and relief of all King's tenants, and the collection of all feudal dues due to him
  • Deliberately operated without a jury due to the frequent charges of bribery brought against juries
  • It was particualrly disliked because of its connections with bonds and recognisances; by the end if Henry VII's reign, it was the most hated but most important of institutions of Gov. 
  • It became increasingly feared with the promotion of Sir Richard Empson in 1504 and Edmund Dudley; royal rights were scruptously enforced
  • Financial penalties were a way of keeping peace but under these two it became much more widespread; penalties from these men through the court were bitterly resented
  • On Henry's death they were arrested, tried and executed by Henry VIII
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Clerics, Nobles and 'New Men'

  • The majority of Henry's council came from the Church and nobility
  • The most important members were not from these however, they were the 'middle class,' the gentry
  • Clerics were the largest group; Among those in the King's favour were John Morton and Richard Fox, who had a degree in theology and studied in Paris; this kind of education proved ideal for administrators
  • His council demanded real service from those who sat on it; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford supported Henry in early days in exile and was given the offices of Great Chamberlain and Lord Admiral 
  • Yorkists who had paid in some way were given opportunities to show their loyalty 
  • He didn't rely on a particular nobleman or family, and his chief advisers and servants were drawn from the ranks of lesser gentry from professional classes like Sir Reginald Bray
  • As Henry began exploiting his lands through more efficient methods of estate management, he needed people who understood auditing, property laws and had administrative skill
  • Real ability in these ares mattered to Henry, not social class
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Regional Government

  • Faced the problem of restraining individual nobles in provinces; wherever possible he stopped the individuals from building up too much power and he always insisted on their absolute loyalty
  • Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford became the most influential nobleman in Wales; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford became the most influential nobleman in East Anglia
  • Supporters of Richard III found it virtually impossible to regain the positions they had under the Yorkists; Earl of Northumberland was deemed a minor to replace Thomas Howard, and the Earl of Surrey had no influence or land in northern counties
  • Surrey was overlooked again and replaced in 1501 by a council under Archbishop of York, Thomas Savage, nephew of the Earl of Derby
  • By the end of his reign, Henry was moving away from appointing a local magnate to control a particular regions 
  • This prevented the growth of magnate power and overmighty subjects in the provinces and in doing so, forged stronger links between central and regional government 
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The Council of the North

  • It was closely linked to the main council, had similar administrative/judicial power and ultimately subordinate to the King
  • Hrenry required his council in London to keep a close watch on the activities of his provincial council
  • Made sure key members were appointed by him rather than by his lieutenants 
  • e.g: William Sever, Bishop of Carlisle was appointed by the King to enforce preserve his preogative rights in the north
  • He was also required to keep in regular contactwuth Sir Reginald Bray in London, with whome he worked closely to to ensure the smooth running of the north
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Council in Wales and the Marches

  • Henry appreciated the need for administrative order, which is why he appointed Jasper Tudor, to govern Wales and in 1493 he revived the conncil appointing his 7 year old son, Arthur as its nominal head as Prince of Wales
  • His family links and Welsh connections ensured him the support of the people
  • He rewarded them by trusting them to see to their own affairs, which is why he appointed Welshmen to key positions in Wales
  • e.g: Sir Rhys ap Thomas was appointed to govern south-east Wales
  • By 1495, due to inheritance and purchase, scarcely half a dozen lordships remained in private hands 
  • Henry therefore governed directly and indirectly a larger proportion of Wales than any other King had done before
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The Council of Ireland

  • He quickly learned of the threat Ireland posed to his throne; in 1492, Earl of Kildare was deprived of his position as Lord Deputy until they sought the King's pardon
  • 1494, Henry set about reorganising the Irish government, making his infant son, Prince Henry, Lord Lieutenant to echo the nominal headship exercised by his older brother
  • He appointed Sir Edward Poynings, one of his most trusted advisers, as deputy 
  • His main task was to bring the most rebellious areas under the King's control and impose a constitution on Ireland that would ensure its future obedience to the English Crown
  • Any law made in England would apply to Ireland; this gave the King greater control by destroying the independent legislative power of the Irish Parliament 
  • The expense of attempting to rule Ireland directly soon proved to be too high; he returened to his old policy of ruling through the Irish chieftains 
  • Kildare was reinstated as Lord Deputy and for the rest of Henry VII's reign, Ireland ceased to be a problem 
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Local Government

  • Supervision from the centre was the key feature of the exercise of law and government in the localities
  • Henry made his commands felt through the exploitation of Crown lands, encouraging more fequent use of royal coucil and its offshoots for the settlement of local lawsuits and increasing the power of the Justices of Peace (JPs)
  • In developing the role of the royal council and JPs (who owed their offices to the King), Henry was also exerting his control more effectively over the localities
  • Although the problem of keeping peace had not been solved, Henry had gone a long way in extending his control of the situation by centralising local government 

Justices of peace (JPs) - Chief magistrates in quarter sessions and responsible for general administration in a county

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Sheriffs and JPs

  • The sheriff and JPs continued to be the the two most important royal officials in each county; as the power of the JPs increased, the sheriffs' continued to decline
  • However, they became the Corwn's representative in every county throughout England as the 'eyes and ears' of the monarch
  • They took on greater responsibility for the conduct/ management of parliamenrty elections
  • Unlike the JPs who were commissioned for life, the sheriff was elected annually so the Crown would exert greater control over these local officials
  • After 1485, JPs continued to be seleced from the landowning county elite; met and dispensed justice in local courts in quarter sessions 
  • For more serious offences criminals were sent to the senior courts (Court of Assize), which was staffed by judged appointed by the Crown
  • Highest criminal court was the Court of the King's Bench; decisions made could override the other two; grievences would be taken to Assize or the King

Sheriff - Chief law enforcer in a county

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Hundred, Parish and Weakness of the local Governme

  • JPs were dependent on lesser officials in the countryside to bring offenders to them
  • By law, every hundred had to provide itself with a high constable and every parish with a petty constable
  • The weakness in this type of local government meant that Henry had to rely on the goodwill of his officials 
  • Virtually his only control over them was the threat of removal from the commission of the peace if they acted improperly
  • This would be regarded by most JPs as a considerable social disgrace
  • Henry wished to avoid a usurpation by nobles who took matters into their own hands and ignored royal commands
  • The system adopted by Henry worked relatively well

Hundred - An administrative subdivision in a county

Petty constable - Assistant law enforcement officer serving under the high constable

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  • During the 24 years of Henry VII's reign, Parliament was only summoned 7 times, 5 of those times being in his first decade securing the throne
  • He didn't need to ask for war taxes oftern as his foreign policy was based on avoiding expenses on campaigns abroad
  • Did not wish to strain the loyalty of his subjects by asking for too many grants of money
  • He didn't feel to initiate legislation on a larger scale; bills most frequently passed were acts of attainder to subdue the most troublesome political opponents 
  • He continued its traditional role as an institution where the most important business of the kingdom was transacted
  • Legislation was used to carry out his polices against riots and retaining, Acts dealt with social discipline such as 1495 which laid own rules on wages and work hours
  • His use of Parliament emphasised the fact that all its power came form the Crown
  • Dring his reign, there were no signs of it ceasing to exist as a political institution; Henry used it as and when circumstances demanded, just as his predescessors had done
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