Henry VII's government


Councils and the court

The Council

  • Had three main functions:
    • To advise the King
    • To administer the realm on the King's behalf
    • To make legal judgements
  • It had no established rules or procedures but it was a permanent body with a core membership. Sometimes councillors met separately without the presence of the King e.g. 'professional's councillors like Bray and Dudley often met to discuss legal and administrative matters in London.
  • But, it wasn't essential for someone to hold office in order to advise the King. The historian David Loades argues that Henry's most influenetial adviser was Lady Margaret Beaufort, his mother who held no office.
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Councils and the court

The Council Learned

  • This was the Council's main offshoot - it developed during the second half of Henry's reign. 
  • Its function was to maintain the King's revenue and exploit his prerogative rights. It made the system of bonds and recognizances work so effectively. 
  • Many historians have seen the workings of the Council Learned as rather 'shady' - it wasn't a recognised court of law and someone summoned could not appeal. But, it was as important for maintaining Henry's authority as it was for raising finances.
  • Sir Reginald Bray and Sir Richard Empson were both laymen and led the Council Learned in Law. After Bray's death in 1503, Edmund Dudley joined Empson to lead the Council Learned. They raised the extraction of money from the KIng's subjects to a fine art. But, they also created enemies with Henry's key advisers (Bishop Fox and Sir Thomas Lovell) who removed them after Henry's death. This caused rejoicing in the streets, showing just how feared and unpopular their financial control became in the last years of Henry's reign. 
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Councils and the court

Court and household

  • The Tudors, like their predecessors, relied heavily on the court - it was the centre of government.
  • The royal court had to be magnificent and generous to show Henry's power - he was influenced by the royal courts of France and Burgundy.
  • It was the focus of personal monarchy (the influence a courtier may have depended more on their relationship with the monarch than what office they held).
  • It was a place of royal ceremony - Henry was very enthusiastic about this as it demonstrated the King's power to the courtiers.
  • It was where rewards and status were distributed.
  • The politically important part of the court was the Chamber which was presided over by the Lord Chamberlain (powerful and in a position of trust). So, it was a blow when Henry VII discovered in 1495 that his Lord Chamberlain, Sir William Stanley, was involved in plot with the pretender Perkin Warbeck. Henry's response was to change the Chamber by creating a new Privy Chamber which the King would go into alongside his most intimate servants. THis made it more difficult for those who were out of favour to regain support. 
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  • Only met occasionally so was not a central part of government. 
  • Two main functions: to pass laws and to grant taxation to the Crown. 
  • Henry called in total seven parliaments in his reign, although five met in the first ten years of his reign. These early parliaments were mainly concerned with national security and raising revenue e.g. his first two parliaments passed many Acts of Attainder. His first parliament granted tonnage and poundage (customs revenues). Other parliaments granted extraordinary revenue. Although, his final parliament of 1504 managed to limit the demand for extraordinary revenue and there was an agreement that the King would stop trying to get revenue by this means.
  • The historian Paul Cavill suggests that on the whole, Parliament operated effectively and the King respected its decisions. There is little evidence that the King tried to manage Parliament.
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Justice and the maintenance of order

  • It was vital that the King maintained law and order - at worst, problems with law and order could lead to uprisings, something which Henry was concerned about. 
  • The King relied on well-placed nobility to exercise power across the country for him, but at the same time, these nobles couldn't become so powerful that they could challenge the King's authority. 
  • Edward IV had divided the country into spheres of influence, each controlled by a magnate (great noble), but the no. of magnates had fallen in the last years of the War of the Roses and their lands had been taken by the Crown. So, magnate control mainly occured in the north of England (the Stanleys in the northwest and the Earl of Northumberland in the northeast and Yorkshire - he was murdered in 1489, leaving Henry without a magnate in a strategically important area. He released the Yorkist Earl of Surrey from the Tower to rule the north - he proved to be loyal to Henry). 
  • In the rest of the country, he had to rely on those he could trust (the Earl of Oxford and Lord Daubeney) but lacked the resources, and those who he didn't trust. This is shown in how he had a spy network to report on magnate performance as well as to impose bonds and recognizances.
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Justice and the maintenance of order

Justices of the peace (JPs)

  • Henry increasingly relied on JPs to maintain law and order in the countryside. 
  • Most JPs were local gentry who believed they should take these unpaid positions either out of a sense of duty or becuase they believed that it would lead to advancement. 
  • They were responsible for routine adminstration, such as: tax assessments, the investigation of local officials and the maintenance of law and order. Various Acts of Parliament were passed to increase their powers and responsibilities.
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Justice and the maintenance of order

Bonds and recognizances 

  • Bond - a legal document which bound a person to someone else to perform an action. If they didn't perform this action, they had to forfeit a sum.
  • Recognizance - a formal acknowledgement of a debt or other obligation which could be enforced by a financial penalty.
  • Henry VII largely restored law and order through forcing many of his subjects to take out bonds and recognizances. Some were the result of actual debts owed to the Crown, but many were political.
  • The King used bonds to enforce order and obedience. 
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Improving royal finances

Sources of royal income:

  • Crown lands
  • Profits from feudal dues and the use of royal prerogative
  • Customs revenue
  • Pensions from other powers
  • Profits of justice
  • Extraordinary revenue
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Improving royal finances

Crown lands

  • The rent from his property was a very important part of the Crown's ordinary revenue. 
  • At the start of Henry's reign, royal income had fallen to about £12,000 a year. This was mianly because income from lands was collected and administered through the inefficient Court of Exchequer - shows Henry's inexperience with finances.
  • In 1492, Henry decided to return to Edward IV's system of adminstration through the Chamber or the royal household. 
  • Finances improved significantly - the icome from land had increased by the end of his reign to about £42,000 per year. 
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Improving royal finances

Profits from feudal dues and the exercise of royal prerogative

  • The King's feudal rights were tightened.
  • There were increased profits from wardship (the Crown could gain profits from property held by a minor).
  • Also, landowners had to pay the Crown money when a feudal tenant-in-chief died - this became a useful additional form of revenue.
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Improving royal finances

Other sources of revenue

  • Customs revenue: over his reign, there was a small increase in the annual revenue from this source: £34,000 to £38,000. 
  • Pensions from other powers: it was agreed in the Treaty of Etaples that France would pay Henry a pension of £5000 per annum.
  • Profits of justice: this included fines and income from bonds. Between 1504 and 1507, a total of £200,000 was promised to the King in bonds but not all was collected.
  • Extraordinary revenue: Henry received over £400,000 in extraordinary taxation. But, this caused the rebellions of 1489 and 1497. Henry had to promise the Parliament of 1504 that he would no longer raise money through this. 

When Henry died, he left plate and jewels worth £300,000 and £10,000 in cash. There was a lot of effort put into improving Henry's finances but it came at a politicial price. The main victims were landowners who were the people Henry would need to support him if his throne was threatened. But, he treated them so badly that it could have threatened the Crown

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