Was there a Mid-Tudor crisis between 1547 and 1558?

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State of Government

One important factor in determining whether there was a mid-Tudor crisis is the state of Government. The two main issues surrounding the ruling of the country between 1547 and 1558 were, Edwards Infancy and thus the Protectorship that governed and the size of Mary’s Council and thus the inability to become effective. A political crisis is one which threatens the collapse of the administration. This was evidently not the case for any point during the reign of Edward or Mary. Although Protectorship under Edward paved the way for faction rivalry it did raise the status of the Council which in turn led to grass root problems being addressed. For example Somerset set up a commission to investigate enclosures and started “the commonwealth movement” in 1548. Admittedly Mary’s council was too large, numbering 43 in membership, but it had to be so, because of the need for Catholic support on the Council. Without any additions there would just be the gentry and nobility that experienced the benefits of patronage under Edward and his reformist councillors. Mary could not just dispose of her half-brothers favourites and so she was forced to resort to other means to balance out opinion. However Council and Parliament worked well together and as a result important legislation was passed such as the Annulment of Catharine’s divorce and the reintroduction of the heresy laws in 1555. The size of the council also allowed an inner circle to appear which consisted of Mary’s most loyal supports which then made decision making more efficient. So there is no evidence to suggest that there was a mid-Tudor political crisis at all.

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Law and Order

Another measure of whether there was a crisis was the condition of Law and Order. The 1549 Rebellions and Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554 can both be used to evaluate this. The 1549 rebellions under the reign of Edward and the Duke of Somerset were never going to threaten the Edwards kingship.  The rebels had no alternate claimant to the throne, however in 1554 Wyatt used Elizabeth as a figure head and meant to place her upon the throne if Mary would not comply with his demands.  In neither of the cases did any high ranking nobility defect to the cause of the rebels once the uprisings had begun unlike that of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 where Lord Darcy had deserted Henry VIII. Only when various high ranking officials with a large influence join the cause of a rebellion does it become more of a threat. The Duke of Suffolk was involved in Wyatt’s rebellion but he had been from the start and in fact it was an Earl, Edward de Courtenay, that revealed the plan of the rebels to Mary and defected onto the side of the regent. So it can be argued that these rebellions were not as threatening as the Pilgrimage of Grace 13 years earlier which means that there was never a crisis as far as law and order was concerned during the Mid-Tudor rule. As Historian David Loades says “The rebellions of 1549 and 1554 were pyrotechnic but relatively harmless”.

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The Economy

The next factor in the analysis of the question, “Was there a Mid-Tudor Crisis between 1547 and 1558?”, is the Economy. Price inflation was an issue that both Edward and Mary faced however the Mary also had to contend with the collapse of the cloth trade and the dropping of wages of peasant labourers. David Loades argues that “inflation can be played down”, this is because it had begun long before the reign of Edward and Mary and would continue long after. Prices had been rising since 1490 and the rising population forced rent and food prices up. Wages went down by an average of 50% as employers tried to make profits.  Bad harvests in 1555/6 led to extremely poor peasants trying to buy hugely overpriced food that was in short supply. The collapse of the cloth trade in Antwerp also meant that may East-Anglian wool traders went out of work, however this collapse was only short term. Mary in-fact did well to address these problems that she had no control over causing. She introduced the book of rates in 1558 which brought in money from custom duty on traded goods. She also re-assessed crown lands and made an emphasis on trading in the Baltic and Africa to increase the size of the Economy. It was because of her that Elizabeth began to see a stable economy later on in her reign. In summary the inflation was largely due to Henry VIII’s debasement and these problems would last for a century, they weren’t caused during the Mid-Tudor reigns and if anything these problems were dealt with as best they could be at the time.

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Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy is also a medium that can be used to assess the effectiveness of Mid-Tudor rule. The wars in Scotland and the loss of Calais are the two main events that can be interrogated. Somerset wanted Edward I to marry Mary Queen of Scots which would reassert the ancient claim of Edward to suzerainty over the Scottish throne. Somerset chose to push the marriage through the process of Rough Wooing. He defeated the scots at Pinkie in 1547, however the Scottish government refused to agree terms and Mary was smuggled to France and betrothed to the Dauphin of France. The huge English garrison in Scotland then became a huge strain on the treasury and led to the slow reaction to the 1549 summer rebellions. Through her marriage to Philip II, Mary was always going to have to support him with men. It would have been unrealistic for anyone to have thought, even at the time that the English would be able to hold on to Calais when the inevitable attack came. No monarch would have been able to have staged a good enough defence with the funds available to them. It was mainly down to the current economic climate that Calais was lost and subsequently couldn’t be recaptured. England was in a week diplomatic situation between 1547 and 1558, it was squashed between the two European super powers. However this did not amount into a crisis because England was never under threat of a serious invasion. Neither France nor Spain could spare the men and the Scots would never have reached London if they had invaded.

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Foreign Policy cont.

Edward and Mary had inherited the war that their father had pushed through his foreign policy and military tactics. It was not their fault that England was in the situation it was in, and it had been in that situation for a while and would be for years to come. It was not a crisis it was just 16th Century politics. Elizabeth was only able to take advantage because she faced a completely different Europe, one where Spain was in decline through Charles V handing down of power and Frenchmen were fighting amongst themselves.

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Succession and dynastic security can also be evaluated as a factor contributing to whether there was a Mid-Tudor crisis or not. The death of Edward at a young age and Northumberland’s coup were key events, as were Mary being a woman, her marriage to Philip and her death without an heir. The death of Edward was no worse than Henry VIII brother prince Arthur dying in 1502. However Arthur had a healthy younger brother, Edward had his staunchly Catholic half-sister Mary. Her gender was a problem in itself for the time, it was unheard of for a woman to rule on her own. The French even had Salic Law preventing it. John Knox, a Scottish Calvinist, even thought a female ruler was a punishment from god. However neither Mary’s gender nor Edward’s premature death amounted to a crisis, Northumberland’s coup could very easily have become one. If Lady Jane Grey had not been deposed early on in her short reign, then the country would have surely descended into civil war. The loyal and conservative Gentry and Nobility as well as the majority of the loyal populace would not have allowed someone with blood as watered down as Lady Jane’s to have ascended to the throne. However the “New” men at court, the reformist gentry that had benefited from the Clientage of others, would surely have wanted to protect their own interests. These two parties would have clashed and no one wanted another War of the Roses. However luckily the plan failed and so didn’t materialise into a crisis, although the threat was definitely there. 

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Succession cont.

People feared a Spanish match for Mary because they feared that England would become part of Spain and that Philip would have control over English policy. However this turned out not to be the case as the contract signed by Philip, perhaps harshly, strongly limited his power as regent of England. Terms such as the keeping of the 1543 and 1546 treaties with the Netherlands and that Philip could not possess any sovereign authority in his own almost embarrassed the most powerful man in Europe. Mary’s death without an heir was not as much of an issue as Mary’s succession had been. Elizabeth’s half-sister had proved that a woman could hold the country together well and at the time there was no-one else remotely close to royal blood other than Elizabeth. So the succession itself never became a crisis however it did threaten to be with the attempted coup of the Duke of Northumberland, however his plans failed and he was executed and so a crisis never amounted.

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Religious Policy

The majority of the evidence that might lead someone to the conclusion that there was indeed a Mid-Tudor crisis lies with religion. Mary’s reintroduction of Catholicism and her, mainly stick, carrot and stick policies may be seen by non-contemporaries as a crisis. Mary was a fervent Catholic and her attempted persuasion quickly became persecution. At first the implementation of heavy censorship of printed material and the setting up of seminaries seemed like a good idea. However the education of the population takes time and Mary needed a quick solution. However the persecution was no worse, and was in some cases more lenient, than other places in Europe at the time. Francis I and Henry II left religious heretical dealings to the notorious Chambre Ardente which dealt out much consistently harsher punishments than Mary had given out. Other than with the burning of Thomas Cranmer in 1556, Mary was lenient to those that recanted and converted to Catholicism. To her, burning was a last resort, and she even thought she was helping them get into heaven by purifying their souls. The shift in religious policy between Edward and Mary might be seen as unsettling the grass roots of England which might have meant a possible crisis for security. However because the laity were happy to follow their anointed Prince as well as the pragmatic clergy who, on a whole, all too easily transferred their loyalties, a crisis never arose. The whole ordeal was just a change in policy rather than a crisis in religion and it never led to any unstable events.

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Social Factors

Social is the final factor in determining if there was in fact a Mid-Tudor crisis. Famine and Influenza were big problems during Mid-Tudor rule, particularly in Mary’s reign. The disease also had a direct link to the economy as it was through trading that the Influenza epidemic found its way to England and it is because of this that overseas trade was stopped. The malnutrition caused by bad harvests in 1555 and 1556 meant that peasants found the hard strenuous labour even tougher. The economic stress they were under meant they could barely afford any food at all and many died of starvation. However at this time a lot of peasants lived on the land of the gentlemen they worked for and instead of being paid huge sums of money they were paid in food and a place to stay. This meant that the famine didn’t really have any affect at all on the majority of the peasantry as their lords were generally well off men. The Influenza outbreaks between 1555 and 1559 were not any worse than the Sweating Sickness that stalking England from 1485 and 1551 and killed Arthur Tudor. David Loades argues that “the poor faced a crisis of terrible proportions, embracing disease, starvation and death.” Nevertheless I believe it may be argued that the peasantry were used to that kind of hardship and had been for a while, it was just life as they knew it. They had faced bad harvests in the reign of Henry VIII as well as medical epidemics in his reign too and therefor there was not a social crisis.

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Some good ideas explored here- great use of historical interpretation!

Thanks for sharing!

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