Tudor Society (Henry VIII)

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Elites and Commoners:

  • tudor age viewed as the age of the gentry
  • both Wolsey and Cromwell saught to `swear in` landowners as servants to the King (there were 263 by 1535)
  • the gentry relied on the King for their land - the 16th Century was filled with an enormous transfer of lands as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries.
  • the aquisition of monastic land meant that many men could buy land for the first time or increase their current amount of land.
  • Cromwell attempted to reform county government by attacking territorial franchises that thwarted the full operation of royal justice. 
  • the Act for Recontinuing Certain Liberties and Franchises (1536) prevented ecclesiastical or feudal officials from interfering with sheriffs or JP`s performing thier legal duties within their jurisdictions. the balance of power at county level remained with the landowners who served as sheriffs and JPs.
  • It wasn`t until Thomas Cromwell became the unofficial cheif minister that there was any effort to tackle the socio-economic problems within the realm. intellectual circles were applying pressure for "commonwealth measures" (measures that would provide social and economic justice for all of the King`s subjects).
  • in 1531 and 1532 acts were passed to fix the prices of certain foodstuffs at a reasonable level
  • an act in 1533 attempted to create machinery for determining fair food prices. these were largely impossible to enforce and were eventually repealed in 1542


  • In his early days, Cromwell created what became known as the first Tudor Poor Law (the "Vagabonds Act" in 1531). h distributed alms and foodstuff to the London poor from his own house and it was beleived that around 200 people were coming for aid every day.
  • there was a clear distinction established between those unable to work and people who were `unwilling`. those unable to work were licensed to beg (under ertain restrictions) rather than be expelled, while the lazy people were punished. it was the job of the JPs to administer the system and issue begging licenses.
  • Despite these measures, no provisions were being made for those unable to work - they still had to rely on church alms or the charity of generous merchants.
  • the Act was strengthened in 1536 - making it a legal obligation for parishioners to care for their poor as well as ordering JPs and sheriffs to carry out alms collections for the poor, provide charity for the weak / helpless. as well as this, they also had to provide oppurtunitites for those that were able to work to allow them to make their own living.
  • each district had to appoint two people responsible for overseeing the poor - they administered and collected money, then enusred that those who received it wouldn`t resort to begging (this earned harsh punishments) as well as the additional task of accounting for what they had received and distributed.
  • these measures all came from Cromwell, who aimed to minimise the social disruption caused by economic circumstances outside of government control (i.e. the increase…


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