Back To CourseHistory 101: Western Civilization I
16 chapters | 173 lessons | 8 flashcard sets
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Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.
Thanks to TV and film, if I say 'King Henry VIII,' most people will recognize the name. If I say 'Queen Elizabeth I,' some might even conjure up a face. Now granted, most people will mess up the history behind the names, but the idea still remains that these monarchs of the Tudor Dynasty are arguably the most famous English monarchs of all time. Why? The answer is simple. People love fascinating stories about fascinating people, and the five Tudor monarchs of England completely fit the bill!
During today's lesson, we will be examining these five Tudor monarchs, highlighting their specific contributions to English society. The first Tudor monarch was Henry VII. Next was his son, the famous Henry VIII (with all the wives). After Henry VIII came his rather sickly son, Edward VI. After this guy, the story gets very interesting with the two female monarchs, Queen Mary (known to most as Bloody Mary) and Queen Elizabeth I (the famous 'Virgin Queen' who ushered in England's Golden Age).
The Tudor dynasty of England came to power at the end of England's bloody civil war known as the Wars of the Roses. This conflict was a fight for power between the English houses of York and Lancaster. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, took the crown in 1485 after defeating Richard III in the final battle of these damaging wars. Henry VII, being a distant cousin of the House of Lancaster, healed the rift between Lancaster and York by marrying a daughter from the House of York, combining the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster into the Tudor Rose.
After coming to the throne, Henry VII brought peace to a bedraggled England by instituting government reform and increasing royal control. Using his strong centralized power, he improved the infrastructure of England, which had been devastated by years of war. Being a lover of knowledge and a statesman, he also sent scholars to Italy to learn the Greek and Latin languages. In fact, many historians attribute his reign to the beginning of the English Renaissance, in which England began taking an interest in the classical cultures of Greece and Rome. Thus, King Henry VII gave England a stable royal house, an improved infrastructure and the beginning of the English Renaissance.
Next we have his son, the very infamous King Henry VIII , who is best known for his quest for a son, his six wives and his nasty habit of beheading a few of them. However, when he wasn't marrying, divorcing or executing, he was also contributing to the betterment of England.
Coming to the throne in 1509, Henry was hardly a man, being given the crown at the age of eighteen. Despite his youth, Henry VIII was a talented statesman and administrator. He took great interest in the progress of Parliament, including them in major decisions. Although he kept them firmly under his control, his repeated dealings with them lent credence to the institution in the eyes of the people. Henry VIII also continued his father's love of progress by improving the Royal Navy, building modern ships, making it a symbol of power throughout the world. As England's position as a world power increased, so did its trade and commerce. In turn, the economic status of England and its people continued to improve.
Beyond the Parliament and the navy, King Henry's greatest contribution was his bold separation from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1534, Parliament put forth the first Act of Supremacy, which stated that the king is the only supreme earthly head of the Church of England. Although history recounts this was born out of Henry's desire for an annulment and the Pope's refusal to grant one, it radically changed England, marking the beginning of the English Reformation. This separation from the Roman Catholic Church, along with a valid Parliament and a seat as a world power, are Henry VIII's great gifts to England.
Speaking of Henry VIII's great gifts, we'll now get to his children. Edward VI was the only surviving son of King Henry VIII. Edward came to power in 1547 after his father's death. Because he was only nine, several dukes acted as Protectors of the Realm, basically ruling England for many years. These men were staunch Protestants who upheld the split from the Pope and worked to encourage the Reformation.
In 1553, Edward, still a teenager, became ill with a terminal disease. At the urging of his advisers, he named Jane Grey, a Protestant cousin, as his successor to the throne upon his death. This move bypassed his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and would soon lead to much more bloodshed. Although Edward VI's reign was very short, it did contribute to England by solidifying the power of Protestantism and continuing the Reformation.
Poor Jane Grey did take the throne as de facto ruler, but this only lasted nine days before Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, overthrew her and later had her executed for treason. Mary was a staunch Catholic who quickly set about to re-establish Catholicism. Upon taking the throne in 1553, she had hundreds of Protestants executed in what came to be known as the Marian Persecutions, hence the name 'Bloody Mary.' She also re-instituted mass and overturned the pro-Protestant legislations of her father and her brother. She further thumbed her nose at Protestants by marrying Philip, the Catholic Prince of Spain.
Her marriage and her propensity toward executing Protestants did not quench the fires of the English Reformation but instead fueled it. As hatred for Bloody Mary grew, support for the Protestant faith also grew. Instead of being considered traitors to the throne, Mary's victims were seen as martyred heroes. Ironically, by the time of her death in 1558, Mary gave England a renewed drive for Reformation. In her defense, she also gave England its first accepted female ruler, which I think should maybe count for something - just a little, but still something!
Having died without an heir, Mary's crown passed to her sister, Elizabeth I, in the year 1558. Elizabeth's reign has come to be known as the Golden Age of England. Working to repair the damage done by her sister, the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559 was enacted. In this legislation, Elizabeth was also declared the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The act also allowed for both Protestant and Catholic interpretations of Church tradition, specifically communion. With these compromises, it's as if Elizabeth was saying 'Can't we all just get along? I've got a country to run here, people!'
Because of her desire to unite her subjects under one throne, her reign is marked as a time of peace. During this peace, she encouraged self-sufficiency in England through the growth of agriculture as well as overseas trade. This newfound wealth helped to usher in a renewed love of the arts. Under this peace and prosperity, England flourished, giving the world the brilliance of Shakespeare's theatre and the New World explorations of Sir Walter Raleigh.
With all this to her credit, no wonder Elizabeth is still considered one of England's most highly regarded monarchs. Making her even more impressive, Elizabeth accomplished all of this as an unmarried female in a man's world. As a single woman - goodness, as a single monarch - she bucked tradition yet still managed to give her people a united country, a thriving economy and a renewed love of the arts. Sort of just makes me want to say 'You go, girl!'
Elizabeth's death in the year 1603 marked the end of the Tudor household. Without an heir, her English crown passed to James VI of Scotland. Although Elizabeth's death saw the official end of the Tudor Dynasty, their contributions to English society still live today. The stable government begun by Henry VII is still intact, while the Royal Navy of King Henry VIII still sails. The Protestantism of Edward VI and the Catholicism of Bloody Mary coexist peacefully, while Elizabeth's Shakespeare is read by schoolchildren all around the globe.
The Tudors rebuilt England after a devastating civil war, raised it up to a world power and ushered in the English Renaissance and Reformation. No wonder Hollywood still likes them so very much!
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Back To CourseHistory 101: Western Civilization I
16 chapters | 173 lessons | 8 flashcard sets