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Tudor, house of

Tudor, house of. This is something of a misnomer. The important descent for Henry VII, who founded the dynasty when he defeated Richard III at Bosworth, was the direct line from Edward III through John of Gaunt and the Beaufort dukes of Somerset, and though the branch was illegitimate, it had subsequently been legitimized. The Welsh link, of which Henry and the Welsh made so much, was quite subordinate. Henry V's widow Catherine de Valois made a private marriage with a minor courtier, Owen Tudor, later executed at Hereford in 1461 after the battle of Mortimer's Cross. Their son Edmund married Margaret Beaufort, great-granddaughter of Gaunt, thus bringing a second royal link into the equation. Henry VI created his half-brother earl of Richmond in 1452. The Tudors were in essence a Lancastrian dynasty and the red rose seems to have been one of the badges of the Beauforts: it was deliberately exploited in the pageant to mark Henry VII's visit to York only eight months after Bosworth. Henry moved quickly to end the old feud with the house of York by marrying Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV and sister of the two princes in the Tower. The dynasty used propaganda to stress the sanctity of Henry VI and the villainy of Richard III.

Few dynasties have produced five strong-minded rulers in succession, for though Edward VI died at 15, the marks of authority were already visible. Mary, the least fortunate of the Tudors, was certainly not lacking in courage, as her behaviour during the Lady Jane Grey coup and the Wyatt rising demonstrated. Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth were in command, even if their policies may be questioned. This must be remembered when discussing the nature of Tudor government, for it is never easy to separate political structures from purely personal and non-transferable ability. J. R. Green in the 1890s credited the Tudors with creating a ‘new monarchy’. This interpretation is now in retreat, with emphasis on evolutionary developments: nevertheless, the contrast between Tudor strength and the chaos that succeeded it remains. In some respects the Tudor period was the apogee of monarchy. The Tudors were ruthless in dealing with challenges to their authority, whether from possible claimants to the throne, like the earl of Warwick (d. 1499) or Lord Surrey (d. 1547), or from rebels in the field (the Pilgrimage of Grace 1536, or the Rising of the northern earls 1569). Yet beneath authority, there were weaknesses, some of which did not fully reveal themselves until the Stuarts succeeded. Each Tudor met serious rebellion, with no standing army to quell it: within two years of Bosworth, Henry VII faced Lambert Simnel and his supporters, and three years before the end of her reign, Elizabeth faced Essex's rebellion. The Reformation, though greatly adding to royal power by making the monarch head of church as well as head of state, also introduced bitter schism. Having displaced the pope, the monarch had to take the blame for what was done in religious matters and found it exceptionally difficult to please all sides. The enormous wealth of the monasteries was not only dissipated by the crown but augmented the influence of the nobility. The financial position of the monarchy, built up by Henry VII, was run down by his successors, and Elizabeth handed over large debts to James I. Lastly, partly by bad luck and partly by mismanagement, the dynasty failed to provide for its own survival in the form of heirs, lasting for only three generations and 118 years. But Stuart rule soon brought back golden memories of Tudor England.

J. A. Cannon

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