The Tudor era incorporates the reigns of five monarchs: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Welsh-born Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, seized the throne from his rival Richard III at the bloody Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but the Tudor era ended quietly in 1603, when Elizabeth I died childless, passing the throne to her distant relation James I (James VI of Scotland). James became the first monarch of the Stuart dynasty.
Religious change is the best-known impact of the Tudor era on English history. Henry VIII’s ex-communication by the Pope in 1533 led to him establishing his own Church of England. He ensured that his son, Edward VI, was educated in Protestant values, but when Edward died at just 15, the succession of his Catholic half-sister Mary I led to outbreaks of religious violence. Mary tried to revive Catholic power and around 300 Protestants were burned as heretics during her reign. Her half-sister, Elizabeth I, brought forward a compromise agreement in 1563 which secured the Church of England and helped avoid a large-scale religious war. British monarchs today still hold the title “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England,” which dates from Tudor times.
In the early years of the Tudor period, England produced few books or manuscripts; ideas and literature were typically imported from Europe. However, by Elizabeth's death in 1603 the picture had changed significantly. Henry VIII enjoyed music and literature and became a patron of the arts, while Elizabeth I continued her father’s cultural pursuits, encouraging theater and the arts. Literary figures like William Shakespeare thrived under her influence -- Elizabeth personally attended the first performance of his play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Involvement with Ireland
Although Anglo-Normans had been in Ireland since 1169, the Tudor period witnessed a consolidation of English power that would have consequences into the present day. England had to maintain control of Ireland to prevent a French invasion via the island, so Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I used military and financial incentives to encourage Irish chieftains to pledge their loyalty to the English crown. Elizabeth I extended the policy by establishing plantations of English settlers in Ulster and Munster and brutally suppressing local uprisings. Conflict between the Protestant descendants of English and Scottish settlers and the Catholic descendants of the native Irish remains an issue in present-day Northern Ireland.
Difficult relations with Europe marked much of the Tudor period. Henry VIII spent large periods of his reign at war with France, and invested heavily in his navy to increase English prestige. His daughter, Elizabeth I, spent much of her reign under threat of war from both France and Spain, and in 1588 a combination of the English navy and stormy weather prevented a Spanish invasion led by 122 warships. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s reign also saw the beginnings of England’s imperial expansion, as ships captained by men like Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake explored the globe, setting the scene for the establishment of English colonies in North America in the 1600s.
- The British Monarchy: History, The Tudors
- The British Monarchy: History, The Tudors, Henry VIII
- The British Monarchy: History, The Tudors, Edward VI
- The British Monarchy: History, The Tudors, Mary I
- The British Monarchy: The Queen and the UK, Queen and the Church of England
- Tudors.org: Tudor Monarchy as Renaissance Monarchy
- The British Monarchy: History, The Tudors, Elizabeth I
- Northern Ireland Environment Agency: The Normans in Ireland
- BBC History: Turning Ireland English
- Historic Royal Palaces: History and Stories, Memorable Battles of Henry’s Reign
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