Did Henry VIII strengthen the role of the Monarch in government?
Henry VIII (born 1491 C. E. – died 1547 C. E. ) ascended the throne in 1509 and soon became one of England’s most successful kings, largely credited with the establishment of a strong and stable monarchy that helped England become the strongest power in the world. Henry VIII succeeded his father, Henry VII, who had ascended the throne with the culmination of the long drawn out War of Roses where many princes, backed by powerful nobles and barons had fought for the throne. Henry VIII, driven by the desire to establish peace and security in his realm, worked towards establishing a strong monarchy.
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Henry VIII’s relation with the nobles and feudal barons Henry VIII subdued the powers of the nobles and barons and strengthened the role of the monarchy in the government. (G. M. Trevelyan, 1926) Henry VIII established his policy of dealing with the nobles, barons, and chieftains immediately upon ascending the throne. He arrested his father’s two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, charged them with high treason, and subsequently executed them. He dealt with almost all his opponents in a similar fashion throughout his tenure, and with such measures strengthened the role of the monarchy in the government.
Henry replaced feudal obligations with law and trade, and imposed loans and grants on the nobility instead of taxes. (W Harrison, G Edelen, 1994) The powerful barons had limited the power of Henry VIII’s predecessors: Henry III, Edward II, and Richard II using aristocratic councils. Henry VIII strove to keep the barons in check by reforming the administration. He created the Committee of the Privy Council, an advisory board, and the Court of the Star Chamber for civil and criminal cases. Committee of the Privy Council and Court of Star Chambers
Henry VIII actively involved himself in the Committee of the Privy Council and the Court of Star Chambers constituted by him, and through these means involved himself actively in the administration of the state. (John Bowle, 1964. ) The Committee of the Privy Council that in later centuries became the famous Privy Council enabled Henry VIII to enact laws by mere proclamation, on the advice of the council. Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s minister between 17532 and 1540 monopolized the state of the council and took decisions privately in consultation with Henry VIII.
Henry used the Committee of Privy Council and bypassed the parliament to enact laws. The Court of Star Chambers was a separate tribunal distinct from the King’s general Council, indented to infuse speed and flexibility to the civil and criminal judicial process. This court supplemented the activities of the common-law and equity courts, acting as a supervisory body. This court also ensured fair enforcement of laws against prominent and powerful people whom the ordinary courts could never convict owing to their influence.
The court could also impose punishments for morally reprehensible actions such as conspiracy, libel, perjury, and sedition even though such acts were technically legal and ordinary courts could not convict people for such offences. Henry used this court to settle scores with his adversaries and crush powerful barons and nobles. Henry and his ministers encouraged plaintiffs to bring their cases directly to the Star Chamber, bypassing the lower courts entirely. (F. J. Fischer, 2006. ) Henry VIII’s break with the Pope
Henry’s break with the Pope at Rome was an indirect result of his effort to create a strong centralized state. (Patrick Fraser Tyler, 1836) The ascension of the Henry VIII’s father Henry VII ended the long drawn out War of Roses, where many warring princes staked claim to the throne since the incumbent king bequeathed no male issues. Henry wanted a male issue to avoid such a situation after his death. Henry’s wife Catherine did not produce the desired male heir, and Henry became enamored to one Anne Boleyn.
Henry appealed to the Pope for the annulment of his marriage with Catherine so that he could marry Anne. Catherine was however the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, who held the Pope Clement VII as prisoner during this time. The Pope did not annual the marriage. Henry VIII. Henry VIII replaced Cardinal Woolsey, the Pope’s representative in England with Sir Thomas Moore, who proclaimed the opinion of the theologians at Oxford and Cambridge that the marriage of Henry to Catherine had been unlawful. Henry banished Catherine from the court and gave her place to Anne.
Henry also appointed his nominee Thomas Crammer as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Cromwell, a lawyer who supported Anne, brought before Parliament a number of bills including the “Supplication against the Ordinaries” and the “Submission of the Clergy. ” The former required the clergy to put all complaints in writing to the king. The latter made the Church of England relinquish power to formulate church laws without the king’s license and assent. The parliament passed these acts in 1532 C. E and thereby established the supremacy of the monarchy over the church in England.
The supremacy of the monarchy over the church marks a cornerstone in the powers of the king, for in medieval life the church controlled much of social life and polity, and this now passed on to the king. The process of breaking off with the Pope at Rome continued throughout Henry’s reign. In 1540, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to saints. In 1542 Henry dissolved all of England’s monasteries and transferred their property to the Crown. Abbots and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords and only archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical element of the body.
The Lords Temporal now outnumbered the Lords Spiritual or the members of the clergy in the House of Lords. Legislations confirming supremacy of the King Henry’s parliament followed up the supremacy over the church with further legislations that strengthened the role of the monarchy in the administration of he state. (J. R. Tanner, 1930) The Act of Succession of 1533 repudiated “any foreign authority, prince, or potentate” thereby rejecting the decisions of the Pope and validating the marriage of Henry and Anne.
All adults in the Kingdom were required to acknowledge these provisions by oath, and those who refused were subject to imprisonment for life. Any publisher or printer of any literature alleging that Henry’s marriage with Anne was invalid was automatically guilty of high treason punishable by death. The House of Commons forbade all appeals to Rome and exacted penalties of praemunire against all who introduced papal bulls into England. The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect bishops nominated by the Sovereign.
The Act of Supremacy or the “Peter’s Pence Act” of 1534 declared the King as the “the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England,” and declared that Henry’s “imperial crown” had been diminished by “the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions” of the Pope. The Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as the supreme head in earth of the Church of England. Suppression of opponents Henry’s religious policies found some opposition in England, and such rebels found ready backing from the feudal barons who grudged Henry for curtailing their powers.
Henry charged with treason and executed the dissenters, the prominent ones being John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, Henry’s former Lord Chancellor. A major resistance was the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England that broke out in October 1536. Henry, instead of relying on his nobles and barons to crush the rebels, as his predecessors did personally took the field, and by a combination of force and tact, trapped the rebel leader Robert Aske, arrested the rebels and executed them for treason.
The suppression of the opponents of Henry’s religious policy, combined with Henry’s method of silencing his other enemies ensued that he could rule virtually unopposed and led to a strong monarchy in England.. Development of the navy Henry VIIIs efforts at developing the Royal Navy freed the monarchy from dependence on feudal vassals, and besides raised his prestige and power and further strengthened the role of the monarchy in the administration. (D. M. Loades, 1992)
Henry established the Royal Navy in order to ward off dangers of a Papal inspired invasion from the seas from France or Spain. He invested in shipbuilding, dockyards, and naval innovations such as the use of canons. He also strengthened the costal defenses and built fortresses at costal areas using the materials of demolished monasteries. This reduced the king’s dependence on private ships to ward off external dangers and thereby further strengthened the monarchy at the expense of hitherto powerful merchants, barons, and clergy.
Henry’s ships played a big role in England crushing the Spanish Armada during Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth’s reign, an event that led to English supremacy of the world’s seas. External conquests Henry’s desire to strengthen the monarchy and create a strong and centralized state resulted in his developing imperial ambitions within the British Isles. He annexed Wales to England and strengthened his hold over Ireland. Henry claimed feudal superiority over Scotland as a function of his ‘imperial’ title to the English Crown, and defeated Scotland in the battle of Solway Moss in November 1541 C.
E. Henry forced the Treaty of Greenwich upon Scotland and projected a union of the Scottish and English crowns by marrying the Scottish prince Edward and his daughter Mary Stuart. Scotland however remained a French ally, and Henry struck a deal with Charles V of Spain to attack France in 1544. He accompanied the army to Calais and took personal command of his strategy. The Treaty of Camp of June 1546 that ended the war saw England retain Boulogne until 1554, when the French would buy it back for £600,000.
Though the war per se was costly and ineffective, it did add to Henry’s honor and bolstered his reputation as an absolute monarch. Analysis Henry VIII’s efforts to strengthen the monarchy resulted in England developing into a strong and stable state, free from the weakening and distracting influence of feudal barons, powerful nobles and clergy. His strong intervention in the running of the state not only ensured a smooth break from Rome and gave England a national identity, but also avoided religious wars and other distracting civil war.
He conditioned the nobility to serve the Crown and subordinated the clergy to the secular State. He laid the foundation for a modern and centralized state, and even the distant parts of his kingdom began to experience the power of the monarchy. The remarkable feature of his reign is that even though he created a strong central state with the active intervention of the monarch, he enhanced the power of the parliament, by making common law superior to all other types of law and bringing people hitherto excluded from the legal process into its fold.
The biggest beneficiary of this stability was trade, which prospered and added to the wealth of the nation. Henry established a progressive system of taxation that greatly enhanced state finances. A school of though led by scholars like A. F. Pollard regard Henry VIII as a weak man who took decisions based on the influence of ministers like Thomas Cromwell, and that his dominance remained confined to his wives, ministers and political institutions.
This opinion however does not carry much weight, and historical accounts articulate Henry VIII as king with a charismatic presence and as a dynamic political force whose views his ministers and the government accommodated rather than the other way round. Henry also exerted a powerful influence as supreme head of the Church of England, not merely by issuing decrees at will, but by engaging Cranmer and panels of expert theologians in a systematic and academic exchange of opinions. The only criticism that holds against Henry VIII is that he was s a supreme egotist who sometimes allowed passion and not reason to govern his actions.
This criticism however does not make him ineffective or discount the fact that he was one of the most effective and remarkable rulers to sit on the English throne, and greatly strengthened the role of the monarch in the government. Conclusion Henry VIII raised the power of the monarchy and thereby not only transformed a weak medieval government into a more contemporary and strong one, but also gave England the much needed peace, stability and smooth succession of future monarchs, all of which enabled her to become a superpower by the time of Queen Elizabeth.