Historical and Social Background: Shakespeare and Britain The dynasty of the 16th-century of Britain produced three great leaders who left an indelible mark on the century and on the country. The three monarchs were: * Henry VII * Henry VIII * Elizabeth I In the previous century before these three great leaders the institution of monarchy had been greatly weakened. It was not until Henry VII that is was proved that a strong monarchy could serve as a stabilising power in the country.
The main achievement for Henry VII was that he managed to maintain power in England for more than twenty years. The induction of a great monarch also brought along the weakening of the parliament and the nobles in society. The sixteenth century was the century of the revolt against the Roman Catholic Church - which became widely known as the infamous Reformation and saw the foundation of the Protestant Churches with Martin Luther as the spokesman for the development. It was Henry VIII who instigated the English reformation because of circumstances revolving around his private life.
His wife could not give him the male successor he yearned for, and when he asked of the Pope to grant ham a divorce so he could marry someone else, then the Pope refused. Thus Henry VIII decided that the English Church would break away from the Roman and with the Act of Supremacy he became the head of the Church. The nation widely received this as happy news since the Pope now no longer could interfere in the nation’s business. Tudor-England was basically self-sufficient the population grew steadily and the country had a big production.
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England was the first country that introduced the industrialization in the entire world, lead on by the rapidly growing wool-industry. The need to produce more and more meant that life in the countryside began to change. Fewer people were needed to work the land, and a process began that in the following centuries would see millions of people move away from the country to towns and cities. However, Tudor-England still mainly remained a rural country with over 90 percent of the population living in the countryside.
Life was not easy for the people living in Tudor England, but the Poor Law induced in 1601 would improve conditions for generations. The Poor Law was the first step in setting up a “welfare state”. The Dutch wool market collapsed in 1550, which meant that England had to find new markets and new forms of trade to sustain economic and social development. It was Elizabeth I who rendered it possible by looking beyond the borders of Europa and towards Asia and America. It was the first step towards expansion. But Spain had already started exploitations in America and was not willing to give up that market without a fight.
England and Spain fought a war for the control over the seas. England destroyed the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the military success meant that England could construct colonies everywhere in the world both in Asia and America. The East India Company was set up in 1601. When the last of the Tudor Monarchs, Elizabeth I, died in 1603 she left behind a realm that had changes greatly since her grandfather Henry VII had become king in 1485. It was a prosperous and progressive country whose monarch commanded the respect of the people both as head of the Church and head of state.
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