Henry VII (1485-1509), when the Wars of the Roses ended, was the first king of the Tudor dynasty. During his reign he made the monarchy supreme and turned England into a strong modern state which he administered like a business man. He got royal land back from the Church and confiscated the lands of the nobles who had been defeated or had died in the recent wars. He avoided war since it was too expensive, and the peace he brought made him very popular among the urban middle classes and the country gentry. He began to choose his ministers and servants among them, while he mercilessly suppressed any rebellion of claimants to the throne. During his long reign he summoned parliament only six times to pass laws against the nobility. Henry's foreign policy aimed to making England's trading position stronger. Trade agreements were made with Flanders and Denmark and an understanding with Scotland and Spain was achieved by means of dynastic marriages: the king's eldest son Arthur, married Catherine of Aragon daughter of the king of Spain, and one of Henry's daughters was married to James IV of Scotland.
Henry also laid the foundations of English naval power by spending money on the building of ships so that England could have its own merchant fleet as well as increase its military strength. Henry VIII, the new king, inherited a fortune of over a million pounds when Henry VII died in 1509. When he succeeded his father, Henry VIII (1509-1547) was only eighteen. He was a typical Renaissance prince who maintained a magnificent court as he liked music and dancing; he was a poet and an athlete, yet he was cruel and executed those who displeased him. He was more ambitious than his father, and spend money on warships and guns, making the English fighting fleet the best in Europe.
The first years of his reign were marked by the religious question with the Pope which culminated in the Reformation. The prelude to the breach with Rome was the anti-clericalism of the 12th century, which had found its expression in the preaching of Wycliffe and the Lollards and the doctrines of Martin Luther(1483-1546), the monk who was leading the Protestant Reformation in Germany, or of the French theologian John Calvin(1509-1564). Indeed Henry VIII did not intend to transform England to a Protestant country; in 1521 he had been honored by the Pope with the title Fidei Defensor (defender of the faith). The occasion for the breach was the King's wish to have a male heir. As a young man, Henry had been married by special dispensation to Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow, who some years later had given him a daughter, Mary, but was now unlikely to bear him a son. He had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting, and asked the Pope Clemente VII for a divorce in order to marry her.
When it was clear that the Pope would not declare his first marriage invalid, Henry declared himself "Supreme Head of the Church" in England, by means of the Act of Supremacy (1534). The new Anglican Church was born, through independent it remained faithful to Roman dogma. Sir Thomas More (ca. 1478-1535), who was the king's Chancellor and a good Catholic, had his head cut off because of his opposition. The instrument chosen by Henry to make the Reformation effective, was Parliament; in fact the legislation suppressed orders of monks and friars and established the supremacy of the State over the Church. The king was persuaded by his secretary Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) to dissolve the monasteries and seize their wealth, as monasteries came under the power of the English State and their confiscated lands and wealth went directly to the King, while the rest was given or sold to landowners and members of the middle classes. For this Cromwell became known as Malleus Monachorum, "the hammer of the monks".
In 1536 Anne Boleyn, who had given Henry VIII a daughter, Elizabeth, was executed, and the king married Jane Seymour, his third wife, who finally gave birth to a son, Edward. Later the Archbishop Cranmer (1489-1556) persuaded Henry to strengthen the English Church by authorizing a new translation of the Bible, while Cromwell wanted Henry to marry another Protestant, Anne of Cleves. Henry married her in 1540 but soon divorced to marry Catherine Howard, his fifth wife. After two years he had her executed because of a love affair with her cousin. Henry's last wife was Catherine Parr, who managed to survive her husband.
THE KING'S DEATH AND HIS SUCCESSORS
The last years of Henry VIII life, were dangerous ones both for his court and for his country. Many noblemen were beheaded on the slightest suspicion, particularly if they had the remotest claim to the throne. Many were afraid of a return to the disorders of a civil war, for Henry's successor was only a boy. Edward VI (1547-1553), the son of Jane Seymour, made Protestant doctrine more fully accepted. He used some of the confiscated wealth of convents to build schools; he introduced some Protestant reforms with the help of Archbishop Cranmer, who wrote The Book of Common Prayer in English in order to replace the old Latin missal. On Edward's death, Mary I (1553-1558), the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, succeeded him.
She was Catholic and married Philip, heir to the throne of Spain. Their marriage occasioned fear when the nation saw their Queen wanting to make England subservient to Spain. There was a rebellion, whose aim was to offer the crown to Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but it failed. Under Mary's reign there was a severe Catholic reaction: Protestant were persecuted and many burnt at the stake or sent into exile. The Queen herself earned the title "Bloody Mary" and a reputation as one the most detested English sovereign. When she died, in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth became queen of a divided nation, the majority of which was anti-catholic and anti-spanish.
THE REIGN OF ELIZABETH I 1558-1603
When Elizabeth I came to the throne she was twenty-five; she was reddish, gold hair and was attractive rather than beautiful. She had a strong personality, a lively intelligence and a fiery temper, she had received a very good education and she could speak French, Latin and Italian with ease, and above all she was a political genius fo first rank. Her most pressing problem was to solve the religious question, which had led to so much bloodshed during the reign of "Bloody Mary"; so she tried to take a middle course and her Act of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559), gave her the title of "Supreme Governor". Elizabeth brought unity, defeated England's and her own enemies at home and abroad, and laid the foundation for the nation's greatness as a world power; Spain was one of her main rivals and her main military success was the victory of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada, or rather "La Invencible Armada", in 1588. The Queen was unmarried and she used her marriageability as a political weapon, encouraging the hopes of European princes with whom it was important to keep on good terms. As she used to say herself: "the Queen was married to her people"; eventually the people accepted this idea and began to make a cult of their "Virgin Queen".