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Henry VIII and The transformation of England Essay Sample

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Henry VIII and The transformation of England Essay Sample

In England, the Henry’s VIII reign established the framework from which a modern state was to emerge. This included the centralization of power around the King. However, signs of Parliamentary authority began to counter the Crown’s authority. Under the Henry’s VIII reign, administrative reforms were undertaken that approximated bureaucratic methods on a national scale. The introduction of these practices standardized administrative operations and led to the greater penetration of the central government into local affairs.

Additionally, the Henry’s VIII period witnessed the centralization and growth of its military operations. Among Tudor state institutions, the Crown remained the symbol of centralized power; however, other state institutions also held authority. The limits of the Crown has led Elton to characterize the sixteenth-century English state as a “constitutional or limited monarchy” (Elton 1955, 168). The unifying force behind Tudor state innovations and statutes “made possible full national government” (Elton 1955, 179).

The Henry’s VIII state significantly altered the institutions of governing. These changes are visible within the Crown, Parliament, the civil service administration, and the military. Together, they institutionally established the political form of a national community. However, the chapter also examines the relative impact of each institution in terms of creating conditions, directly or indirectly, for nationalism to develop.

The Henry’s Crown consolidated the territory of England giving form to an emerging national community. Henry VIII also served as an important symbol of power, conceptualized as embodying the state. Parliament also solidified the form of a national community. However, individuals within Parliament sought to assert the institution’s authority over the Crown. Reformers argued that Parliament was a representative body of the community and gave priority to the “commonwealth” over the interests of the Crown.

Administratively, the reforms standardized governing procedures. They also linked the local communities to the central authority more closely. Under Henry VIII, practices of the civil service institutionalized the concept of the “other,” defining members of the English community in administrative terms. Finally, the Henry state unified and expanded the military. Manifestations of nationalism appeared among those who served. Upon their return from service, soldiers disseminated these sentiments to the community. As a result, the community began to interpret military achievements, or failures, as those of the community. This interpretation demonstrates the link between the aspects of sentiment and political content that is present within the concept of a nation.

The Henry’s VIII state produced varied interpretations of the national community. These manifestations are presented indicating the aspect of a nation that they highlight. The literature on nationalism is consulted in an effort to interpret the manifestations of nationalism found within the Henry’s state.  The Crown retained the ultimate exercise of power among government institutions during the sixteenth century.

However, it was not entirely an autonomous agent. It relied heavily upon the men of Parliament, landowners, and merchants for financial support. Additionally, Parliament and private parties drafted many statutes enacted under Tudor rule. However, if Henry VIII did not formulate all aspects of policy, it was able to influence policy. More importantly, Henry VIII emerged as the symbol of unity for England. It consolidated and centralized its authority giving form to the realm of England that would become national. As the symbol of England, he also stood at the center of issues concerning religion and sovereignty and served as a unifying force.

           Henry VIII ascended to the throne in 1509. He continued the process of consolidation that began during the reign of his father, demanding allegiance for an otherwise uncontested accession. Henry VIII also continued to cultivate the aura of the Crown as the embodiment of the realm. However, he began to assert his authority among foreign powers as well as within the realm of England.

As early as 1516, he stated that “Kings of England have never had any superior but God alone” (Elton 1955, 107). This statement demonstrates the supreme domestic power assumed by Henry VIII as well as his attitude toward foreign authority.  This interpretation of the Crown’s authority was articulated even more clearly with the establishment of the Church of England. The break from the Papacy required a reinterpretation of kingship and community. The Act of Appeals, a statute written in March 1533 and enacted in

July of that same year, codified this reinterpretation. In its preamble, the act claims that

This realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King . . . unto whom a body politic, compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and names of Spirituality and Temporality, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience (Elton, 1961, 435).

The claim is supported in the document through testimony from “divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles” (Elton, 1961, 436).

            The Act of Appeals, while fully asserting the separation of England from the Catholic Church, established three points that reveal the Crown’s interpretation of the community of England and its relationship to the world. The first was that England was a sovereign entity not beholden through the administration, courts or edicts of foreign powers.

  The use of the term “Empire” implied that English dominions, such as Calais, were distinct from what was considered to be England. The establishment of England as a sovereign entity contributed to the codification of a national community. Greenfeld emphasizes the importance of this interpretation: “The adoption of this novel meaning of “empire” as an independent polity . . . now implied that the world was divided along political rather than confessional lines” (Greenfeld 1992, 34).

Secondly, the Act asserted that England consisted of many types of people in terms of social status, family tradition held in name, and spiritual disposition. However, these internal divisions were subordinate to the unity found through a common allegiance to the Crown.

Therefore, the Act made an assertion of “Englishness,” in terms of political loyalty, which was second only to one’s allegiance to God. Lastly, the preamble of the Act sought to justify the Reformation through historical precedence. In effect, it reconstructed a history of England that supported the claims of the Act, drawing from a glorious interpretation of the legacy of English Crown. The reign of Henry VIII was only the most recent of the great royal households that had ruled England.

Elton contends that based on the assertions found in the Act of Appeals, the Tudor Crown underwent a revolution that carried it from a medieval to a modern institution. The “essential ingredient of the Tudor revolution was the concept of national sovereignty” (Elton 1979, 160). The relative impact of the Crown, under Henry VIII, was that it created the conditions for nationalism to grow. Early English nationalism relied heavily upon this reinterpretation of the state in terms of its scope (national), and its relationship to the world (sovereign), that was set forth by Henry VIII.

In addition to the conceptual unity advanced by Henry VIII, the 1530s also saw more direct consolidation of the realm in terms of territory. In 1536, an act entitled, For Recontinuing Certain Liberties and Franchises Hereto for Taken from the Crown was established. The statute provided for the administrative integration of “counties palatine, Wales and the marches thereof” (Elton, 1955, 96). The act maintained that the effected regions were to be fully governed by the Crown. New governing authority included the right of pardons and prosecution of felonies, the appointment of justices and administrators, and the fuller integration of the areas into the established tax code.

According to Elton, “for the first time, the whole realm, without qualification, became subject to government from Westminster” (Elton 1955, 176). The statute laid the foundation for national state institutions and further defined, in administrative terms, the community of England. The institution of the Crown continued to serve as a unifying symbol for the realm of England. During the minority reign of Edward VI who took the throne after the death of Henry VIII in 1547, this unifying character still held.

The Reformation is correctly attributed to the reign of Henry VIII. However, relations between the Catholic Church and the English Crown, prior to his accession, were less than amicable, and the reach of the Church less than absolute. Under Henry VII, important precedents were established that curtailed the authority of the Church in England. These limits lifted the rule of secular law over ecclesiastical edicts. Commenting on these precedents in English law, Elton notes that,

The state had a special reason for interference: in the consolidation of royal power which Henry VII had fostered, the privileges of the Church remained virtually untouched (Elton 1955, 106).

Furthermore, religious authority held abroad posed a “problem of dual allegiance” (Elton 1955, 107). Therefore, under Henry VII, the state attempted to limit Church authority in its efforts to consolidate power within the realm. The Tudor state had the most success in matters that concerned the legal jurisdiction of English law over that of the Catholic Church. The efforts of the state created a tension between a religious interpretation of community, that deferred power to Rome, and the state’s territorial integrity that was increasingly being exercised on a national scale.

This tension surfaced in a case that concerned the Church’s ability to provide sanctuary. In I486, shortly after the houses of Lancaster and York were united through Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth, Humphery and Thomas Stafford led an uprising against the Crown. When it became clear that they had failed, the two rebels sought sanctuary in the Catholic Church.

However, they were arrested and brought before the King’s court for trial. The court’s decision found both men guilty of treason. The court argued that their claims of sanctuary were invalid and that sanctuary in general was a matter of common law that gave no jurisdiction to the Catholic Church. Therefore, the rule of law, defined in English terms, was held over religious authority setting a precedent despite protests from Rome (Elton 1979, 21).

The tension between the Catholic Church and the English Crown manifested itself again in 1514. After the Bishop of London arrested Richard Hunne for heresy, allegedly for failing to pay a mortuary fee, the London merchant died during incarceration. The King’s court tried and convicted the jailer and the Bishop’s chancellor for murder. Objections from the Pope, arguing that the case fell under his jurisdiction, were ignored. The case is exceptional because the ruling of a secular court was upheld over that of a religious court (Ogle 1949, 10).

            Henry VIII had two primary objectives concerning its relations with the Catholic Church. He attempted to consolidate state power that required the unwavering allegiance of its subjects. He also coveted the wealth of the Church. These early challenges to Church authority met little resistance within the general population. English subjects held reservations against the authority of the Church reflecting an anticlerical sentiment. Elton argues that “if one thing be said of the English people early in the sixteenth century it is that they thought little of priests” (Elton 1955, 102). He continues that,

Where the pope was concerned, the anti-clerical passions which denounced the pretensions of the priesthood found an ally in national prejudice and national interest (Elton 1955, 109).

Therefore, Henry VIII legitimized actions against the Catholic Church on economic and institutional grounds, but did not attack theological doctrine. He cultivated the glorification of the state and the realm that was quickly becoming national in scope. King’s approach complemented the anticlerical sentiment present within the realm.

            Anticlericalism among English subjects arose from several sources. The wealth accumulated by the Catholic Church, which held almost one-third of the land in England, was one source of resentment (Elton 1953, 143). The Catholic Church leased most of this locally to gentlemen and lords who wanted to expropriate the lands for themselves. Objections were also raised over the monetary exactions of the Church.

Tithes accounted for much of the Church’s revenue. However, fees for marriages, probates, and burials were also included in the taxes levied by the Church (Elton 1953, 145). The Catholic courts enforced the financial demands of the Church. They brought charges against persons as an additional source of revenue or punished individuals for reasons of personal revenge. The ecclesiastical courts tended to grant arbitrary decisions, basing them upon the wealth and status of the individual in question (Elton 1953, 148-49).

            Therefore, grievances that collectively constituted the anticlerical sentiment were directed toward the institutional practices of the Church. However, grievances did not challenge fundamental doctrine or theology. Bindoff concludes that the Reformation

was a revolution, but a revolution directed against a hated foreign authority rather than authority within the realm. It involved no soul-searching challenge to cherished dogma or ritual (Bindoff 1950, 99-100).

Prior to the Reformation, challenges to the Catholic Church were couched in national terms that questioned the institutional and territorial source of authority. The Henry’s VIII Crown contributed to an emerging nationalism through its national scope of administration. The institutional break with the Catholic Church reinforced the national conceptualization of England.

            The Reformation began in 1529 and was codified through the Act of Appeals in 1533. During this period, Henry VIII directed legislation through Parliament that threatened and

finally broke the institutional ties and authority held by Rome. Employing Parliament in the process broadened the attack and attempted to contain dissent within chambers. Furthermore, the consent of Parliament added legitimacy to the process.

The Parliament that assembled in November 1529 was the first to be called since 1523. Between 1529 and 1533, Henry VIII called Parliament four times to approve legislation that originated from his chamber giving rise to its characterization as the Reformation Parliament. Bindoff argues that in addition to approving the statutes, Parliament played a crucial role in the ultimate success of establishing the new state Church. Parliament was

to mass the laity solidly behind the King, to overawe the clergy into acquiescence in his demands, and to frighten the Pope into yielding to them. . . . Nothing was better calculated to please the Commons than to be allowed to, nay, incited to vent their anti-clericalism, and they went to work with a will (Bindoff 1950, 88).

Therefore, the ratification of the Reformation came from an institutional body that was national in form if not yet fully national in character or self-identity.

            Much of the legislation in the first three years of the Reformation challenged the authority of the Pope in diverse matters. Although these statutes threatened Rome, they did not propose a formal break. This changed in May 1532 with the Act of Supplication. According to the Act,

The clergy were to enact no canons and ordinances without the king’s license, the existing canon law was to be examined by a commission of thirty-two men (half of them lay) who the king would appoint, and the laws approved by them were to receive the king’s assent (Elton 1955, 130).

Considering this important role, Bindoff comments that “of no parliament before this one had so much been required in the form of legislation – one hundred and thirty-seven statutes, thirty-two of them directly concerned with the great national issue” (Bindoff 1950, 97). Several days after the acceptance of this statute by the Commons, legislation entitled “The Submission of the Clergy” demanded that the clergy in England accept the King as the supreme legislator replacing the Pope. Therefore, control over doctrine shifted from Rome to the English

Crown.

The Act of Appeals marked the formal break with the Catholic Church. Ratified in July 1533, its principal component provided legal grounding that challenged the ability of Roman courts to claim jurisdiction over cases within England, a practice established under Richard II. Therefore, the Act legally sheltered Henry VIII’s divorce, and marriage to Anne Boleyn, from challenges that would subject him to the courts of Rome. Its greater impact was to detach the last institutional recourse left to the Catholic Church on any matter that took place in England (Elton 1953, 39).

           Provisions within the Act of Appeals established the principle of sovereignty within England. Its political and legal institutions were no longer subject to a higher authority in Rome. Furthermore, political lines of authority overtook those of religion. The Act demanded that the subjects of England were to direct their loyalty and allegiance to the Crown. Therefore, the establishment of a unique religious institution reinforced the administrative unity sought by the King and further outlined the community in national form. Finally, the Act justified the

break through historical precedence claiming that England had reestablished its rightful independence. The Act created the form of a sovereign, national community.

           Rome responded with bulls and edicts condemning the English Church. These were published and distributed primarily outside the realm of England. The response from

Rome generated further King’s legislation. In December 1534, the Act of Supremacy reaffirmed the full claim of the Reformation. It did not make the king the supreme head but acknowledged that he “justly and rightfully is and ought to be Supreme Head of the Church of England” going on to enact that he shall be so “taken, accepted and regarded” (Elton 1955, 135).

           The Act of Supremacy formally marked the transition from the Church in England to the Church of  England. The Act’s preamble, drafted by Cromwell, claimed that no man need

more than the English Church that was now “the Church of England called “Anglicana Ecclesia”   (Elton 1977, 165). In January 1535, Henry VIII officially added the title Supreme

Head of the Church of England to his name (Elton 1955, 165).

           Although the establishment of the Church of England satisfied the nuptial ambitions of Henry VIII and asserted the sovereignty of the realm, it also produced economic benefits for the Crown. The Church of England assumed ownership of all lands formally held by the Catholic Church through the dissolution of the monasteries. Statutes of

Parliament legitimized the confiscation of the lands. The dissolution increased the revenue of the crown by well over 100,000 [pounds] a year, roughly the total royal income at the beginning of Cromwell’s ministry [December 1531] (Elton 1953, 149).

However, the Crown distributed this windfall to the nobility and gentry to insure their continued cooperation through grants and sales that undervalued the property.

From an early date the government realised that it could bind the gentry and the nobility to the new order by bribing them with lands which any reversal of [religious] policy would force them to restore (Elton 1953, 142) .

Therefore, through land grants and sales, the Crown assured the perpetuation of its established Church. Furthermore,

The dissolution destroyed the last possible refuge of papalism, enriched the crown, and anchored the new order firmly in the self-interest of the land-owning classes who purchased the estates (Elton 1953, 150).

In addition to the monasteries, the Crown now received revenue from tithes and fees. In 1534, the practice of “first fruits and tenths” was enacted which appropriated the revenue from any Church benefice for the first year and then took one tenth annually. Elton comments that this taxation was more than Rome had ever exacted (Elton 1953,136) .

            The Reformation was an institutional shift of power. It satisfied the nuptial and economic demands of the Crown while retaining the theological orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. The retention of the doctrine provoked reaction from Protestant factions that wished to reform the religion theologically according to Protestant principles.

Their reaction incorporated the use of nationalist appeals since Protestants wanted to extend the Reformation that rested upon sovereignty articulated through unique English institutions. Protestants recognized that replacing the Pope with the King did not meet the goals they sought. They cultivated the uniqueness of the English religious institutions and the relationship between the Church of England and the realm of England. Smith notes that,

            As with God, so with royalty; a double standard was claimed between king and   subject, for the monarch was now the life-giving symbol of a kingdom, beleaguered by    the hellhound of Catholicism, in which a single attribute–even more binding than     obedience – qualified its citizens for membership: a sense of Englishness especially       blessed by a Protestant God (Smith 1986, 188).

Therefore, conflict continued over religious doctrine and practice. However, this was necessarily in national form since the reformed institutions that created the controversy were uniquely English and assumed a posture of sovereignty.

            In terms of an emerging national identity, it is difficult to assess the impact that Henry VIII had on the general population. Henry VIII had a direct impact upon the role of the state in society. The break from Rome reinforced the form of a united community that was national in scope. Furthermore, it established political lines of authority over those of religion. The Henry’s VIII state became the highest source of power, secured through its assumed ability to interpret the word of God. However, for the general population, the implementation of Protestant principles that accompanied the Reformation had a more immediate and direct impact in establishing nationalism.

            The Reformation and the rise of Protestantism under Henry VIII brought important changes that united the community. These changes included the authorization of the English Bible and the introduction of the English language into religious practice. Through its insistence on bringing religion to the people, Protestantism encouraged individuals to interpret their spirituality through the vernacular. Their insistence paved the way for a union between religion and the community that was defined nationally through administrative and religious institutions.

            Anderson holds that the standardization of the vernacular is a necessary condition for the emergence of nationalism. Although Anderson emphasizes the market for print in the form of pamphlets, newspapers, and novels, he acknowledges the Bible translated into the vernacular as the “first bestseller” (Anderson 1991, 17). The ordering of the English Bible to every parish brought a standardized vernacular to the entire realm of England.

The presence of a standardized vernacular did not necessitate its dissemination, especially since the literacy rate of England remained relatively low. However, it is likely that individuals at the parish level widely read it. Those who were literate read to those who were not and discussion followed. A royal declaration from 1543 indicates that this practice was prevalent enough to attract the attention of the Crown. The declaration attempted to restrict

the right to read the Bible to clerics, noblemen, gentry, and substantial merchants; women below gentle rank, servants, apprentices, and base people were forbidden to read what was alleged they simply could not understand (Elton 1955, 199).

Furthermore, the English Bible was largely responsible for the rapid rise in literacy as individuals struggled to read what they perceived to be the words of God.

            Reports that the Bible was being read and discussed on a wide scale throughout the realm is important because the general population could now understand the spiritual

message so central to their lives. In terms of nationalism, it meant that the vernacular was becoming standardized. Greenfeld underlines this contribution arguing that it also allowed individuals to acquire a sense of dignity within the community. Each individual now had equal access to the word of God, and thus, an unprecedented level of control over their own spirituality (Greenfeld 1992, 54) .

            Despite statutory measures, Henry VIII continued to complain about the widespread use of the Bible by commoners. In a speech to Parliament in 1545, he characterized the Bible as “disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every ale-house and tavern” (Bindoff 1950, 149). Therefore, the statutes supported by the King had a limited effect. Protestants, who actively encouraged all individuals to read the English Bible, were largely responsible for the uncontrolled escalation of Bible literacy (Greenfeld 1992, 53-55). Although the Crown was interested in unity, it attempted to reserve the right to interpret the Bible as a monopoly of privilege.

            Henry VIII and the struggle over religious doctrine in its aftermath shaped the emergence of nationalism in England. Establishing the Church of England further institutionalized the community in national form. More importantly, the break with Rome forcefully asserted that England constituted a sovereign entity in terms of religious and territorial integrity. However, Henry VIII created conditions that more thoroughly established England as a nation in terms of its sentimental and political aspects.

The Crown transformed the source of religious power from Rome to Henry VIII. In the sixteenth century this also meant political power. Through the creation of the Church of England, the community was redefined inclusively and in national terms. Religious sentiment was directed from the Pope to the Crown. The appropriation of religious authority reenforced the centralizing policies of the Tudor state through sentiment. The standardization of the vernacular through the Bible and religious services cemented the concept of a community defined by the English language and unique religious institutions. These developments elicited the sentiments of individuals who became inclusively incorporated as members of the national community.

The Crown also established the political aspect of a nation. Although the community was defined inclusively, Henry VIII exclusively assumed political power through the Church of England. The rise of Protestantism, and later supporters of the Counter-Reformation, challenged this interpretation of the nation’s political aspect. Although they were competing for the exclusive right to exercise power, each claimed authority by asserting that they represented the community.

In this way, the inclusive conception of community based on sentiment was attached to a specific political content. The struggle over religious doctrine and the political power with which it was associated reveals a struggle over the political aspect of a nation. Representatives of the competing interpretations acknowledged an inclusively defined community based on sentiment over which they claimed authority.

The Catholic faction asserted their claim through the traditional authority of the Catholic Church in England and the authority of the Crown under Mary. Protestants claimed a distinction between Crown and country and asserted that they represented the latter. They furthered their claims through encouraging an anti-foreign sentiment. Henry VIII’s rule combined the authority of the Crown with the state religion. However, the Crown and country were elevated above the question of religion which solidified the community. The nation, based on sentiment, became linked to the ultimate authority of the Crown that represented the political aspect of the nation.

Bibliography

Anderson, B. 1991. Imagined Communities. 2d ed. London: Verso.

Bindoff, S. T. 1950. Tudor England. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Elton, G. R. 1953. Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Change in the Time of Henry       VIII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Elton, G. R. 1955. England Under the Tudors. London: Routledge.

Elton, G. R. 1961. “State Planning in Early-Tudor England.” Economic History Review 2: 433-39.

Elton, G. R. 1979. The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Change in the Age of Henry VIII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Greenfeld, Liah. 1992. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ogle, A. 1949. The Tragedy of the Lollard Tower. London: Oxford University Press.

Smith L. 1986. Treason in Tudor England: Politics and Paranoia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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