The History of The Tudors
One of the most exciting periods in English history is the Tudor period, which covers history throughout 16th-century England. The Tudors were a Welsh-English family who ruled England and Wales from 1485 to 1603, beginning with their first monarch, Henry VII (1457-1509).
The Tudors ruled for 118 years and gave the people of England two of the most famous monarchs ever to sit on the throne in their own right. King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I (the ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II). Join us as we learn more about how the Tudors shaped the English monarchy, political factions, religious views, and the ordinary lives of the commoners as we read about The History of The Tudors.
King Henry VII
The Tudor history began with King Henry VII's victory over Richard III's Yorkish army, who had attempted to take the English throne. After Henry VII's victory in 1485 following the Battle of Bosworth, he became king.
There had been a long-time rivalry between the House of Lancaster (Henry's family) and the House of York. It led to a battle between them known as the War of the Roses that began 30 years prior to Henry's victory over King Richard I of York.
The War of the Roses
The War of the Roses, also known as the War of the Cousins (as the Lancasters and the Yorks were closely related), resulted in a conflict between two of the most influential households in England. The conflict began in 1455 and continued until 1487, two years after the death of King Richard I and Henry's ascension to the throne.
During that time, Henry made a strategic move hoping to unite the families by marrying Elizabeth of York on January 18, 1486. While it didn't end the War of the Roses, it did bring together Henry and Elizabeth, a match he believed was ordained by God.
The Heirs of Tudor
In a marriage that unified the house of Lancaster and York, King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York would go on to have seven children. Sadly, only four would make it past the age of three to become heirs to the throne.
Their firstborn was Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, born September 20, 1486. Margaret Tudor, born November 28, 1489, was their second born. Henry VIII was the third child of Henry and Elizabeth and was born on June 28, 1491. Although he was third in line to the throne, he would become his father's successor.
Elizabeth Tudor was born next but passed away at the age of three. Mary Tudor was next, born on March 18, 1496, and would be the last surviving child of King Henry VII. He and Elizabeth would go on to have Katherine Tudor, who died shortly after birth.
The Tudor Monarchs
The Tudors had five British monarchs rule England during their reign. King Henry VII's descendants who would take the throne include Henry VIII, who ruled from 1509 to 1547, and Edward VI, Henry VIII's son, who ruled from 1547 to 1553.
The next two monarchs would be the first two women to serve as queen in their own right, including Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII, who ruled from 1553 to 1558, and Henry's other daughter Elizabeth I. Elizabeth ruled over England from 1558 to 1603.
King Henry VIII
The most influential Tudor monarchs were Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, although she was more beloved by the English people. Both are powerful figures capable of overpowering their quarrelsome legislators and meeting the demands of an incessantly vocal Parliament.
Under Henry VII, the British government became more stable and centralized. Under Henry VIII, a British authority on the Continent was tested, and military conquests were hard to maintain. The most important victory for King Henry VIII was a great victory over Scotland early in his reign, in 1513.
Henry VIII's desperate search for a legitimate heir to the throne led to what the English now call the Reformation in 1527. It ended the English Catholic church's authority over the country with the first Act of Supremacy.
Henry is probably best known for his religious policies. Unable to obtain an annulment from his first wife under Catholic law, Henry proclaims himself Supreme Head of a new Church of England. He also destroyed or sold most of the Church of England's property.
King Edward VI
After marrying a total of six times, King Henry was finally able to produce an heir, Edward VI. Edward reigned from 1547, after his father's death, until 1553, when he died a mere six years after his coronation.
Edward was only nine when he took the throne and, because he was only a child, had a trusted advisor, his uncle, the Duke of Somerset. Sadly, the young king would die at the age of 16 of tuberculosis.
The Short Rule of Lady Jane Grey
After the death of King Edward, plans to place Lady Jane Grey (a Protestant) on the throne instead of the Catholic Princess Mary I was underway, while Edward’s advisors tried to keep their influence over the throne. They knew they couldn't control Mary. So, Lady Jane took the throne.
Unfortunately for them, their plan only lasted nine days before Jane was stripped of her title. Mary took her rightful place as Queen but was reluctant to punish Lady Jane. Ultimately, Lady Jane Grey was executed at 17 for her crimes against the throne.
The First Queen of England
Despite the efforts of King Henry, Edward’s advisors, and Lady Jane, Mary I took the throne in 1553. She would be the first recognized Queen of England to serve in her own right.
While Lady Jane ruled, Mary fled to Norfolk in hopes of gathering supporters. With the help of her sister Elizabeth, who was attempting to ensure her own right to the throne should her sister pass, the two were able to overthrow Jane and take back the Crown with the help of her supporters.
Queen Mary I
Queen Mary I was declared queen much to the acclaim of the people of England and held her coronation in October 1553. With the citizens pleased with their Catholic queen (even the Protestants praised her service), Mary took a husband to please her people.
Unfortunately, the people were not happy with her choice to marry Philip of Spain, and after a policy regarding religious persecution and bad agricultural conditions, Mary became hated. This left her heartbroken.
Prince Philip II of Spain
The fact that Queen Mary I was a woman was a huge problem for the Tudor nobles, who had never had a queen rule the monarch. For that reason, the person she would marry became a controversial topic.
Many of the nobles insisted that she marry a Protestant to unite the two religious factions. However, Mary refused to be bullied by the gentry, and she chose to marry Prince Philip II of Spain in 1554.
The Persecution of the Protestants
During her reign, the rise of the Catholic church led to the persecution of the Protestants, who they saw as a threat to their power and religious hold over the country. Being the faithful Catholic she was, Mary allowed officials to burn Protestants at the stake in the town squares.
This saddened her Protestant sister Elizabeth, who began to regret helping her sister take the throne. However, by 1558, Mary had fallen very ill, and since she had failed to produce an heir, Elizabeth was next in line.
Queen Elizabeth I
After Mary's death, her half-sister Elizabeth became the second Queen of England to rule in her own right. She was a religious pragmatist who was passionately devoted to her country. She worked endlessly to create policies that extended both political and religious rights to the people.
Elizabeth reigned for 45 years from 1558 to 1603 and was beloved by her people. Even today, her reign is revered as the most glorious time in English history. She was the last reigning monarch of Tudor history.
Queen Elizabeth's Victory Over the Spanish Armada
In 1588, Queen Elizabeth declared victory over the Spanish Armada, which infuriated many of her advisors. However, it gave the country the political and religious peace it needed.
This victory over Spain launched further achievements, such as the exploration of the world and the colonization of North America. Her reign also brought the rise of many artistic achievements, including the popularity of William Shakespeare's plays and the works of Sir Francis Bacon.
The Act of Supremacy
Queen Elizabeth's reign was not without troubles, however. Catholic enemies made several attempts on this Protestant queen's life. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, was a strong supporter of religious reform and encouraged her daughter to effect change should she take the throne.
Even after her mother's execution, she was raised by Katherine Parr, who had also instilled these same religious beliefs and her tenacity in making these necessary reforms. Thanks to her strong convictions, Elizabeth passed the Act of Supremacy the same year as her coronation to ensure religious freedoms throughout the country.
The Six Wives of King Henry VIII
Now that we have covered the various monarchs throughout the history of the Tudors, we're going to discuss the six wives of Henry VIII. It was in these marriages that the most prolific monarchs were born.
If you know anything about Henry VIII, it's the fact that he had so many wives. There's even a song called "Henry VIII," and if you've watched the movie Ghost, you know which one we're talking about. So, let's discuss each of these remarkable women.
The Tragic Life of King Edward
Edward was born in 1537 and was Henry's only surviving male heir. Interestingly, he would be the last Tudor to be born. His childhood was spent learning the lessons of the Tudor princes. He easily mastered Greek, Latin, and French. Like all Tudors, he loved music and was extremely talented.
After becoming the King of England at the age of nine, his uncle became his trusted advisor, who seemed to have a scheme up his sleeve that didn't necessarily benefit this king or his people.
Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset
While Edward was extremely intelligent, he lacked the maturity to manage an entire kingdom. Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and King Edward's uncle, stepped up to help the young prince take on the role of the King of England.
The Duke obviously had ulterior motives in advising his young nephew. Although, it was clear the man truly loved the young man, treating him as a son.
The Kett Rebellion
The Kett Rebellion in 1549 was the beginning of Edward's downfall. The nobles were quick to accuse him of his lenient treatment of the rebels when, deep down, they were jealous of his popularity among the commoners.
The Duke of Somerset was removed from office and replaced by John Dudley, although that never stopped his scheming. The Duke of Northumberland and the Earl of Warwick also began to advise the young king. The Duke of Somerset was tried and found guilty of treason and was executed on January 22, 1552.
Catharine of Aragon
Henry's first wife was Catherine of Aragon, the youngest child of the King of Spain, Ferdinand. The two married when Catherine was 23, and Henry was only days away from turning 18.
They were married for over twenty years before Henry sought a divorce. However, the Catholic church declared divorce against the law, so Henry began the Reformation Parliament that legalized the divorce on the grounds that she failed to produce a male heir. Before they separated, Catherine gave birth to three children, two sons who died in infancy and Mary I.
Anne Boleyn was Henry's second wife and the mother to Elizabeth I. She was the daughter of an ambitious knight who had promised his daughter to the king in exchange for favor from the Crown. The two were wed in a private ceremony, as the new Queen Consort was pregnant at the time.
Unfortunately, Anne had also failed to produce a male heir (as was promised by her father). Henry didn't want to divorce for the second time, so he charged his wife with high treason, and she was beheaded in May 1536. Two weeks after the execution, Henry married Jane Seymour.
Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour had finally produced the male heir he desperately wanted, and it seemed that Jane's fate would not include a divorce or untimely execution. Sadly, Jane would only be married to Henry for two years.
Shortly after giving birth the Edward VI, Jane fell deadly ill from what was believed to be postpartum complications. That left King Henry with a son but no one to help care for his three young children.
Anne of Cleves
In his haste to find a wife, Henry married Anne of Cleves but divorced her only mere months after the wedding. He wrote in his journals that he found her unattractive and was already well on his way to courting his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.
The betrothal was another arranged marriage that was supposed to ease political unrest. Henry claimed the wedding was never consummated, allowing him to annul the marriage only six months after they wed. Ironically, the king gave Anne a generous settlement and was referred to as the “King’s Beloved Sister” for the remainder of her life.
Henry married Catherine Howard in July 1540, when she was merely 19 years old, making her Henry's youngest wife. They were married for two years before she was charged with adultery and executed.
There was no proof that the Queen Consort committed what she was accused of, and she proclaimed her innocence throughout the remainder of her life before she was beheaded.
For King Henry's sixth wife, he settled for Katherine Parr, who had been widowed twice before she married the king. It was said that he had loved her the most of all of his wives, and she would be the one who raised Henry’s children.
After ten years of marriage, Henry passed away, making Katherine a widow for the third time. She went on to marry a man named Thomas Seymour but was known for the rest of her life as the beloved Queen Mother of King Edward VI.
The History of Tudor Christmas
Throughout Tudor history, several traditions were started that continues to this day in England. The most festive time of the year was Christmas when the extremely religious country celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas.
Rich and poor alike would celebrate with festivities each night (the best they could), and each town’s Lord of Misrule was responsible for the merry disports for the season. The Lord would organize games, joisting events, and costume parties.
The History of Tudor May Day
May Day was another time of year that was widely celebrated by the citizens of England during the time of Tudor's reign. Entertainment during May Day included building giant wooden structures to display, minstrels playing instruments throughout the town square, and dancing.
May Day was far less religious than Christmas, and many of the celebrations were centered around pagan traditions. They would even play a game called "London Bridge is Breaking Down" (known today as "London Bridge is Falling Down").
Besides Christmas and May Day, the citizens of Tudor England carried out celebrations throughout the year. These events were centered around popular Tudor entertainment, such as King Henry VII's favorite pastime, gambling.
Although, these celebrations didn't always include games of chance. Tudor people would play indoor games for the children and outdoor games for the men. These events also included dressing up in costumes and performing for audiences.
The Tudor Gridiron
One outdoor game that received a lot of scrutiny in Tudor England was their version of Football. No, we're not talking about "futball" (soccer). We mean a game that closely resembles the gridiron game we all love here in America.
These games were far more violent than the sport we know today, and many players were taken off the field on stretchers or in wheel borrows. Thomas Elyot, a famed commentator for the games, called it "nothing but a beastly fury of extreme violence."
The Tudor Archer
When King Henry VIII was king, archery became increasingly popular. When Henry was a young man, he was well-known for his archery skills, yet it was his younger brother, Prince Arthur, who was called the best archer in Tudor history.
The brothers bonded over the sport before Arthur's untimely death, and Henry wanted to share this passion with his countrymen. That was when archery events became quite prevalent throughout England.
Hunting as a Pastime
Hunting was another Tudor event that took place several times throughout the year. Although, much like the country's current hunting laws, there were strict mandates as to who could hunt and what they could kill.
This was one event that was not exclusive to the men, and both Mary of Scots and Elizabeth I were well-known for their skills in the sport. While the poor were not excluded, many simply couldn't afford to participate.
The Noblemen’s Horn
While the royal family could hunt and kill as many deer as they wanted to, noblemen and church officials were only allowed to kill one or two deer. They would have to sound a horn whenever they took down their prey.
Since they were limited on the number of animals they could kill, blowing the horn was meant to indicate that the noble had successfully killed the animal and prove they did not steal it from someone else's hunt.
Another popular event was the annual event called hawking, which was yet another sport in which women were allowed to participate. In this event, trained hawks and falcons captured smaller birds and mammals, each worth a certain number of points.
The hawks' pursuit of the heron was the most popular at the event because it pitted trained hawks against trained herons. Other birds involved in the event include goose-hawks, merlin, and tiercels.
The Rise of Tudor Theatres
Along with festivities, celebrations, and sporting events, Tudor England was also responsible for the rise of theatre and literary greats like William Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. Performances went from being a part of the festivities to being the main event.
No theaters were built before the reign of Elizabeth I, but, as mentioned, some plays were popular at that time - performed by mime actors. They included riddles, miracle plays, and morality tales.
William Caxton’s Printing Press
Along with the rise of the arts also came advancements in science and technology. In 1476, William Caxton introduced England to the printing press.
There weren't many books at that time, and many Tudor Englishmen were uneducated and could not read. That was when printing became wildly popular, allowing more information and educational materials to be disseminated among the citizens.
The Tudor Bible
While printing text and translating writings into English, the printing press also enabled the mass distribution of the Bible. Before the Bible was first printed, people relied on the preaching of clergy to learn what the holy scripture said.
After the Henrician reformation, the Bible was translated into both Welsh and English. It was at that time that the Church of England pushed for more Bibles to be distributed to the citizens, but not before the church approved of the official translation.
Music became increasingly popular as well, especially among the wealthy. It became a mark of good breeding if you could compose music or play instruments. Henry VIII and his children were all notably gifted in music.
The lute was the most popular instrument, and local taverns often kept them so customers could play. There were also various flutes, the hurdy-gurdy, and early forms of the organ, harpsichord, trombone, and bagpipes.
Tudor Singing and Dancing
Tudor people loved to sing and dance, and every event held in Tudor England usually involved singing and dancing, either by the patrons of the event or by entertainers hired to perform.
Many people would sing church music, but it was during the reign of the Tudors that helped non-religious music become more mainstream and much more elaborate. Dances also became more elaborate at this time, steering away from the more religious dances of the day.
First Statute of Repeal
In 1553, after Henry's death, Tudor England continued to be a predominately Protestant country. During Edward's short reign, his advisors were on a mission to keep the country free from Catholic laws.
After their failed attempt to place Lady Jane on the throne to keep the country predominately Protestant, Mary I switched England back to Catholicism and the rule of the Catholic church by passing the First Statute of Repeal.
Poverty During the History of the Tudors
Before the Tudor era, laws against vagrants made being poor in England a crime. While famine and poverty were commonplace, the Tudors were able to break away from the norm and pass laws that decriminalized vagrancy.
These laws allowed beggars in town, providing they had a license. However, this created an influx of vagrants in the town square, resulting in the passing of a new law in 1547 that allowed authorities to incarcerate vagabonds for up to two years.
In 1601, Elizabeth passed the Poor Law, which provided relief to the common poor in their first socialistic programs.
In Tudor England, education was reserved for men. Boys were permitted to go to school to learn academics and trade, but girls were forced to stay home to receive their education.
In 1580, an educator named Richard Mulcaster exasperated the issue, stating girls needed to learn at home because "naturally the male is more worthy.” Boys went from nursing school to grammar school, where they were given the choice to attend university or choose a trade.
The Role of Women
In Tudor England, young girls were expected to stay home and learn how to cook and clean. They were also taught needlepoint and how to care for children.
Young girls that were lucky were taught academics either by their brothers who were in school or by their fathers. However, by the beginning of the 16th century, women began to fight for the right to an education, and young girls were then permitted to attend school.
King Henry VII arranged a series of strategic marriages for his children. His eldest son Arthur was engaged to Catherine of Aragon in Spain. As a superpower on the world stage, Spain accepted the offer, which did much to strengthen Britain's international position and fend off potential foreign threats.
Even after Arthur's untimely death, Catherine married Henry VIII, the next in the Tudor dynasty. To strengthen relations with Scotland, he betrothed his second daughter Margaret to King James IV of Scotland, a match that brought prosperity to both England and Scotland.
St. George and the Dragon
When King Henry VII was on the throne, his chief goal was to bring economic stability to his countrymen - rich and poor alike. He successfully revitalized the country's finances by encouraging trade and preventing war.
In doing so, Henry was often compared to the parable of St. George and the Dragon. A fable where a brave Christian soldier defeats a dragon who was extorting villages for resources. His bravery and ability to bring economic stability to England earned him the nickname of St. George.
Why Mary Almost Wasn’t Queen
While King Edward’s former advisors schemed to keep Mary from becoming queen, it was actually her father that was the catalyst of this decision. He wanted to ensure the legitimacy of Elizabeth and disinherit Mary.
In 1536, he ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries to weaken the Catholic church. All these efforts made it difficult for Mary to gain the support she needed to become queen.
Francis I of France and Henry VIII
Henry VIII had aggressive foreign policies that fueled wars between their more traditional enemies, including France. However, during their reigns, Francis I of France and Henry embarked on an ambitious project designed to bring England and France closer together as allies.
The young king attempted to bring peace to his countrymen by including the French in the extravagant and expensive European royal festivals.
Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V
Shortly after making his alliance with Francis I, Henry met the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Each agreed that they would not make any further deals with France for the next two years.
This angered Francis I, and the relationship with France became inconsistent, switching from times of peace to some extreme conflicts until Henry's death.
Henry VIII’s Trusted Advisor
Henry VIII had a trusted advisor, Thomas Cromwell, who helped him make connections with France and other countries throughout Europe. Many believed that since the dissolution of the monasteries, where the churches' assets were sold off and profits were kept by the Crown, the coffer was bursting to the brim.
Unfortunately, while their allyship with France brought economic stability for some time, the king's extravagant lifestyle led him to bankruptcy. Thomas tried to curb the king's spending throughout his reign to no avail.
The Tudor's Resting Place
The history of the Tudors began with King Henry VII and his beautiful wife, Elizabeth of York. Together, they created a legacy that would be known as some of the best years in England's history.
Today, the royal couple rest in peace in effigies in Westminster Abbey. The Queen Consort was the first to pass, and after his death, he was laid to rest next to his wife. If you plan to visit the U.K., we suggest taking a quick trip to Westminster to see the beautiful shrine.