Henry VIII - Overview 1

The way in which Tudor society was arranged. “Tudor” refers to the family name of Henry VIII - his real name was Henry Tudor - the Royal House of Tudor.

Who can tell me the family name of the Queen at the moment?
Windsor. She is from the Royal House of Windsor.

Throughout history, though, not all kings and queens of England had the same surname. Henry’s father, Henry VII, was the first one to be called ‘Tudor’. Before him, was the Royal House of the Plantagenets.

There’s also been the Royal Houses of York and Lancaster and a few others.

The picture on the right above shows you how Tudor society was ‘layered’ - and it had two separate sides to it.

The King, of course, was at the very top and being what we call an ‘absolute’ monarch - what he said, happened.

On the left we have the influence of the Church.

Which religious group did everyone belong to at that time?
Roman Catholic.

And the Roman Catholic Church was very very rich and very powerful too. The Church owned a lot of land, Archbishops had power with the people and with the King and could also have power with The Pope.

Bishops had great influence with the Archbishops, the people and sometimes the king; and at the lowest level were the everyday clergymen - or priests. The priests did as they were told by the bishops, who did as they were told by the Archbishops who did as they were told by both The Pope and the King.

On the other side were the ‘normal’ people.

Under the King came the ‘Gentlemen’. These were members of court, knew the king personally, could get to talk in private to him, they were also rich and owned quite a lot of land. Some were even richer than the King (such as the Duke of Buckingham) but still, they were not the king.

The ‘Gentry’ were rich people who lived most of their time the countryside in their big houses and lots of land. They didn’t really have Royal connections, but if they needed to see the King, they could arrange an appointment.

The ‘Court’ were all the people who were around the King every day. In any country, the monarch is always surrounded by people - those are the monarch’s ‘Court’. It is also a place, where the monarch’s throne is.

What is a ‘throne’?
The seat upon which only the monarch is allowed to sit.

The next level was the ‘Yeomanry’. These were people mostly in the countryside who owned land, or rented land, and made their living from agriculture. They had no connection with the King at all and if they ever got to see him - at a distance - they were very lucky. The people in the city who were equally to the yeomanry were the ‘citizens’. They were merchants, owning shops and they were usually craftsmen - such as those who built carriages, or were cabinet and furniture makers and so on. Again, they too didn’t have anything to do with the king.

Then came the labourers. Way more poor, little money, and they worked hard most of the time with their hands. They were not really skilled; they might work in the fields, or with animals; they rented their homes from whoever was their boss - and probably had little idea who the king even was!

Finally, at the very bottom were the vagrants and beggars.

What is a ‘vagrant’? We still have them today.
They are the people who probably have no home, no work and no income. They usually move about. A country a lot, doing jobs now and then that no one else would do; cleaning drains and so on. Beggars are the people we see sitting on the floor, holding out their cups, expecting people who work for their money to give them something for nothing.

The beggars we usually see usually look quite normal and maybe could get work, but they either choose not to work or they have had a bad experience. Its is possible they had jobs, house, even families, but something happened and they lost it all. That’s happening right now in many countries because of the Virus.

That’s how the society of the Tudor time was arranged. The higher up you were, the more things and money you had, and the lower you were, the less you had.

At that time, do you think people could change the level they were at?
No, there was no ‘social mobility’. You were born into a level and that’s where you stayed. The Indian Caste system is the same today. Born a Dalit, stay a Dalit - born a Brahmin, stay a Brahmin.

Can we change our level in society in modern countries?
Yes, we can, by hard work and doing our best - it’s called ‘succeeding’. It is not easy at all though, because you still need to know people and work very hard.

Do you think the people were happy?
Well, mostly they were. They knew their place, and they knew how to act and behave to people in the other levels of society. They could kick the lower ones, but bow and curtsy to the higher ones.

This actually made people more happy, because it is true to say that when people know their place, they are far more happy.

In most of what we are studying, we only look at the top levels of society. The King and the Gentleman, the Church, Archbishops and the Bishops a little bit.

So, let’s look at what Henry wanted for his country.

You might remember that his father was a more peaceful man than Arthur or Henry.

Who was King Arthur?
The younger brother of Henry, and Arthur married Catherine of Aragon and died when he was 15 years old.

Henry though wanted power and influence; some people might say he was arrogant, but he was certainly forceful.

Who can tell me what ‘arrogant’ means?
Arrogant means to think highly of oneself, and make sure people around try to also to think that that person is important too.

Henry’s forceful personality made him both popular and unpopular. He was popular because he was seen as a strong King, one who would increase the power and importance of England. And everyone loves to feel more strong and important!

But his force also made him unpopular, because if a King makes wars, he needs soldiers, and in those days a great, large Navy too.

Why didn’t he need an airforce?
Aeroplanes had not been invented!

So why does needing an army and a navy make a king unpopular?
Because someone has to pay for it.

In the times of Henry VIII, although his father left him huge amounts of money, Henry was very very good at spending it.

So where could he get more money?
Taxes from the people - usually from the rich people.

No one likes to simply give their money away, really, and the gentlemen of the court became a bit unhappy with all the times Henry wanted their money. But they didn’t really have a choice. Not only that, but the army - made up, as you know - of men, came from the workers in the fields of the rich men. Fewer men in the fields might have meant lower profits, so that was another thing which wasn’t popular.

If Henry knew you didn’t pay, oops! Upsetting the king was a bad, bad idea. He was in total charge … and some of his people had very big axes (picture 1), which were very sharp and could cut off your head instantly.

And Henry succeeded in making the navy (picture 2) and army powerful. 

So this was what made Henry both popular and unpopular. As a person, when he was young (picture 3), people said that Henry was a very nice guy, and everyone genuinely liked him. As a king, you just had to be careful not to get on his bad side.

What did Henry want to achieve?

The first thing is that he believed he was the correct king of France. In those days, Europe was a bit mixed up, with countries taking land here and there, claiming that it was theirs, then some other country would take it from them, or the original country would get it back. All a bit of a mess.

Henry believed that he was the King of France and England because in years gone by, the King of England was also the King of France. But then the French kings had taken back (by battles, of course) their land.

As you know - or you should know - England is part of the British Isles - it’s an island (picture 4). The land in France is not even connected to England, but Henry believed he was the King of it.

For years of his reign (time as king) he was pretty nasty and arrogant towards the French - and of course, they were hostile back.

The second thing Henry wanted was to make himself more important in Europe. When his father was king, England has become less important in Europe, because Henry VII was not a fighter, he was peacemaker. Henry wanted to boost his own reputation, and make his ‘mark’ in Europe.

That just means he wanted every other king to think he mattered a lot, and with his forceful personality and his growing reputation as a warmaker, he quickly made people think he was a threat to their own safety.

A way to get popular again with the nobility. What is the ‘nobility’?
The people with titles, Lords, Earls, Dukes and so on.

The way for Henry VIII to get popular again with these titled people was to actually be successful. Making war in those days was - strangely - a popular thing to do, and when here was a war on, the King (if he was winning) rose in popularity. In this way, they supported him more, which they had not done under his father, because he was far more peaceful.

Henry’s father did make a lot of money, because he didn’t spend it on wars. Wars a very expensive, because the king has to pay for everything - wages for the soldiers or sailors, their food, their weapons, and their transport. Mind you, their protection was pretty bad. And their weapons were often whatever they could make themselves (picture 5).

But still, armies and navies cost a lot of money. Henry managed to use all the money that his father left for him and the country, and that’s why he had to get the richer people to pay taxes.

Another aim Henry had was to make not just himself more important, but to make England more important in the politics of Europe. He really was a great patriot and wanted to make England the greatest country - which, although expensive, he did. And one of his daughters, Queen Elizabeth the First (picture 6), made the country even more strong and powerful.

Having the personality that he had, Henry wanted to make sure that he was thought of as a warrior king, a Royal fighter, just like the more famous kings such as Henry V. That was another of his aims.

Personally, he was a competitive man. He always liked to win at sports, but hated it if people allowed him to win. He was very honest in that way and would not want anyone to let him win just because he was king. And they didn’t let him win. He was simply really good at many sports.

This competitive nature though, spread to more than only sports. He was in competition with King Francis of France and King Charles V of both France and The Holy Roman Empire.

All those things, then, were what Henry wanted to achieve in his foreign policy.

What actually is ‘policy’?
It’s a set of ideas and aims and goals and the way to achieve them.


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