UK government in Tudor and Stuart times

The Tower of London.
The Tower of London

The Tudors increased the power of the monarchy:

  • Henry VIII destroyed the power of the Church and took its wealth. Although he consulted Parliament, Parliament was there simply to ratify his decisions. The Statute of Proclamations in 1539 gave him the right to make any laws he wanted.
  • Elizabeth I also bullied and controlled her Parliaments. When the MP Peter Wentworth complained about this in 1576 he was arrested and sent to the Tower of London.
Cromwell dismisses his Parliament in 1653.
Cromwell dismisses his Parliament in 1653

This situation changed in Stuart times. The power of the Crown began to decline:

  • Charles I ruled without Parliament between 1629 and 1640 in the Eleven Years Tyranny. This was one of several causes of the Civil Wars. The Civil Wars (1642‒1651) resulted in the defeat and execution of Charles I (1649). It is important to realise, however, that the Civil Wars did not secure Parliamentary government, or create a 'constitutional monarchy'. The Protectorate government, which Oliver Cromwell set up, was almost a military dictatorship. Cromwell dismissed his Parliaments when they disagreed with him, and he ruled the country through Major-Generals appointed for each region.
  • After his Restoration in 1660, Charles II faced a complex set of problems that included religious disharmony and poor finances. These problems were never fully resolved during his reign.
  • James II came to the throne in 1685. He dismissed Parliament in 1685 and ruled without it. James II was a Catholic. He issued two Declarations of Indulgence that allowed Catholics and non-conformists freedom of religion (1687 and 1688). He built up a standing army of 34,000, led by Catholic officers.
  • When James's wife gave birth to a son in June 1688, seven English nobles, known as the 'Immortal Seven', asked the Dutch leader, William of Orange, to invade. Nobody helped James, and in December 1688, William and his wife Mary were made joint monarchs by Parliament. William issued a Bill of Rights (1689) promising to obey the law and call frequent Parliaments. Soon after, the Act of Settlement (1701) made it law that the king of England had to be a Protestant.
  • Most historians agree that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 permanently established a 'constitutional monarchy', which is a 'king-controlled-by-parliament'. It was the turning point in England's government. The king remained influential, but Parliament made the laws.