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6 - England in the Sixteenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 August 2023

Peter Cane
Affiliation:
Christ's College, Cambridge and Australian National University
H. Kumarasingham
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
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Summary

Among the first historical writers to reflect on the long sixteenth century (1485–1603), Sir Francis Bacon marvelled at the dynastic fortunes of the Tudor monarchs. Henry VII had ridden from distant exile to win his throne at Bosworth Field (1485) yet his son Henry VIII was a king ‘absolute in the sovereignty’. Then came the reigns of ‘a king in minority; of a queen married to a foreigner; and lastly of a queen that hath governed without the help either of a marriage, or of any mighty man of her blood’.1 These circumstances – a bloody usurpation, the rule of a minor and then by females – seemed perilous to contemporary observers. Contested successions and vulnerable rulers had led to the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485). Even the death of the childless Elizabeth I raised fears about civil war. Consequently, James VI and I’s peaceful accession to the English throne in 1603 signalled a remarkable achievement. After the tumults of the fifteenth century the Tudors had successfully defended their dynastic claims and reconstituted royal authority.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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