What was British government like in the 1500s?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The English government in the sixteenth century was what people of the period described as a "mixed" government, with both a monarch and a parliament. The parliament was composed of a House of Commons (representing commoners) and a House of Lords (represented the nobility and the church in the form of Lord Bishops). There was also a judiciary branch, including both church and regular courts. By comparison with the modern era, the early modern government was quite small, with many functions of what we now consider the secular state performed by the church, including marriage, burial, welfare, and even identity (your baptismal certificate was your only actual legal identity document entitling you to such things are poor law benefits). Power was somewhat centralized in the king, but given the lack of fast travel, local justice was usually in the hands of the local nobility or clergy.

teachkwon | Student

English society was composed of three orders: the monarchy, the nobility, and the common people, represented respectively by the king and, in Parliament, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. During the Tudor dynasty of the 1500s, the monarch was the major player. Even though the king was supposed to be dependent on Parliament for money, both Henry VII and Henry VIII were rich enough on their own and did not have very much in the way of government that needed paying for. Consequently, Parliament had little actual power to restrain the king. The nobility posed more of a threat to the king, so Henry VIII and Elizabeth I created a bureaucracy of professional civil servants who are entirely loyal and entirely dependent on the monarch’s good will. The easing out of the nobles from their role in government left a vacuum.  James I, the first of the Stuart kings, ascended the throne after the death of Elizabeth, who had no children. James I planned to reshape English politics around the newly popular idea of kingly Absolutism. The chaos and instability that Europe suffered through the 1500s and 1600s, made this idea quite appealing.