Henry VI (1422-1471) ‘The Wars of the Roses’.
Henry VI was less than one year old when he came to the throne. The complete fiasco of the reign of Henry VI ultimately led to that sad period in English history known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’.
The monarchy was rapidly losing its prestige. Henry was interested in education; Eton, Kings and Cambridge colleges were founded during his reign. King Henry and Margaret had adopted the red rose as the symbol of the House of Lancaster. They managed to force Richard of York into exile, but when Henry was later captured at the Battle of Northampton, Richard returned to claim the throne for himself.
A compromise was then effected that would allow him to reign after Henry's death, but Richard was killed at Wakefield when Margaret led an army against him in 1460. The formidable Earl of Warwick then supported his son Edward in his claims. Henry was driven into exile one year later when Warwick had the York prince crowned as Edward IV.
There were now two kings ruling England. A battle took place in 1461 at Towton, Henry was imprisoned. Warwick then switched his allegiance to Margaret and their joint invasion forced King Edward to flee to the Continent. They released the poor, bewildered Henry from the Tower of London to be recognised as king. Edward returned to England and with his supporters in 1471 he defeated and killed Warwick. At the battle of Tewkesbury, he then defeated Queen Margaret and killed her husband's son Edward. Henry found himself back in prison at the Tower where he was executed.
Edward VI (1461-1483)
Edward VI began his reign in 1461 and ruled for eight years before Henry's brief return. Henry’s involvement in a plot to depose the King got him banished to the Tower where he mysteriously died by drowning in his bath.
Richard III (1483-1485)
Richard III of Gloucester had grown rich and powerful during the reign of his brother Edward IV who had rewarded his loyalty with many Northern estates bordering the city of York.
Edward's coronation was set for June 1483. Richard planned his coup; he divided the ruling Council, convincing his own followers of the need to have Lord Hastings executed for treason. One day after that set for Edward's coronation, Richard was able to pressure the assembled Lords and Commons in Parliament to petition him to assume the Kingship.
After his immediate acceptance, he then rode to Westminster and was duly crowned as Richard III. Richard was defeated and killed at Bosworth Field in 1485. The battle ended the ‘Wars of the Roses’.
Henry VII (1485-1509)
Henry VII, the victor at Bosworth Field was also known as Henry Tudor. Henry secured his position as King by firm and effective government, soundly supported by good finances and backed by a strong legal system.
The country was at peace and able to enjoy a great increase in trade with the Continent. John Cabot's voyages put the English flag on the shores of North America. Henry was also interested in books and learning. And he introduced the Yeomen of the Guard, the colourful beefeaters.
Henry VIII (1509-1547)
Henry VIII was a man who loved music and the military arts; he was also interested in building England's navy. All male children born to Catherine and Henry had died. Henry had no heir of his own other than Princess Mary; it was unthinkable at the time that a woman should rule England. As Henry had married his brother's widow, the solution seemed simple enough: he would have to get his marriage annulled and marry the young, Anne Boleyn.
But the king had not bargained on the obstinacy of Charles V, the most powerful monarch in Europe, the nephew of Catherine and, more importantly, the virtual keeper of the Pope.
Thomas Wolsey joined the King's council in 1509. As the king enjoyed other pursuits, he left much of the administration in Wolsey's capable hands, appointing him Lord Chancellor in 1515. The ambitious Wolsey then acquired other offices in rapid succession, including those of Archbishop of York, Cardinal and Papal Legate.
Henry had been given the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ by Pope Clement for his efforts to keep the forces of Protestantism at bay in England. Wolsey on two occasions tried to get himself elected Pope. Wolsey failed in getting Henry divorced and was banished from court and eventually summoned to trial on a charge of treason. He died on his way to face the king.
The medieval church was in a fossilised state, out of touch with the vast changes that had been taking place in economics, politics and social conditions. Dissenters known as the Lollards were still preaching against the Catholic bishops, and William Tyndale the martyr, was busy translating the New Testament into English in Cologne. Martin Luther was in Germany, preaching against the corruption of the Church of Rome; their indulgences etc. The Reformation had begun.
Henry obtained his divorce regardless of Charles V and the Pope. He simply used the authority of the state and the so-named Reformation Parliament that was first called in 1529 and that, for the next seven years, effectively destroyed the medieval church in England.
In 1533, Henry married the pregnant Anne Boleyn and upon the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed Thomas Cranmer to do his bidding in that office.
Breaking with Rome
The official break with Rome came in April 1533 with the passing of the Act of Restraint of Appeals that decreed, "This realm of England is an empire." One month later Archbishop Cranmer declared that the Kings' marriage to Catherine of Aragon was null and void. Ann Boleyn was duly crowned Queen, giving birth to Elizabeth; but three months later the Pope duly excommunicated both Cranmer and Henry.
The Church of England / Reformation in England
After 1534, events moved even more rapidly. The Act of Supremacy of that year declared that the King was the Supreme Head of the Church of England and the Pope officially designated merely as the Bishop of Rome. There was no Catholic uprising in Britain; Henry still considered himself a staunch Catholic, retaining his title of Defender of the Faith. There was no break with Rome on matters of dogma, the king himself had no great desire for a complete separation, but matters came to a head with the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell, considered by many to be the architect of the English Reformation.
Cromwell carried out the policies of Henry. The dissolution of the monasteries in Britain proceeded at a rapid pace. They were an easy target to satisfy Henry's need for vast amounts of money for coastal defences and for the strengthening the navy.
In three years, two acts of dissolution brought to an end hundreds of years of monastic influence in the island of Britain. A feeble protest from Catholics in the North, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace was easily suppressed. In 1538, the same year that the last monasteries were dissolved, Henry's chief minister and architect of the Reformation in England issued injunctions stating that every parish church should have an English Bible and shrines were to be destroyed.
The Church of England / Reformation in England: Part Two
2 Chronicles 31:1 ‘Israel broke the sacred pillars in pieces, cut down the wooden images and threw down the high places and the altars’.
Many beside the king and his nobles were happy to see the monasteries disappear and the power of the Church diminished. Abbots lived like princes. Piety had almost disappeared. The bishop's house at St. David's rivalled the cathedral itself in grandeur.
It has been estimated that they had owned as much as one quarter of the arable land of the nation, plus jewels, church plate, relics and gold artefacts. Henry was determined to have it all, thus the monasteries were destroyed and their lands taken over by the Crown. Their vast land-holdings were sold off to those who could afford them. The so-called Act of Union 1542 and its corrected version of 1543 seemed inevitable. But the "Statute of Rhuddlan" had really achieved union with England in 1284. By the Act, ‘Finally and for all time’ the principality of Wales was incorporated into the Kingdom of England.
In 1544, the name ‘The House of Lords’ first appeared. This was an indication of the rapid rise of the other, Lower House the House of Commons. The Reformation had been firmly established in England and the power of the Catholic Church irrevocably broken. Henry was, obese and gout-ridden and died; in all he had six wives.
Edward VI (1547-1553)
Edward VI uncle, the Duke of Somerset made himself Lord Protector. He continued the late King's policy of religious changes, furthering the Protestant reforms. Cranmer's ‘Book of Common Prayer’ 1552, was made compulsory in all churches and the Latin mass abolished. A new Act of Uniformity was passed. The rightful heir to the throne was Mary, Henry's only surviving child by Catherine of Aragon, and she was a committed Catholic. Edward declared Mary to be the heir.
Mary Tudor (1553-1558)
Mary Tudor also known as ‘Bloody Mary’, took her throne with high hopes of restoring England to Catholicism.
The Reformation had taken firm root throughout Northern Europe and in much of England. Mary set about having Parliament repeal the Act of Supremacy, reinstate heresy laws and petition for reunion with Rome. The Latin Mass was restored and Catholic bishops reinstated.
The burning of ‘heretics’ began, such Protestant leaders and men of influence as Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and Hooper, but also hundreds of lesser men who refused to adopt the Catholic faith. The entire country became enraged and fearful. The nation rejoiced at her death in 1558. Proverbs 28:28 ‘When the wicked arise men hide themselves; but when they perish, the righteous increase’.
Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
The Queen needed the support of the common people to help her cut her ties with Rome, the majority of whom were overwhelmingly Protestant and anti-Rome. She did allow some of the ceremonies associated with Catholicism to remain. Mass continued for those who so wished. She chose the middle road of the Anglican Church, rather than accept the harsh doctrines of such men as Calvin and Knox.
John Knox had arrived back in Scotland in 1544 carrying his huge two-handed sword along with his Bible. The Reformation in Scotland had taken a different path from what it was to take in England after Mary, for Elizabeth was no Calvinist, remaining the head of the Church. Her Supremacy Bill and the Uniformity Bills of 1559, made the Church of England law and substituted fines and penalties for disobedience, instead of burnings and banishment.
The Arts increased; poetry was led by Edmund Spencer (1552-99), whose masterpiece ‘The Faerie Queen’ was inspired by Elizabeth herself and in which she is portrayed as a symbol of the English nation.
Her reign was also the age of Shakespeare. The Welsh received the Holy Bible in their own language in 1588, by Bishop William. Any attempts to make the Counter-Reformation productive in Wales failed miserably. William Salesbury had published his translation of the main texts of the Prayer Book into Welsh in 1551. Ireland was loyal to the Catholic Church; it was a country that resisted all attempts to impose Protestantism.
In 1588, the seemingly invincible Spanish Armada were defeated aided by the unpredictable English Channel. Its defeat also sealed the fate of any Catholic revival in England; from now on, a return to Rome would be out of the question.
Industry and trade prospered. Thomas Gresham had opened his new institution in London, the Royal Exchange, later to make the City the financial capital of the world. Cecil also encouraged the fishing industry. These seamen laid the foundations of their nation's naval superiority, which was to last for centuries and which later led to the acquisition of Britain's vast overseas empire.
The papal grant of 1493 that had divided newly discovered lands and oceans between Spain and Portugal was conveniently ignored by Englishmen, and not just for religious reasons. In 1556 tobacco seeds reached Europe, brought from Brazil by a Franciscan monk. Tobacco found its way to England when John Hawkins brought some home from Florida in 1565. In 1578 Queen Elizabeth gave a patent to Sir Humphrey Gilbert to "Inhabit and possess at his choice all remote and heathen lands not in the actual possession of any Christian prince".
Drake's search for treasures led to his circumnavigating the globe (1577-78), Sir Humphrey Gilbert took settlers to Newfoundland in 1583; Sir Walter Raleigh organised his expedition to Virginia in 1591. John Davis travelled into the northern regions of the world, John Cavendish emulated Drake's epic voyage by sailing around the world. The East India Company was founded and English culture and ideas spread East and West. The large market for English cloth on the Continent increased the speed of land enclosures. The acquisition of vast land holding became a commercial venture and unemployment became rife. Thousands of land-less peasants were now heading into the cities and towns looking for handouts.
James VI (1603-1625)
James VI of Scotland was declared as rightful heir. He greatly favoured a union of the two kingdoms and the new national flag, the Union Jack, bore the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George. But though the Estates passed an Act of Union in 1607, it was a hundred years before a treaty was signed. James' attempt to impose the Five Articles on the Scots, dealing with matters of worship and religious observances was met with strong opposition. When he pushed through his reforms in 1618, they were ignored throughout Scotland. James issued a new translation of the Bible, and in 1611 The King James Bible; the Authorised Version was completed.
James promised to hound the Puritans out of the land, which resulted in the consequent flight of many Pilgrims and others to the Netherlands, and in 1630 their voyage from there to the New World. It led to the establishment of the New England colonies. When James reintroduced the laws that included penalties for not attending Church of England services, a group of Catholics led by Guy Fawkes, tried to blow up the King and Parliament using Gunpowder on the 5th November 1605. Parliament was tipped off and the Catholics were caught the day before.
Charles I (1625-1649)
Charles increased the power of the clergy, and when, under Archbishop Laud, they began to renew persecution of the ever growing Puritan sect, another exodus to New England took place in the 1630's that became known as the Great Migration. Attempts to bring the Scottish Presbyterians in line with the Church of England failed.
The Act of Revocation, decreed by Charles in 1625, restored the lands and titles to the Church that had been distributed among the Scottish nobles during the upheavals of the Reformation. By 1631, potato production in Europe was so great that a population explosion ensued and rose rapidly by the 18th century.
In July 1637, the first reading of the Revised Prayer Book for Scotland was met with a riot. In Edinburgh, a committee made up of representatives from the clergy, the nobles, the gentry and the Scottish burghs drew up the National Covenant. It was known as the Tables. The document signed on what was called the great marriage day of this nation with God, pledged to maintain the true religion.
Copies of the Covenant were carried throughout the country. Though it had been signed with His Majesty's Authority, it served almost as a declaration of independence from English rule. The Assembly excommunicated or deposed all bishops and abolished the Prayer Book. In 1642 England went to war against Scotland.
The Commons passed an ordinance establishing Presbyterianism. A purge of the moderates in Parliament, however, left the radical elements in the so-called "Rump Parliament" that created a High Court of Justice to bring Charles to trial for high treason. His execution was held in public. The Rump, abolished the monarchy, and proclaimed a republican form of government. First called the ‘Commonwealth and Free State,’ and later the ‘Protectorate’.
Republican Government (1649-1660)
Under the Republican Government, the House of Lords was abolished. In 1650, Charles II duly arrived in Scotland to claim his Kingdom. War with Spain in 1655 resulted in the British capture of Jamaica.
On 12 December 1653, after he had refused an offer of the Crown, Cromwell, virtual dictator of England, received the title of Lord Protector. Roman Catholics were still regarded as enemies of the realm.
Under his protectorate, Jews were allowed back into England for the first time since their expulsion under Edward I. Many Jewish families were to do much to support later English governments financially.
The Society of Friends or Quakers began to flourish under the inspired leadership of George Fox. Perhaps more remarkable was the permission granted to congregations to choose their own form of worship, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was replaced by the Directory of Worship. Old George Monck brought his army from Scotland to London, where he quickly assembled a parliament and invited Charles II to take over the reins of the kingdom.
Charles II (1660-1685)
Charles II was shrewd enough to change his beliefs when he saw an advantage. In his earlier attempts at winning the throne, he had courted the Scots Presbyterians, but in later life, he reverted to his Catholic preferences. There were many Protestant denominations, Baptists, Congregationalists and Quakers, all of them refused to conform to the Act of Uniformity of 1662. Action against them came in the form of the Clarendon Code 1664-1665. A collection of restrictive measures stopped them from professional advancement in all the professions, except business.
Unlicensed preachers became a thorn in the side of government who regarded them as something akin to traitors. In 1660, John Bunyan, a preacher, went to prison for twelve years. The result was the books, ‘Grace Abounding’ and then ‘Pilgrim's Progress’ completed in 1675. Many Christians and Catholics were imprisoned. After 1668, Charles began to turn more and more toward the Catholic religion. He concluded treaties with Louis XIV of France and agreed to reconcile himself with the Church of Rome.
In 1672, he issued a Declaration of Indulgence allowing freedom of religion for Catholics as well as non-conformists known as Dissenters. The passing of the Test Act of 1673 compelled public office holders to take the sacrament of the Church of England. Catholics were hunted down and killed, and the legitimate heir, James Duke of York, was excluded from the throne by Parliament because he was a Catholic. Those who supported him were called "Tories" after Catholic outlaws in Ireland.
The Great Fire of London
An outbreak of plague began in 1665, bringing London to a standstill and causing panic at the numbers of dead and the lack of any knowledge as to how to deal with the terrible scourge. The Great Fire of London in 1666, may have helped destroy the dwelling places of the brown rat, the carrier of the deadly fleas and thus brought the plague to an end. Charles II died in February 1685 of a heart attack.
James II (1685-1688)
James attempted to re-introduce Catholicism into a country that had become Protestant, yet he recognised the Church of England as the established church.
He defeated a rebellion led by James, the Duke of Monmouth who had foolishly landed on the Southern Coast of England and declared himself King; many rallied to him. ‘Bloody’ Judge Jeffries had hundreds executed and hundreds more transported overseas as convicts, mainly to the New World.
The Declaration of Indulgence of 1687 aimed at complete religious toleration furthered the resentment of the nation's Protestant majority. Non-conformists and Anglicans reformed their alliance against the religious policies of the king. Due to an invasion, James escaped so that William and Mary, in a joint monarchy, became rulers of Britain. James II and his baby son were debarred from the succession, as were all Catholics.
The Bank of England
In 1694, the costs of the war with France and fighting with Ireland led to the formation of the Bank of England, a company that raised funds from the public and loaned it to the government in exchange for the right to issue bank notes and to discount bills. The loan did not have to be repaid as long as the interest was raised by import duties.
A society to write marine insurance was founded by merchants and sea captains at Lloyd's Coffee House in 1688. Another revolutionary idea was the granting of monopolies in trade by Parliament, and not by the time-honoured system of royal dispensation to favourite courtiers. The new East India Company came about as one of the first results of these acts.
William of the Netherlands formed his Grand Alliance against France in 1701. William wanted to utilise its resources and military forces to defend his country against the French King. When William died in 1702 after falling from his horse, Princess Anne succeeded him.
Queen Anne (1702-1714)
Under Queen Anne the war with France continued. Anne was an Anglican and the country was Protestant.
The Toleration Act of 1689 had broken the monopoly of English Protestantism. The rise of the Dissenters and the spread of Unitarianism accompanied the so-called Scientific Revolution in England led by such men as Isaac Newton, a committed Christian.
The Established Church no longer played a major role in national politics. The accession of William, a Dutch Calvinist, had been instrumental in helping sever the ties between Church and Crown.
The French army was defeated at Blenheim and was followed by the English capture of Gibraltar in 1704. In 1697, Parliament opened the slave trade to British merchants who began their triangular trade from taking rum from New England to Africa, slaves to the Caribbean and sugar and molasses to New England.
Act of Union with Scotland, 1st May 1707
With the death of Queen Anne there was no direct successor to the throne. London was afraid that unless a formal, political union with Scotland was firmly in place, the country might choose James Edward Stuart, Anne's exiled Catholic half-brother.
The English Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701 to ensure that Anne's heir was to be Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James I.
When William died in 1702, Queen Anne, a true daughter of the last legitimate monarch, James II, succeeded him. In 1703, the Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Security that provided for a Protestant Stuart succession upon Anne's death, unless the Scottish government was freed from English or any foreign influence.
The Act proclaimed that there would be “One United Kingdom by the name of Great Britain” with one Protestant ruler and system of free trade. Sophia died in the same year as Anne. When her son George left Hanover to come to England, he knew only a few words of English. Any attempts at restoring the Stuarts would have meant the replacement of a Protestant monarchy. The Stuarts were backed by France, Britain’s catholic enemy. A small civil war ensued for a brief time.
George I (1714-1727)
Under George I there was the Jacobite Rebellion, but it soon fizzled out. James Stuart was sent back to France after failing to rally Scotland behind him. Shares dropped in price, the South Sea Company, Bank of England and the East India Company became one.
Act of Settlement, Britain's First Prime Minister
At the Act of Settlement of 1701, Parliament had insisted that there should be a Privy Council of eighty members. King George reduced it to thirty, and from these an smaller group formed the cabinet, and an even smaller group, the inner cabinet; Walpole rose to a position of chief minister. He continued his leading role after the death of George I in 1727.
Robert Walpole’s position as Chancellor gave him such influence that he became England's first Prime Minister (The title originated as a term of abuse when his opponents mockingly used it to describe his extraordinary power). He also coined the term "Balance of Power" in a speech in Parliament in June 1741.
George II (1727-1760)
In 1676, the Greenwich Observatory had been established to study the position of the moon among the fixed stars, and to set a standard time to help sailors fix their longitude.
In 1728 John Harrison created a working model of a practical, spring-driven timekeeper. An accurate determining of longitude was now possible. It revolutionised the shipping industry.
The Wesley’s and Methodism
In the same year at Oxford University, Charles Wesley was called a "Methodist," because of his methodical study habits. Charles was to help found a holy club with his brother John. John began preaching Methodism at Bristol in 1739; the church is still there today. The first Methodists' conference was held in 1744.
Wesley was banned from public pulpits for his fiery sermons and rode around the country preaching; revivals broke out everywhere. He would preach at 5am to crowds in excess of 20,000. Methodism took root in North America where ideas of political independence from Britain were to merge with ideas of religious independence from the Church of England.
When George II was away in his beloved Hanover and the bulk of the British Army fighting in Flanders and Germany, the Stuart prince Charles Edward landed in the Hebrides in 1745.
Charles had rallied thousands of Highlanders, and promised the help of the French. He was aided by the Provosts who had secretly left a gate open and he had taken the City of Edinburgh. The army marched South but were defeated and gave up their cause.
The fighting qualities and heroic traditions of the Highlanders were put to good use in British armies sent to fight in Europe and beyond. The Seven Year War (1756-63) that closely followed the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion was the most dramatically successful war ever fought by Britain. After many wars Britain found itself at the head of a vast, world empire in which the Scots played an important part.
Over a period of many years Britain became a world empire, ruling at various times such lands as America, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa and other parts of Africa and Asia. It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire.
Captain James Cook received a medal from the Royal Society for finally conquering scurvy; he had brought 118 men through all climates for just over three years with the loss of only one man. He had succeeded by consuming lime-juice, and the Royal Navy ordered it to be a daily ration in 1795.
When William Pitt came to power he believed that the strength of the nation’s economy depended upon overseas expansion as well as the defence of its trading outposts. By 1760, England was growing rich from profits made in tobacco, sugar, sea-island cotton and other products; sadly they were produced by slave labour. English Quakers were active in condemning the trade.
In 1772 Britain's Lord Chief Justice William Murray ruled, "As soon as any slave sets foot in England he becomes free." In 1789 William Wilberforce a committed Christian denounced slavery in the Commons. In 1823, William Wilberforce and Thomas Buxton formed an antislavery society in London. Parliament finally ordered the abolition of slavery in the British colonies to take effect by 1st August 1834.
Also the Factory Act disallowed the employment of children under nine and proscribed the number of hours children were to work in the textile mills.
George III (1760-1820)
George III freed the country from the tyranny of their parliament. Pitt resigned and George insisted on picking his own ministers, he appointed four different men to lead the country.
Centuries of bad policies had led to losing the American colony. America had to pay the government for its defence; and they were heavily taxed.
In 1651, the Navigation Act forbade importation of goods into England or her colonies except by English vessels or by vessels of the countries producing the goods.
In 1663, an Act forbade English colonists to trade with other European countries. In addition, European goods bound for America had to be unloaded at English ports and reshipped. Export duties and profits to middlemen then made prices of the goods prohibitive in the Colonies. The raising of the bounty on whales by the English government in 1750 did much to encourage the New England fishing industry. In 1763 the Currency Act then forbade the Colonies from printing paper money.
The Boston Tea Party
The so-called 'Boston Tea-Party' happened in December 1773. The Americans protested about British taxes on American imports and in September 1774, the first Continental Congress of twelve colonies met in Philadelphia.
The first Continental Congress quickly adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. In a nutshell War ensued as the English tried to get their taxes and the Americans rebelled. The French helped the Americans against the English.
On 3rd September 1783, the ‘Treaty of Paris’ was signed and recognised the independence of the American Colonies.
Between 1750 and 1830, the Industrial Revolution transformed Great Britain, from a largely rural population, which made their living almost entirely from agriculture to town focused society engaged increasingly in factory manufacture.
The Revolution applied power-driven machinery to manufacturing. The steam engine replaced the animal, wind, or waterpower. Railroads were used instead of canals. In 1804, in a trial run, Trevithick carried ten tons of iron and seventy men by steam engine, running on rails at Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. The locomotive had arrived on the world's scene.
Coal mining, iron manufacturing, agriculture and the textile industry was making rapid progress that changed Britain and the world followed – as quick as it could.
In 1807 the World’s first railroad paying passengers travelled from Mumbles to Swansea, using horsepower, a distance of less than two miles. In 1960 its electric trams were discontinued, the station house in Blackpill can still be seen today.
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