The Tudors And The Stuarts – Overview of the Royal Dynasty

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The Tudors


The Tudors are one of the most remarkable dynasties in English history. Henry VII, of Welsh origin, successfully ended the Wars of Roses and founded the House of Tudor.  He, his son Henry VIII, and his three children Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I ruled for 118 eventful years.

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(See Main Article: The Tudors – Society)

tudors society

Tudors society was steeped in the medieval tradition in England, yet it also embraced the changing social norms of early modern Europe. During the Tudor period people were grouped in a hierarchical system with the King at the top. The nearer to the top of the system you were, the richer you were. If you were born poor there was little chance of you becoming rich. In the time of the Tudor dynasty, people were taught by the church that their position in life was determined by God. However, it was through the church that some men who were born poor managed to become very rich and powerful indeed.

This diagram shows the structure of Tudor society.

The Church

During the Tudor period the church was very powerful, owning large amounts of land. The people were very religious and attended church services. The church was able to control people’s lives by preaching what they wanted them to believe. During the reign of Henry VIII the church became less powerful as Henry made himself head of the church, dissolved the monasteries and confiscated their land.


Archbishops were very powerful. They owned large amounts of land and were very rich. They were able to influence the King or Queen and played a part in the government of the country. After the Reformation, Archbishops only remained powerful if they supported the monarch.


During the Tudor period, the Bishops of the most important churches were rich and powerful, playing a part in the government of the country. After the Reformation they only remained in position if they supported their monarch.


Clergymen were poorly paid but were highly respected members of the community that they served. As well as delivering church services they were responsible for the education of those members of the community that could afford to pay, for visiting the sick and counseling the bereaved.

The King or Queen

The Tudor monarch was at the head of the social system. He or she was the richest person in the land, owning vast amounts of land and many palaces. Both rich and poor alike were bound to serve their monarch, failure to do so often resulted in death. The monarch made all the laws of the land and although there was a court system, few judges would dare to pass judgement against the King’s wishes. Until Henry VIII broke away from Rome (the Reformation) and formed the Church of England, Monarchs were subject to obey the Pope. The Tudor monarchs, with the exception of Henry VII, and Mary I who returned the Church to Rome, were head of the Church, the Judiciary and the Government.


Gentlemen were born rich and came from families with titles – Barons, Earls and Dukes. Most owned large country estates and were often given important positions in government. The Monarch would visit his most notable subjects when he or she went on a progress and they would be expected to provide board and lodging for the King and his court. Sometimes this could be as many as 300 persons. If summoned to court a gentleman, or other member of his family, would have to leave their home and travel to London to be with the King.

Yeomen and Citizens

Both yeomen and citizens were fairly wealthy men. They were not born members of the gentry, but were rich enough to own their own houses and employ servants. Yeomen either owned their own land or rented land from gentlemen which they farmed. They were successful farmers and were rich enough to be able to afford labourers to do the heavy farming jobs for them. Citizens lived in the towns. They were rich merchants and craftsmen. Merchants made their living by trading goods with ship owners. Craftsmen were skilled men who could command a good price for the goods that they made.


During the Tudor period, labourers worked for Yeomen or citizens and were paid a wage for their work. Labourers were employed to do the heavy back-breaking jobs on the farms or in the craft shops. In 1515 an act was passed which fixed a labourers wage at 3d per day for winter months and 4d per day for summer months with bonuses to be paid at harvest time. A labourer could expect to work from sunrise to sunset in the winter and from sunrise to early evening in the summer. Sundays and major saint’s days were free. Skilled workers were to be paid 5d per day during the winter and 6d for summer days.


The Tudors monarchs reigned from 1485 until 1603. There were five crowned Tudor monarchs; Lady Jane Grey reigned as Queen for only nine days. The Tudor kings and queens were very powerful and they are noted for the numbers of people executed during the period.

Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots

(See Main Article: The Tudors – Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots)

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Elizabeth I (1533-1603) became Queen of England in 1558 after her sister Mary died.

She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and had had a troubled childhood. Her mother had been executed when she was three years old and her father had married four more times. The only constant person in her life was her nanny, Kat Ashley.

Her father had separated the church from Rome and Elizabeth was a Protestant.

When Elizabeth’s sister Mary, a Catholic, came to the throne in 1553 she made England Catholic again and Elizabeth was put into the Tower of London so that she could not lead a Protestant rebellion against Mary and take her place on the throne.

When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 she made England Protestant. Consequently she had many Catholic enemies who wanted to see her replaced by Mary Queen of Scots. In 1558 Mary Queen of Scots, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s elder sister Margaret, had challenged Elizabeth for the throne of England, but had failed. The Catholics believed that because Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate in 1536, Mary’s challenge to the throne was stronger than Elizabeth’s.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) was the daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. She became Queen of Scotland when she was six days old after her father died at the Battle of Solway Moss.

A marriage was arranged between Mary and Edward, only son of Henry VIII but was broken when the Scots decided they preferred an alliance with France. Mary spent a happy childhood in France and in 1558 married Francis, heir to the French throne. They became king and queen of France in 1559.

Sadly, Francis died in 1560 and Mary, not wanting to stay in France, returned to Scotland. During Mary’s absence, Scotland had become a Protestant country. The Protestants did not want Mary, a Catholic and their official queen, to have any influence.

In 1565 Mary married her cousin and heir to the English throne, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. The marriage was not a happy one. Darnley was jealous of Mary’s close friendship with her secretary, David Rizzio and in March 1566 had him murdered in front of Mary who was six months pregnant with the future James I. Darnley made many enemies among the Scottish nobles and in 1567 his house was blown up. Darnley’s body was found inside, he had been strangled.

Three months later Mary married the chief suspect, the Earl of Bothwell. The people of Scotland were outraged and turned against her. She was removed from the throne and fled to England. She appealed to Elizabeth for help and support, but Elizabeth, suspicious that she was going to raise Catholic support and take the throne of England, kept Mary a virtual prisoner for the next eighteen years.

In 1586 letters sent to Mary by a Catholic called Thomas Babington, were found. The letters revealed a plot to kill Elizabeth and replace her with Mary. Elizabeth had no choice but to sign Mary’s death warrant. Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle on February 8th 1587.

The Tudors – Discoverers and Explorers

(See Main Article: The Tudors – Discoverers and Explorers)

In the Tudor period, Europeans began to explore the world more than ever before. Some of those who left their homeland and journeyed across the seas were looking for new lands and peoples to trade with, some were looking for better and quicker routes to China and India.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was an Italian explorer who, financed by the king and queen of Spain, set sail to find a new route to India.

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He left Europe early in September 1492 and when land was sighted one month later he believed he had found India and named the native people living there, Indians.

Columbus had not reached India as he thought but had reached Central America. He claimed the land for Spain and from 1492 onwards Europeans began to settle in America. They called it the New World.

Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was a Portuguese explorer and the first sailor to sail all around the world.

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He did not discover America because he sailed around the bottom of South America.

Magellan also named the Pacific Ocean.

Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake (1545-1596) was a British explorer and navy captain. He was financed by Queen Elizabeth to discover lands and riches for England. Drake was the second man to sail all around the world and was knighted by the queen for his services to the country.

In 1588 he was one of the Captains that sailed to meet and defeat the Spanish Armada. It is a well known legend that he insisted on finishing a game of bowls before going to his ship.

Walter Raleigh

Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) was an adventurer and explorer who became one of queen Elizabeth’s favorites after putting down a rebellion in Ireland. Elizabeth gave him land and the position of captain of the Queen’s Guard.

Raleigh led an expedition to the New World and claimed North Carolina and Virginia for England. Virginia was named after Elizabeth who was known as the Virgin Queen because she never married.

In the New World Raleigh discovered potatoes and tobacco and brought them back to England.

While Raleigh had been in the New World Elizabeth had found herself a new favorite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

In 1592 Elizabeth found out that Raleigh had married one of her maids. She was very angry and put him into the Tower of London. When he was released three years later he left England for the New World in search of gold.

Walter Raleigh had always had enemies and after Elizabeth’s death they convinced James I that he did not support the king, a crime punishable by execution. Raleigh was not executed but was sent to the Tower of London where he spent his time writing. It is thought that his unfinished book ‘History of the World’ was written at this time.

In 1616 he was released from the Tower and once again set off to search for gold. However, while on his expedition he destroyed a Spanish town in the New World. The king of Spain was furious and demanded that Raleigh be punished. James decided to use the execution notice served on Raleigh in 1603. Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded at Whitehall in 1618.

The Tudors – The Spanish Armada

(See Main Article: The Tudors – The Spanish Armada)

During the Tudor period, it was shortly after Elizabeth’s accession to the throne of England, in 1559, a peace treaty was signed between England, France and Spain bringing peace to Europe.

A typical Elizabethan galleon

Without the burden of having to pay for a war, England became prosperous and in 1568 Elizabeth used money to increase the size of the navy. The new ships that were built were faster and easier to steer than before.

At the end of the year the English navy seized a treasure ship bound for the Netherlands, which was controlled by Spain. Philip II of Spain was very cross and relations between England and Spain worsened.

Francis Drake

Philip was also annoyed that Elizabeth had restored Protestantism in England. His anger with England increased further after Elizabeth knighted Francis Drake. The countries of Europe had an agreement that there would be free trade between them, Drake, however, preferred to trade privately and Philip saw Elizabeth’s knighthood of him as an insult to the free trade agreement and began to prepare for war.

After the Protestant leader of the Netherlands, William of Orange, was assassinated, Elizabeth provided Drake with a navy of 25 ships and told him to harass Spanish ships. The English sailor did as he was asked and took Spanish possessions from Colombia and Florida. Philip retaliated by seizing all English ships in Spanish ports.

Elizabeth allied England with the Protestant Dutch states who wanted freedom from Spain and sent an English army to assist them.

Philip made plans for a fleet of 130 Spanish ships to block the Channel and allow the Duke of Parma to invade England.

Mary Queen of Scots

When Elizabeth ordered the execution of Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, Philip increased the numbers of ships bound for England and planned an invasion force. Once again his plans were upset by Drake who managed to enter Spanish waters and burn large numbers of the ships bound for England.

The Armada set sail from Lisbon on May 28th 1588 but encountered storms and was forced to put in to the port of Corunna to make repairs. It was July 1588 before Philip’s Armada was ready to set sail again.

29th July 1588

The Armada under the control of Medina Sidonia, reached the western approaches to the English Channel. Warning beacons were lit all along the South Coast and the English navy was put to sea.

The English defending fleet, commanded by Lord Howard of Effingham, included ships captained by Drake, Frobisher and Hawkins. Effingham sailed in the ‘Ark Royal’, which had been built for Raleigh in 1581, while Drake captained ‘The Revenge’. However, instead of concentrating all his resources in the straits of Dunkirk as Philip had thought he would, Effingham stationed a large contingent at Plymouth to shield the south-west coast from a direct landing.

The story is told that Drake was playing a game of bowls when the Armada was sighted, but insisted on completing the game before setting sail.

Many of the Armada’s Captains favoured a direct assault on England, but Medina Sidonia’s orders strictly forbade this. The fleet therefore sailed on from the Lizard to Calais to meet the Duke of Parma. However, on reaching Calais, the Duke of Parma was not to be seen. The Armada dropped anchor to await his arrival.

armada route

Route taken by the Spanish Armada.

8th August 1588

At midnight, Howard sent eight fire ships into the congested Spanish ranks. Many Spanish Captains cut their cables in their haste to escape the flames. They blundered away from the blaze straight into the gunfire of the waiting English. Unfortunately for the Spanish, their firepower was vastly inferior to that of the English.

A change of wind blew the Armada North out of the range of English fire. However, the wind became a gale, and the Spanish were driven further North and many were dashed on the Northern rocks. The survivors were forced to make their way around the Orkneys and down the Irish coast. The remains of the proud Armada limped home to Spain.

Defeated Spanish Armada

The Tudors – Elizabethan Poor Law 1601

(See Main Article: The Tudors – Elizabethan Poor Law 1601)

Before the Reformation it had always been considered Christian duty to carry out the instructions laid down in Matthew chapter 25 – that all Christians shall:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Welcome the stranger
  • Clothe the naked
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the prisoner
  • Bury the dead.

After the Reformation, many of these values disappeared and the poor were left without help. It became increasingly clear that something had to be done to help those who were genuinely in need, and something else had to be done about the increasing numbers of those who chose to beg and steal rather than work.

In 1552 Parish registers of poor were introduced. This meant that there was now an official register of poor in a parish.

In 1563 Justices of the Peace were given the power to raise funds to support the poor. Categories were also drawn up for the different types of poor and beggars that were found on the streets.

Deserving Poor This category was for those people who wanted to work but were unable to find suitable employment. These people were to be given help in the form of clothes, food or maybe money. (Outdoor Relief)


Those who were too old, young or ill to work. These people were to be looked after in almshouses, orphanages, workhouses or hospitals. Orphans and children of the poor were to be given an apprenticeship to a tradesman. (Indoor Relief)

Undeserving Poor Also called idle beggars or sturdy beggars, this category was for those who could work but chose not to. They were to be whipped through the town until they learnt the error of their ways.

In 1572 it was made compulsory that all people pay a local poor. The funds raised were to help the deserving poor.

In 1597 It was made law that every district have an Overseer of the Poor. The overseer had to do the following things:

  • Work out how much money would be needed for the numbers of poor in that district and set the poor rate accordingly
  • Collect the poor rate from property owners
  • Relieve the poor by dispensing either food or money
  • Supervise the parish poor house

In 1601 An act of Parliament called The Poor Law was passed by Parliament. The Act brought together all the measures listed above into one legal document.

The Tudors – Monarchs

The Tudors monarchs reigned from 1485 until 1603. There were five crowned Tudors monarchs; Lady Jane Grey reigned as Queen for only nine days. The Tudors kings and queens were very powerful and they are noted for the numbers of people executed during the period.

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Henry VII Henry VII came to the throne after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. He was a serious man and faced many challenges to his place on the throne, the most notable being from Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. He married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV uniting the houses of Lancaster and York and ending the Wars of the Roses. Henry successfully established the Tudors dynasty and when he died in 1509, his son’s succession was not challenged and England was a rich and prosperous country.
Henry VIII Henry VIII is the best known of the Tudors Monarchs, he was the second son of Henry VII and became King because his brother, Arthur had died. He married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon when he became King, but divorced her when she did not produce a male heir to the throne. In order to gain his divorce, Henry had to establish the Church of England and end Catholicism. Henry went on to marry another five wives – Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr. Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard were executed for treason. He died in 1547.
Edward VI Edward VI came to the throne at the age of 9 years. He was a sickly child and the country was run by his protectors: firstly, the Duke of Somerset, his mother’s brother, then by the Duke of Northumberland. Edward died at the age of 15 in 1553.
Jane Grey Lady Jane Grey was chosen to be Queen by the Duke of Northumberland in an attempt to keep England a Protestant country. Next in the line of succession was Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary. Mary was a Catholic and had sworn to return England to Catholicism. The public did not approve of Jane’s succession and supported Mary’s claim to the throne. Queen Jane reigned for just 9 days before Mary successfully took the throne. Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland, were beheaded.
Mary I Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and was a committed Catholic. When she came to the throne she vowed to return England to Rome and Catholicism. She is known as Bloody Mary because of the numbers of people who were executed for being Protestants. She made herself even more unpopular by marrying Philip of Spain and losing Calais, England’s last possession in France. Mary died in 1558, probably of cancer of the womb.
Elizabeth I Elizabeth I became Queen after her sister Mary I died without an heir. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She upheld Protestantism in England and her will was the law. She did not marry and was known as the Virgin Queen. During Elizabeth’s reign the age of exploration began with explorers such as Francis Drake claiming new lands for England and introducing new materials and foods. The American State, Virginia, is named after her. When Elizabeth died in 1603 the Tudor line ended.

The War of the Roses History

“A Short History of the War of the Roses”

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The War of the Roses history is a story of Tudors monarchs desperately attempting to unite a faction behind them large enough to unite the fledging realm of England. Henry VII (1457 – 1509) was the first Tudors monarch. His claim to the throne was not strong and he became king after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Henry’s success on the battlefield ended the Wars of the Roses that had begun in 1455. The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles that were fought between the supporters of the House of Lancaster (Lancastrians) and the supporters of the House of York (Yorkists).

During the Tudor dynasty, the wars were called the Wars of the Roses because the Yorkists were represented by a white rose and the Lancastrians by a red rose.

Background to the Wars of the Roses

(See Main Article: The War of the Roses History)


The Tudors

Although there were no battles fought until 1455, the cause of the wars dates back to the reign of Edward III and the power struggle between his sons after his death.

The four eldest sons of Edward III (1312 – 1377) were Edward the Black Prince (heir to the throne), Lionel of Antwerp (Duke of Clarence) John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster) and Edmund of Langley (Duke of York)

The Tudors

Edward III died in 1377. His eldest son, Edward, the Black Prince had died of the plague in 1376 and so his grandson, Richard, aged ten and son of the Black Prince, became king. Because Richard II was only ten years old, his uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, ruled the country. As Richard grew older he rebelled against his uncle and made decisions that were not popular with the most powerful men in the country.

In 1399 John of Gaunt died and Richard II confiscated the land he had owned. John of Gaunt’s son, Henry, raised an army and when Richard surrendered took the throne as Henry IV. Richard was imprisoned in Pontefract castle and mysteriously died in February 1400.

The Tudors

Henry IV faced a number of challenges to his place on the throne because he was not the natural successor to Richard II. With the death of Richard II, the crown should have passed to Edmund Earl of March, great grandson of Lionel Duke of Clarence. However, Henry managed to keep his place on the throne and when he died in 1413, the country was at peace and his son, Henry V, succeeded without problem.

The Tudors

Henry V was a strong leader and after ordering the execution of Richard, Earl of Cambridge for plotting to put the Yorkists on the throne, invaded France. He won many battles, including the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and conquered Normandy and Rouen for England. In 1420, Henry married the daughter of the king of France and it was agreed that their children would be the heirs of both England and France. When Henry V died in 1422 from dysentery, his son, Henry VI became the only king to be crowned king of England and France.

The Tudors

Henry VI was four months old when he became king and his father’s brothers ruled England and France in his place. France was soon lost when Joan of Arc raised an army against the English and restored the French monarchy. As Henry grew older it became apparent that he was a weak king, totally dominated by his French wife Margaret of Anjou. He was also prone to bouts of insanity and the Yorkists began plotting to take his place on the throne.

The first battle of the Wars of the Roses took place at St Albans on 22nd May 1455. The Yorkists led by Richard Duke of York easily defeated the King’s army. Henry VI was injured and taken prisoner. In 1455, Henry suffered another bout of insanity and Richard Duke of York was made protector of England. In 1456, Henry recovered and retook the throne. There were further battles and in 1459 Richard was killed at the Battle of Wakefield.


In 1461, Richard’s son Edward, Earl of March, defeated the King’s army, took the King prisoner and made himself King Edward IV. Queen Margaret took her son and fled to Wales where they were taken in by the king’s half-brother Jaspar Tudor. In 1470, Henry regained the throne but in 1471 was defeated by Edward’s army at the Battle of Tewkesbury and taken prisoner. Henry’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales was killed during the battle. With no other Lancastrian heir to challenge him, Edward IV remained king until his sudden death in 1483.

The Tudors

Edward IV had two sons, Edward and Richard, both of whom were too young to rule and so their uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester ruled England. The two princes were taken to the Tower of London and in the summer of 1483 mysteriously disappeared. It is believed that their uncle murdered them. Richard was crowned Richard III. He was not a popular king and faced many challenges to his place on the throne, notably from Henry Tudor, grandson of Owen Tudor who had been second husband to Henry V’s wife Katherine of Valois.

Henry Tudor raised a Lancastrian army against Richard Iii and at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Richard was killed and the Yorkists defeated. It is told that Henry found Richard’s crown on the battlefield and placed it on his head. Henry VII was crowned king and married Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York a move that was to end the Wars of the Roses. Thus, the story of the Tudor dynasty was told. A new chapter would be set to open on the Stuart dynasty.

The Stuarts were the United Kingdom’s first kings. For the first time, two thrones were combined when King James VI of Scotland became also King James I of England.

Scroll down to see more articles about the history of Stuarts. The Stuarts were the United Kingdom’s first kings. For the first time, two thrones were combined when King James VI of Scotland became also King James I of England.

 To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to The Stuarts.

The Tudors

The Red Rose of Lancaster + The White Rose of York = The Red and White Tudor Rose

The Tudors – Bibliography

Anne Boleyn – Tudor History

Anne of Cleves – Tudor History

Catherine of Aragon – Tudor History

Edward VI – Britannia

Edward VI – Tudor History

Lady Jane Grey – Jane Lambert

Elizabeth I – Anniina Jokinen

Elizabeth I – Tudor History

Elizabethan Costume – Drea Leed

Henry VII – Britannia

Henry VII – The History Net

Henry VII – Tudor History

Henry VIII – Britannia

Henry VIII – Tudor History

Jane Grey – Tudor History

Jane Seymour – Tudor History

Katherine Parr – Tudor History

Kathryn Howard – Tudor History

Life in Tudor Times – Nettlesworth Primary School

Mary I – Tudor History

Mary I – Elizabeth Lee

Reformation Europe – Internet Modern History Sourcebook

Suppression of the English Monasteries under Henry VIII – Catholic Encyclopedia

The Life and Times of Queen Elizabeth I – Heather Thomas

Tudor Food – Tudor History

Tudor Fun and Games – Nettlesworth Primary School

Who’s Who in Tudor History – Tudor History

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