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The Tudor period usually refers to the period between 1485 and 1603, specifically in relation to the history of England. This coincides with the rule of the Tudor dynasty in England whose first monarch was Henry VII (1457 1509). The term is often used more broadly to include Elizabeth I's reign (1558 1603), although this is often treated separately as the Elizabethan era.

Social and Economic Revolution

Tudor coat of arms
Following the Black Death and the agricultural depression of the late 14th century, population growth began to increase. The export of woollen products resulted in economic upturn with products exported to mainland Europe. Henry VII negotiated the favourable Intercursus Magnus treaty in 1496.

The high wages and abundance of available land seen in the late 14th century and early 15th century were replaced with low wages and a land shortage. Various inflationary pressures, perhaps due to influx of New World gold and rising population, set the stage for social upheaval with the gap between the rich and poor widening. This was a period of significant change for the majority of the rural population, with manorial lords beginning the process of enclosure.

Financial Development of Tudor Government, 1536-53

Impact of Dissolution

The Tudor Government raised a huge amount of revenue from the dissolution of the monasteries. The clerical income from First Fruits and Tenths, which previously went to the Pope, now went to the King. The Tudor Government gained further revenue from the clerical lands in two ways: by receiving rents from confiscated lands and by selling the lands. Altogether, between 1536 and Henry’s death, the Government collected £1.3 million; this huge influx of money caused Cromwell to change the Crown’s financial system so as to manage the money. Cromwell created a new department of state and a new official to collect the proceeds of the dissolution and the first frits and tenths: the court of augmentations and treasurer of first fruits and tenths.

Revenue Courts

Partly because of the new revenue raised from the dissolution of monasteries, Cromwell created revenue courts to allot the royal income properly to various departments. These were the six courts or departments of state, each fully organised with its own specialised officials, equipped with seals and habitat, and responsible for a particular kind of revenue. Although this new financial system did not work with admirable precision, it was improved in a sense that it didn’t involve the excessive formality of the old Exchequer or the excessive informality of the chamber system. Its drawback was the multiplication of departments whose sole unifying agent was Cromwell; his fall raised difficulties necessitating further reforms which, however, followed his principle of relying on bureaucratic institutions.

Role of Winchester

The growing number of departments meant that the number of officials involved increased, which made the management of revenue troublesome and expensive. There were further financial and administrative difficulties of the years 1540-58, aggravated by war, debasement, corruption and inefficiency, which were mainly caused by Somerset. After Cromwell’s fall, Winchester, the Lord Treasurer, produced further reforms to simplify the arrangements; reforms which united most of the crown’s financed under the exchequer. The courts of general surveyors and augmentations were fused into a new court of augmentations, and this, was later absorbed into the exchequer along with the First Fruits and Tenths.

Impact of War

Henry’s war with France and Somerset’s war with France and Scotland cost England huge sums of money. Since 1540, there was the Privy Coffers, which was responsible for ‘secret affairs’, in particular for the financing of war. The royal Mint was used to generate revenue by debasing the coinage; the government’s profit in 1547-51 was £537,000. Most of the money that was raised from the dissolution was squandered on the Boulogne campaign of 1544. However, under the rule of Northumberland, the wars were brought to an end and the Mint no longer generated revenue after debasement was bought to an end in 1551.

Significant events of the period

Battle of Stoke (1487)

In 1487 Henry VII's enemies from the House of York had crowned a pretender and landed a small army off the coast of Cumbriamarker with the intention of stealing the crown. Henry VII defeated them at East Stokemarker. This was perhaps the last battle in the Wars of the Roses.

English Reformation

This was perhaps the most significant series of events which took place during the Tudor period. It began as a result of Henry VIII's grievance at Pope Clement VII regarding his refusal to grant a divorce. It ended with the Church of England breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church and perhaps contributed to the Civil War.

Norfolk Rebellion (1549)

Beginning in 1549, this was to be the largest popular uprising during the Tudor period. It was at first intended as a demonstration against enclosures of common land. The instigator, Robert Kett, was hanged for treason.

Daily Life in the period


About a third of the population lived in poverty with the wealthy expected to give alms to assist the impotent poor. Tudor law was harsh on the able bodied poor i.e, those unable to find work. Those who left their parishes in order to locate work were termed vagabonds and could be subjected to punishments including whipping.

The idea of the workhouse for the able bodied poor was first suggested in 1576.


See also: Health and diet in Elizabethan England

Average life span was 35. High rates of childhood mortality saw only 33-50% of the population reaching the age of 16.

Although home to only a small part of the population the Tudor municipalities were overcrowded and unhygenic. Most municipalities were unpaved although this differed in larger towns and cities.

There were no sewers or drains and rubbish was simply abandoned in the street. Animals such as rats thrived in these conditions. In larger towns and cities, such as London, common diseases arising from lack of sanitation included smallpox, measles, malaria, typhus, diphtheria, Scarlet fever, and chickenpox.

Outbreaks of the Black Death pandemic occurred in 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563, 1589 and 1603. The reason for the speedy spread of the disease was the increase of rats infected by fleas carrying the disease)

Food and diet

The food consumed by the very rich in this period consisted largely of venison, and often of blackbirds and larks. However, potatoes had not reached the table to any great extent, because farmers had only just begun growing them, although explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh had brought them to Britain. Honey was normally used to sweeten food; sugar was only rarely available, but when they did have it, they put it on all their food, including meat. The poor never had sugar or potatoes and seldom ate meat. They would occasionally catch rabbits and fish but most of the time they ate bread and vegetables such as cabbage and turnips.

Homes and dwellings

The majority of the population lived in small villages. Their homes comprised, as in earlier centuries, of thatched huts with one or two rooms. Furniture was basic with stools being commonplace rather than chairs.

Mansions had many chimneys for the many fireplaces required to keep the vast rooms warm. These fires were also the only way of cooking food. The very large houses were often, designed in symmetrical shapes such as 'E' and 'H'.


Poorer children never went to school. Children from better-off families had tutors to teach them reading and French. However, boys were often sent to schools which belonged to the monasteries and there they would learn mainly Latin in classes of up to 60 boys. Schools were harsh and caning was not unheard of.


The rich used to go hunting to kill deer and wild boar for their feasts. They also enjoyed fencing and jousting contests. Most rich people watched bear fighting. The poor played a kind of football where the posts were about a mile apart; they would jump on each other, often breaking their necks and backs . There were some theatres and people enjoyed watching plays, particularly those of the young playwright William Shakespeare.


The House of Tudor produced five English monarchs who ruled during this period.

See also


  1. "United Kingdom."Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.[Accessed May 1, 2008].
  2. "Reformation."Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.[Accessed May 2, 2008].
  3. "Ket, Robert."Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.[Accessed May 2, 2008].
  4. Poverty in Tudor Times
  5. [ Martin Pugh (1999), Britain since 1789: A Concise History. La Nuova Italia Scientifica, Roma.]
  6. Life In Tudor Times
  7. Spread of the Plague
  8. Life In Tudor Times
Harrington, Peter. The Castles of Henry VIII. Oxford, Osprey, 2007.

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