Holding the Reins

Holding the Reins

Whether or not we can refer to Henry VII and Elizabeth Regina as workaholics or simply people who felt compelled to do the work at hand, both dedicated themselves to running the government. They not only reigned but they also governed.

Henry “ruled through a bureaucracy backed by the direct intervention of the monarch” (Morrill 314). “From first to last his policy was essentially his own; for though he knew well how to choose the ablest councilors, he asked or took their advice only to such an extent as he himself deemed expedient” (Gairdner 210). In 1498 Pedro de Ayala, a Spanish envoy, remarked that Henry was “subject to his Council, but has already shaken off some, and got rid of some part of this subjection” (Bergenroth 178).  It must be understood that at this time, through to the reign of Elizabeth I, that “however well served with councilors, the sovereign was in those days always his own Prime Minister” (Gairdner 210).

Bacon attributed the reign’s successful laws to Henry VII.  He reported that “in that part both of justice and policy … which is the making of good laws, he did excel” (Bacon 213).  It is known that Henry signed all Parliamentary actions “though he sometimes added to them provisos of his own” (Gairdner 212).

Signature of King Henry VII
H7 signature

Henry’s hands-on approach did not diminish even while his health declined: “the energy with which he attended to business seemed hardly diminished by his accumulated infirmities” (Gairdner 208).  “His eyesight began to fail when he was in his forties, which was a source of anxiety to him; he needed clear vision, literally as well as metaphorically, for the business of government, since so much of his time was spent poring over paperwork” (Ross 36).

“Workaholic and overburdened with state affairs” (Penn 51), Henry took several days to write this letter from Greenwich to his mother.  No year was given but it must have been written between 1503 and 1505. In the excerpt that follows, he mentions that his sight is not what it had once been and explains how long he had been working on the letter (Ellis 46).

h7 letter

Henry VII’s dedication was well-known as it was commented that “never a Prince was more wholly given to his affairs, nor in them more of himself” (Bacon 219) –except perhaps one, Elizabeth Regina.

Elizabeth worked tirelessly for the good of England doing the business of government. Perhaps it was Elizabeth’s difficult apprenticeship which prepared her for the “self-control necessary for government” (Dunn 164) or simply her selected life-style. “In her private way of living, she always preferred her necessary affairs and the dispatch of what concerned the government, before and above any pleasures, recreations and conversations” (Bohun 346).  Directly below is the passage from Edmund Bohun.

Bohun 346

We learned from John Nichols that in the December that she became Queen, Elizabeth sat in Council for 15 straight days (Nichols 33).  Granted it was necessary for Elizabeth to appoint her advisors and establish the transfer of power early in her reign, yet this would have been simultaneous with pageants and receptions.  This is an excellent example of her dedication to her duties; although she would not always meet with her council daily, throughout her reign she kept informed of the discussions.

Elizabeth took power at once without hesitation.  She and she alone ruled.  She was not going to hand over power and she was not going to let her councilors unite against her. Her proclamation soon after her accession, “I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel,” was probably meant in good faith but she often did not take their advice.  “…There were numerous occasions when her Council begged her in unison to change course, but could not induce her to do so”  (Somerset 68).

Elizabeth “…had no intention of abandoning her authority to her advisers and letting them rule for and through her.  She meant to play the commanding role in her government…” (Erickson 172). Often she felt ruling the men of her Council “called for sharp tugs on the rein to remind them that she was mistress” (Neale 223).  Sympathetic contemporaries felt “none knew better the hardest art of all others, that is, of commanding men…” (Hayward 9) as seen on February 10, 1559, when Elizabeth gave her first speech to Parliament in response to its members’ request that she marry.  She let them know that, although she was not offended by their petition, she did think it a “very great presumption, being unfitting and altogether unmeet for you to require them that may command, or those to appoint whose parts are to desire, or such to bind and limit whose duties are to obey, or to take upon you to draw my love to your liking or frame my will to your fantasies” (Marcus 57).

When Parliament tried to pull a fast one on Elizabeth by slipping into an act on subsidies a provision that she marry; she caught it.  “After eight years of Cecil’s tuition Elizabeth, who scrutinized government papers with care, was not likely to be fooled” (Perry 199).   Written in her own hand as a draft of her speech to dissolve Parliament January 2, 1567 after this incident, she warned its members “never to tempt too far a prince’s patience” (Marcus 106) making sure though that the revised version, presented officially, had more force “yet beware however you prove your prince’s patience, as you have now done mine” (Marcus 108).

2nd parliament
Depiction of Elizabeth’s 2nd Parliament
12 January to 10 April 1563 (prorogued)
30 September 1566 to 2 January 1567 (dissolved)

Elizabeth and Henry VII both wanted to be involved in the day-to-day business of government.  One wonders if part of it was fear of losing control or concern for losing the throne.  Regardless, unlike Henry VIII who, according to the Venetian Ambassador, Lorenzo Orio in January of 1526, “leaves everything in charge of Cardinal Wolsey…” (Brown Rawdon) the reins of government were held in Henry VII and Elizabeth’s capable hands.  Elizabeth noted to King Henry IV of France  “my experience in government has made me so stubborn as to believe that I am not ignorant of what becomes a king” (Somerset 60).

 Works Cited

 Bacon, Francis, and J. Rawson Lumby. Bacon’s History of the Reign of King Henry VII,. Cambridge: University, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.

Bergenroth, G. A., and, Pascual De. Gayangos. Calendar of Letters, Dispatches and State Papers, Relating to the Negotiations between England and Spain, Preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere: Published by the Authority of the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury under the Direction of the Master of the Rolls. Henry VII 1485 – 1509. ed. Vol. 1. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1862. Google Books. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

Bohun, Edmund. The Character of Queen Elizabeth, Or, A Full and Clear Account of Her Policies and the Methods of Her Government Both in Church and State, Her Virtues and Defects Together with the Characters of Her Principal Ministers of State … London: Printed for Ric. Chiswell at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul’s Church-Yard(IS), 1693. Google Books. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.

Brown, Rawdon (editor). “Venice: January 1526, 1-15.” Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 3: 1520-1526 (1869): 517-525. British History Online. Web. 26 January 2013.

Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Print.

Ellis, Henry. Original Letters, Illustrative of English History: Including Numerous Royal Letters, from Autographs in the British Museum, and One or Two Other Collections. London: Harding, Triphook & Lepard, 1825. Google Books. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Gairdner, James. Henry the Seventh,. London: Macmillan, 1889. Google Books. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

Hayward, John, and John Bruce. Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. London: Printed for the Camden Society by J.B. Nichols and Son, 1840. Google Books. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Marcus, Leah S. et al., eds. Elizabeth I: The Collected Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

Morrill, John, ed.  The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor & Stuart Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.  Print.

Neale, J. E. Queen Elizabeth I. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957. Print.

Nichols, John. The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth. Among Which Are Interspersed Other Solemnities, Public Expenditures, and Remarkable Events during the Reign of That Illustrious Princess. Collected from Original MSS., Scarce Pamphlets, Corporation Records, Parochial Registers, &c., &c.: Illustrated with Historical Notes. New York: B. Franklin, 1823. Google Books. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Perry, Maria.  The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth from Contemporary Documents. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1990.  Print.

Ross, Josephine.  The Tudors, England’s Golden Age.  London: Artus, 1994.  Print. 

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Print.

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