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The Tudor Regime: Power, Propaganda and Faith, 1485-1603

Tutors: John Cooper and Emilie Murphy

Module type: Histories and Contexts

Module Code: HIS00048I

Sixteenth-century England was a place of vivid contrasts. The Tudor monarchy cultivated magnificence on a European scale, yet lacked the military power to dominate its people or to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. Protestant reforms and conversions were met with an equally passionate defence of the Catholic faith. The re-assertion of royal power by the Tudors was countered by theories of resistance to tyranny on both sides of the religious divide. Add in the constitutional significance of the break from Rome and the rise of Parliament, the drama of court politics and the unique situation of women ruling England, and it is not difficult to see why the Tudors occupy such a central place in the national memory.

This module covers the full span of the period from the victory of Henry Tudor at Bosworth to the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603. Historical landmarks include the Reformation under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the attempt to return England to the Catholic faith under Queen Mary, the cult of the Virgin Queen and the coming of the Spanish Armada. Within this chronological framework we pause to examine themes across the whole of the period, including popular rebellion and resistance theory; the importance of royal ministers such as Cardinal Wolsey and Francis Walsingham; problems of poverty and vagrancy, and the idea of the commonwealth; and England’s relationship with Ireland and Wales. Particular emphasis is placed on the structures by which royal power was sustained, including art and propaganda as well as the formal institutions of government. We conclude by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Tudor regime, and why it is that this period of history continues to have such a strong grip on the public imagination.

The lecture programme is likely to include the following:

  • Henry Tudor’s inheritance: England in 1485
  • Two Princes and a Cardinal: Arthur, Henry and Wolsey
  • The break from Rome, or was Henry VIII a Protestant?
  • Structures of power I: monarchy, court and Parliament
  • Structures of power II: royal propaganda and magnificence
  • Edward VI and his governors
  • Rebellion, riot and popular politics
  • Bloody Mary?
  • An English Utopia?  Poverty, vagrancy and the commonwealth
  • Elizabeth I: church, state and the art of queenship
  • The Virgin Queen, or why did Elizabeth never marry?
  • Imperial kingship in Ireland and Wales
  • Catholic missionaries and the Elizabethan secret service
  • Defence of the realm, or what if the Spanish Armada had landed?
  • Sidney, Shakespeare and the idea of the monarchical republic
  • The Tudors in myth and memory 

Discussion groups will likely deal with the following:

  • Sacred kingship? Coronation and the king’s evil
  • The tyranny of Henry VIII
  • Godly Imp: the rule of Edward VI
  • Rebellion and resistance
  • Protestants and Catholics under Queen Mary
  • Royal propaganda and the cult of Elizabeth
  • Britain and its borderlands
  • The power of the Tudor regime


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.