Thoughts on Elton’s ‘Tudor Revolution in Government’ …

Primarily hypothesised by Dr. G. R. Elton in his 1953 book, The Tudor Revolution in Government[1], the concept reflects the departure in style of government from the medieval to the modern during Henry VIII’s reign.  There has been much historiographic argument as a result of this seminal work.

Elton emphasises the role of Henry’s chief ministers, Wolsey and Cromwell, citing the years under their ‘rule’ as the two major periods of governmental change and development during Henry’s sovereignty[2]. Elton portrays Cromwell as the usurper of a medieval, household-based government and the designer of a modern bureaucratic state that translated royal supremacy into parliamentary terms[3][4].  Bradshaw holds a similar view crediting Cromwell as the instigator of a ‘structural reorganisation designed to transmute the crown’s (medieval) jurisdiction into a unitary’[5]. Elton sees Cromwell as ‘the most remarkable revolutionary in English history’ crediting him with the ‘revolution’[6].

The argument for this perceived change, being a ‘revolution’, emphasises the adjustment in structure in addition to a shift in power within the court. Elton describes the change from ‘medieval household to modern court’[7].  This occurred almost exclusively in the 1530’s under Cromwell’s direction. The 1539-40 reconstruction of the Royal Privy Council is a key example of the changes Cromwell instigated. By the restriction and fixation of membership, as well endowing new rights under the 1539 Statute of Proclamations Act, Cromwell achieved feet’s that Wolsey was never able to in 1526 under the Eltham Ordinances. Cromwell’s reforms created what some historians see as the foundations of a modern bureaucratic government, achieved by removing medieval structures within the central administration and transforming the household into a well-organized department of state[8].

Regarding the Tudor era simply as an extension of the medieval is serious miscalculation according to Elton[9]. However historians such as Chrimes have argued that there was no ‘fundamental departure from the medieval system’ – that this was not an age of dramatic administrative revolution[10]. Chrimes argues that what Elton witnesses as a ‘revolution’ was simply a ‘rejuvenation’ of the monarchy designed to impose an exacting authority in preparation for religious reformation[11]. A.F Pollard describes changes in evolutionary terms but sees little evidence between Henry VII and the reign of his Son, prior to the Henrician Reformation[12]. Perhaps then it was the administrative consequences of conjoining the church and monarchy that initiated the modernisation of government.

[1] Elton, Geoffrey Rudolph, The Tudor Revolution In Government, 1st edn (Cambridge, 1959)

[2] Ibid pp.67

[3] Hughes-Warrington, Marnie, Fifty Key Thinkers On History, 1st edn (London: Routledge, 2015) pp.79-80

[4] Kenyon, John, The History Men, 1st edn (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983) pp.210

[5] Coleman, Christopher and David Starkey, Revolution Reassessed, 1st edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1986) pp.5

[6] Williams, Penry, “A REVOLUTION IN TUDOR HISTORY?”, Past And Present, 25 (1963), 3-8  pp.6

[7] Elton, Geoffrey Rudolph, The Tudor Revolution In Government, 1st edn (Cambridge, 1959) pp.414

[8] Kenyon, John, The History Men, 1st edn (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983) pp.210

[9] Elton, Geoffrey Rudolph, The Tudor Revolution In Government, 1st edn (Cambridge, 1959) pp.7

[10] Williams, Penry, “A REVOLUTION IN TUDOR HISTORY?”, Past And Present, 25 (1963), 3-8  pp.3

[11] Ibid   pp.4

[12]Ibid   pp.3

A week at the Mary Rose

Doing work experience often means becoming an ‘office slave’ for a time. My week at the Mary Rose, in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, has disproved this. Working with their team of dedicated volunteers and educators I’ve had an immersive and interesting week, diving into the discovery and preservation of The Mary Rose.

walking around with Robert, a kindly old volunteer, he showed me how to interact with guests, explain artifacts and answering  questions. Picking this up quickly I had a go myself. Despite getting most of the facts wrong it was interesting to see the huddle of people around me when I started to explain an object. You could feel the pressure to get it right; although Robert brought me up on a few things now and then it seems I caught the nack. when you could hear a group with desperately trying to guess the use of… say this ….

it was fairly hard not to intervene when people were consistently explaining its use wrong. I too admittedly was to surprised to learn how they used this oven – and it’s not in the way you may be expecting!

Boil in the bag. no it turns out it’s not just for DofE ! It was used in these huge copper cauldrons filled with water, vegetables such as peas would be boiled in bags while meat could be roasted for the higher ranking officers on the raw fire.

would you now like to guess the age of those bricks?

If you thought for one second that the Mary Rose displayed replicas you would be wrong! Everything except the mortar and plastic ‘shadow’ spade hilt and shovel originated in the 16th century. yep those bricks are over 500 years old- and so is the fire wood!


Robert then took me to see the reserve collection, there were over 19,000 or so objects recovered from the wreck but only around 1/3 of these object are on display. One of the objects a sort of wooden ball bearing used for raising the mainsail, had been given to the captains of space shuttle Endeavour in 2011 when he came on a good-will visit. The bearing was given as a present “from one cutting edge technology ship to the other” and both are! ( in respect to their time).

The Mary Rose was a flag ship, an icon in the English navy. Henry Tudor spared no expense on this ship and neither has the Mary Rose Trust. Being able to go ‘backstage’ in this iconic museum in the  Uk’s best attraction 2015 (Won by the dockyard as a whole) was an unbelievable experience. Anyone wishing to study history or archeology …. or both (like me … fingers crossed) should definitely sign up for a week here I promise there will be no slaving office work or rampant filing.

A big thank you to the staff at the Mary Rose for this opportunity and making the week so great!

International man of history

Sir Roy strong- a rather eccentric historian (the best ones usually are), dressed up as a range of historic figures…  Need I say more? 

As an Art Historian Sir Roy strong became inspired by John Swannell’s photograph of an Elizabethan gentlemen in 2010. Composing a list of paintings to recreate they embarked on the project. 

“I have an art historical eye and my aim was to capture contrasting styles and periods. I wanted to be David Beckham, but John rejected  that one. And though we toyed with the idea of me cross-dressing , ultimately I said no” 

The article (from the Sunday times) that these photographs are taken from, call him the “International man of history”. Without Fault Roy recreates a series of well known figures, ranging from Maharajah to Abraham Lincoln, the execution of which is perfection  and his range of likeness is surprising. If there was ever a way to make a modern news story out of history – this would be my NO.1! 


Historic hotel/prison?

Did you know you can spend a week in Mary queen of Scott’s old prison ? 

Ok so it not exactly azkaban, this Tudor mansion Cost just £432 for four nights and was once the Scott’s royal prison.  After watching wolf hall the appeal for all things Tudor if defiantly catching on. But if the splendor, the entregue  and the scandals are anything like Philippa Gregory’s fantastic novel – your in for one heck of a week!

Take a look at Tixall Gatehouse Here for more information and for other historical properties.  


History of the property – 

  • Owned by the Littleton family until 1507 then married into the Aston family 
  • The original hall attached was demolished In 1927 
  • The landmark trust brought it in 1968   

Mary queen of Scott’s stay may have been breif (two weeks) but was intended to be more perminant – seeing it a “shame” to move Lord Aston and his household.  Mary’s visit was entirely due to the Babington plot. Being removed from her perminant residence so her letters and belonging could be searched, Tixall was deemed the most suitable location for a short term prison stay. Upon leaving she historically spoke to beggars at the gate house doors saying  > 

“I have nothing for you, I am a begger as well as you, all is taken from me.”