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

what I wish I included …

A personal statement is only 2000 character long so you cannot fit everything onto one page. If I could give one piece of advice it is Don’t read anyone else’s. A personal statement is unique to you interest and experience so be as interesting and
experienced as you can.  One great way of showing this is researching the professors and doctors that are leading in your field of interest ( and see what universities they came from) and seeing how they have expressed their passion for the subject.
Neil Oliver, for example, my favorate scottish TV Archaeologist stated “It was the sheer challenge of understanding the ancient world that attracted me and the legacy that those people left behind” in his phenomenal BBC4 series ‘A History of Ancient Britain’. Gathering an insight as to why experts are so interested in their subject is a great way of comprehensively understanding your own interest.

If you are wishing to study joint honours make sure you have some linkage as to why both such as a quote that discusses the relation between both subjects. I wish I included this great quote from Moreland ” The relationship between archaeology and history was, until recently, akin to that between servant and master”  it would have been a great link between what seemed like the two halves of my statement.

Another great resource of information is on university websites. Articles such as “why choose {insert subject here} .. ” and “meet our students” are great for researching why others choose that subject. This is only useful to a certain extent as it also shows what the common themes are likely to be in other applications. However student profiles give a comprehensive list of what the University is looking for in its students. For example one student profile from the University of Exeter  goes on to emphasize the importance of a personal statement ..

What made you choose your degree subject?

I did not have any English qualifications – any official papers (as I like to call them).  Before coming to Exeter Uni, I had been travelling for almost two years between different English speaking countries.  The Uni believed in me and I got the place.  I appreciated a lot the fact that they considered more my personal experience rather than turn me down because I did not have any papers.


One thing I am glad I did was gain experience – my placement at the Mary Rose allowed to get my foot in the door with more than one university! Having experience or a
qualification at some where well-know is one of the best ways of getting yourself  noticed. This could be that you sent an essay to a notable competition on the subject you wish to study or that you visited a conference on a topic you are particularly interested.

I was realy interested in the middle east and the archeology found their. I went along to the Iran Heritage Foundation’s conference of “the Destruction of Monuments and Memory in the Middle East”. what was great about this was that it was relatively small which meant that you could go and talk to speakers and subject leaders personally – I had many interesting conversations while I was their.  ( This conference has now been uploaded onto their YouTube channel see below)


Unfortunately University places are now so competitive that “I’m realy enjoying my studies” doesn’t quite cut it. I said in the introduction not to read anyone else’s personal statement well don’t let anyone else read yours. If they are applying for the same  or similar course it may well be the same admissions team that compares your statements. Keep yours personal. The most important thing is to be yourself, don’t try and include impressive fancy language (unless you’re an english scholar I suppose) but show that you have a sound understanding of what is required in the subject by using key words. Most importantly don’t try and do it in one draft – rewrite rewrite rewrite and you will come up with your own golden UCAS ticket !

To everyone applying for University good luck ! To everyone yet to accept a place good luck ! To everyone taking A-level finals to get into their accepted place good luck! It will all turn out ok … or so I keep telling myself .