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Mary Queen of Scots and the Scottish Reformation


Mary was troubled by bad luck and wrong decisions. She returned to Scotland as both queen and widow in 1561. She was Catholic, but during her time in France Scotland had become officially and popularly Protestant.

The Scottish nobles who supported friendship with England had welcomed Protestantism for both political and economic reasons. The new religion brought Scotland closer to England than France. Financially, the Scottish monarch could take over the great wealth of the Church in Scotland and this would almost certainly mean awards of land to the nobles. The yearly income of the Church in Scotland had been twice that of the monarch.

The new Kirk (Scottish Protestant church) was a far more democratic organisation than the English Church, because it had no bishops and was governed by a General Assembly. The Kirk taught the importance of personal belief and the study of the Bible, and this led quickly to the idea that education was important for everyone in Scotland. As a result most Scots remained better educated than other Europeans, including the English, until the end of the nineteenth century.

Mary was soon married again, to Lord Darnley, a 'Scottish Catholic'. But when she tired of him, she allowed herself to agree to his murder and married the murderer, Bothwell. Scottish society, in spite of its lawlessness, was shocked. The English government did not look forward to the possibility of Mary succeeding Elizabeth as queen. In addition to her Catholicism and her strong French culture, she had shown very poor judgement. By her behaviour Mary probably destroyed her chance of inheriting the English throne. She found herself at war with her Scottish opponents, and was soon captured and imprisoned. However, in 1568 she escaped to England, where she was held by Elizabeth for nineteen years before she was finally executed.


A Scottish king for England



Mary's son, James VI, started to rule at the age of twelve in 1578. He showed great skill from an early age. He knew that if he behaved correctly he could expect to inherit the English throne after Elizabeth's death, as he was her closest relative. He also knew that a Catholic alliance between Spain and France might lead to an invasion of England so he knew he had to remain friendly with them too.


James VI is remembered as a weak man and a bad decision- maker. But this was not true while he was king only in Scotland. Early in his reign, in the last years of the sixteenth century, he rebuilt the authority of the Scottish Crown after the disasters which had happened to his mother, grandfather and great-grandfather. He brought the Catholic and Protestant nobles and also the Kirk more or less under royal control. These were the successes of an extremely clever diplomat. Like the Tudors, he was a firm believer in the authority of the Crown, and like them he worked with small councils of ministers, rather than Parliament. But he did not have the money or military power of the Tudors.


James VI's greatest success was in gaining the English throne when Elizabeth died in 1603 at the unusually old age of 70. If Elizabeth's advisers had had serious doubts about James as a suitable Protestant ruler, they would probably have tried to find another successor to Elizabeth. Few in England could have liked the idea of a new king coming from Scotland, their wild northern neighbour. The fact that England accepted him suggests that its leading statesmen had confidence in James's skills.


Chapter 12


Government and society


During the Tudor period the changes in government, society and the economy of England were more far-reaching than they had been for centuries. But most far-reaching of all were the changes in ideas, partly as a result of the rebirth of intellectual attitudes known as the Renaissance, which had spread slowly northwards from its beginnings in Italy. In England the nature of the Renaissance was also affected by the Protestant Reformation and the economic changes that followed from it.

Tudor parliaments


The Tudor monarchs did not like governing through Parliament. Henry VII had used Parliament only for law making. He seldom called it together, and then only when he had a particular job for it. Henry VIII had used it first to raise money for his military adventures, and then for his struggle with Rome.


Perhaps Henry himself did not realise that by inviting Parliament to make new laws for the Reformation he was giving it a level of authority it never had before. Tudor monarchs were certainly not more democratic than earlier kings, but by using Parliament to strengthen their policy, they actually increased Parliament's authority.


Only two things persuaded Tudor monarchs not to get rid of Parliament altogether: they needed money and they needed the support of the merchants and landowners. In 1566 Queen Elizabeth told the French ambassador that the three parliaments she had already held were enough for any reign and she would have no


more. Today Parliament must meet every year and remain "in session" for three-quarters of it. This was not at all the case in the sixteenth century.

In the early sixteenth century Parliament only met when the monarch ordered it. Sometimes it met twice in one year, but then it might not meet again for six years.


During the century power moved from the House of Lords to the House of Commons. The reason for this was simple. The Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Commons represented richer and more influential classes than the Lords. In fact, the idea of getting rid of the House of Lords, still a real question in British politics today, was first suggested in the sixteenth century.


The old system of representation in the Commons, with two men from each county and two from each "borough", or town, remained the rule. However, during the sixteenth century the size of the Commons nearly doubled, as a result of the inclusion of Welsh boroughs and counties and the inclusion of more English boroughs.


But Parliament did not really represent the people, Few MPs followed the rule of living in the area they represented, and the monarchy used its influence to make sure that many MPs would support royal policy, rather than the wishes of their electors.

In order to control discussion in Parliament, the Crown appointed a "Speaker". Even today the Speaker is responsible for good behaviour during debates in the House of Commons. His job in Tudor times was to make sure that Parliament discussed what the monarch wanted Parliament to discuss, and that it made the decision which he or she wanted.


Until the end of the Tudor period Parliament was supposed to do three things: agree to the taxes needed; make the laws which the Crown suggested; and advise the Crown, but only when asked to do so. In order for Parliament to be able to do these things, MPs were given important rights: freedom of speech (that is freedom to speak their thoughts freely without fear), freedom from fear of arrest, and freedom to meet and speak to the monarch.


The Tudor monarchs realised that by asking Parliament for money they were giving it power in the running of the kingdom. All the Tudor monarchs tried to get-money in other ways. By 1600 Elizabeth had found ways to raise money that were extremely unwise. She sold "monopolies", which gave a particular person or company total control over a trade. In 1601, the last parliament of Elizabeth’s reign complained to her about the bad effect on free trade that these monoplies had.

Elizabeth and her advisers used other methods. She and her chief adviser, Lord Burghley, sold official positions in government. Burghley was paid about £ 860 a year, but he actually made at least £4,000 by selling official positions. He kept this secret from Parliament. Elizabeth's methods of raising money would today be considered dishonest.


England needed tax reform, which could only be carried out with the agreement of Parliament.


Elizabeth avoided open discussion on money matters with Parliament. There was clearly an unanswered question about the limits of Parliament's power. Who should decide what Parliament could discuss: the Crown or Parliament itself? Both the Tudor monarchs and their MPs would have agreed that it was the Crown that decided.


However, during the sixteenth century the Tudors asked Parliament to discuss, law-make and advise on almost every subject.

Parliament naturally began to think it had a right to discuss these questions. By the end of the sixteenth century it was beginning to show new confidence, and in the seventeenth century, when the gentry and merchant classes were far more aware of their own strength, it was obvious that Parliament would challenge the Crown. Eventually this resulted in war.

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