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The University of Southampton

HIST1008 A Tudor Revolution in Government?

Module Overview

This module is an exploration of how England was governed in the sixteenth century. How far did kings and queens rule as well as reign? What was the nature of monarchical government? What was the role of the court and of faction?

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the many contentious issues hotly debated in the historiography of the period;
  • key themes relating to the nature of government in Tudor England, including: - kingship - the royal court, including culture - council and counsel, consent and tyranny - the nobility and gentry - parliament - military power - finance and taxation - the institutions of central government - local government and the challenge of enforcement.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • describe and assess the principal features of government in early modern England;
  • offer your own perspectives, supported in detail, on key topics;
  • reflect on the place of controversy in historical studies;
  • analyse evidence, texts and sources;
  • demonstrate theoretical and methodological skills;
  • grasp the extent and the depth of historiographical controversies.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate oral communication skills at a standard appropriate for year 1 (HE Level 4) study, preparing as required brief reports to start discussion in classes and taking part actively in the cut and thrust of debate;
  • write fluently and effectively, preparing assessed work independently;
  • find, assimilate and analyse diverse and complex information;
  • formulate arguments that are clearly reasoned and based on evidence;
  • manage your own learning and your time effectively, meeting deadlines
  • demonstrate problem-solving skills.


This unit is an exploration of how England was governed in the sixteenth century. How far did kings and queens rule as well as reign? What was the nature of monarchical government? What was the role of the court and of faction? How important were noblemen and gentry in the government of the country? How did monarchs fight wars? How did they raise taxation? What was the role of parliaments? How crucial was the contribution of the central administrative institutions of government? How were government policies enforced in the localities? What did Sir Geoffrey Elton (1921-1994), one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, mean when he argued for ‘a Tudor Revolution in Government’, masterminded by Thomas Cromwell in the 1530s? How convincing are his claims? How should developments in the sixteenth century be seen in the broader context of ‘state formation’? How far do historiographical debates, notably those provoked by Elton, reflect theoretical or ideological differences, or simply different readings of the evidence?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • weekly lectures • weekly seminars • individual guidance on preparation for course essay As seminars will be ‘large group’ sessions (c.30 students), we will use appropriate methods to stimulate small group discussion and report to the full group on key themes and debates raised by the lecture and individual reading. Training on the use of original sources will be integrated into the seminars, and you will be expected to produce short commentaries on selected documents. You will receive a course booklet, with seminar list, essay questions and book and resource list. Learning activities include: • intensive reading, guided by annotated reading lists and by the lectures; • participation in group and class discussion; • extracts from sources will be prepared for you to refer to in lectures and to consider in classes: these will be posted on the web. Innovative or special features of this unit • possibly field trips (subject to financial and safety constraints), for example to the National Portrait Gallery. Lectures will offer you a critical guide to the topics; recommended textbooks will give you basic chronological and factual information; participation in seminars, by preparing short presentations, and by taking part in discussion, will encourage you to develop your own interests and ideas; reading through the books and articles recommended in the course booklist will deepen your knowledge and understanding, and equip you for writing the course essay and tackling the examination.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

C.S.L. Davies (1976). Peace, Print and Protestantism: England 1471-1558. 

A.G.R. Smith (1967). The Government of Elizabethan England. 

For a rounded discussion of 'The Eltonian Legacy', see the essays in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, vii (1997) by C.S.L. Davies, 'The Cromwellian Decade: Authority and Consent', pp. 177-96;. 

G.W. Bernard, ‘Elton’s Cromwell’, History, lxxxiii (1998), pp. 587-607, reprinted in G.W. Bernard,. 

G.R. Elton, The Tudor Revolution in Government (1953). There is a very useful summary of his conclusions in G.R. Elton, England under the Tudors, (1955, 2nd. ed, 1974, 3rd. ed 1989), ch. vii. For Elton's last thoughts on the subject, see the central chapters of his The English (1991).. 

An important review soon appeared: by R.B. Wernham, review in English Historical Review, lxxi (1956), pp. 92-95.. 

G.R.Elton (1991). England under the Tudors. 

S.J. Gunn (1995). Early Tudor Government, 1485-1558. 

C. Coleman and D.R. Starkey, eds., Revolution Reassessed: revisions in the history of Tudor Government and Administration (1986); cf. reviews by B. Dietz, History, lxxii (1987), pp. 337-8 and G.W. Bernard, 'Politics and Government in Tudor England', Historical Journal, xxxi (1988), pp. 159-82.. 

C. Russell (1971). The Crisis of Parliaments: English History 1509-1660. 

R.W. Hoyle, 'Place and Public Finance', pp. 197-216; 'The parliament of England', pp. 217-34; C. Russell, 'Thomas Cromwell's Doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty', pp. 235-46; S. Adams, 'Politics', pp. 247-66; C. Holmes, 'G.R. Elton as a Legal Historian', pp. 267-280; C. Haigh, 'Religion', pp. 281-300.. 

There was then a vigorous debate in Past and Present: G.L. Harriss and P.H. Williams, xxiv (1964), pp. 3-58, xxix (1964), Elton’s reply, pp. 26-49, Harriss and Williams’s counter, xxxi (1965) pp. 87-96; Elton again, xxxii (1965), pp. 103-9.. 

P. Williams (1979). The Tudor Regime. 

For Elton's approach to history in general, see his The Practice of History (1967) and Political History (1970); Q. Skinner, 'Sir Geoffrey Elton and the Practice of History', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, vii (1997), pp. 301-16; G.W. Bernard, 'History and Postmodernism', in G.W. Bernard, Power and Politics in Tudor England (2000), pp. 217-230; P. Collinson, 'Sir Geoffrey Elton', Proceedings of the British Academy (1997).. 

C.H. Williams, ed (1967). English Historical Documents vol. v. 1485-1558. 

Power and Politics in Tudor England (2000), pp. 108-28.. 

G.R. Elton (1983). The Tudor Constitution. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • you will engage in small group exercises, focusing on specific formative tasks, which will be reviewed in class; • you will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessment with your tutor; • you will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your work in progress from your tutor; • guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you The formal assessments will promote skills of analysis and critical thinking. They will also reinforce organisational, planning and writing skills.


MethodPercentage contribution
Book review  (750 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Examination  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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