Henry VII and Government




The King's Council

The centre of medieval English government was the king himself and the men he chose to sit on his council. The functions of the council were to advise the King over matters of state, to administer law and order, and to act in a judicial capacity in the prosecution of nobles. During Henry's reign there was a total of 227 councillors, but there was never more than 150 at a time, most of whom rarely attended meetings.

The difficulty in controlling the council led Henry to rely on a small group of councillors who met with the King reguarly. This elite group included chief officers of state;

  • The Lord Chancellor (John Morton); responsible for administration
  • The Lord Privy Seal (Richard Fox); responsible for the seals to enforce royal orders
  • The Lord Treasurer (Lord Dynham); responsible for finance
  • Other key figures included Sir Reginald Bray, Lord Daubeny and Sir John Riseley. These men gave stability to the new regime because Henry kept them in power for so long. In order to improve the efficiency of central goverment, Henry decided to use smaller commitees formed from within the council on a more regular basis.

Star Chamber

Created by the Star Chamber Act in 1487, it was responsible for prosecuting anyone who behaved in a rebellious or lawless manner. Members of the Royal Council - the king's most favoured advisors - sat on the court to make these judgements so it was possible to haul even the greatest nobleman before it. It also came to be used as a Court of Appeal.

The Council Learned in Law

An offshoot from the main Royal Council which dealt initially with managing amd pursuing the King's feudal rights, but soon assumed control of all financial matters relating to Crown Lands. All the members of the Council had legal training (hence the name) and acted both as investigators and judges in cases where there was suspicion that a nobleman was not paying his proper dues to the King. By the end of Henry's reign it became the most detested committee, but it was also the most important of all institutions of goverment involved in the maintenance of law and order. The Council became increasingly feared after the promotion of Sir Richard Empson to the Presidency of the Council after 1504.Under Empson and his colleague Edmund Dudley, royal rights were scrupulously enforced. They are also thought to have manipulated the system by falsely claiming that people owed feudal dues, such as wardship, where no such obligations existed. Dudley later confessed that he had acted illegally for the king in more than 80 cases.


In the 24 years of Henry's reign it met on 7 occasions, and five of those were in his first decade as king when he was relatively insecure in his position. The King might not have summoned parliament frequently but, by the way he used it, he continued it's traditional role as the place where




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