West European Studies: Crises of Early Tudor Era

King Henry VIII’s reign came after the Antique social and political system when the Emperor of Western Rome was removed from power. During this time, various social changes had taken place. The Feudal and the manorialism systems were the ones in operation at the time. The feudal system was a system whereby people who agreed to act as knights were given land in return. The manorialism system refers to a process whereby peasants worked in the rich people’s lands in exchange for protection. The barbarian people who had taken over Europe are the ones who initiated the feudal and the manorialism systems. The Kings in major parts of Europe also adopted the Roman system of governance. The barbarian kings in France, Italy, and other major parts of Europe considered the Roman emperor their superior (Webster, 2004).

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The feudalism system was treated as the principal administrative and communal system since it was introduced in the region. Therefore, European society was referred to as the feudal society because of the influence that the feudal system had brought in the region. Though not all the countries in the region adopted the feudal system equally, certain characteristics of the feudal system were common to most countries in the region (Webster, 2004).

One of the key characteristics was that countries were supposed to divide their people into social classes. Therefore, in this context, the social classes that existed were the peasantry, the clergy, and the nobility. Therefore, a group of people was meant for fighting, another group was for praying, and there was a group that was supposed to provide labor.

In any society, the king was the one who was at the top of the hierarchy. The nobles in the region were classified into two. Some owned land, while there were those nobles who were responsible for a single manor. The ones who owned land were higher in the hierarchy than those who were accountable for a single manor. For a person to own land, he must have exchanged favor by providing military services. The peasants were the majority during this era.

For the peasants to be given protection, they were supposed to work for the landlords. The instability observed during the reign of King Henry VIII forced many peasants to look for protection from the powerful landlords they knew. Therefore, they exchanged their labor with freedom. Therefore, peasants agreed to become serfdoms, which they later transferred to their offspring, thus making serfdom hereditary (Webster, 2004). As a result, the serfs were therefore supposed to work in the lands where they were bound. This meant that the serfs were only supposed to work on the lands where they would be at the bottom of the hierarchy.

The clergy was very powerful during the reign of King Henry VIII. In all the social classes, the church and Christianity were ranked very high in the social order. Christianity exercised a monopoly because Christians supported all the institutions during the reign of King Henry VIII. Therefore, the clergy was regarded as very important among the Europeans. The church also owned most of the land, and high church officials ranked higher than the high nobility. However, though the Catholic Church was the most dominant in the region, King Henry VIII engaged in a series of religious upheavals. He ran away from the Catholic belief and declared himself the head of the Church of England (Akkerman, 1998).

Though the three main classes during King Henry VIII’s reign were the peasants, the clergy, and the nobles, other subordinate groups were present in the region. These were the Jews, lepers, foreigners, homosexuals, disabled people, heretics, witches, outlaws, and the unemployed (Medieval Times, 2011).

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During this time, a series of events that led to instability in the region was observed. The peasants in the region were the ones who led to the eruption of the uprisings. This is because downward pressures had been exerted on the poor, who later resulted in mass movements, thereby leading to the emergence of uprisings in most parts of Europe (The Applied History Research Group, 1997). The people who engaged in the uprisings were those people who wanted the rich to share their wealth with the poor.

However, the nobles emerged the winners by defeating the peasants who had caused the uprisings. The peasants were therefore regarded as pejorative such that the wealthy people started relating negatively with them. Before the uprisings, the peasants were described as being close to God. However, after the uprisings, the peasants were being described as sub-human because of the instability they caused in the entire region (Medieval Times, 2011).

Various reasons are attributed to the crises that were observed during the reign of King Henry VIII. The uprisings emerged because the gap between the rich and the poor was widening, the incomes of the poor people were dropping significantly, the levels of inflation and taxation had become very high, incidences of famine and war had become very prevalent, and religions in the region were also conflicting with each other. Since most of the region was dominated by Christianity, there was a popular belief that inequality and wealth were not associated with God (Viault, 1990). As a result, a different class of people engaged in the uprisings to bring a balance between the rich and the poor. They advocated for the sharing of wealth, which the rich kept to themselves.

During King Henry VIII’s reign, the gap between the rich and the poor was widening intensely. The concept of the nobility also became widespread during this period. Therefore, the noble class was being associated with dressings, manners, courtesy, diet, education, and behavior (Lesaffer, 2004). Therefore, the noble class had become very different from other people in the region. The nobles became very different in their behavior and values, such that those people who were below them were being treated as meaningless in society. Therefore, the peasants had to devise a mechanism that would elevate them so that the nobles would respect them.

There was also the issue of income declining in the region. The levels of inflation were rising uncontrollably. The nobles partly associated the rising levels of inflation with the rising population. The high inflation levels then made the prices of goods and services in the region rise significantly. However, the majority of the nobles’ income was stagnant, thereby making the nobles’ actual income to drop. Also, the nobles were used to luxurious lifestyles, making them fail to accept the significant drop in their income levels.

To ensure that their living standards remained high, the nobles engaged in activities that significantly affected the way of life of peasants in the region. The nobles raised the rents illegally and also stole from the poor. They also resulted in violence to manage to take what they desired from the poor forcefully (Lesaffer, 2004). These conditions significantly affected the peasants to a state that they felt they needed to engage in uprisings to try and bring an end to the hardships that the nobles were exposing them to.

The leaders during the time of King Henry VIII were regarded as weak. Most of the leaders were not able to address the needs of the peasants who were being oppressed by the wealthy people in society. As a result, the poor kept resulting in fighting and uprisings to try and ensure that the wealthy people respected their rights. The peasants were irritated by how the leaders were governing the region because most of the leaders opted to protect the rights of those people who were wealthy and owned land (Lesaffer, 2004). Therefore, peasants felt that their interests as citizens of the region were being violated. Therefore, it was difficult to make the poor come into a peaceful agreement with wealthy people.

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Some of the people who were in power were bankrupt, and for them to sustain their positions, they had to govern in the manner that the people who owned land wanted the region to be governed. As a result, the landowners had a significant influence on the manner in which the region was being governed. Therefore, the leaders had to rule in the interest of the rich so that they would get their support. Since the peasants did not have any influence on the way in which the region was being governed, the rich influenced the state such that the economy was performing in a manner that favored the rich (Oberman, Tracy, & Brady, 1999). Therefore, as the rich became richer, the poor people were becoming poorer.

During this reign, the leaders were not tolerant of the activities of the people. They ruled in a dogmatic manner such that people did not have sufficient freedom to carry out their usual activities. The most oppressed people were poor people. As a result, these people constantly engaged in uprisings in order to try and influence the leaders to stop being harsh to them. Since the rich were the ones who were being favored, the poor people did not have friendly ties with the rich (Lesaffer, 2004).

Corruption was very prevalent during the reign of King Henry VIII. In order for a person to be favored in the region, he had to be wealthy. As a result, the rich people were the ones who were getting all the favors in the region. It was not possible for a peasant to engage in any profitable activity because he had to be approved by the state. However, in order for a person to be approved, he must have given something in return. Since the poor did not have any resources to give out, they were therefore not receiving any favors from the state (Viault, 1990). Therefore, they remained poor, and they could not make any impact on the way in which the region was being governed. However, whenever the poor people engaged in uprisings in order to address the issues of inequality in the region, they always failed.

The issue of guilds being present in the region significantly influenced the performance of the economy during the reign of King Henry VIII. The craftsmen, artisans, and merchants used to form guilds in order to regulate most of the business activities that were being carried out in the region. The guilds were primarily responsible for controlling the prices and the quality of the goods and services that were being offered by the members. Any person who was not a member of the guild would not be allowed to practice their art. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the guilds were so powerful that they had a significant influence on the economic and political life of the entire region.

They also influenced international business activities. Therefore, it was difficult to control their activities since they had gained the support of the state (Akkerman, 1998). As a result, the poor people who would not be able to register as members of the guilds would not be successful in their business operations. Therefore, most of the poor people were not satisfied with the activities of the guilds and were therefore against them. This is because the guilds denied the poor people a chance to exercise their own business activities successfully.

During the reign of King Henry VIII, the climate was not very conducive for agriculture. Most of the people had therefore abandoned agricultural production, thereby leading to reduced output. This made the performance of the entire economy to go down. At this time, the population was declining, and the markets were shrinking. Arable land was also decreasing, and the economic conditions were deteriorating. Therefore, the region started engaging in commercial and manufacturing ventures.

The region was still lacking sufficient labor to work on the lands. This is because of the plague that had occurred in Europe, thereby leading to the death of very many people. As a result, the land was plenty for people to work on. Since the peasant and the working class were not many, they demanded higher wages from those people who owned land. Since the landlords did not want their crops to rot in the fields, they had to pay higher wages to the peasants.

The costs of production were also rising at very high rates. This made many landlords start renting out their land, thereby making many serfs become tenant farmers (The Applied History Research Group, 1997). This issue made the feudalism and manorialism systems to weaken significantly.

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However, the peasants were supposed to work in the lands of the wealthy people to earn a living and so that the wealthy would give them support to enable them to handle the challenges that faced them. However, with the increasing support that was being shown to the rich, the ties between the wealthy and the peasants weakened such that the rich were becoming less and less sensitive to the issues that were facing the peasants who worked in their lands (Lesaffer, 2004).

Therefore, the living conditions of the poor continued to deteriorate, thereby forcing them to engage in constant uprisings to see whether the challenges that they were experiencing would be addressed. However, the peasants were very weak in addressing any issues. Nobody was willing to listen to their cries. As a result, whenever the peasants engaged in any form of uprisings, they were always being defeated because nobody was willing to support them (Webster, 2004). The rich would even act in favor of the state in order to ensure that the peasants were not successful in any of the activities that they engaged in.

References

Akkerman, T. (1998). Perspectives on Feminist Political Thought in European History: From the Middle Ages to the Present. New York: Routledge.

Lesaffer, R. (2004). Peace Treaties and International Law in European History: From the Late Middle Ages to World War One. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Medieval Times. (2011). Introduction to the Medieval Life and Society. Web.

Oberman, H. A., Tracy, J., & Brady, J. A. (1999). Handbook of European History, 1400-1600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. Boston: BRILL.

The Applied History Research Group. (1997). The End of Europe’s Middle Ages. Web.

Viault, B. S. (1990). Schaum’s Outline of Modern European History. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional.

Webster, H. (2004). Early European History. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

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