Were there major changes in the role of Parliament from 1529 to 1588?

It can be argued that until 1529, the monarch only rarely summoned parliament, and it appears that their main function was to grant taxation to fund wars. Parliament had only met four times between 1509 and 1529 for this reason. It is only from 1529 that one can see that Parliament met much more frequently, as Henry needed their aid to break with the Roman Catholic Church, during the Reformation. From this point, the influence and power of Parliament began to dramatically increase. Parliament appeared to be more involved, and more assertive, implying that there were major changes in the role of Parliament in the years 1529 to 1588, as they appeared to enable religious and financial change in England, making them a useful tool for the reigning monarch.

There were major changes in the role of Parliament from 1529 to 1588, beginning with the meeting of the Reformation Parliament in 1529. To secure his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and take full control of his country, Henry decided to break with the Catholic Church in Rome, a seven-year struggle in which the action of parliament was vital. It is in this instance that the role of parliament can be seen to change dramatically when concerning religion. Royal Supremacy was eventually achieved in 1534, with Henry adding “Supreme Head” to his title the following year. A series of parliament acts enabled this, beginning with the significant Dispensations Act in 1534. This followed the First Act of Annates in 1532, which reduced all payments to Rome to five percent; leading to the Dispensations Act, which formally forbade all payments to Rome. This act made it clear to Henry and Cromwell that events were moving in the direction in which they intended, and that, in England, the role and presence of Rome was being reduced significantly. The Act of the Payment of the First Fruits stated that taxes that went to Rome when one was appointed a clerical position now went to Henry, and through this act of parliament, by 1536 Henry was receiving fifty-one thousand, seven hundred pounds. Financially, the Catholic Church in Rome was isolated from England, and now what only remained was the declaration of Henry’s supremacy. It was through the second parliament Act of Supremacy in November 1534 that Henry was granted caesaropapism. This meant that Henry was now in charge of land and the church. In the following months the role of the Pope was denounced, showing that there were major changes in the role of parliament during the Reformation as the acts they passed restricted the financial burden Catholicism opposed on England, and the role of the Pope in relation to religion. It can be seen that parliament’s role greatly changed in this respect, as they became concerned with matters in Rome as well as in England, and it was they who granted Henry Royal Supremacy, finally giving him the power that he had longed for. The events of the 1530’s also led to the idea of ‘king-in-parliament.’ This was the idea that the most powerful force in the country was the King when he acted with parliament, as opposed to him acting alone. The idea restricted Henry to an extent, as without working with parliament, his power decreased. This demonstrates how dramatically the role of parliament changed, as after securing the break with Rome, the King was seen to hold less power without the help of parliament. Parliament had initially been unequal to the monarch, but now it appeared equal if not more important, as without parliament’s support, Henry did not have full control over the Church or his country. The Reformation also increased parliamentary power for the long term, as it was only through parliament acts that previous laws, regarding the Reformation, could be reversed by Mary I. Throughout her reign (1553 to 1558) parliament was again used to change the religious status of England, as she reversed the religious changes that Henry VIII and Edward VI made in 1553 and 1554. Her aim was to restore England to Catholicism and back to Rome. Beginning with the meeting of the Reformation Parliament, the role of Parliament majorly changed, as politicians became far more concerned with matters of religion, and made decisions that affected England on a large, and global, scale. The growing power and influence of Parliament led to politicians becoming more assertive and, in their eyes, authoritative, particularly under Elizabeth I. After Sir Francis Walsingham discovered the Babington Plot in 1586, Parliament gathered a case against Mary Queen of Scots. It was discovered that a group of Catholics, led by Anthony Babington and John Ballard, planned to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne. In this case, Parliament had a great influence over the indecisive Elizabeth, and Cecil forced her to sign the death warrant of her cousin, Mary. It was dispatched without Elizabeth’s permission, highlighting the audacity of those in Parliament, as they had defied the wish of the reigning monarch, demonstrating that their role had greatly changed, as here they took action without Elizabeth’s consent, even though she had always tried to use her royal prerogative as a means to restrict Parliament’s power. As well as their power, Cecil believed he had a great enough authority to dispatch the warrant highlighting the major changes in the role of parliament. Parliament’s role greatly increased in the early 1530’s, due to their prolific role in the religious matters of England, which gave them a greater importance and responsibility than in previous years. Parliament’s granting of Henry’s Royal Supremacy gave them great power and position, as without their help England would not have broken with Rome. This led to them having a greater sense of authority. For parliament, their success continued as people began to see Henry as less powerful without the aid of parliament. This greater sense of authority led to the assertive Parliament of Elizabeth I throughout her reign, as demonstrated by the way in which Mary Queen of Scots was dealt with in 1587. This bolder approach from Parliament stemmed from their heightened importance and role, beginning with the inauguration of the Reformation Parliament in 1529, as here the role of parliament changed majorly, due to their heavy involvement with religion and the break with Rome, leading to their increased power. 

However, it could be argued that there were not major changes in the role of parliament in the years 1529 to 1588, as there were only moderate ones. It appeared that over the course of Henry VIII’s reign, and at the start of Edward VI’s, parliament was used to alter and change the line of succession. There were three Succession Acts in March 1554, June 1536 and July 1543. After both being declared bastards, and being removed from the line of succession, Mary and Elizabeth were returned to it in 1543. Parliament was relied upon to alter the line of succession as Henry wished, and this can be seen as a moderate change in the role of Parliament as the decisions that were made did not grant Henry as much control as his Royal Supremacy. Parliament’s role changed, in the context of succession, due to the frequent changing of it. Parliament’s continuing assertiveness throughout the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I led to conflict within the Parliament of Elizabeth I. In 1563 and 1566, the issue of succession was raised against Elizabeth’s wishes, as the issue had to be debated. This can be seen as a change in Parliament, as in previous years such an issue would not have been raised and challenged without permission of the monarch. However, as Parliament felt authoritative enough to incite the discussion, it can be decided that the role and status of Parliament had increased, due to the important role it had played in matters, such as the Reformation. Their discussion would have been unimaginable during Henry’s reign. Elizabeth did not respond well to their intervention, and sought to restrict Parliament. She suggested that they only discussed matters of ‘commonweal,’ which were matters concerning common good and the country. This led to the Freedom of Speech conflict, causing tension between Elizabeth and the House of Commons. In comparison, Henry’s Supremacy was a major change in the role of Parliament as they had the power to bestow such great authority on him, which does not compare to alterations to the succession, as it did not increase the authority of Henry and Parliament as much as the Reformation had, making this a moderate change. Also, despite the assertiveness of her parliament, Elizabeth was still in charge, unlike the Reformation when it was mainly Parliament alone that secured the break with Rome and gave Henry Supremacy, making this also a moderate change. This would lead to the conclusion that there were only moderate changes in the role of Parliament. 

On the contrary, it could be argued that there were only minimal changes in the role of Parliament between 1529 and 1588. Although Parliament was well utilised to break with Rome, it can be argued that even in this instance, this was achieved primarily through financial alterations made by Parliament. Before the summoning of the Reformation Parliament, Parliament was infrequently called to grant taxation, in order to fund wars. Parliament’s attacks on Rome initially began by reducing the amount of money that was sent to Rome by England, implying that although the task at hand was much greater, Parliament still approached the matter from a similar financial perspective, citing the minimal changes in their role, beginning with the first Act of Annates in 1532. The first actions of Parliament were purely based on matters to do with money, as they first sought to limit the amount of money Rome received from England. The Dispensations Act cut off all payments in 1534, and it was only in this year that ideas about Royal Supremacy began to take shape. It was the preamble of Cromwell’s draft of the Act of Restraint of Appeals in April 1533 that originally outlined Henry and Cromwell’s initial vision of Supremacy. It was this act that prevented Catherine appealing to the Pope. As the idea of Supremacy only began to form four years after the original Reformation Parliament was called, it can be argued that the role of Parliament changed minimally, as during the Reformation they were primarily concerned with matters to do with money. It could even be argued that Royal Supremacy was not part of Henry’s original plan and vision, but it was Cromwell’s initiative that brought the subject to discussion, further emphasising the idea that Parliament had planned to formally break with Rome in an economical sense, by reducing the amount of money they received from England. Parliament continued to debate over financial matters, such as the ‘First Fruit and Tenths’ bill in 1555, which kept the House sitting until three ‘o’ clock in the afternoon, which as seen to be abnormally late. Although this bill intended to change the decisions of Henry VIII, by returning money to the Church, it reinforces the idea that majority of changes and topics that were debated in Parliament were based on money, implying that the role of parliament changed minimally, as before, during and after, the Reformation parliament primarily concerned itself with financial matters. 

It is highly accurate to say that there were major changes in the role of Parliament in 1529 to 1588, due to their large role in the religious matters of England. The increased power of Parliament stems mainly from their role in the Reformation, and securing the separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry’s great reliance on Parliament in this period gave parliament a greater sense of power, as without their support, Henry would not have been able to secure his divorce and the reform he also desired. These events led parliament to have a greater authority which then allowed them to challenge following monarchs on matters such as Mary Queen of Scots’ execution in 1588. The Reformation appears to be the pinnacle of Parliament’s power, as it was during this time that the idea of the ‘king-in-parliament’ came into being, suggesting that without the aid of parliament, Henry was less powerful, emphasising the fundamentality of parliament. As parliament were essential to him and were greatly needed, one can see that the role of Parliament majorly changed in the years 1529 to 1588, due to their essential role played in the Reformation. 

Thanks for reading!

Published by harpalkhambay

I am an English Literature and History graduate, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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