Â SOCIAL BACKGROUND
The end of the Wars of Roses ,marking the transition from the Middle Age to the Renaissance (1485-1625) , brought about many social and political changes:
In 1500 there was a demographic increment, which, however in spite of illnesses and famines, didn’t exhaust the alimentary resources and didn’t put Tudor’s economy with its back to the wall.
But it increased the poverty , the vagabondage, the unemployment and the bleakness. To resolve these problems the Elizabethan government passed the Poor Law in 1572,1597and 1601.
They established that each parish had to deal with its own poor, providing work for the unemployed in a workhouse (buildings where the poor lived at the public expense) or giving assistance. Poor people were obliged to stay in the area where they were born and not wander through the kingdom as beggars.
However, the Tudor Poor Law brought no real solution to the problem of poverty as beggars and homeless people kept wandering around.
Here a table of demographic increment in 1500:
|YEAR POP.(in mill’ions)|
Outside the city walls were houses and country manors without fortificationsÂ built for the new nobility on the lands which belonged to the monasteries. This new class was composed of rich merchants who had also obtained greater participation in government affairs.
So the new owners were businessmen and they easily brought to their new estates the business mentality.
In the villages where they had built their houses ,the majority of people worked on the three great fields around the villages. This was known as the “open field system”. On two of these fields wheat, barley, oats, peas and beans were grown. The other was left fallow. The next year another section would be left fallow.
Beside the cultivated land, each village had an uncultivated piece of land, called common land, for the villagers.
In most villages the three fields were divided up into many long narrow strips. Each village farmer was the tenant of one or more strips in each field; in return they paid a money rent to the manor owner.
During the Tudor time new methods of farming, new tools and new crops were introduced. As a consequence, there was a great improvement in the production of food.
Because the demand of wool by the English clothmakers throughout Europe was growing many of the new landowners took over the common land belonging to their villages, enclosed them and turned sheep on to the grassed lands. However, the enclosures were not carried out in all parts of the country, most land remained to the open field system.
Geographic and scientific discoveries
The discovery of America in 1492 marked the beginning of widespread geographical expl’oration, which modified the previous conception of the world.
Expl’orations and overseas trade, favoured by Henry VII, expanded further under the reign of queen Elizabeth, making England a commercial and seafaring power.
The motives to explore were various, but the most important were the economic pressure of a rising population, inflation and declining markets, because after the loss of Calais in 1558, the official distribution centre of English wool in Europe had disappeared and merchants hoped to sell cloth to the heathens in undiscovering countries.
The importation of potatoes greatly modified the cooking habits of the English and tobacco became an essential part of English daily life.
On the other hand, new philosophers and scientists were questioning traditional medieval beliefs. In the field of medicine and astronomy, new studies were revolutionising the old theories, which were under attack from the earliest researches in the field of astronomy.
In addition, the studies of Galileo (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630) confirmed what Copernicus had published in his treatise “On the revolution of the Spheres” as far back as 1543, and what had been disregarded ever since: that the earth was no loger at the centre of the universe, and was governed by scientific laws rather than divine intelligence.
By the time that Henry VII came to the throne in 1485 there had been a change in man’s attitudes.to life. In the past, life had been seen as a preparation for heaven (or hell). By 1500 men had developed new ideas; they had begun to see that man’s life on earth was worthwhile in itself. They also developed new attitudes towards farming and the study of printed books. So it is not surprising that there was also an increased interest in children’s education by farmers anxious that their sons should become better farmers, by merchants anxious to provide training for the people they needed in business.
After the Reformation boys attended grammar schools which had been founded by merchants and businessmen for their children. However, the children of the more wealthy were taught to read at home. On the contrary, the boys of poor families rarely received any schooling. Instead they began work or began an apprenticeship still very young.
In Tudor England the most common form of education for girls of all classes was to be sent off into service in some rich man’s household where they would learn how to manage a house, but enlightened fathers wanted their daughters to be properly educated in Latin, English literature, music and divinity. But in general there was far less attention paid to the education of girls than of boys.
By the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century the economic, political and social system governed by the papacy was showing evident signs of deep crisis. In England by1530 the Roman catholic Church was, for various reasons, becoming more and more unpopular. Large amounts of money were due every year to the Pope. Monasteries and clergymen possessed a great deal of land and wealth. The Clergy often seemed more interested in growing rich and building beautiful buildings than in worshipping God. Therefore, when Henry VIII in 1527 came to argue with the Church over the matter of his divorce, which the pope refused to allow him, he determined to break with Rome. A new parliament, the Reformation Parliament, was summoned.
It sat for seven years (1529-36) passing a series of Acts which cut off the Church of England from Rome and brought it under the control of the State. The authority of the Pope in England was abolished in 1534. The Act of Supremacy was passed in 1535, declaring Henry to be the only supreme Head of the Church of England. The English Reformation was not the result of a popular movement and not all its aspects were easily accepted. The break with Rome, involving cessation of the large revenues paid to the Pope, was almost universally welcomed. The confiscation of Church properties, on the contrary, was much less popular.
The theological changes came later. Protestantism as a mass movement made slow progress at first, because the majority of the people remained catholic in belief until Catholicism was politically discredited by its conceptions with the hostile power of Spain.
Raimondi Davide & Cibelli Roberto.