The present section is a long one for good reason. England was ruled by the Tudor house for well over a hundred years, from 1485 to 1603, and during all but a few of these years the throne was occupied by masterful and energetic sovereigns. Furthermore, this was an age when the rapid diffusion of wealth and of Renaissance learning within the upper and middle classes led them to take a livelier interest in the study of government and the discharge of its responsibilities. As a consequence, a collection of only the more important constitutional sources must include a relatively large proportion of Tudor documents.
The primary object of the new dynasty was to restore a monarchy that had been weakened by the disorders of the previous age. Henry VII accomplished this first task by re-establishing the traditional authority of the crown. Building upon his success, Henry VIII and Elizabeth greatly extended the royal prerogatives. Yet, though the Tudors developed and controlled a strong royal government, they were by no means tyrannical in their methods. Above all else they desired the actualities of power. Accordingly, they sought to invigorate existing institutions rather than to create an entirely new system. They constantly appealed to ancient custom and the rule of law. They preserved the old governmental agencies, both central and local, with but slight formal change. Occasionally they resorted to frankly despotic measures, but generally they were content with putting to new uses constitutional practices that depended upon the co-operation of the people. Thus the Tudors strengthened the administration of the common law as well as of more arbitrary justice through special courts. They increased the efficiency, not only of their council, but also of their parliament. Even while accomplishing a revolutionary settlement for the Church of England, they anxiously cited precedent and legalized innovation by statute.
Nevertheless, whatever their content, the Tudor records are pervaded by a spirit of newness. For one thing, they were composed in a vigorous English which, despite some archaic expressions, is essentially our own. Thanks to a familiar language, we come more intimately to know the kings and queens of the sixteenth century, their ministers and justices, the members of their parliaments, even their humbler subjects in town and country. Perhaps it is mainly due to this fact that the documents henceforth seem to reveal more vivid personalities. But there is another factor to be taken into account the improved education of the sixteenth century. Inspired by the constant encouragement as well as by the example of their sovereigns, Englishmen turned with enthusiasm to the writing of books and the making of speeches upon matters affecting the public life. Such a development stimulated political discussion and led to the keeping of better records.
After the plan followed in previous sections, the materials for the Tudor period have been grouped according to the nature of the documents, rather than according to an attempted analysis of contents. The chronological lists of statutes thus include a variety of formal enactments, and they are supplemented by a few characteristic ordinances for the guidance of courts and the regulation of printing (nos. 75, 84, 85). The excerpts placed under nos. 79 and 83 have been selected, in default of earlier examples, to illustrate the routine work of the privy council and to bring out the diversity of its activities. The star chamber records under no. 80 are of somewhat the same sort a typical collection of matters brought before that court soon after its reorganization. The lively character of the journals, which in the middle sixteenth century take the place of the older rolls of parliament, can be judged from the extracts under no. 82. Henceforth the procedure of the houses especially the motions, debates, and speeches in the commons attain increasing prominence in the annals of the nation. It should, however, be noted that part of the original journals of the Tudor period have not come down to us. All but one of the extracts under no. 82 have been taken from the abstract of the journals made by Sir Simonds D'Ewes in the seventeenth century.
As already stated, no effort has been made to group all documents or parts of documents that deal with local government or social reform. Nos. 86-87 include merely a few illustrative records concerning the militia and the justices of the peace. And to them have been added two famous grants that served as models for the commercial and colonial enterprises of the next century.
From this material reference should be made to the statutes on local justice and administration (notably nos. 73C, 741, 78D, 81C, H) and to the numerous excerpts from the proceedings of parliament and the acts of the privy council.
In this as in earlier sections it has proved impossible to find room for contemporary writings on political institutions. Indeed, the difficulty becomes doubly apparent for the Tudor period, when such writings appeared in unprecedented numbers. Among them the most famous are Sir Thomas More's Utopia, Sir Thomas Elyot's The Governour, Sir Thomas Smith's De Republica Anglorum, and William Lambarde's Eirenarcha, the best editions of which are given in the general bibliography. There are two excellent collections of documents for the Tudor period, both edited with useful notes: J. R. Tanner, Tudor Constitutional Documents, 1485-1603; and G. W. Prothero, Select Statutes and other Constitutional Documents Illustrative of the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I. These books reproduce in full some of the acts that are here abbreviated. All the great statutes concerning the Church are also printed in Gee and Hardy, Documents Illustrative of English Church History. Unfortunately, we have no general constitutional history for the sixteenth century corresponding to that of Stubbs for the earlier period, but K. Pickthorn's Early Tudor Government contains an especially valuable treatment of the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. The constitutional issues of the later Tudor period are discussed in E. P. Cheyney's History of England from the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Death of Elisabeth. Although the footnotes to the following documents cite a number of pertinent monographs and special articles, they are only a small part of the literature concerning Tudor constitutional history. For a complete list of works on the subject, see Conyers Read, Bibliography of British History, Tudor Period.