Conflicts and Loyalties: the Parliaments of Elizabeth I

R. E. Foster surveys the changing interpretations and introduces the key facts.

‘During the time of the Tudors, especially in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, the power of parliament had been much lessened.’ So wrote H. E. Marshall in Our Island Story, a child’s history of Britain which first appeared in 1905. Her comments reflected an historical orthodoxy that purported to identify a Tudor despotism. By the time her book was reprinted in 1953, however, this interpretation had been overthrown. The chief exponent of the new orthodoxy was Sir John Neale. For Neale, the reign of Elizabeth was one in which the House of Commons contested with the crown for political supremacy. The vanguard of this unprecedented parliamentary opposition was provided by a group of some 43 puritan MPs whom he named the ‘choir’. Elizabeth’s acumen averted catastrophe, he argued, but within two generations of her death the crown-parliament battles became a full blown civil war.

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