A Level History: Faction War at the Tudor Court



Exploiting rumours, brothers executing brothers, cousins executing cousins, dangerous revelations and horrific imprisonments. No, I am not describing a season of soap drama, or a twisted movie plot- this is life at the Tudor court.

You can find evidence of faction-fighting at court in numerous occasions in history, particularly in the political sphere, where divisions in ideologies spark opposition, and patronage and ambitions breed resentment and rivalry. This too is true at the Tudor courts of Henry VIII and his son and heir Edward VI, both of whom experienced factional rivalries during their respective reigns.

Factional play-fighting is hardly an occurrence to be worried about, but when rivalries prove fatal, particularly so near to the King, the stability of government can be threatened. Was, then, Henry VIII’s government in real danger? Here we hope to explore the possibilities…

How far did factional rivalry threaten the stability of government in the last 8 years of Henry VIII’s reign?


From this, we can see that rivalries at court between factions could sometimes prove fatal- literally. Though government machinery functioned normally, the danger of faction-fighting getting out of control was, certainly, a threat, albeit it is up to you to decide to what extent.

What were, we might then ask, the factions fighting for?

This is an issue long debated by historians: two main explanations are the political and religious causes that provoked faction-fighting. Both are studied below:

Did personal ambitions rather than religious differences explain the bitter factional rivalries of the Tudor court in the years 1539- 53?


There are two main things you may have identified from this:

First being, the particular circumstances that encouraged faction differ between the two reigns: Whereas Henry’s arguably increasing openness to manipulation produced dangerous rivalries at court (Both factions were determined to influence the King), Edward’s minority government (Edward was crowned King at only nine years of age) was, thus, weaker, offering greater opportunities for factions to exert more influences over the young King.

It could be observed that religious differences, more so than personal ambitions, explain the bitter factional rivalries at the court of Henry VIII, whereas during Edward’s reign [considering Edward’s clear devotion to Protestantism and the subsequent monopoly of royal favour this meant the reform party enjoyed], personal ambitions explain the bitter factional rivalry between 1547-53.

Ultimately, however, it is you who must decide your stance on these issues. This is one of the many ‘there is no right or wrong’ debates you find in history, in literature and even in life. Through examining historical evidence, we can hope to gain valuable insights into the colourfully eventful periods of the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI; this particular debate continues to burn bright, as it has done for many years, and probably will do so for many years to come

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