A popular topic of discussion among Tudor historians is the nature of Tudor government. The Early Modern period of history promotes the idea that modern government were formed during this period, sometime between the ascension of Henry VII in 1485 and the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.
The reign of Henry VIII offers considerable meat for political historians interested in how power was managed in England. In particular, there are a number of larger than life characters who played important roles in government between 1509, including Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Moore, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, and Henry VIII himself.
While most historians now agree that Henry always had the final say in policy decisions, it’s interesting, and important to explore the extent to which Henry’s various advisors, friends, and spouses had an impact on his decision making and on the daily running of his government.
Both Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey, at different periods in Henry’s life, were believed to have an inordinate influence over the king’s policies. Wolsey was often seen, by contemporaries, as a second king or even as the true king, with Henry serving as little more than a figurehead while Wolsey made policy decisions. Anne Boleyn was also seen to push for reform of the church and was largely held responsible for Wolsey’s downfall based on some notion that she had a personal hatred for him.
Similarly, there is some dispute as to whether it was Thomas Cromwell or Henry himself who pushed for the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn. Clearly, Anne’s position was weak in 1536 because she had failed to produce a male heir and Henry was apparently tiring of her. She also had a rather public falling out with Cromwell over the distribution of funds collected from the dissolution of the monasteries.
There is also some question about the development of factions within Henry’s government towards the end of his reign, and doubt as to what extent he empowered factions to build after his death, in the council he appointed to rule the country during Edward VI’s minority.
At the end of the day, though, as Keith Randall said, Henry was a “shrewd politician”. He did not involve himself in the daily operations of his government, largely because he did not enjoy the work and preferred to indulge his interests in sports and music, but he was no fool and took charge whenever he felt that his ministers were not acting in his best interests, such as between 1527 and 1533 when his ministers (primarily Wolsey) struggled to secure a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
To determine how modern Henry VIII’s government was, in terms of structure and organization, it’s interesting to read the section on Henry VIII in G.R. Elton’s England Under the Tudors and The King’s Reformation by G.W. Bernard (http://bit.ly/a2Lev2), and Henry VIII: Court, Church and Conflict’ by David Loades (http://bit.ly/dkOrdS).