A life apart: the English working class, 1890-1914 by Standish Meacham

By Standish Meacham

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It is now time, therefore, to turn to England’s foreign affairs under Henry VII. At one level this is an extremely complicated subject. The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were the time of ‘Renaissance diplomacy’, when international relations stretched more widely and changed more quickly than at any time in the past. A full account would require discussion of Henry’s dealings with most major European states and 36 many of the minor ones – something which there is obviously no space to attempt here.

First, the machinery of government had become extremely cumbersome and slow. This was especially true of legal proceedings: it was easy to start lawsuits, but the law was so complex and the lawyers were so ingenious that it was virtually impossible to stop cases from dragging on for years and years. Second, the notion of impartial ‘public service’ usually carried little weight. All agents of government, from the kings downwards, had no scruples about putting their private interests first if these clashed with public ones.

After 1487, if one of the parties refused to give the recognizance, or subsequently broke the peace, he could have expected to be summoned before the 1487 tribunal, to be found guilty by the king’s 32 chief councillors and to be subjected to a full, common law, punishment. The threat of such a procedure was probably one of Henry’s major weapons in his attempts to uphold good government throughout the kingdom and it is significant that the tribunal was temporarily abolished in the reaction which followed Henry VII’s death.

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