26 Feb 2018
The Reformation is one of the most studied, most discussed and heavily analysed periods of English history, arousing controversy and interest through the works of academics and the private study of interested individuals alike. J.A. Froude called it "[T]he greatest incident in English history," but it would be just as easy to call it an act of sacrilege motivated by a selfish tyrant, interested more in perpetuating his own line than fulfilling his self-proclaimed role as "defender of the faith."
No matter the differences of historical opinion, its importance cannot be denied, and nor can its impact. Yet few authors have deigned to focus on the impact of this turbulent course of events on the principality of Wales, nor has there been much discussion of the role of its governor, Rowland Lee. This essay will do exactly that.
It will begin with an analysis of the "Reformation Acts" as this author has dubbed them, the statutes enacted by Henry with the specific aim ofremaking the English church in his image. These measures affected thecountry as a whole, and any aspects peculiar to Wales will be examined.
The essay will continue with a detailed look at the "Welsh Acts,”statutes often called (wrongly) Acts of Union. Obviously, their effectis specific to Wales, and the attitudes of the Welsh people will be especially noteworthy here.
Finally, the scope of the inquiry will turn to the man who implemented those policies as President of the Council of Wales: Rowland Lee, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. To some he was a blood-thirsty man,the "hanging bishop" who instigated a reign of terror. To others he was a skilled and efficient administrator, a man who was given a job to do and who took the actions necessary to its success. Once this essay isfinished, the thoughts of the writer will be well known, it will be upto the reader to make the final judgement.
The background to the Reformation is long and complex, and is morethan a simple matter of a childish egotist's desire to take what he hasbeen told he cannot have. Nor is the motivation as simple as apolitical need to secure the continuation of his line through the birthof a healthy son. Both of these were factors in Henry's thinking, butthey were not as simplistic as they have been portrayed. Henry was ascholar and had the capacity for intelligent, theoretical and theological thought. The Reformation was in part the end result of atheory of kingship based on the kingship of David in the Bible, and ona notion of imperium, that a king was the sole final arbiter of allmatters within his realm.
Unfortunately, we do not have the available time or space to go into the causes of the Reformation in more detail. All that need concern the reader for the purpose of this study is that the Pope's refusal to annul Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (thereby invalidating the papal dispensation that had made the marriage legal inthe first place) led Henry to break with the Church of Rome and taketotal control of the church in England. The Church of England, as it became known, had the King at its head; he was the "defender of the faith," and no foreign power could determine religious policy in his realm, just as it could not determine administrative policies or set taxation. There is a logical (if not theological) sense in this policy,and it was one that fitted with Henry's newfound theory of kingship.
Henry was a king who ruled with parliament, and this makes analysis ofhis policies easier, since there is a clear legislative framework toalmost every reforming measure he undertook. Indeed, the parliamentthat enacted this legislation was dubbed the "Reformation Parliament."It was through Parliament and the legal apparatus at his disposal thatHenry and Cromwell conducted the reformation of the Church, which wasto become Henry's church.
The birth of the Reformation (at least in legal terms) came in the formof the Act of Restraint of Appeals (1533). It stated that as King ofEngland, Henry owed submission to no man, not even the Pope. The actproceeded on the basis that a king owed allegiance and obedience to Godand God alone. No earthly being could tell him how to interpret theScripture, or prevent him from annulling a marriage he had adjudgedsinful. In both theory and practice, it created an autonomous Church ofEngland, with the King at its head. The Act (as with almost alllegislation) was politically motivated, for (as its name implies) itbarred an English citizen from appealing to the Vatican against anydecision made by an English ecclesiastical court. The motivation forthis was obvious. It meant that if an English ecclesiastical courtruled that the marriage between the King and Catherine of Aragon wasinvalid, Catherine could not appeal to the pope. If she did, anyresponse would have no legal force within the English realm. Since theecclesiastical courts were now as much the king's courts as any otherlegal forum, they would dispense a decision in line with hisinterpretation of the law. This may seem tyrannical and corrupt tomodern eyes, but in Tudor England it made perfect sense. The courtsystem existed because the king was meant to dispense justice but couldnot hope to adjudicate every case himself. Personal intervention ofthis sort was impracticable. With this in mind, for a king to advisethe court of the correct decision was a constitutional act of theutmost legality. Part of the coronation oath was the preservation ofjustice; that is (in theory) all interference in a court case was; theking assuming duties he had previously sworn to perform.
It is clear that dealing with his political and marital problems werefar more important to Henry and his government than reforming theChurch itself. The second key measure in the Henrician/Cromwellianreform programme was the Act of Succession (March 1534). The Actconfirmed the bastardy of Mary Tudor, (who had lost her title ofPrincess and was now referred to as the "Lady Mary"). Mary wasdisinherited and the Princess Elizabeth was named the king's truesuccessor. More importantly, the Act provided that any subject, if soordered, should swear an oath recognising its provisions. Most peoplecomplied without question, but both Thomas More and Bishop John Fisherrefused to take it. Both men paid for this allegiance to the Pope withtheir lives. The Princess Dowager (as Catherine of Aragon was nowdesignated), and her daughter also refused, but their relationship tothe Emperor restrained Henry, who left them to their own devices.
It wasn't until later in 1534 (November) that the real changesbegan. The Act of Supremacy gave a legal, statutory definition of theking's position within the structure of this newly created Church ofEngland. It gave the king a statutory title of Supreme Head of theChurch of England and assigned the king all prerogatives "to the saiddignity of supreme head of the same church belonging and appertaining."In effect, the pope was being displaced as the head of the church inEngland. Henry of course, had a different view. It was the kings ofEngland who had been displaced by the pope, based on spurious doctrinethat contradicted the Holy Scriptures. God had always intended that theking be master of all matters in his realm. That was why He selectedkings personally, putting them on the throne through his divine powers.His intervention at Bosworth Field had put the Tudors in control of thekingdom of England, and Henry was not about to let some bishop of Romeusurp his God-given authority. That would be to defy the will of God.Naturally, Henry was able to find theologians with concurring views.Richard Sampson, Bishop of Chichester wrote a treatise on the subjectthat made the very point Henry was making in the Act of Succession. Itsaid that "The word of God is to obey the King, and not the Bishop ofRome.”
Despite all of this, the Church of England remained an essentiallyCatholic church, since Henry had little interest in Protestantism.Indeed, many of the measures he did introduce of an evangelical naturewere later reversed. The Ten Articles of 1536 are a prime example ofHenry's attempts to steer a level course between the extremeCatholic/conservative and Anglican/evangelical wings of his new church.He was eager to keep it a broad church, but not willing to countenanceheresy (he burned papists and people who denied the sacraments withequal vigour). They were supposed to constitute a formulary for the newand improved Henrician church and were not without their controversies.For one thing, it only explicitly recognised three sacraments(baptism, penance and the Eucharist), where the Catholic Churchrecognised seven. Emphasis was laid upon the words of the Scriptures,and the merits of simple Christian life (something difficult torecognise in the grandiose magnificence of Renaissance royal courts).It was not however, an anti-Catholic formulation as such. It did notcondemn the Mass, nor did it condemn the Catholic call for good works.It was a balancing act, with a little something for everybody, and Weirhas described it as "a tentative move in an evangelical direction." Ifit was such a move, it was one that Henry soon reversed. The Act of SixArticles in 1539 resolved any latent ambiguity that existed in theEnglish church, returning it to a clearly Catholic structure. Clericalmarriage was condemned and the vows of chastity were now held to besacred and unbreakable, which put Archbishop Cranmer in an unfortunateposition as his marriage had been an open secret for some time. He wasundoubtedly not alone in finding himself in what was now a compromisingsituation, and it is somewhat ironic that Henry was enactinglegislation to combat illegal marriages. One thing of course, remainedunchanged; papal supremacy was not restored, nor could it be. Henry hadspent years espousing his own supremacy over the church, and it hadbeen the guiding principle behind his reign for the past decade. Evenif he had wanted to reverse what he had done and re-enter the CatholicChurch, it would be a political mistake of the highest order, and notone that he was prepared to make. Only one man could have dominion overEngland, and that man was its king.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries was seen by some as an unwarrantedattack on a helpless class of people with no means to defendthemselves, and by others as a necessary purging of a corrupt andparasitical class of clergymen who served no pastoral or practicalpurpose. In reality, it was in the main, a land grab. There was anincreasing likelihood of war with France and Henry had gained fewfriends following England's break with Rome. As the arch-pragmatist andchief minister Cromwell saw it, the monasteries were an untappedresource. Now that the king was overall arbiter of the church'sfuture, he had a legal authority over the monasteries that he had neverhad before. With this new ecclesiastical power came a desire toexercise it. Cromwell managed to push through an extremely efficientprogramme of dissolution, despite the objections of the king's newbride, Jane Seymour. In four short years, all five-hundred andsixty-three religious houses would be closed, and their inmatespensioned off.
This freed up an enormous amount of land and finances which, naturallybecame the property of the Crown. With the injection of the abbeys'revenues into the treasury, the royal income doubled. This new moneywould help to finance Henry's extensive (and expensive) buildingprojects and the acquisition of new property (among other things). TheCrown also annexed monastic lands worth £120, 000 a year, a massiveamount of money at the time, which amounted to one fifth of thekingdom's landed wealth.
The Reformation was a time when the king had no significant standingarmy, despite the threat from the Catholic powers of France and Spainand the not unlikely threat of civil rebellion. To offset this risk,Henry redistributed a third of this new land to secure the loyalty ofimportant men, men who he would come to depend on when the northerupted in rebellion in 1536-7.
Whilst the church held one quarter of all Welsh land it was notprolific in its membership. In 1500, Cistercian monasteries averagedonly six monks. Augustinian monasteries averaged five monks, with theBenedictine order averaging a mere three monks a monastery. Theso-called "Great" Abbey at Tintern only had thirteen monks. All in all,the dissolution displaced two hundred and fifty monks, nuns and friars,not an extreme number.
Indeed, Henry could easily have described them as a minor casualty that benefited the whole nation.
The effect on the people of Wales was somewhat more serious, as thepoor relied on the benefactory nature of the Welsh monasteries andpriories. This was a country where fifty per cent of the populationsuffered from malnutrition and an equal percentage of newborn babiesfailed to survive their first year. A lifespan of thirty-five years wasalso not uncommon, which is low, even for medieval Europe. The sheerpoverty and susceptibility to illness (a result of their malnutrition)of the Welsh working class made them dependent on the principality'sforty-six monasteries for alms and food. What made this worse was thatall of the Welsh monasteries were relatively poor, and so all of themwere dissolved in the initial cull of the lesser monasteries. In onefell swoop, Welsh monasticism was ended; for the Welsh there was noadjustment period, no breathing space; all of their monasteries went atonce. With the monasteries gone, a vital source of relief was cut off,a fact that no doubt hit hard in poor homes throughout Wales andengendered a lot of distaste for the Tudor regime. A dynasty that theWelsh people had supported at its inception was taking away a vitalsource of support. It was to get worse too, as the new Church ofEngland cracked down on idolatry and (in Welsh eyes) took an axe to thepeople's heritage.
As has been stated above, the Reformation began as an essentiallypolitical process, resolving the question of absolute dominion andwhether the church was to be ruled from Rome or by the divinelyappointed sovereign of the nation in question. However, as the TenArticles of 1536 demonstrates, the Reformation did incorporate somereform of the church into its programme. A part of this thatparticularly affected Wales was the crusade against idolatry andimages.
In 1538, Thomas Cromwell issued an Injunction ordering every parishchurch to stock an English bible to be made available for all whowished to read it and interpret the Scriptures themselves. As we willsee below, this was of little benefit to the Welsh. In the same year, asimilar Injunction ordered that every shrine in the country was to bedestroyed. This is where the popular image of thugs running around thecountry smashing up churches comes from, and it is a view that is notwithout some justification. As always, Cromwell was very effective, andeven the shrine of Thomas Becket (one of the country's holiestpilgrimage places) was lost as a result of the zealous evangelicaldestruction squads. This had a particularly damaging effect on Wales,where cultural-religious relics were highly venerated. In a move thataccorded perfectly with the Reformation's attempt to completelyassimilate the Welsh nation and culture, the principality's relics wereruthlessly swept away, with almost nothing (if anything) surviving thecull. Village processions would often have sacred images carried inthem, these priceless relics were lost.
One such relic was the healing cup of Nant Eos. This sacred relicwas in reality no more than a cracked piece of wood, but to the Welshit had mystical powers. Whilst such a phrase sounds laughable to modernears, there is little doubt that the Welsh believed in the cup'sproperties. Not only did it have remarkable healing properties, itpossessed the ability to cleanse your soul, keeping you out of hell andin extreme cases, it was believed to bring you back from that foulplace of purgatory. To the Welsh therefore, this was not merely avenerated image, but a physical key to salvation and a medical toolthat went far beyond contemporary healing techniques. As we have seen,Tudor Wales was a grim place and to remove relics such as the cup ofNant Eos was to eliminate hope itself for many of the people whobelieved in them. At a time when the Acts of Union were doing theirvery best to dilute and destroy the very basics of Welsh culture, thepolicies of the Reformation were providing a complementary service inthe field of religious relics.
The Welsh problem had been of concern to Henry VIII for some time bythe coming of the Reformation. Even though he had never been anyfarther west than Bristol, he was aware that the country which hadhelped his father to the throne was an alien one, out of step with therest of his realm. In a period of heightened nationalism, thedifferences between the Principality and its ruler were brought into amuch sharper focus, and became more clearly defined as a threat to theuniformity of the Henrician imperium.
The Welsh language was an ugly tongue when compared to the Latin,French and Greek he had learned at the hands of his tutors, and it hadan alien sound to it. To a paranoid man, it could also be construed asthe ideal way to foment rebellion; after all, it is hard to root outtraitors when you cannot understand what they are saying
It wasn't just the Welsh language that concerned the king. Walesstill had a distinct legal system, based on Gaelic traditions whichwere alien to a country based on Norman ideals. The Welsh system was sodifferent that it did not even recognise the English distinctionbetween civil and criminal cases; one of the central tenets of thecommon law system. Outrageously to a modern western audience,manslaughter and deliberate homicide were not even considered realcrimes. In England, such acts were offences against the community, tobe judged in royal courts, and nothing could alter the prosecutor'sright to pursue a criminal case. In Wales (and Ireland), it was the kinwho had been wronged, and they who sought a remedy, and as in somemodern cultures, the family could seek financial reparations.
None of this was, strictly speaking, a threat to society, or the soundadministration of the Principality. What was (or at least should havebeen) a genuine cause for central concern was that the conquest had notmanaged to eliminate the operation of the law of galanas, a lawregarding blood feuds and the appropriate resolution of such disputes.The principle of compensation was fundamental to the justice of thefeud, and it is not impossible that compensation could have included alife in return for a life.
As we have seen above, tolerance was not one of Henry VIII's qualities.He did not recognise alternative forms and systems of justice,especially when they were operating in his imperium. The root cause ofthe Reformation was his determination to see that his law was the law,and that no legal system, ecclesiastical or civil, could co-exist withhis own. Henry himself said that the Welsh laws were "sinister usagesand customs" used by the lords of the March for "thraldom and tyranny."
Of a more practical concern, there was a serious problem with law andorder throughout Wales and it was this that was the root cause ofHenry's acts of union. As Henry himself said in 1520: "realms withoutjustice be but tyrannies and robberies" Wales was not as much of aproblem as the Marches, which were a patchwork of autonomous fiefdoms,where lawlessness and violence abounded. The main problem with theMarcher lordships was centuries old. The constant threat of rebellionin Wales had led to the Marches becoming a buffer zone between thePrincipality and England, a medieval Rhineland, designed to keep theWelsh wolf from the door. To combat the Welsh threat, extensive powershad been delegated to the Marcher lords, powers that had never beenreclaimed. Within any one lordship, the lord had legislative power and,as Susan Brigden has said, they possessed "virtual judicialomnicompetence" within their own domain. There were a total of onehundred and thirty-seven separate jurisdictions where the king's writsimply did not run. They were notorious hideouts for outlaws andcriminals, a situation not helped by the fact that a murderer couldsimply "cross state lines" into another lordship to avoid punishment.For serious, career criminals the Marches were a safe haven that theking could simply no longer permit. The situation is believed to havebeen so bad that J.A. Williamson described Wales as "wild" and"untroubled by Parliament's laws, or by any law at all, being in aworse state of crime and disorder than England had been in the civilwars". For a king so obsessed with sovereignty and control over hisown domains, reform of the Marches and the principality as a whole wassimply a matter of time. All of these things, coupled with thetheoretical imperative that England was an empire, ensured that theActs of Union were not a long time coming.
Before the Acts are examined, one thing must be made clear; Henrywanted control of Wales, he did not want to set up an effective Welshgovernment, capable of managing its own affairs and getting a grip onlaw and order. He was not interested in bolstering the Welshadministration by giving them the tools to get the job done. What hewanted was a full scale incorporation of the Principality into theEnglish sovereignty. Once this was accomplished, the traditionalEnglish mechanisms could see to law and order in the tried and testedways. As has been exhaustively discussed above, the biggest problem wasthat the very nature of the Marcher lordships hindered the maintenanceof law and order. Therefore, they were a primary target of the 1536 Actwhich saw to their abolition. Some were combined with the unshiredWelsh lands to create the new counties of Monmouth, Brecon, Radnor,Montgomery and Denbigh (in 1543 Monmouth was transferred to England andtwo new counties of Glamorgan and Pembroke were created). The rest ofthe lordships were incorporated into adjacent English counties. Crimescommitted in Marcher lordships could not be avoided by fleeing toanother jurisdiction; they were to be tried in English courts. Thepractice of cymortha, the imposition of obligatory gifts (a majorsource of revenue for Marcher lords) was forbidden. Any Marcherlordship official deemed guilty of corruption or oppression could betried and punished by the Council of Wales, whose powers wereincreased. The patchwork of anarchy had been abolished.
Welsh law was another target of the 1536 Act. Henry's distrust of alienjurisdictions could lead to only one natural outcome; English law wasestablished as the law of the land throughout Wales. There were to beno more dual systems, with Welsh and English law operating side byside; from 1534 onwards, the Welsh legal system was no more differentto the national system than was the Sussex or Derbyshire legal system.English rules of tenure and inheritance replaced older Welsh customs.There was only one law in Wales: the King's law.
Of course, the change in legal structure would have meant nothingwithout the mechanisms and means to enforce it. Courts of greatsessions and Justices of the Peace were introduced to bring the Englishcommon law to Wales. The Council of Wales (which sat in Ludlow castlein Shropshire) was now the equivalent of a Welsh Privy Council andCourt of Star Chamber combined, and under the leadership of BishopRowland Lee, was responsible for enforcing the law in Wales (below, wewill examine the success and question the methods of Bishop Lee).
To ensure the erosion of the Welsh language, English was to be thenational legal language of Wales. All court hearings were to beconducted in English (which caused obvious problems) and all publicofficials in Wales had to speak English. This was a clever move, itwedded the Welsh gentry to the Crown, anglicising them and driving afirm wedge between them and the Welsh lower classes. Any student ofhistory knows that a revolution needs the support of the middleclasses; the Act of Union ensured there was no benefit to suchco-operation.
The Acts of 1536 and 1543 were not all bad news for the people ofWales. Indeed, they had some very tangible benefits. For one thing, thelegal distinctions between Henry's English and Welsh subjects wereeliminated. The Welsh were no longer second class citizens, they couldexpect the same level of due process as their English neighbours anddecades-long impediments to the acquisition and inheritance of landwere therefore removed. Whilst Welsh courts operated on Englishprinciples they were not answerable to Westminster but to theChanceries in Caernarfon and Carmarthen; thereby giving the Welshcourts an autonomy granted to no other section of the kingdom. Mostimportantly to modern eyes (although the reaction at the time wasprobably fairly moderate), the 1536 Act entitled Wales torepresentation at Parliament for the first time in its history. In 1543it sent twenty-seven MPs to Westminster. Clearly, the incorporationinto England was total, with Wales deriving the benefits as well as thecultural assaults of a full-blown union with England. Whilst somehistorians claim that the Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) created a unionbetween the two countries, this is somewhat short-sighted. Rhuddlan putWales under the auspices of the English kings, but it made Wales acolony, where its own inhabitants were left to their own devices andtreated as less than their English counterparts. Whilst the acts of1536 and 1543 were a clear attempt to assimilate and dissipate theWelsh culture, it also took positive steps to bring the Welsh into thefold, giving them rights they had never before enjoyed. In Henry'scase, the lord giveth at the same time as the lord taketh away.Whatever the pros and cons of Henrician reforms, the Welsh language isstill alive over four hundred and fifty years later, and the Welshcontinue to be proud of their culture and their history.
Rowland Lee was appointed president of the Council of Wales as partof a move to gain greater central control of the realm. In Ireland, theEarl of Kildare was replaced as governor by Sir William Skeffington (amilitary captain) and Lord Dacre was replaced as warden of the westmarches in the north by the Earl of Cumberland. All of this happened inthe space of a single month. As has been outlined above, Wales was ananarchic area, in need of a firm hand. Lee was to be that hand, andover the next nine years he conducted what some historians wouldcharacterise as a reign of terror.
Like any sensible person, and in line with the thoughts of hissovereign, Lee was alive to the possibility that a Catholic nation suchas France or Spain was likely to invade. Lee took active measures todefend the coasts, recruiting soldiers and hunting out resources torepair the royal castles which had been falling into disrepair. At thetime of their construction, Welsh castles such as those built by EdwardI were designed as Welsh outposts, military strongholds in a freshlyconquered and belligerent colony. By the 1530s, the age ofcastle-building was over. Having mentioned above that Henry VIII hadused the monastic income to fund his extensive building projects; thismay surprise the reader of this piece. But do not be surprised. HenryVIII was a palace builder. He wanted large, glamorous and opulentresidences to relax in and house a Renaissance court that was worthy ofthe name. The type of uncomfortable and old-fashioned castle thatEdward I had deemed necessary in the thirteenth century was deemed ananachronism. They were also hugely expensive. This meant that Lee hadto make do with the castles he already had and hope that there wasn'tan invasion. Since his prayers were answered in this respect, we cannotjudge Lee's success in this area. All we can say is that he seems tohave taken all the precautions a reasonable man could have taken.
Lee's greatest success and the biggest anvil dragging his reputationdown is his policy regarding law and order. This essay has discussed atsome length the lawlessness and turbulence that abounded in the WelshMarches prior to the arrival of Bishop Lee. His reports were in partresponsible for the reforms found in the 1536 Act, an act which gavethe Council of Wales the means to take Welsh matters in hand. Itensured that the patchwork of private judicial enclaves and palatinatesbecame a large English common law blanket under Lee’s jurisdiction.There is no doubt that Lee earned his nickname of the "hanging bishop."Indeed, his entire policy on law and order was to hang people, the morethe better. Hanging was to be done frequently and publicly, especiallyif the criminal in question was of a more respectable background thanthe common criminal. Davies credits Lee with saying that executing agentleman was better than "dispatching a hundred petty wretches" andclaims he boasted that he had executed "four of the best blood inShropshire." Even if this is true, it is a sound policy. One of themajor scourges of the Wars of the Roses had been the major families andtheir constant liberty-taking where the law was concerned. Greatfamilies would wage private wars and other nobles would keep a hold ontheir territories by fear and licensing thugs and criminals to run riotthroughout their lands. The Marcher lordships were no different. Therewas little respect for the law. One way to instil a healthy fearfulrespect of the law was to prove that no-one was above it. If a wealthylanded gentleman could swing from the gallows for a crime then anyonecould. This author is no fan of capital punishment and would point tothe fact that people still kill each other in states where the deathpenalty exists. But in the case of Bishop Lee, it would be incrediblydifficult to argue that his policy of hanging did not act as adeterrent. The Marches and the rest of the principality quickly fellinto line. The chronicler Elis Gruffyd claims that Lee executed fivethousand men in six years and this would certainly accord with theprinciple ascribed to Lee that it was better to hang a hundred innocentmen than let a guilty one escape the noose. If Lee really did despatchfive thousand souls to meet their maker, then it is easy to see whyWales became a more orderly region under his rule. In 1538, the manhimself said that "order and quiet such as is now in England prevailedall over Wales."
A key question when determining Lee's success is the extent to whichLee benefited from the reforms of 1536, and whether the success of Leewas really the success of administrative reform as imposed byWestminster.
After all, the key thread running through the criticism of the Marcherlordships is that they lacked a uniform legal system and an effectiveand unified administrative machine. The Act of 1536 gave Wales boththese things and therefore, the argument could be made, brought orderto the Principality. Before this argument is debunked, it is necessaryto give it a full airing by going over exactly how the Act aided BishopLee's pursuit of order.
Much was made in the previous section of the legal, jurisdictional andpolitical patchwork that existed in the Marches. Naturally this causedserious administrative problems for Bishop Lee. The extensive rightsgranted to the Marcher lords in the previous century still existed,even if the political and military justification for such a delegationof royal authority no longer did. This left the Council prettypowerless where the lordships were concerned, and meant that any reformLee undertook had to be confined to the Principality. Not that that wasan easy task, for the Principality had, in many places, Welsh andEnglish law operating side by side. These jurisdictional problems weresolved in one fell swoop by the 1536 Act; Lee went from having littleor no jurisdiction to having legal authority over all of Wales. Withoutthis reform of Marcher and Principality law, Lee's task would have beenmuch more difficult than it was. Lee now had the power to punishmurderers and other criminals who had previously been out of reach,hiding out in the Marches and hopping from lordship to lordship toavoid justice. The introduction of one law and one jurisdiction madeLee's task infinitely easier, as did his newfound ability to punishMarcher officials for corruption and oppression.
The creation of Courts of Great Sessions and Justices of the Peace alsoaided Lee in his work. He was now at the head of a legal machine thatworked as a single unit, in a system where neighbouring counties couldwork together, rather than in competition with each other.
It is important to realise that Henry VIII did not wake up one morningand decide to unify England and Wales. Lee was appointed president ofthe council in 1534, and it was as a result of his reports on the Welshsituation that the 1536 Act came about. So, even if you (falsely)attribute the success of Rowland Lee to the administrative and legalreform enacted by Parliament, he must gain some credit for helping tobe the architect of his own success.
Whilst the reforms brought about by the so called Act of Union were akey factor in the restoration of order to the Principality, it would befoolish to think that reform alone could achieve the successfulestablishment of stability that Rowland Lee oversaw. The singularstep-change that Wales experienced in the 1530s and 1540s was notachieved with the wave of a statutory magic wand and the utterance of afew magic words. For one thing, the reforms had to be implemented. Thattask was assigned to Rowland Lee. Once he had successfully implementedthe Act of Union, he had to tackle the pressing issue of law and order.A clear legal framework, combined with efficient administrativemachinery do not bring an end to anarchic lawlessness on their own.They need to be guided by policy, which has to be devised by thegovernment. In Wales' case, Rowland Lee was the governor, and heinstituted a clear policy with regards to law and order. It wasunquestionably his own, and without his zeal and determination, theWelsh problem would have not been resolved so quickly. Legal reform wasa boon to be sure, but Wales needed to be brought under control, andthat needed a firm hand. Whatever the criticisms of Bishop Lee, hisfirmness and assertion of authority were undeniable. Indeed, as luckyas Lee was to be president at a time of legal reform and consolidation,Henry was lucky to have a reliable and effective administrator incharge of that reform. Lee is supposed to have said that he wouldrather execute one hundred innocent people than allow one guilty man toescape justice. This is the antithesis of modern thinking and offensiveto modern sensibilities. Whilst Lee's policy of rough justice may makemodern observers tut and shake their heads, it got the job done, andthat, above all, was what Henry really needed from Rowland Lee.
It is difficult for modern observers to give credit to Rowland Leebecause his methods seem so barbaric to today's supposedly evolvedsense of ethics and morality. However, it is important to remember thatRowland Lee did not live in modern times. Tudor politicians were notmerely modern politicians dressed in outlandish clothes and speaking inan antiquated manner. They were creatures of their period, inhabitantsof another world, with ethical and moral standards of conduct whichwould seem alien to modern people. They were men who often resorted toviolence, for they lived in a violent time, when the end of a politicalcareer was usually caused by death, natural or otherwise. In politics,death was an occupational hazard.
It was also an acceptable tactic.Henry VIII certainly had no qualms about resorting to violence. BishopFisher and Thomas More were executed for treason; understandable, untilyou discover that their treachery was a refusal to acknowledge the kingas Supreme Governor of the Church. Henry was so comfortable with deaththat he executed two of his own wives. Weir quite rightly states that"He ruled on the precept that fear engenders obedience" It is hardlysurprising that Lee adopted the same tactic. Lee was such a fearsomefigure that Welsh mothers would tell their children to behave orRowland Lee would come to get them. He was the Welsh equivalent of theBogeyman. French Ambassador Marillac observed that "The King... willnot cease to dip his hand in blood..." This would be an equally faircomment regarding his own master, Francis I. Judicial homicide was anacceptable political tool, so he can hardly blame Lee for using it in aconstructive manner, enforcing the law and keeping the peace, ratherthan executing people who refused to acknowledge his greatness. In thecontext of the time, Lee's policy was a sensible one. Indeed, if he wasto have any hope of restoring order to an area of chaos, it is hard tosee what other action he could have taken. If he had done nothing, hewould have been deemed incompetent in both our era and his own. It isunderstandable that in the modern era, there is criticism of stateexecutions, but in a time when the world's only hyper-power executespeople who were legally juveniles when they committed their crimes,labelling Rowland Lee as some kind of gung-ho gallows jockey is unfairand lacks a sense of realism. Rowland Lee was a successfuladministrator who brought peace to a troubled area. You can questionhis methods, but you cannot question his success.
To further illustrate Lee's success, it is necessary to look at eventsoutside of his sphere of influence. For we shall see that Lee'sgreatest success was not what he achieved, but what he managed toprevent.
Wales was not the only problem spot in Henry's imperium. The north ofEngland had caused problems for almost every monarch since Edward II,and the second Tudor king was not spared the region's wrath.
Given the willingness of men like More and Fisher to die for what theybelieved, it is unsurprising that there were also men willing to fightfor it, although it undoubtedly surprised Henry just how many of hissubjects were willing to do so.
The rebellion was known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, and it lasted fromOctober 1536 to the spring of 1537. It began in Lincolnshire, andinvolved thousands of malcontents, led by Robert Aske. It wassufficiently large to prevent Henry from crushing it as he was no doubteager to do. He had just reformed the Church to prevent a Roman bishoptelling him what he could and could not do in his own imperium andthere was no way that he was going to allow some northern mob to defyhim and dictate terms to their sovereign king. Unfortunately, he didnot have a lot of choice in the matter. Henry simply did not possessthe troops to put the rebellion down instantly and so, in December1536, he was forced to negotiate a truce. Within a month Yorkshire alsorebelled, but that revolt was swiftly put down, and by the spring Henryhad ended the Pilgrimage, executing Aske and approximately two hundredof his followers.
Whilst all of this was going on, Wales remained peaceful. There was noviolence, and there was no uprising. Again, Lee was somewhat fortunate.There was no Aske-like figure in Wales, no strong leadership togalvanise the passive resistance into something more active andrebellious. The gentry were certainly unlikely to provide suchleadership; the unification of Wales and England had given them accessto offices and land that they had hitherto been barred from. They werein no mood to rock the boat. All that being true, considering whatWales was like before Lee's policy of hanging was implemented with suchvigour, it is surprising that the Principality did not attempt even anabortive rising. Again, this is down to the policies of the Bishop ofCoventry and Lichfield. Henry had identified Wales as a potentialtrouble spot and sent Lee, a trusted man (who may well have married theKing to his second wife, Anne Boleyn) to drag the region kicking andscreaming into the English sphere and wrest control from the Marcherlords and the criminals. Lee did his job so successfully, that by thetime of the Pilgrimage, Wales was one of the least likely sites ofrevolt outside of London. This was some achievement and Rowland Leedeserves credit for it.
Almost all historical figures of any note are controversial, and HenryVIII is no exception. Some see him as a man who redefined the theory ofEnglish kingship by breaking free of Rome and establishing himself assole defender of the faith, a title that the current monarch stillpossesses. Others see him as a promising young King who becameincreasingly paranoid, egotistical and violent, his promise goinglargely unfulfilled. The harshest view is of a self-righteous,self-important fat prig, who perverted the function of his office tofulfil his own personal and political desires.
However, in this author's mind, the most pressing image is that of Henry as an arch-opportunist.
As the 1520s wore on, Henry became increasingly unhappy with hismarriage, and determined to marry a woman who could deliver him anheir. So, he seized upon the biblical doctrine preventing a man frommarrying his brother's wife. This was something that had never botheredhim before, but which was suddenly so pressing an issue on hisconscience that he had to break with the Catholic Church and set up hisown Church of England.
Since he no longer cared what the pope thought of him, he then saw thatthe monasteries in his realm were a goldmine waiting for him to goprospecting, and he did so at the first opportunity. He didn't seem tocare that despite the corruption of some of the monastic houses, manyof them provided a public service to the poorer sections of Englishsociety.
His new theory of imperial kingship then gave him the opportunity to goafter the Welsh, a pressing problem that had taken twenty years to gethis attention. In fact, if the realm had not been at risk as a resultof his schism with the Vatican, Wales may well have been left alone.
The entire Reformation was an opportunity for Henry to feed his ego,and his inflated sense of self-importance which went beyond the usualroyal belief in divine appointment.
Rowland Lee could also be described as an opportunist. He used hisposition as a trusted servant to inaugurate the unification process,which would give him greater power over the area he had been assigned,and give him an opportunity to impress the king and possibly climb upthe social and political ladder, an opportunity denied to him by hisdeath in 1543, the year of the second act of Union. It is fair to saythat he could have accomplished what he did under any king, but thatthe nature of the king he served, and the time he lived in, made thecircumstances ideal. To class his rule of Wales as anything other thanan administrative and political success would not seem to accord withthe facts. Rowland Lee took an anarchic and lawless principality andthrough a policy of zero tolerance and sound administration, turned itinto a far more lawful and peaceful area. His period of governance mayhave seen the attempted dilution of Welsh culture, but it also gaveWelshmen equal status and political representation in the country'sseat of government; two things they had never had before. All in all,that was some achievement.
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