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The Tudors – Politics and Religion, 1509-1603

7. Was Parliament a help or a hindrance to Elizabeth?

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In this module, we consider the question, ‘Was Parliament a help or a hindrance to Elizabeth?’, focusing in particular on: (i) the extent to which Parliament attempts to limit to growth of Elizabeth's power; (ii) the need for a new welfare system in England, the result of the disappearance of the welfare provided by the monasteries, and the growth in population (which outstripped the growth in food production); (iii) Elizabeth's Poor Laws, including the concept of the 'deserving poor' and 'undeserving poor'; (iv) the harsh treatment of the 'undeserving poor', including the creation of institutions for incarcerating people who refused to work; (v) the cooperation between Elizabeth and Parliament to enact the Poor Laws; (vi) some of the provisions of the Elizabethan welfare system, including the regulation of employment and unemployment, and of the grain market; (vii) Parliament's role in dealing with the 'Catholic problem', and the sense in which Parliament was disproportionately reformist in its outlook, compared to the country at large; (viii) Elizabeth's desire to have a church with more latitude, and to avoid making martyrs of Catholics where possible; (ix) the testiness of the relationship between Elizabeth and Parliament over the 'Catholic problem'; (x) the frustration of Parliament with Elizabeth over the issue of the succession; (xi) the measures taken by Parliament to ensure Elizabeth gets married and provides a (Protestant) heir; (xii) Elizabeth's refusal to acquiesce with Parliament's demands, and Parliament's ultimate inability to force Elizabeth to do something she doesn't want to do.


In this course, Professor John Morrill (University of Cambridge) explores the politics and religion of Tudor England through ten key questions: (1) To what extent was religion in England changed significantly during the reign of Henry VIII?; (2) Was Henry VIII’s lack of a male heir the main reason for reforms to the English church in the years 1529-40?; (3) How far was religious change in the years 1547–63 driven by the personal religious beliefs of successive monarchs?’; (4) How accurate is it to say that Catholicism survived in the reigns of Edward and Elizabeth because of the tolerance shown by government?; (5) Were the legacies of Mary's reign wholly negative?; (6) How accurate is it to say that the changes that took place in the role of parliament were very limited in the years 1509-58?; (7) Was Parliament a help or a hindrance to Elizabeth?; (8) How far did the role played by Cardinal Wolsey as Henry’s principal servant remain the same when Thomas Cromwell served the king?; (9) Was being Queen of Ireland the biggest of all the problems faced by Elizabeth I?; and (10) How well did Elizabeth I deal with the problem of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots?


John Morrill was educated at Altrincham Grammar School (Cheshire) and at Trinity College Oxford (BA 1967, DPhil 1971). He was a Research Fellow there (1970-4) and a Lecturer at Stirling University (1974-5) before moving to Cambridge in 1975 as Lecturer, Reader and now Professor. He has been a Fellow of Selwyn College since 1975 and was Director of Studies in History 1975-92, Tutor 1979-92, Admissions Tutor 1982-7, Senior Tutor 1987-92 and Vice Master 1992-2001. He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1995 and served as Vice President from 2001-9. He is also an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy and the Academy of Finland, and he holds honorary degrees from several universities and is an Hon. Fellow of Trinity College Oxford and Trinity College Dublin. He is also a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church and holds several senior positions in the Diocese of East Anglia (eg Chair of the Commission for Evangelisation and Assistant Director for Diaconal Formation) and he teaches Church History and pastoral theology one weekend a month at St John's Seminary, Wonersh.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Morrill, J. (2020, May 27). The Tudors – Politics and Religion, 1509-1603 - Was Parliament a help or a hindrance to Elizabeth? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Morrill, J. "The Tudors – Politics and Religion, 1509-1603 – Was Parliament a help or a hindrance to Elizabeth?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 May 2020,

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