This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The Tudor period is a little more than co-extensive with the sixteenth century, a century which has been well described as an age remarkable for its material prosperity, its intellectual and religious activity, and its political retrogression. The Tudor period saw the discovery of America, the beginning of English exploration and foreign traffic, the revival of learning, and the reformation. The general, religious, and commercial history of this period is full and interesting. Its constitutional history is meager. It was a period in which the King was the State and when his power was generally well nigh absolute. There was, however, one prominent characteristic of the Tudor kings, which was later to prove of the greatest benefit to the kingdom. This characteristic was their great reverence for all the forms of the law. There was no attempt on their part, such as was witnessed during the Bourbon rule in France, to break down the old, established instruments of Government. The tyranny of the Tudor kings was nearly always in accordance with the forms of the law; Parliament and the courts of law were retained in their entirety; but Parliament and the judges were compelled to carry out the King's will. Henry VIII, especially, seemed anxious to shelter himself from the responsibility of his acts behind the breastwork of Parliamentary sanction. The gain for the present to the people was perhaps slight. The advantage for the future was immeasurable. The old institutions of England remained intact, with their prestige perhaps even strengthened by the important work which they were compelled to do for the King. The tyranny of the sixteenth century in England was one of individuals, not of institutions. A tyranny of an individual may pass away with the death of the individual; but a tyranny of institutions can generally only be removed by a revolution. Such proved to be the case in England. The House of Commons constantly increased in strength and influence during the Tudor period. "There cannot be a stronger proof of the increased weight of the Commons during these reigns than the anxiety of the court to obtain favorable elections. Many ancient boroughs, undoubtedly, have at no period possessed sufficient importance to deserve the elective franchise on the score of their riches or population; and it is most likely that some temporary interest or partiality, which cannot now be traced, first caused a writ to be addressed, to them. But, there is much reason to conclude that the counsellors of Edward VI, in erecting new boroughs, acted upon a deliberate plan of strengthening their influence among the Commons. Twenty-two boroughs were created or restored in this short reign. * * * There is reason to believe that the court, or rather the imperial ambassador, did homage to the power of the Commons, by present of money, in order to procure their support of the unpopular marriage with Philip; and if Noeilles, the ambassador of Henry II, did not make use of the same means to thwart the grants of subsidy and other measures of the administration, he was at least very active in promising the support of France, and animating the patriotism of those unknown leaders of that assembly, who withstood the design of a besotted woman and her unprincipled counsellors to transfer this kingdom under the yoke of Spain." 2 Except in rare instances, however, the House of Commons, during the reigns of the first four of the Tudors, was content with the semblance of power without the reality, and obediently passed such laws as were desired by the court. During the reign of Elizabeth a much bolder spirit was manifest by the Commons and but for the love borne by her subjects for Elizabeth and the tact of the Queen, the great contest for English liberty, fought out in the Stuart period, might have begun in the closing years of the sixteenth century.
2 Hallam's Constitutional History of England.