Please note: The English crown changed hands FIVE times in the twenty-four years before Henry VII’s rule. The great households of England were convulsed in the battles between Lancaster and York. They chose sides, clashed, lost lands, and won them.
They could do this because they possessed the disquieting ability to raise large armies. And as civil unrest spread over the years, English citizens lost faith in the crown and its laws – naturally, they turned to the great lords for protection and guidance.)
In Tudor England, a person’s social status and prestige were determined by two main things: the lavishness of their standard of living and the number of their servants and attendants. The successful maintenance of a large household also indicated a person’s ability to govern (albeit on a much smaller scale than the king.)
A nobleman of sufficient rank and skill was often called to serve the monarch in London. To that end, they would purchase and maintain – often at great expense – townhomes in or just outside London. In London, the most affluent street was known as The Strand. These homes were built on the riverside and so were equipped with docks; the nobles could travel by personal barge from their homes to various royal palaces. Nobles also owned homes in the counties near their largest estates. Naturally enough, the maintenance of these various residences was expensive, and became increasingly so as the century progressed. But the greatest expense – and worry – was their principal estate, always situated in the countryside. At these estates, their spiritual, public, private, and economic worlds merged. They were an opportunity for the proud noble to demonstrate his standing in the nation – and to dominate local affairs thoroughly. Also, they could play hose to the reigning monarch on their royal progresses.
Many of the most famous noble country homes can still be seen today – for example, Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire where Henry VIII often stayed and the duke of Buckingham’s beautiful Penshurst Place in Kent. Five centuries ago, estates such as these were managed by noblemen and their principal officers – mainly knights and esquires. Together, they governed the estates and surrounding lands. They gathered in the official presence chamber where petitions were presented from tenants and neighbors. The councilors would judge their claims and mediate disputes.
When the nobleman traveled to London or his lesser homes, a large group of servants would accompany him – this was his ‘skeleton’ household. They journeyed in carts packed with people and possessions. As Henry VII’s rule impressed some degree of stability upon England, such travel became less dangerous. But it remained uncomfortable, even for the wealthy in padded coaches.
The presence of such wealthy and accomplished landowners was both a blessing and a curse to Tudor monarchs. For early Tudor kings, these nobles could help secure their rule – particularly in the North where trouble traditionally brewed. Henry VII had no family ties to northern England, either; this made him even more reliant on the great Northern lords to maintain peace and effective government. (After all, they were royal councilors, representatives of their monarch.)
Knights and esquires wore their lord’s livery; they also promised the support of their tenants and servants in case of conflict. In this way, great households could also serve as sources of rebellion and treason.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Tudor Houses – Great Houses & Types In Tudor England" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/houses/, February 27, 2015