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A Community of Councillors: Tudor Government and Prosopography

Connor M. Huddlestone

University of Bristol & University of Southampton

Question Journal, 2021. Issue 6 (2021), pp. 44-53.



The Tudor privy council was the executive board of the English state and its members the leading political players of the era. Historians of Tudor politics have traditionally focused on kings and great men. When they deal with the privy council, they treat councillors in isolation, only exploring their links with others during moments of political strife. The result is a historiography dominated by faction and division. A prosopographical approach – a form of collective biography that helps identify the shared elements in a group’s experiences, and foregrounds the relations between its members -  allows us to look at this group of men as a group, and in so doing to see them differently. Their many shared experiences - a childhood spent together at the same grammar school, a tour of Europe’s universities as young adults, joint military service, marriage into the same family, or time spent together hunting, hawking, and feasting - makes it much harder to divide councillors into neat opposing camps. More broadly, this paper uses the case-study of Tudor privy councillors to illustrate how tools taken from the Digital Humanities can enhance and expand the prosopographical approach: in particular modern relational database software moves us beyond simply identifying common themes in the lives of the members of this group, and allows us to explore patterns of interaction between them. Such an approach, moreover, has the potential to enhance our understanding of many other groups of the early modern period.


Tudor, Government, Prosopography, Faction, Council

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