Faction within the Tudor dynasty has been seen as pernicious by many historians; Christopher Haigh argues that faction fighting in the counties and at Court was certainly disruptive.
Writing about Elizabeth I, he comments on how sources of factional conflict are thought to have tested her political skills, and, as she lost control in the 1590s, to have contributed towards the slide to disaster. On the other hand, it has been reasonably argued that faction was a necessary phenomenon for active and energetic government. Paul Thomas argues that although it did pose a danger, faction returned to its role as an engine of politics, noting how the core of council and administration remained remarkably consistent at least until 1589.Evidence of the threat posed by faction begins in the fifteenth century where weak kingship and challenges to the succession had led to the rapid turnover of factions and rulers; Simnel and Warbeck’s rebellion were both politically motivated due to Yorkist and Lancastrian faction. Sir Geoffrey Elton endorses this view, saying ‘the northern risings represent the effort of a defeated Court faction’. Haigh argues the importance of the threat factions posed to central government; in Wales and the Marches the repercussions of courtly faction fighting undermined the authority of the ‘provincial governor’, Pembroke, which damaged the fabric of county government.
However, in terms of the outcomes of rebellion, Elton argues that fear of anarchy overrode all faction and even Norfolk proved implacable in his opposition to it, saying ‘Loyalty and obedience to the king, the guardian of peace and order and the symbol of the state, dominated everything’.Paul Thomas acknowledges faction as a potential threat, but one of little consequence: he argues that in the absence of organised parties, the main requirement was that successful factions should stay successful long enough to provide stability, continuity and effectiveness. The ‘strong’ rule of Henry VII and his son until 1540 had seen faction kept within bounds, and so, when faction overthrew Wolsey from 1529 to 1530, its victory was short lived. Thomas Cromwell’s promotion from Wolsey’s own household and his grasp of many of the essentials of the Cardinal’s rule ensured stability. Once Cromwell was himself overthrown in 1540, the king seemed all too willing to allow conservative and radical or Catholic and Protestant factions to compete openly without lasting victory for either.
These accounts suggest that faction was an engine to politics rather than a danger to it, and both Henry VIII and Elizabeth (both widely considered successful monarchs) advocated it. Penry Williams upholds this view and suggests that, despite some resistance to taxation and some troubles caused by the ambitions of Essex, government was effective in difficult circumstances and its ends were achieved.However, Elizabeth advocated faction, and under her rule it posed a greater danger: under the influence of Camden, Naunton and Neale, historians have seen the politics of Elizabethan Court in terms of bitter struggles between antagonistic factions competing for the control of patronage and policy. Haigh notes that factionalism has been a much-used weapon in the revisionist armoury – employed to explain many troubles within Parliaments – and most accounts of Elizabethan Court have tended to emphasize factional strife and a vicious atmosphere of place-seeking and competition surrounding the queen.However, he argues that much of the evidence for factional strife has been drawn from the 1590s and by no means reflects the reality of previous decades. The Courts were never completely free from conflict, but such conflict was less the product of faction among courtiers than of disputes between queen, councillors and intimates. Simon Adams also questions the importance of faction; he doubts whether the conflicts between Cecil and Leicester really existed, and denies that Court politics were organised in factions at all.
These accounts propose that faction needs to more closely defined. Haigh suggests that the bitter disputes between Leicester and Essex have been wrongly termed factional, as ‘most of their relations were quite amicable..
. [and] there was never a Sussex faction of any size’.Ultimately, there was an element of both similarity and continuity in the period as most of the rebellions were politically motivated – starting with Warbeck’s rebellion in 1491 until the end of the period with Essex’s rebellion in 1601 – and political motivation always involved faction. This displays the clear political motives present across the period, which is an arguably unique consistency. Religious grievances, for example, were not present throughout the Tudor reign; it was only due to reformation in 1532 that religion became a factor that linked the previously disparate groups together.
Both the consistency and frequency of the impact factionalism had on rebellion therefore suggest it was undeniably important in causing it.