See part 1 of Henry VIII's reign

Anne's Boleyn's Fall
For all the trouble that Henry had undergone to marry Anne Boleyn, their marriage did not last long. First was the disappointment of a female child. Then came rumours that Anne had been unfaithful to Henry, which neatly coincided with Henry's new infatuation for Jane Seymour.

Eventually Anne was tried for adultery, which, since Henry was the king, was treason if Henry chose to look at it that way. He did so choose, and Anne was beheaded on the green in the Tower of London. She was little mourned; in her short reign, she had managed to alienate just about everyone at court.

Wives Three through Six
Henry married Jane, and between them, they produced the long-awaited male heir to the throne, the future Edward VI. Unfortunately, Jane died in childbirth. Henry then went through the last of his three wives in quick succession. Anne of Cleves, whom Henry married on the basis of a highly flattering portrait which proved to be largely artistic license, was divorced. Catherine Howard was accused of adultery and executed. And finally, Catherine Parr, who was more nursemaid than a wife to the ailing Henry, managed to outlive the king.

At the end of his life, Henry grew grossly fat and was in terrible pain from his swollen legs, probably brought on by gout. He was carried in a chair while indoors and hoisted up and down stairs with the aid of elaborate machines, but he still insisted on riding on horseback when travelling.

The single greatest social issue of the reigns of the first three Tudors was the enclosure movement and the attendant woes to the lower classes who were displaced or had their common grazing privileges denied by the new enclosures. Simply put, enclosure was the fencing or hedging of open farmland for the purpose of raising sheep. As a landowner, it made far more economic sense to raise sheep than to rely on traditional feudal arrangements of mutual obligation.

Summing up the early Tudors
Early Tudor Britain was a society in turmoil, both religious and economic. Social upheaval and religious strife dominated English public life. The prosperity of the early years of Henry VII gave way to terrific economic pressures on the lower classes, though the middle-class merchants and yeomen continued to grow in strength and wealth.

Individual initiative, both economic and religious, was replacing the ordered (or static) conditions of the Middle Ages. Entrepreneurial zeal and religious reformation were overturning a society that had remained largely unchanged for centuries. It was now possible for peasants to rise to high church office, or to great economic power, through their own initiative and drive. This kind of upward mobility was something new and challenging for England. People with no pretensions to a noble title or lands were rising higher than anyone could have imagined a few decades earlier.

These changes primarily affected men. The role of women was mostly static, even during the later reigns of the two queens, Mary and Elizabeth. The abolition of monastic settlements must have proved a great hardship to those women who would otherwise have used the church to escape being married off for family profit.

The early Tudor period can be summed up in these three characteristics: peace in England, strong central government, and general prosperity.

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