Elizabeth I and the Localities

Elizabeth I and the Localities

Elizabeth’s England was far from united. As well as religious and financial issues, local problems were to become an issue. Whereas the South was well represented at Court and in the Privy Council, the North was not. This was bound to cause resentment. It was certainly the case, that not all areas were equal.

 

By 1585, every shire in England was under the authority of a Lord Lieutenant. They would have been royal appointments (though the likes of William Cecil would have had a major influence in these). Lord Lieutenants were responsible for the maintenance of security in his shire and he had to ensure that government military policies were carried out. These men were unlikely to be from the shire they now controlled and this in itself was a potential source of upset. In 1573 it was ordered by the government that each shire should have a ‘Trained Band’ – a group of men who were specially trained in military matters. These bands were created as a direct response to the threat of invasion. Each man in a ‘Trained Band’ had to be skilled in riding horses and the use of a variety of weapons. Their task was “the defence of her Majesty, her crown and realm, against all attempts (of invasion), both inward and outward.”

 

However, there was a constant battle between the localities and London as to the cost of the ‘Trained Bands’ and who was to pay for them. They were considered to be so important that ‘Trained Bands’ could only be used in England – none were allowed to be used in the campaign in the Netherlands. But the cost of training and equipping these men caused friction between shires and London. Another source of trouble was ‘coat and conduct’. This was the name given to the process of moving men raised for the army from a locality to where the national army was based. ‘Coat and conduct’ was paid at a local level but this was reimbursed by the Exchequer. However, this could be a very slow process and leave locals out of pocket for some time. These same people also had to ensure that the local arsenal was kept up-to-date. Shires on the coast were responsible for the maintenance of coastal defences. The cost of this and the delay in getting money back was bound to cause friction.

 

Another issue that caused a great deal of resentment between London and the shires was Muster-masters. These were ex-servicemen who were appointed by central government to assist with the training of men in the shires – but whose wages had to be paid by residents in the shires despite the fact that the shires had no responsibility for their appointment. As the Muster-masters were responsible for training, shires tended to get around the need for them by sending criminals and beggars to the army so that the army got their men – but not men who were trained. This served a dual purpose – a shire reached its requirement in terms of men sent to the army and it also removed from a shire ‘undesirables’. However, the whole process did little to develop a positive relationship between the shires and central government.

 

While History tends to associate Ship Money with Charles I, it was another source of discontent among the coastal shires in the reign of Elizabeth. Ship Money was used to modernise the navy or it was paid by coastal shires to ensure that their ships were not commandeered during wars. Either way, it was money paid for within a shire that went to London. The extension of Ship Money to inland shires was bound to cause anger.

 

In the later years of Elizabeth’s reign, England suffered a number of harvest failures. This made many people poor and was a cause of localised social unrest. By 1600, it is estimated that 10% of the population was in need of relief which was provided by local government. A further 33% needed temporary relief. The treatment of the poor was just about one of the only issues that brought local government, central government and the Crown together as it was a problem that had to be addressed. As Elizabeth’s reign progressed a whole series of laws were passed that attempted to help the poor but punish the idle. Society as a whole turned on those deemed to be idle, beggars or vagabonds. From 1572 on, legislation required all householders to pay a poor rate, which was administered by parish officials. After 1576, JP’s were required to develop programmes to assist paupers. While efforts were made to help the needy, the opposite was true for those who simply wanted to abuse the trust of society. In 1597 an act was passed (Act for the Relief of the Poor) which was a step towards a national system of poor relief.

 

The major clash between localities and London was over who should pay for what. Legislation was passed in Parliament but required money to be raised in the shires. There was resentment in the shires that they had little control over this except through their MP’s who were ‘London’ men, i.e. more loyal to central government than to the localities they represented. This was understandable as if these MP’s wanted to advance themselves they had to please the influential based in the Royal Court. However, this did little to help shire versus central government problems. 


MLA Citation/Reference

"Elizabeth I and the Localities". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2008. Web.






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