Sceptred Isle: England under the Tudors and Stuarts

Explore the politics, the key personalities and the major themes in English and British history in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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Course outline

The recent spate of historical novels based in Tudor and Stuart England is evidence of the enduring fascination with this period of British history. This course aims to show that history is more substantial than fiction. At the same time, the personalities of the monarchs and their principal ministers and courtiers will be given plenty of room.
You will track the change from a medieval monarchy on an offshore island of Europe to the dominant trading and financial power of the 18th century. Will shape the four-session course.

Session 1: The end of the Wars of the Roses and the foundation of a sustainable royal authority. Henry Vlll’s assertion of imperial power. Henry Vlll is still a towering figure in most people’s historical imagination. Reasons for this will be discussed, also the effect of the Reformation, the fragility of the dynasty.

Session 2: Henry’s children. The challenges involved in retaining Henry’s legacies. None of Henry’s three children could succeed him on the same terms. Under Elizabeth, while the monarchy was presented as unchanged, the real story of Elizabethan England is the flowering of culture and the growth of trade.

Session 3: The end of the Tudor dynasty and the early Stuarts. James l and Charles l were imperfectly understood by the English; and in return they poorly understood England as it had developed intellectually and culturally in the early 17th century. Civil war; restoration under Charles ll.

Session 4: James ll, the intolerable Stuart; and the. ‘successful’ Stuarts: William and Mary; Good Queen Anne. William lll and his backers managed a huge transformation from aspirations of restoring absolutism to a rich, prosperous ‘Great Britain Inc’. Under Anne (and the first of the Churchills) that was confirmed by the victory over France.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course learners will be able to identify key personalities and major themes in English and British history in the 16th and 17th centuries; critically read and discuss recent historical writing, biography and some major novels; think of English history in a European context; demonstrate an understanding of major social, economic and religious movements that underpinned or resulted from political change.

Who should attend?

This course is designed for adults who want to increase their knowledge of European (in this case British) history; those with an interest in social, religious, economic and political history and potential university students who wish to have a ‘taste’ of university experience before embarking on a degree programme.


  • 4 x Thursdays, 19 September - 10 October, 10am – 12pm
  • $185.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Judith Bassett

Seminar presenter

Judith Bassett

Judith Bassett

Judith taught Early Modern European History at The University of Auckland for many years. She is a graduate of the University of Auckland in History and Law. Her interest in European History includes Russia and France as well as a deep appreciation of the court culture of England in the 16th and 17th centuries and the popular culture of England in that time.

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