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Department of History

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Andy Wood

2014 'The deep roots of Albion’s fatal tree: the Tudor state and the monopoly of violence', History 99, pp. 403-417

Author(s) from Durham


Building upon some classical debates in historical materialism, this essay proceeds to a critical appreciation of the coercive capacities of the Tudor state. Balancing evidence for coercion against that for more subtle processes of negotiation and persuasion, it shows that when faced with substantial opposition, the Tudor state was capable of exercising massive organized violence. From this flow two key points: first, that the extreme violence of which the Tudor state was capable needs to be read alongside tentative evidence suggesting that in the mid- and late sixteenth century very high levels of capital punishment were quite normal; and second, that in its reaction to popular rebellion, the Tudor state fell back upon extra-legal, informal but nonetheless tightly focused repression. In all these ways, then, there is a profound need for English historians to consider the Tudor state as not only the institutional focus of class power, but also to appreciate it as labouring at its worst: within the theatre of Ireland, the English state worked in the late sixteenth century as a repressive monster, gaining the potential to crush the interests, livelihoods and lives of people of Ireland into the bloody earth. Not for the last time, then, the repressive habits of the English ruling class found their most brutal expression in the things they did to Irish people. There are lessons here, Wood implies, for the present. Studies of the internal repressive capacities of the English state need – historically – always to be tied to its conduct within the island of Ireland.