Henry VIII died in 1547. Thereupon his son from his third wife, Jane Seymour, Edward VI, became the king, according to the will Henry VIII had left behind him.
At the time of accession Edward was a boy of merely nine years. As such some type of regency was called for and accordingly a Regency council of sixteen members selected from the old and the new learning was constituted to govern the country.
In his will, Henry had devised a scheme which sought to prevent any wholesale changes during the minority of Edward VI. The idea of joining the two learning’s was to maintain statuesque and prevent the return to the Romish authority or movement towards protestantism.
The will also provided that upon Edward’s attaining the age of twenty-four, he should have, the power to repeal undo all that was done during his boyhood. However, Edward never attained maturity and died in 1553. His reign was carried on by Somerset and Northumberland.
The Earl of Hertford, one of the sixteen members of the council of Regency and the maternal uncle of Edward, was disappointed when he found that the last king Henry VIII had not named him in the will as the protector, He thought he had a claim to that because he was the brother of the queen, Jane Seymour. Hertbord successfully persuaded the council to grant him that position.
In the first two years of the reign arrangements envisaged by Henry in his will fell flat and could not be implemented. He also assumed the title of Duke of Somerset. He remained protector from 1547 to 1549. After his downfall came Northumberland who ruled the country on behalf of Edward VI from 1549 to the end of his reign in 1553.
Protector Somerset (1547-1549):
Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, seized control in his own hand and became the Lord Protector with the title of Somerset. He was a very incompetent ruler, although a well meaning person. He ruled for about three years and during this period committed numerous mistakes which hastened his downfall.
The worst trait of his character was his greed for wealth and money. This was amply demonstrated in his treatment of the Church.
The Seymour’s were inclined towards protestantism and made no secret of their ideas even in Henry’s time although they were kept in the background during his reign. Now that Somerset controlled the destinies of the country he openly displayed his protestanism.
He commissioned the Archbishop of Canterbury, Crammer, to prepare a common Prayer in English. He got the Acts which punished heresy with death, repealed by the Parliament. Many Churches of the city were despoiled to provide building material for the mansion he was building for himself by the riverside outside Ludgate.
The First Prayer Book:
The first prayer book of Edward VI was a translation of the Latin Service book. It was used at Salisbury Cathedral. The prayer book was prepared by Grammar in the most chaste and dignified English that was ever written. It is similar to the Catholic services of the middle ages.
The prayer book is today considered by the Anglican as ‘excellent’ but in 1549 there was no such opinion. The book when it was issued met with disapproval and hatred throughout the country. Catholics expressed their opinion that the new service was like a Christmas game.
The English Prayer Book was particularly hated in Wales and Cornwall where the people still spoke their own Celtic language and for a similar reason it was never accepted by the Irish, who made of it another grievance against English rule. The Prayer Book was shocking to the people then to hold their service in sixteen century English as if it would seem shocking to members of the Church of England of today to hold their service in modern English.
Somerset had no knowledge of supernatural by himself. By giving an English Service to the people he was forcing them to a language which had no reverent associations for them. He did not realise this basic fact and thus was doomed to be a failure. By destroying the idols in the Churches he was depriving, the people of symbols of all that were most real in their lives.
He did not see this either. However, there can be no two opinions about his being a very humane statesman. During his rule of about three years he displayed a rare example of tolerance in the sixteenth century world-not one man was executed during these three years for his religious opinions.
Somerset and Enclosures
Somerset’s social policy was based on understanding and moderation. He saw that the dissolution of monasteries had turned England up side down. Now it was found that the monks were much better as compared to the present land woes. These landowners cared little for the rights of the peasants.
They also paid little attention towards common land and were mercilessly fencing in the commons to feed their own flock of sheep. During all this while the peasants, pigs and cows had no grazing ground. The common lands of England very soon disappeared in to the enclosures of the land-owners. Peasants starved and were forced to leave, their lands. They begged from village to village. Monasteries had already been dissolved and the rich were no more with surplus wealth and so there was no agency to give them help and alms.
Somerset could see that there would a rebellion before long if something was not done quickly about enclosures. In fact the problem has posed a serious threat to the very existence of the poor and the needy.
He openly sympathised with the peasantry and constituted a commission to find out the sanction on the basis of which enclosures had been made.
This infuriated influential big land owners. They answered the questions of the commission silently but in a sullen manner. Somerset said of the commission “Mangoe the devil, Private Profit, self-love, money and such-like the devil’s .instrument’s it shall go forward. “However the Commission could not be successful.”
Statues were made by Somerset by which conversion of arable land in to pasture was forbidden. The justice of peace anyhow neglected to put these statuses into force. Thus it became easy for the landowners to evade the law. Legally speaking, a furrow made a field arable land.
The farmers were in the habit of ploughing one single furrow across a field, leaving their cows and sheep to graze there latimer said. “We have good statues made for the common wealth as touching commons and enclosures but in the end the matter there cometh nothing forth.
RETS REBELLION (1549)
The rebellion which Somerset had foreseen came in 1549 when the men of Norfolk less than one, Ket rose in arms. Somerset had a fatal habit of talking the wrong course to do the right thing. The most striking example of his wellment blundering was his treatment of economic dissatisfaction of the time.
The economic discontent had been smouldering for quite some time. Land owners were taking more and more advantage of the demand for wool.
They turned their arable land in to pasturages for sheep. Conversion of land thus saved labour because growing corn called for hard labour, and pastures were much more profitable Further, Peasants were created, at every opportunity, their share of the village lands, was quite useful for pasturage and therefore landlords enclosed huge tracts of land for their own use. This waste and meadow land was used by the village folk for grazing their cattle and also for getting fuel.
The dissolution of monasteries made the situation much worse. The monks had usually respected the old custom, although they were hard landlords at times. The middle class that came to buy this land knew little and cared less for tradition.
They only wanted money. Sir Thomas More protested wildly against these enclosures in his ‘Utopia’. The Government had also made some abortive attempts to tackle the evil.
Court of Request:
A special court of Requests was set up in Somerset’s own house in London The court was designed to deal with the complaints of the people from the villages and to redress their .grievances as far as possible Unfortunately there was no police system and the method of sending round government employees to see the execution of the decrees of the court of requests was bound to be full of defects and deficient, The very fact that Somerset had set up this special court had earned him the bitter hostility of the members of the Regency Council. It was so “because the members of the council were benefiting most by the new methods.”
The Pinnacle came when a revolt broke out in East Anglio against the enclosures. The insurgents chose Robert Ket (himself of the landlord class) as their leader. Ket had proved his sympathies for the wrongs done to the peasants.
The rebels encamped near Norwich (on Mouse hold Heath) and despatched a forcefully phrased petition to the government. In the transitional period they avoided violence and attended everyday open ail services, conducted by the Chaplain of their little common wealth.
Somerset realised how genuine their grievances were. He hesitated to take action against the insurgents when they occupied Norwitch itself. However, the other members of the council had no reason to be so considerate.
These members were afraid that, lest the movement should spread, their highly profitable side business would come to an end. Therefore, one of the members of the council, John Dudley. Earl of Warwick marched some hired foreign troops and dispersed the revolting commonwealth by the use of force Numerous leaders of the uprising including Ket were done to death.
Project in Scotland:
Somerset’s rule was now thoroughly discountenanced His religious and social policies had utterly failed. In Scotland also Somerset was unable to carry the policy of Henry VIII and attempted a union between England and Scotland by a matri-monial alliance.
This he sought to do by marrying the two young sovereigns of the two countries. However the scots thoroughly disliked the project and turned down the renewed demand for Mary Stuart’s hand for Edward VI. Somerset should have known it better than anybody else that there was no point in imposing it on the Scots, because he was the person sent by Henry VIII as Lord Hereford to Scotland for the same cause.
It had failed-then as it did now. Nevertheless, Somerset wanted to over the scots and marched another army into Scotland in 1517. He laid waste some villages here and there, ravaged Holy wood palace and inflicted crushing defeat on a Scottish army at Piakie, near Edinburgh.
However, the government of Scotland was still not prepared to yield. It managed to struggle their young queen to France so that she might not fail into the hands of these English hounds. Next twelve years of Mary’s life were spent at the French court. She married the Dauphin and ultimately destined to become the Queen of France.
It was not possible for Somerset to hold down Scotland by a pereunial army of occupation. The exhabusted English exchequer could ill-afford the luxury of that kind. Therefore Somerset had to retreat. “Crest-fallen conscious that his expedition had an effect precisely the opposite of his object-it had cemented more closely then ever the old anti-English alliance between France and Scotland.”
Somerset ‘s End:
The position of Somerset as the Lord Protector was obviously becoming shaky everyday. The subordinate members of the Regency Council had taken law in their hands to quell revolt or other such events. Somerset’s failure cost him his- life, In the year 1549 he failed to crush the Ket’s rebellion.
The same summer there was a catholic rising in Demon and Cornwall in protest against the Prayer Book. It proved his incompetence, Warwick and his supporters suddenly had him arrested and put him in prison. After a few months he was released as the charge of treason could not be proved against him.
He was allowed to take part in the meetings of the Council again. A little latter he was arrested again and was executed on the flimsy charge of felony.
Protector Northumberland (1549-53):
After Somerset, his place was taken by John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick who now assumed- the title of Duke of Northumberland Nothing can be said in favour or praise of Dudley. He was the son of Henry VII’s excreted Minister. To gain power he attached himself to the extreme protestant party in the council.
Under Northumberland the country went from bad to worse. True, Somerset had been an unwise statesman, but Northumberland was no statesman at all.
He was just a greedy adventurer bold and unscrupulous. According to Ramsay Muir, “Northumberland was purely a self seeker, who cared nothing for religion, but joined with his colleagues in still further plundering the Church reducing the revenues of bishoprics, and even threatening the endowments of the Oxford and Cambridge College.”
Nature of rules:
He pretended to be a more thorough going protestant than Somerset. He, however, made protestantism a pretext for wholesale profiteering, taking from the churches in the king’s name “all the jewels of gold and silver, as crosses, Candlesticks censers, chalices, and all other gold and silver and ready money and all copes and vestments of cloth of gold, cloth of silver and cloth of tissue. “According to a historian”. This Government by profiturers (1549-1553) is one of the most disgusting periods in history.
Northumberland debased the coinage, starved the Navy and the garrison of Calais, looted all the Church property he could lay his hands on, and did his best to dissolve the universities and the guild-all in. the name of religion. He had to import a bodyguard of mercenaries to protect his life.”
Second Prayer Book:
Northumberland used crammer to revise the Prayer Book the Second Prayer Book making it uncatholic openly. Many catholic features were removed, especially the words of administration in the mass, which came to be called Holy Communion.
The final breach between Catholics and Protestants came on this doctrine of the mass. The Catholics held that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ and the Protestants held that the sacrament is merely a service of commemoration for Christ’s death.
Advanced thinkers among the clergy now refused to wear vestments in their churches. The altars were divested of ornaments; In short, the reformers went too fast and too fur. That explains the failure of the Edwardian attempt to make England protestant. But this was an excuse for “feathering his own nest”. Church property that could be turned in to cash had been confiscated already.
There were moreover, a number of small foundations known as the “Chantries”, which were maintained by priests who conducted daily services on behalf of guilds and corporations Northumberland abolished these chantries. The funds of these foundations fell in his hands or in those of his follower.
Some of the confiscated property Northumberland used to found ‘King Edward VI Grammar Schools’. The money spent on these was just a fraction of the prodigious plunder. The new school did not have sufficient funds to function smoothly.
Placement of protestant clergy:
Another device of Northumberland was to appoint protestant clergymen in place of Catholic bishops. The former were prepared to perform the same functions for much smaller incomes.
This was double-edged device. He was furthering his own cause by appropriating the balance money which was ensured by the appointment of the protestant clergy and also strengthening the cause of Church.
CONSPIRACY EOR POWER
King’s High Regard:
Edward VI was a boy who had a brain for advanced of his age. Up to the age of .thirteen theology was his main interest. Edward had become a protestant, out and out. He looked upon Northumberland as, “the most holy instrument of the World of God” engaged in establishing “Pure religion” in England. Since he had own the confidence of his monarch and was his crusted protector it was clear that there was no danger to Northumberland’s security as long as Edward was alive.
At the beginning of the year 1553 Edward’s health began to deteriorate. The Duke of Northumberland saw the portents of coming Catastrophe, If Edward died; the heir to the English throne would be Princess Mary, grown up enough not to brook the control of Northumberland who was looking at Mary as an unflinching Catholic. She hated Northumberland for all that he thought or did. His it may be in danger if Mary became Queen.
Therefore, while the young king developed rapid tuberculosis, Northumberland hurried with a plot which, if successful, might still retain power in his bands. He extended the claims Lady Jane Grey who was descendant of Henry VIII. She was a mere girl of sixteen years and a protestant.
Northumberland wanted to be sure of his hold over her and therefore married her to his younger son, Guilford Dudly: The dying king Edward was keen that after him Protestantism should continue in England.
He therefore supported the scheme of Northumberland, perhaps because the dying sovereign could not do better. Everyone hated this scheme excepting of course the close friends and supporters of Northumberland.
People were fed up with Northumberland’s so called protestantism. They shivered at the very idea that this rule might continue for a longer period.
The country was attached to the Catholic faith even though some people might have agreed with and supported the schism with Rome. Besides, Princess Mary commanded wide sympathy because of the insults and wrongs she had got through her father’s denial of his marriage with her mother on the whole, there was a strong popular feeling that. Mary had the right to the throne both by birth and by the will of Henry VIII.
When Edward breathed his last in July 1553, Northumberland had Lady June Proclaimed Queen. Mary fled to the eastern countries However, Mary got tremendous support at the hands of tenantry and thousands of nobles and gentry flocked about her.
In desperation, Northumberland marched out of London, with some hastily collected troops, to attack these gathering forces against her. However, his own men hated the job they were asked to do. They also had their sympathies with Mary. Thus they started deserting Northumberland in scores and hundreds. The feeling in favour of the rightful heir was so strong that she was Proclaimed Queen in London.
The celebrations of Mary’s accession were joined by the whole nation including Jane Grey’s father. Northumberland realised that the game was over. In a frantic bid to save himself, he wanted to cross over to Mary’s Camp. However, he was taken prisoner and was done to death along with his son Guilford Dudley and his wife “Queen” Jane Grey.
The whole family of Dudley’s was exported to heaven by the jubilant Queen Mary Ramsay Muir says, “Northumberland went to the Scaffold, having first made himself contemptible by forswearing protestantism.”