Essay on the Social and Economic Condition of England during the Reign of Edward VI

ADVERTISEMENTS:

The period of Edward VI was one of discontment and unrest. It had far reaching results in social, economic a political life of the country.

The first protector of the morarch was blamed for all national evils and discontentment which prevailed in the country where as the second protector tried to undo the work of the first. His personal desires and ambitions profited neither the nation nor himself. In the circumstances nation was bound to suffer and did actually suffer during the short reign of the king.

Religious Unrest:

The reign of Edward VI, short though it was, was a period of unrest. There were, first of all, religious difficulties. The Reformation had net fully completed and, as it is; profound religious changes were bound to create difficulties and conflicts and ultimately produced unrest.

Social and Economic Unrest:

Secondly there was social and economic unrest caused by many factors. First of all the enclosure movement which started quite early was further intensified during the reign of Henry VIII.

ADVERTISEMENTS:

The abolition of monasteries had its own problems. The new land owners who came into possession of forfeited estates or of confiscated monastic lands continued to substitute pasture for tillage and to dispossess the agricultural population as well by the reduced demand for labour as by rack renting and demand for labour as by rack renting and evictions.

The country swarm with sturdy beggars and there was great economic discontent. This state of affair- Continued in the reign of Edward VI too.

Situation in Norfolk 1549:

ADVERTISEMENTS:

Thirdly, suppression of guilds created discontent, particularly in case of Ket’s insurrection in Norfolk in 1549. Somerset, except in London, disendowed town guilds, which were to benefit societies of artisans who paid for Masses for the dead. They were very strong in Norfolk.

Currency in Chaotic Condition:

Fourthly, the economic methods adopted by Henry VIII to raise his finances were certainly not conducive to the economic prosperity of the country. Many of his methods were the most ruinous to the people, one such method being the debasement of coinage.

The first experiment was made as early as 1526, but it was the financial embarrassment of Henry’s last year which brought about a debasement that was almost Catastrophic. From 1543 to 1551 matters went from bad to worse till the currency was in a state of Chaos The state of affairs continued into the following reign and was remedied only under Elizabeth.

ADVERTISEMENTS:

It followed that the purchasing power of the debased coins sank with the result that the prices of commodities went up, but money wages did not proportionately increase. The price of corn was already high because of its decreased cultivation owing to the enclosures for the purposes of pastures.

Thus there was great social and economic distress which began to .assume serious dimensions in the later years of Henry VIII’s reign and culminated in the reign of Edward VI. There was unemployment and rise in prices consequently.

Somerset (1547-49):

When Henry VIII died, Edward VI ascended the throne who was a boy of nine years and as such the dictatorship to which the country had learnt to submit fell to the individual who was able to grasp it. It naturally fell first to the king’s uncle. Earl of Herford and Later, Duke of Somerset, whom Henry VIII had named in his, will as protector of the young king.

ADVERTISEMENTS:

Nature of Somerset:

Somerset was a man of generous instincts, inspired by sincere ideas, and had a strong learning towards the Protestant side in the religious controversy. He had a refreshing belief in the value of Liberty, and rescued to dispense with the terrific regime of despotism which Henry VIII and Cromwell had created.

Towards the social and economic difficulties of the times, Somerset was sympathetic towards the Pleasants and endeavoured to mitigate the evils of the times. But with all his good intentions Somerset’s domestic policy was a marked failure.

Liberal Policy:

ADVERTISEMENTS:

In religious and political spheres, Somerset adopted a liberal policy and guided by him, the first Parliament or Edward VI rescinded the Act which gave the force of law to royal proclamations and thus resumed its legislative powers.

It abolished the monstrous extensions of the definition of treason. It cancelled the pernicious persecuting. Act of the six articles with which religious persecution was to cease in England.

RESULTS

Disorder:

The immediate result was an inrush of protestant preachers in England imbued with the fighting doctrine of Calvinistic protestantism. Eager and violent religious discu­ssions were frequently heard in England which was followed by disorder and disturbances of the magnitude that national progress was retarded.

Stature of Reformation:

It was protector Somerset, helped by Archbishop Crammer, who made the Reformation England something more than a mere political device. In 1549 after full discussion the English Church obtained a full order of service in the English language by the first issue of the Common Prayer whose first version was imposed on all English Church by the Act of Uniformly of 1549.

It was intended to moderate the storm of religious controversy, and the doctrines implied in it were not violently cut of sympathy with the old belief. But taken in conjunction with the freedom allowed to the preachers it produced a rebellion in Devon and Cromwell where loyalty to the old faith was still strong.

Sympathy with peasantry:

It was not only in religion that Somerset tried new paths. He also felt much sympathy with the complaints of peasantry against the enclosure movement and did not conceal his feelings. When therefore, a revolt broken out Norfolk headed by a well to do tanner.

Robert Ket, whose object was restriction of enclosures, Somerset was undecided because on the one hand he had his sympathies with the rebels and on the other hand was his sense of the necessity of maintaining order.

He let the rising attain formidable proportions and it was only by the vigorous action of his chief rival in the Council, the Earl of Warwick, that it was finally suppressed.

This lost him the sympathies of the new nobility and the country’s gentry on whose support the Tunor monarch mainly rested, and who were chiefly responsible for, and profited by, the enclosures. Thus in his management of domestic affairs Somerset’s good intentions had led to unhappy results.

In an age of rapid changes and unrest, a firm hand was still needed and. the hard efficient tyranny of Henry VIII yielded in the eyes of most men, better results than the mild slipshod rule of his brother in law.

Foreign Policy:

Nor was Somerset’s management of foreign affairs any the more happy. In Scotland he endeavoured to continue Henery VIII’s policy and led an army over the border to compel the Scots to give their young Queen in marriage to the young English King.

He got a victory at Pinkie in 1543. But force in a poor argument and the result of the victory was to throw the Scots again into the arms of France; and to give the young Mary as wife to a French Prince. Again, he drifted in to a War with France. (1548).

There was badly conducted, largely because Henery VIII had left an entirely empty treasury and the outcome was loss of Henry’s conquest of Boislogne.

Somerset eventually failed. In 1549, he lost power; soon he was to loose his head too. It must be admitted that ideas of protector Somerset were highly and lofty and he was far ahead of his times. With best of intention rule was marked a failure.

Northumberland’s policy resulted in social and economic difficulties.

(1) The new director, the Duke of Northumberland had none of Somerset’s generous instincts. In 1549, during Ket’s insurrection he had vigorously upheld the cause of Landowners against those of peasants. Further, he, debased coinage with the result that economic conditions of the people further deteriorated. Plunder of Church property also continued unabated.

(2) All these measures, combined with the tyranny of the new dictator, made him very unpopular Throughout Northumberland’s rule there were sporadic risings in almost every part of the country His rule was full of evils and defects Ultimately he fell against his wishes Marry ascended.

(3) Thus, on the whole, neither the liberalism pf Somerset nor the tyranny of Northumberland could cure England of its social and economic evils. There was wide spread unrest throughout Edward VI’s reign and the problem denied solution till the reign of Elizabeth.

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