'The Most Unstable Man in England'

I n March 1549, Parliament passed the new Act of Uniformity, in which it was decreed that the services in Archbishop Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer were to be used in all churches. In future it would be an offence to use any other service, and any priest caught celebrating mass according to the Roman Catholic form would be committing a crime, for which he could be first fined and then, if he persisted in his disobedience, imprisoned for life.

The Lady Mary had braced herself to deal with inevitable attempts by the government to force her into renouncing her faith and conforming to the new laws. She had already decided that she would rather face death than do so, and was indeed ready to set herself up as a champion of the Catholic religion. On the day she learned that the new Act had become law, she showed her defiance by ordering her chaplains to celebrate a particularly ceremonial mass in her presence in the chapel at Kenninghall in Norfolk. And whereas she had hitherto attended two masses each day, she now made a point of going to three and inviting the local people to join her. She also wrote to Charles V, begging him to take steps to ensure that she would be able 'to continue to live in the ancient faith and in peace with my conscience. In life or death I will not forsake the Catholic religion of the Church our mother, even if compelled thereto by threats or violence.'

Charles's reply was somewhat disappointing, for he told her that, whatever she did, she must avoid making an enemy of Somerset. If it came to her being forbidden to hear mass, she could submit with a clear conscience because she was acting under compulsion.

Before long, Mary received the expected letter from the Council, warning her that when the Act of Uniformity came into force at Whitsun, she - like all other subjects - would be expected to conform to the new laws. Bravely, she replied, in a letter to Somerset:

It is no small grief to me to perceive that they whom the King's Majesty my father (whose soul God pardon) made in this world of nothing, and at his last end put in trust to see his will performed, whereunto they were all sworn upon a book, to see how they break his will, what usurped power they take upon them in making (as they call it) laws, clean contrary to his proceedings and will, and also against the custom of all Christendom, and in my conscience against the law of God and His Church, which passeth all the rest. But though some among you have forgotten the King my father, yet God's commandment and nature will not suffer me to do so, wherefore with God's help I will remain an obedient child to his laws as he left them, till such time as the King's Majesty my brother shall have perfect years of discretion to order the power that God had sent him, to be a judge in these matters himself, and I doubt not he shall then accept my so doing, better than theirs, who have taken a piece of his power upon them in his minority.

Throughout the dispute that was to follow, Mary doggedly adhered to this viewpoint; Edward was too young to decide for himself in matters of religion and she would await his majority before accepting any changes to the laws made by Henry VIII. Unfortunately for her, her assertion that he was too immature to make up his own mind irked the fiercely Protestant Edward, who became increasingly determined to make his sister see the error of her ways.

That March, Mary was a guest at the christening of the latest of Warwick's large brood of children, and in the church she found herself placed next to van der Delft, the Emperor's ambassador. Later, she sought an opportunity to tell him of her troubles, communicating in a variety of languages so that the other guests should not guess what they were talking about. He was deeply moved by her dilemma and, after she had written to him several times after their meeting, he resolved to help her by taking up her case with the Emperor.

On 30 March, with the Council's knowledge, van der Delft visited Mary to pass over a letter from Charles V. When the formal audience was over, she took him into a private chamber and they had a confidential conversation in which she 'complained bitterly of the changes brought about in the kingdom, and of her private distress, saying she would rather give up her life than her religion'. She feared that a confrontation with the Council was unavoidable and was candid about being frightened of the consequences. When she asked if Charles was doing anything to help her, van der Delft passed on an oral message that his master was determined to stand by her. Mary was so overcome at this that she could not speak. When she found her tongue she told the ambassador that the Emperor was her only solace and support, for which she was profoundly grateful, and she would try to be worthy of him. She then produced a much-fingered, yellowing letter from her pocket, confiding to van der Delft that Charles had sent it to her in 15 3 7 and, as it was her most treasured possession, she always carried it on her person.

'Her life and her salvation are in Your Majesty's keeping,' van der Delft wrote to the Emperor after the interview, and Mary said much the same thing in a letter she herself sent a few days later, in which she pleaded with her cousin to intervene on her behalf with the Council. Charles responded on 10 May by instructing van der Delft to extract from the Protector a 'written assurance, in definitive, suitable and permanent form, that notwithstanding all new laws and ordinances made upon religion, she may live in the observance of our ancient religion, as she has done up to the present, so that neither king nor Parliament may ever molest her, directly or indirectly, by any means whatsoever'.

When van der Delft repeated the Emperor's demand to the Protector, Somerset refused at first to consider it; he disliked Charles's peremptory tone, and argued that he could not override the laws made by Parliament. More to the point, 'If the King's sister, to whom the whole kingdom was attached as heiress to the Crown, were to differ in matters of religion, dissension would certainly spring up.' However, after a long discussion with the ambassador, Somerset did at length give a verbal undertaking that, as long as Mary was discreet, did not publicise what she was doing, and heard mass only in her own chamber, 'she shall do as she pleases until the King comes of age'. Of course, the Duke had no authority to give such an assurance, and indeed he was later to deny that he had ever given it, but for the present it was enough for Mary.

It so happened that Somerset, at this time, had graver matters on his mind. People were appalled at what they regarded as an act of fratricide, and denigrated him as a murderer, a blood-sucker or worse, and many were saying openly that he had let his brother go to the block without lifting a finger to save him. Some of his colleagues, notably Warwick and his supporters, saw this as evidence of the Protector's weakness, and were wondering how effective the Duke would be if he had to save himself from similar charges of treason. And would the King, who had so calmly accepted one uncle's death, care any more about what happened to his other uncle, towards whom he was so antagonistic? In the spring of 1549 it looked to van der Delft as if the fall of one brother would be the overthrow of the other.

Many of his colleagues resented Somerset's power and his policies, and he had also alienated many of his supporters by being unable to keep his promises to eradicate what many people believed to be the current evils in English society, such as rising inflation and the enclosure of common land. Some thought the Duke had gone too far in his religious reforms, while many felt he had not gone far enough. Most of his colleagues resented his overbearing, haughty manner, and Paget warned him that 'his great choleric fashions' were intolerable in a subject.

On Whit Sunday the Act of Uniformity took effect, causing several storms in the process. Many objected to the simplified English liturgy on the grounds that it debased Christian worship, making it 'like a Christmas game', while in the West Country there were risings to protest at the outlawing of the ancient rites.

Van der Delft, unaware that the Council did not know of Somerset's promise, had taken it upon himself to remind the Council that Mary should be left alone to practise her religion in private, but the lords refused to agree, asserting that Somerset had given no such undertaking. Mary must conform like all the King's other subjects. Van der Delft wrote at once, informing Mary that a deputation from the Council was coming to see her; she should stand her ground but, in order not to antagonise them, it was advisable to deny their requests pleasantly. She must remember always that the Emperor would support her, and if her own chaplains were too intimidated to say mass, she could call upon the services of the ambassador's priests at need.

That same Whit Sunday, Sir William Petre and Lord Chancellor Rich waited upon the Lady Mary at Kenninghall and informed her that she and her household were subject to the new Act. They had come, they said, to give her and her household instruction in the new rites. But Mary, in the most pleasant manner, refused categorically to listen, declaring that she would not conform to the new Act and would never use the Book of Common Prayer. Even when the councillors threatened to punish her servants for defying the law, she remained obdurate.

'My servants are my responsibility, which I will not shirk,' she said firmly, intimating that the interview was at an end.

The Council was not at all pleased to learn of Mary's disobedience. They viewed her as a threat to their religious reforms because already there were signs that Catholics were looking to her, the heiress to the throne, as their champion. On 16 June, the lords wrote her a stern letter, advising her to 'be conformable and obedient to the observation of His Majesty's laws, to give order that mass should be no more used in her house, and that she should embrace and cause to be celebrated the Communion'.

Six days later an indignant Mary responded: 'I have offended no law, unless it be a late law of your own making for the altering of matters of religion, which, in my conscience, is not worthy to have the name of law. When His Majesty comes of age he shall find me his good and obedient subject in this, as in every other matter, but until then I have no intention of changing the practices dictated by my conscience.'

She was ill, she said, and probably had only a short time to live, but while she lived she intended to obey her father's laws, which 'were all consented to without compulsion by the whole realm, so that it was an authorised law'. In her view, the recent changes would only result in 'the displeasure of God and the unquietness of the realm'.

The Council ignored Mary's letter, retaining it only as evidence of her subversive attitude. Instead of replying, they decided to undermine her defiance by threatening her servants. On 27 June, her controller, Sir Robert Rochester, her chief chaplain, Drjohn Hopton, and Sir Francis Englefield received a summons to appear before the Council for questioning.

Mary was furious. Referring again to 'the short time I have to live', she scribbled another letter of protest: 'I thought verily that my former letters should have discharged this matter, not doubting but you do consider that none of you all would have been contented to have been thus used at your inferiors' hands.' She needed her servants, she stressed.

The chief charge of my house resteth upon the travails of my controller, who hath not been absent from my house three whole days since the setting up of the same, so that if it were not for his continual diligence, I think my little portion would not have stretched so far. My chaplain, by occasion of sickness, hath long been absent, and is not yet able to ride; like as I cannot forbear my controller, and my priest is not yet able to journey, shall I desire you, my lords, that having anything to be declared to me, except matters of religion, ye shall either write your mind or send some trusty person, with whom I shall be contented to talk, but ensuring you that if any servant of mine, either man or woman, or chaplain, should move me to the contrary of my conscience, I would not give ear to them nor suffer the same to be used in my house.

In other words, there was little point in suborning her servants.

The Council did not reply, and it was not long before Mary learned why. There were fresh rebellions against the Act of Uniformity in Oxfordshire and the Home Counties. The former was crushed by Dorset, but early in July there were riots around London, which seriously frightened the councillors. At the same time an even greater revolt erupted in Norfolk, led by Robert Ket, a landowner. Ket's rebels were incensed at rising food prices and rents, and fondly believed that the 'Good Duke' of Somerset would sympathise with their grievances. At least 12,000 men assembled on Mousehold Heath near Norwich, news of which sent the Council into a panic.

Somerset, under pressure from his colleagues, reluctantly agreed to use German mercenaries - hired for a war against Scotland - against the rebels, but in order to preserve his popularity with the people he made sure that the avenging army was led by Warwick, whose military reputation was impressive, and Northampton. The Protector also sent the lords Herbert and Russell to crush the rebellion in the West, which was still simmering.

Concern was expressed in the council chamber that the Lady Mary might have been encouraging the rebels; after all, she was at her house at Kenninghall at that time, in the heart of rebel territory and only twenty miles from Norwich. Many lords were convinced that she had sent agents to help foment the rising. In fact, Mary regarded Ket's followers as traitors and had refused to become involved with them. They had not risen in defence of their religion, but for economic reasons with which she, as a landowning magnate, could not sympathise, and when the Council wrote warning her not to traffic with the rebels, she replied that if those who were accusing her of doing so cared to look, they would find her so-called agents in her household, where they belonged, not meddling with traitors. The Council remained sceptical. They arrested her servant, Thomas Poley, on the grounds that he was consorting with 'the worst sort of rebels', but he was soon released and allowed to return to Mary's service. Mary, meanwhile, had furnished van der Delft with a full statement of her dealings with the Council over the matter, which he passed on to the Emperor.

On 30 July 1549, the Earl of Northampton took the city of Norwich and drove out the rebels. Seven days later Russell relieved Exeter, which had been under siege for six weeks. By 17 August, most of the rebels had scattered, leaving only a committed contingent outside Norwich determined to fight to the bitter end. On 23 August, Warwick appeared before the city, and four days later the remainder of Ket's army - reportedly 3 ooo strong - was butchered at Dussindale. Ket himself was captured and later hanged on the ramparts of Norwich Castle. A serious threat to the government had been eliminated, and Warwick was the hero of the hour, receiving praise from every quarter for his bravery, his military expertise and his merciful handling of prisoners. Only nine rebels were hanged; when his officers urged him to make an example of the rest of the survivors, Warwick replied, 'Is there no place for pardon? What shall we then do? Shall we hold the plough ourselves, play the carters and labour the ground with our own hands?' He could afford to be merciful; the magnate class had been seriously shaken by the rebellions, but the status quo had now been restored.

Rumours of Mary's involvement with the rebels had resulted in her being recognised by Catholics as the leader of an opposition group, already being referred to as 'the Marian faction', according to a letter sent by Sir Thomas Smith to William Cecil at this time. Smith thought Mary and her supporters 'a greater threat than rebels. The matter torments me greatly, or rather it nearly terrifies me to death. Pray God of His mercy avert this evil.'

When Ket's rebellion was at its height, Somerset had had a private discussion about Mary with van der Delft and had complained that she was 'increasingly making a public spectacle' of her mass: 'We have not forbidden the Lady Mary to hear mass privately in her own apartments, but whereas she used to have two masses said before, she has three said now since the prohibitions, and with greater show.' He hoped she would be more discreet in future, especially as he had heard that one of her chaplains was suspected of being involved with the rebels. The threat was clear, but Mary paid no heed to it.

The Council responded by again summoning Rochester, Englefield and Hop ton before them, enjoining Mary not to neglect her duty to the King by preventing them from going. She knew she had no choice in the matter, but was determined to go down fighting, and in a letter to the Council she berated them for the inhuman treatment 'shown to my poor sick priest' and their lack of respect for herself, 'not doubting but you do consider that none of you all would have been contented to be thus used at your inferiors' hands; I mean, to have your officer, or any of your servants, sent for by force, knowing no just cause why. Your friend, to my power, though you give me contrary cause, Mary.'

Rochester, Englefield and Hopton suffered gruelling questioning by the Council. Rochester refused to interfere with his mistress's beliefs, but Hopton was more easily browbeaten, and was compelled to return to Kenninghall with a document outlining Mary's obligations and strict instructions for implementing the new law. Hearing what had happened in London, and fearful of what might be done to Hopton if he did not obey the Council's orders, Mary allowed him to relay their commands to her household.

Van der Delft, meanwhile, had received further instructions from the Emperor, who, having heard that the Council would not support Somerset's verbal promise about Mary's freedom to worship as she wished in private, required the ambassador to obtain the Protector's assurance in writing. Van der Delft reminded Somerset of his promise, accusing him of having broken it by allowing the Council to deal so roughly with Mary's servants. He then threatened that, unless the Duke honoured his promise, the Emperor would be obliged to take action against him rather than keep sending verbal demands. Somerset had too many problems just then to risk adding a war with Charles V to them, so he backed down and agreed that Mary might 'do as she pleases quietly and without scandal'.

Charles, however, was dissatisfied with this, not trusting Somerset to keep his promises, and again urged van der Delft to obtain a written undertaking from him. Shortly afterwards, the ambassador received a visit from two councillors, Sir William Paget and William Paulet, Lord St John, who referred to the princess in tones of the greatest respect, lamenting only that 'such a wise and prudent lady, the second person in the kingdom', was so stubborn in her opinions that she could not obey the King's new law without doing violence to her conscience. They regretted that they were unable to give van der Delft the written undertaking requested by the Emperor, but they were prepared to give a verbal promise that Mary 'should freely and without hindrance or interference continue divine service as she had been accustomed to have it celebrated in her house, and that her priests and the members of her household should incur no risk'.

Van der Delft was left feeling angry and frustrated, but Mary declared herself satisfied with the Council's assurances, believing that 'if letters were accepted they might amount to a recognition of the laws against religion, which she would always deny, for these innovations were no laws, nor had they the force of laws, for they were contrary to God, to her father's will, and to the welfare of the realm'. She would pray daily 'that matters might be restored as they were when the King her father left them', and remitted the whole matter to the Emperor's judgement.

Charles, who believed the English incapable of keeping their word, continued to press for the Protector's promise to be enshrined in Letters Patent signed by the King. In the autumn, Somerset seems to have had such Letters drawn up, permitting Mary to have mass celebrated by her own priests and attended by up to twenty named members of her household. When the document was laid before the King he signed it without protest, but added a plea that his wayward sister would seek instruction from 'some godly and learned men' in order to rid her of her 'grudge of conscience' and thus retain 'the good affection and brotherly love which we bear towards you'. There is no evidence that Mary ever received these Letters Patent, but whether she did or not, she was left unmolested for the present, and continued to practise her religion in peace.

Since midsummer, the Lady Elizabeth had suffered miserable ill-health. Her ailments were various and included painful periods, stomach problems, migraines and jaundice. Although she followed a frugal and sensible diet and avoided alcohol, she remained debilitated and often bedridden.

Now that the scandal over the Admiral had died down, Somerset was more sympathetic, and, learning that she was so sick, dispatched the King's physician, Dr Thomas Bill of St Bartholomew's Hospital, to try to cure her. Within weeks the princess was better and on her feet again. When Dr Bill returned to court she wrote to thank him most gratefully for his services.

Her main desire now was to be rehabilitated in the eyes of the people. She had not committed any crime, nor been found guilty of complicity in the Admiral's plots. Her only fault had been to fall victim to the charms of a practised scoundrel when she was hardly out of childhood, and she felt aggrieved that her good name had become tainted with scandal as a result. She therefore set herself to win back the good opinions of her brother and his subjects by cultivating the image of a sober and virtuous Protestant maiden who cared little for the frivolities and fleshly delights of the world. John Foxe, the Elizabethan martyrologist, recalled how she 'had so little pride of stomach, so little delight in glistering gazes of the world, in gay apparel, rich attire and precious jewels that she never looked upon those that her father left her'.

The Protector and Council, concerned with the subversive activities of her sister, were now inclined to view Elizabeth in a more favourable light. They were impressed by the care she took in informing them of all her doings and seeking their approval whenever she deemed it appropriate. Her quiet and blameless existence at Hatfield or Ashridge and her irreproachable behaviour soon gave the lie to the scurrilous rumours that had been circulating about her.

Dr Bill may well have recommended that Mrs Ashley be returned to Elizabeth's service. Having been deprived of her stepmother and her beloved governess in the space of a few months, let alone being at the centre of a scandal and a treason enquiry, it was small wonder that the girl's health had been undermined, and the restoration of Kat Ashley would undoubtedly benefit her. The governess returned to Elizabeth by August, having sworn to the Council that she would never again 'speak nor whisper of marriage, no, not to win all the world'. Thomas Parry was also allowed back, resuming his old duties in September, although a study of Elizabeth's household books for the next few years reveals that she herself audited his accounts, signing each column after she had checked it.

Gradually, her life returned to normal. On 7 September, she celebrated her sixteenth birthday, and shortly afterwards she was visited at Hatfield by the Venetian ambassador, who rode to the hunt and talked with her. However, anxious lest the Council should suspect she was intriguing with him, Elizabeth commanded Parry to write to William Cecil, asking him to inform Somerset that 'not for that the talk did impart weight, but that Her Grace will neither know nor do in matters that either may sound or seem to be of importance without doing of my Lord's Grace to understand thereof.

She was still troubled by spells of cluster headaches or migraines, which were on occasion so bad that she could not read or write, nor even dictate a letter to her brother. She was obliged to beg Edward's pardon for neglecting to write to him, saying the reason was 'not my slothful hand but my aching head'. Such letters as she did send during this period are full of references to 'my evil head', 'the pain in my head' or the 'disease of the head and eyes'. Ascham's curriculum involved a great deal of reading, which did not help the problem, and may well have caused eyestrain, although there is no record of Elizabeth ever wearing spectacles, which had been introduced in the previous century. She also suffered miseries from catarrh. After a time the headaches began to occur less frequently, and then Elizabeth was able to write more often to the King, assuring him again and again of her love and respect, lamenting the fact that she rarely saw him and craving the favour of his portrait, referring to herself as 'I, who from your tender infancy have ever been your fondest sister'. Edward warmed to her letters, and it was clear that she would very soon be publicly restored to favour.

As Elizabeth's star brightened, Somerset's dimmed. His rule had brought nothing but troubles. By trying to follow a middle road in his religious policies, he had offended both diehard Catholics and strict Protestants. His economic policies, especially his aversion to enclosures, had alienated the lords who should have been his friends and allies. His fellow councillors had no patience with his liberal views, and blamed them for the recent rebellions and the perilous state of the realm. Law and order were breaking down, the Crown was nearly bankrupt, the price of food had almost doubled since Henry VIII's reign, religious dissensions raged throughout England, and there were fears that the peasantry would rise again in revolt to protest against the combined effects of all these evils.

The Duke's insufferable arrogance had led him to reserve to his own judgement decisions that should have been taken by the Council as a body, and he would not always heed the advice of his colleagues. Paget told him, 'Unless Your Grace will debate with other men and hear them say their opinions, that will ensue whereof I would be right sorry, and Your Grace shall have first cause to repent.' A king who discouraged his advisers to 'say their opinions frankly, receiveth thereby great hurt and peril to his realm. But a subject, in great authority, as Your Grace is, using such fashion, is likely to fall into great danger and peril of his own person.'

Somerset had paid no attention to such warnings. His disastrous conflict with Scotland, his alienation of the Emperor by his Protestant policies, and his failure to prevent Henry II of France from seizing Boulogne (which had been taken by Henry VIII in 1544), precipitating a war between England and France, only made matters far worse. Moreover, the Duke's reputation had been irrevocably besmirched by what many people preferred to call an act of fratricide: his dispassionate attitude at the time of his brother's execution made it seem as if he had welcomed it. The young King now made no secret of his dislike of his uncle and was beginning to grow restive against the strict regime which the Protector imposed upon him.

The country not only needed a scapegoat for all the ills that had befallen it, but also a new ruler who could put matters right. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, now seized the chance he had been waiting for.

Born in 1501, John Dudley was the son of Edmund Dudley, a lawyer whose main talent had been extortion and who had been one of Henry VII's most unpopular ministers. When Henry VIII came to the throne, he had Edmund Dudley attainted and beheaded in order to demonstrate to his subjects that he did not intend to rule as his father had done. This earned him great popularity, but left young John and his family destitute. The boy, however, was adopted by Sir Richard Guilford, a prominent courtier, and in 1520 married Guilford's daughter and heiress, Jane, by which time the attainder on Edmund Dudley had been reversed. In 1523 John was knighted during a French campaign, and from that time his rise was steady. A protege first of Cardinal Wolsey and then Thomas Cromwell, who both recognised his extraordinary abilities, he served Henry VIII in several capacities - privy councillor, Master of the Horse and Lord High Admiral, eventually being raised to the peerage as Viscount Lisle. His brilliant career as a soldier led to his being appointed Lieutenant General of all the King's forces in 1546, by which time he was one of the most powerful men on the Council.

At around this time he appropriated Dudley Castle in the West Midlands from his cousin and transformed it into a palatial residence, building a great hall and a new range in the Renaissance style, with classical decoration. Here, and at his London house, Ely Place in Holborn, he lived in magnificent state with his wife, who bore him thirteen children, seven of whom survived, including five sons, John, Ambrose, Henry, Robert and Guilford. The young Dudleys were often allowed the privilege of playing with the royal children, Edward and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth and Robert seem to have become particular friends. No breath of scandal attached itself to Dudley's private life; he did not drink, gamble, or womanise. His wife and children were affectionate and loyal, united in their common interests, and their household was harmonious, its peace uninterrupted by dissension.

Despite all this, John Dudley was arguably the most evil statesman to govern England during the sixteenth century. He was greedy and rapacious, corrupt, cruel and unscrupulous. His dark good looks and charismatic virility were often marred by a cold and arrogant manner, although he could exercise charm when he wanted to; the adolescent King was one of those who quickly succumbed to his blandishments.

Dudley desired power and he meant to have it by any means at his disposal, notwithstanding those who might be in his way. He had been one of the councillors who had profited as a result of the Henrician Reformation, and he was greedy for more. He was cunning and clever, with a particular talent for intimidation, and, according to Sir Richard Moryson, 'had such a head that he seldom went about anything but he had three or four purposes beforehand'.

Even with his family he was ever the statesman. He regarded the death of his seven-year-old daughter Temperance as more of an inconvenience than a tragedy, explaining to William Cecil with terrifying heartlessness that it would prevent him from attending Council meetings for a few days in case he was infectious. In his letter, he cold-bloodedly described the child's body - 'between the shoulders it was very black'. There was no evidence of any grief. Nevertheless, as a father he performed his duties punctiliously, arranging for his sons to receive a fine education under Dr John Dee, the famous astrologer and alchemist, who taught them the principles of statecraft and politics, grooming them for a powerful future as their father's heirs.

After his promotion to the earldom of Warwick, Dudley continued to consolidate his position on the Council. His energy and talent for sheer hard work commended him to his colleagues, who succumbed to his dynamism and his persuasiveness. Beyond the walls of the council chamber he won acclaim for his prowess at athletics and in the tiltyard, and in Edward VI's presence he was the perfect courtier, treating the boy with deference and respect. Behind this urbane facade he was quietly but steadily undermining the Protector's influence, predicting to the French ambassador that 'within these three years we shall see an end to [his] greatness'. It was Dudley's ambition to rule in his stead.

Events played into his hands. His masterful suppression of Ket's rebellion increased his standing amongst the people and made his colleagues on the Council regard him with increased respect. With Somerset's popularity waning, it was not difficult for Warwick to discredit him by various and subtle means. By September 1549 most of the Council, including Cranmer, Southampton, Arundel, Paulet and Cecil, were united behind Dudley and ready to overthrow Somerset.

Warwick wished to be assured of the support of the heiress to the throne before attempting a coup, and in September Mary received a message from him asking her to back a move for Somerset's impeachment before Parliament. Mary did not trust Dudley. He had converted to Protestantism years before, but it appeared that his religious views were chiefly dictated by pragmatism, for he had told the French ambassador that he loathed the reformed faith. She therefore refused to become involved, although those around her viewed the invitation as the beginning of an upsurge in her fortunes and significant in that it acknowledged her political importance.

Warwick was indeed making it his business for the time being to cultivate religious conservatives, knowing that they would be more zealous against Somerset than anyone else. Other magnates were not so reluctant to join him, because many believed that the Protector's policies had been detrimental to landed interests. Warwick, however, in his devious way, had no intention of setting up a Catholic administration because he was in no doubt that the King, who would come of age in a few short years' time, had by now firmly and passionately embraced Protestantism. Dudley's England would be the kind of Protestant state that Edward wished it to be, if that was what it would take to keep Dudley in power. Edward would be forever grateful and the Earl's future dominance assured.

Warwick returned from Norfolk in mid-September. The Council then sent a letter secretly to the Emperor expressing dissatisfaction with the recent religious changes in England, in order to earn his sympathy, and informing him of the coming coup. Unfortunately, the Protector saw the letter and accused Warwick and his colleagues of high treason. But he knew it was already too late for a counter attack and, in a desperate attempt to ensure his safety, he fled with 500 troops to Hampton Court, where the King was in residence. With the person of the sovereign in his power, he could dictate terms. Once at Hampton Court, he sent out broadsheets to be distributed through the streets of London, appealing to the people for their support.

Warwick's response was to summon his confederates with their armed tenantry and the remnants of the forces used to defeat Ket to meet him at Ely Place. The Londoners, meanwhile, fearing a bloody confrontation, were arming themselves. Word of what was happening soon reached an anxious Somerset at Hampton Court, and on 6 October he dispatched a messenger to Warwick, demanding to know what he was doing. The messenger did not return, although the Duke spent the whole day pacing the corridors and looking out for him, unhappily aware that he was in a vulnerable position since the palace lacked fortifications and had not been designed for siege warfare.

That evening word came from the city that the 'London lords' were on the march to Hampton Court. The King was already asleep, but the Duke could afford to wait no longer. Dragging Edward out of bed between eight and nine o'clock, he had him dressed and escorted down to the courtyard, which was lit by flares and filled with the Protector's troops. At his uncle's behest, the King raised the toy dagger, brilliant with jewels, given him by his father, and enjoined the soldiers to follow him against his enemies and all traitors. With one voice, they responded: 'God save Your Grace! We would all die for you!' That night, Edward recorded in his journal, 'With all the people at nine or ten o'clock, I went to Windsor,' which was solidly fortified against an attack. The journey took hours.

For all his brave words, the King was furious with his uncle. He was no fugitive, and he resented being made to behave like one. He also hated Windsor Castle. 'Methinks I am in prison here,' he wrote after his arrival. 'Here be no galleries, nor no gardens to walk in.' Nor had anything been made ready against his arrival. Windsor had not been a favoured royal residence in recent years and had suffered some neglect. The rooms were bare, stripped of their furnishings, and the decor was old-fashioned. This was nothing like the splendour that Edward was used to, and to make matters worse he developed a heavy cold the morning after his arrival.

Seeing his nephew looking so ill and sullen, Somerset lost his nerve. What if the King were to die as a result of his impulsive flight? Perhaps, after all, he had acted rather precipitately. His confidence was further eroded by news that the Londoners had risen in droves in support of Dudley, and when he received a demand from the Council requiring him to surrender his office of Protector peacefully, he did just that, knowing that if he tried to resist the kingdom would be plunged into civil war. He sent back a message that he would agree to the Council's terms if they promised to spare his life.

Somerset was shortly afterwards arrested on a charge of conspiring against the lives of his fellow councillors. There is reason to believe that the evidence for this was obtained under torture or by the false depositions of 'accomplices' who were later pardoned and rewarded by Warwick. In his journal, Edward VI recorded that Somerset had threatened that 'if he were overthrown, he would run through London and cry "Liberty! Liberty!" to raise the apprentices and rabble'. Somerset denied he had ever said such a thing, but no one would gainsay the King's word. The Duke was committed to the Tower, whilst his erstwhile colleagues decided what his fate should be.

Mary and Elizabeth remained quietly in the country during the week of the coup, siding with neither Somerset nor Warwick. After the Protector's arrest, the Council wrote to both princesses, and to the Emperor, detailing Somerset's crimes and informing them that he would be deposed from his office - he was actually stripped of his tide in the January following. Mary was told that Somerset had been prevented just in time from accusing her of treasonably conspiring with him to set herself up as regent for her brother. Foreign observers certainly believed that, because Warwick had shown favour to the Catholic nobility before the coup, he would, once in power, restore the ancient faith and indeed set up the Lady Mary as regent. Mary heard these rumours but paid them little heed. Warwick and his associates were motivated by 'envy and ambition only', she told van der Delft, and in her opinion, The Earl of Warwick is the most unstable man in England. You will see that no good will come of this move, but that it is a punishment from Heaven and may be only the beginning of our misfortunes.'

That October, Warwick set himself up as Lord President of the Council and effective ruler of England. The office of Lord Protector was to be allowed to lapse. Those whose loyalty was suspect, such as Arundel and Southampton, were later dismissed and placed under house arrest.

Warwick already exerted a charismatic influence over the young King, and he now built upon this by relaxing the strict regimen imposed by Somerset, allowing Edward more money and letting him have more say in matters of state. The King responded with gratitude and enthusiasm, and it was not long before he would refuse Warwick nothing. As a result, by the end of November 1549, Dudley was governing England in Edward's name without reference to Parliament or Council, ruling as a dictator under the royal mandate.

Although Warwick initially restored some Catholic lords to the Council and for a matter of days allowed mass to be celebrated once more in churches, he knew that his future success depended on allying himself with the radical Protestant faction, headed by extremists such as John Knox and John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester. There is no doubt that Dudley embraced such doctrines, not only to gain favour with his young master, but also as a means of feathering his nest, for the radicals were demanding the closure of chantries and shrines, and there were rich pickings to be had. The records show that Warwick and his allies did indeed enrich themselves liberally as a result of these measures and the sale of church treasures.

It was the Catholic lords who first discovered which way the wind was blowing, as it became more obvious with each day where Dudley's sympathies lay. Even Archbishop Cranmer found himself marginalised because his planned reforms were not extreme enough to satisfy the Lord President, while Bishop Latimer offended because he preached that the rich had obligations towards the poor. Most of the other bishops, fearful in case Dudley should take it upon himself to abolish bishoprics altogether and appropriate their wealth, went along meekly with his policies. Soon, Protestants were hailing Warwick as an 'intrepid soldier of Christ [and] the thunderbolt and terror of the Papists'.

His chief supporters were William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, and Henry Grey, Earl of Dorset, as well as other 'new men' grown rich on the spoils of the Reformation, and Protestant fanatics. He ruled by a mixture of manipulation, for which he had a deft talent, and intimidation, which came easily to a man with such a forceful and domineering personality. Nevertheless, he had many enemies, not least among the people, and before long he was governing without popular support. His government was corrupt, unconstitutional and unjust, and there were many to criticise it, though for the moment they did not do so openly.

Initially, Warwick had courted Mary's good opinion, but it was not long before she learned where his true affinities lay. If life had been difficult for her under the moderate Somerset, it might be far more so under Warwick. Therefore, whilst maintaining friendly but noncommittal relations with the Council, Mary made plans to escape from England, sending Charles V a ring in token of her distress. The Emperor, however, realised that once Mary left her native land, she might as well renounce for good any chance of ever becoming queen, something that would be quite contrary to Habsburg interests. Neither did he want the expense of supporting her household in exile. He urged van der Delft to dissuade her from following through her plan, explaining that it would be too dangerous to smuggle her out of England.

Mary was distressed. She told van der Delft she was waiting 'not without apprehension' to see how Warwick would deal with her. She had learned from the ambassador that the Council suspected her of gathering a Catholic faction around her, believing that 'she was the conduit by which the rats of Rome might creep into their stronghold', and feared they might make this an excuse to proceed against her. With Somerset in the Tower, all their previous assurances to her about the practice of her religion in private were worth nothing.

The only other escape route for Mary was via marriage to a Catholic prince. Since 1536, there had been intermittent discussions about the possibility of marrying her to Dom Luis of Portugal, and recently Dom Luis had renewed his suit. Mary told van der Delft that, if the Emperor approved of the match, she would accept the proposal, but she would really prefer some other means of escape. If the Emperor could not arrange for the marriage to take place very soon, he must grant her safe refuge in Flanders, for she feared for her safety if she stayed in England.

Van der Delft agreed with the Emperor that there were too many risks involved in an escape attempt: if it failed, the consequences might be terrible; if it succeeded, it could lead to war or at the very least could prejudice diplomatic relations between the Empire and England. Yet the princess was so obviously distressed and desperate about her plight, confiding her fears that, if the King died, the Protestant extremists might put her to death rather than allow a Catholic to take the throne. More than a crown and sceptre, she desired to escape to some country where she could practise her religion in peace. Van der Delft reluctantly agreed to convey her concerns to the Emperor once more.

Parliament met on 4 November. Throughout that month, according to Bishop Hooper, 'the papists [were] hoping and earnestly struggling for their kingdom' and the reformists were 'greatly apprehensive of a change in religion'. Rumours reached van der Delft that the Catholic bishops Gardiner and Bonner were to be released from the Tower, but both he and Mary were 'unable to believe that religion is to be restored while the common people are so infected'.

They were right. By the end of the month Warwick had excluded the Catholic faction from the Council, and Parliament had upheld the enforcement of the Act of Uniformity, introducing further legislation for the removal of idolatrous images and 'superstitious books' from churches. After just one week of religious freedom, mass was no longer said in churches, and a letter signed by the King was circulated to all the bishops, deploring the fact that 'evil disposed persons' had permitted 'such vain and superstitious ceremonies, as if the setting forth of the [Book of Common Prayer] had been only the Duke's [Somerset's] act'.

Edward invited both his sisters to join him at court for Christmas, but Mary would not go, pleading illness and remaining at Newhall with her loyal friends and servants. They wish me to be at court so that I could not get the mass celebrated for me and that the King might take me with him to hear their sermons and masses,' she told van der Delft. 'I would not find myself in such a place for anything in the world.'

Distressed by recent events, she believed that God was about to take revenge upon England. 'He hath hardened the hearts of the privy councillors as He did Pharaoh's,' she warned the ambassador, reminding him of the plagues loosed upon Egypt. 'I long to escape from the wrath to come.' Van der Delft reported her concerns to his master, adding that there was good reason to take them seriously.

Mary went on to say that she intended to spend four or five days in London in the new year, staying in her own house. She could then visit her brother without arousing too much controversy. It had come to her knowledge that Edward was now being encouraged to set himself up as an authority on matters of religion, and she feared he was very hostile to the ancient faith. There was no doubt that Warwick was responsible. Already, she regarded Warwick as a dangerous enemy.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, had been glad to accept the invitation to court, being anxious to appear completely rehabilitated after the Seymour scandal. Warwick had made a point of cultivating her support. As soon as he came to power, he had issued Letters Patent conferring upon her the lands willed to her by her father, and because she had been brought up in the reformed faith, there was every hope that the new regime would continue to treat her with respect and favour.

On 19 December, recorded van der Delft, 'The Lady Elizabeth arrived at court and was received with great pomp and triumph, and is continually with the King.' There was no doubt now as to which of his sisters was in favour with Edward.

Elizabeth was sixteen, old enough, it was felt, for her formal education to cease. That was as well, because after Christmas, Roger Ascham was asked to resign. The alternative, as he confided to John Cheke, was ignominious dismissal.

Ascham had not been as contented or fulfilled as he had expected to be in Elizabeth's service. He had accompanied her to court and hated it there, despising the pomp and the vainglorious etiquette, so tawdry, he felt, in comparison with the life of a scholar at Cambridge. Apart from this, 'a coolness [had sprung] up between himself and his mistress' as a result of his quarrelling with Thomas Parry, who may have been jealous of Ascham's influence over Elizabeth and seems to have told tales about the tutor to her, which she appears to have believed. Because of this seeming betrayal, Ascham was not sad to leave the princess's household. He felt 'shipwrecked', he claimed in a letter to Cheke, 'overcome by court violence and wrongs'.

In January 1550 Ascham returned to Cambridge to continue his studies. Soon afterwards, however, he accepted the post of secretary to Sir Richard Moryson, England's ambassador to the Emperor, who was stationed in Flanders. Before he left, Ascham accepted an invitation to stay with the Dorsets at Bradgate Manor.

As he rode across the park in the depths of winter, he could see in the distance a hunting party which included the Marquess and Marchioness. At the house, he was informed that only Lady Jane Grey was available to receive him, and he was shown into the parlour where she was reading. There they had a revealing conversation. Jane knew a great deal about Ascham from his friend, her tutor John Aylmer, and before long began to unburden herself to him about her miserable existence. His account of their talk appears in his book The Schoolmaster, published in 1570.

Ascham was impressed to see that Jane had been reading Plato's Phaedo 'with as much delight as if it had been a merry tale of Boccaccio'.

'Why, madam, do you relinquish such pastimes as going into the park?' he asked her curiously.

'I wis all their sport is but a shadow to that pleasure I find in Plato,' Jane answered. 'Alas, good folk, they never felt what pleasure means.'

'And how attained you, madam, to this true knowledge of pleasure?' pursued an interested Ascham. His hostess was, after all, only twelve years old. 'What did chiefly allure you to it, seeing that few women and not many men have arrived at it?'

'I will tell you,' she replied, 'and tell you a truth which perchance you will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that God ever gave me is that He sent me, with sharp, severe parents, so gentle a schoolmaster. When I am in the presence of either father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure and number, even as perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presented sometimes with pinches, nips, bobs [slaps] and other ways - which I will not name for the honour I bear them - so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till the time comes when I must go to Mr Aylmer, who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him I fall on weeping, because whatever I do else but learning is full of great trouble and misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and more, that in respect of it all other pleasures be but trifles and troubles to me.'

Jane won Ascham's 'highest admiration. She so speaks and writes Greek that one would hardly credit it.' He could not but deplore her parents' cruelty to her, although he said nothing to them in reproach during his visit. Like most people in Tudor times, he accepted that parents had every right to discipline their children as they pleased. He may also have noticed the tension between the Dorsets and John Aylmer, who had spoken out against their love of gambling. Jane had sided with her tutor, which did not endear her to her parents and gave them further cause for complaint.

When Ascham left, Jane promised to write to him, thus instituting the famous correspondence between herself and a circle of reformist scholars. 'It was the last time I ever beheld that sweet and noble lady,' Ascham wrote later.

Back in London, van der Delft was informing the Emperor that Mary was very dejected and in a highly anxious frame of mind. The ambassador now believed her to be in imminent danger of persecution. 'As things are now they safeguard themselves against her, who is in their power.' Fanatical Protestant preachers were already inveighing against her influence in public. Escape, he urged, was her only remedy. The Emperor, however, was deaf to such hints. If Catholicism was to be restored in England, Mary must remain. He would bring pressure to bear on the Council on her behalf, but he would not welcome her as a refugee.

In February, Somerset, having admitted his faults, was released from the Tower and shortly afterwards allowed to resume his seat on the Council. Chastened by his experiences, he had no choice but to support Warwick's policies, and joined with him in an uneasy coalition. The King treated his uncle courteously and cordially, but there was no mistaking his dislike. However, he consented that Somerset House be restored to the Duke, and Warwick cemented the precarious alliance by marrying his son, John Dudley, to Somerset's daughter Anne. Though Warwick would have preferred to get rid of his former rival, he was not yet in a position to do so.

Edward VI continued to be fascinated by Warwick, who gave the boy further cause to love him by staging at court a series of tournaments for his enjoyment and involving the King more in the process of government. Edward thus came to believe that he was exercising some executive power, though in reality it was Dudley who was manipulating him as a puppet.

Warwick did not court publicity or acclaim. He appeared rarely in public, and, under the pretext of ill-health, conducted much business at his home, whither the councillors repaired 'to learn his pleasure'. Yet there was no mistaking who was in power. 'He is absolute master here,' van der Delft informed the Emperor. 'Nothing is done except at his command.' Nor was the ambassador now in any doubt as to Warwick's religious policy, which portended disaster for Mary: 'The most dangerous crime a man can commit [in England] is to be a good Catholic and lead a righteous life.'

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