In this part . . .
Okay, so everybody’s heard of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth, but he had two other children and they ruled England too. Father’s many marriages caused chaos - not just a break with the pope and 1,400 years of history, but also a lot of confusion over who should sit on the throne after Henry.
Edward should’ve been king, and he was, but the poor boy was a sickly child and died at 15. He was replaced by his big sister, Mary, and when she died at 42 the last of the Tudors, Elizabeth, got the top job.
But it was hardly happy families. Henry had been a Catholic who’d quarrelled with the pope. Edward was brought up a Protestant (they hated the pope). Mary was a Catholic (but she didn’t like the pope either!). So for 11 impossible years, the religion of England was like a yo-yo. And if you were on your way down when everyone else was going up, there was a chance you’d be burned alive at Smithfield in London.
In This Chapter
● Carrying out Henry VIII’s will
● Protecting the boy king
● Sorting the Scots, fighting the French and dealing with English revolts
● Changing protectors
When Henry VIII died in January 1547, growing unrest in England and Scotland meant the country needed a strong leader. But Henry’s successor, his son Edward - born at Hampton Court on 12 October 1537 - was only a boy. So the new king would need a regent in place to act as his protector, particularly in maintaining the Royal Supremacy his father had instigated (see Chapter 6). As we outline in this chapter, the young king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, was first in line for the job of lord protector; and hot on his heels was John Dudley, earl of Warwick.
Setting Up a Protectorate
Princes were allowed to rule by themselves from the age of 18, but Edward was only 9. Queen Catherine (Parr) was sidelined, and the executors of Henry’s will, who shared the former king’s views on Church and state, worked to quickly establish a protectorate to act for the boy king.
Crossing over from Henry
Henry’s death on 28 January 1547 was kept secret while the executors decided exactly what to do. They decided:
● The protectorate’s council must choose a leader, and that leader was Edward Seymour - the earl of Hertford and Edward’s uncle - who was to be called protector of the realm and governor of the king’s person.
● The council would be called the Privy Council and would comprise the closest advisers to the king.
Edward, who was living at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, north of London, agreed with the Council’s decisions. On 31 January, Edward Seymour took him into the City of London where he was proclaimed king.
The old king was buried at Windsor (a place that Edward came to hate) on 16 February 1547, but anybody who was anybody on the Council was too busy to go (which didn’t say much for their loyalty). By tradition, Edward didn’t go either and Henry’s widow Catherine and daughter Mary watched from the gallery in the Chapel Royal. The chief mourner was the marquis of Dorset, who would later sit on the Council.
The boy king
Because Edward didn't live to rule his kingdom in his own right we tend to lose sight of him a little in these chapters on his reign. He had large grey eyes and reddish gold hair like his father, and was a precocious child, rather solemn and serious.
Edward was also very intelligent. Although his father had remained a good Catholic until the day he died, Henry had known that the world had to move on, so Edward's tutors, John Cheke and Richard Cox, were reformers. Edward kept a diary that included his religious thoughts from an early age, which shows that his tutors had a big influence on him. He also recorded in his writings that what he liked most about his coronation was the acrobat performing on a rope over St Paul's churchyard.
Edward was very attached, as an infant, to his nurse, Sybil Penn, and when he became king Edward gave her an apartment in Hampton Court next to Will Somers, his father's favourite jester (see Chapter 3). His nurse was one of many staff who kept the child wrapped in cotton wool, because a boy for the Tudors was such a rare commodity. He was kept in virtual quarantine, his rooms were scrubbed twice a day, everything he handled was carefully washed and all dogs were kept out.
Even so, at Christmas 1541, the 4-year-old fell ill with what was probably a tuberculous infection, which would eventually kill him. Had he lived, he might have made a great king.
The coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on 19 February. The service was shortened because the new king was so young (and quite small for his age according to many eyewitnesses). Archbishop Cranmer (see Chapter 6 for more on him) pushed Royal Supremacy ideas in his sermon and, as usual, several new titles were given out:
● Edward Seymour, the lord protector, became duke of Somerset.
● Thomas Seymour, already an admiral, became Lord Seymour of Sudeley.
● John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, became earl of Warwick.
● William Parr, earl of Essex, became marquis of Northampton.
● Thomas Wriothesley (pronounced Risley) became earl of Southampton.
Taking control: The duke of Somerset
Everything should now have been plain sailing, but it soon became clear that Thomas Seymour was more than a bit annoyed at all this power going to his big brother - after all, he was Edward’s uncle too. Thomas didn’t help family relationships when he renewed his romance with the widow, Queen Dowager Catherine (see Chapter 5 for details of their earlier affair).
Catherine and Thomas had fancied each other for years and now that Henry was dead Thomas could move in on the rich widow. Catherine, however, as ex-queen, needed the Council’s permission to marry, and Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, got difficult. So going over his brother’s head, Thomas, the well-known smooth operator, charmed the king (he got on well with kids!) and got his way. Not even Somerset dared oppose the king, especially because the decision had nothing to do with government policy.
In December 1547, for reasons that aren’t quite clear, Somerset’s job description changed. Rather than being protector until the king reached 18, he now only had the job ‘on the king’s pleasure’; so if Edward liked, he could fire him. On the other hand, Somerset didn’t technically need the Council’s backing for his actions while he was in post and he began to operate without the Council, telling the members about decisions afterwards. In other words, Somerset was beginning to forget he wasn’t king.
When Catherine Seymour (previously Parr) died in childbirth in September 1548, Thomas Seymour made his moves on 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth.
By the way, check out Young Bess. Seymour may have been as handsome as Stewart Grainger, but I’m afraid the real Elizabeth couldn’t hold a candle to Jean Simmons in the title role.
Thomas Seymour wanted to marry Elizabeth - after all, when the paper work was done, she’d be pretty rich with her own lands - but for that he needed the Council’s permission and he knew he wouldn’t get it. Seymour was also broke (Catherine’s money went with her) so he hit upon a cunning plan. He plotted with Sir William Sharington to steal from the Bristol Mint with an armed gang, but he made so much noise about it that it looked as if he was planning a revolt. So in January 1549 Seymour was charged with treason. At the trial:
● Seymour refused to answer most questions.
● Elizabeth was questioned but the Council seemed to be more interested in her sex life (see Chapter 12).
● Catherine Ashley, Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, was too terrified to say much at all.
Thomas Seymour was found guilty and executed in March. There were rumblings of discontent. In trying to bind the Council together against the dodgy dealings of his brother, Somerset had driven them further apart.
Returning to the Auld Affiance: Scotland and France
Problems have a habit of hanging over from previous reigns, and France and Scotland were no exception at the start of Edward’s reign.
Henry had come up with an interesting idea to bring together England and Scotland in 1543: the Treaty of Greenwich said that Mary Queen of Scots, then an infant, would marry Edward VI of England when she was 10. The problem was, the Scottish Parliament rejected the treaty.
In the last hours of his life, Henry had told the future protector Somerset to sort the Scots out, which Somerset always intended to do, given the chance. French-backed Scottish raids on the borders had been going on for some months.
So in April 1547 Somerset got an army together, claiming (untruthfully) that the Scots were squaring up to fight. In July the Scots gave Somerset his excuse for war when the earl of Arran, backed by French warships, bombarded the pro-English castle of St Andrews into submission.
Somerset invaded Scotland in September, crossing the river Tweed with an army of 15,000 men backed by 65 warships and supplies. On the 10th of that month, at the Battle of Pinkie, near Musselburgh, the Scottish schiltrons (infantry spear formations) were smashed and Somerset’s cavalry drove Arran’s larger force from the field.
Following up with forts
Winning a victory like Pinkie is one thing, but to hold a shaky country you have to keep men on the spot and remind people who’s boss. Somerset set up garrisons at Haddington and Broughty Crag, and still more were built by English lords keen to look after their own interests.
The Scottish lords couldn’t decide what to do. Most of them looked to France for support, especially to the formidably tough Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots and little Mary’s regent in Scotland. Others leaned towards England and the Mary-Edward marriage proposed under the Treaty of Greenwich.
For the next few months a stand-off existed. The Scots had neither the men nor the equipment to attack the English forts directly, but they could make a nuisance of themselves by cutting off supplies and carrying out what today we call guerrilla warfare.
The English navy was vital. Operating from their base at Holy Island, supply ships brought essentials to the garrisons and warships patrolled the North Sea to watch out for French reinforcements.
Allying against England
In theory, England and France were at peace because in the Treaty of Camp of 1546 Henry VIII had agreed not to fight the French unless provoked. But when Francis I died in April 1547, his son Henri II made no bones about the fact that he’d tear up the Treaty of Camp, help Scotland and smash the English garrison at Boulogne at the earliest opportunity.
Between 1546 and 1548 French privateers (pirates unofficially employed by the government) operated in the English Channel. The piracy didn’t actually add up to outright war because if the English complained, the French would just deny all knowledge and mutter something about the state of the world today! (See Chapter 12 for more on privateers under Elizabeth I.)
Then, on 12 June 1548, a French fleet with 140 assorted ships was sighted off Dunbar. The commander of the English patrol, Vice Admiral Lord Clinton, either missed the fleet completely or thought it best not to tackle a superior force, and so 6,000 French troops landed at Leith near Edinburgh. Their attempt to hit the garrison at Broughty Crag failed, but this was potentially only the beginning.
So the Scots Government made a deal with French commander, Andre de Montalambert, whereby the 6-year-old Mary Queen of Scots would go to France to be educated and would marry the dauphin (heir to the French throne) Francis, son of Henri II. The score was France and Scotland, one; England, nil. The Treaty of Greenwich was dead in the water and Somerset’s Scottish policy was in ruins.
Early in September, little Mary was smuggled out of Scotland to begin her new French life. Chapters 14 and 15 explain what became of Mary.
Pressing on in the north
Even though there wasn’t much point in carrying on in Scotland, Protector Somerset was too pig-headed to back down, or he felt he was too committed. He sent a two-pronged attack over the border.
● The earl of Shrewsbury lead 10,000 men to rescue the garrison under siege at Haddington.
● Admiral Clinton sailed into the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh to destroy the French fleet.
Shrewsbury forced Montalambert to retreat without a fight, but the fleet had long gone. In a silly cat and mouse game, after Shrewsbury’s army had left Scotland the French attacked Haddington once more, only to find the garrison stronger and with plenty of supplies.
Upping the tempo with France
For all his loud noises, Henri II wasn’t keen on mixing with England outside Scotland. In what was still a cold war the English built up the fortifications at Boulogne, which Henri said was against the spirit of the Treaty of Camp. Both local commanders squared up to each other and fired a few shots - all pretty much handbag stuff, really.
In Chapter 3 we look at how, in the days of Henry VIII, England played France off against the holy Roman empire. That was still an option for Somerset.
The problem at first was that the emperor, Charles V, didn’t rate Somerset’s government or Edward’s kingship. He was, after all, the cousin of Mary Tudor, Edward’s big sister, and he thought that Mary, as the only legitimate child of Henry VIII, should have been queen.
When it was obvious that Mary wasn’t making a fuss, Charles, always practical, set his feelings aside and did business with Somerset and his Council. He agreed to back England if Calais was attacked, but, cunning old ruler that he was, he didn’t include Boulogne.
When Somerset got into difficulties with rebellion at home in 1549 (see the later section ‘Facing the Many-headed Monster: Social Unrest’) Henri II took advantage of the situation and declared war. But it all went pearshaped. Henri’s attack on Jersey in the English-held Channel Islands was beaten back and he couldn’t crack Boulogne either. His army was hit by plague and desertion.
The overthrowing of the protector in October 1549 (see ‘Ousting Somerset’) led to another change of direction. His replacement John Dudley, earl of Warwick, decided to cut his losses and in March 1550 he sold Boulogne back to Henri (which, as you see in Chapter 3, was the original deal).
Commanding the seas
The English navy really took off under Henry VIII, reaching its high water mark under Elizabeth (see Chapter 15). In the 1540s naval battles were rare and ships were really just wooden platforms from which men fought
hand to hand as if they were on land. English gunnery, however, was quickly improving and becoming feared. As long as the English fleet could supply places like Boulogne, the French could do little about it.
Facing the Many-headed Monster: Social Unrest
In the past, what ordinary people were most afraid of was change. The speed of life was much slower in the 16th century, but the arrival of the Reformation, the huge upheavals in the Church and economic changes on the land built up to confuse and worry people. Somerset handled people’s reactions to the changes badly.
Reacting to enclosure
Enclosure meant enclosing land common with hedges or fences so that people could raise sheep to provide the raw material for England’s all-important medieval wool trade (see the nearby sidebar ‘Making enclosure happen’ for more). The practice had been going on in parts of central and eastern England for years.
How did the system work?
● Agreement of the tenants: Everybody in an area with deeds to their land agreed via the Manor Court (see Chapter 1) to take out new leases on the enclosed land. This was almost always for pasture purposes and led to arguments among the tenants.
● Unity of possession: Where no Manor Court existed, the landlord could do what he liked.
The general trend was for the local lord to buy up the old arable (crop-growing) strips because he had the money to do it. Lords often overrode Manor Court decisions and the wishes of their tenants - and all this was happening at a time when the population was increasing and the demand for food was greater than ever.
How did people react?
● Poems and pamphlets appeared, talking about sheep ‘eating up men’ - if you mess about with a system that’s been operating for 800 years, you must expect some complaints; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. William Forrest wrote, ‘The world is changed from what it has been, not for the better but for the worse.’ He must be about the only writer who thought that inflation was a good theme for poetry!
● Protestant preachers like Hugh Latimer backed the cause of the poor and talked about a return to the good old days of social responsibility. In March 1548 he even gave a sermon in Edward VI’s private garden in the Palace of Westminster.
● Writers like Robert Crowley hammered the gentry for their enclosing ways.
Most people, as always, did nothing. But Somerset overreacted to the situation and made it worse.
Failing to defuse the situation
The role of the king had always been to protect his people - it was part of the coronation vows. Somerset saw an opportunity to make people realise that the new religion of Protestantism was just as caring as the old. On 1 June 1548 the protector launched an inquiry into enclosures.
You know what usually happens with government inquiries? Precisely: nothing. Somerset decided that the law was fine; it just needed to be enforced properly - ‘The realm must be defended with force of men . . . not flocks of sheep.’
An old saying in ancient Rome was, Quis custodes ipsos custodebat? (Who guards the guards?), and it was a bit like that with Somerset’s inquiry. The teams looking into enclosure were the justices of the peace, the very men who wanted enclosure and who were lining their own pockets. Result? Riots.
Minor trouble broke out in the summer of 1548 with poor men roaming the streets, having lost their land and being forced to beg. By April 1549 reports of discontent reached the Privy Council and in May Somerset’s Government promised to enforce the law fairly and to punish those who carried out enclosure illegally.
Nothing happened, so the riots increased. Somerset issued a general pardon to the rioters in June, but still the riots continued. Somerset didn’t know what to do. Were the riots for him or against him?
There were no public opinion polls in the 16th century and no newspapers to back or oppose government policy.
Eventually, Somerset brought in martial law. The earl of Arundel did well and talked down the rebels in Sussex, but in Oxfordshire and elsewhere, rioting got out of hand. The worst affected areas were Devon and East Anglia.
Kicking off with Kett
Most of the trouble in Devon was tied up with Edward VI’s new prayer book (flip to Chapter 8 for details), but the East Anglian rising, known as Kett’s Rebellion, was all about enclosure. Figure 7-1 shows the main places involved in the Rebellion.
Figure 7-1: Places involved in Kett’s Rebellion of 1549.
Tearing the fences down
On 20 June 1549 a group of men tore down the new fences and hedges at Attleborough near Norwich and then hit nearby Wymondham. Their leader was a small-time landowner and tanner, Robert Kett, who targeted the lands of unpopular landlord Edward Flowerdew. Mobs developed all over East Anglia, as far north as Castle Rising and as far south as Ipswich.
By 12 July Kett, camped on Mousehold Heath outside Norwich, had a following of 16,000 and he demanded entry to the city. No one had any experience of handling a rising of this size and the mayor and corporation (the leading citizens of the town) didn’t know what to do.
Kett presented a list of 27 demands to Somerset’s Council. They covered complaints about:
● The high and rising cost of rent
● The sharp rise in inflation
● The number of sheep being raised
The demands scarcely mentioned actual enclosure.
The Council ordered Kett’s mob to break up. They offered a pardon for any crimes committed up to this point but refused any other concessions. Kett and Co. stayed put.
Somerset now got heavy and sent William Parr, the marquis of Northampton, to sort Kett out. Parr had 1,800 men, mostly gentlemen and Italian mercenaries, and they marched into Norwich unopposed. The next night, however, Kett’s men attacked and the totally inexperienced Parr was forced back to London with his tail between his legs.
Kett was now stymied. If he tried to march on London, his men would desert; he knew they’d never leave Norfolk in what they saw as a local fight.
Saving the day with Dudley
Somerset couldn’t afford any more mistakes, so he abandoned his Scottish plans and ordered John Dudley, earl of Warwick, south with 6,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry. Dudley was a talented and experienced soldier. He surrounded Kett and cut off his supply lines to Norwich, sending a flag of truce to open negotiations. Kett was all for doing a deal but his more fervent followers overruled him and took Dudley on. The fight became a massacre, with Kett’s followers dead all over Mousehold Heath.
Dudley hanged nearly 50 people from the town walls, but there were no more reprisals and he took his army to London, sensing he might need them again in the near future.
In the army now
The official British Army wasn't set up until 1660 when Charles II became king. (The word 'Britain' - meaning England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland - wasn't officially used until 1603, but there are unofficial uses of the word in Elizabeth's reign.) The Tudors used an old system called Summons of Array when they needed troops - the last workings of the now outdated medieval feudal system. Noblemen weren't allowed private armies any more, so a serious soldier shortage existed. Often Italian, German and Irish mercenaries had to be called in to make up the numbers.
Ousting Somerset: Dudley Takes the Helm
By the autumn of 1549 the flare-ups of discontent across England were under control, but a lot of people, including members of the Council, believed that Somerset had acted too slowly and it was time for a regime change. And John Dudley, earl of Warwick, decided he was just the man for the job.
We don’t know what made Dudley turn on Somerset. He may have planned a coup all along, to make himself the new protector to the young king. On the other hand, he may genuinely have believed that Somerset had blown it and that he had to go for the good of the country.
● There were rumours of a plot to make Princess Mary the regent - Dudley wasn’t part of this (and neither was Princess Mary).
● Dudley appeared to join forces with religious conservatives in the Council, men like the earls of Arundel and Southampton.
● Some noblemen began to stay away from Court and collect as many armed men as they could.
Somerset versus Dudley
Somerset, sensing unrest, ordered all loyal subjects to come, armed, to Hampton Court to protect the king from ‘a most dangerous conspiracy’.
This was a fatal mistake: Somerset seemed to be calling on people to turn on their natural leaders.
Dudley and the London Lords (Dudley’s supporters in the Council) conspired together while Somerset whisked the king to Windsor, west of London. He couldn’t defend Hampton Court, which was a country house (see Chapter 19 for more on this palace), but Windsor was a medieval fortress with enormously thick walls and towers. A stand-off ensued - the London Lords virtually had the country in their power; Somerset had young Edward.
On the face of it, it looked as though the deal struck by 9 October was the work of Sir Philip Hoby, sent as a go-between to work things out between the two sides. Actually, it was probably Lord Paget, working for Somerset, and Thomas Cranmer, working for the Council who came to an understanding.
Edward was brought back to London, with a cold and a bad case of the jitters. He’d lost all faith in Somerset.
On 14 October the lord protector was sent, together with members of his family, to the Tower, where he faced 29 charges. As was usual, his supporters fell with him. Best known of Somerset’s supporters were his private secretary, William Cecil (although he would bounce back - see Chapters 12 to 18) and his brother-in-law, Michael Stanhope, chief gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
Changing the Chamber
As often happens after a palace coup, it was all change at the top:
● The Privy Council appointed six noblemen and four principal gentlemen (knights or squires) to be the Privy Chamber, and four of the ten had to be with the king at all times.
● The title of protector was quietly dropped. Because she was the king’s older sister - and potentially heir to the throne if Edward should die - Mary may have been approached. If she was, she refused to get involved.
● It might have looked as though the conservative earl of Southampton was in charge, but in fact it was Dudley who was pulling the strings. Indeed, you can judge his power by the fact that at the end of November the Council met in his private rooms because he had a cold.
● New men were brought in to the Council - Nicholas Wotton, Richard Southwell, and Edmund Peckham; and Henry Grey, the marquis of Dorset and Thomas Goodrich, the Protestant bishop of Ely, who were personal buddies of Dudley.
Some people, like the holy Roman emperor’s ambassador in London, expected the old faith (Catholicism) to return and couldn’t understand why the pro-Protestant Cranmer was still on the Council. But it was becoming clear that Dudley wasn’t really with the religious conservatives.
Falling out, round one
By the end of November, it was obvious that everything wasn’t rosy in the Council. Two groups had developed:
● Dudley, backed by Lord Paget.
● Arundel and Southampton, the religious conservatives.
The group’s differences were most obvious in what to do with Somerset. Dudley wanted to let him go after a while, probably with a whacking fine. Arundel and Southampton wanted Somerset’s head, and maybe Dudley’s too. As Arundel put it, ‘Ever we should find them traitors both and both is worthy to die.’
Some kind of plot was going on against Dudley by early December, but we don’t know what because the evidence for it was ‘remembered’ afterwards. A lot of history is like this because history gets written by the winners. In this case, after Dudley was dead, people who were still alive could make up what they liked. Rumour and innuendo became fact and evidence.
It was the plotters’ mistake, however, to make their feelings known to William Paulet, Lord St John (pronounced Sinjun), because he promptly went to Dudley and blabbed. Dudley set a trap to bring the plotters out into the open. He called a Council meeting at his Holborn (London) home and put Somerset’s fate on the agenda. Southampton said the man should die for treason.
Fatting out, round two
On 31 December Somerset signed 31 articles of submission, a sort of confession, and now events moved quickly.
Dudley stamped out opposition in the Council:
● He kicked Richard Southwell out after dodgy rumours of ‘bills of sedition written by his hand’ (in other words, he had unwisely written down criticisms of Dudley). No charges were ever brought.
● Lord Paget stayed, but he and Dudley and Paget seem to have fallen out because Paget never got the lord chamberlain position he’d been hoping for.
● He removed Arundel and Southampton and had them placed under house arrest.
● He promoted the loyal St John and John Russell to earldoms.
John Dudley, earl of Warwick, now ran the country in the king’s name.
Dictating with Dudley
On 20 February 1550 Dudley became lord president of the Council and lord great master of the Household. For the rest of Edward’s short life (see Chapters 8 and 9) Dudley called the shots.
Dudley sorted out trouble in the countryside by extending the laws of treason and giving more powers to local landlords and magistrates. From now on, as far as the ordinary people were concerned, it was ‘them verus us’. Kett and his fellow anti-enclosure leaders were hanged.
The new ruler gave the key job of lord treasurer to the earl of Wiltshire (St John), who was one of his cronies but also an experienced figures man. He set up the reliable Protestant Thomas, Lord Wentworth, as chamberlain. As a result of this game of musical chairs, Dudley was now surrounded by men he could trust - Paulet, Wentworth, Anthony Wingfield (who became controller of the household) and Thomas Darcy (who was vice-chamberlain).
Somerset got off lightly. He was released in January 1550 and paid a £10,000 fine. He was to go nowhere near the king or Court, but he was allowed back into the Council and his daughter Anne married Dudley’s eldest son. The Somerset-Dudley relationship wasn’t as peachy as it seemed, however - flick to Chapter 9 to find out what happened next.
When Somerset was released, so were his people. This brought back into government circles William Cecil, who would go on to become the greatest statesman under Edward VI’s sister, Elizabeth (see Chapters 12-18).