Somerset came away from the Commotion Time with a wobbly reputation. Could he survive politically ?
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Let me take you to London. The year is 1548, about a year before the chaos of the Prayer Book rebellion and the Commonwealth Camps. A 27 year old man was hurrying over London Bridge. He was well dressed without being flashy, a confident young man comfortable with his position and in control of himself, already used to exercising authority and discretion. His name was William Cecil, and on this warm June morning despite the gravitas he projected, he was unusually worried. He had a mission, and it was not going to be an easy one. He passed by the church of St Magnus the Martyr, where a group of pilgrims from the south were offering prayers to the saint for their safe arrival at the great city, and where once had stood the wharfs of Roman London, and thence onto the bridge, through the great stone gateway and began to walk past the high houses, shops and tenements that crowded in on both sides, forced to push his way past the crowded pavements and avoid the carts that rattled past him towards the city. Eventually he stepped off the southern end of the bridge and into Southwark.
Southwark felt different. Because once in Southwark, the power of the mayor and city of London was lessened. Yes they still administered the market, but much of Southwark was owned by England’s richest bishop the Bishop of Winchester. Cecil, might have dourly noted to himself that Southwark could hardly be counted as a holy place. To his west as he came over the bridge was the liberty of the manor of Clink to be was notorious for its stews , where you could get a bath and a bit more, it was the home of the Bishops infamous prison. In fact you could get pretty much whatever you wanted in the liberty of the Clink as it had recently become known – bear baiting, or bull baiting, or indeed the attentions of the Winchester Geese – though you’d face the danger of being bitten by them and ending up with the goose bumps. And that was an incurable condition.
But Cecil ignored the calls attractions and headed for the massive building that dominated the muddy river bank – the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester. Because the object of Cecil’s mission was the Bishop of Winchester himself, the mighty Stephen Gardiner. As Cecil demanded entrance to the Palace, Cecil reflected that at 65, Gardiner was no less formidable than he had ever been; no one that had survived the reign of Henry VIII could be ignored, and Cecil had a mountain to climb – to effective persuade the bulwark of traditional religion to preach in support of an Edwardian reformation that he despised.
So, why Cecil then? Our young man had been chosen for the task by the most powerful man in England, the Lord Protector, the Duke of Somerset. He had been chosen because of his evident brilliance, for his equally evident loyalty and sense of duty, and he had been chosen because his commitment to the reformed religion was equally clear. The young man’s name was William Cecil. In a century noted for the extraordinary quality of its Royal Secretaries – Thomas Wolsely, Stephen Gardiner, Thomas Cromwell – Cecil’s name makes a good claim to stand at the head of the list, or at very least to be digging its elbows into Thomas Cromwell’s rib on the podium. The partnership between Cecil and his Queen will be one of the defining relationships of English history.
William Cecil would not have been where he was without the Tudors; his family owed much of what they had to the relationship. Back in 1485 when the hopeful contender Henry Richmond had landed in Wales, one of the men who had come to join the adventure was a Welshman called David Cecil, from a minor gentry family on the Welsh borders. Like many of his class, William Cecil would be very interested in his lineage, and proud of his Welsh roots. He did a lot of work to trace his descent back to the Welsh princes. Sadly, the work appears to be largely fluff and …well fluff. Anyway, once victory was achieved over the noble and rightful king of England/evil usurper Richard III, David became one of Henry VII’s newly fangled Yeomen of the Guard, until a connection with Henry’s Mum, Margaret Beaufort, saw him end up near England’s smallest county. Though not actually in England’s smallest county, multum in parvo though there is, because it’s quite hard to hit Rutland from any sort of distance. Beauf’s place was in Collyweston, though sadly her house no longer exists. Anyway, David Cecil prospered, becoming a burgess of Stamford in parliament, and also would you believe, the most famous job in the shires, Sheriff of Nottingham. He also had a share in the Tabard inn at Stamford, which was to be the source of all sorts of Innkeeper gags at William Cecil’s expense when he later became famous. Ignore, William, just ignore. David Cecil managed to land his lad Richard a job in the chamber at court; Richard was allowed to lease some Crown lands, and you know, the Cecil’s were on the up and up. Richard Cecil did manage to find England’s smallest county, and he become its sheriff. Which success meant he became an attractive prospect and landed a very good marriage to Jane Heckington. According to Jane’s memorial, she was
A very grave, religious, vertuous, & worthy Matron; and delighted in the works of Piety & Charity
I suspect a tomb is not the place for an honest if critical appraisal, not the place to say ‘oh good lord she really could be a bit tiresome’ but never mind that, let us take this judgment at face value. Jane was not only a paragon, she also had a bob or two – and brought with her the honour Burghley near Stamford. No doubt this will come up again at some point, but if you have not been to Burghley house, which would be built by her son, then you need to. If you have not been to Stamford, then you need to. Ok, apologies I am doing that thing my children always did, and confusing want and need, so let me simply advise you to consider a visit. Seriously, advise you to consider a visit.
Ok, so Richard and Jane Cecil had children; the eldest William was probably born in 1520, and William was joined over the years by three sisters Margaret, Elizabeth and Anne. William was sent to school in Grantham, and then in Stamford. Stamford school will of course cost you an arm and a leg these days, but back then was a Uriah Heap sort of a school, by which I do not mean it had a precocious passion for heavy metal and prog rock, but was your very humble sort of a place – William was not sent to one of those big and very reasonably priced big schools in London. So it was a local schoolmaster Libeus Byard who was responsible for William’s early education. There’s a name for you, Libeus – biblical apparently. In 1535 at 15 years of age William was for Cambridge – they went off young in those days of course. Where there he was taught by some very interesting masters – John Cheke, Roger Ascham, and others. These men were evangelicals, and would become mighty influential ones at that – Cheke you’ll recognise as Edward VI’s teacher, and Ascham was connected with Jane Grey and the Princess Elizabeth. Cecil had a good strong humanist education, and it would influence him deeply. It made him a formidable classicist and scholar. It embedded in Cecil a concept of civil society as an agreement, a contract between all the various degrees of people and estates; who should be rationally and equitably governed by self-disciplined men, steeped in the classical virtues. This is a philosophy you may recognise in modern politics as well. To this was added the traditional concept of loyalty and service as the subject of a monarch. It was a combination that would occasionally give him a problem; the governor was responsible to a social contract, and was nonetheless ruled by a monarch; in the end, though he once threatened to resign if his advice was not taken, he recognised that his masters had the right to accept or reject his advice.
Somewhere along the way, Cecil become an evangelical. It’s not exactly clear when and where, but it would have been a bit of a blow if he hadn’t. Cambridge was where the radicals went, the ones that challenged the leviathan of the traditional church. The people he lived and studied with were radicals. And despite the iron willed discipline and determination for which he will be known, Cecil was also a man of passion, and would have thrown himself into the debate wholeheartedly. And that same passion and commitment led him to what his father and the Buzzcocks considered a hideous – he fell in love, and he fell in love with someone he shouldn’t have fallen in love with. The partner in this mistake, which occurred in 1541 was his tutor’s sister, Mary Cheke. Not only did he fall in love, I mean fine, these things will happen, tsk tsk, but he then went and married her. He did what? Seriously this is pretty seismic – Mary could bring no more than £40 she was a disastrous marriage for the ambitious Cecil’s, she was definitively NQOCD and there were indications be that Richard Cecil intended to write William out of his will as a result. By the following year, Mary had delivered of a son Thomas, so from the tender age of 22 Cecil was a father.
Cecil by this point had switched to the Law, and to Grays inn in London – probably in 1540, and it may have been an attempt by his father to get Cecil away from Mary and off to London before he went and did some damn fool thing like getting married at his age – and if so, it was a strategy which as we have heard failed, since Mary and William married the following year. Sadly, Mary then died in 1544 and within 2 years Cecil had married again – this time to Mildred Cooke, the daughter of Anthony Cooke, a knight, governor of Edward VI and another radical. This time William’s dad fell on his neck with joy. Delighted he was, thoroughly delighted with what was a thoroughly suitable match in financial and status terms, Mildred was definitely OCD and the Buzzocks were banished to a green ogre in the woods and all were smiles. The will was put back in the cabinet. As it happens Mildred and William very much shared the same values; Mildred was a formidable scholar in her own right, educated by her father alongside his sons; she was, like Jane Grey part of the network of evangelicals that wrote to each other and shared their views. Mildred and William were to be married 44 years.
From here, Cecil managed to land work at court – with Edward Seymour, Protector of course, in 1547. He’d landed the big one, capital B capital O, and although we don’t know exactly what his first, entry level job was, we know he was everywhere; he’s described as the Lord Protector’s agent, and a year later become the Lord Protector’s Master of Requests. That meant he was in charge of all the begging letters that came the way of a nobleman in the early modern world. And that, my friends, meant dealing with a lot of correspondence and a lot of people great and small, and is not a job for someone like me who is incapable of saying no. It is a job for a strong minded kind of person. It put him right at the heart of the court network. And being at the heart of the court network meant, of course, that he was connected, because that’s what network means, and the people with whom he was connected had power and influence. As well as some losers of course. Many of the contacts he made were also evangelicals; including Katherine Brandon, the Duchess of Suffolk for example. And Katherine Brandon put him in touch with Catherine Parr. A few years after this, when Catherine Parr published her Lamentations of a Sinner, it would be William Cecil who wrote the forward. In suitably eulogistic style of course.
I’d better get on with it then. So back to the beginning, and the potentially nervous young courtier, William Cecil, going to see one of the leading men of the realm, probably in the Bishops of Winchesters palace in Southwark. Two bishops in particular were being a right pain in the neck about the Edwardian reformation. One of them was Bishop of London Edmund Bonner – he’d initially refused to allow Cranmer’s visitation to go ahead in his area, the process whereby all the behaviour of all parishes was reviewed; the process where the stripping of the altars and images really began in earnest in the churches. Eventually Bonner had given way, but Gardiner had not. Not only that, but Gardiner had peppered the Council and Somerset with letters of protest so much so that he’d been thrown in prison for a while – and while it was while he was there that the visitation of the Winchester diocese had been carried out behind his back. Now he was released, the Council wanted his submission. Because if they could get the great Stephen Gardiner to give even the appearance of backing their reforms, well, hoody doody, that would be swell. The strategy they arrived at was to get Stephen Gardiner to preach in public on St Peter’s Day which you’ll all know is of course…29th June. This was the kind of strategy described in strategy textbooks as High Risk. Actually somewhere between high risk and the hounds of hell, but never mind, Somerset had his bright young thing, Cecil. Which brings us to Winchester’s door.
Once admitted, young William explained politely but firmly to the great bishop exactly what he could and what he could not say in his sermon. The Great Bishop was not accustomed to being told what he could and could not say and he went, to put in mild terms, ballistic. Is that mild? He was about to storm over to Somerset’s gaffe and give him a piece of his mind, assuming as he did that Cecil must have overstepped his brief the little tinker, since Somerset would never allow him to be treated so. Then he realised that tramping through the streets of Southwark would not meet with the dignity of his position so he sent 2 of his chaplains over instead. Possibly what followed in the Bishops Palace was what might be described as an awkward silence. Did Cecil go for small talk I wonder? So…going somewhere nice with the kids this year? Oh wait, you don’t do priestly marriage do you, soz. Presumably actually he was thrown out of Gardiners sanctum and stood kicking his heel outside. When Gardiner’s Chaplains returned, looking either sacred or outraged I’d suspect, they told old Wiley Winchester that Somerset’s answer was that Gardiner
should not suspect the said Duke’s trusty servants whom he used to send unto him
I imagine there was a growl from one side of the desk, and a desperate attempt not to look smug on the other.
As it happens, when it came to the big day Gardiner seems to have thought he could pull it off. He spoke as required on the right of rulers to reform or remove abuses in the church. Tick. Somerset beamed. Maybe he gave Cecil a little cheek tweak. Well done my lad. Baaa. Then Gardiner followed it up with a tirade against governments that smashed images. Oh dear. On the way home Gardiner seemed to think he’d charted a course between the Scylla of his beliefs and Charybodis of the Council’s demands – he was wrong. In Early 1549 the next visit from Somerset’s servants was less politic. Gardiner ended up in the Tower, and this time he would not get out. For a while he stayed as Bishop, and even managed to sign up to the 1549 book of Common Prayer which had enough wriggle room for the traditionalists to live with. By September though Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London had also hit the back of a Prison cell; he too had been told to preach, at St Paul’s Cross, and he too had failed to make it through the cheesegrater of the new orthodoxy. The traditionalists were thus deprived of two of their strongest spokespeople, though for the moment they held onto their position as Bishops. But they were living on borrowed time.
At the end of September 1549, however, Gardiner was not the only one living on borrowed time. Somerset must have begun to realise that the last 2 and a half years had not necessarily convinced the rest of the Council that he was the right man for the job. There were, shall we say concerns. One point of view might have it that he was simply properly concerned with the well being of the common people; the noble folk and gentry on the council, however, might just see it in a different way – as a raging populist, whose ludicrous support for the Rebels was undermining their own position in life, and they were people on whom Somerset depended, not the common people. Though it might be added that the ordinary folk in London at least weren’t very keen on Somerset at this moment in time either, given the chaos he was causing by building of Somerset house.
Then there’d been the lack of decisiveness with the Camps just finished – really that had been terrifying. He’d taken to making decisions without proper reference to the council – behaviour that his colleagues were beginning to find autocratic and arrogant. Competent high handedness was one thing; Incompetent High handedness was quite another. Plus the French had declared war, the situation in Scotland was looking nastier by the day as English garrisons came under pressure and the French sent soldiers to help the Scots. What a pickle this is becoming.
There was also the matter of the Princess Mary, which was becoming something of an irritant. The Book of Common Prayer had not gone down well at Kenninghall, not gone down well at all. Gardiner might be able to twist and turn to make the book compatible with traditional worship, but Mary was neither that flexible nor that subtle. Mary’s outrage was shared, of course, by the trusty Imperial ambassador, a man called Van der Delft at this point, who was essentially much more of Mary’s cup of tea than was the council. Mary was not known for ability to bend with the wind. She had done it once in her life for her father after Mum had died, but she wasn’t going to let that happen again and her real passion was for confrontation. So when whitsun came in 1549 she let…it…all…hang…out! The biggest baddest mass was celebrated at her chapel with all invited to join in. Go Mass. Somerset responded by calling in her chaplains and disciplining them; Mary responded with an imperious letter to Somerset, accusing him of forgetting her status; upbraiding him for being unfriendly to her; and cleverly echoing Gardiner’s protests that Edward was not of an age where he could be making the decisions – this must be the work merely of the Council, not authorised to take such decisions. And Edward had been of an age, he would never have countenanced such a thing. Somerset signally failed to take any firm action in response. The prayer book rebellion was going on at the time, and the Emperor had written sternly to say that he would not countenance the Princess being forced to change her religion. And so Somerset allowed Mary to continue to practice her religion as she wished, in her own gaffe at least.
It is probable that tongues had been wagging for a while, that secret conversations had gone on behind closed doors, and that even before the Commotion time really took off there was a growing resistance to Somerset’s rule underway. Whenever it exactly started, both supporters and detractors of the Good Duke were unimpressed with the way the nation was being governed. William Paget was the Duke’s chum, and felt able to speak his mind
How we are exhausted and worn to the bones with these eight years wars both of men, money and all other things…your grace and my lords know better than I
Van der Delft, the imperial Ambassador wrote on 15th September that
Matters in this realm are restless for change…the people are all in confusion, and with one common voice lament the present state of things
Van der Delft, it must be said, was something of a one for bigging up the negative side. But On the Council, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick seems to have become seriously hacked off with his the boss, after a grant he had his eye on had gone the wrong way. It just so happens that our Dudders also had an army under his wing, which is a handy thing – the very same used to supress the rebellions. In fact England was awash with armies at the time – Lord Russell had one as well – the one used at the other end of the country to suppress the Prayer Book Rebellion.
On the 4th October 1549, a penny fell off one of those penny falls machiney things we used to have fun with in the days of my youth before they invented virtual reality games, which are so much cooler. The machine was in Somerset’s mind; Duke Polyanna suddenly heard a rumour that Dudley and Lord Arundel were planning to remove him from the Council. That seems to be all he knew; Somerset was with the king at Hampton Court about 15 miles from Westminster at the time. Somerset flicked open his panic switch and hit the big red one hard – an announcement went out for all men to gather to defend the king. This was Somerset the populist in action; come common men of the realm, come to the side of your protector and your king. At the same time, he sent out orders to Russell to bring that spare army to him asap.
As it happens, Somerset had selected the perfect time to panic. Because Arundel and Warwick were indeed planning to remove him, as was Thomas Wriothesley, now unfortunately called the Earl of Southampton. In fact the lords had been on the point of setting off to Hampton Court to have it out with Somerset when the bills of Somerset’s recent announcement were thrust under their collective noses. So instead, they set up Dudley’s house in Holborn as their headquarters and before you could say swash and buckler the streets of London were awash with horsemen – or so a messenger at Hampton court told Somerset. Meanwhile, Edward noted in his journal that men were arriving all the time at Hampton Court – about 4,000 peasants came in answer the Somerset’s call, and not all of them were useless. The war of words was underway – The king is in danger went Somerset’s cry, the evil lords are out to place Mary as regent. Don’t listen to him cried the Lords, he’s fibbing they said, we never did; and anyway what Somerset’s not mentioning is his
Pride, covetousness and ambition
And they sent a letter to the nobles in the country telling them to come and support their cause. And many did.
Mary meanwhile had a look at the situation. There was something of a conservative angle to this council protest that maybe could be exploited; OK the lords had sent her a letter vehemently denying that they planned to make her regent, but there’d been a bit of wool carelessly left in the letter which suggested the Lords had just been knitting arsecovers in case things went wrong. What she knew was that there were conservative lords prominent in the coven at Holborn – Wriothesey, Arundel, William Paulet were all religious traditionalists. Mary displayed a talent she was to show during later crises, a talent for headless chicken impressions. This time the Emperor and Van der Delft had been able to provide a head for her. In a letter of 17th September; the Emperor was not convinced there was an opportunity here:
As for certain Councillors’ machinations against the Protector it does not for the present seem opportune that such an important change take place in England…it would be exceedingly hazardous for the Lady Mary to take any share in such proceedings
Look at the date on that – weeks before this crisis had broken out. It seems pretty clear that plenty of politicking had been going on well before October. And, on the one hand remarkable the candidness with which Mary effectively conspired with a foreign power; as far as she was concerned, Charles was her relative which trumped the Council, and religion trumped everything. It’s also remarkable how concerned the English powers that be were about the Emperor and his movements; Charles would continually prove himself to be all hat and no cattle if I have that saying correct. But they of course did not have our 20/20 hindsight that Charles already have too many distractions and higher priorities; and afterall, Charles was the most powerful man in Europe, so, I suppose not so remarkable.
By 7th October, things were not going that well for Somerset; 17 of the 25 Councillors were at Dudley’s place. Somerset though, the military man, was advancing on London with his armed peasants. As he left, his Duchess was sent away weeping, because, she was and I quote:
Very badly handled in words by all those present who put all this trouble down to her
Well that’s interesting; is this a simple case of misogyny, or looking around for a handy scapegoat; or was this evidence that the Duchess had more influence on the Duke’s activities than we might imagine? Should we be talking of the Good but incompetent Duchess’ rather than Duke? Who knows. But either way Somerset had found the time for action – and he struck for the Tower of London with his fledgling army, to seize the armoury.
Which seems like a good idea and all was going swimmingly. On the road they met a man riding at full speed towards them. If you have been there, you might have noticed a slight sag in the Good Duke’s shoulders. The man was Edward Wolf, and he’d been sent to secure the Tower – only to find the Lords already held it. So, there was nothing for it. Bold Sir Robin ran way. 180 degrees turn, back not to Hampton Court though but further out – to Windsor Castle. Edward meanwhile was absolutely on Somerset’s side
My vassals will help you against those who want to kill me
He said, his sword at his side. From which quote it might appear that Somerset had not been trying to allay the lad’s fears.
So it was for the moment, a stalemate. As Somerset looked out from the castle walls, he saw a chaos of organisation of men and materiel. New men arriving, carts trundling into the town, Merchants swarming like vultures looking for business, shouted orders and confusion as Somerset’s captains tried to push poorly trained Peasants into companies, trying to create an army from a rabble. Somerset had ordered that all but the best equipped and experienced be sent straight home – because he simply didn’t have the resources to feed them. Everything came down to Russell, and his battle hardened army from the west. Where was Russell? Somerset had received no answer; with Russell on his side, the balance of power would swing back to Somerset – all thought of surrender could be banished. The lords would be forced to back down or face accusations of treason against the king. It was all about Russell
Over the walls on the trackways that connected Windsor to the west, Somerset noticed a messenger galloping fast, dust rising behind him as he came past the Peasants in the fields with their teams of oxen making use of a last chance to turn the soil before winter set in. He watched the horseman disappear into the town outside the castle walls until eventually he clattered into the courtyard below and threw himself off his horse and demanded to see the Protector.
Somerset hurried down from the battlements and before long he held a letter in his mans, the messenger before him showing no sign that he had any idea of its contents. From my lord the Earl of Southampton is all he would say. Somerset tore at the seal and read the contents of the letter. ‘The quarrel once begun will never have end’ he read. Bloodshed must be avoided at all costs Russell pleaded. He appealed to Somerset to save England from civil war.
Somerset out down the letter. Russell was for the lords, and had joined all the other secular Lords on the Council who now stood against Somerset.
Somerset had arrived at the great Political toaster. He offered his submission to a presumably quite confused king, and wrote to his erstwhile friend, Warwick – time to get the best deal he could get. Any deal was better than no deal.
Well, we know what happens next of course – that’s it for Somerset presumably, [sword and squeltchy sound] off with his head. Having said that…the Lords were subjected to quite the barrage of support for the Lord Protector. Somerset got the king to write, his mate Paget wrote, though the suspicion is that Paget had secretly swapped side before the end and was playing both ends. It’s interesting that the only other Councillor that stuck by Somerset was Cranmer. Cranmer wrote his accustomed words of mercy
Life is sweet my lords, and they say you seek his blood and his death…he hath never been cruel to any of you; why should you be cruelly minded to him?
The letters that arrived back from the lords on 10th October were pretty blood curdling – the Protector was roundly condemned, and Cranmer and Paget told to look after the king. The propaganda battle had been conclusively won by the Lords; when the defeated Duke arrived in London on 14th October he was roundly booed, despite proclaiming loudly to the crowd that he
Was no traitor, but as faithful a servant of the king as any man
The Duke is now stayed and his troublesome head whereby great questions shall follow by God’s help
Somerset was charged with 20 counts of treason. Behind the scenes, the Duchess was politicking as hard as she could to save her husband including begging for the support of the Princess Mary; and despite her evangelism, the Duchess and Mary would remain on good terms.
There were two questions now then; one was what would happen to Somerset [squeltych sound] ; the other was who would now rule. Formally, as the Protector was stripped of his title, power resided once more with the executors of his will; but we all know that there can only be one. Who would be the one?
Every man repaireth to Wriothesley, honoureth Wriothesley, sueth unto Wriothesley
Reported John Ponet.
Van der Delft was so excited a little wee came out
All the foremost Councillors are Catholics
He declared. But there was more. Even Dudley he said was
Taking up the old observances day by day…he had forbidden his household to eat meat on Fridays under severe penalties
Now at last it was looking as though the conservatives were about to have their day again. Wriothesley took up lodgings near the king. He told the ambassador that Mary would be allowed to have her way with the mass. The Earl of Arundel contacted Mary, asking to be taken back into her service.
What we have here, essentially, is a double coup. Or at least, now that Somerset had been ousted from the top of the greasy pole or dung heap, select your metaphor as you see fit, who was going to replace him? Dr No’s pool boiled with the feeding pirhanas. And it was a vital question – for would that be a conservative or an evangelical?
While Wriothesley and the conservatives were claiming their prizes, other things were happening not so happy for their cause. Dudley might possibly have been eating fish on a Friday, but he also made sure the king’s personal companions were all his men, and all evangelicals; it seems that this was either due to Cranmer’s intercession – or indeed Edward’s own motivation. Edward was beginning to show his evangelical chops for himself. He had already responded to an academic assignment on the power of the Pope by condemning the Pope and all his works. Edward was no longer a cipher – and he pointed more and more towards the evangelical cause. It therefore began to occur to Dudley that if he wanted to win this particular struggle – and it appeared that he did – then the evangelicals were in want of a leader to oppose Wriothesley, and who better to provide that leadership than him? Aligning with the evangelicals probably meant not topping the most well known evangelical of them all – the Duke. It also meant packing the Council with his men. The Bishop of Ely and Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset and father of Jane Grey, arrived on the council swinging the numbers back the evangelical way. Meanwhile the Duchess of Somerset was practically doorstepping Warwick and his wife, and holding constant dinners to drum up support for her hub – she might have been called hell, but you would want her on your side in a fight.
It began to be the body of Somerset that was the battleground over which the two emerging factions fought. If Somerset died, the Conservatives won. If he lived – Dudley and the evangelicals won. Fortunately for the traditionalists, Wriothesley had been given the job of interrogating Somerset. Somerset meanwhile confirmed that Dudley at all stages knew everything Somerset knew. As they left one session Wriothesley remarked to Arundel
I thought ever we should find them traitors both and both are worthy to die by my advice
So, if Somerset went, Dudley went. Arundel meanwhile had done some sideling, in the finest political tradition, drawing aside an aged Council member called John Paulet. John’s biggest political talent was not getting involved; Arundel though he might be a supporter, and if he wasn’t never mind he’d never do anything. So Arundel sidled up to John Paulet – look there’s a Council meeting coming up – we are going to go for Somerset’s head. I assume I can count on your vote? To his chagrin, John Paulet was not prepared to let Arundel make any assumption.
The big Council meeting that was to spell Somerset’s doom, and Dudley’s doom, and the English reformation’s doom happened at Dudley’s palace at Holborn. Wriothesley noted with grim satisfaction that this was because Dudley was ill – and indeed as the Council meeting opened, Dudley lay on his bed while the Council debated. Wriothesley recounted the results of his interrogations – and demanded Somerset’s death
He was worthy to die for his many treasons
He declaimed dramatically. Ha ha! This was the moment.
The response was equally dramatic. Dudley, leapt from his bed, crying
My lord you seek his blood and he that seeketh his blood would have mine also.
Here then was the moment. Wriothesley looked round the Council, looking into the eyes of his fellow councillors to count their support. What he saw in the Councillors eyes was defeat – his defeat. Unknown to him John Paulet had gone straight to Dudley. Dudley had been forewarned. Wriothesley had played, and he had lost.
Wriothesley was duly arrested and his supporters were rounded up – Richard Southwell, Arundel and others. Wriothesley was not long for this earth as it happens [squeltchy sound] no not that; his physician had identified tuberculosis, and by 1550 Wriothesley was dead. He had been a player through times of extraordinary political turmoil, and there’s no doubt that he was motivated by power. But he was also remembered for his administrative competence and efficiency; amongst all the politics and nest feathering, he remained an active and effective public servant.
The second coup had been resolved. The new power broker was John Dudley, Earl of Warwick. Now, I thought it might be worth a few minutes of why. I hear you pause, look at your mp3 player with surprise. Is this man an idiot? I hear you ask, isn’t it obvious? He just wanted to be the boss, people do you know especially in politics. Ah, but why, I ask, why did he want to be the boss?
The black legend I talked about a few episodes back had little doubt.
To provide how he might deliver himself from the many troubles which it was foreseen might overtake him on these accounts as soon as the king should be of an age to govern
According to Catholic opinion, the plan was that Northumberland was to get his hands on power, then poison the king. Do I have to say that’s clearly nonsense? However, other opinion wasn’t much more complimentary; the idea being that Northumberland had committed some terrible crimes and mismanagements, which he would make even worse after this point, and would therefore have to control the king – or else be brought to account in a future reign. Coupled with this, was the theory that Dudley was wildly greedy for wealth as well as power.
It is possible this is correct. But there are alternative views available, which have gained greater currency, and which partly need to be reviewed in the light of Dudley’s period in power, so it’s a bit early here. Historian Eric Ives in particular noted that Dudley’s political and military life so far had been characterised by caution, and a particular tendency to defer to the opinion of professionals or his king. There’s no doubt that Dudley had courage, and could be overbearing in council, but he is notable for the effort he goes through to consult his colleagues; and throughout his career he shows this tendency to defer with a certain lack of self confidence
I shall endeavour my self as far as my poor wit and discretion will serve to give them the best advice that I can albeit that I know it right well I had more need to be instructed in such like cases by some of them than them they by me
This was Dudley in 1545; this was after 8 years of being Admiral. His caution is possibly understandable; the memory of his father’s death, executed by Henry VIII was constantly in his mind. Dudley had a sense of the injustice of his father’s fall who in Northumberland’s view had ‘suffered death for doing his master’s commandments’; and his response was to be faultless in his loyalty
…for my part with all earnestness and duty I will serve without fear seeking nothing but the true glory of God and his highnesses’ surety: so I shall please God and have my conscience upright and then not fear what man doth to me
This is Dudley after 1549, claiming to be a man
Who neither hath understanding nor wit meet for the association nor body apt to render his duty any ways as the will and heart desireth.
The alternative view is that Dudley was a man desperately conscious of his own limitations, but determined to do his duty as he saw it by God and by his master the king. Like any great family, he was painfully committed to the status of his family, and eager to make sure his father’s reputation was redeemed by his own actions. The whole political community had seen that Somerset was not capable of ruling effectively, and determined to remove him; it only later emerged that Dudley was the best man for this job, and the man who in doing so would maintain the progress of the Edwardian reformation.
Killing Somerset had been avoided, but was safely in the Tower. Dudley’s first act meanwhile was to reward the supporters that had got him there were duly rewarded with honours and promotions. A new regime was in the building.