258 Protector Somerset

Somerset was an effective soldier, and as uncle to the king he seemed like an ideal choice as Protector. Would he prove an effective political? Good Duke, Bad Duke or just Duke? Over the next few episodes, we’ll find out.

Download Podcast - 258 Protector Somerset (Right Click and select Save Link As)

Edward Seymour, Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset (c.1500-1552) and his reputation

Good Duke, Bad Duke or you know, just Duke?

Edward SeymourEdward Seymour’s reputation has traveled the spectrum.  Immediately after the reign of Edward VI, the tradition was established of Somerset the ‘Good Duke’. It was a tradition embedded by two men; by that architect of the English story, John Foxe, and by the lesser known John Ponet, sometime Bishop of Rochester and Winchester. For Foxe, Somerset was the devout champion of Protestantism. Ponet become one of the Marian exiles, and built on that image of the Good Duke, protestant and supporter of the poor. It is an image that survived well into the 20th century, among both traditional and popular historians. Around 1900 A. F. Pollard portrayed Somerset as a liberal who believed in constitutional freedom, as a committed protestant and a friend of the poor and oppressed despite his personal acquisitiveness; in particular he claimed that “Somerset chose the path of principle over expediency” . Winston Churchill wrote of ‘this handsome and well meaning man‘ whom ‘the people of England remembered…for years as the ‘Good Duke’.

A more negative view of an indecisive, autocratic and ineffective leader started early with the concerns of his erstwhile ally William Paget who constantly urged him to be firmer with the rebels of the Commotion Time.  Among historians it was John Hayward (1564-1627), the biographer of Edward VI who really started the alternative viewpoint, criticizing him severely for his political incompetence, which is a good shout whatever you think of his principles. W K Jordan (1902-1980) mainly continued the Good Duke tradition into the latter 20th century, though the emphasis was beginning to change, emphasising that whatever you thought of his principles, Somerset had rather crashed and burned as a politician: “A moderate, an essentially non sectarian faith that was to contribute greatly to the centrist tradition in the development of Anglicanism”. The idea of a non sectarian Somerset was rejected by most it must be said, in favour of Somerset as a strong supporter of protestant reform alongside Thomas Cranmer.

In 1975 Professor M. L. Bush, in The government policy of Protector Somerset (1975) saw Somerset as primarily a soldier, whose whole policy was geared to the war with Scotland, and whose attitudes were entirely conventional and whose pursuit of a failing military policy led to political failure: Somerset’s political behaviour was directed not by ideals, but by idées fixes.’  Somerset’s image now began to be dominated by political failure rather than any misty-eyed respect for his sympathy for those that shared his religious views. Geoffrey Elton also placed his boot into the Good Duke’s backside: “Somerset’s mind was never out of step with those of his colleagues in government, though he had an unfailing knack of alienating people”.

John Lotherington characterised Somerset as an autocrat when he concluded that “Somerset neglected the Privy Council and used it as no more than a rubber stamp for his policies”, and with the image of the Good Duke now firmly ground into the mud under the jackboot of history, Catholic historian Richard Rex dismissed Somerset as ‘a self-serving arriviste who feathered his nest at the expense of king and church’, and the job is done. Good Duke no longer.

There remains however a more positive view. Diarmaid MacCulloch, in Tudor Church Militant makes the point that you cannot just talk away Somerset’s attitude to the rebels in 1549 and that hate it or loathe it, Somerset did demonstrate a sympathy with the East Anglian rebellions. Barrett Beer in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives Somerset cautious praise for his refusal in 1549 to cling to power at the risk of civil war. And so the debate lives on.



The Good Duke then. Well – was he in fact? Good I mean, as ancient tradition would have it? Or was he in fact as the more modern commentators have, it, the Bad Duke, or maybe he was just the Duke, neither good nor bad, strong nor weak. As we mentioned a couple of episodes ago, he is in some ways an odd sort of chap for a 16th century gent and magnate. I mean in many ways he’s jolly traditional – building his empire, spending money like water to build himself a palace, indulging in foreign wars, ruling the Council with an imperious, autocratic hand. But In other ways his most odd. He shows, as we will see, a marked sympathy with a bunch of revolting peasants and yeomen and a most unfashionable reluctance to cut them into small pieces. So, anyway, we shall see. On the way, we will have a few themes – religion war and revolt. Where have we heard of those before? A heady mixture.

As we have seen, Somerset had some work to do just to finish off the grouting work around the tiles of his political supremacy – the tiles were all there lined up, but he had to cover Wriothesley with a bit of sealant so that the water of opposition was excluded. There was still an irritatingly large amount of moisture in the air with his brother Thomas whining and causing trouble, since he hadn’t killed him yet at this stage unlike we did last week, but once Wriothesley was gone, Somerset had what he needed, the basic tools, to exercise control, supremacy on the council and governance of the young king. He therefore started acting as though he was indeed total control, which was to cause him problems.

One interesting lens through which to view Somerset has been to emphasise that he was at heart a soldier; and he had the soldier’s traditional lack of patience with the ambiguities of life, though I suspect war is full of ambiguities, so I also suspect that is just another stereotype, but hey ho go with it. You are looking at a direct, outspoken man used to being in control and obeyed without question, to go straight at ‘em, choosing the lesser of two weevils.

Because Somerset began to immediately cause offence among the political neutrals – by ignoring them. It would have been so much more politic to pretend he was still interested in their opinion. Here are 3 simple examples of why Somerset’s boots appeared suddenly to be getting too small for him.

Firstly, business started being conducted at Somerset’s house, rather than Westminster and the court. It’s a bit like Cromwell, Wolsey et al – all the climbers and hangers on and folks desperately in need of a job were hanging around Somerset’s door, and when the Councillors turned up to work they had to make do with 3 blokes who’d got lost, the rat catcher a gong farmer with Lord Paget’s Mum bringing in his packed lunch. I exaggerate for effect of course, but you know, it was irksome to the ego, and more importantly of course, the king was a minor. Decisions were legally supposed to be ratified and confirmed by the Council. Somerset even stopped bothering getting the Boy King’s signature. Secondly, Somerset forgot his place, socially. Oooh dear. It appeared that he did in fact, consider himself sort like a king really, and after all he was the king’s uncle. The best example of this was when he’d addressed a real king as ‘brother’. The real king we are talking about here is Francis, King of France, still alive that this point. Oh dear. As the letter was read out no doubt there were gasps, a baby screamed, a whisper of scared blue rustled round the room. A sharp little note travelled back through to the French Ambassador in England to the effect that only kings addressed other kings as brother, and Somerset should be none too gently reminded of who he was, maybe accompanied by the judicious positioning of a boot around the knicker area. Somerset’s arrogance was annoying people. And thirdly there’s Somerset House. Now if you know London you may know the neo classical monstrosity built in the late 18th century, whose only real charm are the little squirty water fountain things that my children used in doing their level best to develop pneumonia. Well, that is built on a site created and first developed by our very own Duke of Somerset. To do so he had to lay low a range of tenement buildings and chuck out the tenants. Which you know, is no something designed to make you popular. Plus, obviously building massive new palaces costs a bob or two, but that was OK, because Somerset had arranged an annuity for himself of £8,000 a year. Now £8,000 didn’t quite buy you what it used to, but not far away, and it’s the sort of sum that makes drinks go up the wrong way and out of peoples’s noses. It’s about £1.6m a year sort of thing. He no longer had to worry about the monthly grocery bill, let us put it that way.

Ok, so Somerset was not making himself popular. Somerset however had something of the polyanna about him, and was quite capable of blocking out the bad news, and high on Somerset’s agenda was the furthering of religious reform. Together with folks such as Cranmer in particular, as I have mentioned, the reformers, what they wanted. In general the strategy was to clear away the rubble of the old religion, and build on the site a shiny new religion. The detail was a deal more radical than we might imagine, those of us who have been brought up in the Anglican tradition. What they wanted might encourage you to buy shares in whitewash producing companies, since it included the complete removal of icons and images. They wanted to bring the altar to be brought into the heart of the church, a place of gathering, congregation and warmth rather than mystery and distance. They wanted the removal of all those grand vestments that set the priest apart. Active participation has high on the agenda. Other things though, are more familiar to Anglicans; the end of clerical celibacy, celebrating communion in two kinds – both bread and wine rather than just bread; and now, finally, the end of the mass, the heart and most recognisable part of traditional practice.

Cranmer was to be helped by the fact that the government was based in London, rather than, let’s say, Bakewell. Clearly if it had been, the tarts would have been better, but the people of London were the most advanced in the country in their demand for reformed religion. And so around the Council a bottom up demand for reform swept around the capital; images were spontaneously smashed or removed. Hugh Latimer, the radical preacher who had been stripped of his Bishopric in the conservative reaction of Henry VIII’s later years was free once more, shacked up with his pal Cranmer at Lambeth Palace. He passed his time thundering, as you do if you are a radical preacher, it is part of the radical preacher stick, the idiom as it were. He condemned the traditional prelates, in their worldly, privileged and political finery – as he saw it

Couched in courts, ruffling in their rents, dancing in their dominions, burdened with ambassages, pampering of their paunches, like a monk that maketh his jubilee, munching in their mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions

Go Latimer you tell them lad, gotta love a nice alliteration or two. Derogatory phrases began to be used from the pulpit all across the city. Like Jack in the Box for example. Now I always thought a Jack in the Box was a scary clown like thing that burst out of a box on a spring, the kind of thing used by child catchers horror movies and chitty chitty bang bang. Apparently in fact the phrase is born around this time, and it is used to denote the consecrated host; the idea being that in the reformers’ view the bread and wine were just that, there was no magical transubstantiation or even consubstantiation; the ceremony was an important remembrance, but no more than that. It’s came to acquire its children’s toy and game meaning much later, possibly from 1600 but more from the 18th century. The same applies to Round Robin, which I always thought was a sport of sports league type thing, for the very good reason that I have come last in so many of them – well, no, originally it was again an insulting term for the consecrated host. Who knew, eh? Round Robin has more meanings than you can believe actually from sports to fish, but that’s another story. The enthusiasts were strongest in London, but explicitly not just London, there were examples all over the country. At Shrewsbury for example, images of Our Lady, Mary Magdalene and St Chadd were gathered from the churches, and all burned in the marketplace.

Now you would have thought this would have had Cranmer and Somerset skipping and dancing, but you would be wrong to so think. What they wanted was a nice even pace, below the radar, reform by salami slicing, a pace that would keep traditionalists quiet until suddenly one they woke up and said hang on – I would appear to be a Protestant. How did that happen? Also, the situation on the continent was not ideal; Emperor Charles had won a great victory over the prots at Muhlberg, and was in the process of imposing a settlement on them. A feature of Edward’s reign would be the stream of foreign divines fleeing to the sanctuary of England’s relative toleration, a situation which will of course recur more than once in good old England’s history. So, now the first response from Somerset was not to praise the London enthusiasts, but to bury them; ordinances were issued, punishments handed out. Nobody was burned though. Jus’ sayin’. These London churches were breaking the rules they said, steady as she goes. But while re-assurance was making a prepared statement to the paparazzi at the front door, from the back door Cranmer the AB announced a visitation of all the churches.

Now on the face of it, this new visitation was simply a reprise of Thomas Cromwell’s 1538 visitation. That meant that the commissioners would make sure everyone was abiding by the rules of the church. But the eagle eyed would have noticed that the rules were very loosely drawn. To give you an idea; officially the commissioners would encourage reading of the scriptures in the vernacular, and criticise pilgrimage and the use of images where the images appeared to be worshiped rather than say for education or a focus for devotions, so essentially where the rules were abused. The wording meant that depending on the decision of the commissioner, all images could be ordered removed and destroyed – which is in fact exactly what would happen. It was also accompanied by a new book of homilies from Cranmer, all carefully chosen to point the reformist way. The visitations would spread the fire of iconoclasm, fan the flames.

But I am getting ahead of myself again; the story then in 1547 was one of toleration – repeal of heresy laws that had stood for over 100 years as well as the more recent ones; public criticism of iconoclasm and undue radicalism; but locally, quiet but relentless pressure to reform and change. Some conservatives saw well enough where all this was leading; some left for foreign climes; others were more dramatic – one priest actually leapt in despair from the spire of St Magnus Church by London Bridge, leapt into the Thames where he drowned. St Magnus, by the way, was literally at the place where London bridge landed on the north side of the river – the bridge has been moved since, as it happens. But if you are in the area, you must go and see it – St Magnus the Martyr; it was rebuilt by Wren after the fire of 1666, and while I am not a fan of Wren or the pomposity of the baroque, in this case I’ll make an exception; it’s a thing of beauty in its rich dark wood, and its white and gold livery. Also there’s a jolly good model of old London bridge by the by. Anyway, I digress. Other conservatives chose to fight – notably of course, Stephen Gardiner, now firmly on the back foot. He wrote letter after letter to Somerset howling about the homilies, visitations the whole thing. He had a point of course, Gardiner was nothing if not sharp. Henry’s will he said had said no more change until Edward was of age. He and his fellow conservative Edmund Bonner, the Bishop of London, found themselves in prison, though they were soon released – this time round anyway.

You might think this level of controversy and argument would be enough to keep your average Protector busy, but not a bit of it. Somerset was a soldier, and it was to soldiering he would go. Somerset had already been sent to make war on Scotland by his last master, Henry VIII. Following a popular theme in Anglo Scottish wars, he’d been militarily successful, but failed to achieve the key objective. That objective was to force the Scots to follow through on the treaty they’d signed and then repudiated – the marriage of Edward VI and the Queen of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, still just 7 years old. You might remember that Henry had promised to make sure England and Scotland would be kept forever separate – the Scots had been unsurprisingly sceptical. And they still were.

Somerset was determined to force the Scots to send Mary to the English court in advance of a marriage. In August 1547 he set off with 16,000 men, supported by a fleet. This then is the continuation of the conflict known as the Rough Wooing, and it’s is admittedly the type of wooing William the Conqueror would have approved of. It is interesting to note that there was a pro-English faction in Scotland that supported Somerset and this move; and also is a thread that will run through the century. Religious reform was a consistent shared objective for parts of communities of both English and Scots; for some Scots, the English invasion offered an opportunity to spread the cause of reform.

However, as Somerset approached Edinburgh, he came across the opinion of the vast majority of Scots, in the form of the Scottish earls of Aran and Angus, who had assembled a much bigger force to kick him out; maybe even twice as large as Somerset’s army. The resulting battle was to be known as the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. There’s some debate about the way to position the battle that follows. There is a scorn pouring faction that describe Somerset’s army as a good old traditional English medieval army, composed of archers and Billmen. Others present it as the first renaissance English army. The truth is that, as for Henry’s army of 1545 in France, it’s a bit of both. Many of the men had been raised by the traditional method of county levies; there were large contingents of Archers and Billmen for sure. But, there were also German mercenary pikemen and arquebusiers in bonefide renaissance fashion; and a large, well prepared artillery train. The truth is that England had learned from European influences, but despite Henry’s reforms, were nowhere near the level of sophistication of French and Imperial armies – Somerset’s army represents something half way.

Anyway, Arran had drawn up the Scots in a superb position across the river Esk from Somerset. All he had to do was wait and let the English impale themselves. Except life was no longer so simple; with excellent artillery, Somerset could pulverise them on their hill. Maybe this was why the Scots abandoned said hill; or it is possible that Arran thought Somerset’s  artillery movements suggested a retreat. Either way they swapped the safety of the hill for attack. They were to find out that attack does not always form the best defence, because it did not turn out well. Although the advancing Scots Pikemen saw off English cavalry, the English artillery did indeed pulverise. At one point the commander Arran decided he was being betrayed, and the yell of treason went up, which understandably didn’t help Scottish morale and confidence. Under the pressure the scots split and ran in three main directions. To spare you the details, probably 6-10,000 of them died. It was as conclusive an English victory as you could wish for.  Somerset redoubled his demands to Mary of Guise to give up her daughter, Mary, since Mary of Guise was now effectively ruler of Scotland. But the Scots were not finished yet. Somerset now set up garrisons in southern Scotland, as Edinburgh was laid under siege by John Dudley, earl of Warwick. And yet at the end of the campaigning season, with brother Thomas Seymour causing trouble with the young king and with a parliament to run, Somerset would have to wait until the following year to finish the job, and down south he returned.

When he arrived back home, he found a 10 year old king who was absolutely delighted with his victory, and maybe we should turn to Edward here to find out what sort of a boy he was. I know what you are going to say – that Edward VI was a sickly lad. And I confess that I have always had this image of a sniffly sort of child, pale, shuffling through grand halls with a sinussy voice, pouring over dry dusty books while his chumps ran and played outside in the sun, and periodically gave each other a thoroughly good beating as all good Tudor children should. I find myself exaggerating for effect again, I really must apologise, but you know what I mean hopefully. Well, as far as we can tell Edward was normal and active, with a love of the hunt, and who would enthusiastically play in the tilt yard at running at the ring, or Quitain, and properly revelled in the joy of an English victory over the Scots. Here’s the Venetian ambassador, admittedly a little later that this, but you know, the principle is there. Edward he said was:

‘taught to ride and handle his weapons, and to go through other similar exercises, so that his Majesty soon commenced arming and tilting, managing horses, and delighting in every sort of exercise, drawing the bow, playing rackets, hunting … indefatigably.’

It is a description that could have been made of many others including his Dad; and worth noting that Edward was also a Ginger top like his dear Pa Pa. There’s a terribly famous picture of him where the redness of his hair is evident, and where he is sporting the power stance, a stance made famous by his dad, picked up by some actors patronised by Edmund Blackadder, Butler to the Prince Regent, and then extravagently revived in the 21st century by a British chancellor of the Exchequer and a home secretary. Oddly though, the sickly reputation was clearly also a contemporary thing; in 1548 the French ambassador met Edward and had a companionable conversation in Latin, as you do, and he wrote that Edward seemed to be in good health, and expressed his surprise that anyone should think him sickly.

No only was Edward far from being sickly; but it appears he was turning out to be one of the sharper knives in the drawer. One of the most important things the reformers managed to achieve in the days of the old king, particularly through the good offices of Katherine Parr, was to get the right tutors assigned to the young king. Particularly important was John Cheke, regius professor of Greek in Cambridge, and in practice Cheke became Edward’s chief teacher, although his official tutor was a man called Richard Cox. Alongside him was Roger Ascham who was Princess Elizabeth’s tutor, and Anthony Cooke, a humanist scholar. The traditional rubric is that these men were committed evangelical reformers, though some doubt has been cast over the extent of that, but as a Cambridge man Cheke for example came from a university that had acquired a reputation for the new religion, as opposed to the much more traditionalist Oxford. You might note John Cheke’s quality from the phrase attributed, slightly dodgily, to Edward:

“Randolph the German spoke honestly, Sir John Cheke talked merrily, Dr. Coxe solidly, and Sir Anthony Cooke weighingly

The proof of the pudding is in the eating; and what emerged from the king’s education was a young man precocious in learning, with a good grasp of Latin and Greek and modern languages, with the ability to write well structured arguments that drew on the ancients in the approved manner of the new learning; and that very clearly favoured the new religion too, an impulse that would get only more powerful as time went by. To Cranmer’s delight, it does indeed appear that Edward took seriously the desire to be the new Josiah. With horror the Imperial ambassador would report

‘In the court there is no bishop, and no man of learning so ready to argue in support of the new doctrine as the king according to what his masters tell him, and he learns from his preachers.’

It’s a very odd world and situation though. Of course like any young king, Edward was constantly surrounded by companions, and however old he was, everyone was hyper sensitively aware that this lad was a king whose will was sovereign over his people. On the other hand, he was young, and needed to spend plenty of time learning ancient Greek rather than running around like a blue arse fly, which is what the vast majority of small children like to do; and so needed to be ordered around and disciplined. The educational philosophy of the day had very little to do with child centred learning and the development of soft skills in a supportive safe environment, and more to do with challenge and the back of the hand. I exaggerate for a gag of course, very few of us can have had an education as fine as Edward from the finest minds of his day, none the less the point I am labouring to make is – how to keep the sovereign lord’s nose to the grindstone? I would not be happy in 1548 of larruping a young king who might revisit said larruping in future years. And so, you get the tradition of the whipping Boy.

This is an idea that I had frankly assumed fell into a category of historical analytical techniques called piffle. A story for the pub. And indeed, I believe some historians do still consign the idea of a whipping boy to the piffle drawer. However, with Edward VI we seem to have an example. So, Seymour’s familiarity with the boy and his attempt to ingratiate himself appeared to lead to the development of the use of swear words by the young king. Eager to correct this certainly heinous crime, a lad called Barnaby Fitzpatrick was wheeled in; and Edward was made to watch while he was given a sound thrashing for Edward’s own swearing. So, there we go. Famously, Charles I is supposed to have had a whipping boy called William Murray. The Historian John Guy notes however that Richard Cox writes of thrashing Edward with a rod, so who knows. Maybe the two stories are not incompatible. There anyway, true or not, is the origin of the phrase whipping boy. Don’t try this at home.

The relationship between Somerset and his young charge is difficult to know. As far as Edward’s journal is concerned, there is little to be revealed of either great affection or antipathy. The impression, such as there is, is a rather cold, formal relationship, not a bad relationship, but we are not talking of a Melbourne and young Victoria either.

By the time Somerset arrived home from Scotland, the wave of iconoclasm was growing; images were smashed, medieval wall paintings were whitewashed and replaced with words of the bible – the religion of the image versus the religion of the word again.  Organs were silenced because the music of the old church was but

Roaring howling, whistling, mumming, conjuring and juggling and the playing at organs a foolish vanity

My brother tried to learn the organ once. If only I had known of this quote at the time. Oh the missed opportunities of life. Up the reformers I might have cheered! Debate and argument between the old and the new were everywhere. There was even one rather delightful report of a school where the children divided themselves into two teams. One called themselves the new religion and other the old religion. And they all had a go at each other. The triumph of being young – all the extraneous verbiage and fluff stripped away.

BY November 1547, Somerset was then deep into his first parliament. The parliament continued the strategy of keeping he lid on the most obvious flash points; one the first acts of the parliament was to make proclamations against unauthorised those folks diss’ing the sacrament of the mass. The title of the act is pretty clear. Here we go:

Act against revilers of the sacraments and for the communion in both kinds

Stop! Said parliament. Henry and his church told us what to believe, stick to that would you all? But look, what they meant was – go on! Yay, whoop, way to go, more, more. I think the phrase is mixed messages.

Generally speaking however, this Somerset’s parliament sought to spread that sense of a new start, a release from the darkening suspicions of the previous reign; and was notable for the wave of acts designed to take some of the heat out of public life as I believe I have mentioned preciously. The Act of six articles with it’s nasty penalties for heretics was repealed; but not only that, the old 1414 act against heresy was also repealed. A new Treason act was passed, to undo some of the extremes of Cromwell’s 1534 act.

Amongst all of this there was a much less liberal measure. The 1547 Vagrancy act is a startling reminder of the economic and social dislocation going on in the country side. So look get this, the act produced by a parliament under the Good Duke. In this act, vagrants who persist in their vagrancy can be made into slaves for two years, and it’s pretty explicit what you can do with the slaves – branding, whipping chaining and all. It has to be said that the act does not last very long – good sense soon reasserted itself; in 1550 the previous act of 1531, Cromwell’s act, is re-instated; and once again the poor laws recognise that the vagrant poor need to be helped with employment. So, look at me now those of you who insist Cromwell was nothing more than a brutal enforcery bloke.

Just to recover my impartiality after the snidey Good Duke crack, we need to consider context here. We know that the vagabonds desperately roaming the lanes of England looking for work and food were the result of population growth in an inflexible economy which could not offer the extra work needed. Inflation was at its height; between 1540 and 1547, prices rose by 46%; in 1549 they were to rise a further 11%.  In desperation people had no choice but to leave their villages and went to look for work. As far as the rest of society was concerned, they were wilfully breaking the social mores and rules of the day, they should stay to be looked after in their parish, and their wilful flouting of the rules was very likely to lead to violence and social unrest, and for the good of society they must be stopped. The Vagrancy act was not the Good Duke’s own act, though presumably he could have tried to stop it; as we will see, the sympathy Somerset would show would be to those poor who tried to play by the rules. The 1547 act is a mark of just how much Tudor society feared social unrest – which fear was soon to be made real. We might also note that as early as this, some of Somerset’s friends and supporters were warning him of potential trouble; William Paget in particular pressed Somerset to be firm, to set his face hard against any leniency. He was to repeat his words before long, along with the ‘I told you so’ bit.

In December 1547 a new Chantries Act was also passed which was pretty much the last major dividend to be had in the great project to reduce the excessive wealth of the church. It’s worth restating, by the way, why Cranmer and the reformers felt Chantries should be removed. These are the chapels paid for by the money of the faithful to have prayers said for them after their death, to speed them through purgatory. Of course as far as the reformers were concerned, the very idea of purgatory and the intervention of prayers was unscriptural and a con trick; it was already written who was saved and who was not, and as Luther said, you don’t bargain with God. So the Chantries were illogical and just there to take the money of the innocent for the benefit of a vast vested interest, the church. Their removal liberated many. It also removed a connection between the living and their ancestors that had been part of the weft and warp of daily life, and removed a source of comfort for many as well. There are as always two sides to every story.

About 2,500 chapels were wound up through the Court of Augmentations, priests compensated, goods, fabric and land sold off. The dividend from this enormous vested interest was supposed to go towards the enrichment of the nation, to education in particular. Instead, the massive £600,000 recovered from the process went into the pocket of another enormous vested interest, the gentry and nobility of England who agreed to the change. Specifically, much it also went to finance Somerset’s war in Scotland. The promises of the bill to spend the money wisely were once more noting more than fluff and vapour. Cranmer and the Evangelicals were livid, and would accuse the government of failing their people, with some justice.

There’s an interesting little side note. There arose a tradition in England that the reformation led to the establishment of a whole range of new schools; and that we can see this by the number of Edward VI schools. Well, we now know that most of the money from the dissolution went into the pockets of the state and gentry, and many assume it was therefore spent on fripperies, like gaudy palaces, nice bonnets and embroidered cod pieces. Much of it probably did. But in the end much of it did end up enriching the wider nation through foundations. The number of grammar schools increased from 217 to 272 in the course of the reign.  It appears there is more than one way to skin a cat. Again, please don’t try this at home.

There’s another interesting sidenote to the parliament. How many interesting sidenotes can one episode have? One of the bills Somerset tried to push through related to his own authority, basically saying that Somerset would have governorship of Edward until he Edward, decided it should be so, rather than the specific age of 18. Seems fine. His brother Seymour objected fiercely – because he, Thomas Seymour, wanted to become the king’s governor. So Thomas Seymour tried to use his influence with Edward, the friendship he had built up. He introduced a bill into parliament making him governor of the king, and tried to get Edward to sign it. The 10 year old lad could smell something. Oddly enough the bill Seymour put in front of him seems to be smelling vaguely of haddock. Or was or Dory? Definitely something fishy anyway. He resisted – he wanted the Council to sign it first. Seymour demanded he sign it immediately. Edward would not be bullied – he insisted Seymour leave, and later took John Cheke’s opinion who put him straight. Edward was no pushover, young though he might be.

Let us finish this instalment of the Protectorate with the story of the rough wooing. In January, Somerset decided that there should be more carrot, given that the stick had been applied to Scotland with impressive force. So in January 1548 he issued a letter to the Scottish people, pleading for a bond of common interests

United together in one language in one island

As he said, proposing that the old names of Scotland and England be abolished in favour of one united Britain. It was a brave effort of course, and very probably Somerset believed it, but marriage at the end of a sword was unsurprisingly unattractive to most of the people at the pointy end of it. The cost of the garrisons in the lowlands were now sucking money from the already impoverished English treasury, particularly a main base of 2,500 soldiers held at Haddington, which is a town in Lothian just to the East of Edinburgh, but Somerset was determined to pursue the marriage of Mary and Edward, and convinced the benefits of the idea would eventually convert the Scots. So, it was something of a shock, when the news reached him that Mary Queen of Scots had been betrothed to the Dauphin of France, Francis. Mary was already showing some of the character that would mark her extraordinary life; it would be reported when she was 10 that

Her spirit is already so high and noble that she would make great demonstration of displeasure at seeing herself degradingly treated

This was to be reported from France. Because in 1548 that’s where Mary was sent, away from English grasp, to live at the French court. It’s a rather simple and brilliant move; it brought French military aid, and a French force duly arrived on Scottish soil, which led to on-off military encounters around the English base at Haddington. But mainly, it just cut English policy off at the knees. Sorry, she’s not here. Oh no, she’s already engaged to be married, didn’t you know? So Sorry, didn’t I mention it, I should have said.

That seems like a good place to leave it. Next time we shall meet one of the great objects of English history, which will the most powerful and indeed beautiful unifying forces in England for hundreds of years. Bet you can’t guess what it is, though maybe the date 1549 will help some of you. And despite its power to unify, it will start in division.

4 thoughts on “258 Protector Somerset

  1. Hi David! Again, many thanks for your astonishing array of excellent, enjoyable, and thought-provoking podcasts! Your work enriches my life. On the topic of young King Edward, I wonder if you have read Mark Twain’s novel “The Prince and the Pauper”? Twain represents Edward as robust and good natured, and ascribes the relatively clement nature of his brief reign to a misadventure. It’s good fun. I have always chosen to believe more of Twain’s characterization (though I have no idea of his sources, other than his own tremendously creative wit) than the versions of Edward as sickly or in any way weak. Edward’s death therefore strikes me as one of history’s great, tragic “what if” moments. Again, many thanks for all your amazing work!

    1. Hi and thank you very much! I am glad you are enjoying them.
      To my shame I have never knowingly read a Mark Twain, but yes the Prince and the Pauper is very well known – I’m sure there was a film made of it? I must admit I did not know that it was Edward VI. Yes, his early death made a great difference I think, and one of those great imponderable what ifs’.

  2. “To my shame I have never knowingly read a Mark Twain”
    May I recommend the incredibly enjoyable The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Still my favorite novel.* I read it when I was 9 or 10, several more times in the next decade, and many decades later, tried it again…and again enjoyed it so much. Whitewashing the fence, removing the schoolmaster’s hairpiece with a fishing line, and Tom and Becky lost in the cave are scenes indelibly stamped on my psyche.
    Plus, the degree of shame you carry with you will be lightened ever so slightly.

    *I think my other favorite novels are The Hobbit and The Day of the Jackal, both written by blokes on your side of The Pond.

    1. You may, thanks for the recommendation, and yes, I really should read Tom Sawyer. Afteral, if Rush can name a song after it, must be good. I will do it. The Hobbit is a wonderful book greed. Never read the Day of the Jackal, but the film (original one with James Fox) is one of my all time favourites

Leave a Reply