John Dudley, as Duke of Northumberland for a while dominated the King’s Council – and was a man with the imagination to change the rules. And the Edwardian Reformation continued, step by step, to transform religious practice.
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The Edwardian Reformation
In this episode we also review the progress of the Edwardian Reformation. In a few short years, the practice of religion in England was transformed. Often the iconoclasm of the 1530’s and 1550’s is presented entirely negatively; and there’s no doubt that probably the majority of English were still reluctant or outright rejecting of the changes. But despite destruction (in the name of the cleansing of the temple) there was also rebuilding, and there was also a sense of liberation for many. An image from the 19th century of Hailes Church gives a flavour of the intimacy and
participation Cranmer’s reformation brought.
1552 also brought two major changes; the introduction of a major revision of the Book of Common Prayer. In this version was there now no escape for traditionalists – it could not be squared with the Catholic rite. There also came the 42 articles, a coherent description of the beliefs of the Church of England. Both would be changed very little by the later Elizabethan settlement.
Only one of Cranmer’s projects didn’t make it – his planned update of canon law. Cranmer wanted to make sure that canon law not only reflected the new religion, but also created some independence for the new Church of England. But in this, he fell foul of a worsening relationship between himself and Northumberland, as Cranmer argued for Somerset to be spared.
The 42 Articles
If you want to know more about the progress of doctrine, there is a very good webpage here showing the articles of the church of England in 1538, 1552 and 1571.
This week, I am going to start by making an absurd connection. When I was but an tiny little boy, or however it goes, I remember learning about Kerensky. You know, the Russia guy. As a fully paid up card carrying member off the middle classes, I have always felt a certain sympathy with Alexander Kerensky. Now before you all shout at me and tell me what a thoroughly horrid person he was or whatever, just bear in mind that it is what, um, let me think ooh, 54 minus 17 equals 37, so 37 years since I read a word about Alexander Kerensky, so you know, don’t be nasty to me. My takeway though about Kerensky was that he was a sort of representative of the middle classes attempting to sort out the mess the Tsars had created, coupled with a desperate attempt to keep all the various balls in the air – WWI, bit of democracy, economic reform. The full shebang. And in his attempt to satisfy everyone, achieved absolutely zip. If you do have quibbles about my interpretation of this period of history please send them to David Crowther, at The bin.
The laboured link leading from my loquacity is to Somerset and Dudley. So Kerensky did all his stuff to try and hold it all together and keep everyone happy; and then along came Lenin who said sod that and signed up to the Brest Litovsk treaty which has got to be one of the most abject surrenders of territory in world history does it not? And of course it would mean lots of trouble but Lenin was able to solve one of his problems and get on with the business of building Bolsevik Russia. I really am beginning to wish I’d never started this analogy, but look Somerset accepted the world as it was – he had a war in Scotland he had to win, and he had Boulogne in France he needed to hold onto, he had a reformation to deliver. So while he was trying to do all that, inflation could have been as high as 21%, population growth was sending Tudor society into a tailspin, the harvests of 1549 to 1551 were poor, we’ve just had the Camping Time and there’s rumours of thousands of revolting peasants in Kent; ordinary folk were in serious danger of starving. But anyway, the point is that of course Somerset crashed and burned – because he would not change the rules, he would not focus on what was really important. Whereas Dudley was capable of taking the Captain James T approach with kobayashi Mara – he could cheat, change the rules. Like Lenin, Dudley could throw away all the apparent success – apparent military success in Scotland, apparent military glory in France, recognise it was transitory and peripheral and get on with the main job of doing his best to bring peace, prosperity and stability.
Accepting that in writing terms I have just disappeared in a metaphorical vortex of metaphors, let me also note that Dudley was not alone in his analysis of the challenges that faced Edwardian England. A bright young thing called William Cecil prepared a paper in 1550 for the Council. Now you might be surprised at that. Huh, you’ll say; last time we heard of William Cecil he was Somerset’s man. I’d have thought he went down with him, isn’t that the way it works?
Well you’d be right. Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk wrote him a letter which I thought I’d quote for no good reason
Good Cecil mistrust not but you shall have all that I can do ye, and if there be anything which you think I may do forebear me not, use me as I have been bold to use you
Cecil was on the political ropes. It’s also quite impressive that at such a time Katherine should publically show her support; Katherine Brandon was also to hold off agreeing a marriage with one of her sons because she did not want to push them towards a marriage with which they were personally uncomfortable. A reminder I think, that in the welter of big dramatic stuff we forget that people has as much common sense in Tudor times as they ever did. Thought I should share that since you know, we tend to focus on the negatives here at the history of England. Not that it did Cecil a blind bit of good of course – eight days later he was thrown into the Tower.
Cecil was in custody for 8 weeks. When he emerged he found his address had changed to ‘political wilderness’, which for Cecil was never going to be a des res. His routes back to the political good books were two fold. The first was Stephen Gardiner. By 1550, Dudley was getting worried by Somerset again; Somerset had regained his place on the Council and he and Dudders appeared to be getting on fine, even discussing possible marriage alliances, and in fact in June Dudley’s son John married Anne Seymour. But Dudley began to be worried that Somerset appeared to be reforging alliances with folks like Gardiner who were food, not friends. In the latter part of 1550, Cecil prepared advice for Dudley to prepare the case against Gardiner; in December 1550 the bishop of Winchester came in front of a court led by Cranmer; In February 1551, Gardiner was stripped of the Bishopric of Winchester and led away to jail. Not quite the end of the story of Wiley Winchester but we won’t hear any more from him for a while. Gardiner followed Edmund Bonner who had also been stripped of the Bishopric of London, and the two were replaced; Gardiner by John Ponet. Ponet is the guy we mentioned I think somewhere, who wrote of the right of the people to remove errant kings, so he’s a radical chap for the age, a reminder of the radicalism that protestantism was capable of bringing. And Nicholas Ridley replaced Bonner in London; Ridley was a close associate of Cranmer, and I appreciate I am introducing a welter of names but Nicholas Ridley will have his place in English iconography so I thought he should get a mench. Unsurprisingly, Cranmer was replacing conservative clerics in Bishoprics with evangelicals as quickly as he could.
While I am on the topic of Cecil’s return to gainful employment, I might mention that during one of the spats between the Council and Mary, when a written record of the exchange was sent to her, Mary remarked
Ah! Good master Cecil took much pain here
So, Cecil’s name was recognised, people in power knew who he was and recognised him as significant, as a person to be watched. Cecil was back on the trail, he’s duckin’ and weavin’; and in the winter of 1550 he prepared this paper for the Council I was meant to be telling you about before I got distracted again. His aim was to outline the environment that should drive the Council’s strategy in his view. Here we go:
The Emperor is aiming at the sovereignty of Europe, which he cannot obtain without the suppression of the reformed religion; and unless he crushes the English nation, he cannot crush the reformation. Besides religion, he has a further quarrel with England, and the Catholic party will leave no stone unturned to bring about our overthrow. We are not agreed among ourselves. The majority of our people will be with our adversaries
This is very interesting. Ooh where shall I start. William Cecil will be driven by the imperative of protecting the reformation from her enemies. In here you can see the first stirrings of a division that will be central to English politics – fear of the forces of Catholicism, and hey who can blame them – a Princess of the Crown conspires daily with said Catholic Emperor. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. And he admits that the reformation has a long way to go – people are not yet converted, they hanker, they hanker, capital H.
So back to the Brest Litovsk treaty. Cecil’s paper made it clear that political and religious unity at home and focussing on the threat from the Catholic empire was England’s first priority. Everything else was not and had to go. Dudley agreed with these conclusions. And what Dudley agreed with, he could deliver.
France was first. In March 1550 Dudley agreed to give Boulogne back to France, whence, obviously, it had come. The benefits are simple and immediate; the cost of maintaining a garrison that was besieged and need to be supplied was removed. Plus, the French agreed to pay about £180,000 for it. For their own town! Fancy. We could have sold them Loughborough at the same time. The idea of Peace with Scotland was also included in the treaty, since Scotland and France were of course allied, and French armies were in Scottish sleevies. Dudley was completely convinced of the uselessness of the Scottish war we remember as the rough woo’ing; the Scots had already neatly side stepped their repudiated treaty with Henry VIII and the child in question Mary (as in Queen of Scots, yes that Mary) was married to the French Dauphin. The garrisons in Scotland were expensive and beleaguered; despite the victory of Pinkie Cleugh England had no hope of winning a renewed war, and it was costing a fortune. Time to leave. Fighting stopped, but it took a while to conclude a treaty, which finally happened in March 1551.
Now Of course, Dudley was heavily criticised – people don’t like defeat and what looks like giving stuff away, it’s a national pride thing, and Boulogne was the revered Big Man’s great triumph. It did little therefore for Dudley’s public reputation, although it was the right thing to do. A perennial problem with politics I am sure you will agree. Which of course meant that among all the discontent it tended to be Dudley that got the blame for a few other things. So when a Bishop wife wrote
We are much disturbed by apprehension of riots…by reason of the dearness of provisions…on whom blame is laid you know better than I do
She meant Dudley by the way. It reflected Ambassador Schefvre’s analysis to the Emperor that Dudley was
Hated by the commons and more feared than loved by the rest
None the less Dudley kept a political lid on things, and partly achieved this by organising the structure of Lord Lieutenants. Now this was another of Henry VIII’s ideas, a sort of military arm to support the sheriff in each county. Dudley saw the value in the scheme and had it extended, regularised and approved in parliament. It’s a system that still exists as one of those irrelevant and vestigial survivals for old buftees of the now defunct officer classes of which England has so many. But at the time, it made sense, and would be further extended in Elizabeth’s reign to become a core part of English regional government.
Dudley also took action to address the basic problem of the economy. Obviously one step was to spend less, and through a peace policy he was doing that. But we also have a curious little incident of the coinage, wherein I shall introduce the the name of Thomas Gresham, a name known and beloved to all you economists out there, and the only thing I remember from my year doing the Economics optional year at St Andrews.
Anyway, we have stated the problem before – Henry VIII had devalued the coinage following the device used regularly by the French crown of reducing the silver content of coins while keeping the face value the same. Naughty, and indeed, naughty. Once started it was a bit like watching Game of Thrones., although it’s meaningless and goes nowhere it’s almost impossible to stop. So He’d really really pushed the boat out – the silver content had gone from 12 oz to 4 oz, so that the most recent coin was called the copper face, because the silver was so thin it actually rubbed off the coin; the gag at the time was that the coins ‘blushed with shame.’ Which is not a bad gag. Here was one of the manageable causes of the galloping inflation which could be understood and dealt with. So, Dudley decided that the value would be restored. However he could not resist one more bite of the cherry; so a new coinage was first introduced with just 3 oz, which raised him £120,000. Then he took an odd, gradualist route to recoinage. What happened normally is that everyone came in with their old coin and replaced them with a new one. It’s a pricey and administratively challenging process of course, so Dudley tried the wheeze of reducing the face value of the new coins. Well that’s a way of doing things, but he announced it early before the new coins were out there, so the price of the coinage dropped immediately. A bit chaotic
Plus we then have the impact of the thing that oddly gets called Gresham’s law – which is – bad money drives out good. People were reluctant to use and therefore lose the older coinage whose bullion content was higher that the new coin. So they hoarded the old coins instead – and the only money in circulation were the lesser newer coins – bad money drives out good, da daaa.
So where does Gresham come into all of this? Well apparently he never said anything to create this law, and Copernicus amongst others had previously identified the phenomenon. We don’t hear enough about Copernicus. But mainly two reasons why Gresham gets associated with the law; firstly Dudley asked for advice from many folks, and probably Gresham among them. Stop messing about they said – I paraphrase, obviously. So Dudley did what he should have done and just issued a new, better coinage, with pre 1542 silver content. In the process, he had again won himself no favours with the ordinary folk. As always in these situations, it’s those already rich who make more money, since have the means and are in the know. It’s the poor who always get shafted. But secondly, and more usefully, Gresham became the royal agent on the low countries money markets for two years. Thomas Gresham was something of a financial whiz kid. During his 2 years, he managed to reduce the national debt on the Antwerp money market from £325,000 to £108,000, largely just by messing about with the exchange rate. So that’s nice then. Handy even.
Somerset, meanwhile had been watching all of this from the Council table. Sadly, Somerset was finding the business of playing second fiddle pretty much unbearable. He had to watch also as Dudley made himself more and more essential to and popular with the king, both by the freedoms he gave the king, his much more inclusive style, and as we will see by a continuous emphasis on religious reform, which matched Edward’s own growing convictions. In October, John Dudley was promoted to become the Duke of Northumberland – here it is at last. So, that’s Viscount Lisle, Earl of Warwick, now Northumberland. It’s Northumberland that we will now call Dudders, since generally that is how he is remembered, and I do not want to cause confusion down your local as you share this week’s episode with your pals. In this round of promotions, it was Northumberland’s friends that got the honours, not Somerset’s. Which meant Somerset was a man more miffing than miffed against. Incidentally, in 1551 William Cecil was also promoted to the King’s council. He had officially arrived.
One of Northumberland’s political allies who received his promotion was Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, who was now also promoted to Duke of Suffolk. He was promoted by right of his wife Frances Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon, step daughter of the Katherine Brandon we mentioned before. Confusing. As we’ve said, Grey’s position on the Council now meant that Jane Grey was also seen much more at court; and it’s worth remembering just how important she was, given her royal blood and that she was in line to inherit – 4th I think. There was public evidence of her importance. One particular occasion was the visit of the French queen Mary of Guise; she’d been in France to visit her daughter Mary, and returned via London, and was given a rousing and lavish reception, with all the members of the court decked out in their finery. At the official reception, Jane’s mother Frances led the elite of England’s womenfolk to meet the Scottish regent – with Jane ranking as fifth. It has to be said, though that her dad doesn’t appear to have been the best or most enthusiastic administrator. There’s a suspicion of getting him out the way when he was despatched to the borders for an unhappy period. He wrote to Cecil from the Borders as it happens
I long to hear from you as they that inhabit hell would gladly hear how thy do that be in heaven.
…So… not having a great time them, I am guessing.
Meanwhile, Somerset couldn’t help himself essentially. We’ve seen him cozying up to the Catholic faction with Gardiner, despite his evangelical convictions; but in the late summer he also started conversations with the Earl of Arundel, another traditionalist. The story that emerged to Dudley was that Somerset had organised some of his supporters to keep reserves of men, up to 2,000 men in one account, just in case he should need them for something…I don’t know, something err – rebellious maybe? Or Gardening related? And apparently he had 100 men of his own ready and willing for action. Another story emerged of Somerset using his popularity to have bands in London march round crying ‘liberty!’ in protest against Northumberland’s policies – Somerset was trying to be subtle and to stir the pot.
There’s a rather interesting exchange between Somerset and Dudley during one of the interminable arguments about whether Mary should or should not be allowed to celebrate the mass. Somerset urged toleration and leeway; which you could characterise as typical of the kind of toleration Somerset had brought to the country in 1547. You might also be a little cynical and say this was just part of his campaign to create a pro Somerset party among the Catholics, but I leave that to you. Northumberland on the other hand was of a much more straightforward mind:
The mass is either of God of or the Devil. If it is of God it is but right all our people should be allowed to go to it; but if it is not out of God, as we are taught in the scriptures, why then should not the voice of this fury be proscribed to all?
They both have a point really. Life is complicated.
Whether or not Somerset would have gone further than a whispering campaign, whether he’d have used these supposed armed men or not is moot, but became irrelevant. Northumberland was a man of action and he wasn’t hanging around until Somerset made his mind up. Somerset seems to have caught a whiff of it; he asked his old pal Cecil if he’d heard anything. Cecil’s reply was a bit uncompromising – you’ll be fine if you are innocent sort of thing.
On a morning in October, Northumberland’s agents acted – and Somerset and his fellow conspirators if that’s the right word, were taken. It took some time to bring the Good Duke to trial, but at the start of December, finally Somerset was brought from the Tower to Westminster by boat; he was resolute, declaring that he would confess nothing. Crowds gathered. Somerset’s popularity, it seems had been fully restored – the building of Somerset house forgotten, the Good Duke’s evangelism and interest in the people remembered. The charges against him included treason and unlawful assembly.
Now the English have always enjoyed a good courtroom drama, and the crowd grew as the trial continued, back and forth with Somerset defiant challenging everything. Though Edward seems to have been unimpressed with said charges, writing that he had answered them. The lord were not so sure. The discussion went back and forth, and outside the crowd had begun to chant ‘God Save the Duke!’. The Guardsmen stood outside the courtroom nervously with the heads of their axes pointing downwards, and probably hoping there would be an acquittal, so their axeheads could stay as they were and they could get home to their tea without being lynched.
And indeed on the charges of treason the verdict came out – the Good Duke was acquitted. The crowd went wild, the guardsmen kept their axes as they were. They thought it was all over. Sadly it was not. Sentencing continued; Somerset was convicted for gathering unlawful assemblies. The penalty was death.
Was he guilty or innocent? Northumberland seems to have felt guilty about his death and said he had ‘procured his death unjustly’; but there does seem to have been some hard evidence, and Somerset could not resist the kind of politicking he would have known was dangerous; and of the unlawful assembly he probably was guilty. It’s a bit of a technicality, but he probably was guilty. Either way, on January 22 Somerset stood on the gallows pole and said hangman hangman, wait a little while, and then spoke to the crowd of God and his time to die, and was beheaded. The Crowd groaned, many rushed forward to dip bits of cloth in his blood. The Good Duke was no more. Ambassador Schefvre was smug remarking that it was all probably as well and thoroughly well deserved given that Somerset had introduced the new religion into England.
Two separate observers noted that Nicholas Ridley the Bishop of London and Thomas Cranmer argued furiously with Northumberland to save Somerset’s life; for them. Somerset had been the friend who had finally allowed religion to be rebuilt in the kingdom. Maybe they overstepped the mark; despite the further reforms that follow, there seems to have been a widening breach between Northumberland and Cranmer from this point.
There was to be a specific cost to this breach, which would leave Cranmer’s work undone, which I’ll come to later. Meanwhile though, progress had been made, reformation wise. As I’ve mentioned before, Cranmer, and indeed his soul mates such as Nicholas Ridley, believed firmly in revolution by steps; each step to allow the people to adjust and come with reform, by steps to prevent and confuse opposition, giving no obvious big events around which their opponents could seize a banner, plant it in the ground, adopt a power stance bravely and boldly declare ‘here I stand, I can do no other’, possibly even the more historically aware of them might have killed their horse just to finish off the tableau. Cranmer was convinced that each change must be done in the same way – with parliamentary authority and crucially, royal authority – hopefully I have by now made Cranmer’s belief in the primacy and authority of the king in religious matters clear. Each step would take them towards the model laid down in Jean Calvin’s reformed church in Geneva.
A good example of this was the 1549 Prayer book. Although the Princess Mary would have no truck with it, the subtle Stephen Gardiner had realised that actually you could squeeze the Catholic faith between its pages; one contemporary lady’s will, for example, innocently defined all the banned traditional trappings of a catholic masses for the dead, and then asked for all to be done in accordance with the 1549 Prayer Book. Had he read that will with its incompatible requests, Cranmer would have hung his head into his hands. Small sobs would have racked his body, tears would have dropped from between his fingers. If he had been born a little later in time he would have been forced to make himself a nice cup of tea and dry biscuit to get over it. The point is that more needed to be done, the reformatory job needed to be finished.
Do not mistake me; much had been done, and lot had changed. England’s places of worship were now transformed by the iconoclasm of the Edwardian church. Much of this was in the desire to cleanse the temple – to destroy images; but it was also the desire to build a new, fresh, clean, honest church – destroying images and objects was part of that celebration of liberty which was so central a theme in the English Reformation. Liberty from all the old impositions and, in the minds of Luther and the evangelicals, freedom from the old confidence tricks of the church. The freedom to for every individual to understand and see God through their own exploration of the scriptures. We tend to represent the iconoclasm of the 1530s, 40s and 50s as a negative thing, a destruction of the art and beautiful things, which is understandable; but allow the people of the time also their joy and release, the positive assertion that all things from the past had lost their imprisoning power over the English people. The work Cranmer led had been thorough. To give you one example. In Medieval churches, the Chancel was clearly and firmly separated from the congregation by a rood screen, and every screen would have had groups of holy figures at the top of it. Not a single figure now survives.
The Parish church was now a plain room, with no decoration to be seen except memorial text, a wooden board with the royal arms, and specific bible texts and the 10 commandments on the wall. The pulpit was much more the centre of the church. The altar had been replaced with a table and bench for communicants. Often the altar or communion table had been brought down into the body of the church and the congregation sat around the minister and table, coming forward to kneel for communion. Of course this has all been swept away, by the horros of the Victorian tracterian movement and their love of grandeur pomp and circumstance and ritual, so it’s a bit difficult to visualise, but there is one lovely 19th image from Hailes church, which was in Diarmaid Maculloch’s book ‘Tudor Church Militant’ which I have put on the website. The picture, not the book. There is also a book which my mate Diarmaid recommended to me after last week’s interview called ‘The Churches the Victorians missed’ which is wonderful, showing how churches would have looked before the Tracterians had a go. The picture of Hailes church shows a table, pews organised around it, simple chancel screen, white washed wall. It gives a remarkably good feeling of how it would have been. If you are a lover of colour and images in your church then it would appear, as William Harrison wrote slightly later, that ‘dead cold is our age…there is blue ice in our churches’. If you liked simplicity and intimacy, then you could imagine the sense of liberation, excitement and newness. Life would appear to be all about trade offs. But certainly in these bare churches the laity participated much more openly and fully in the service; bible reading was given primacy, the creeds were fully emphasised.
As to how far most people had adopted the new ways – well it is difficult to be precise. But if I tell you that when the altar at St Pauls in London was moved to the centre of the church, it had to be done in secret at night, it probably tells you something. The reports we get from Imperial Ambassadors often gloomily paint a picture of the constant and dramatic preaching, so much a feature of the reformation, and how it had caused a population deeply converted to the new ways. But that is a false impression, caused by the fact that the Ambassadors don’t move much out of the south east, and outside London the situation would have been very different. Most commentators these days end up somewhere not far away from where William Cecil had got to – that more than half remained reluctant, unconvinced or frankly rebellious.
The one thing that had been emphatically achieved though was that the Pope was gone, history ~ deadtome – that little battle had been almost entirely won, and it’s probably unsurprising given anti papal messages had been promoted now for almost 20 years, and people were anyway inclined to reverence the king rather than Pope. Even Gardiner had accepted this point. The popular rejection of the Pope gave conservatives a problem – it’s a bit tricky to mount a coherent defence of Catholicism and exclude the Pope.
More had yet to be done then, and in 1552 and 1553 Cranmer was able to enlist the support of parliament, and the growing enthusiasm of the king to implement two critical changes. The first was a major revision of his Prayer Book, in a new act of Uniformity in 1552. Not even a man and intelligent and flexible as Gardiner could square this prayer Book with the Catholic faith; the Virgin Mary and the saints were not to be invoked, the Mass was gone replaced by the Lords Supper, vestments were simplified, any prayer or act not specifically mentioned in the scriptures were gone. It is this liturgy that has remained mainly unchanged to this day. The following year, 1553, brought Cranmer’s consolidation of the process of reform in the 42 articles, a structured and coherent statement of faith; they would be the model for the final Elizabethan 39 articles and therefore again still form the basis of the Anglican faith today; justification by faith alone and predestination were confirmed, transubstantiation was condemned as ‘repugnant to the plain words of the scripture, and the rites of the mass were described as ‘fables and dangerous deceits’. Nobody was pulling their punches, there was a hefty wind up with full follow through.
The missing piece, the casualty of the growing lack of agreement between Northumberland and Cranmer, was the reform of canon law to dovetail with all these other changes; Cranmer was gutted, it was a major omission. You might ask why. Go on, ask me why? O go on then I’ll give you a theory at least.
Firstly we’ve seen that Cranmer opposed Northumberland’s execution of Somerset; you might think that this was just a one-off, even if a big one. But there were other occasions when Cranmer opposed him; for example, Cranmer voted against indicting the conservative bishop Tunstall for misprison of treason. Cranmer was becoming a bit of a thorn in Northumberland’s side.
But that alone wasn’t sufficient; you really have to know why Cranmer was so desperate to reform canon or church law. One reason was simply as I have said that so much had changed about the church that its law needed to change to be consistent. Another was that the evangelicals had their own views on the kind of laws the church should have – they have different social priorities. But the big one was that reforming canon law would allow the church to recover some independence from civil authority, from the state.
Northumberland was also a religious evangelical. However, he firmly believed that the church should be subservient to the state. He had no worries about the confiscation of what he saw as surplus ecclesiastical wealth; as far as he was concerned, it was simply putting right a great wrong. And so he blocked Cranmer.
As far as reform was concerned, it would be very wrong to give the impression though of a church moving calmly forward in a measured way, with nods from a grateful population with each enlightenment. Hopefully I have made that clear enough, but it is also important to understand that the Edwardian church was a church at war with itself in some ways. I am going to give you another inappropriate image; do any of you know American Werewolf in London? Do you remember the bit when he transforms into the Werewolf? I suppose that’s a process repeated in loads of films these days – you know, and body being transformed in a violent and painful way. The Edwardian church was still in that process of change. To a degree within the church the challenge from the conservatives was fading fast; in the early 1550s, out of a total of 27 bishops, the conservatives lost 7 members, leaving the leadership of the church overwhelmingly evangelical. In a sense the problems were rather than a significant group thought that Cranmer and Ridley were not going far or fast enough.
One of the issues of course is that liberty is a two edged sword – allow people to debate and they will indeed debate, and they will get cross, they will shout at each other, and the idea of medieval stability and unity is quickly gone. Just wait until we get to the Civil wars, then you’ll see in spades. The debate was constant – in November 1551 for example, William Cecil invited 14 men to his house in Cannon Row in London to debate the mass. 5 spoke against it, 2 defended it. Important people came to listen to the debate. Despite Northumberland’s attempts to row back from Somerset’s liberalism over censorship, the regime was notoriously unsuccessful in supressing printing and pamphleting. It gives an idea also of just how important these issues were, to everyone. They really mattered, people really wanted to find the truth.
Some of the troubles and debates that tore at the Edwardian church seem very petty to us. I have mentioned something of the hoo-haa about the vestments. A further massive debate was whether communicants should kneel during communion – did such as thing imply adoration of the bread and wine? Or was it a simple matter of piety? The firebrand John Knox, the man who would of course transform the Scottish church with fire and brimstone, was at this time preaching at Berwick, having ended his sabbatical as a slave in the French galleys, sent there by the Scottish monarchy; he was invited to preach in London and he got involved with all the enthusiasm for which he will become famous. The language used is not in any way fraternal, with accusations of greed, ignorance, selfishness and most enthusiastically of sexual immorality – ‘hollow-hearted whoremongers, most saucy shameless sodomites, the manciples of mischief’ is one example which is impressive, delightfully alliterative if slightly obscure in places I would have thought for a really effective insult.
This was joined by evangelical fury at what they saw as the misspending of the wealth of the church; they felt betrayed, that all this wealth had simply served to enrich secular politicians. Latimer and other preachers railed against greed and covetousness, and the fury went all the way up to Cranmer. A visitor to Lambeth clearly spent supper being regaled with the good AB’s unhappiness, since he wrote home afterwards saying
I hear that persons in authority are shamefully guilty of seizing on ecclesiastical property
Cranmer would also have been bending Northumberland’s ears about behind closed doors, which would not have made him any more popular. In 1549 Cranmer lectured
Let both parties lay away this so furious and excessive desire of worldly things
There was a general sense of disappointment of missed opportunity. One evangelical wrote in 1550:
Meat was provided for the commons of England, and ready to have been delivered: but when they were bidden to sit down in quietness, they rose up in rebellion and have lost all cheer of that feast
For some of the evangelicals, it was like the feeding of the 5,000 – but where the end of the miracle had gone wrong.
The long and short is that by 1553, the Edwardian reformation had a long way to go; it had many ordinary people to convince, it was divided by factions within its own hierarchy, and between ecclesiastical and lay leaders. And yet, the amount that had been done was astounding. The vast majority of doctrine and liturgy had been laid down and clarified and the Elizabeth church would only tinker with it. From exile during the Marian persecutions one radical evangelical, exactly the kind of man who would moan that not enough had been achieved, would still write with glee that
The greater change was never wrought in so short a space in any country sith the world was
Much of this was due to the cannier and steelier side of Cranmer’s character. He had twisted and turned and survived. He had walked like a child amongst the political wolves of Henry’s day, more than once saved only by Henry’s own hand. John Knox would describe Cranmer as ‘the mild man of God’. But throughout Cranmer showed an inflexible set of core beliefs in the royal supremacy; he built a clear picture of the destination he wanted to achieve, built on a through-going internationalism; and he was prepared to further his aims by anyway he needed to – reassuring with one hand, radical reformation with the other, step by relentless step. When John Knox had ranted against the concept of kneeling at the altar it was not the firebrand who won the argument, it was Cranmer. That the evangelicals got as close as they did to their goals by 1553, that the English church under Elizabeth would turn out as it did, is due to Cranmer more than any one person.