England Under Edward The Sixth.

History Of England
Author: Dickens, Charles
 



Henry the Eighth had made a will, appointing a council of sixteen to
govern the kingdom for his son while he was under age (he was now only ten
years old), and another council of twelve to help them. The most powerful of
the first council was the Earl of Hertford, the young king's uncle, who lost
no time in bringing his nephew with great state up to Enfield, and thence to
the Tower. It was considered, at the time, a striking proof of virtue in the
young king that he was sorry for his father's death; but as common subjects
have that virtue too, sometimes, we will say no more about it.

There was a curious part of the late king's will, requiring his executors
to fulfil whatever promises he had made. Some of the court wondering what
these might be, the Earl of Hertford and the other noblemen interested said
that they were promises to advance and enrich them. So the Earl of Hertford
made himself Duke of Somerset, and made his brother Edward Seymour a baron;
and there were various similar promotions all very agreeable to the parties
concerned, and very dutiful, no doubt, to the late king's memory. To be more
dutiful still, they made themselves rich out of the Church lands, and were
very comfortable. The new Duke of Somerset caused himself to be declared
Protector of the kingdom, and was, indeed, the king.

As young Edward the Sixth had been brought up in the principles of the
Protestant religion, everybody knew that they would be maintained. But
Cranmer, to whom they were chiefly intrusted, advanced them steadily and
temperately. Many superstitious and ridiculous practices were stopped; but
practices which were harmless were not interfered with.

The Duke of Somerset, the Protector, was anxious to have the young king
engaged in marriage to the young Queen of Scotland, in order to prevent that
princess from making an alliance with any foreign power; but, as a large party
in Scotland were unfavorable to this plan, he invaded that country. His excuse
for doing so was, that the Border-men - that is, the Scotch who lived in that
part of the country where England and Scotland joined - troubled the English
very much. But there were two sides to this question; for the English
Border-men troubled the Scotch too; and, through many long years, there were
perpetual Border quarrels, which gave rise to numbers of old tales and songs.
However, the Protector invaded Scotland; and Arran, Scottish Regent, with an
army twice as large as his, advanced to meet him. They encountered on the
banks of the river Esk, within a few miles of Edinburgh; and there, after a
little skirmish, the Protector made such moderate proposals, in offering to
retire if the Scotch would only engage not to marry their princess to any
foreign prince, that the regent thought the English were afraid. But in this
he made a horrible mistake; for the English soldiers on land, and the English
sailors on the water, so set upon the Scotch, that they broke and fled, and
more than ten thousand of them were killed. It was a dreadful battle, for the
fugitives were slain without mercy. The ground for four miles, all the way to
Edinburgh, was strewn with dead men, and with arms and legs and heads. Some
hid themselves in streams, and were drowned; some threw away their armor, and
were killed running, almost naked; but in this battle of Pinkey the English
lost only two or three hundred men. They were much better clothed than the
Scotch, at the poverty of whose appearance and country they were exceedingly
astonished.

A parliament was called when Somerset came back; and it repealed the whip
with six strings, and did one or two other good things; though it unhappily
retained the punishment of burning for those people who did not make believe
to believe, in all religious matters, what the government had declared that
they must and should believe. It also made a foolish law (meant to put down
beggars), that any man who lived idly, and loitered about for three days
together, should be burned with a hot iron, made a slave, and wear an iron
fetter. But this savage absurdity soon came to an end, and went the way of a
great many other foolish laws.

The Protector was now so proud, that he sat in parliament before all the
nobles, on the right hand of the throne. Many other noblemen, who only wanted
to be as proud if they could get a chance, became his enemies of course; and
it is supposed that he came back suddenly from Scotland because he had
received news that his brother, Lord Seymour, was becoming dangerous to him.
This lord was now High Admiral of England; a very handsome man, and a great
favorite with the court ladies, - even with the young Princess Elizabeth, who
romped with him a little more than young princesses in these times do with any
one. He had married Catherine Parr, the late king's widow, who was now dead;
and, to strengthen his power, he secretly supplied the young king with money
He may even have engaged with some of his brother's enemies in a plot to carry
the boy off. On these and other accusations, at any rate, he was confined in
the Tower, impeached, and found guilty; his own brother's name being -
unnatural and sad to tell - the first signed to the warrant for his execution.
He was executed on Tower Hill, and died denying his treason. One of his last
proceedings in this world was to write two letters, one to the Princess
Elizabeth, and one to the Princess Mary, which a servant of his took charge
of, and concealed in his shoe. These letters are supposed to have urged them
against his brother, and to revenge his death. What they truly contained is
not known; but there is no doubt that he had, at one time, obtained great
influence over the Princess Elizabeth.

All this while the Protestant religion was making progress. The images
which the people had gradually come to worship were removed from the churches;
the people were informed that they need not confess themselves to priests
unless they chose; a common prayer-book was drawn up in the English language,
which all could understand; and many other improvements were made, - still
moderately; for Cranmer was a very moderate man, and even restrained the
Protestant clergy from violently abusing the unreformed religion, as they very
often did, and which was not a good example. But the people were at this time
in great distress. The rapacious nobility who had come into possession of the
Church lands were very bad landlords. They enclosed great quantities of
ground for the feeding of sheep, which was then more profitable than the
growing of crops; and this increased the general distress. So the people, who
still understood little of what was going on about them, and still readily
believed what the homeless monks told them, - many of whom had been their good
friends in their better days, - took it into their heads that all this was
owing to the reformed religion, and therefore rose in many parts of the
country.

The most powerful risings were in Devonshire and Norfolk. In Devonshire,
the rebellion was so strong that ten thousand men united within a few days,
and even laid siege to Exeter. But Lord Russell, coming to the assistance of
the citizens who defended that town, defeated the rebels; and not only hanged
the mayor of one place, but hanged the vicar of another from his own church
steeple. What with hanging, and killing by the sword, four thousand of the
rebels are supposed to have fallen in that one county. In Norfolk (where the
rising was more against the enclosure of open lands than against the reformed
religion), the popular leader was a man named Robert Ket, a tanner of
Wymondham. The mob were, in the first instance, excited against the tanner by
one John Flowerdew, a gentleman who owed him a grudge; but the tanner was more
than a match for the gentleman, since he soon got the people on his side, and
established himself near Norwich, with quite an army. There was a large
oak-tree in that place, on a spot called Moushold Hill, which Ket named the
Tree of Reformation; and under its green boughs, he and his men sat in the
midsummer weather, holding courts of justice, and debating affairs of state.
They were even impartial enough to allow some rather tiresome public speakers
to get up into this Tree of Reformation, and point out their errors to them in
long discourses, while they lay listening (not always without some grumbling
and growling) in the shade below. At last, one sunny July day, a herald
appeared below the tree, and proclaimed Ket and all his men traitors, unless
from that moment they dispersed and went home; in which case they were to
receive a pardon. But Ket and his men made light of the herald, and became
stronger than ever, until the Earl of Warwick went after them with a
sufficient force, and cut them all to pieces. A few were hanged, drawn, and
quartered as traitors; and their limbs were sent into various country places
to be a terror to the people. Nine of them were hanged upon nine green
branches of the Oak of Reformation; and so, for the time, that tree may be
said to have withered away.

The Protector, though a haughty man, had compassion for the real
distresses of the common people, and a sincere desire to help them. But he
was too proud and too high in degree to hold even their favor steadily; and
many of the nobles always envied and hated him, because they were as proud and
not as high as he. He was at this time building a great palace in the Strand;
to get the stone for which he blew up church-steeples with gunpowder, and
pulled down bishops' houses; thus making himself still more disliked. At
length, his principal enemy, the Earl of Warwick, - Dudley by name, and the
son of that Dudley who had made himself so odious with Empson, in the reign of
Henry the Seventh, - joined with seven other members of the council against
him, formed a separate council, and, become stronger in a few days, sent him
to the Tower under twenty-nine articles of accusation. After being sentenced
by the council to the forfeiture of all his offices and lands, he was
liberated and pardoned on making a very humble submission. He was even taken
back into the council again, after having suffered this fall, and married his
daughter, Lady Anne Seymour, to Warwick's eldest son. But such a
reconciliation was little likely to last, and did not outlive a year. Warwick,
having got himself made Duke of Northumberland, and having advanced the more
important of his friends, then finished the history by causing the Duke of
Somerset and his friend Lord Grey, and others, to be arrested for treason, in
having conspired to seize and dethrone the king. They were also accused of
having intended to seize the new Duke of Northumberland, with his friends,
Lord Northampton and Lord Pembroke, to murder them if they found need, and to
raise the city to revolt. All this the fallen Protector positively denied;
except that he confessed to having spoken of the murder of those three
noblemen, but having never designed it. He was acquitted of the charge of
treason, and found guilty of the other charges; so when the people - who
remembered his having been their friend, now that he was disgraced and in
danger - saw him come out from his trial with the axe turned from him, they
thought he was altogether acquitted, and set up a loud shout of joy.

But the Duke of Somerset was ordered to be beheaded on Tower Hill, at
eight o'clock in the morning, and proclamations were issued bidding the
citizens keep at home until after ten. They filled the streets, however, and
crowded the place of execution as soon as it was light; and, with sad faces
and sad hearts, saw the once powerful Protector ascend the scaffold to lay his
head upon the dreadful block. While he was yet saying his last words to them
with manly courage, and telling them in particular how it comforted him, at
that pass, to have assisted in reforming the national religion, a member of
the council was seen riding up on horseback. They again thought that the duke
was saved by his bringing a reprieve, and again shouted for joy. But the duke
himself told them they were mistaken, and laid down his head and had it struck
off at a blow.

Many of the bystanders rushed forward, and steeped their handkerchiefs in
his blood, as a mark of their affection. He had, indeed, been capable of many
good acts, and one of them was discovered after he was no more. The Bishop of
Durham, a very good man, had been informed against to the council, when the
duke was in power, as having answered a treacherous letter proposing a
rebellion against the reformed religion. As the answer could not be found, he
could not be declared guilty; but it was now discovered, hidden by the duke
himself among some private papers, in his regard for that good man. The
bishop lost his office, and was deprived of his possessions.

It is not very pleasant to know that while his uncle lay in prison under
sentence of death, the young king was being vastly entertained by plays and
dances and sham fights; but there is no doubt of it, for he kept a journal
himself. It is pleasanter to know that not a single Roman Catholic was burnt
in this reign for holding that religion; though two wretched victims suffered
for heresy. One, a woman named Joan Bocher, for professing some opinions that
even she could only explain in unintelligible jargon. The other, a Dutchman,
named Von Paris, who practised as a surgeon in London. Edward was, to his
credit, exceedingly unwilling to sign the warrant for the woman's execution,
shedding tears before he did so, and telling Cranmer, who urged him to do it
(though Cranmer really would have spared the woman at first, but for her own
determined obstinacy), that the guilt was not his, but that of the man who so
strongly urged the dreadful act. We shall see, too soon, whether the time
ever came when Cranmer is likely to have remembered this with sorrow and
remorse.

Cranmer and Ridley (at first Bishop of Rochester, and afterwards Bishop
of London) were the most powerful of the clergy of this reign. Others were
imprisoned and deprived of their property for still adhering to the unreformed
religion; the most important among whom were Gardiner, Bishop of Wincheser,
Heath, Bishop of Worcester, Day, Bishop of Chichester, and Bonner, that Bishop
of London who was superseded by Ridley. The Princess Mary, who inherited her
mother's gloomy temper, and hated the reformed religion as connected with her
mother's wrongs and sorrows, - she knew nothing else about it, always refusing
to read a single book in which it was truly described, - held by the
unreformed religion too, and was the only person in the kingdom for whom the
old mass was allowed to be performed; nor would the young king have made that
exception even in her favor, but for the strong persuasions of Cranmer and
Ridley. He always viewed it with horror; and when he fell into a sickly
condition, after having been very ill, first of the measles and then of the
small-pox, he was greatly troubled in mind to think that if he died, and she,
the next heir to the throne, succeeded, the Roman Catholic religion would be
set up again.

This uneasiness, the Duke of Northumberland was not slow to encourage;
for if the Princess Mary came to the throne, he, who had taken part with the
Protestants, was sure to be disgraced. Now the Duchess of Suffolk was
descended from King Henry the Seventh; and if she resigned what little or no
right she had, in favor of her daughter, Lady Jane Grey, that would be the
succession to promote the duke's greatness; because Lord Guilford Dudley, one
of his sons, was, at this very time, newly married to her. So he worked upon
the king's fears, and persuaded him to set aside both the Princess Mary and
the Princess Elizabeth, and assert his right to appoint his successor.
Accordingly the young king handed to the crown lawyers a writing signed half a
dozen times over by himself, appointing Lady Jane Grey to succeed to the
crown, and requiring them to have his will made out according to law. They
were much against it at first, and told the king so; but the Duke of
Northumberland being so violent about it that the lawyers even expected him to
beat them, and hotly declaring that, stripped to his shirt, he would fight any
man in such a quarrel, they yielded. Cranmer also at first hesitated;
pleading that he had sworn to maintain the succession of the crown to the
Princess Mary; but he was a weak man in his resolutions, and afterwards signed
the document with the rest of the council.

It was completed none too soon; for Edward was now sinking in a rapid
decline; and, by way of making him better, they handed him over to a woman-
doctor who pretended to be able to cure it. He speedily got worse. On the
6th of July, in the year 1553, he died, very peaceably and piously, praying
God, with his last breath, to protect the reformed religion.

This king died in the sixteenth year of his age, and in the seventh of
his reign. It is difficult to judge what the character of one so young might
afterwards have become among so many bad, ambitious, quarrelling nobles. But
he was an amiable boy, of very good abilities, and had nothing coarse or cruel
or brutal in his disposition, which in the son of such a father is rather
surprising.

 

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