CHAPTER XII. EDWARD VI (i), 1547-49 - THE PROTECTOR SOMERSET

[1547 Jan.-Feb. The New Government]

In accordance with the extraordinary powers granted to him, Henry VIII. laid down in his will both the order of succession to the throne and the method of government to be followed during his son's minority. Under this instrument he nominated sixteen "executors," forming virtually a Council of Regency, giving precedence to none. Superficially, the list represented both the progressive and the reactionary parties. Cranmer was balanced by Tunstal of Durham; Wriothesly the Lord Chancellor was a strong Catholic. But as a matter of fact, the influential men belonged for the most part to the advanced section. Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, was their leader: but Paget, Dudley (Lord Lisle), Russell, and Herbert, were all of the same way of thinking. None of the rest were of the same weight as these; while Norfolk, the natural head of the conservative nobility was a prisoner in the Tower, and Gardiner, the ablest of the ecclesiastics, was omitted from the list.

Henry died in the early morning on January 28th; the fact was not made public till the 31st; and in the meantime, Hertford had carried the Council, which forthwith nominated him Lord Protector. The next step was a distribution of honours: Hertford was made Duke of Somerset; his brother, the Lord Admiral, (not an executor), Lord Seymour of Sudeley; Dudley became Earl of Warwick, Wriothesly Earl of Southampton, and Parr, brother of the late King's widow, Earl of Northampton. A couple of months later, that lady - who had succeeded in surviving two husbands including Henry - herself wedded Seymour of Sudeley,

Southampton was the one man whose opposition on the Council was to be feared; and he gave himself into his enemies' hands by an act of indiscretion. He issued a commission appointing four judges to act in the Court of Chancery, under the Great Seal, on his own responsibility: and was promptly declared to have forfeited his office which was bestowed upon Rich. This was immediately followed by the granting of new powers to the Protector, enabling him to act virtually without consulting the Executors: while he was already guardian of the King's person. In effect, Somerset meant himself, as representing Edward, to exercise all those powers which had been surrendered to the formidable Henry. In the meantime, the trend of the ecclesiastical policy to be anticipated was shown by the treatment of the bishops; who - with the approval of Cranmer - were required to receive their commissions anew from the new King as though they had been Civil servants. Cranmer, in the Coronation sermon, made pointed references to Josiah, which could only be regarded as precursors of a war against "images," and the more advanced among the clergy began to express themselves with a freedom which would have been very promptly and unpleasantly dealt with by the late King. Ecclesiastical conventions received a startling shock when it was made known that the Primate himself was openly eating meat in Lent.

To carry the Reformation beyond the stage at which it had been left by Henry in a tolerably peaceful manner was a sufficient task in itself; but the situation which the new Government found that it had to face, by the time Somerset had secured his position, towards the end of March, was complicated by many additional problems - not least among these being the lack of funds.

[Relations with France]

The recent peace with France had given the English Boulogne for eight years as security for the payment of a substantial annual sum. But while this might be looked upon as a valuable diplomatic asset - a means to graceful concession in return for adequate benefits - it remained an incitement to French hostility; the more so when Francis I. followed his great contemporary to the grave after less than two months, and was succeeded by Henry II.; with whom the retention of Boulogne was a particularly sore point, as he had failed in an attempt to recapture it. If England found herself in difficulties it was tolerably certain that France would try to recover Boulogne without waiting the eight years for its restitution.

[with Scotland]

France was not unlikely to find her opportunity in Scotland. There the group who had murdered Cardinal Beton in the previous summer retained the castle of St. Andrews in defiance of the weak government, at whose head were the regent Arran and the queen-mother Mary of Guise, whose family was now the most influential in France. The one means by which an English party could be maintained in Scotland was the giving active support to the "Castilians" as the St. Andrews faction was called; whereas French interference on behalf of the Government would immensely strengthen the anti-English party.

[with Charles V.]