CHAPTER XIII. EDWARD VI (ii), 1549-53 - THE DUDLEY ASCENDANCY

When Somerset fell, the state of affairs which his successors had to face was singularly threatening, calling for the most skilful statesmanship both at home and abroad.

[1549 (Winter) The Situation]

Externally, the chance of maintaining the hold on Boulogne was disappearing: but while it was maintained, the hostility of France was assured. Scotland, defiant, allied with France and helped by French troops, might become actively embarrassing. Within two months of the Protector's fall Pope Paul died. He was succeeded by Julius III. who promptly made friends with the Emperor; to whom there was now hardly any open resistance save at Magdeburg which stubbornly refused to accept the Interim. With the Protestants apparently under his heel, and on good terms with the Papacy, he might assume a hostile attitude to England. The one hope for her lay in buying from France the friendship of the party in that country which, ever mindful of the Italian provinces, might make common cause against the Emperor if the immediate source of friction with England were removed.

[State of the Country]

At home there were the rural discontents and the swelling ardours of religious partisanship to deal with, while the financial position was growing worse from day to day. The natural fall in the value of silver everywhere, owing to the quantities of the metal now beginning to pour into Spain from America, depreciated the purchasing power of wages; and this was made infinitely worse in England by the persistent debasement of the coinage. The rulers of the country rewarded their own very inconspicuous merits with the forfeited spoils of the Church, instead of applying them to the public needs. The Treasury was nearly empty, and was maintained even at its alarmingly low level only by borrowing from foreign bankers at usurious interest. For the time being, the country had lost its moral balance; landowners, merchants, and manufacturers were absorbed in rapid money-making at the expense of their traditional integrity. Religion had fallen into a controversial wrangle between contradictory dogmas; the most earnest of the Reformers have given us the blackest pictures of the prevailing irreligion and moral anarchy, rampant products of theological acrimony. It is true that the Moralists of all ages have usually been engaged in expressing a vehement conviction that the decadence of their own age exceeds that of any other known to history; and within the next decade, the denunciations of Latimer were to be lost in the paean of the martyrs. Had the corruption he depicts been vital, those sublime tragedies would never have taken place. But for the time, chaos prevailed. It is true that some of the subjects of controversy were logically vital ultimately; but it is true also that, absorbed in them, the controversialists lost sight of other matters more spiritually vital immediately. If the Christian is taught that his duty to God is comprised in the acceptance or non-acceptance of dogmas and ceremonial observances, while his duty towards his neighbour comprises the whole of his moral conduct; if then his spiritual guides omit to preach the latter in their devotion to the former subject; his morality is in danger of being entirely neglected. "This ought they to have done, but not to leave the other undone."

[1550 Terms with France]

In one respect, the new Government recognised the force of facts. It made up its mind that France must be reconciled by the evacuation of Boulogne, if any colourable concession could be obtained in return. France however so obviously held the whip-hand that even Paget's diplomacy could do little to qualify the completeness of the surrender. There was a brave display of preparation for a determined defence, but the negotiators on both sides were fully aware of its emptiness. There was nothing that Henry II. desired more than the termination of strife with his excellent neighbours, provided that they would hand over Boulogne, cancel most of the money claim under the treaty of 1546 for which they held it as security, and withdraw their troops from the forts they still retained in Scotland. The reconciliation might then be sealed by the betrothal of Edward to a French princess, the young Queen of Scots being bespoken by the Dauphin - only nothing considerable in the way of a dowry could be expected. France however would pay within a few months what might pass as a ransom for Boulogne. Such were the terms which Paget, the cleverest statesman in England, was obliged to advise the Council to accept: though the suggested marriage project was dropped. The treaty of peace was signed on March 24th (1550).

[Warwick's Protestant zeal]