By the standards of the time Somerset’s enemies were lenient. He was deprived of such property as he had acquired during his regency; on February 6, 1550, he was released; in May he was restored to membership in the Royal Council. But Warwick was now Protector of the Realm.
He was a frank Machiavellian. Himself inclined to Catholicism, he adopted a Protestant line because his rival Southampton was the accepted leader of the Catholics, and the majority of the nobles were financially wedded to the new creed. He had learned well the art of war, but he knew that with a bankrupt government and an impoverished people he could not hold Boulogne against a France having twice the resources of England. He surrendered the town to Henry II, and signed an ignominious, inescapable peace (1550)
Under the domination of landlords noble or common, Parliament (1549) passed legislation fearfully punishing the rebellion of the peasants. Enclosures were sanctified by express law; the taxes that Somerset had imposed on sheep and wool to discourage enclosures were repealed. Severe penalties were prescribed for workers who combined to raise their wages.4 Assemblies gathering to discuss a lowering of rents or prices were declared illegal; persons attending them were to forfeit their property. Robert Ket and his brother were hanged. Poverty increased, but the almshouses that had been swept away by the religious revolution were not replaced. Sickness became endemic, but hospitals were abandoned. The people were famished, but the currency was again debased, and prices soared. The once sturdy yeomanry of England were perishing, and the poorest of the poor were sinking into savagery.5
Religious chaos rivaled economic anarchy. The majority of the people remained Catholic,6 but the victory of Warwick over Southampton left them leaderless, and they felt the weakness of those who stand for the past. The collapse of the spiritual and moral authority of the priesthood, together with the instability and corruption of the government, allowed not only a growth of immorality but a bedlam of heresies that frightened Catholics and Protestants alike. John Clement (1556) described “the wonderful sort of sects swarming everywhere, not only of papists... but also of Arians, Anabaptists, and all other kind of heretics... some denying the Holy Ghost to be God, some denying original sin, some denying predestination... innumerable such like, too long to be recited.”7Roger Hutchinson (c. 1550) wrote of “Sadducees and Libertines” (freethinkers), who say “that the Devil... is nothing but... a filthy affection of the flesh .... that there is neither place of rest nor pain after this life, that hell is nothing but a tormenting and desperate conscience, and that a joyful, quiet, and merry conscience is heaven.”8 And John Hooper, Protestant Bishop of Gloucester, reported that “there are some who say that the soul of man is no better than the soul of a beast, and is mortal and perishable. There are wretches who dare, in their conventicles, not only to deny that Christ is our Saviour, but to call that blessed Child a mischief-maker and deceiver.”9
Utilizing the liberty that had been granted by Somerset, a reckless fringe among the Protestants satirized the old religion heartlessly. Oxford students parodied the Mass in their farces, chopped missals to pieces, snatched consecrated bread from the altar and trampled it under foot. London preachers called priests “imps of the whore of Babylon”—i.e., the pope.10 Businessmen met for conferences in St. Paul’s; young gallants gathered there, fought, and slew. The new protectorate was now definitely Protestant. Reformers were named to bishoprics, usually on condition that they transfer part of the episcopal manor to the courtiers responsible for their appointment.11 Parliament (1550) ruled that all paintings and statues were to be removed from any church in England except “the monumental figures of kings or nobles who had never been taken for saints”; and all prayer books except that of Cranmer were to be destroyed.12 Vestments, copes, and altar textiles were confiscated, sold, or given away, and soon graced the homes of the nobility.13An order of Council confiscated to the Treasury all plate remaining in the churches after 1550; later Parliament appropriated for the government the coins in the poor boxes of the churches.14 Further funds were found for the government or its personnel by canceling scholarships for poor students, and suppressing the regius (state-supported) professorships established at the universities by Henry VIII.15 The Parliament of 1552 recommended celibacy to the clergy, but permitted them to marry if chastity proved irksome.
Religious persecution, so long of heretics by Catholics, was now in England, as in Switzerland and Lutheran Germany, of heretics and Catholics by Protestants. Cranmer drew up a list of heresies which, if not abjured, were to be punished with death; they included affirmation of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, or the ecclesiastical supremacy of the pope, and denial of the inspiration of the Old Testament, or the two natures in Christ, or justification by faith.16 Joan Bocher of Kent went to the stake for questioning the Incarnation (1550). To Ridley, Protestant Bishop of London, who begged her to recant, she said: “Not long ago you burnt Anne Askew for a piece of bread [for denying transubstantiation], yet came yourselves to believe the doctrine for which you burnt her; and now you will burn me for a piece of flesh [referring to the phrase in the Fourth Gospel—“The Word was made flesh”], and in the end you will believe this also.” 17 Only two heretics were burned in Edward’s reign; however, many Catholics were imprisoned for hearing Mass, or openly criticizing the currently orthodox creed.18 Obstinately Catholic priests were deposed from their posts, and some were sent to the Tower.19 Gardiner, still there, was offered freedom if he would consent to preach the Reformed faith; refusing, he was removed “to a meaner lodging” in the Tower, and was deprived of paper, pen, and books. In 1552 Cranmer issued his Second Book of Common Prayer, which denied the Real Presence, rejected the sacrament of extreme unction, and otherwise revised the First Book in a Protestant direction. Parliament now passed a Second Act of Uniformity, which required all persons to attend regularly, and only, religious services conducted according to this Book of Common Prayer; three violations of this Act were to be punished with death. In 1553 the Royal Council promulgated forty-two “Articles of Religion” drawn up by Cranmer, and made them obligatory on all Englishmen.
While virtue and orthodoxy became law, the Warwick protectorate was distinguishing itself, in a corrupt age, by its corruption. This did not prevent the malleable young Edward from making Warwick Duke of Northumberland (October 4, 1551). A few days later the Duke atoned for an act of political decency—the release of Somerset—by charging his predecessor with an attempt to re-establish himself in power. Somerset was arrested, tried, and convicted, chiefly on evidence given by Sir Thomas Palmer; an order of the King was forged to call for Somerset’s execution; and on January 22, 1552, he met his death with courage and dignity. Northumberland, when he in turn faced execution, confessed that through his means Somerset had been falsely accused; and Palmer, before his death, confessed that the evidence he had sworn to had been invented by Northumberland.20
Rarely in English history had an administration been so unpopular. Protestant clergymen, who had praised the new Protector in gratitude for his support, turned against him as his crimes increased. King Edward was sinking toward death; Mary Tudor, by an act of Parliament, had been named heiress to the throne if Edward remained childless; and Mary, made queen, would soon revenge herself on those who had led England from the old faith. Northumberland felt that his life was in jeopardy. His one comfort was that his agents had formed Edward to his obedience. He induced the dying King to settle the crown upon Lady Jane Grey, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk and granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister; moreover, Jane had recently married Northumberland’s son. Edward had not, like his father, received Parliamentary authority to name his successor; nearly all England took Princess Mary’s accession as inevitable and just; and Jane protested that she did not want to be queen. She was a woman of unusual education: she wrote Greek, studied Hebrew, and corresponded with Bullinger in Latin as good as his own. She was no saint; she could be sharply critical of Catholics, and laughed at transubstantiation; but she was far more sinned against than sinning. At first she took her father-in-law’s scheme as a jest. When her mother-in-law insisted, Jane resisted. Finally her husband commanded her to accept the throne, and she—“not choosing,” she said, “to be disobedient to her husband”—obeyed. Northumberland now prepared to arrest Mary’s leading supporters, and to lodge the Princess herself in the Tower, where she might be taught resignation.
Early in July the King neared his end. He coughed and spat blood, his legs swelled painfully, eruptions broke out over his body, his hair fell out, then his nails. No one could say what this strange disease was; many suspected that Northumberland had poisoned him. At last, after long suffering, Edward died (July 6, 1553), still but fifteen, too young to share the guilt of his reign.
The next morning Northumberland rode out toward Hunsdon to seize the Princess. But Mary, warned, escaped to Catholic friends in Suffolk, and Northumberland returned to London without his prey. By promises, threats, or bribes, he persuaded the Privy Council to join him in proclaiming Jane Grey queen. She fainted. Recovering, she still protested that she was unfit for the perilous honor forced upon her. Her relatives pleaded with her, arguing that their lives depended upon her acceptance. On July 9 she reluctantly acknowledged herself to be Queen of England.
But on July 10 news reached London that Mary had proclaimed herself queen, that the northern nobles were flocking to her support, and that their forces were marching upon the capital. Northumberland hurriedly gathered what troops he could, and led them out to the issue of battle. At Bury his soldiers told him that they would not take another step against their lawful sovereign. Crowning his crimes, Northumberland sent his brother, with gold and jewels and the promise of Calais and Guiñes, to bribe Henry II of France to invade England. The Privy Council got wind of the mission, intercepted it, and announced allegiance to Mary. The Duke of Suffolk went to Jane’s room, and informed her that her ten-day reign was over. She welcomed the news, and asked innocently might she now go home; but the Council, which had sworn to serve her, ordered her confined in the Tower. There, soon, Northumberland too was a prisoner, praying for pardon but expecting death. The Council sent out heralds to proclaim Mary Tudor queen. England received the tidings with wild rejoicing. All through that summer night bells caroled and bonfires blazed. The people brought out tables and food, and picnicked and danced in the streets.
The nation seemed to regret the Reformation, and to look with longing upon a past that could now be idealized since it could not return. And truly the Reformation had as yet shown only its bitterest side to England: not a liberation from dogma, inquisition and tyranny, but their intensification; not a spread of enlightenment but a spoliation of universities and the closing of hundreds of schools; no enlargement of kindness but almost an end to charity and carte blanche to greed; no mitigation of poverty but such merciless grinding of the poor as England had not known for centuries—perhaps had never known.21 Almost any change would be welcome that would eliminate Northumberland and his crew. And poor Princess Mary, who had won the secret love of England by her patience in twenty-two years of humiliation—surely this chastened woman would make a gentle queen.