Tudors and Stuarts - M. B. Synge

The Protestant Edward VI and the Catholic Queen Mary; Violent Changes (1547-1558)

Edward VI (1547-1553)

Edward VI was only nine when his father, Henry VIII, died, and the story of his six years' reign is a story of disorder and misrule. But it was not the boy's fault; he was like clay in the hands of his ministers. His father had appointed him, in his will, a council of advisers, in which men of moderate views evenly balanced the extreme men. Unfortunately, there was not a single man strong and wise enough to rule the country in such difficult times.

For the first three years of the reign, Edward's uncle, Hertford, now created Duke of Somerset, managed to get the lead. In this short time he ruined the of attempts made by Edward's father and grandfather to bring Scotland closer to England, and he went to war with France. In 1549 there was in the West a great rising against the imposition of the new religion; this rising was put down with the utmost barbarity.

Duke of Somerset


After Somerset's fall, Warwick, Duke of Northumberland, took his place, and intrigued to get his own daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, recognised as the young king's successor. She was Edward's cousin, and being Lady Jane very fond of Lady Jane, he was persuaded to give his consent to settle the crown on her. Somerset was at least a sincere Protestant, and he had real sympathy with the poor, though he was a weak but not a cowardly man. Of Northumberland it is difficult to say anything that is good. Under both men the real power was in the hands of a set of grasping, selfish, hard-hearted nobles, who "embezzled, plotted, and misgoverned" while pretending to reform the Church and to found a purer religion.

As soon as the late king's strong hand was removed, a crowd of foreign Protestant teachers burst into the country. The robber nobles, who formed the Government, took advantage of the turmoil, and proceeded to rob the Church still further. Another reign of terror began. The, young king was fond of learning and of study, and his teachers had made him a strong and sincere Protestant. But he was not able to restrain his wicked nobles, who spoiled the churches while pretending to reform religion.

A royal visitation of all churches was ordered in 1547, with the object of eradicating all Catholic usages. Processions were forbidden; new communion tables of wood were set up instead of the old stone altars. Images and pictures and precious manuscripts were destroyed; the plate and valuables of the churches were looted. Beautiful old painted windows, which could never be replaced, were smashed. The people naturally hated all this destruction of what they regarded as sacred and precious relics, which their forefathers had loved. Many of the treasures in the parish churches had been made by their ancestors' own hands, for they had loved to work for and adorn the churches in which they worshipped. Almost every church, large or small, lost some treasure in the great pillage of Edward VI's reign.

[Illustration] from Tudors and Stuarts by M. B. Synge


But that was not all. The property of hospitals was taken away from them, and even the guilds were robbed. These guilds were clubs for self-help, to which artisans and other workers paid their savings, so that they and their families might not be left without help when sickness or death or other troubles overtook them. Henry VIII had destroyed the monks, the friends of the poor and needy, and now Edward VI's robber nobles took away the funds of the people's mutual help societies.

The Protestant religious teachers of the time were sincere and well-meaning men, but the actual men who carried out whop these violent changes were nothing but greedy rogues. "Thousands became gospellers for the sake of the Church lands," said Latimer, the greatest of the Protestant Reformers, who did not hesitate to denounce the Government. In one of his sermons Latimer told the Court that "we of the clergy had too much, but now we have too little. Schools are not maintained, the preaching office decays. The gentry take the profits of the Church, and benefices (church livings) are given to servants for keeping of hawks, hounds, and horses. The clergy are forced to put themselves into gentlemen's houses and serve as clerks of kitchens, surveyors, or receivers of rents."

Edward VI


The whole country was in a wretched state. The violent changes, not only in religion but also in village farming, were upsetting home-life everywhere. Enclosures of village lands and of commons had been going on at a rapid rate, and many tenants had been turned out, and many of the new landlords were harsher than the old easy-going abbots. "Sheep," as More had written, "which are naturally mild and easily kept in order, may be said to devour men and unpeople not only villages but towns." For sheep-farming needed fewer labourers to see after the sheep on the pasture-land than did the ploughing, the sowing, and the harvesting when it was arable or plough land. Labourers lost their work, because there was more competition for work now when there was less of it, and wages fell. Yet the price of food and necessaries kept on rising.

No wonder the country was full of sturdy beggars or vagabonds. These went on increasing in numbers in spite of the terrible penalties which were now imposed upon them. Any person found loitering for three days was to be branded with a "V" (for vagabond) on his breast. The man who found him loitering might have him for a slave and keep him on bread and water and broken meat. If the slave attempted to run away, then he was to be branded with an "S" on his cheek and forehead, to show that he was a slave for ever.

Bishop Latimer


Bishop Latimer, in another of his outspoken sermons, told the landlords and rent-raisers that poor men, who lived on their labour, could not with the sweat of their brows get a living. All kinds of victuals were very dear—pigs, geese, capons, chickens, and eggs. Not only were the clergy poor, not only did the agricultural labourers suffer, but the yeomen farmers, the sturdiest class in the country, found themselves equally badly off.

"My father was a yeoman," said Latimer, "and had no lands of his own. He had only a farm rented at three or four pounds a year at the utmost, and of his farm he tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had a walk for a hundred sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine. He was able to find the king harness for himself and his horses, and I can remember that I buckled on his harness when he went to Blackheath Field. He kept me at school, or else I should not have been able to preach before the king's majesty now. He kept hospitality for his poorer neighbours, and some alms he gave to the poor. All this he did on the said farm. Whereas, he that now has it pays sixteen pounds or more each year for rent. He is not able to do anything for his king, for himself, nor for his children, or give a cup of drink to the poor." Such was Latimer's account of his own father's farm and of the poor condition of the farmer who came after his father.

Bishop Latimer


An important measure carried out by the Protestants under Edward VI was the introduction of a new Church service-book in the English language for national use. Edward VI's first Prayer Book  was issued in 1549. An Act of Uniformity  to enforce its use was also passed by Parliament, which suppressed the Latin Mass book of old and ordered that there should be a uniform Church service in English throughout the land.

But all these rapid changes only served to upset the people, who had for many years been also suffering from poverty and misery; and there were rebellions during this reign both in the South-West and in the East of England. The rising in Norfolk was by far the most serious. Gentlemen were even hanged under the "Oak of Reformation," on Mousehold Hill at Norwich, for the wrongs they had done to the people, that is, for enclosing villages and commons. The revolt was headed by Robert Ket, a farmer and banker of Wymondham, who called himself King of Norfolk and Suffolk. Ket and his followers seized Norwich, but it was not long before the Earl of Warwick suppressed the rising, and Ket might be seen hanging in chains from Norwich Castle.

The Earl of Warwick, soon to be the Duke of Northumberland, after this took the first place in the King's Council". The boy king had been ailing for some time he had been brought up in the new Protestant' doctrines and remained in that belief till his death in his sixteenth year.

The rule of the Protestant nobles had ended in disgrace. The sweeping changes imposed upon the people in regard to their religion, the dissolution of the monasteries and confiscation of the religious endowments of the craft-gilds, aggravated the violent social upheaval already in progress, due to changes in village farming through enclosure and the conversion of arable land into pasture.

After the death of the young king, the selfish Duke of Northumberland tried to make Lady Jane Grey queen—she was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary and she had married the duke's son. She was a charming, gentle, and clever woman, fond of books and study, and she did not desire the crown thus forced upon her by relatives who were greedy for power. For her own part, she had no wish to live any other life but that of a peaceful English gentlewoman. The people, too, refused to acknowledge her, and rallied round the Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII. "The Lady Mary hath a better title," said the Londoners, and the duke's scheme failed.

Lady Jane Grey


Queen Mary and King Philip of Spain (1558-1558)

All England knew the new queen was a staunch Catholic. She had not hidden the religion "which" (she said) "God and the world knoweth she hath ever professed from her infancy." All England welcomed her as the daughter of Henry VIII. She had opposed the religious changes produced by her brother's ministers, and was determined to restore the old religion.

The new queen soon got Parliament to undo all the acts of Edward's reign concerning the Church. The Latin Mass was restored, and five Catholic bishops were at once brought back.

Now Mary had set her heart on marrying Philip King of Spain; but to this there was much opposition in Parliament and the country. Spain at this time was the strongest of the Catholic countries in Europe, and weak England would simply become a province of Spain.

Risings and plots took place all over the country—in the Midlands, on the Welsh border, in Kent, and in the West. Sir Thomas Wyatt headed a rebellion in Kent to save the country from "Spanish fleets and Spanish slavery," and to make Elizabeth queen. But Mary threw herself on the protection of the citizens of London. "Good subjects," she said to them, "pluck up your hearts and stand by your sovereign like true men. Fear not these rebels, for I assure you, I fear them not at all!"

Lady Jane Grey


The daughter of Henry VIII triumphed, and the Spanish marriage was celebrated in July, 1554. Wyatt's rising failed, for his men would not be traitors and fight against their queen. Some hundred of the rebels suffered death. Poor young Lady Jane Grey and her husband were beheaded, and in ten days her father and Wyatt suffered the same fate. The Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, was arrested, and it was only by the special wish of Philip that her life was saved.

Soon after the marriage, Cardinal Pole came to restore the nation to the communion of the Church of Rome. Parliament knelt to him at Westminster, a Parliament that Mary had taken care, like her father, to fill with men of a "wise, grave, and Catholic sort." All Henry VIII's laws against Rome were now repealed.

The heresy laws of Henry IV and Henry V became again the laws of the land; and these laws sanctioned the fearful punishment of heretics by burning at the stake.

Philip II and Mary Tudor


Neither Catholics nor Protestants had learned to tolerate the views of men who differed from them in religious matters. It was commonly believed that those who thought wrongly about religion—heretics, as they were called—were enemies of society, and should therefore be put to death. Mary in particular was very bitter against heretics, and insisted on carrying out executions even when the bishops and others who had to try those accused of heresy advised her to exercise clemency.

Between two and three hundred Protestants, convicted of heresy, suffered death by burning in the last years of her reign (1555—1558). Among these were Cranmer, who had been Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and others like Ridley and Latimer, famous as preachers and bishops. Cranmer, having joined in the first rebellion against Mary, could have been executed for high treason. Latimer and Bishop Hooper of Gloucester had refused to take part in such conspiracies, but their loyalty in that respect did not save them from the queen's severity. The continual burnings had not the desired effect of rooting out heresy; on the other hand, the sympathy which they evoked for the Protestants who thus suffered made it easier for Elizabeth, when she came to the throne, to reverse the religious policy of her sister.

Mary's marriage with Philip involved her in a Continental war which proved very disastrous for England. The English lost Calais in 1558 and Mary died shortly after.

As the second daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth stood next to the throne. She had a very unhappy time under her sister, Queen Mary. She had been arrested, brought to London, and taken in a barge to the Tower. She trembled at the thought of being detained in the Tower, for she knew too well the fate of others sent there by the stern queen.

Later on, Elizabeth was taken from the Tower by water to Richmond and carried in the queen's own litter by easy stages to Woodstock, where she was shut up and guarded by soldiers night and day, so that there was no chance of escape. She was allowed no books, no pens, no ink, no paper, and as the months went by, she envied even the milking maids, whose songs reached her from the distance, crying that their lot was indeed happier than hers.

One day she was taken to Hampton Court and summoned to her sister's bedroom. She had not seen the queen for two years. She at once threw herself on her knees before her, and declared that she had never plotted against her. "I humbly beseech your Majesty to have a good opinion of me to be your true subject, not only from the beginning hitherto, but for ever." The queen was much touched by this, and Elizabeth was set free. Once more she appeared at Court, and was honoured by the queen. Philip too treated her with all respect, not from any feelings of affection, but because he realised that she would probably be Queen of England after Mary's death. It was to his interest, therefore, to be friendly and respectful in his manner towards her. She was now allowed to go back to her books and her studies, for she had a real love of learning, spoke French well, and read Greek and Latin books with her tutors. And, like all accomplished young ladies of that time, she was skilled in needlework, and derived pleasure from playing on the lute and the virginal.

Mary's life was drawing to a close. During the summer of 1558 she was very ill, and when autumn came it was clear she was dying. In the grey twilight of a November morning Mary passed away. Messengers hastily rode to carry the news to Elizabeth, who, falling on her knees, cried aloud in Latin: "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."

Queen Elizabeth I