Somerset: Lord Protector 1547-1550

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  • Somerset: Lord Protector, 1547-1550
    • Somerset's policies
      • Foreign Policy
        • Continued the war with Scotland
          • Won the war but it was very expensive.
      • Financial Policies
        • Continued debasement
          • Henry had been £1,173,755 short of meeting his debt when he died. This had been passed on to Edward.
          • The effects of this policy was spiralling inflation and a rise in prices. However, wages did not rise in line with the new prices.
            • Poor people were worse off whilst rich people saw their wealth depleting.
          • By 1551 silver coins were 75% copper.
        • The Chantries Act, 1547
          • The land ad property of the Chantries was seized and their gold and silver was melted down to replenish the treasury which desperately needed money to pay for the war in Scotland.
            • The motive to close the Chantries in 1547 was to do with finance not religion.
      • Social Policies
        • Care of the poor
          • The traditional view of Somerset is that he was motivated by a keen desire to help the poor.
          • He established a court of requests to hear the cases of the poor and he criticised the wealthy.
        • Enclosures
          • Somerset opposed enclosure and set up a commission under John Hale to investigate cases of enclosure in the Midlands.
          • June, 1548- Somerset issued a proclamation enforcing all previous statutes against enclosures established for grazing sheep.
            • This policy was enhanced by the introduction of a 5% tax on personal property and a sheep tax.
            • The policy was a failure because it raised the hopes of the labouring classes that significant reforms would be made.
              • This, coupled with the rising price of grain after poor harvests in 1549, increased unrest in the countryside, which kindled fears amongst the gentry.
        • The Vagrancy Act, 1547
          • The Vagrancy Act ordered local officials to provide housing and collections for the 'deserving poor'.
          • Also described as the 'Slavery Act' because it ordered that able-bred persons who were unemployed for more than 3 days were to be branded with a V and sold into slavery .
          • Never actually put into effect as so unpopular with JPs.
    • Religion under Somerset
      • Bishops of London and Winchester imprisoned for complaints about the 'Book of Homilies'. This imprisonment of conservative bishops shows reformation was intended.
      • The Treason Act, 1547
        • Abolished heresy, treason and censorship laws and repealed the Act of Six Articles that had restored Catholic sacraments into the Church.
          • It was an important step towards religious reform as Protestants could now practice freely and the removal of censorship laws increased the circulation of Lutheran and Calvinist pamphlets and books.
        • It revoked the Proclamation Act of 1538 that had been very unpopular because it suggested the King could rule without Parliament.
        • It compiled a list of what would count as incidences of treason, such as writing that the King was not the supreme head of the Church.
        • Encouraged outbreaks of iconclasm in churches.
          • In February 1548, the order to ban images was extended to the whole of the realm.
            • Most churches complied without complaints.
      • The 'Act of Uniformity' passed by Parliament in Jan '49 enforced the First Prayer Book.  It retained transubstantiation in the communion service but emphasised that no sacrifice was involved.
        • It hoped to achieve compliance from Catholics but the introduction of the new prayer book was one of the grievances of the Western rebels.
          • Many Protestants thought the prayer book didn't go far enough.
    • Somerset's fall from power
      • Problems faced by Somerset
        • Somerset inherited a country at war with Scotland and France and Henry's wish that Edward should marry Mary, Queen of Scots.
          • He failed to achieve victory and secure the marriage.
        • England's financial position was precarious.  Foreign affairs had left the country on the verge of bankruptcy.
          • This was made worse by the rapid growth in population as it had led to worse effects of inflation and more poverty.
        • Clamour for reform was building up amongst Protestants.
      • Consequences of the rebellions for Somerset's government
        • Moderate Catholics blamed him for the religious changes that sparked the Western rebellion.
        • The failure of his social policies are seen to be the root cause of the Kett's revolt.
        • Above all, Somerset was seen to have demonstrated poor leadership in his slow and prevaricating response to the rebellions.
      • Reasons for Somerset's fall from power
        • Somerset had not been careful enough  to keep the good opinion of the King.
          • Edward complained Somerset was keeping him prisoner at Windsor Castle and long complained he kept him short of pocket money
        • Edward claimed Somerset had threatened that there would be riots on the street should the king deprive him of his position.
          • Although Somerset denied the charge, he could not contradict the King and his fate was sealed.
        • Oct,1549- Somerset was sent to the tower, although he was later released and restored to court, the council was reformed under Northumberland.
          • Somerset was executed in January 1552 on trumped up charges brought about by Northumberland.


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