The Protectorate of the Duke of Somerset

All that happened under Edward VI between 1547 and 1550!

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Somerset's Rise to Power

  • He orginally came to court as the brother of Henry VIII's wife, Jane Seymour. As Edward's uncle, he was an obvious choice for the regency council. He had become popular also for his successful campaigns in Scotland.
  • On Henry's death, his perfectly balanced Regency Council was destroyed, the conservative members were expelled (Gardiner), executed (Surrey), or bought off (Wriothesley).
  • The king's death was kept quiet for four days, and with Paget in possesion of the will and dry stamp Seymour was quickly appointed leader of the council.
  • He secured possesion of the king, and less than a month after Henry's death, was named Lord Protector. He was now the undisputed ruler and had the support of even conservative councillors.
  • He was given new powers, a new title, (Duke of Somerset) and some confiscated monastic lands. He made John Dudley, Earl of Lisle, Earl of Warwick.

What problems did he face?

Foreign Policy (war in Scotland), Religious Reform (a divided nation and council) and social problems (caused by severe financial hardship).

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Foreign Policy

Situation in 1547: Henry had left England at war with Scotland, and there was concern about intervention from France or the Hapsburgs. Henry expressed in his will a desire to see a match between Edward and Mary Queen of Scots.

  • Somerset tried to further his own success in Scotland. When negotiations with France failed, he invaded Scotland and won at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.
  • In 1548, Scotland united behind Mary of Guise in defeat. They appealed to the French for help and an alliance was formed, along with a marriage of MQS to Henry II's son Francis. Somerset's attempts to ally with Scotland failed.
  • Somerset was left in an awkward situation where he had troops on the Scottish border but the French troops were building up around Boulogne. He decided to continue action against Scotland. He held on to Boulogne due to French fear of drawing Charles V into war. In the end, the Scottish nobles got fed up of French intervention and the French and the English ran out of money. The war which had cost so much, ended in stalemate.

Success? Somerset's indecision made him a poor commander in cheif as he didn't take advantage of Pinkie. However, he inherited a war which could not be won.

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Religious Reform

Was the move towards Protestantism inevitable?

  • Edward was a protestant and wanted Somerset to reform.
  • Catholic faction at court routed in the latter stages of Henry's reign.
  • Somerset was a protestant.
  • Majority of elite wanted reform eg in East Anglia, London and Bristol.
  • Educated clergy believed it was the right thing to do.

Why was the move towards Protestantism so cautious?

  • Though a group of 9 bishops supported the change, 10 were against it led by Gardiner and 8 were undecided.
  • Somerset, though Protestant was not a radical or a Calvinist.
  • Lower, less educated clergy opposed to the reforms, anxious about change.
  • General population, especially in the North, Midlands and South West, had a conservative outlook.
  • Didn't want to go to war with Charles V, a Catholic. Somerset was preoccupied with Scotland and France so didn'w want to upset Charles.
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Religious Reform

Was the Policy Protestant?

  • Act of Six Articles, anti-Protestant legislation and heresy laws repealed.
  • Every Parish to obtain Cranmer's book of Homilies.
  • July injuctions - every clergy to give services in English and preach every Sunday.
  • Parishes to have libraries of Protestant literature, and an English Bible,the reading of which was encouraged.
  • All supersititious statues and images removed from churches.
  • Bucer and other Protestant exiles welcomes back to Engalnd.
  • 1547 Chantries and Treason act was an attack on the idea of purgatory.
  • JPs ordered to speed up the removal of catholic images.
  • Jan 1549 First Edwardian Act of Uniformity: all clergy to use number of protestant practices, Communion, Matins and Evensong to be conducted in English, permission for clergy to marry, many catholic rituals disappeared, worship of saints discouraged.
  • Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, name implied protestant in nature.
  • Doctrine on the Eucharist suggested it was a commemoration not a re-enactment and was thus clearly prtoestant.
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Religious Reform

Or Catholic?

  • Chantries and Treason Act was in part to boost the Treasury as well as a doctrinal change.
  • Jan 1548 Proclaimations indicated no clear change in policy.
  • JPs ordered to enforce existing doctrine including transubstantiation.
  • Council forbade all public preaching in hope of stifling debate.
  • First Edwardian Act of Uniformity: sacraments defined as communion, baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial, no clear statement about purgatory, worship of saints was not banned.
  • Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer containes some Catholic beliefs.
  • Eucharist could still be defined in catholic terms of transubstantiation.
  • Priests continued to use vestements and altars could be retained.

Overall there was no clear policy and the result was that both conservatives and reformers were left confused and angry.

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Religious Reform


  • Modest changes did not satisfy radical protestants, who ensued pamphlet campaigns attacking bishops, church wealth and the Eucharist; and protests fuelled by returning exiles.
  • Violence in East Anglia, London, Essex and Lincolnshire, riots, iconoclasm: destroying of statues, stained glass windows and other superstitious imagery.
  • Candlesticks seized/sold and money given to the poor.
  • Privy Council forced to take action against demonstrators.
  • However, Somerset acheived a policy where Mary and Gardiner could live side by side with protestant exiles and only one rebellion was directly linked to religion and even so was due in part to econiomic and social grievances.

Government Reaction: they were behind the idea of a slow and moderate reform to Protestantism, concious of cousing unrest, circulated Lutheran and Calvinist writings, educated the laity in Protestant ideas, clergy who didn't conform liable for punishment. Public Reaction: some oppostition, but most followed the aristocracy in accpeting reform (except in the West Country).

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Economic Reform

  • By 1547 revenue from crown lands was just £200,000, not nearly enough to support the running of the country or pay off government borrowing let alone fight a war! What was needed was an urgent reform of the tax and customs system. However, instead Somerset continued to seize chantry land and property, and debase the coinage, measures which had been proven to fail by Henry VIII.
  • 1547 Chantries Act closed Chantries. In 1548 to confiscate their land and property and collect all gold and silver to raise revenue for war. By increasing the number of coins in criculation, the government added to inflation.
  • Inflation and poor harvests caused rising prices and an increase in poverty.

Criticisms: Somerset chose to continue the war with Scotland; he continued to debase the coinage despite being advised against it by Thomas Smith; seizing of gold and silver from the chantries added to inflation; failed to stop grain prices rising.

Defences: The war, debased coinage andchantries were Henry's doing; the council was also behind attacking enclosures after John Hales investigation, parliament would not support his attempts to stop food prices rising.

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Social Reforms

  • The population was rising which added to the food shortages, and the government blamed illagal enclosures. Nothing could be done to combat this as the lords and landowners were profiting from enclosures.
  • Proclaimations which meant nothing and Latimer and Ridley's attempts to help raised hopes but failed to deliver, causing disorder.
  • 1547 Treason Act repealed old heresy, treason, censorship and Act of Six Articles, allowed people to talk about religion openly.
  • 1547 Vagrancy Act harsh legislation showing little concern for poor and needy. Children of vagrants could be removed and sent to work as apprentices in useful occupations. Provided for enslavement and branding but also provided cottages and collections for the impotent poor.

Criticisms: treason act caused chaos and disorder; vagrancy act was unenforced and uneffective because it was so harsh.

Defences: treason act got rid of unpopular policies of Henry VIII, vagrancy act intended to help impotent poor.

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Style of Goverment


  • Too kingly for the Council.
  • Paget felt ill treated, as did many others, he made promises he couldn't keep.
  • Somerset had a difficult personality.
  • He used proclaimations far too often, making him seem like a tyrant.
  • Very indecisive.


  • He had the task of sorting out Henry's mess and trying to secure the English throne single handedly. There was no money for personal favours.
  • His personality and policies very similar to other Tudor monarchs.
  • Without the support of parliament proclaimations were the only way of dealing with emergencies.
  • Made difficult decisions when he had to e.g. executing his brother Thomas.
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Western Rebellion 1549


  • Religion: introduction of the book of common prayer; processions and pilgrimages banned; Catholic symbols removed by William Body; desecration of religious shrines; introduction of English services (they spoke about as much English as they had Latin!); objection to open bible; demanded clerical celibacy, 6 articles restored, and other catholic practices.
  • Cultural: origins traced back to Cornish rebellion 1497; destruction of monasteries ended the scholarship that had sutained the Cornish and Devonian cultural identities; destruction of colleges e.g Glasney and Crantock; destruction of Celtic past.
  • Social & Economic: mistrust of gentry; demand to reduce size of gentry households; poll tax and sheep, feared it would spread to other animals; inflation had been rampant for 2 years.
  • Political: dislike of local rulers, government agent William Body, Peter Carew sent for and his men set fire to farms, Devonshire JPs lacked confidence and authority to deal with it; leaders of the rebellion were linked to the Courtenay family and there were demands for the pardon of Cardinal Pole; rebellion in itself an open challenge to King and Parliament.
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Western Rebellion 1549


  • Dates back to 1547 when William Body was sent to remove Catholic images. He was murdered at Helston in 1548, resulting in the execution of 28 Cornishmen.
  • The 1549 Act of Uniformity outlawed the old prayer book, which was ignored in Sampford Courtenay. Justices tried to enforce the new rules, resulting in the murder of William Hellyons with a pichfork on the church steps.
  • Group of parishoner from SC marched on Exeter but couldn't take it. An army was formed at Bodmin, Cornwall under the command of the mayor, Henry Bray. Gentry surrendered to the rebels amidst burning hay and food shortages.
  • The Cornish and Devonshire rebels met up in Crediton. Peter Carew was sent by Somerset to pacify the rebelsand an army of German and Italian mercenaries led by Lord Russell easily outwitted the rebels who were largely just farmers with pitchforks.
  • Further confrontations at Fenny Bridges and Clysy St. Mary resulted in heavy rebel casulaties. The final confrontation resulted in the leaders corpses being hanging on gibbets from Dunster to Bath.
  • The Cornish rebels tried to fight on under Arundell but were eventually broken.
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Western Rebellion 1549


  • In total 4,000 people lost their lives in the rebellion. Thw rebels achieved none of their aims - the prayer book was not translated into Cornish.

Handled Well?

  • Somerset reacted too slowly, allowing the rebellion to gain momentum. When they came his military reprisals cam without scruple, abandoning the Scottish campaign.His social polices may have been to blame as they raised expectations which could not be met. Ultimately, it played a part in his downfall.
  • However, Somerset recognised that the threat from Scotland was much more intense than the threat from the rebels.


  • The rebels were only farmers with pitchforks. No organisation, no proper training.
  • The rebellion happened at a time when all English troops were in Scotland.
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Kett's Rebellion 1549


  • Religious: wanted more radical Protestantism; manifesto included seven Protestant articles; disapproved of clergy's extravagant lifestyle, wanted richer clerics to teach the poor how to relate to the Bible, emphasis on preaching.
  • Social: they believed that Somerset would support their grievances about rich local landlords exploiting the poor; enclosure; lack of confidence in Star Chamber and Court iof Requests to handle problems.
  • Economic: rent had increased due to inflation, gentry could cope, peasants struggled; landlords making a fortune out of sheep at the peasants expense due to enclosure e.g. Thomas Townsend £99-£133 from 1545-1548.
  • Political: confusion over Somerset's policy and loyalty; discontent with local gentry and government; however, generally the rebellion was not an attack of government.
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Kett's Rebellion 1549


  • In July peasants united in Protest against rich barons who had stolen the common land e.g. John Flowerdew. Kett was also a landowner but tore down his own fences and attacked Flowderdew as well.
  • Less than a week later Kett was in charge and 16000 rebels marched on Norwich and set up camp at the gates. Thomas Codd and Thomad Aldrich, two leaders of Norwich joined the rebels as did leading preacher Robert Watson.
  • They sey up their own council and held Protestant services. A parliament was also set up under the Tree of Reformation and the 29 grievances drawn up. They never questioned loyalty to Edward VI.
  • Kett would not go home in exchange for a pardon. Whe their food supply was cut, they attacked and occupied Norwich. Sir William Parr was the first to attempt to suppress the rebels, but woth just 1,500 mercenaries he had to with draw to Cambridge.
  • The Earl of Warwick led 15,000 mostly German mercenaries and defeated the rebels on the plain at Dussindale outside Norwich.
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Kett's Rebellion 1549


  • 3000 rebels lost their lives on the battlefield and the leaders were hanged. 300 peasants were executed and 9 were hanged drawn and quartered at the Tree of Reformation.

Handled Well?

  • Somerset would not release Norfolk to put down the rebels. He could not rely on the gentry as they wanted him to learn a lesson about his social policies. Warwick gained prestige form the rebellion and united with Somerset's enemies to secure his downfall.
  • However, releasing Norfolk was a bad idea and Somerset was only slow to react because the government was never threatened. He was preoccupied by France, arguably a much greater threat.

Threatening? (as Western Rebellion) Though there was no threat to government as the rebels were loyal to the king.

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