John Dudley: Life Story

Chapter 16 : Lord President

By the end of 1549, Warwick was the most influential man on the Council and the pace of religious reform stepped up. Southampton hurried to mount a counter-offensive. Together with Sir William Paulet and the Earl of Arundel, another Catholic, he visited Somerset in the Tower to conduct his examination on treason charges. Somerset insisted that he had done nothing without Warwick’s advice. Southampton, seeing his moment to be rid of his rivals, confided to Arundel, that ‘I thought ever we should find them traitors both [Somerset and Warwick] and both are worthy to die…’  The day Somerset was condemned, he continued, Warwick would be sent to the Tower.

Unfortunately for Southampton, his words were reported to Warwick by Paulet. The next day, a Council meeting was held at Ely Place, because Warwick claimed to be too ill to leave his bed. When Southampton mooted that Somerset be condemned for treason, Warwick leapt from beneath the covers and brandishing his sword, accused Southampton of seeking the death of Somerset and himself. Southampton was placed under house arrest, dying in June 1550, and the Earl of Arundel dismissed from office.

Warwick’s supporters on the Council were rewarded with new titles – Russell became Earl of Bedford and Sir William Paulet, Lord St John.

One person was not happy with Warwick’s rise. The Lady Mary boded nothing but ill from the coup, blaming it on motives of ‘envy and ambition’. Despite Warwick’s association with the Catholics Wriothesley and Arundel, she was certain that religious reform would continue and that she would be pressed to accept the 1549 Prayer Book, something she was determined not to do.

With no recent precedent for a man who was not a member of the royal family to act as Regent, Warwick needed to make use of established offices to consolidate his power. He was Lord President of the Council, and Lord Great Master of the King’s Household, effectively controlling Edward’s servants and all those who came into contact with him as well as having the authority to dismiss and appoint Councillors.

Somerset was released from the Tower and restored to a place on the Council – perhaps to lend his authority as the King’s uncle to the new state of affairs, or perhaps Warwick was genuinely willing to build bridges with his old friend – provided he remained in charge himself. In particular, the King’s security and education were carefully monitored. No opinions contrary to those espoused by Warwick were introduced to the King.

As well as the rigorous Protestant education that he was receiving, Edward was encouraged by Warwick to practise the more martial arts of kingship – riding, hunting and training in the use of weapons as well as the more relaxed pastimes popular at the Tudor court, such as bear- and bull-baiting.

Peace with France and Scotland was agreed in April 1550. Part of the discussions surrounded the possibility of Edward marrying Elisabeth de Valois, the daughter of Henri II. Mary, Queen of Scots now being irrevocably promised to the Dauphin.  

Despite the peace, the country was in a troubled state – although the religious divisions on the Council had been more or less healed with the purging of the conservatives, the situation in the country was far more volatile. The economic situation had not improved either. With inflation rampant and poverty everywhere, it was feared during the summer of 1550 that a repeat of the previous year’s rebellions might ensue.  The return of soldiers from Boulogne, now restored to France, did not help public order.

Whilst Warwick and Somerset were now on sufficiently good terms for them to arrange a marriage between Somerset’s daughter, Anne, and Warwick’s eldest son, Warwick scented trouble when Somerset tried to effect a rehabilitation of the conservative Bishop Gardiner, who had been sent to the Tower, ostensibly for objecting to the 1549 Prayer Book – largely on the grounds that the Council did not have authority to change religion during the King’s minority.

Somerset persuaded Gardiner to accept the Prayer Book, but Warwick wanted an abject confession of guilt which the Bishop would not give – angering the King as well. Warwick warned Somerset, by means of an intermediary, that any attempt to reassert himself as Protector would be unwelcome – and that the King was not so fond of his uncle that he would protect him. Gardiner remained in the Tower.

The King was now a dedicated Protestant. Although he was only just past his twelfth birthday, his education and the constant presence around him of committed Protestants rendered him a strong supporter of more radical moves towards religious reform and the learning and skill to argue the case.

In 1550, various acts swept away the majority of the traditional rites and rituals and strongly evangelical bishops, such as Hooper and Ridley appointed to bishoprics. Some of the nobility were growing restive at the changes and Warwick quarrelled with the Earls of Shrewsbury and Derby who wanted Henry VIII’s religious settlement strictly observed until Edward came of age. This was also the view of the Lady Mary, who feared that she, too, would be forced to conform to the Prayer Book. She contemplated escaping to Imperial territory, but, at the last moment, decided to remain.