Edward Seymour: Life Story

Chapter 15 : Loss of Power

On receipt of these various missives, Warwick and the rest prepared several answers – the first, addressed to Somerset and to be read publicly, promised that nothing was intended to be done against him or his lands or goods, but only that they wanted to rearrange the governance of the kingdom, whilst the councillors with Somerset would retain their positions. The second letter was a private missive to the king, which, he later recorded in his journal, was a tally of Somerset’s faults – his pride, his ambition, his rash prosecution of the Scottish wars, his self-enrichment at Edward’s expense (the hypocrisy of the councillors on this matter would surely have struck an older reader) and his insistence on everything being done his way. A third letter bade the councillors to watch over the king carefully. If anything happened to him, they would be blamed.

Still a fourth missive was a proclamation denouncing Somerset that was given to the commander of Edward’s bodyguard, who agreed to the demands of Warwick’s council and took his men away from the castle, leaving only Edward’s personal household. Somerset’s power was gone.

The following day, Sir Anthony Wingfield brought five hundred men to Windsor. Somerset was arrested and imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower in Windsor Castle. Wingfield entered the king’s presence. Edward was certain that he was about to be killed, but he was quickly reassured. Before long, he was reported by Paget to be ‘merry’ and eager for his breakfast.

On 13th October, Letters Patent were issued by the king, revoking the office of Protector and the next day Somerset was transported to the Tower of London. Whilst he had been popular in the wider countryside for his support, however badly directed, for the poor, in London the vast amounts spent on Somerset House had made him resented, and he received little sympathy from the crowd. Also imprisoned were his confederates, Sir Thomas Smith, and William Cecil. Somerset was charged with twenty counts of treason, ranging from the somewhat unreasonable charge that he had neglected the defences of Scotland and Boulogne, to having ‘rebuked, checked and taunted’ other councillors and acted ‘against the will of the whole council’.

This disrespectful treatment of his colleagues was at the root of the whole matter – had he handled his power with more consideration for the opinions and feelings of others, he might have made a more successful job of it.

Edward, either because he had little love for his uncle, or because he had learnt quickly the requirement of royalty to hide their true feelings, returned to Hampton Court with thanks for the councillors for having ‘rid him of such fear and peril’. It certainly seems he was not told the whole story of Somerset’s whereabouts. When Duchess Anne asked for an audience with Edward, she pleaded for her husband’s life. Edward was surprised, and asked where the duke was. On being told he was in the Tower, and likely to be killed by the council, if the king did not intervene, Edward replied that he had been told the duke was ill. He turned to Cranmer and demanded an explanation.

Cranmer explained that Somerset was in the Tower because the council feared he would harm Edward. The king was not happy. ‘The Duke’, he said, ‘never did [him] any harm’. He insisted on his uncle being brought to him. Warwick apparently then told his fellow councillors that, since it was Edward’s wish, the duke should be pardoned.

Somerset was not immediately released. Throughout the autumn and early winter he was questioned regularly by the Earl of Arundel and Lord St John, as well as by the Earl of Southampton (who was Warwick’s rival for pre-eminence in the council). Somerset insisted that he had done nothing without the advice of Warwick. Southampton was overjoyed to hear this, and thought he might be able to rid himself of both Somerset and Warwick with a single axe. St John, however, was busy reporting everything to Warwick, who realised that pressing for Somerset to be released, he would avoid too much investigation into his own activities.

As soon as Southampton put forward the view, in front of the councillors meeting at Warwick’s house, that Somerset should be executed, Warwick leapt up in the duke’s defence, accusing Southampton of seeking blood.

During his time in the Tower, Somerset turned even more to his religion, reading his bible and various spiritual works, that gave him comfort. On Christmas Day, he was permitted to see Duchess Anne, to the joy of both of them, and it became apparent that he still had some support, both in the council, and in the country. It was rumoured that he would be released in early January, and a large body of commons waited outside the Tower to see him emerge. Their information was wrong. It was not until Somerset had pleaded guilty to an augmented list of charges, amounting to thirty-three in total, that he could hope for pardon and release. He received a formal pardon on 6th February 1550, but remained under house arrest and had to give a recongisance of £10,000.

By April, it seemed that Somerset might regain some of his former power. He visited the king at Greenwich, and dined with Warwick. It was rumoured amongst the European ambassadors that he would return to some position of authority, perhaps, as the king’s uncle, the guardian of his person, or the role of Lord President of the Council, which would once again have given him primacy, although only as first amongst equals, rather than quasi-king. He returned to the privy council on 7th May.