Chapter 14 : Stand-Off
The rebellious councillors got wind of Somerset’s message, which, together with the proclamation, they chose to interpret as him planning to attack them. They congregated at Warwick’s house at Ely Place, Holborn, together with their armed retainers. As many as two thousand men may have gathered there. Meanwhile, many had answered Somerset’s call, and Hampton Court was thronged with volunteers. The king was shown to the crowd, to appease rumours that he had been deposed, then Somerset announced that Warwick and his fellows intended to remove him from office, and replace him as regent with the king’s half-sister, the Lady Mary. He reminded them of the fate of the king’s great-uncle, Edward V, who had been deposed by his own uncle, and disappeared in the Tower.
A series of anonymous pamphlets and handbills were distributed – whether Somerset knew the specific contents is unclear – but the purport was to discredit Warwick and his followers as ‘come up but late from the dunghill….more meet to keep swine than to occupy the offices which they do occupy’. These were interspersed with tracts lauding Somerset as the lover of ‘all just and true gentlemen which do no extortion and also the poor commonalty of England’.
The Warwick faction now issued counter-pamphlets to the lords and gentlemen who were not involved in day-to-day politics. Somerset, they said ‘not only refused to give ear to their advises’ but ‘follow[ed] his own fantasies wherefrom all the said disorders and mischiefs had grown…’
By early October, seventeen of the twenty-five councillors had joined Warwick, but, although the City of London was asked for support, the corporation would do no more than agree to defend the king and the councillors from any attack – the City would not take part in an outright attack on Somerset. Discussions went on for several days, with some citizens pointing out that previous involvements of the City in actions that were subsequently seen as rebellion against the king had ended badly for the citizens. In the end, it was agreed that the City would provide a troop of some five hundred foot soldiers, plus one hundred horsemen. Civil war threatened.
Somerset now planned to march on London, accompanied by the king. He sent Sir Edward Wolf to take command of the Tower of London, but when Wolf arrived, he found that the council had already secured it. With nowhere safe to take Edward, Somerset decided that Windsor Castle was the safest place for his charge and hurried him there, despite it being night. Edward, still only eleven, had accepted Somerset’s explanation that his, Edward’s, life was in danger and made no objections. On hearing that the king was at Windsor, which had not been prepared for his coming, the council sent provisions, presumable to assure their royal master that they had only his good at heart.
The two sides exchanged a veritable snowstorm of letters, the council protesting that their only intention had been to talk reasonably to Somerset, to give him advice on governing the realm more effectively, and accept that he, too, was a subject, and not the sovereign. Somerset persisted in believing that Warwick and the others intended violence. He sent further urgent messages to Russell and Herbert, to come to his aid. The rebellions of the summer had been attacks ‘on the inferior members [of the body politic] this is in the head and chief rulers of the commonwealth’.
Russell and Herbert, however, were not to be drawn into provoking bloodshed. They told Somerset that he must step down from his position, ‘rather than any blood be shed….[if] the hands of the bonility be once polluted each with other’s blood, the quarrel…will never have end’. Since they believed the council was objecting only to Somerset’s behaviour, and had no intention of behaving disloyally to the king, they would support the council.
Somerset, who, however high-handed he might have been, genuinely sought to govern well for his nephew, understood that he could not win this quarrel. In front of those councillors at Windsor, he submitted himself to the king, saying that he had not intended to cause ‘any damage or hurt, but to defend only if any violence should be attempted against [Edward]’. He would talk to representatives of the council, in the presence of two independent commissioners. This offer was sent to the council, alongside a private letter to his former friend, Warwick, which reads like the cry of a man finding himself betrayed by his friend and unable to believe it.
My Lord, I cannot persuade myself that there is any ill conceived in your heart as of yourself against me; for that the same seemeth impossible that where there hath been from your youth and mine so great a friendship and amity betwixt us, as never for my part to no man was greater, now so suddenly there should be hatred; and that without just cause, whatsoever rumours and bruits, or persuasion of others have moved you to conceive; in the sight and judgement of almighty God, I protest and affirm this unto you, I never meant worse to you than to myself; wherefore my lord, for God’s sake, for friendship, for the love that hath ever been betwixt us or that hereafter may be, persuade yourself with truth, and let this time declare to me and the world your just honour and perseverance in friendship…
Edward also sent a letter, presumably with the help of his tutors, and guided by Somerset and his loyalists, in which the king wrote that if the councillors did not bring ‘these uproars unto a quiet’, that he might have cause to suspect their loyalty. Whilst his uncle might not always have behaved prudently for
Each man hath his faults; he his and you yours; and if we shall hereafter as rigorously weigh yours, as we hear that you intend with cruelty to purge his, which of you all shall be able to stand before us?
Somerset’s friends, Paget, Sir Thomas Smith and Archbishop Cranmer all pleaded with Warwick and the others not to seek the Protector’s death. Somerset had never been cruel or vengeful toward them, and nor should they be to him.