Edward Seymour: Life Story

Chapter 16 : Swansong

At the end of May, Somerset was so far restored to normal court life that he gave a dinner for the French ambassadors and in August he was commissioned to lead a force against unrest in the countryside that had never really died down since the rebellions of the previous year. The repaired relationship with Warwick was cemented by the marriage of his daughter, Anne, to Warwick’s eldest son, a marriage that was celebrated on 3rd June in the presence of the king, who gave Anne a wedding present of a valuable ring.

Somerset was also trying to reconcile other former enemies. Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, had been imprisoned following his refusal to countenance the 1549 Prayer Book. Somerset visited him in the Tower and offered him a pardon, if he would only accept it. Gardiner agreed, saying he would use the book as the law required, although he did not think that he would have written it as it was. Somerset felt that this was enough for Gardiner to be pardoned, but Warwick disagreed. Gardiner must apologise in abject fashion. The bishop refused, and remained in the Tower.

Suspicion was growing on Warwick’s part that Somerset’s overtures to Gardiner were part of a scheme to regain supreme power. If so, it was ill-judged on the duke’s part. The king, surrounded by Warwick’s placemen, was becoming more and more committed to radical Protestantism and was angry that Somerset should look to soften the law against a conservative like Gardiner.

The deteriorating relationship between Somerset and Warwick became obvious to all when Warwick refused to allow Lady Seymour, Somerset’s mother (the grandmother of the king), to be honoured with official mourning and a state burial when she died on 18th October 1550, just a week after the king’s thirteenth birthday. Tensions were exacerbated by Edward falling ill in November, but, with his recovery, it seemed that Somerset and Warwick were now on better terms. Cecil received a letter from the English Ambassador at Brussels, Sir John Mason, rejoicing ‘even at the bottom of [his] heart for in [concord] consiste[d] their own healths and the upright administration of the commonwealth’.

But whilst Somerset was endeavouring to get on well with Warwick, some of his older friends felt neglected. The Duchess of Suffolk, a great proponent of religious reform, wrote to Cecil that Somerset’s failure to help her in a request smacked of ingratitude. The commonwealth men thought that Somerset had lost interest in their worthy cause, and urged him to ‘further God’s Word as best you may’.

By spring of 1551, Warwick felt strong enough to begin to needle Somerset. He had his separate dining table, a mark of rank, removed, and drew attention to Somerset being the king’s uncle only on the maternal side. Insultingly, having refused funerary honours to Somerset’s mother, they were granted to Lord Wentworth, who was Edward’s chamberlain, and the late Lady Seymour’s nephew. Offices and rewards began to flow in the direction of Warwick’s friends, and, in the most insulting of act of all, the position of Earl Marshal, an ancient and honourable office, once held by the duke was now given to Warwick.

Somerset’s friends pleaded with him to ignore insults, but the two quarrelled openly in council. It is possible, although the truth is hard to discern, given that Warwick emerged the victor, that Somerset was putting out feelers to other councillors, not all of whom were enamoured with the current state of affairs, to have his powers restored. Certainly, anyone suspected of sympathising with Somerset was roughly handled – his servant, Richard Whalley, was examined in council, accused of ‘persuading divers nobles…to make the Duke of Somerset Protector at the next parliament’ whilst the Earl of Shrewsbury’s servant had his house turned upside down when Shrewsbury was suspected of collusion with Somerset.

It may have been wishful thinking on the part of the Imperial ambassador, but he wrote home that Somerset was rethinking his commitment to the new faith, and might be persuaded to return to the Catholic fold, and that there was a plan afoot for Somerset, together with the Shrewsbury, and the confirmed conservative, the Earl of Derby, to either restore the protectorship to Somerset or to make the Lady Mary regent. The rumour gained credibility with the betrothal of Derby’s son, Lord Strange, to one of Somerset’s daughters. In the event, the marriage did not take place.

In April, there was a commotion in London, when an alleged plot to start an uprising in the City on Mayday was apparently discovered, together with an apparent assassination attempt on Warwick himself was unmasked. One of Somerset’s associates, Richard Tracy, was questioned. If the earls of Derby and Shrewsbury were party to any plot, they now thought better of it, refusing to attend the Garter celebrations scheduled for 23rd April.