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Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England > Chapter XXIX

A Child's History of England

Chapter XXIX


HENRY THE EIGHTH had made a will, appointing a council of sixteen
to govern the kingdom for his son while he was under age (he was
now only ten years old), and another council of twelve to help
them. The most powerful of the first council was the EARL OF
HERTFORD, the young King's uncle, who lost no time in bringing his
nephew with great state up to Enfield, and thence to the Tower. It
was considered at the time a striking proof of virtue in the young
King that he was sorry for his father's death; but, as common
subjects have that virtue too, sometimes, we will say no more about

There was a curious part of the late King's will, requiring his
executors to fulfil whatever promises he had made. Some of the
court wondering what these might be, the Earl of Hertford and the
other noblemen interested, said that they were promises to advance
and enrich THEM. So, the Earl of Hertford made himself DUKE OF
SOMERSET, and made his brother EDWARD SEYMOUR a baron; and there
were various similar promotions, all very agreeable to the parties
concerned, and very dutiful, no doubt, to the late King's memory.
To be more dutiful still, they made themselves rich out of the
Church lands, and were very comfortable. The new Duke of Somerset
caused himself to be declared PROTECTOR of the kingdom, and was,
indeed, the King.

As young Edward the Sixth had been brought up in the principles of
the Protestant religion, everybody knew that they would be
maintained. But Cranmer, to whom they were chiefly entrusted,
advanced them steadily and temperately. Many superstitious and
ridiculous practices were stopped; but practices which were
harmless were not interfered with.

The Duke of Somerset, the Protector, was anxious to have the young
King engaged in marriage to the young Queen of Scotland, in order
to prevent that princess from making an alliance with any foreign
power; but, as a large party in Scotland were unfavourable to this
plan, he invaded that country. His excuse for doing so was, that
the Border men - that is, the Scotch who lived in that part of the
country where England and Scotland joined - troubled the English
very much. But there were two sides to this question; for the
English Border men troubled the Scotch too; and, through many long
years, there were perpetual border quarrels which gave rise to
numbers of old tales and songs. However, the Protector invaded
Scotland; and ARRAN, the Scottish Regent, with an army twice as
large as his, advanced to meet him. They encountered on the banks
of the river Esk, within a few miles of Edinburgh; and there, after
a little skirmish, the Protector made such moderate proposals, in
offering to retire if the Scotch would only engage not to marry
their princess to any foreign prince, that the Regent thought the
English were afraid. But in this he made a horrible mistake; for
the English soldiers on land, and the English sailors on the water,
so set upon the Scotch, that they broke and fled, and more than ten
thousand of them were killed. It was a dreadful battle, for the
fugitives were slain without mercy. The ground for four miles, all
the way to Edinburgh, was strewn with dead men, and with arms, and
legs, and heads. Some hid themselves in streams and were drowned;
some threw away their armour and were killed running, almost naked;
but in this battle of Pinkey the English lost only two or three
hundred men. They were much better clothed than the Scotch; at the
poverty of whose appearance and country they were exceedingly

A Parliament was called when Somerset came back, and it repealed
the whip with six strings, and did one or two other good things;
though it unhappily retained the punishment of burning for those
people who did not make believe to believe, in all religious
matters, what the Government had declared that they must and should
believe. It also made a foolish law (meant to put down beggars),
that any man who lived idly and loitered about for three days
together, should be burned with a hot iron, made a slave, and wear
an iron fetter. But this savage absurdity soon came to an end, and
went the way of a great many other foolish laws.

The Protector was now so proud that he sat in Parliament before all
the nobles, on the right hand of the throne. Many other noblemen,
who only wanted to be as proud if they could get a chance, became
his enemies of course; and it is supposed that he came back
suddenly from Scotland because he had received news that his
brother, LORD SEYMOUR, was becoming dangerous to him. This lord
was now High Admiral of England; a very handsome man, and a great
favourite with the Court ladies - even with the young Princess
Elizabeth, who romped with him a little more than young princesses
in these times do with any one. He had married Catherine Parr, the
late King's widow, who was now dead; and, to strengthen his power,
he secretly supplied the young King with money. He may even have
engaged with some of his brother's enemies in a plot to carry the
boy off. On these and other accusations, at any rate, he was
confined in the Tower, impeached, and found guilty; his own
brother's name being - unnatural and sad to tell - the first signed
to the warrant of his execution. He was executed on Tower Hill,
and died denying his treason. One of his last proceedings in this
world was to write two letters, one to the Princess Elizabeth, and
one to the Princess Mary, which a servant of his took charge of,
and concealed in his shoe. These letters are supposed to have
urged them against his brother, and to revenge his death. What
they truly contained is not known; but there is no doubt that he
had, at one time, obtained great influence over the Princess

All this while, the Protestant religion was making progress. The
images which the people had gradually come to worship, were removed
from the churches; the people were informed that they need not
confess themselves to priests unless they chose; a common prayer-
book was drawn up in the English language, which all could
understand, and many other improvements were made; still
moderately. For Cranmer was a very moderate man, and even
restrained the Protestant clergy from violently abusing the
unreformed religion - as they very often did, and which was not a
good example. But the people were at this time in great distress.
The rapacious nobility who had come into possession of the Church
lands, were very bad landlords. They enclosed great quantities of
ground for the feeding of sheep, which was then more profitable
than the growing of crops; and this increased the general distress.
So the people, who still understood little of what was going on
about them, and still readily believed what the homeless monks told
them - many of whom had been their good friends in their better
days - took it into their heads that all this was owing to the
reformed religion, and therefore rose, in many parts of the

The most powerful risings were in Devonshire and Norfolk. In
Devonshire, the rebellion was so strong that ten thousand men
united within a few days, and even laid siege to Exeter. But LORD
RUSSELL, coming to the assistance of the citizens who defended that
town, defeated the rebels; and, not only hanged the Mayor of one
place, but hanged the vicar of another from his own church steeple.
What with hanging and killing by the sword, four thousand of the
rebels are supposed to have fallen in that one county. In Norfolk
(where the rising was more against the enclosure of open lands than
against the reformed religion), the popular leader was a man named
ROBERT KET, a tanner of Wymondham. The mob were, in the first
instance, excited against the tanner by one JOHN FLOWERDEW, a
gentleman who owed him a grudge: but the tanner was more than a
match for the gentleman, since he soon got the people on his side,
and established himself near Norwich with quite an army. There was
a large oak-tree in that place, on a spot called Moushold Hill,
which Ket named the Tree of Reformation; and under its green
boughs, he and his men sat, in the midsummer weather, holding
courts of justice, and debating affairs of state. They were even
impartial enough to allow some rather tiresome public speakers to
get up into this Tree of Reformation, and point out their errors to
them, in long discourses, while they lay listening (not always
without some grumbling and growling) in the shade below. At last,
one sunny July day, a herald appeared below the tree, and
proclaimed Ket and all his men traitors, unless from that moment
they dispersed and went home: in which case they were to receive a
pardon. But, Ket and his men made light of the herald and became
stronger than ever, until the Earl of Warwick went after them with
a sufficient force, and cut them all to pieces. A few were hanged,
drawn, and quartered, as traitors, and their limbs were sent into
various country places to be a terror to the people. Nine of them
were hanged upon nine green branches of the Oak of Reformation; and
so, for the time, that tree may be said to have withered away.

The Protector, though a haughty man, had compassion for the real
distresses of the common people, and a sincere desire to help them.
But he was too proud and too high in degree to hold even their
favour steadily; and many of the nobles always envied and hated
him, because they were as proud and not as high as he. He was at
this time building a great Palace in the Strand: to get the stone
for which he blew up church steeples with gunpowder, and pulled
down bishops' houses: thus making himself still more disliked. At
length, his principal enemy, the Earl of Warwick - Dudley by name,
and the son of that Dudley who had made himself so odious with
Empson, in the reign of Henry the Seventh - joined with seven other
members of the Council against him, formed a separate Council; and,
becoming stronger in a few days, sent him to the Tower under
twenty-nine articles of accusation. After being sentenced by the
Council to the forfeiture of all his offices and lands, he was
liberated and pardoned, on making a very humble submission. He was
even taken back into the Council again, after having suffered this
fall, and married his daughter, LADY ANNE SEYMOUR, to Warwick's
eldest son. But such a reconciliation was little likely to last,
and did not outlive a year. Warwick, having got himself made Duke
of Northumberland, and having advanced the more important of his
friends, then finished the history by causing the Duke of Somerset
and his friend LORD GREY, and others, to be arrested for treason,
in having conspired to seize and dethrone the King. They were also
accused of having intended to seize the new Duke of Northumberland,
with his friends LORD NORTHAMPTON and LORD PEMBROKE; to murder them
if they found need; and to raise the City to revolt. All this the
fallen Protector positively denied; except that he confessed to
having spoken of the murder of those three noblemen, but having
never designed it. He was acquitted of the charge of treason, and
found guilty of the other charges; so when the people - who
remembered his having been their friend, now that he was disgraced
and in danger, saw him come out from his trial with the axe turned
from him - they thought he was altogether acquitted, and sent up a
loud shout of joy.

But the Duke of Somerset was ordered to be beheaded on Tower Hill,
at eight o'clock in the morning, and proclamations were issued
bidding the citizens keep at home until after ten. They filled the
streets, however, and crowded the place of execution as soon as it
was light; and, with sad faces and sad hearts, saw the once
powerful Protector ascend the scaffold to lay his head upon the
dreadful block. While he was yet saying his last words to them
with manly courage, and telling them, in particular, how it
comforted him, at that pass, to have assisted in reforming the
national religion, a member of the Council was seen riding up on
horseback. They again thought that the Duke was saved by his
bringing a reprieve, and again shouted for joy. But the Duke
himself told them they were mistaken, and laid down his head and
had it struck off at a blow.

Many of the bystanders rushed forward and steeped their
handkerchiefs in his blood, as a mark of their affection. He had,
indeed, been capable of many good acts, and one of them was
discovered after he was no more. The Bishop of Durham, a very good
man, had been informed against to the Council, when the Duke was in
power, as having answered a treacherous letter proposing a
rebellion against the reformed religion. As the answer could not
be found, he could not be declared guilty; but it was now
discovered, hidden by the Duke himself among some private papers,
in his regard for that good man. The Bishop lost his office, and
was deprived of his possessions.

It is not very pleasant to know that while his uncle lay in prison
under sentence of death, the young King was being vastly
entertained by plays, and dances, and sham fights: but there is no
doubt of it, for he kept a journal himself. It is pleasanter to
know that not a single Roman Catholic was burnt in this reign for
holding that religion; though two wretched victims suffered for
heresy. One, a woman named JOAN BOCHER, for professing some
opinions that even she could only explain in unintelligible jargon.
The other, a Dutchman, named VON PARIS, who practised as a surgeon
in London. Edward was, to his credit, exceedingly unwilling to
sign the warrant for the woman's execution: shedding tears before
he did so, and telling Cranmer, who urged him to do it (though
Cranmer really would have spared the woman at first, but for her
own determined obstinacy), that the guilt was not his, but that of
the man who so strongly urged the dreadful act. We shall see, too
soon, whether the time ever came when Cranmer is likely to have
remembered this with sorrow and remorse.

Cranmer and RIDLEY (at first Bishop of Rochester, and afterwards
Bishop of London) were the most powerful of the clergy of this
reign. Others were imprisoned and deprived of their property for
still adhering to the unreformed religion; the most important among
whom were GARDINER Bishop of Winchester, HEATH Bishop of Worcester,
DAY Bishop of Chichester, and BONNER that Bishop of London who was
superseded by Ridley. The Princess Mary, who inherited her
mother's gloomy temper, and hated the reformed religion as
connected with her mother's wrongs and sorrows - she knew nothing
else about it, always refusing to read a single book in which it
was truly described - held by the unreformed religion too, and was
the only person in the kingdom for whom the old Mass was allowed to
be performed; nor would the young King have made that exception
even in her favour, but for the strong persuasions of Cranmer and
Ridley. He always viewed it with horror; and when he fell into a
sickly condition, after having been very ill, first of the measles
and then of the small-pox, he was greatly troubled in mind to think
that if he died, and she, the next heir to the throne, succeeded,
the Roman Catholic religion would be set up again.

This uneasiness, the Duke of Northumberland was not slow to
encourage: for, if the Princess Mary came to the throne, he, who
had taken part with the Protestants, was sure to be disgraced.
Now, the Duchess of Suffolk was descended from King Henry the
Seventh; and, if she resigned what little or no right she had, in
favour of her daughter LADY JANE GREY, that would be the succession
to promote the Duke's greatness; because LORD GUILFORD DUDLEY, one
of his sons, was, at this very time, newly married to her. So, he
worked upon the King's fears, and persuaded him to set aside both
the Princess Mary and the Princess Elizabeth, and assert his right
to appoint his successor. Accordingly the young King handed to the
Crown lawyers a writing signed half a dozen times over by himself,
appointing Lady Jane Grey to succeed to the Crown, and requiring
them to have his will made out according to law. They were much
against it at first, and told the King so; but the Duke of
Northumberland - being so violent about it that the lawyers even
expected him to beat them, and hotly declaring that, stripped to
his shirt, he would fight any man in such a quarrel - they yielded.
Cranmer, also, at first hesitated; pleading that he had sworn to
maintain the succession of the Crown to the Princess Mary; but, he
was a weak man in his resolutions, and afterwards signed the
document with the rest of the council.

It was completed none too soon; for Edward was now sinking in a
rapid decline; and, by way of making him better, they handed him
over to a woman-doctor who pretended to be able to cure it. He
speedily got worse. On the sixth of July, in the year one thousand
five hundred and fifty-three, he died, very peaceably and piously,
praying God, with his last breath, to protect the reformed

This King died in the sixteenth year of his age, and in the seventh
of his reign. It is difficult to judge what the character of one
so young might afterwards have become among so many bad, ambitious,
quarrelling nobles. But, he was an amiable boy, of very good
abilities, and had nothing coarse or cruel or brutal in his
disposition - which in the son of such a father is rather

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