Surrender, Somerset!

The first week of October in 1549 was a tumultuous time in the reign of the young King Edward VI, who was just shy of 12 years old.

Edward_VI,_aged_6

The Privy Council was trying to un-throne Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset and the king’s maternal uncle, from his de facto kingship and Somerset was responding with his usual egocentric and power-hungry shenanigans.

Edward_Seymour 1st duke of somerset

As I explained in Edward VI in a Nutshell:

Somerset knew that the privy council was dissatisfied, and spent September and early October trying by every means necessary to keep from relinquishing his de facto sovereignty. He published tracts accusing the privy councillors of mendacity, sent off his pleading missives to those he hoped would be his allies, and even issued a summons to his friends and family demanding that they bring him military aid at Hampton Court. Notwithstanding Somerset’s efforts to either butter up or bully the lords and Londoners, the members of the privy council sent him a letter asking him to step down from his position of lord protector. Clearly, they hoped to effect a regime change in a calm and peaceful manner, without unduly alarming the populace or King Edward.

Their hopes that Somerset would relinquish power without a fight were in vain. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he persuaded the young king that his enemies were also bent on Edward’s overthrow … and possibly the king’s murder. In fairness, Somerset was certain that the council meant to kill him, and he was fighting for his life. With his neck on the line, he probably convinced himself that he had no choice but to impel his nephew to help him. Believing that his uncle had been truthful with him, King Edward appeared before those assembled at Hampton Court to fight for Somerset and told them, “he was displeased that an attempt should be made to take his uncle the Protector away from him, and prayed that all would help him in resisting, for he himself was clothed, and ready to arm” (CSP, Spain, 8 October 1549).

Regardless of Somerset’s seeming willingness to start a civil war and his possession of the king, the privy councillors convened at the Tower and let it be known that they intended to force the duke to step down. Panicked, Somerset grabbed the king and ran for it.

You have to consider how frightening this all was for Edward, who still trusted his uncle implicitly. The king would later write in his diary how he was rushed away from Hampton Court to Windsor Castle late in the evening of 7 October, and observers reported that Edward had carried a drawn sword as he rode through the night, declaring, “My vassals will you help me against those who want to kill me!” (Skidmore, 2009). Once at Windsor, the king wrote a letter to the lords of the privy council claiming that he knew, “what opinion you have conceived of our dearest uncle the Lord Protector … we do lament our present estate being in such and imminent dangers … we pray you, good cousins and councilors … in nowise counsel us to proceed to extremities against him, for fear of any respect that might particularly seem hereafter to touch any of you” (Tytler, 1839).

The lords of the privy council seemed to be mindful of King Edward’s worries. Without a doubt, the king believed his uncle to be blameless and himself to be in danger. The councillors arranged to have a private letter smuggled in to Edward, assuring him that they only wanted to depose Somerset because he was abusing his position and taking advantage of his nephew. But the king was unmoved by their assurance and remained certain that Somerset was only trying to protect them both.

On 10 October the council made a last ditch effort to get Somerset to give up the king peaceably, sending him a formal order to leave Windsor Castle and put himself into the custody of the king’s regents.

Windsor_Castle_Hollar_View_From_River

Somerset, afraid for his own neck (having executed his own brother in a power struggle not long before) and trying desperately to retain his place a Lord Protector of the realm, refused to allow himself to be separated from the young sovereign. The council would now have to chose between backing down or invading Windsor Castle to free Edward and arrest Somerset.

     

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