Part 1…. Minor’s Orders and
Born to rule –
Today it is a phrase sardonically employed to describe a social structure that enables a privileged few effortlessly to sustain positions of political influence. By way of satirical irony those whom it is used against often portray themselves as victims of an inverted social prejudice by those who would turn an accident of birth into a political crime.
Inevitably those born into privilege rarely see that they enjoy any particular advantages over their fellow man or woman. From their perspective being ‘born to rule’ imposes limitations upon freedom of choice. Though they exercise power through family, through wealth and through patronage, their lives are also circumscribed by those very privileges that make them powerful – just as others, they would argue, are empowered by the absence of such constraints.
So it seems a telling phrase only ever tells us part of any story.
Born to rule –
In the sixteenth century this phrase conveyed a simple political reality that was as unremarkable as it was determining.
And on 28th January 1547 it once again in its proper turn became a governing reality for a new king and his kingdom. On that cold January day King Henry VIII died holding the hand of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. And his nine year old son succeeded as King Edward VI.
By chance we know quite a deal about this young boy-king. He kept a chronicle and wrote various political papers on various subjects of interest to him. The Chronicle is a sort of political dairy. It isn’t a diary in our modern sense – a confessional place for self-revelation. Edward’s chronicle is more a minute on matters that come to his attention and about which, as one can see from his entries, he is well informed.
Significantly, Edward’s journal ceases in November 1552. His part in government could no longer be constrained by others’ words nor bound by others’ actions. In the autumn of 1552 Edward meaningfully became the king. But this emergence was the culmination of a process not the product of a sudden change. It was indeed set in motion by the events of 1549. And even after he ceased to keep his journal he continued to draft political papers which have survived. The Memoranda to the Privy Council in October 1552 and his paper on the conduct of Council business in January 1553 are particularly interesting as they provide significant insights into the concerns of the early months of his active majority. Like the Chronicle they are terse but they are redolent of a practical mind that already understands the intricacies that inform policy.
Typically the things that interested Edward were also the things about which he had strongest opinions. Many of these naturally corresponded with any boy’s at most any times; others conformed to those we might expect from any educated young gentlemen of the late Renaissance; yet others reflected dynastic interests and ambitions that preoccupy most princes of the mid sixteenth century; and then there was religion.
Religion is a subject unlike any other. Religion is the present sense of the sixteenth century. More than a system of optional beliefs; more than a systematic theology; more even than a means of salvation, religion is at the philosophical heart of everything the educated and uneducated think or do. It influences thought, mathematics, science, art, culture, argument, morals and more. It defines the limits of the possible and the extent of the human. It conceives the Divine.
It was also unlike the Christianity we know. Their Christ was not the Baby Jesus of our kindergarten Nativity play or the Gentle Jesus of Sunday school or First Holy Communion lessons. Their Christ was muscular rather than meek; certain rather than tolerant; dogmatic rather than liberal. Redemption was a matter of His lasting judgement. Religion provided the soul’s only route to share this resurrection from the dead. Religion provided the sole context for living a Christian life. And one institution alone wholly encapsulated all of this – both life and after-life – the Church.
The Church was the polar star around which a universe of thought, meaning and belief turned. And by the middle of the sixteenth century, riven by a doctrinal struggle between reformers and traditionalists, this church had already been irrevocably shattered into two parts.
Martin Luther was not the first to seek a return to a simpler Christian faith. He would not be the last. The history of Christianity is littered with such endeavours. St Francis of Assisi was if anything more radical than Luther both in action and in exegesis. But Luther’s thoughts caught an intellectual tide that had over-run the educated upper echelons of both ecclesiastical and secular hierarchies of late Renaissance Europe.
In that the Reformation unleashed by Luther’s ninety five theses is akin to the explosive torrent of reform unleashed by the first session of the Second Vatican Council. Then, as in the sixteenth century, the reformers sought to purge abuse; they argued for simplicity; their calls for renewal and relevance struck a chord with the educated elite. And as ever in periods of heightened religious renewal the radicals appealed to the authority of Scripture and the practices of the Early Church over the corrupted ‘traditio’ of the Church’s Magisterium. And, as ever in such debates, the initial running by the radicals carried all before it…only later did a traditionalist message effectively emerge.
As at the Second Vatican Council so also in the sixteenth century: the institutional church was slow to respond to the reformers’ challenge. Many of the Humanist ecclesiastics of the early sixteenth century, informed by Erasmian scholarship, were sympathetic to Luther’s attack upon abuses. And it must be said, it is far from clear that Luther himself initially clearly saw where his notion of Justification by Faith Alone would lead – let alone that it would pose a threat to the entire world order loosely known as Christendom. For us, schooled to artless compromise by the tempting ease of consumerism, it is difficult to imagine these finer distinctions of belief might matter so very much. But matter much indeed they did.
In early modern Europe Christianity’s belief systems were essential components of the lives of every man, woman and child. Therefore, the confessional debates that raged across three generations mattered to everyone. They were matters of life and death – and not only literally to the martyrs on either side of the confessional divide.
Concepts we see as arcane; terms we regard as abstruse; beliefs we see as hopelessly compromised were didactic certainties; indisputable facts; incontrovertible truths. Salvation rested upon them and neither could they be traded in debate nor elided over with rhetorical flourishes.
By the century’s end it divided the continent of Europe into Catholic and Protestant. That division was Europe’s defining characteristic until the end of the Second World War. That same religious divide defined much of the reigns of the last three Tudor monarchs: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
This was the world into which Edward Tudor was born. His earliest years were defined by the complexities of the Reformation that now destabilised the dynastic politics of Europe and had already up-turned the ecclesiastical and political establishments in England. Edward was a direct product of the novelty of the Royal Supremacy. He was its incarnation. From the moment of his birth he was the Royal Supremacy made flesh.
From 1547, Supreme Head of the Church in England and Ireland, King Edward VI de facto governed the terms of the religious settlement – merely by the fact he was the king. Most like the intelligent Edward Tudor mastered the terms of the argument; most like his contemporary dynasts the prince took sides; and most like the young he judged easily.
However, unlike most juveniles, once he was the king Edward’s views could not be ignored.
Perhaps strangely the best theological and rhetorical defence of the Supremacy was penned by the traditionalist bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. His De Vere Obedentia was more than a formulation: it was the Supremacy’s religious manifesto. And it had great influence not least in Germany. The nature of the Supremacy was further re-formulated by Cranmer and others at the king’s coronation in February 1547.
It is at this coronation that the king is first compared to Josiah by Thomas Cranmer.
Your majesty is God’s vice-gerent and Christ’s vicar within your own dominions and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshipped, idolatry destroyed and the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects and images removed. These acts be signs of a second Josiah who reformed the church of God in his days….
This is significant. The name Josiah means healed by God. Cranmer ordains this second Josiah is sent by God to heal the English church. Cranmer sketches out the reform agenda for the king to pursue. And Cranmer carefully limits the church’s role in this:
To condition with monarchs upon these ceremonies, the bishop of Rome (or other bishops owning his supremacy) hath no authority but he may declare what God requires at the hands of kings and rulers: that is religion and virtue…(the works of Thomas Cranmer, Parker Society, II. 177-8)
This is Caesaro-papalism; it empowers the crown without limit, let or hindrance. Indeed the Papacy itself will have to wait for the nineteenth century and the First Vatican Council and the proclamation of the Doctrine of Infallibility before it quite achieves what Cranmer’s doctrine bestows upon Edward VI.
This is the Supremacy Edward acquires as a consequence merely of his accession. According to Cranmer it doesn’t even depend upon a coronation.
Josiah was the direct descendant of King David and he was listed amongst the ancestors of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (I v.9-10). He famously instituted a series of religious reforms: to Jewish practice, doctrine, order and worship. He also gave the religious laws of the book of Deuteronomy to the Jewish people…a sort of precursor to canon law….
Cranmer drew a similar reform agenda to the attention of his second Josiah. These were the archbishop’s priorities rather than the king’s. By 1547 Cranmer has already largely completed his Prayer Book (designed to replace the Missal and Breviary) and was already turning his mind to the reform of Canon Law – a second book of Deuteronomy for the second Josiah’s reign.
And that Canon Law, painstakingly revised under Cranmer’s direction in the course of Edward’s reign, would explicitly confer absolute supremacy to the king alone over the sacramental, sacerdotal, clerical and legal jurisdictions of the English church. Faith and morals were entirely encompassed by this infallible, omnicompetent Supreme Headship. Cranmer’s revisions never became the law but they do help to explain the intellectual doubts that give rise to his recantations.
But as Edward’s reign is to demonstrate….the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley….
When the reformers, evangelicals and royal tutors termed the king ‘a young Josiah’ it may have been mere flattery. But their early actions made it an effective doctrine. And as such it was challenged immediately and directly in writing and sermons by Bishop Gardiner. He sought to limit the reforms until some notional majority was reached. But argument was to no avail. In deed Gardiner’s own arguments were gallingly used by Cranmer against him.
From this point forward the rivalry between the two men became personal and vitriolic. Cranmer turned himself into a Canon lawyer to defeat his opponent; Gardiner turned himself into a theologian for the same purpose. Their debate over the nature of the Eucharist is one of the most important and neglected aspects of the English reformation. Historians of the English reformation have tended to praise Cranmer’s efforts as they have disparaged those of Stephen Gardiner. Polemic has tended to over-inform these hard judgements on Bishop Gardiner’s theology – even in these balmy days of ecumenism.
That subject will be for another day…
For the moment suffice to say it quickly became necessary to remove the bishop of Winchester from the field of debate. Gardiner was locked away and the reformers proceeded at the dizzying pace set out in the Coronation.
But none of them quite expected their young Josiah to take matters so quickly into his own hands. After the Ordinal is published the king humiliated Cranmer by taking the radicals’ side over the vestarian controversy. In the end the radicals won; Bishop Hooper was consecrated bishop without the popish vestments. Once Edward had a grip upon religious affairs he never let go.
After 1549 and for the rest of Edward’s reign the majority of more moderate reformers who believed in 1547 that their moment had come, were forced to play catch-up. It was the king, whom they had airily set-up as the supreme authority, who set the pace and direction of reform. As we shall see, on this subject Edward knew his own mind; he set his own agenda; he followed the course and interests of a radical minority of religious evangelicals. The royal minor and his minority interest in reality shaped the doctrine of the English church.
Strangely, it is the inherent inherited naiveté of all those who serve in a monarchy to mistake their minds for their monarch’s. Once a king’s day is done, it is those who clearly see the old reign has gone, who are destined to seize the next day. Old advisers forever see the world through the eyes of the past-master rather than through the eyes of their new master.
And so, despite his well laid plans, Archbishop Cranmer’s best words in the Prayer Book of 1549 ended in the last words of the Second Book of Common Prayer which was finally promulgated on All Saints Day 1552. Even then this was not allowed to be quite the last word – for it already included the infamous ‘black rubric’.
That rubric was inserted into the Prayer Book almost certainly at the king’s personal direction and certainly as a direct consequence of a sermon preached by John Knox from the privy pulpit in the king’s presence and that of the entire court. Knox spoke on the nature of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. His view was that there was none: these Memorialist doctrines were at the farthest extremes of the theological debate about the nature of the only remaining Sacrament after baptism – The Supper of the Lord.
Rubrics, directional instructions in missals and breviaries and pontificals were normally in red- following the manuscript practice of the monastic compilers of missals. But it was too late to make a further change to the Second Prayer Book that had only been approved in September 1552. As most of the pages of the Second Prayer Book were already printed the additional ‘rubric’ was printed in black – appearing either at the very end of the ordinary text or upon printed slips inserted inside those books already bound.
The rubric included this famous formulation:
“Leste yet the same kneelyng myght be thought or taken otherwyse, we dooe declare that it is not ment thereby, that any adoracion is doone, or oughte to bee doone, eyther unto the Sacramentall bread or wyne there bodily receyved, or unto anye reall and essencial presence there beeyng of Christ’s naturall fleshe and bloude.”
The gratuitous insertion was indicative that not even the words of Cranmer’s Second Prayer Book were final. Indeed the ‘back rubric’ most likely showed King Edward VI intended to take his English Church into what might be best termed doctrinally as a proto-Calvinist settlement. These were the radical doctrines espoused by the evangelical faction who had long been ascendant in the Chapels Royal, at court and in the king’s privy chamber.
The ‘black rubric’ represents an intellectually inconvenient truth for many modern historians. And these inconvenient truths of history ought not to be ignored simply because they are inimical to our modern religious sensibilities.
The fewer linguistic ambiguities of the Second Prayer Book were in the end insufficient for the king. Indeed they had already provoked a further commission to compose clear Articles of Religion. And it was these Forty Two Articles that truly defined the nature of Edward VI’s church. They were as principled as they were coherent. They defined a faith that might only properly be termed ‘Protestant’. Here is the flavour of them from article 17 on Predestination.
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.
This is as cogent a formulation of the doctrine of Predestination as anything Jean Calvin composed. These Edwardian Articles – later conflated into Thirty Nine Articles by Elizabeth I – these were the foundation of a protestant church. The reformed church of Edward VI was to be as distinct as that of Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin – or indeed Knox, who had served on the commission that composed them and later created the Congregation that established the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland.
And the Articles are themselves finally promulgated in June 1553. By then the king is already in extremis and preoccupied with the device to alter the succession. Nevertheless, it was in the last very weeks of Edward VI’s reign that what we will later term English Puritanism was conceived and born – just as the Catholicism of the Elizabethan recusants was born in the brief years of Queen Mary I’s papal restoration after December 1554.
About the same time as the black rubric propelled the Edward into the political foreground, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and the king’s principal minister after 1549 appeared to retreat into the background. This, as much as the events surrounding the king’s death has long perplexed historians.
John Dudley‘s complex personality reflects more than the complexities of the surrounding doctrinal debates of the Edwardian reformation. It reflects on the nature and beliefs of all those involved in Tudor government. We are inclined to see these men as greedy, venal and amoral. That this would-be radical Protestant duke ends (unforgivably) as once again a Catholic appears to be a betrayal of his long espoused values. It appears to make a sham of his career. It appears to show him spare of conscience and good faith.
In consequence both Protestant and Catholic historians have been unsparing of him and his reputation. His first modern biographer M.L. Bush as a part excuse suggested perhaps the duke had some sort of nervous collapse brought on by severe depression. He certainly suffered recurrent bouts of illness in 1552. These seem to be of a gastric nature. They certainly made Dudley melancholy. And Dudley writes in ever more morose tones to Cecil and others and on the last Twelfth Night of the reign he is maudlin and full of self-pity:
….while others went to their sups and pastimes after travail I went to bed with careful heart and weary body; and yet abroad no man had scarcely any good opinion of me. And now in extreme sickness and otherwise constrained to seek some health and quietness I am not without a new evil imagination of men……I have entered the bottom of my care which I cannot do without sorrow….. (National Archive: State Papers 10/18/2)
Others, including contemporaries, have seen the duke and the Dudley as unprincipled and ruthless. And it is difficult not to see the tainted nature of his and his family’s ambitions when every turn of events after 1547 miraculously turns-out to their political and financial benefit. Like Uriah Heep – John Dudley is a humble servant serving his own higher purpose.
In the end it is quite possible Northumberland was both depressed and unconscionable. In the end it is possible all those councillors who served Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth in succession – whilst never forgetting to serve themselves – may all have been no more than unconscionable, greedy and grasping. But the minds of men and the values of their times are often lost to us and we seek to understand them in our own terms and impose upon them our own values because we cannot imagine there are any other terms of business.
But the terms of the political trade were different in these times and good conscience then was not and is not the same as our good conscience today. What men and women believe truly affects what they do – as contemporary suicide bombers might only too easily serve to remind the historian. But history’s job remains to understand and not to excuse or judge the actions of the past.
But there must have been more to John Dudley than simply a Machiavellian. And the one thing we do know of him personally might well explain his successful relationship with Edward. Dudley was a conscientious and well loved father. He loved his sons and they evidently loved him back. The man had charm.
And his sons, John, Ambrose and Robert were all in the privy chamber and were close to the king. The king’s Chronicle (p. 106) for example has them all in the tilt list for a match played a few days before his uncle, Edward Seymour duke of Somerset is executed in January 1552. Young Edward even attended the marriage of young Robert Dudley to Amy Robsart – where the king disapprovingly watched a customary nailing of a live goose to a post by the groom and his new wife’s brothers.
This last autumn of the king’s reign – which at the time would have appeared to be Edward’s last days under the restraints of royal minority rather than his last days per se – was a time of uncertainty. It also sees any number of administrative initiatives. The king draws up comprehensive memoranda for the Privy Council in October 1552. It lists out most of the business being transacted by the government. Then in January 1553 there are proposals from the king to reorder council’s meetings. These end with three additions of his own the last of which reads:
….if there be under four (i.e. four privy councillors available) and a matter of expedition arise they shall declare it to the King’s Majesty and before him debate it but not send answer without it require wonderful haste…(Chronicle p. 184)
From this it is clear that the king has business transacted before him and he is making a formal provision for ad hoc meetings of the Privy Council to occur in his privy chamber. This surely only makes explicit what has already been happening in practice and which had already led to a testy dispute between him and the sometime Lord Chancellor Richard Rich. Rich’s administrative trouble earned him a cold personal rebuke and it cost him his job. Even so, the king’s memory is long and this last regulation ensures it will not happen again.
The king’s personal papers show he has the enthusiast’s taste for notes and instructions and memoranda. This only reinforces the image in the famous woodcut of the young king making notes on Latimer’s sermons from the casement of the gallery above the privy gardens from where he usually listened to the sermons by a table – pen in hand. His tastes for administrative engagement in government are more akin to those of his grandfather than his father.
At the end of 1552 there are also a series of new proposals for the surrenders and exchanges of land. Many of these relate to Episcopal estates but they included the lady Mary’s manors of Chiche. The proposals meet with the coldest of cold shoulders from her.
(See J.L. Macintosh: From Heads of households to Heads of State.)
We do not know whether this was a proxy for some other exchange of favours between between the king and his half sister but we do know that by April 1553 the surrender had metamorphosed into an exchange that awarded Mary yet further of the former Howard lands and most significantly Framlingham and Hertford.
The details are agreed in May 1553 which is the same month as the series of dynastic marriages take place and amongst which the most significant links the Dudley to the royal line with the marriage of Guildford to the lady Jane Grey. About the same time Northumberland received the reversionary interest in the lands of the lady Elizabeth.
The marriage of Lady Jane Grey to Guildford Dudley; the other dynastic marriages that Whitsun of 1553; the promulgation of the Articles of religion; the king’s device to alter the English succession away from Edward’s ‘illegitimate’ Tudor half-sisters to his ‘legitimate’ Grey cousins might all as easily belong to a series of inter-linked policies King Edward intended to pursue for himself and which he hastily called into early service in the circumstances of his fatal illness – as they might be foolhardy throws of loaded-dice by a few desperate political gamblers.
For whilst those very last months from say April 1553 are increasingly over-shadowed by the dawning realities surrounding the fatal nature of the king’s illness it surely is mistaken hindsight to make all these earlier events simply appear to be proxies for an inevitable outcome that wasn’t seriously foreseen until after the dissolution of Parliament in March 1553.
It is these events that set the scene for the final six months of Edward’s reign – and of which the visit of the lady Mary to the king in February 1553 and their formal and public reconciliation; the parliament called already for March 1553 and the preparations for a second perhaps for September 1553 are probably but part and parcel.
It would be wrong, therefore, to view the events of the last nine months of Edward’s reign as nothing more than a series of random responses by a doomed regime to the inevitability of the young king’s imminent death.
That being so, the counter coup d’état that places Mary Tudor on the throne in July 1553 is possibly even more extraordinary than it first appears. Yet, however extraordinary those events themselves its greatest irony lies in the fact that her very success was assisted by the series of careful consolidations of land that the king had made for an entirely different purpose.
Since 1547 the lady Mary had been the principal noble magnate in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Her position was reinforced by the government’s punitive crushing of Kett’s rebellion in 1549. The rebels had torn down the enclosures – a violation of property rights that would have threatened and offended the preeminent Mary Tudor as much as any land owner.
The consolidations of her land holdings which take place in 1552-3 surely are part of a deliberate bridge-mending between the king and his half-sister. This was the central political event of the first months of 1553. Subsequent events make teasing out the meaning behind these actions difficult. Paper trails die away doubtless in the embers of well set fires intended to cover tracks. But they were surely not entirely random. And if we consider the events of 1552-53 in this light we must too reconsider the role the younger king might have played earlier in government and politics.
However, before turning to Edward’s reign itself it might be first helpful to say something of his political inheritance.
Indeed Henry VIII’s direct legacy defined much that was determining of active government and politics for the two decades after his death. But as we shall see not quite in the straightforward way historians have always believed….
Chronicle: I have used the edition by W.K. Jordan, The chronicle and political papers of Edward VI, London 1966
Loving Cups and Poisoned Chalices
History has suggested many explanations for the sequence of dramatic events that were the reign of King Henry VIII – from the brutal judicial murders of Empson and Dudley; through the early wars; through the King’s Great Matter and the Royal Supremacy; to the last strike from his deathbed against his closest noble allies in the house of Howard, Henry never lost his capacity to surprise. But of the all the explanations history suggests oddly the most satisfying one is wholly the king’s own…the quest for a legitimate male heir.
Henry VIII was a most dutiful monarch……
To be continued….…………………………..