In 1549, the position of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was becoming precarious, as rebellions throughout the country were matched by dissention within the King’s council. The rebellions were spurred by expectations that the year’s harvest would be as poor as that of 1548 – though the truth was that the entire decade had been a period of acute price inflation. People questioned Somerset’s policies, especially his support of religious reform and agrarian enclosures – and his wars with Scotland. They also mistrusted a man who would send his own brother to the block (though goodness knows Tom Seymour deserved it – for one, the man broke into the King’s apartments in the middle of the night and shot his dog! Check out the “Thomas Seymour” tags for posts I’ve written about those incidents!). Meanwhile John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, was rabble-rousing within the King’s Council.
So a beleaguered Somerset tried a desperation move. He took possession of the King’s person, and withdrew for safety from Hampton Court to the fortified and easily-defended Windsor Castle. Somerset had not taken into account the fact that the King had grown into a twelve year-old boy who did not appreciate being treated like a chess piece. Edward was outraged by Somerset’s behavior. “Me thinks I am in prison,” he wrote in his Chronicle. (This is really the greatest treasure, a diary written at times in the third person that gives a fascinating glimpse into his thoughts).
The Council reacted on October 8 by proclaiming the Protector a traitor, publishing details of his government mismanagement. By October 11, the game was over. They sent guards to rescue the King and arrest Somerset and his wife. Edward summarized the charges against Somerset in his Chronicle: “ambition, vainglory, entering into rash wars in mine youth, negligent looking on Newhaven, enriching himself of my treasure, following his own opinion, and doing all by his own authority, etc.” In the end, Somerset pleaded guilty to 29 counts of treason.
Still, Somerset escaped this trap. He apologized and was released from the Tower. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, took over as President of the Council; he and the King accepted Somerset’s contrition, and even allowed him to return to the Council and Privy Chamber. As a mark of reconciliation, Warwick even married his heir John to Somerset’s daughter Anne. But that wasn’t enough for the ambitious Somerset. He started amassing political sympathizers and plotting to remove Warwick from the scene. It didn’t work. On October 11, 1551, Warwick was elevated to the Dukedom of Northumberland. Five days later, Edward Seymour was arrested for “contemplating” the Lord President’s arrest and execution. That was it for Somerset. He was executed on January 22, 1552.
As always, Wikipedia – Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset provides a good understanding of the subject. For more in-depth analysis, Albert Frederick Pollard offers a short (23 pages) biography entitled Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset
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