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December 1, 1552 – Somerset’s Trial at Westminster

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

So Somerset had already escaped charges of treason once – that time when he took Edward and fled to Windsor hoping to avoid Northumberland’s (then Warwick’s) coup. That time was real, this time…not so much.

It all depends on whether you believe that Somerset had a plot to lure the members of the Council to dinner and then assassinate them while they were there. Yeah, he may have fantasized out loud about that, but to call it a plot was a little extreme (admittedly, Fox’s Book of Martyrs describes a scene where Somerset went to Northumberland’s house but repented and “would not execute his design” but it was clear that was as far as things went. This was really a case of Northumberland coming against him, even though he tried really hard to pretend otherwise (at the end of the trial, he tells him he’s sure the King will pardon him). By the way, Edward VI realized it, but a little too late. He is said to have delivered a great line a couple of months later – stone faced of course – when he and Northumberland were practicing archery. “You aimed better when you cut off the head of my uncle Somerset.”

But I digress. The exciting part about today came at the end of the trial. The jury came back with a “not guilty” verdict on the charge of treason – since they held that treason was committed against a sovereign, and so they would not have an attempt on lords “dignified by such a name” (p.s. Northumberland took credit for this decision later on when he told Edward about the trial). Because that was the only charge that was technically treason, when the verdict was announced, the sergeants-at-arms not only didn’t turn the axe towards Somerset, they actually walked away. The crowd was thrilled – they went wild with cheering (Somerset was hugely popular with the people since his policies benefitted them much more than the nobility). Problem was, the lesser charges of “felonious intent” also carried a sentence of death…

If you want to read the whole story, Cobbett’s State Trials is an amazing resource. Poke around – Surrey’s trial is also a must read (including testimony of his attempted escape down the privy…)


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December 1, 1552 - Somerset\'s Trial at Westminster
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