Henry VIII.'s successor was his only son, Edward VI., who at the time of his father's death was but nine years old. In the Council, which carried on the government till he should come of age, the Duke of Somerset, who was the young King's uncle, speedily gained control and took the title of Protector. He was opposed to harsh government, and had many good ideas; but he tried to do everything at once, and so did nothing well.
Under Somerset's rule, Protestant changes were rapidly made. Church images were pulled down, pictures of saints and angels were whitewashed over, and many of the old customs and holy days were suppressed. The Church service was changed from the Catholic "mass-service," in Latin, to a Protestant "preaching service," in the English tongue.
Following the example which was set by the German and Swiss reformers, the English clergy were permitted to marry.
These changes went further than most Englishmen of that day wanted, so there was much discontent on religious grounds. Other grievances also existed, of another kind.
The old "common lands," on which each villager had the right to pasture his cattle, were being fenced in by the lords of the manors; and the old "open fields," devoted to the raising of grain, were giving place to "inclosures," in which the lords carried on sheep-raising. Since it took fewer men to herd sheep than it did to till the soil, many men were thus thrown out of work, and the problem of the "unemployed" first began to trouble the government.
"Our captain's name is Poverty," said the leader of a band of rioters in the reign of Henry VIII., "for he and his cousin Necessity hat brought us to this doing."
Sir Thomas More was one of many who saw the evils of these changes.
"Your sheep," he said, "that used to be so meek and tame, and such small eaters, have now become such great devourers, and so wild, that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities."
As a result, rebellions broke out in England: in the West, to restore the religious laws of Henry VIII.; and in the East, chiefly for these agricultural reasons. Both movements were put down, but they had the effect of seriously weakening Somerset's government.
Somerset's policy towards Scotland was also unsuccessful.
Henry VIII.'s elder sister had been married to the King of the Scots, in the hope of bringing the two countries together. But, in 1513, he was defeated and slain in battle, while invading England. In 1542 his son was likewise defeated while attacking England. This King died soon afterward, leaving his throne to his five year old daughter, Mary Stuart.
This was the condition when Somerset interfered in the affairs of Scotland. Somerset's object was partly to aid the Reformation there, and partly to marry Edward VI. to the young Queen of Scotland. In the battle of Pinkie, the English won a great victory over the Scots; but it destroyed all hope of carrying out the marriage.
"We mislike not the match," said one of the Scots, "but the manner of the wooing."
The little Queen of the Scots was sent over to France, where she was reared as a Catholic, and was married to the future King of that country. Much trouble came to England, in later days, as a result of these events.
Both at home and abroad, Somerset's rule was thus a failure. The result was that the Council determined to remove him. His power passed to his rival, the Duke of Northumberland. Soon after this, Somerset was put to death on a charge of treason.
Northumberland was an able and ambitious man. As a means of keeping his power, and of enriching himself and friends, he favored the Protestants and continued the work of the Reformation. But he cared little for religion, and at the end of his life he claimed that he had been a Catholic all the time.
The young King had now become a lad of fifteen years, and was more than usually bright and well educated. But unfortunately he fell into a sickness, and it soon became evident that he would never live to take the rule into his own hands. The next heir to the throne was his half-sister, Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon. Northumberland, however, plotted to exclude her, and to raise Lady Jane Grey to the throne. Lady Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VIII.'s younger sister, and had been married to Northumberland's son, Lord Guilford Dudley.
Lady Jane Gray
Lady Jane was a beautiful, noble-minded girl of sixteen. She had applied herself so well to her studies that she knew Latin, Greek, French, and Italian. She was persuaded by Northumberland that it was her duty to take the throne. So, when Edward VI. died, in 1553, she permitted Northumberland to proclaim her Queen. As the proclamation was being read, an apprentice had bravely cried out: "The Lady Mary has the better title!"
This, indeed, was the general opinion of the nation.
Mary escaped those who were sent to seize her, and soon her party was so strong that Northumberland was obliged to submit. Lady Jane Grey's reign lasted only ten days.
Queen Mary caused the wicked Duke of Northumberland to be executed. For some months she allowed Lady Jane and her young husband to live quietly in honorable captivity. But when rebellions broke out against Mary's rule, as they soon did, Lady Jane and her husband, with many other political prisoners, were promptly put to death.
At the beginning of her reign, Queen Mary was one of the most popular rulers that England ever had. At the end of it she was one of the most hated. This change in the feelings of her subjects was mainly due to a foreigner, and her persecution of Protestants.
Her mother's unjust divorce, and her own inclinations, made Queen Mary a zealous Catholic. This led her to accept eagerly the proposal that she should marry Philip II. of Spain, who succeeded his father, Charles V., as head of the Catholics of Europe. Englishmen disliked this marriage, partly because they were foolishly jealous of all foreigners, but still more because they feared that it would cause them to lose the advantages of their island position, and to take an active part in the wars between France and Spain. Nevertheless, the marriage took place.
As soon as she could do so, Mary caused the religious laws of her brother's and father's reigns to be repealed. The Catholic religion and the authority of the Pope were thus restored, and a few monasteries were refounded. But Mary found it necessary to leave most of the monastery lands, and other goods of the Church, in the hands of those who possessed them. The laws for punishing heretics were also revived, and many Protestants suffered death for their religion, as Catholics had done in the reign of Henry VIII.
The most noted victim of this persecution was Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury. He granted Henry VIII. his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and had been the leader of the Protestant party under Edward VI. In hope of saving his life, Cranmer for a time "recanted," and said that all that he had taught contrary to the Roman Catholic church was false, and that only in the church was there any hope of salvation. Catholics wished to weaken the Reformation by having him repeat his recantation when he was led to the stake. But when Cranmer saw that his submission would not save his life, he regained his courage.
"Forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart," he cried, "it shall be first burned."
And, true to his word, when the fire was kindled about him, he thrust his right hand into the flames. In spite of his wavering, he made a good end, and the bravery with which he and many others met their deaths strengthened the Protestant cause.
Queen Mary was bitterly disappointed because she had no children. Her husband, too, who was much younger than she, neglected her, and spent most of the time away from England. A mortal illness, moreover, soon seized upon her. As her misfortunes increased, the poor Queen's half-crazed mind sought to please God by sending more and more Protestants to the stake. The number of those who suffered death in the five years of her reign has been reckoned at about 270. The result was a wave of horror and disgust which swept over England, and greatly aided the final triumph of the Protestant cause.
To complete Mary's unpopularity, the assistance which she gave her husband in his wars with France led to the loss of Calais, which had been England's outpost across the Channel since the days of Edward III. Its loss was no real injury to England, but it was the last blow needed to complete her unhappiness. She died nine months later—one of the saddest figures which that age of conflict could show.
Her half-sister, Elizabeth (Ann Boleyn's daughter), now came to the throne, and began a glorious reign of forty-five years.
Elizabeth at this time was twenty-five years old. She spoke several languages well, and could read Latin and Greek. She had a strong will, and had learned self-control. From her training, and because her right to the throne depended on the legality of Ann Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII., Elizabeth was inclined to the Protestant cause. Her policy had two objects in view for England. One was to keep the country from war; and the other was to establish a united national Church, free from all foreign control.
In carrying out these policies, Elizabeth's chief adviser was William Cecil, whom she made Lord Burleigh. When she chose him as her Secretary of State, she said: "This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gifts, and that you will be faithful to the state." Her choice was justified by the thirty years of faithful service which he gave.
Elizabeth caused Parliament to repeal the religious laws of Queen Mary, and to establish a moderate reformation of the English Church. An Act of Supremacy was passed which denied the Pope's control over the Church. It required all officers to take an oath acknowledging the Queen as "the only supreme governor of this realm as well in all ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal." The Latin mass-service in the Church was again abolished, and the service in English, as arranged in the time of Edward VI., was restored. It was published in the Prayer Book, which is still used in the Episcopal Church. Clergymen who refused to use the Prayer Book, and laymen who stayed way from church services where it was used, were severely punished. Finally, the beliefs of the English church were settled in accordance with Protestant views, and were published in the Thirty-Nine Articles, which are still the official belief of the English or Episcopal Church.
All but one of the bishops refused to accept these changes, and new bishops were appointed in their places. Almost all of the lower clergy, however, accepted the changes, with as little opposition as they had made when Mary restored the Catholic religion, five years before. The nobles and people generally received the changes with rejoicing.
Here, as in other matters, Queen Elizabeth seemed to know just how far her people were willing to go, and shaped her laws to meet the general wishes of the nation. This was one of her strong points as a ruler, as it had been of her father, Henry VIII.—with all of his self-will and tyranny. The Tudor rulers were despots, and their Parliaments were usually packed with persons named by them. But their despotism rested upon the consent of the people, and, in any important matter, they rarely went beyond what their people wished.
With these religious laws of Elizabeth, the Reformation period in England comes to an end. There were still unsettled questions relating to the Church, and both
Elizabeth and her successors had much difficulty in dealing with those who wished to restore the Catholic religion, and with Protestants who wished to depart farther from Catholicism. But these efforts, in the end, were unsuccessful, and the religion of the Church of England is today very much as it was established at the beginning of the reign of "good Queen Bess."