In this article we will discuss about the life and contribution of Edward VI (1547-1553). After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Protectorate of Somerset 2. Duke of Northumberland, Earl of War­wick 3. Doctrinal Change During Edward VI’s Reign.


  1. Protectorate of Somerset
  2. Duke of Northumberland, Earl of Warwick
  3. Doctrinal Change during Edward VI’s Reign

1. Protectorate of Somerset:

Parliament had empowered Henry VIII to determine succession to the Crown. Accordingly he, by his will, left the Crown to his only son Edward and in the event of Edward’s having no heir, to Mary, his daughter through Catherine, and Elizabeth, his daughter through Anne Boleyn.

If neither Mary nor Elizabeth would have heirs, the Crown was to pass to the descendants of Henry’s youngest sister Mary, Duchess of Suffolk. Such was the will of Henry.


Edward VI was not quite ten years old when he came upon the throne. He was a sickly, precocious boy whose viability was questioned by physicians from the moment of his birth. In his will Henry provided for a Council of Regency during his son’s minority and named the persons who would form the Council.

But on his death Henry’s will was dis­obeyed and Lord Hertford, Edward’s uncle assum­ed the title of Protector and was shortly afterwards created Duke of Somerset.

The immediate concern of Duke of Somerset was to unite England and Scotland through the marriage of two young monarchs Edward VI and Mary Queen of Scots. The proposal of this marriage was first made by Henry VIII as early as 1543 and consented to by the Scottish Parliament.

Somerset sought to complete the bargain and thereby to put an end to the age long hostility between England and Scotland. He tried persuasion first but it failed. He then resorted to force. In his impatience he in­vaded Scotland with some Italian troops in assist­ance and won a fruitless victory at Pinkie Clough in 1547.


He showed enough moderation after his victory in the hope that the Scots might relent and agree to come to a settlement. But the Scots were deter­mined not to solemnise the marriage, on the con­trary, they shipped their young queen off to France where she was betrothed to the Dauphin.

This had upset the policy of maintaining good relations with Scotland and bringing the union of Scottish throne with that of England. Somerset’s impatience and his appeal to arms to force the Scots to accept the proposal of marriage without further delay had defeated its own purpose.

Somerset’s invasion of Scotland united all parties against him in Scotland and brought France and Scotland closer. His Scottish policy thus proved a total failure.

On his return from the north, Somerset sum­moned his first Parliament. There were religious difficulties which he aimed at removing. He adopted reformed views about religion and it soon became evident that the reformers headed by Somerset intended to forsake the religious policy and position of Henry VIII.


Several bills were passed to promote and enlarge the Reformation. The treason and heresy laws including the Six Articles’ Act of the late king were repealed. Statute de Heretico Comburendo under which the Lollards and others who had been put to death for heresy since the days of Henry IV was repealed. Communion of both kinds for the laity and the clergy was introduced.

The bishops were, however, to be nominated by the king and the process in the ecclesiastical courts was to run in the king’s name.

In the next session of 1549, uniformity of public worship was established and all ministers of the church were enjoined to use only the book of common prayer, prepared by the primate. This is usually called the First Prayer Book of Edward VI (1549).

This was a prayer book in English language and one of the greatest treasures in English language. The uniform enforcement of the English prayer book was secured by the First Act of Uniformity passed in the same year.

The results of Somerset’s religious reforms were:

First, England was invaded by a host of reformers from Zurich, Geneva, and Germany. Even Italians, Poles, Flemings and the Frenchmen—all came to propagate their views because now there was no heresy law in England. The Englishmen were confused at the babel of strange voices preaching un-familiar doctrines.

Secondly, the use of the common prayer book en­joined by the Act of Parliament gave rise to rebell­ions in Cornwall and Devon. To the Catholics in Ireland, Wales and Cornwall, the English prayer book was utterly unacceptable.

Thirdly, substitution of a simple grave worship for a ceremonial full of magnificence could be acceptable to those whose piety was hearty, but the country people loved those shows and ceremonies, processions and assemblies as things of diversion. They demanded restoration of the Six Articles’ Act.

Somerset’s difficulties were not confined to religious field only.

He had genuine sympathy for the people and when he found that the enclosures and appropriation of the common fields which had driven the poor from their means of livelihood and as a result there were disorders and revolts, he endeavoured to appease the dissatisfaction by issuing a proclamation against enclosures and ordering the lords to break up their parks. But the malady was more deep-rooted.

The falling value of money due influx of gold from America, debasement of coins by Henry and the consequent rise in prices brought untold miseries to the people. When it was found that Somerset’s proclamation was disobeyed by the landowners, the distressed common people became rebellious.

Risings occurred in Wiltshire, Glouces­tershire, Oxfordshire, Sussex, Hampshire and Kent. These were quelled but not without bloodshed. But the situation indicated the prevalence of a dangerous disaffection.

In the same year (1549) a formidable insurrec­tion broke out in Cornwall under Humphrey Arun­del. The insurrection was at first against enclosures, but the zealous clergymen found no difficulty in blending the Catholic cause with the injustice of the landowners.

The insurgents demanded abolition of enclosures, restoration of the monastic lands and of the law of Six Articles and the recall of Cardinal Pole from exile. Lord Russell routed the insurgents and severe military execution was inflicted.

A Roman Catholic priest was hanged. But the flame thus extinguished broke out in new violence in Norfolk, where the general disaffection assumed the form of war. The rebel under one Ket, a tanner, captured Norwich but were eventually routed by Dudley, Earl of Warwick.

Two thousand insurgents perished in the action, others surrendered and pardoned. In the midst of the confusion of Ket’s rebellion, France declared war against England. Somerset could not persuade the Emperor to come to his assistance against France. He proved a failure in his foreign policy.

In the prevailing confusion the advocates of vigour and enemies of Somerset began to cry loud against his feebleness. The nobles hated Somerset for his arrogance to his equals and his sympathies for the poor. Somerset had also earned popular displeasure by executing his brother.

To every cry and every insinuation against him was added the formidable question ‘what friendship could be ex­pected from a man who had no pity for his own brother?’ Somerset’s sympathy with the Reforma­tion, his opposition to enclosures, his eagerness to ensure justice for the poor and all that made him intensely unpopular with the interested groups of people.

To add to this was his unpractical ideas and feeble steps which led to the failure of all his undertakings. He was removed from office in 1549 and was sent to the Tower by the Council. Three years later Warwick, Duke of Northumberland who be­came the head of the government on Somerset’s fall and who reversed the policy of Somerset, charged him for treason, found guilty and was executed (1552).

Like many other unfortunate persons in history, the Duke of Somerset was unequal to the task that his place put on his shoulders. His talents were ill- matched with his ambition and he fell into errors. Yet he occupies an important place in English history, being the first Protestant ruler of the country.

The main blot on his character was his greediness in profiting by the destruction of monasteries and other church properties. Out of the ill-gotten gains he built the magnificent Somer­set house. However, sincerity of his Protestant principles, his milder laws, his sympathies for the peasants and the idea of a union of England and Scotland were lofty aims.

In more tranquil times his mild and humane disposition and his religious feelings might have caused him to pass a life of peace and happiness. In his aims he showed himself one of the most far-reaching statesmen of Tudor times. But the time in which he lived Somerset stood alone as a noble man caring for the rights and interests of the inferior classes of the people.

2. Duke of Northumberland, Earl of War­wick:

Deposition of Somerset brought Duke of Northumberland to power and although he was invested with no power as that of Protector or gover­nor of the king, he was now the directing authority of the realm. He had removed Somerset, his great rival from power.

In character Northumberland, son of Henry VII’s unpopular minister Dudley, was self-seeking and unscrupulous and as lacking in prin­ciple as Thomas Cromwell. At first Northumberland showed some leniency to Somerset whom he set free and re-admitted to the Council. He now prepared to launch out on a vigorous policy of so-called religious reforms.

He summoned a Parliament from which he ex­pected the accustomed subservience. The House of Lords passed a very stringent law of treason, but the Commons modified many of its clauses and enacted that no person should be arraigned or con­victed of treason except by the testimony of two witnesses.

This shows that a spirit of justice was growing up in the minds of the representatives of the people. The Parliament showed that it was no mere registering body of the executive decrees and as such it was dissolved (1552).

Meanwhile Northumberland had obtained most lavish grant of estates from the Crown and was proceeding in a career of high-handed despotism. He cared little for religion but allied himself with the advanced reformers out of personal motives.

Com­missions were issued for the seizure of all the remain­ing plates and ornaments of the churches and the proceeds were supposed to have been used for build­ing schools and relieving the poor. Some old schools were re-founded and were known as King Edward VI’s Grammer Schools.

Northumberland was not a Protestant by convic­tion but he launched upon an extreme policy of religious reform, partly to please the Protestants and partly for money. In the meantime in January, 1552 he got rid of Somerset when he found that those who resented Northumberland’s policy were gathering round the fallen minister whom he got arrested on the charge of treason and executed.

Edward VI him­self was a sincere reformer and was eager to advance the new religion. Northumberland found this to be a means to maintain his hold upon his royal master. In 1552 he issued a Second Prayer Book and forced it on the people. It was largely different from the First Prayer Book, for it was drawn up under the influence of German Protestantism and in it the Communion was not called the Mass.

Besides the issue of the Second Prayer Book, altars were demolished and artistic stained glasses were all broken. Gardiner, a man of extra-ordinary abilities, learning and resolution, and Bonner, bishop of London, a canonist of note were deprived of their Sees and replaced by advanced Protestants such as Hooper and Ridley.

The enforcement of the Second Prayer Book was sought to be secured by a Second Act of Uniformity (1552). The open exercise of any worship except that established by law was accounted culpable contumacy. In the following year the Forty-two Articles defining the doctrine of the English Protes­tant church were drafted by Cranmer and all bishops were enjoined to follow this summary of doctrines.

The results of Northumberland’s religious re­forms, spoliation of the church property led to the deterioration of the national character. For while the restrictions of the old religion were removed, the failure to enforce those of the new led to confusion.

Even orders for the regulation of church service could not remove the confusion. Not only this, the popular sentiment was wounded due to the gross misuse of the churches as stables. Continued seizure of church lands and gross abuse of patronage be­came the standing scandal of the time.

Northumberland’s support of the advanced Pro­testantism incurred Mary’s displeasure. To protect himself Northumberland attempted to alter the chain of succession as determined by Henry VIII’s will, and ensure the Protestant succession. All this was necessary, for the king’s health was fast failing.

He, therefore, persuaded Edward VI, upon whom his influence was still un-abating, to leave by will the Crown to Lady Jane Grey, grand-daughter of Henry VII, daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk. But the claims of Lady Jane Grey was definitely weaker compared to those of Mary and Elizabeth, daughters of Henry VIII.

To strengthen his own position Northumberland married Lady Jane Grey to one of his sons. On Edward VI’s death (1553) North­umberland proclaimed Lady Jane, his daughter-in- law as the Queen of England. He then proceeded with an army to meet Mary who in the meantime was rallying adherents in the eastern countries.

During his absence the Council repudiated Lady Jane’s claim and declared Mary Queen of England. When Mary entered London in triumph amid the rejoic­ings of the city, the rule of Northumberland came to a sudden end. This also ended the attempt to make England a Protestant country.

3. Doctrinal Change During Edward VI’s Reign:

Edward VI’s minority and the regency under Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, later created Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, Earl of War­wick, created Duke of Northumberland, constituted a landmark in the progress of the Reformation in England.

By the end of the reign of Henry VIII, the Protestants had grown stronger and their strength lay in the towns on the southern and eastern coasts and among the industrious classes of the society. But it was still doubtful whether the majority had changed sides by the end of Henry’s reign.

With Edward VI’s accession and the Protectorate of Somerset, the government became almost entirely Protestant and proceeded to the object of completing the religious revolution and establishing a church not only independent of Rome, but dissenting from many doctrines which had been for ages held sacred by the Catholic church.

Henry VIII had established Catholicism minus the Pope, in England. But doc­trinal changes were now undertaken in right earnest.

Although Henry’s reformation was political in nature and only seemingly leaned towards Protestantism, his measures had at least opened the flood gates of Protestantism.

Somerset repealed the late king’s treason and heresy laws and removed restrictions on printing- press and publication of Scriptures. The effect of the repeal of the heresy laws was immediately felt. Preachers from European countries flocked into England. Lutherans and Calvinists preached their Reformed doctrines freely in England. Ridley, Lati­mer and Hooper began preaching doctrinal Refor­mation in England.

The Protestant bias of Somerset along with the preaching’s of doctrinal Reformation had their impact on the government. Edward’s First Prayer Book was an English translation from old Latin service book and it contained few traces of the teachings of the German Reformers. The uni­formity in service was enforced by the First Act of Uniformity.

Under the regency of Duke of Northumberland the Protestant doctrines were all the more adopted in England. Although not a Protestant by conviction Northumberland pursued an extreme policy of reform in order to please the Protestants whose num­ber had increased in the meantime, as also for per­sonal gains.

In 1552 a Second Prayer Book was forced upon the people. It was drawn up under the influence of the Protestants. Its use was enforced by a Second Act of Uniformity. In 1553 Forty-two Arti­cles defining the .doctrine of the English Protestant church were drawn up by Cranmer which were to be subscribed to by all clergymen.

The influence of Northumberland on Edward VI was still very great and when the young king’s health was fast failing, Northumberland persuaded his royal master to change the course of succession by a will, settling the Crown on Lady Jane Grey, grand-daughter of Henry VII, in preference to Mary and Elizabeth, thereby secure a Protestant succession to the throne.

Such was the influence of Protestantism upon Edward VI that in July, 1553, he died exclaiming ‘Oh my Lord, deliver this country from papistry and defend thy true religion’.

From the economic point of view Edward VI’s reign was a period of back-sliding. The enclosure system and possession of common land by lords and landowners brought about widespread miseries and consequent discontent. Somerset’s eagerness to come to the help of the poor and the peasants could neither save them nor save him. Self-seekers, reckrenters, abounded the country.

Even Somerset and Northumberland were not free from greed for money. Churches were despoiled, chantries and monas­teries deprived of the treasures. The government was in great distress for money, and was in debt. Coins were debased which brought the purchasing power of money very low down. Prices naturally shot up.

The policy of the earlier Tudors was abandoned both in religious and economic fields. The watchful eyes of the government upon the agricultural and commercial prosperity of the country were no longer there. Confusion, religious, social and economic was worse confounded due to the lack of efficiency of the government.

People in distress sighed for the good old days of Henry VII and Henry VIII, the country’s progress was at stand still.