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Reign of Edward VI page 13

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These depositions are not stated by the king as made in his presence, and therefore they were probably as reported to him; and we are confirmed in this opinion by the fact, that the duke on his trial in vain demanded that Crane should be confronted with him, The trial of the duke, such as it was, took place on the 1st of December, in Westminster Hall. Twenty-seven peers were summoned to sit as his judges, the Marquis of Winchester being appointed lord high steward, to preside. On that morning Somerset was brought from the Tower, with the axe borne before him; whilst a great number of men carrying bills, gleaves, halberds, and poll-axes, guarded him. A new scaffold or platform was raised in the hall, on which the lords, his judges, sat; and above them the lord high steward, on a raised seat ascended by three steps, and over it a canopy of state. The judges consisted almost wholly of the duke's enemies, and conspicuous amongst them were Northumberland, Northampton, and Pembroke. The witnesses against him were not produced, but merely their depositions read. Somerset denied the whole of the charges respecting his intention to raise the City of London, declaring that the idea of assassinating the gendarmerie was worthy only of a madman. As to the accusation of proposing to kill the Duke of Northumberland and others, he admitted that he had thought of it, and even talked of it, but on mature consideration had abandoned it for ever.

On this confession, the judges declared him guilty of felony without benefit of clergy. They were desirous to adjudge it treason, but this Northumberland himself overruled. When this sentence was pronounced, Somerset fell on his knees and thanked the lords for the fair trial they had given him, and implored pardon from Northumberland, Northampton, and Pembroke for his design against their lives, entreating them to pray the king's mercy to him, and his grace towards his wife, his children, and his servants. On the sentence being pronounced only felony, the axe of the Tower was withdrawn; and the people, seeing him returning without that fatal instrument, imagined that he was wholly acquitted, and gave such shouts, that they were heard from Charing Cross to the hall. According to Holinshed, he landed from the river " at the crane of the Vine-tree, and so passed through London, where were both acclamations - the one cried for joy that he was acquitted, the other cried that he was condemned."

Edward was said to be much troubled at the approaching fate of his second and last uncle, but there certainly is no evidence of the fact in the accounts of the times. Both Stow and Edward's own journal bear testimony to the universal mirth and merriment of the Christmas festivities of that year, the Lord of Misrule even entering the Tower with his noisy followers, bringing uproar to the very ears of the prisoner; arid thus closed the year on the once proud Somerset, Opportunity was now given him to reflect on that time when his own brother was confined in the same fortress, and awaiting death by his means. Somerset pleaded hard for mercy, but Warwick barred all access to the king, his nephew; and the only favour granted him was that he should have plenty of time, to prepare for death.

Six weeks after his sentence, the warrant for his execution was signed. The chronicler quaintly remarks that "Christmas being thus passed and spent with much mirth and pastime, it was thought now good to proceed to the execution of the judgment against the Duke of Somerset." The day of execution was the 22nd of February, 1552. To prevent the vast concourse which, from the popularity of his character amongst the common people, from his opposition to enclosures during his protectorship, was sure to take place, the Council had issued a precept to the lord mayor, commanding him to take all necessary measures for restraining the rush towards Tower Hill. The constables in every ward had, therefore, strictly charged every one not to leave their houses before ten o'clock that morning. But, by the very dawn, Tower Hill was one dense mass of heads, assembled there more in expectation of the duke's reprieve than of his execution. At eight o'clock he was delivered to the sheriffs of London, who led him out to the scaffold on Tower Hill. The duke appeared to meet his death with more resolution than he had shown on many occasions during his life. He knelt down, and, after spending some time in prayer, he rose, and, turning towards the east side of the scaffold, he addressed the people, saying that he had ever been a faithful subject, and was, therefore, willing to lay down his life in obedience to the law. Yet he protested that he had never offended the king in either word or deed. That, so far from having to repent of his proceedings when he was in power as Protector, he especially rejoiced that he had settled the kingdom in a form of religion which, in his opinion, the most resembled the primitive church. He therefore exhorted them to maintain it, and to practise it, if they meant to escape the punishment which heaven awarded to offending nations.

At that moment there was a strange noise and confused rush, occasioned by a body of officers with bills and halberds, who had been ordered to attend the execution, but who, on finding themselves behind time, rushed pell-mell towards the scaffold. Those in the way were thrown down; those around driven here and there, occasioned a panic in the crowd pressing on them. The scene of confusion became universal, the real cause being unknown. Some were trampled down, upwards of a hundred were forced into the Tower ditch, and those on the outskirts fled into the City, ascribing various wild causes for the disturbance. When some degree of order was restored, Sir Anthony Brown, a member of the Council, was seen riding towards the scene. The multitude at this sight, cried, "A pardon! a pardon!" and the shout was carried forward till it reached the scaffold. The duke paused, but was soon cruelly undeceived; and, though a hectic colour mounted to his cheeks, he resumed his address with apparent composure, repeating the assertion of his loyalty; exhorting them to love the king, obey his councillors, and to give him their prayers, that, as he had lived, so he might die, in the faith of Christ. He begged them to preserve quiet, that he himself might be the more assured, the spirit being willing, but the flesh weak. He then made another prayer; and, after that, rising, he bade farewell, not only to the sheriffs and the Lieutenant of the Tower, but to all on the scaffold, giving to each his hand. He gave to the headsman certain money, took off his gown, and, kneeling on the straw, untied his shirt-strings; but, finding his doublet in the way, he rose, and took it off also; his eyes being then bound, he laid his neck on the block, and it was severed at a single stroke.

That there was, mixed up with a certain amount of truth, much false accusation against the duke, became apparent from Palmer and Crane, the chief witnesses, being soon discharged, and still more from Palmer continuing in close intimacy with Warwick. It became a general belief that Palmer had been corrupted to betray Somerset; and that he had even been employed by Warwick to excite the duke's fears, and so to induce him to get a number of men about him, and then contriving to be taken with him, had made confession as out of terror. Of the other parties connected with Somerset, Partridge, Vane, Stanhope, arid Arundel, were condemned to capital punishment. Partridge and Vane were hanged, Vane in indignant language declaring Northumberland a murderer, and that whenever he laid his head on his pillow, he would find it wet with their blood. Stanhope and Sir Thomas Arundel fell by the axe. Lord Paget and the Earl of Arundel, who were arrested soon after the others, escaped. Though it was said that it was at Paget's house that the proposed assassination was to take place, and though he had always been the firm friend and confidential adviser of Somerset, he was never brought to trial; but he confessed to peculation in the offices which he had held under the Crown, resigned the chancellorship of Lancaster, and was degraded from the order of the Garter and fined, The Earl of Arundel was detained in prison for a year, and only liberated on acknowledging himself guilty of concealing the treason of Somerset and his party; he was, moreover, compelled to resign the wardenship of several Royal parks, and to pay annually for six years 1,000 marks. Lord Gray and the rest of the prisoners were liberated one after another; and it is remarkable that all these persons recovered the favour of Government, and obtained a remission of a part or the whole of their fines.

Parliament met the day after the execution of Somerset; and as it had been originally summoned by him, it appeared to act as inspired with a spirit which resented his treatment and his death; and this spirit tended greatly during this session to revive that ancient independence which Henry VIII. had so completely quelled during his life. Most deserving of notice was the enactment which ordered the churchwardens in every parish to collect contributions for the support of the poor. This, though it appeared at first sight a voluntary contribution under the sanction of Government, was in reality a compulsive one, for the bishop of the diocese had authority to proceed against such as refused to subscribe; and from this germ grew our poor-law, with all its machinery and consequences.

The Crown attempted to re-enact some of the most arbitrary and oppressive laws of Henry VIII., though they had been repealed in the first Parliament of this reign. A bill was sent to the Lords, making it treason to call the king, or any of his heirs, a heretic, schismatic, tyrant, or usurper. The Lords passed it without hesitation, for it most probably proceeded from Warwick, and the Lords were strongly devoted to him; but the Commons drew the same line which had been drawn regarding the deniers of the supremacy. They would admit the offence to be treason only when it was done by "writing, printing, carving, or graving," which indicated deliberate purpose; but what was spoken, as it might result from indiscretion or sudden passion, they decreed to be only a minor offence, punishable by fine or forfeiture, and only rendered treasonable by a third repetition.

The Commons also added a most invaluable clause, the necessity of which had been constantly pressing on the public attention, and had just been strikingly demonstrated by the trial of Somerset. It was now enacted that no person should be arraigned, indicted, convicted, or attainted of any manner of treason unless on the oath of two lawful accusers, who should be brought before him at the time of his arraignment, and there should openly maintain their charges against him. Thus was the power of victimising the subject at pleasure wrested from the monarch, and the spirit of Magna Charta more distinctly defined. Had such a practice been maintained through the reign of Henry VIII., how much must even his lawless power have been restrained. Before the same session of Parliament was at an end, there was occasion for its exercise. Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, had been charged before the Council with being privy to an attempt to raise an insurrection in the North. The informer failed to make good his charge from the absence of a document, of which he supposed himself in possession. This document turned up in searching Somerset's house, and Northumberland immediately lodged Tunstall in the Tower, and passed a bill through the Lords to deprive him of his bishopric for divers offences. But here again the Commons applied their new rule, and demanded that Tunstall should be confronted with his accuser before the House; and this put a stop to the affair for that session.

But in prosecuting the reforms of the Church, the Parliament proceeded with a far more arbitrary spirit. The Common Prayer Book underwent much revision, and an Act was passed by which the bishops were empowered to compel attendance on the amended form of service by spiritual censures, and the magistrates to punish corporally all who used any other. Any one daring to attend any other form of worship was liable to six months' imprisonment for the first offence, twelve months for the second, and a third, confinement for life. So little did our Church reformers of that day understand of the rights of conscience.

In the same spirit Cranmer proceeded to frame a collection of the articles of religion, and a code of ecclesiastical constitutions. We shall have occasion to notice these under the centenary review of the progress of religion, but we may here state that the articles amounted to forty-two, which have since been reduced to thirty-nine. Cranmer, during Henry VIII.'s reign, had subscribed every dogma which that strange reformer had at any time brought forward; now he sought to bind all men to his own.

We turn with more satisfaction to the proceedings of the Commons on secular affairs. A bill was sent down to that House, ready signed by the king, for repealing the Act of the late reign, entailing Somerset's estates upon his son. This was beginning wrong end first, and introducing a new system of dictation. The Commons objected strongly to it, and it was only by the most resolute determination that it was carried through. But when a proviso was found added to it confirming the attainder of the duke and his accomplices, the House struck it out. On the heels of this followed the bill to deprive Tunstall of Durham, already mentioned; and Northumberland finding the Commons much too independent for his ideas, not only closed the session, but dissolved Parliament altogether, after it had sat for about five years.

In preparing for a new Parliament, Northumberland took such measures as showed that his own power and aggrandisement were the first things in his thoughts, the constitution of the kingdom the last. Letters were sent in the king's name to all the sheriffs, directing them, in the most straightforward manner, to abuse their powers in order to return a Parliament completely subservient to the Government. It was stated that it was necessary to return men of gravity, knowledge, and experience; "yet, nevertheless," it was added, "our pleasure is that where our Privy Council, or any of them within their jurisdictions in our behalf, shall recommend men of learning and wisdom, in such case their directions shall be regarded and followed, as tending to the same which we desire - that is, to have this assembly be of the most chiefest men in our realm for advice and good counsel." Besides this unconstitutional proceeding, worthy of Northumberland, the son of the notorious Dudley, a still more daring measure was resorted to. No less than sixteen, all of them in Court employment, were nominated by the king himself in letters to the sheriffs of Hampshire, Suffolk, Berks, Bedford, Surrey, Cambridge, Oxford, and Northampton.

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