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Reign of Edward VI page 14

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The only objects which Northumberland appeared to have in view in calling together the new Parliament were to procure liberal supplies, and to carry through his intentions regarding the see of Durham, which the last Parliament had defeated. The appropriation of the monastic and chartered lands had left the Crown nearly as poor as it had found it. Such portions of these lands as still remained in its possession were totally inadequate to meet the annual demands of the Government. Northumberland, therefore, asked for two-tenths and two-fifteenths; but even with his care to pack the Commons he found it no easy task to obtain it, and the friends of Somerset again assembled in considerable force in the House, resenting in strong terms the pretence thrown out in the preamble to the bill that it was owing to the extravagance and improvidence of the late Duke of Somerset, to his involving the country in needless wars, debasing the coin, and occasioning a terrible rebellion.

In his second object, the suppression of the bishopric of Durham, Northumberland succeeded more easily. Failing to persuade Parliament to condemn the bishop, Northumberland had erected a new and utterly unconstitutional court of lawyers and civilians, -empowering them to call the prelate before them, and to examine him on the charge of cognisance of conspiracy; and this monstrous and illegal tribunal had stripped the bishop of all his ecclesiastical preferments as the punishment for his offence. The see being now held to be vacant, an Act was passed for the suppression of that diocese and the erection of two new ones - one including Durham, the other Northumberland. The plea for this daring innovation was the vast and unwieldy extent of the diocese of Durham; but the real cause was well understood to be one much more interesting to Northumberland himself, These two important Acts being passed, Parliament was dissolved, and within two months the bishopric was converted into a county palatine, annexed at present to the Crown, but awaiting a convenient transfer to the possessions of the house of Dudley.

But the king's health was fast failing, and it was high time for Northumberland to make sure his position and fortune. The constitution of Edward had long betrayed symptoms of fragility. In the early spring of the past year he was successively attacked by measles and smallpox. In the autumn, through incautious exposure to cold, he was attacked by inflammation of the lungs, and so enfeebled was he become by the meeting of Parliament on the 1st of March, 1553, that he was obliged to receive the two Houses at his palace of Whitehall. He was greatly exhausted by the exertion, being evidently far gone in a consumption, and harassed with a troublesome cough.

Northumberland, from the day on which he rose into the ascendant at Court, had shown that he was the true son of the old licensed extortioner. He had laboured assiduously not only to surround himself by interested adherents, but to add estate to estate. He inherited a large property, the accumulations of oppression and crimes of the blackest dye. But during the three years in which he had enjoyed all but kingly power,, he had been diligently at work creating a kingly demesne. He was become the Steward of the East Biding of Yorkshire, and of all the Royal manors in the five northern counties. He had obtained Tynemouth and Alnwick in Northumberland, Barnard Castle in Durham, and immense estates in Warwick, Worcester, and Somersetshire. The more he saw the king fail, the more anxious he was to place his brother, his sons, his relatives, and most devoted partisans in places of honour and profit around him at Court. This dome, he advanced to bolder measures, to which these were only the stepping-stones. Lady Jane Grey was the daughter of Frances, Duchess of Suffolk, whose mother was Mary, the sister of Henry VIII. Mary first married Louis XII. of France, by whom she had no children, and next, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, by whom she had two daughters. The youngest of these two daughters married Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, but the eldest, Frances, whose claim came first, had by the Duke of Suffolk three daughters, Jane, Catherine, and Mary.

Northumberland, casting his eye over the descendants of Henry VIII., saw the only son, King Edward, dying, and the two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, bastardised by Acts of Parliament still unrepealed. A daring scheme seized his ambitious mind - a scheme to set aside these two princesses, the elder of whom, and immediate heir to the throne, was especially dangerous to the permanence of the newly-established Protestantism. It was true that Margaret of Scotland, the sister of Henry VIII., was older than his sister Mary, and her granddaughter, Mary Queen of Scots, would have taken precedence of the descendants of Mary, but she and her issue had been entirely passed over in the will of Henry. Leaving out, then, this line, and setting aside the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth as legally illegitimate, Lady Jane Grey would become heir to the throne after her mother Frances, Duchess of Suffolk. But Northumberland was well informed that the Duchess of Suffolk would not on any account aspire to the throne, though she might not object to see her daughter placed there under promising circumstances.

Northumberland resolved, therefore, to secure Lady Jane in marriage for his son, Lord Guildford Dudley; to obtain Lady Jane's sister, Catherine, for Lord Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, who owed title, estates, and everything to the favour of Northumberland; and to marry his own daughter Catherine to the eldest son of the Earl of Huntingdon.

In May, 1553, Edward was apparently much improved in health, and though, with a good portion of his father's obstinacy, he had greatly disregarded the advice of his physicians, he now promised to observe their recommendations, and cheering hopes were entertained of his actual recovery. The promise was delusive, and Northumberland was probably well aware of it; but as this auspicious event enabled him to effect the contemplated marriage with less suspicion, and with the personal sanction of the sovereign, he seized upon it. The marriages were celebrated at Durham House, Northumberland's new residence in the Strand, where the utmost gaiety prevailed, which the king, with all his asserted improvement, was too feeble to witness, but he sent to the brides magnificent presents; and, no doubt with the intention of winning the approval of the Princess Mary to these alliances, at this time a grant was made her of the castle of Hertford, and of several manors and parks in that county and in Essex.

The gleam of the king's convalescence died away, as it were, with the wedding fetes at Durham House; and in June he had sunk into such debility that it was evident that his life was fast ebbing to a close. Northumberland saw that no time was to be lost in the completion of his aspiring plans. He sat down by the bed of the dying young prince, a boy still not sixteen years of age, and entered into a serious conversation with him on the prospects of the kingdom, and still more of the Church in it, when he should be gone. The wily politician knew that the interests of the reformed faith ran with the very pulses of the Royal youth's heart, more powerful even than that of nature and family affinity. Through his short life and shorter reign, he had entered into the work of reformation of the national faith with all the zeal of an apostle. Northumberland observed that by his ardent support of this emancipated Christianity, by his manly extirpations of the idolatries and superstitions of the old corrupted form of it, he won an everlasting reputation, and a place amongst the highest saints in heaven. But when they looked forward, what was the prospect? Was this noble work to be perpetuated, or to be marred? If his sister Mary succeeded, with all her Spanish bigotry, what must be the inevitable result? Undoubtedly the return of the old darkness and all its monkish and priestly legends, and the fair faith and knowledge of the Bible must vanish as a beautiful morning dream.

Having sufficiently stretched the young king on the rack of apprehension, he adroitly suggested to him that the case was by no means without remedy. It was difficult and dangerous, but it was practicable, and within his power. He had only to place the interests of religion and of his kingdom in preference to the mere ties of consanguinity, and all would be safe. There was Lady Jane Grey, the descendant of the same father as his own, a lady of his own bloody a lady wise beyond her years, learned beyond most men, and in whose soul the same divine truths were planted beyond all power of eradication, by the same hand which had guided and instructed his own Royal mind. He had only to make a will, like his father, and pass by Mary as declaredly illegitimate by that father, and the danger was past, and he would leave the work which he had nobly begun safe from all fear of change. It was true, as Northumberland was aware, that Elizabeth was as fairly Protestant as Mary was Papist, and the choice of her would undoubtedly have been highly acceptable to the reformed portion of the nation; but that view of things did not suit Northumberland, and therefore he adroitly showed the young monarch that as the thing to guard against was Mary's Popery - a cause, however, which could not be assigned simply and alone, without calling forth all the partisanship of the Papist portion of the nation - it was impossible to exclude Mary on the ground of illegitimacy, and admit Elizabeth, who lay under the same disqualification.

The dying prince listened with a mind which had long been under the influence of the more powerful will of Dudley, and saw nothing but the most patriotic objects in his recommendations. He no doubt considered it a great kingly duty to decide by his will, as his father had done, the succession; and that the whole responsibility might rest on himself, and not on Northumberland, who had so much at stake, he was easily induced to sketch the form of his devise of the Crown with his own pen. In this rough draft he entailed the succession on "the Lady Frances's heirs masles," next on "Lady Jane's heirs masles," and then on the heirs male of her sisters. This, however, did not accord with the plans of Northumberland, for none of the ladies named had any heirs male; and therefore, on the death of Edward, the Crown would have passed over the whole family, and would go to the next of kin. A slight alteration was therefore suggested and made. The letter "s" at the end of "Jane's" was scored out, the words "and her" inserted, and thus the bequest stood "to the Lady Jane and her heirs masles." This alteration made, a fair copy was drawn, and Edward signed it with his own hand, above, below, and on each margin.

This was the first act of the great drama which Dudley was composing - a most marvellous thing when we carry back our memory a few years to the scoundrel deeds of his father, in the notable copartnership of infamy with Empson; the second was to make the poor invalid go through the exciting labour of making this will known, and settling its decision whilst alive. On the 11th of June, therefore, Sir Edward Montague, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir Thomas Bromley, another judge of the same court, Sir Richard Baker, Chancellor of the Augmentations, with Gosnold and Griffyn, the Attorney and Solicitor-Generals, were summoned to Greenwich. The king received them in the Council the next day, and informed them of the danger which menaced the laws, the liberties, and the religion of the country if his sister Mary should succeed him, and marry a foreign prince; and that, to provide against this, he had resolved to change the order of succession. He required them, therefore, to draw up an instrument for this purpose, according to the instructions he had prepared and signed for them. The judges, startled at this dangerous and illegal project, were about to make objections, but Edward, who, no doubt, was instructed how to act, would not listen to them, and would only grant them a short time to examine the different acts of succession, and prepare themselves for this duty.

On the 14th, two days later, the judges waited on the lords of the Council, and informed them that to draw the instrument required of them would be a direct breach of the 35th of the late king, and would involve both themselves and they who advised them in the penalties of treason. At these words, Northumberland, who had been listening in an adjoining room, entered in a great rage, denounced them as traitors, and declared that he would fight any man in his shirt who called so salutary a disposition of the Crown in question.

The next day they were again summoned, and by threats and promises were at length induced to comply, demanding, however, that they should receive a commission under the great seal, empowering them to draw the instrument, and a full pardon for having done so. The same apprehensions from the illegality of the proceeding alarmed many of the lords of the Council, but they allowed themselves to be swayed by the threats and promises of Northumberland, who told them that the succession of Mary would see all their lately-acquired lands restored to the Church. Cranmer professed to sign the deed with reluctance, but we may rather suppose that his timidity had more to do with it than his conscientiousness.

Northumberland was not satisfied with the will of the king and the act of the Crown lawyer; he produced another document, to which he required the signatures of the members of the Council and of the legal advisers of the Crown, who pledged to the number of four-and- twenty their oaths and honour to support this arrangement. The legal instrument, being prepared, was en grossed in parchment, and was authenticated by the great seal. The peers, the judges, the lords of the Council, the officers of the Crown, and others then signed it, to the number of 101.

There were many other measures necessary to ensure so dangerous an enterprise as Northumberland had now undertaken, which if he failed must send his head to the block - if he succeeded would make him the father of a line of kings. These measures he had carefully prepared. He had superseded the Constable of the Tower, Sir John Gates, by a creature of his own, Sir James Croft. He had dismantled some of the forts on the sea coasts and the banks of the Thames, to carry their stock of ammunition to the Tower, and these preparations being made, Croft surrendered the keeping of the Tower to the high admiral, Lord Clinton. His sons were placed at the head of some companies of horse, and feeling himself now strong at all points, the arch-traitor laid his plans to inveigle the Princess Mary into his hands. A letter was written to her from the Council, informing her that her brother was very ill, and praying her to come to him, as he earnestly desired the comfort of her presence, and wished her to see all well ordered about him. Mary, who was at Hunsdon, was touched by the apparent regard of the king, and sending back a message that she was much gratified that her dear brother thought she could be of any comfort to him, set out to go to him. This was on the last of June. She had reached Hoddesdon, and all seemed to favour the plot of Northumberland, when a mysterious messenger met her, and brought information which caused her to pause in much wonder.

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