The England that Edward Inherited
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The England that Edward Inherited
Henry VIII's will stated that the regency council appointed to rule during Edward's minority should be made up of sixteen councillors of equal status, in a kind of corporate rule. Henry had not, himself, signed the will, instead the royal dry seal had authenticated it. This could mean that Henry died unaware of the full contents of the document. Even so, the council that was established in the will was not the council that ruled from January 1547.
From the evidence, one is led to the conclusion that a plot was hatched to manipulate the council into electing a 'key group'. The council was not told until the fifth day of Henry's death that the King was dead. And then, a member of the council, Paget, who had been particularly close to the King during his final years, conveniently remembered a conversation that he had had with the dying King.
As a consequence, four leading nobles became the central leaders of the council. These men were: Hertford, Essex, Lisle and Wriotheley. It did not take long for one of these four to assume complete control of the council, of the young King, and as a result, of the realm.
Edward inherited an established system of government, which worked well. At the centre of administration and policy was the Privy Council. Parliaments were called to pass specific pieces of legislation, and to raise taxes.
Faction had been a feature of politics in the reign of Henry VIII, and this aspect of politics was no stranger to Edward's reign.
The localities were ruled from the centre, with nobles acting as the crown's executive in these areas. Supporting their governance of the localities there existed a number of lieutenants and JPs - the roles of whom had been increased under Cromwell.
By 1547 England had experienced part of, you might say the beginnings of, a Reformation in religion. However, there had been a move away from the reforming trend towards the end of Henry's reign with Gardiner's Six Articles, which, in effect halted the religious reforms, and looked more to the 'olde' religion. (Contemporaries did not use the terms 'catholic' and 'protestant', and for that reason it would be anachronistic for us to do so).
There were a number of reformers in the church, like Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishops Latimer and Ridley (all of whom were to come to a sticky end in Mary's reign). There were also a number of reformers who had fled abroad in the latter part of Henry's reign to escape persecution. They were ready to return upon the accession of the young reforming king. Alongside, all of these reformers there were also a number of conservatives in the church, who actively resisted reforms made in religion; men like the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner.
The contemporaries of England had by 1547, seen the monasteries, large and small, dissolved, along with many chanceries. They had seen the crown take the revenues from the church, and many of the lands that had belonged to the monasteries were now in the hands of the local landowner.
The South East, and especially London, had a number of radicals who were eager for further reforms. In other areas of the country, while there was an acceptance of the changes, sometimes with a little resistance (but the days of the Pilgrimage of Grace were over), there was no real enthusiasm. There was probably more confusion than anything else, as the church in 1547 reflected a continuity with the catholic church in some senses, and yet a clear break from it in others.
The sixteenth century saw a number of social and economic changes. There was a slow, but steady rise of the gentry class, aided in its growth (to a limited extent) by the sale of church lands. There was, in fact, a growth in the population as a whole, with significant gaps when there was a bout of disease or poor harvests. The towns were growing, and this in turn led to problems in housing and vagrancy, coupled with rising prices and unemployment, the authorities in the towns were increasingly concerned with the fear of rebellion. Yet the end of Henry's reign had seen no major revolts.
The economy was not in good shape. It was hit directly by the decline of the Antwerp cloth trade. (Wool was England's main export, by far the most of which went to the low countries.) This hit East Anglia and the West country in particular.
Henry had left his young son with a deficit. He had spent thousands on the wars with France and Scotland (who were in a strong alliance against England). To finance his expensive foreign policy he had borrowed extensively from foreign bankers, he had sold church lands and even some crown lands. All of the money that the crown had acquired from the dissolution of the monasteries had been spent.