The Fall of the Duke of Somerset Was Principally a Result of the Impact of the 1549 Rebellions. How Valid Is This View?
Submitted By rz123
549, the year England was so nearly torn apart my numerous rebellions. Somerset suddenly became the ‘good duke gone bad’ and England stood on the edge of a class war. These rebellions proved to be Somerset’s last nail in the coffin, however was it the rebellions which principally caused his downfall? Could it possibly have been through his the shambles of the Scottish War and his overall foreign policy which resulted in his downfall? Or possibly his downfall was caused by the unpopular religious reformation or economic policies. Personally I believe the fall of the Duke of Somerset was due to his own inadequacy as a ruler. I will show you why I believe this in this essay.
In terms of the rebellions, Somerset’s image was wounded badly; the rebellions made him look both weak and indecisive. The council believed he was at entire fault for these rebellions and accused him of being far too lenient with the commoners. Somerset had made it clear to the commoners that he was very anti-enclosures and even described them as ‘the Devil’s works’. Looking at the Kett’s rebellion Somerset can be seen as the man who caused this to snowball out of control. Somerset promised the commoners that he would investigate enclosures and try to get them removed, he put John Hales in charge of this investigation and Somerset was now seen as a ‘poor man’s sympathiser’ whilst the commoners were expectant of this issue being resolved. After these investigations made no progress the commoners took the matter into their own hands and started attacking the enclosures and the rebellion began to find its full flow as they set up camp on Mousehold Heath. Instead of Somerset immediately crushing the rebel threat he attempted to appease them by sending York Herald to Mousehold Heath and offer them the chance to leave peacefully and avoid any law charges. Instead of settling the matter this seemed to push the Kett army into Norwich which fell under the rebel’s pressure within 5 days. After sending Northampton with army of 1,800 men which was crushed by Kett’s 14,000, Somerset sent Warwick with 12,000 soldiers to end the rebellion. There was only ever going to be one winner and with heavy casualties of around 4,000 the Kett rebellion was put down. However Somerset was left a heavily damaged man after this blunder whilst Warwick on the other hand showed ruthlessness when necessary and how effective he was in a crisis situation.
In regards to the Western Rebellion the blame of this too could quite easily be placed on Somerset’s shoulders due to his radical religious reformations in such a short space of time. Changing the Mass to English, dissolving chantries and scrapping religious days such as Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday were a devastating blow to Catholics. Their religion was effectively one of the largest parts of their life and Somerset was ruining this for them. Churches were slowly stripped and superstitious church items were now banned such as holy water or ashes. (However this rebellion was not solely based on religious grievances, the tax on sheep had also come as a huge blow to the people of Devon and Cornwall.) The murder of William Body showed the discontent in the west and it was not long before the rebellion started up. Somerset again vacillated and ended up trying to negotiate with the rebels in an attempt to find a way of appeasing them. He was seen as lenient once more and a procrastinator which didn’t bode well with the people and especially not with the council. Warwick showed himself as a revolutionary man in the Kett’s rebellion whilst Somerset was still labelled as a ‘poor man’s sympathiser’. Both rebellions made Somerset look very weak and Warwick began to plan a coup.
The role of his enemies could also be seen as a reason for Somerset fall from power. The Earl of Southampton was seen as Somerset’s main opposition. Warwick was a power hungry Machiavellian. As soon as he saw Somerset begins to stutter and buckle under pressure he got in contact with Southampton on how to bring him down. With people such as Cranmer on their side alongside Arundel, Somerset had no chance. He was cornered into surrender. Therefore it can be believed that Somerset only lost power due to his opposition forcing him into a position where had no choice but to give that power up.
I believe that Somerset’s foreign policy was a huge factor in his downfall especially with regard to the War in Scotland. Somerset had already been proven as quite the warmonger from the years of Henry; however the war in Scotland was seen as an obsession. In reality Somerset lacked huge