The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIV.
THE REFORMATION UNDER EDWARD VI.

"WOE unto thee, O land," said the Preacher, "when thy king is a child." The truth of his words did not recommend them to the Parliament of Edward VI; and, when Dr John Story quoted them in his protest against the first Act of Uniformity, he was sent to expiate his boldness in the Tower. Yet he had all the precedents in English history on his side. Disaster and civil strife had attended the nonage of Henry III and Edward III, of Richard II and Henry VI; and the evils inseparable from the rule of a child had culminated in the murder of Edward V. When, in 1547, a sixth Edward ascended the throne, the signs were few of a break in the uniform ill-fortune of royal minorities. Abroad, Paul III was scheming to recover the allegiance of the schismatic realm; the Emperor was slowly crushing England's natural allies in Germany; France was watching her opportunity to seize Boulogne; and England herself was committed to a hazardous design on Scotland. At home, there was a religious revolution half- accomplished and a social revolution in ferment; evicted tenants and ejected monks infested the land, centres of disorder and raw material for revolt; the treasury was empty, the kingdom in debt, the coinage debased. In place of the old nobility of blood stood a new peerage raised on the ruins and debauched by the spoils of the Church, and created to be docile tools in the work of revolution. The royal authority, having undermined every other support of the political fabric, now passed to a Council torn by rival ambitions and conflicting creeds, robbed of royal prestige, and unbridled by the heavy hand that had taught it to serve but not to direct.

Henry VIII died at Whitehall in the early morning of Friday, January 28, 1547. Through the night his brother-in-law, the Earl of Hertford, and his secretary, Sir William Paget, had discussed in the gallery of the palace arrangements for the coming reign. Hertford then started to bring his nephew, the young King, from Hatfield, while Henry's death remained a secret. It was announced to Parliament and Edward was proclaimed early on the following Monday morning. In the afternoon he arrived in London, and an hour or so later the

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