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CHAPTER I 1520-1549
It may be stated as an historical truism that great organic changes in the relationship of human beings towards each other are usually preceded by periods of quiescence and apparent stability, during which unsuspected forces of preparation are at work. When the moment of crisis comes, the unthinking marvel that men are ready, as if by magic, to accept, and, if need be, to fight and die for, the new order of ideas. Although the outward manifestation of it may be unexpected, yet, in reality, no vast, far-reaching revolution in human institutions is sudden: only that the short-sightedness of all but the very wisest fails to see the signs until the forces are openly arrayed and the battle set.

The period of the struggle for religious reform in Europe was preceded by such a process of unconscious preparation as this. Over a century elapsed from the martyrdom of John Huss before the bold professor of Wittemberg dared to denounce the Pope’s indulgences. It is true that during that century, and before, satirists and moralists had often pointed the finger of contumely at the corruption of the clergy and the lax discipline of[2] the Church, but no word had been raised against her doctrines. In the meanwhile, the subterranean process which was sapping the foundations of the meek submission of old, was progressing apace with the spread of printed books and the revival of the study of Greek and Hebrew. By the time that Luther first made his daring stand, the learning of cultivated laymen, thanks to Erasmus and others, had far outstripped the cramped erudition of the friars; and when at last a churchman thundered from the Saxon pulpit his startling doctrine of papal fallibility, there were thousands of men throughout Europe who were able to do without monkish commentators, and could read the Scriptures in the original tongues, forming their own judgment of right and wrong by the unobscured light of the inspired Word itself.

Thus it happened that the cry for radical religious reform in 1517 found a world waiting for it, and in an incredibly few years the champions of the old and the new had taken sides ready for the struggle which was to decide the fate of civilisation for centuries to come. By an apparently providential concurrence of circumstances, the personal characters and national ambitions of rulers at the same period were such as to enlist the hardiest and most tenacious of the European peoples on the side of freedom from spiritual and intellectual trammels; and eventually to ally the idea of political emancipation and personal liberty with that of religious reform, to the immense strengthening of both. The fight was to be a long and varied one; it can hardly, indeed, be looked upon as ended even now. Many of the combatants have fainted by the way, and both sides have belied their principles again and again; but looking back over the field, we can see the ground that has been won, and are assured that in the long-run[3] the powers of progress must prevail, as we hope and believe, to the greater glory of God and the greater happiness of men.

The year 1520 saw the first open marshalling of the powers for the great struggle, partly religious and partly political, which was to lead to the triumph of the Anglo-Saxon race. In England, as yet, there was no whisper of revolt against the authority of the papacy. The King had just written his book against the new doctrines of Luther, which was to gain for him the title of Defender of the Faith; Catharine, the Spanish Queen-Consort, an obedient child of the Church, as became the daughter of Isabel the Catholic, lived in yet unruffled happiness with her husband; whilst the all-ruling Wolsey was plotting and intriguing for the reversion of the triple tiara of St. Peter when Pope Leo should die. The first step to the political rise of England was the election (June 1519) of young King Charles of Spain to the imperial crown of Germany, in succession to his grandfather, Maximilian of Hapsburg. The marriage of the new Emperor’s father, Philip of Hapsburg, the heir of Burgundy, with Jane the Mad, the heiress of Spain, had joined to her heritage Flanders, Holland, and the Franche Comté, and had already upset the balance of power. Francis I. had sought to redress matters by securing his own election to the empire, but he had been frustrated, and he saw a Spanish prince in possession of territory on every side of France, shutting her in. Naples had been filched by greedy Ferdinand, and was now firmly Spanish, as Sicily had been for centuries; the Emperor asserted suzerainty over most of Italy, and, above all, over Milan, which Francis himself claimed and occupied. It was clear that the expansion of France was at an end, and her national decline must commence, unless the iron bands braced around her by the Hispano-Germanic Empire could be broken[4] through. It was then that the importance of England as the potential balancing power between the two great rivals became evident. Henry VIII. was rich in money, able, ambitious, and popular. He had devoted all his great energy to improving the resources of his country, and to reconstructing his navy; besides which he held Calais, the key to the frontier battle-ground of Flanders and France, and was as fully conscious of his rising importance as he was determined to carry it to the best market.

It had been for many years the main point of English foreign policy to counteract the unification of France by maintaining a close connection with the House of Burgundy, as possessors of Flanders and Holland, the principal markets for the English wool and cloth. This policy had drawn England and Spain together when the inheritances of Spain and Burgundy were united, and it had also led to the marriage of Catharine of Aragon in England. But Henry’s desire to hold the balance, and Wolsey’s greed and ambition, had made them willing to listen to the blandishments of Francis, and to consent to the distrustful and pompous comedy of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Charles, the new Emperor, had shown his appreciation of the threatened friendship between France and England, by his Quixotic rush over to England to see Henry earlier in the year (1520). His stay was a short one, only four days, but it was sufficient for his purpose. He could promise more to Wolsey than Francis could, and Henry’s vanity was flattered at the young Emperor’s chivalrous trust in him. When Charles sailed from Dover, he knew full well that, however splendid and friendly might be the interviews of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Francis would not have the King of England on his side in the inevitable coming war, even if he did not fight against him.


This was the condition of English politics at home and abroad when William Cecil first saw the light at Bourne, in Lincolnshire, on the 13th September 1520. He came into the world at the opening of a new epoch both for his country and for the general advancement of civilisation, and before he left it the modern dispensation was firmly planted, in England at least, owing in no small measure to his sagacity and statecraft.

In his after life, when he had become famous, Cecil drew up in his own hand a private journal (now in the British Museum), in which he endeavoured to set down in chronological order the principal events of his life. It will be seen, by the specimen line reproduced under the portrait, that he was in some confusion as to the year of his birth and other events of his earlier years. The entry relating to his birth, as first made, is against the year 1521, and reads, “13? Sep. Ego Gulielm. Cecill nat? sū, apud Burne in Com? Lincoln?i;” but afterwards the date was crossed out and entered above the line, so as to correspond with the year 1520, whilst the blank against the year 1521 is filled in with the mention of the arrival of the Emperor Charles V. in London on the 5th June of that year. This also is a mistake, as the Emperor’s second visit was in June 1522. The entry with regard to Cecil’s becoming a student at Gray’s Inn in 1541 mentions that he was at that time twenty-one years of age, so that it may be concluded that the year of his birth was really 1520, although 1521 has usually been given by his earlier biographers. There is at Hatfield a little book which appears not to have been noticed or calendared, but which is, nevertheless, interesting for purposes of comparison, as I conclude it to have been the foundation or rough draft of the journal. It is a small perpetual calendar bound up with a custom-house tariff: “Imprinted at London at the Longe Shop adjoining St. Mildred’s Church in the Pultrie, London[6], by John Alde, anno 1562.” In this calendar the entry relating to his birth runs thus: “13?? Sep. 1521. Ego Gul. Cecill natus sū: 13 Sept. 1521, between 3 and 4 P.M.;” whilst his entering Gray’s Inn is stated as follows: “6?? May, 33 Henry VIII. Gul. Cecill veni ad Graye’s Inn.” No age is given in this case, so that it may probably be concluded that on copying the entries into his permanent journal he recollected the age at which he became a law student, and then saw that he was born a year earlier than he had originally thought, and at once corrected the statement he had written.

The question of his remote ancestry is of no great importance to the purpose of the present book, although Cecil himself, who throughout his life was a diligent student of heraldry and genealogy, devoted considerable attention to it; and Camden was at the pains to trace his descent to a Robert Sitsilt, a gentleman of Wales in the time of William Rufus (1091). It may be sufficient for our purpose to adhere to a written pedigree at Hatfield House annotated and continued by William Cecil, which proves, so far as such documents can, that the statements made by his opponents to the end of his life that he was of “base origin,” were entirely untrue. This pedigree traces the descent of the statesman’s great-grandfather Richard Sitsilt, who died in 1508 possessing considerable estates in Monmouthshire and Herefordshire, to the ancient Welsh family of Sitsilt; but its interest and trustworthiness really commences with Cecil’s own continuation of the pedigree from his great-grandfather to himself. At the end of the engrossed genealogy he has written, “Here endeth ye old Roole in parchm?,” and “The contynuance of ye line in ye heyres males untill this yere 1565.” This continuation shows that his grandfather David, the third son of Richard Sitsilt, came across England and settled at[7] Stamford,[3] whilst his elder brothers remained in possession of the ancestral acres at Alterennes, Herefordshire. In the perpetual calendar at Hatfield, this David’s death is recorded by his grandson as follows: “David Cecill avus meus obiit Oct. 27 Hen. VIII.”[4] (1535). He was an alderman of Stamford, and appears to have possessed a good estate in Lincolnshire, which he purchased in 1507; and was appointed in 1512 Water-bailiff of Wittlesea Mere, in Huntingdonshire, and Keeper of the Swans throughout all the fen country.

Soon after the accession of Henry VIII., David Cecil, the substantial Lincolnshire squire, became a courtier, and was made one of the King’s serjeants-at-arms. Thenceforward royal grants and offices came to him plentifully, stewardships of crown lands, the escheatorship of Lincoln, the shrievalty of Northampton, and the like, which must have added greatly both to his wealth and his importance. No indication has ever been given of the reasons for his court favour, but it may be conjectured to have arisen from the friendship of his powerful neighbour Lord Willoughby d’Eresby of Grimsthorpe, who married Maria de Sarmiento, Queen Catharine’s dearest friend and inseparable companion; as the connection between Lady Willoughby’s daughter, the Duchess of Suffolk, and William Cecil, remained almost on a sisterly footing throughout the lady’s life. In any[8] case, David’s influence at court was sufficient to obtain for his son Richard, the statesman’s father, a succession of lucrative offices. He was one of the King’s pages, and is said to have attended the sovereign to the Field of the Cloth of Gold a few months before William Cecil was born, and he subsequently became Groom of the Wardrobe, and Yeoman of the Robes. He, like the rest of the King’s favourites, fattened on the spoils of the monasteries, and stewardships of royal manors showered upon him. He was Constable of Warwick Castle, Bailiff of Wittlesea Mere, and Keeper of the Swans, like his father, and Sheriff of Rutland; and to add to his prosperity, he married the heiress of William Heckington of Bourne, who brought to him the fine property of Burghley adjoining his own estates at Stamford. When, therefore, William Cecil was born in the house of his maternal grandfather at Bourne, he was prospective heir to broad acres in a half-dozen counties, with almost the certainty of advancement through court influence in whatever career he might choose.

Little is known, or need be told, of Cecil’s early youth. He went to school successively at Grantham and Stamford, and in May 1535, when he was fifteen years of age, entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, to embark upon deeper studies. His anonymous biographer, who lived in his household in his later years, and can only have spoken by hearsay of his college days, says[5] that he was so “diligent and paineful as he hired a bell-ringer to call him up at foure of the clock every morninge; with which early rising and late watchinge, and continuall sitting, there fell abundance of humours into his leggs, then very hardly cured, which was thought one of the original causes of his gowt.” It is, at all events, certain that he threw himself with avidity into the studies which were[9] then especially claiming the attention of scholars, and in a very short time became remarkable for his wide knowledge of Greek especially, and for his extraordinary general aptitude and application. It is said, indeed, that he gratuitously read the Greek lecture at St. John’s before he was nineteen years of age. By good fortune it happened that the University was at the time of his residence the centre of a new intellectual movement, the young leaders of which at once became Cecil’s chosen friends. Already the new learning had taken fast hold of the brighter spirits, and although Luther’s works were openly forbidden, they were secretly read by a little company of students who met for the purpose at a tavern in Cambridge called the White Horse; Erasmus had left memories of his teaching behind him at Queen’s, and Melancthon’s books were eagerly studied. A brilliant young King’s scholar, named Thomas Smith, read the Greek lectures at Queen’s College, and assembled under him a band of scholars, such as have rarely been united at one time. Cheke, Ascham, Matthew Parker, Nicholas Bacon, Bill, Watson, and Haddon, amongst many others, who afterwards achieved fame, were Cecil’s intimate companions; and Cheke especially, who belonged to the same college, and was somewhat older, systematically helped him, doubtless for a consideration. Cheke’s capacity was almost as remarkable as that of his fellow King’s scholar, Smith. He was poor, but of ancient family, the son of a college-beadle whose widow on his death had to maintain her children by keeping a wine-shop in the town; although he subsequently became the Regius Professor of Greek, and tutor to Edward VI., and, by the aid of Smith, reformed the vicious pronunciation of Latin and Greek upon which the Churchmen had insisted. Humble John Cheke was Cecil’s bosom friend, and to his mother’s wine-shop the[10] rich courtier’s son must often have been a welcome visitor.

Details of his daily life are wanting, but he must have been a well-conducted youth, for the amount of study he got through was prodigious. Catharine de Medici, years afterwards (1563), spitefully told Smith—then Sir Thomas, and an ambassador—that Cecil had had a son at the age of fifteen or sixteen,[6] to which Smith, who must have known whether it was true or not, made no reply; but she probably spoke at random, and referred to Cecil’s early marriage. He left the University after six years’ residence, without taking his degree. Whether his father withdrew him because of his close intimacy with the family of the wine-shop keeper, is not known, but is probable. In his own hand he states that he was entered a student of Gray’s Inn, in May 1541, and that on the 8th August of the same year he married Mary Cheke, of Cambridge, the sister of his friend.[7] The next entry in the diary records, under date of 5th May 1542, the birth of his eldest son, Thomas Cecil, his own age at the time being twenty-two (Natus est mihi Thomas Cecil filius; cum essem natus annos xxii.). In the Perpetual Calendar at Hatfield it is mentioned that the child was born at Cambridge, so that it may be assumed that Cecil’s wife still lived with[11] her own people. The next entry to that relating the birth of the future Lord Exeter, records the death of his young mother thus: “22 Feb. 1543, Maria uxor mortua est in Domine, hora 2? nocte,”[8] and with this bare statement the story of Cecil’s first marriage ends, though he never lost touch with or interest in the Cheke family, who appear to have been equally attached to him.

It may be questioned whether Cecil went deeply into the study of law at Gray’s Inn. It was usual to enter young gentlemen at one of the inns of court to give them some definite standing or pursuit in London, rather than with a view of their becoming practising lawyers. It is almost certain from a statement of his household biographer,[9] that such was the case with Cecil. “He alwaies praised the study of the common law above all other learning: saying ‘that if he shoulde begyene againe he would follow that studie.’” He probably passed much of his time about the court; and his domestic tells a story of him in this connection, which may well be true, but which rests upon his authority alone. He was, he says, in the presence-chamber, where he met two chaplains of O’Neil, who was then (1542) on a visit to the King; “and talking long with them in Lattin, he fell in disputation with the priests, wherein he showed so great learning and witt, as he proved the poore priests to have neither, who weare so putt down as they had not a word to saie, but flung away no less discontented than ashamed to be foiled in such a place by so younge a berdless yewth.”[10] The chronicler goes on to say that the King[12] being told of this, Cecil was summoned to the royal presence, and delighted Henry with his answers; Richard Cecil, the father, being directed by the King to seek out some office or favour which might be bestowed upon his clever son. The Yeoman of the Robes, we may be sure, was nothing loath, and petitioned in William Cecil’s name for the reversion of the office of custos brevium in the Court of Common Pleas, which was duly granted, and was the first of the future great statesman’s many offices of profit received from the Crown.

At about the same time, or shortly afterwards (1544), Cecil’s connection with the court was made closer by the appointment of his brother-in-law, John Cheke, to be tutor to the young Prince Edward, and of his friend, Roger Ascham, to a similar position to the Princess Elizabeth. A general supervision over the studies of Prince Edward was entrusted to his governor, Sir Anthony Cooke, who was one of the pioneers of the new learning, and a member of the Protestant party in Henry’s court led by Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Prince Edward’s uncle. The secular educational movement, which was now in full swing, had spread to the training of girls of the upper classes. The working of tapestry and the cares of a household were no longer regarded as the sole ends and aims of a lady’s life, and it was a fashion at court for Greek and Latin, as well as modern languages, to be imparted to the daughters of gentlemen of the newer school. Amongst the first of the ladies to be thus highly educated were the four daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, who were afterwards to be celebrated as the most learned women in England, at a time when education had become a feminine fad under the learned Elizabeth. To the eldest of these paragons of learning, Mildred Cooke, aged twenty, William Cecil was married on the 21st December 1545, and thus bound[13] himself by another link to the rising progressive party at court.[11]

Already the struggle of the Reformation on the Continent had begun. The Emperor, alarmed at the firm stand made by the Protestant princes of the empire, had hastily made peace with Francis I., and had left his ally the King of England in the lurch. The spectre of Lutheranism had drawn together the lifelong rivals with the secret object of crushing religious dissent, which struck at the root of their temporal authority. The ambition of Maurice of Saxony, and disunion in the Protestant ranks, enabled Charles to destroy the Smalkaldic league, and in April 1547, after the battle of Muhlberg, to impose his will upon the empire. Henry VIII. had deeply resented the desertion of his ally Charles V., when in December 1544 he had been left to fight Francis alone, and during the closing years of his life the Protestant influence in his Councils grew stronger than ever. The old King died on the 28th January 1547. Parliament was sitting at the time, but the King’s death was kept secret for nearly three days, and it was Monday, 31st January, before Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, his voice broken by sobs, informed the Houses of Parliament that King Edward VI. had ascended the throne, under the[14] regency, during his minority, of the Council nominated in King Henry’s will. The star of Seymour and the Protestants had risen, and soon those papistically inclined, like Wriothesley, and Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, shed tears indeed for the master they had lost, schismatic though he was.

With such friends in the dominant party as Cooke, Cheke, Cranmer, and Seymour, it is not surprising that William Cecil’s career emerged from obscurity and uncertainty almost as soon as the new Government was established. For a young man of twenty-seven he had already not done badly. His father was still alive, but in the first year of Edward VI. the office of custos brevium, of which the old King had given him the reversion five years before, fell in, and this brought him, in salary and fees, £240 per annum (£6, 13s. 4d. salary and rest fees at the four law terms), and in addition to this, according to his household biographer, the Lord Protector appointed him his Master of Requests soon after assuming power. That he held some such office from the summer of 1547 is certain, as from that date forward great numbers of letters exist written to him in relation to suits and petitions addressed to the Protector. The office, as then constituted, appears to have been an innovation, as being attached to Somerset’s personal household,[12] and intended to relieve him from the trouble of himself examining petitions and suits. In any case Cecil’s assiduity and patience appear thus early to have been acknowledged, to judge by the tone of most of his correspondents, many of whom belonged to a much more exalted social position than himself. In June 1547 Sir Thomas Darcy informs him[13] that (evidently by order) he had inquired into the love affair between “Mistress Dorothy” and the young Earl of Oxford—who was a[15] ward—and desires to know whether the Protector wishes the match to be prevented or not; and in the following month Lady Browne wrote to him in terms of intimate friendship, begging him to use his influence with Somerset to appoint her brother to the coming expedition to Scotland.[14]

The master and fellows of his old college, St. John’s, too, were anxious to propitiate the rising official and to bespeak his interest in favour of their foundation,[15] and the widowed Duchess of Suffolk (Lady Willoughby) consulted him in all her difficulties. The war with France was suspended, though the English forces holding Boulogne were closely beleaguered, and Somerset’s greed was diverting the money which should have been spent in war preparations; but in pursuance of the traditional policy of England, it became a question almost of national existence when it was seen that the French intrigues for the marriage of the child Queen of Scots and the final suppression of the rising reform party in Scotland were likely to succeed. Arran had signed the treaty with Henry for the marriage of Edward and Mary; but he, and especially the Queen-mother, Mary of Lorraine, had resisted the deportation of the infant Queen to England. It is possible that some arrangement might have been arrived at had not the ill-advised murder of Cardinal Beaton and the subsequent anarchy given to the new King of France, Henry II., an excuse for armed interference in protection of the Catholic party. Then it became incumbent upon the Protector to fight the Scots at all hazards, or French influence over the Border threatened to become permanent; a double danger, now that the religious question tended to alienate England from her secular alliance with the[16] House of Burgundy. When Somerset made his rapid march upon Scotland with an army of 18,000 men, supported by a powerful fleet, in September 1547, his trusted Cecil attended him in the capacity apparently of provost-marshal, in conjunction with the chronicler of the campaign, William Patten.[16] The decisive battle of Pinkie was fought on the 10th September 1547, and was in a great measure won by the dash, at a critical moment, of the Spanish and Italian auxiliaries whom Somerset had enlisted. According to the “household” historian so often quoted,[17] Cecil narrowly escaped death from a cannon shot at Pinkie, but no other mention of the fact is to be found. It has been doubted whether at this time he held still the office of Master of Requests, in which he is said to have been succeeded by his old college friend Sir Thomas Smith,[18] but there was no break in his close connection in some capacity with the Protector. About five months after Pinkie, in a letter to Lord Cobham, Somerset calls him “my servant William Cecill,”[19] and refers to letters written to him on his behalf; and in June 1548 the powerful Earl of Warwick, who was soon to supplant Somerset, writes to Cecil, almost humbly thanking him for forwarding some request of his to the Protector.[20]

Cecil’s position, however, shortly after this becomes clearly defined, and his personality emerges into full daylight. Against the year 1548 in his journal, the only entry is as follows: “Mes. Sep. co-optatus sū in of? Secretarij.” This has often given rise to confusion as to[17] the date of his first appointment as Secretary of State, but there is now no room for doubt that the office to which this entry refers is that of Secretary to Somerset; and the appointment, like that of Master of Requests, was part of the Protector’s system of surrounding himself with a household as near as possible modelled on that of the King.

Thenceforward everything that did not strictly appertain to the official Secretaries of State went through the hands of Cecil, who in the meanwhile was imbibing the traditions of statecraft which were to guide him through life. Already the cabal against Somerset had been in progress before he went to Scotland, and had caused him to hurry back before he gained the full fruits of his victory at Pinkie. Mary of Lorraine and the Scottish nobles had almost unanimously rallied now to the French side, and had agreed to give the young Queen in marriage to the Dauphin, whilst strong reinforcements were sent to Scotland from France. Bound though he was to the extreme Protestant party, Somerset was therefore obliged to turn to the arch-enemy of Protestantism, the Emperor, for support and assistance. Charles had his hands full with his vast new projects of universal domination for his son, and was postponing the inevitable war with France as long as possible, and consequently turned a deaf ear to Somerset’s approaches. Public discontent, artfully encouraged by the Protector’s enemies, grew daily more dangerous. His brother, the Lord Admiral, had sought to depose him, and fell a victim to his own foolishness and ambition (20th March 1549). The attempt to interfere with the religious service in the house of the Princess Mary made Somerset even more unpopular, alienated the Emperor still further, and enraged those who yet clung to the remnants of the old faith. Then came the great rising in the West, the revolt of the[18] commons throughout Eastern and Central England against the enclosures carried out by the land-grabbing crew that surrounded Somerset. In April 1549 Cecil was trying to obtain a grant of the rectory and manor of Wimbledon, in which he eventually succeeded, and he appears to have purchased at the same time some fen lands near Spalding; but although he was in the midst of affairs, and must have been the Protector’s right hand in most things, he was sagacious enough at so dangerous a time to keep to the routine work of his office, and avoided all responsibility on his own account.

When Warwick came back from his ruthless campaign against the peasants of Norfolk, flushed with an easy victory, the idol of a discontented and partly foreign soldiery, the time was ripe for him to strike his blow. Gardiner and Bonner were in the Tower, the Catholic party were being harried and persecuted throughout the country, the French and Scots in Scotland were now strong and invincible, the French fleet dominated the Channel, the town of Boulogne was known to be untenable; and, above all, an unpaid victorious soldiery looked to Warwick as their champion. Warwick himself laid the blame for all troubles and shortcomings upon the Protector, and summoning the officers of his army to Ely Place, constituted himself their spokesman for obtaining their pay. Through Wriothesley—now Southampton—Somerset’s enemy, he persuaded the Catholics that he disapproved of the religious pressure that was being exercised. The first step taken openly for the overthrow of the Protector appears to be a letter written by Warwick to Cecil,[21] on the 14th September 1549, which shows, amongst other things, the high esteem in which the secretary was held. “To my very loving friend, Mr Cecille,” it runs,—“These shall be to[19] desire you to be an intercessor to my Lord’s Grace that this bearer, Thomas Drury, captain of nine-score footmen, serving the King’s Majesty in Norfolk, should receive for them his pay for the space of two months.” Warwick knew full well that no money would be forthcoming for these men’s pay, and that the Protector was already being deserted by the councillors, who were finding excuses for meeting with Warwick at Ely Place rather than with Somerset at Hampton Court. At length the Protector could shut his eyes no longer to the desertion. The only councillors who were at Hampton Court with him were Cranmer, Sir William Paget, Sir William Petre, and Sir Thomas Smith, Secretaries of State, and his own secretary, William Cecil. The meetings at Ely Place and the growing storm against him found Somerset unprotected and unprepared. On the 1st October he issued a proclamation calling upon the lieges to muster and defend the King; but most of his advisers near him deprecated the use of force, which they knew would be fruitless against Warwick and the troops, and his divided councils only resulted in the dissemination of anonymous handbills and circulars stating that the King’s person was in danger from Warwick, and the summoning of such nobles as were thought most likely to be favourable to the Protector’s cause. Secretary Petre, who had advocated an agreement, was on the 7th October sent to London to confer with Warwick, but he betrayed his trust and returned no more. The King and the Protector had in the meanwhile removed to Windsor for greater security; but Warwick had gained the Tower and had conciliated the city of London, and it was clear to all now, that Somerset’s power was gone. All fell away from him, except only Sir Thomas Smith. The two principal generals in arms, Lords Russell and Herbert, rallied to Warwick. Cranmer and Paget, it is true,[20] remained by the side of the Protector, but, like Petre, they played him false. No word or sign is given of Cecil, though he too remained with his master; but it is significant that all the letters to Warwick at the time are in the handwriting of Sir Thomas Smith, and at this moment of difficulty and danger sagacious Cecil recedes into the position of a private secretary, sheltered behind the responsibility of his master.

In vain Somerset, at the prompting of Cranmer and Paget, sought to make terms with Warwick. Finding that Petre did not return to Windsor, but that the Lords in London demanded unconditional submission, the Protector, in the name of the King, sent Sir Philip Hoby on the 8th October with an appeal ad misericordiam to Warwick. “Marry,” says the letter, “to put himself simply into your hands, having heard as he and we have, without knowing upon what conditions, is not reasonable. Life is sweet, my Lords, and they say you do seek his blood and his death.… Wherefore, good my Lords, we beseech you again and again, if you have conceived any such determination, to put it out of your heads, and incline your hearts to kindness and humanity, remembering that he hath never been cruel to any of you, and why should you be cruelly minded to him.”[22]

This appeal was supported by a passionate prayer from Smith to Petre for clemency to the Protector. But Hoby also played false, and delayed his return until Warwick had secured the formal adhesion of Russell and Herbert. He then returned to Windsor with Warwick’s secret ultimatum to Cranmer, Smith, and Paget, warning them to desert the Protector, or be prepared to share his fate. Cranmer and Paget gave way, and washed their hands of the betrayal; Smith[21] stood firm, and faced the consequence; whilst Cecil discreetly retired into the background, and apparently did nothing, though he was certainly present when Hoby delivered his official message, solemnly promising that no harm was intended, or would be done, to Somerset or his friends; “upon this all the aforenamed there present wept for joy, and prayed for the Lords. Mr. Comptroller (Paget) fell down on his knees, and clasped the Duke about the knees, and weeping said, ‘O! my Lord, ye see now what my Lords be.’” Paget’s crocodile tears were hardly dry before he sent a servant post-haste to London, saying that the Protector was now off his guard, and might easily be seized. The next day Somerset was a prisoner, and three days afterwards was in the Tower. Smith, Cecil, Thynne, and Stanhope were placed under arrest in their own apartments, whilst Cranmer, Paget, and Petre reaped the reward of their apostasy.[23]

When the Protector was sent to the Tower, all of his friends were made his fellow-prisoners except Cecil. Smith was dismissed from his offices, and threatened with the extreme penalty for treason; but Cecil, the Protector’s right hand, through whom all his patronage had passed, escaped punishment at the time[24] (13th October 1549). Warwick was apparently an old friend of his father,[25] and had unquestionably a great opinion of Cecil’s own application and sagacity. This may have inclined him to leniency in his case, but for some reason not disclosed he was certainly a prisoner in the Tower in the following month. In a letter from his friend the Duchess of Suffolk, dated 16th November 1549 (Lansdowne[22] MSS., 2, 24), she condoles with him for “the loss of his place in the Duke of Somerset’s family,”[26] but says nothing to lead to the idea that he is in prison. But in the holograph journal already quoted, there is an entry—although, curiously enough, out of its proper position, and opposite the year 1547, saying, “Mēse Novēb a? 3? E vi. fui in Turre;” and his household biographer also records the fact as follows: “In the second year of K. Edward VI. he (Cecil) was committed to the Tower about the Duke of Somerset’s first calling in question, remaining there a quarter of a year, and was then enlarged;” but, as has already been explained, this life was written in the minister’s old age, and as he certainly was not in the Tower as a prisoner twice, the imprisonment referred to must have been that of November 1549 (3rd Edward VI.). There is, in any case, a gap in all known records with regard to Cecil for several months after Somerset’s disgrace, and he evidently had no share in public affairs for nearly a year after Warwick’s (now Northumberland’s) rise, during which time Sir William Petre and Dr. Wotton—who succeeded Smith—were joint Secretaries of State.

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