“Using all five sources and your own knowledge, explain how far you agree with John Guy’s judgement in Source 1 that “Somerset’s economic policy was his worst”.”

December 1, 2009

in Essays

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From reviewing all five sources and the context of the time, it seems that Somerset undoubtedly pushed an economic policy that economic policy that proved disastrous, he was not helped by the economic problems left over from Henry VIII’s reign, as Source 4 makes clear. Additionally, political and religious factors interlinked to tie his hands and prevent Somerset from pursuing as more fruitful policy: for example, he was continued to pursue the war against Scotland for the sake of national pride and to maintain political support, despite the government being nearly bankrupt and in no state to continue fighting. Having said that, Somerset’s religious policy, characterised by the Prayer book rebellion of 1549 that acted as the catalyst for his removal from office, may be considered, for this reason among others, to have been worse than his economic policy.

The Duke of Somerset already had major economic problems from the moment he became Lord Protector, many of which he merely continued, as Source 4 justly points out. Inflation and food prices had been rising since the 1540s, with agricultural wages failing to keep pace. This was partly fuelled by Henry VIII’s decision to debase the coinage by adding base metal to it. Somerset not only did not stop this, but ordered more debasement, which only worsened the problem. Both Source 1 and 3 are in agreement, however, that if the garrisons in Scotland were to be maintained, then debasement had to continue; “Somerset, therefore, refused to listen”. The war on Scotland was unavoidable if the government was to maintain support among the political elites of England, and also to attempt to keep the French from joining the Scots and surrounding the English with hostile enemies. It could therefore be argued that Somerset could not have avoided such a turn of events, and thus it was not so much his policy at fault, but merely the circumstances that led to it being so disastrous.

The religious situation Somerset inherited was equally chaotic; however, the consequences from Somerset’s religious policy were possibly much worse than those of his economic policy. Source 2 is a set of charges against the Duke of Somerset, shortly after the Western rebellions, which had been caused largely by his introduction of an English prayer book. The rebellion was largely formed by areas, such as Devon, that were dependant on sheep and had also suffered from forced enclosures, though the main cause was religious dissatisfaction; as Source 5 says, “The new Protestantism… never seems to have penetrated to the nation at large”. Somerset’s attempts to introduce Protestantism were, “deplorably futile in execution”, for example, in the abolition of the chantries, upsetting a great number of ordinary people and then failing to put down the rebellions that ensued. Somerset’s Act of Repeal, which repealed many of the laws of heresy and loosed much of the restrictive legislation on preaching (as described in Source 5) resulted in an explosion of preaching and theological debate, which at that time, was more unstable than productive, and only increased pressure on the Duke Somerset from both Catholics and Protestants. The dates at which Sources 2 and 3 were produced indicate that there was a lively rebellion active throughout at least the first half of 1549, which would have had consequent effects on political stability, as Source 2 indicates by stating that the “whole state might be brought into peril”. Somerset’s economic policy did not have the same effect and thus is might be argued that in this way, Somerset’s religious policy was the worst.

It could be argued that Somerset’s worst policy was actually to only listen to himself. Source 1 demonstrates that Somerset ignored his advisors on economic issues, and Source 3 on religious ones. Significantly, Paget’s letter states that “I told you Grace the truth, and was not believed; well, now your Grace sees it, what does your Grace say?” Paget was a Privy Councillor, and his assertions are backed up by Source 2, which accuses Somerset of “minding to follow his own fantasies”. It seems clear that Somerset believed he knew what was right for the kingdom and persisted in it regardless of what others were telling him. Traditional historiography has portrayed him as a compassionate man whose social policies were very advanced for his era: however, more recent historians have argued that he was largely identical to his fellow aristocrats, if more ambitious. Somerset’s policy of ignoring all of his advisors, and even his fellow Privy Councillors, seems to have been his worst policy, though it was not really a policy as such, as he lost the support of his peers, the king, and everyone he was dependant on to maintain his position. Additionally, the country suffered greatly, economically, religiously, and politically as a result of his arrogance.

It is difficult to extract the effects of Somerset’s policies, as they all interlink, with religious, economic, and foreign policy all meshing in a way that is difficult to separate. The Western rebellion was instigated by religious protest, but also had shades of economic frustration and political grievances. Source 5 also demonstrates this, in its argument that many nobles were by no means convinced by Protestantism, but supported the religious reforms of Somerset in order to maintain their secular interests, having acquired much church land. With no concept of secular and religious as exists in countries today, it is hardly surprising that, as Source 4 indicates, many saw the economical problem England was going through as a punishment from God for Somerset’s religious policy. Certainly, if this were true, Somerset’s religious policy would be his worst. Somerset also had to deal with Scotland and France, which drained money from England and consequently hampered Somerset’s room for manoeuvre in economic policy.

In conclusion, though it is extremely difficult to pull out the separate strands of the Lord Protector’s various policies, the sources and historical context both suggest that it was more Somerset’s religious policy that was his worst conceived, implemented and enforced, than his economic one, though his economic policy was to have negative effects that only ended with the accession of Elizabeth I. The prayer book rebellion of 1549, referenced in Sources 2, 3, and 5, which represented the nadir of the Somerset Protectorate and led to the deposition and execution of Somerset was largely due to religious reasons and thus contribute to this idea.

Reminding you just in case you’ve forgotten. :)
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