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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

146 The Protector took all affairs


The insurrectionary movement was suppressed, but it once more produced a violent reaction in home affairs, by which this time the head of the government was himself struck down.[144] Among English statesmen there is none who had a more vivid idea of the monarchical power than the Protector Somerset. He started from the view that religious and political authority were united in the hand of the anointed King in virtue of his divine right. The prayer which he daily addressed to God is still extant; it is full of the feeling that to himself, as the representative and guardian of the King, not only his guidance but also the direction of all affairs is entrusted. Such was also the view of the young sovereign himself. In one of his letters he thanks the Protector for taking this employment on him, and for trying to bring his State to its lawful obedience, the country to acknowledge the true religion, and the Scots to submission. Somerset did not think himself bound by the opinion of the Privy Council, since with him, and with no other, lay the responsibility for the administration of the State. He held it to be within his competence to remove at pleasure those of its members who showed themselves adverse to him. He too had that jealousy of power, which always directs itself against those who stand nearest to it. There is no doubt that his brother, Thomas Lord Seymour, impelled by a restless ambition, hoped to overthrow the existing government and put himself in possession of the highest place, and committed manifold illegal acts; he--the Lord Admiral of the realm--even entered into alliance with the pirates in the Channel.[145] But despite this it was thought at the time very severe when the Protector gave his word that the vengeance of the law should be executed on his brother. His reason was that Lord Seymour would not submit to sue in person for mercy to him the injured party and possessor of power. Such were these men, these brothers. The one died rather than pray for mercy: the other made the bestowal of it depend on this prayer, this confession of his supreme authority.[146] The Protector took all affairs, home and foreign, exclusively into his own hand. Without asking any one, he filled up the ministerial and civil posts: to the foreign ambassadors he gave audience alone. He erected in his house a Court of Requests,[147] which encroached not a little on the business of Chancery. The palace in the Strand, which still bears his name, was to be a memorial of his power; not merely houses and gardens, but also churches which occupied the ground, or from which he wished to collect his building materials, were destroyed with reckless arbitrary power. Great historical associations are indissolubly linked with this house. For it was Somerset after all, who through personal zeal opened a free path for the Protestant tendency which had originated under Henry VIII but had been repressed, and gave the English government a Protestant character. He connected with this not merely the Union of Scotland and England, but a yet further idea of great importance for England itself. He wished to free the change of religion from the antipathy of the peasantry which was at that time so prominent. In the above-mentioned dissensions he took open part for the demands of the commons: he condemned the progress of the enclosures and gave his opinion that the people could not be blamed so heavily for their rebellion, as their choice lay only between death by hunger and insurrection. It seemed as though he wished in the next Parliament by means of his influence to carry through a legal measure in favour of the commons.


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