Over the past few months I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

The last entry described the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. All three — the Oxford Martyrs — were burned at the stake in that city during the reign of Mary I.

Mary I succeeded Edward VI after nine days of Lady Jane Grey, deemed to be an unsuitable successor to her cousin Edward.

However, there is more to say about Edward VI’s reign. As we know by now, Edward was only 15 when he died, having ascended to the throne at the age of nine in 1547. As such, he had several powerful adult advisers to guide him. These men were driven by their own agendas and the opportunity to exercise power not only in the civil sphere but also in the religious one.

Although most of us, even Britons, think that Henry VIII was the principal ruler who ransacked the monasteries and churches, Edward VI’s advisers went even further.

Percy Dearmer gives us the highlights in Chapter 7 of his book.

Excerpts and a summary follow. Emphases mine below.

Of this vandalism under Edward VI, Dearmer wrote:

All this is still but little known, but we cannot appreciate the liturgical changes of Edward VI’s reign unless we know it.

Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour was Edward VI’s first Lord Protector (image courtesy of Wikipedia).

At the time, a Lord Protector exercised an individual regency over a monarch who was too young to rule independently.

The context and role of Lord Protector changed with Oliver Cromwell during the Interregnum (years between the rule of Charles I and Charles II) in the 17th century.

Seymour’s sister was Jane, Henry VIII’s third wife and Edward’s mother. Although Henry VIII did not specify a Lord Protector, but rather 16 executors who were to serve as Edward’s Regency Council, somehow Seymour managed to get himself at the top of that group. It is likely that he made deals (e.g. land) with the other members of the Council to allow him this power in 1547, the first year of Edward’s reign.

As Lord Protector, he then had the arrogance to create a title for himself, Duke of Somerset. Even today, that is the only dukedom not to have been created by a monarch.

Somerset, as he is known in historical parlance, had grand ambitions and wanted his own palatial home in London: Somerset House.

Dearmer describes the egregious method of how Somerset went about having it built beginning in 1549. There is a sense of divine justice that he never lived to see its completion:

The first Protector, Somerset, had endeavoured, with Cranmer and Latimer, to redeem the miseries of the poor; but even Somerset was a great robber, as the name of Somerset House should remind us. To build this palace (which he did not live to enjoy) he destroyed three bishops’ houses and one parish church, as if they had been so much slum property; and he pulled down the cloister of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Clerkenwell Priory for further building materials. He had actually intended to build his palace on the site of Westminster Abbey; and the Dean only averted the destruction of the Abbey by bribing him with the gift of more than half its estates. Somerset was sent to the Tower in the year of the First Prayer Book, to be beheaded two years afterwards.

Wikipedia says that Somerset also had an old Inn of Chancery and adjacent houses pulled down for his palatial project.

Although it remained unfinished for many years, it was still habitable. The future Elizabeth I lived there during her half-sister Mary I’s reign.

Somerset House was not completed until the 18th and 19th centuries. Several government offices were based there, but by the 20th century most had moved out and various art collections moved in.

Now onto Somerset’s fall from grace. As mentioned in the previous two posts, the Prayer Book Rebellion took place in 1549, and armed mercenaries had to quell it. There were also a variety of important property disputes between landlords and farmers taking place at that time.

On October 1, 1549, word reached Somerset that his time was up. Somerset responded by abducting Edward VI and taking him to Windsor Castle. Meanwhile, the members of the Regency Council got together and made public Somerset’s failures, emphasising that his power came from them. On October 11, the Council had Somerset arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edward VI was taken to Richmond temporarily.

In 1550, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, was appointed head of the Council. Somerset was released and restored to the Council soon afterwards. However, in 1552, Somerset was beheaded for plotting against the Earl of Warwick.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley (Knole, Kent).jpgIn 1551, John Dudley became the Duke of Northumberland (image courtesy of Wikipedia).

Dearmer describes him as follows:

Northumberland, was a villain unmitigated. The misery of the poor increased, the character of the clergy declined, because the cures [curate positions] were filled with “assheads” and “lack-Latins,” as the immortal sermons of Latimer bear witness.

Northumberland did not take the title of Lord Protector but that of Grand Master of the Household. Through it he controlled the other men around Edward VI as well as the surroundings of the young king.

Northumberland did his best to ensure that, as Edward VI matured, he received more complete briefs on what the government was doing. By the time Edward turned 14, the Council no longer had to co-sign on government documents.

After Edward VI died, Northumberland was unprepared for the Council supporting Mary I’s ascending the throne. He was executed in August 1553, during the first few weeks of her reign.

Interestingly, he recanted his Protestant religion around that time. Dearmer mentions:

the brigandage of men like Northumberland, who had no zeal for Protestantism — indeed, Northumberland professed himself a Papist on the scaffold.

Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London

Although Nicholas Ridley was one of the Oxford Martyrs and is remembered in the Anglican Communion on October 16, his behaviour was not always saintly.

Ridley was responsible for the ransacking of a number of churches in London. Ridley was worried that elaborate altarpieces and chalices were too reminiscent of the Catholic Church and would hamper the Reformation in England.

As Dearmer says:

it was illegal, as well as barbarous and unreasonable (the Lutherans were sensible enough to spare the beautiful altars of Germany and Scandinavia, and their Protestantism did not suffer thereby) …

Unconscionable, wanton destruction

This is what happened on a grand scale in England:

But now Commissioners were sent all over England to make inventories, “forasmuch as the King’s Majesty had need presently of a mass of money”; and before the end of poor little King Edward’s reign there had been a clean sweep of all that was worth stealing: the churches, their chests, their treasuries had been ransacked, and nothing but the bare walls remained of the ancient beauty which Englishmen had so loved — which the poor had looked upon as part of their birthright. Even the walls were suffered to decay.


all over the country the churches were looted simply for the sake of plunderthe organs were sold for the price of their pipes, even the melting of the bells was begun ; the priceless church plate, which had been the treasure of the people for centuries, was pillaged, so that, a generation later, there were still some churches with nothing but a single chalice. The parish churches, as well as the benefit clubs and guilds (which were the trade unions of the time), had belonged to the people, had been enriched by the people, and managed by them.

Now the people had nothing. The churches fell into disrepair:

In the Second Book of Homilies, issued nine years after King Edward’s death, we read — ” It is a sin and shame to see so many churches so ruinous and so foully decayed, almost in every corner. . . . Suffer them not to be defiled with rain and weather, with dung of doves and owls, stares and choughs, and other filthiness, and as it is foul and lamentable to behold in many places of this country.”

The churches were not the only structures being ransacked:

The hospitals and almshouses were destroyed ; the universities only just escaped. “To the Universities,” says that staunchest upholder of the Reformation, J. A. Froude, “the Reformation brought with it desolation. . . They were called Stables of Asses. . . . The Government cancelled the exhibitions which had been granted for the support of poor scholars. They suppressed the Professorships and Lectureships. . . . College Libraries were plundered and burnt. The Divinity Schools at Oxford were planted with cabbages, and the laundresses dried clothes in the School of Arts.”

It’s truly unbelievable.

Dearmer concludes:

It was not the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry that created English pauperism, but the Disendowment of the Parishes under his son.


The bulk of the money went to enrich the gang of ruffians who tyrannized over England; while thirty “King Edward VI Schools” were set up here and there, to hoodwink the public of that and succeeding generations.

On the subject of King Edward VI Schools, they are very prestigious for those who choose not to enrol in well known ‘public’ [private] schools. Many offer day and boarding options. I worked with someone who graduated from one. He was very pleased to have gone there.

Oddly enough, there is no one page with a history of how all of these schools developed. Hmm.


The old parish community was destroyed; “an atmosphere of meanness and squalor,” says Dr. Jessop, still pervades “the shrivelled assemblies” of the 17th and 18th centuries ; and the Parish Councils Act has not yet succeeded in restoring its ancient spirit.

Another period of wanton destruction took place under Cromwell. With those two periods in history in mind:

We have done our best, not often wisely, to restore them but we can never bring back the priceless works of art which were scrapped for a few shillings and melted down for the value of their metal.

Very true. I suspect this will come as news to many of my English readers, just as it would have with Dearmer’s readership.

Next time we will look at Dearmer’s explanation of why the Second Prayer Book did not succeed.