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young king's studies, a gentleman who derived from his situation an influence confirmed by his talents and virtue.* Few men have more directly accelerated their rise by matrimonial alliances than Cecil; yet such were the excellent qualities of his lady, that we might consider his attachment to her the result rather of personal affection, than of a view to political advancement.
His preferment under the new reign was not neglected by Somerset, to whose friendship he was recommended by various circumstances. While his talents and consummate application rendered him most useful to any one placed at the head of affairs, his decided attachment to the reformation gave him at this period a particular claim to public trusts. The protector, eager to extend his popularity by accelerating those changes in religion, which were now so generally desired, committed the departments of government to the hands of such as were known to be firm advocates of the reformation; and, on this occasion, he created Cecil master of the requests,-an appointment of trust and distinction.†
In the latter part of the same year, the young statesman attended his patron in the expedition against Scotland, and was present at the battle of Pinkey, where the arms of England proved so decisively victorious. Here he very narrowly escaped destruction: a friend, observing a cannon directly pointed at him, pushed him out of its line, and, in the very act, had his own arm unfortunately shattered by the ball. Cecil, with his usual diligence, wrote an account of this expedition. On his returning home, he enjoyed various advantages for prosecuting his views at court, and his talents were well calculated to second his opportunities. The insight into the characters of those around him, which he derived from careful habits of observation, enabled him to suit his behaviour to persons and circumstances; and the prudent reserve of his conversation, join to a perfect command of temper, preserved him from those imprudences which so often bar the way to promotion. He applied himself to gain the entire confidence of Somerset; and having unrestrained access to the young prince, both from the friendship of the protector, and the situation of his father-inlaw, he quickly acquired the esteem and attachment of Edward. Somerset readily listened to the solicitations of his nephew in behalf of their mutual favourite, and, in the following year, promoted Cecil to the office of secretary of state.§
With a rapidity proportioned to his merits and his address, Cecil had now attained one of the highest stations in the government; but his continuance on this envied height depended so much on the conduct of others, that the most consummate prudence on his part could not render him secure. He, also, was drawn along in the fall of his patron,
* Life of William Lord Burghley, p. 9. † Life of William Lord Burghley, p. 10. + Ibid. § Lord Burgley's Diary.
which took place in little more than a year. Somerset appears to have been one of those unfortunate men, whose errors proceeded rather from weakness than from vice, and whose good inten. tions are perpetually counteracted by a lamentable imprudence. Ambitious, rather than qualified to govern, he had taken advantage of his popularity to engross, in his own person, the whole powers of the council of regency, to which Henry, by his will, had intrusted the government; and though he showed no inclination to abuse his authority, yet he displayed his ascendancy with an offensive ostentation. A profusion and magnificence, which might have served to increase his influence, contributed, by his imprudent management, to ruin the popularity which he so fondly courted. While he too eagerly grasped at wealth to support his expenses, a fortune which he suddenly amassed made his integrity suspected; and, on his pulling down several churches to procure more splendid materials for erecting his palace, the act was reprobated as sacrilege, and his impiety regarded with horror. Even the best intended measures often became, in his unskilful hands, the source of new calamities. By his rash and ill concerted attempts to redress the grievances of the common people, he not only provoked the nobility, but led the inflamed minds of the people themselves into excesses, which he was afterwards obliged to repress by severe military executions. His popularity at length became so much reduced, that the other members of the council of regency, whom he had stripped of their just authority, ventured to attempt his overthrow; and, by a well planned conspiracy, succeeded in committing him and his principal adherents to the Tower.
The chief actor in this plot against Somerset was the earl of Warwick, son to Dudley, the infamous tool of Henry VII.'s extortions. Warwick inherited all the avarice and faithlessness of his father; and being possessed of talents both for peace and war, he procured the patronage of Henry VIII., who could readily overlook hereditary taint contracted in executing the mandates of tyranny. By the favour of that monarch, Dudley was successively raised to the rank of nobility, created an admiral, and appointed a member of the council of regency. Yet, inflamed with an ambition which no subordinate honours could satiate, he looked on the minority of Edward as a favourable opportunity for engrossing the chief direction of the government; and only delayed his attempts until the increasing unpopularity of Somerset, to which he contributed by every art, should ensure their accomplishment. Succeeding, by the conspiracy which he had planned, to the power, though not to the title, of the protector, he surrounded the young king with his creatures, compelled the council to submit to his dictates, and proceeded to secure his ascendancy by new acquisitions of fortune and rank. The last earl of Northumberland having died without issue, and his brother
having been attainted, the title was now extinct, and the estate vested in the crown. Warwick procured a grant of these large possessions, and made himself be created duke of Northumberland.
The views of this new ruler did not long prove adverse to Cecil; for, after having been detained in the Tower about three months, he was discharged, and again found himself on the road to fortune. Northumberland, though awed by the previous popularity of Somerset, entertained little apprehension of his talents, and justly calculated that his partisans might be weaned by new prospects from their attachment to so feeble a leader. In Cecil he perceived the double advantage of influence over the young king, and of an uninterrupted application to business, while others wasted their time in cabals and intrigues. Aware, also, that with Cecil ambition was a predominant principle, while his prudence was such as to divert him from all dangerous schemes, Northumberland might expect that this statesman would be faithful to those immediately possessed of power, and would prefer the prospect of present aggrandisement to the forlorn generosity of adhering to the ruined fortunes of Somerset. But whatever were the views of Northumberland, Cecil was, by his means, again appointed secretary of state; and, receiving the honour of knighthood, was admitted into the privy council.*
This sudden release and subsequent elevation, by the enemy of his old patron, have exposed the motives of Cecil to suspicion. It has been alleged, that he had a secret understanding with Northumberland even before the fall of Somerset, and that his new preferment was the reward of his treachery. But while no grounds are produced for these accusations, the events which they are adduced to explain seem otherwise sufficiently accounted for. In joining Northumberland, Cecil abandoned none of his principles; for the same measures, both in regard to religion and politics, were now pursued, as under the protector: and if his conduct, in uniting with the decided enemy of his patron, be thought little consistent with honour or generosity, he only acted a part which Somerset himself speedily imitated. Northumberland, having completed the degradation of his rival, by extorting from him a public confession that he had been guilty of rashness, folly, and indiscretion, accounted him now so little formidable, that he ventured to affect the praise of generosity, by restoring him, not only to liberty, but to his seat in the council. Somerset, as mean in adversity as ostentatious in his better fortune, gladly accepted the boon; and, after all the indignities which he had undergone, consented to give his daughter, lady Jane Seymour, in marriage to lord Dudley, the son of his adversary.
But the ambition of Northumberland, and the
*King Edward's Journal. Stow's Annals.
indiscretion of Somerset, soon converted their external appearances of amity into more fatal dissensions. Although the late protector, by his imprudence and want of spirit, had become much degraded in the public estimation, yet, in the day of his humiliation, the envy once felt towards him subsided into a better feeling; while the pride and ambition of his rival failed not to excite considerable odium. His reviving popularity awakened the jealousy of Northumberland, and his indiscretion, ere long, afforded a pretext for his destruction. While the mortifications which he had experienced could not fail to rankle in his bosom, his crafty antagonist endeavoured to goad him on to some rash and criminal enterprise. The creatures of Northumberland, who gained his confidence to precipitate his ruin, first inflamed his resentment, and then caught his hasty expressions of revenge; they suggested to him plans of insurrection, for assassinating Northumberland, and then disclosed them as accusations against him. When a sufficient number of such charges had been accumulated, Somerset was suddenly arrested; tried before a jury of peers, among whom were Northumberland and some of his principal enemies; found guilty of a capital crime; and led, along with several of his friends, to the scaffold.
The part which Cecil acted, during these renewed calamities of his early patron, seems more reconcilable to prudence than to gratitude. It is said, that when Somerset, some time before his arrest, sent for him, and communicated to him his apprehensions, the secretary, instead of suggesting any means to avoid his impending danger, coldly replied, "That if he was innocent, he might trust to that; and if he were otherwise, he could only pity him."* Pity, indeed, if he really felt it, was all that he bestowed; for it does not appear that he interposed, either publicly or privately, to avert the destruction of his former patron. And when we consider the character of Somerset, we must allow that such an interposition would have been as imprudent as it was likely to be unavailing. The weakness and irresolution of this nobleman were such, that no dependence could be placed on his executing any scheme proposed for his safety; and as he was surrounded by spies who insinuated themselves into his confidence, any beneficial intelligence communicated to him, could scarcely have failed to reach his inveterate adversary. In these circumstances, Cecil, by attempting the preservation of Somerset, would have incurred an imminent hazard of sharing in his destruction. Without benefiting his patron, he would probably have lost his fortune, his liberty, or his life; leaving behind him only the praise of unsuccessful generosity.
But whether we respect his prudence, or censure his ingratitude on this occasion, we cannot but applaud his conduct as a minister. While the
*King Edward's Journal.
court of England teemed with cabals, which occupied the incessant attention of the other public men, the secretary was diligently employed in executing his official duties, and in devising schemes for the discharge of the public debt, or the improvement of commerce. There still remains a complete statement of the king's debts in the month of February, 1551, printed from a manuscript drawn up by Cecil, and which must have comprehended the whole of the public responsibility at that period, since neither the debts nor the revenues of the king were as yet separated from those of the nation.*
An important change, effected about this time in the commerce of London, is also attributed to his counsels. The carrying trade of the north of Europe, and of England in particular, had hitherto been engrossed, almost exclusively, by the merchants of the Hanse Towns. As the foreign intercourse, conducted through this channel, was found particularly productive to the revenue, it became an object with our monarchs to promote it to the utmost; and with this view, Henry III. induced a company of these merchants to settle in England, by the lure of a patent containing various privileges, exempting them from the heavy duties paid by other aliens, and placing them nearly on a footing with natives. This corporation was called, from their place of residence, the merchants of the Steel-yard, and effectually excluded all rivals from a competition-other foreigners by their exclusive privileges, and the English by their superior capital and skill. They continued, accordingly, from the time of their settlement, to engross nearly the whole continental trade of England. Their commerce was advantageous to the natives, as it opened a market to their produce, and induced them to devote their labour and capital to agriculture and manufactures; but it was attended, in the eye of the public, with various disadvantages. The gains of each individual, who partook of this monopoly, were apparently greater than those of the natives engaged in agriculture, manufactures, or internal commerce; and the collective wealth of these foreign merchants was doubly conspicuous from their residence in one spot. The jealousy of the English was strongly excited. They complained that the natives had but toil for their portion, while strangers ran away with all the profit. Besides these imaginary evils, this mode of carrying on trade was attended with some real disadvantages. As it was chiefly conducted by foreign vessels and foreign seamen, it afforded little accession to the maritime strength of the country; a circumstance which, on the breaking out of a war, was felt as a serious evil. Moreover, these merchants, on realising a fortune, were apt to depart, and transfer to their own country that capital which, in the hands of natives, would have improved the soil, and acSee this paper in Strype's Memorials of Edward VI., book ii.
celerated the industry of this realm. The native merchants had often remonstrated against the privileges of these foreigners; but Cecil seems to have been the first minister who effectually attended to their complaints. In consequence of his representations to the council, the merchants of the Steel-yard were deprived of their charter, and subjected to the same impositions as other aliens.*
From this measure, as it was speedily followed by a large increase of the shipping and foreign commerce of England, Cecil has derived much reputation; yet, it is but too indicative of the unacquaintance of the age with the principles of trade. To abrogate the monopoly was a measure of evident propriety, in as much as, like all monopolies, it tended to limit the extent of commercial dealings, obliging our countrymen to sell their commodities somewhat lower, and to pay for foreign articles somewhat higher than they would have done had the competition been open. But, in what way ought this irregularity to have been remedied? Not merely by cancelling the privileges of the Steel-yard merchants, and subjecting them to the same extra duties as other aliens, but by putting all merchants, natives or foreign, on a footing of equality. Such a measure would, it may be alleged, have retarded the rise of the native merchants, inferior as they then were to foreigners in capital and experience: but in this, as in all other cases, the course which industry and capital would of themselves have taken, would have been the most advantageous to all parties. Our merchants, confining themselves for a season to the inland trade, it would have expanded more promptly, when our foreign trade absorbed little of our pecuniary means; and the latter also would have fallen eventually into their hands, in consequence not of acts of exclusion, but of the various advantages possessed by natives over foreigners.
But had Cecil, or any other statesman in that age, attempted to admit foreigners on the footing of natives, he would have been represented by public clamour as aggravating the evil which he professed to remedy. The disadvantages under which Cecil laboured are apparent in the fate of another project, which he entertained for the benefit of commerce. As the means of conveying mercantile intelligence were in former times extremely defective, and the regulations for levying the revenue were very imperfect, it was usual to fix by law a staple or regular market, for the chief commodities of a country, and oblige all its inhabitants to convey them thither for sale. Foreign merchants might thus reckon on a regular market, and government had the best opportunity of levying its imposts both on exports and imports. The staple of our wool, and other chief articles of exportation, was fixed by an early act of parliament in certain towns of England, but was afterwards,
* Hayward's Life and Reign of Edward VI.
in the reign of Edward III., wholly removed to Calais, which at that period came into our possession. It was thence transferred to the flourishing but distant port of Antwerp, where it still remained in the reign of Edward VI. Cecil, perceiving the infinite disadvantages to which the exportation of England was subjected by this regulation, proposed to abolish the staple at Antwerp, and, as a far more desirable substitute, to open two free ports in England; one at Southampton, and another at Hull. A paper is still extant, containing the whole of this scheme clearly digested, exhibiting the arguments in its favour, and refuting the objections by which it might be opposed. But his colleagues in office were too little advanced in commercial knowledge, and too much engrossed with state intrigues, to perceive the advantages or concur in the execution of this project.
Cecil, in the mean time, did not neglect to cultivate the attachment of the young king. That prince, whose diligence, knowledge, and discretion, far exceeded his years, seems to have been particularly delighted with a man so eminently distinguished for these qualities. The secretary was admitted into his inmost confidence, and was supposed to have had no small share in the productions ostensibly attributed to Edward. It is said that the princess Mary, on receiving a letter from her brother, exhorting her to abjure the errors of popery, could not help exclaiming as she read it, "Ah! Mr. Cecil's pen has taken great pains here." Yet he never employed his ascendancy over the young prince to procure extravagant grants, after the example which had been set by Somerset, Northumberland, and the other courtiers. Aware that a fortune accumulated by such means always exposed the possessor to envy, and might probably, in these unsettled times, be the cause of his destruction, he preferred the slower but more secure method of acquiring wealth by the economical management of his regular salaries. By his appointment as chancellor of the order of the garter, his income now received an addition of a hundred marks a year; and it appears that, after his father's decease, he also held the post of master of the robes.t
Soon after this accession of honour and emolument, he found himself exposed, by his official situation, to dangers which all his prudence seemed insufficient to avert. The young king, who, by the extraordinary virtues and accomplishments of his early youth, had taught the nation to look forward with fond expectation to his more mature years, began to exhibit indubitable symptoms of a rapid decline. Amidst the alarm which this unexpected calamity diffused, the ambitious Northumberland began to meditate more daring plans for the confirmation of his power, and even undertook
* 27 Edward III. cap. vii.
See a letter to him from sir Edward in Lodge's Illustrations of British History, vol. i. p. 185.
to fix the succession to the crown in his own family. Four females stood next in the order of inheritance: Mary and Elizabeth, daughters of Henry VIII.; Mary queen of Scots, grand-daughter of Henry's eldest sister; and the duchess of Suffolk, daughter of his second sister. The title of the last, although evidently posterior to the others, Northumberland resolved to enforce as preferable to the whole. He represented to Edward that his two half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, having been declared illegitimate by act of parliament, were for ever debarred from the succession; that the queen of Scots, having been passed over in his father's will, was also to be considered as excluded; and that, even had this objection not existed, she ought to be prevented from reducing England as well as Scotland to a province of France,-an event which, unless prevented by her exclusion, her marriage with the dauphin rendered inevitable. Availing himself of the king's attachment to the protestant religion, he depicted the dangers to which it would be exposed, if such bigoted catholics as either of the Marys ascended the throne; and as this objection did not apply to Edward's favourite sister Elizabeth, who had been educated in the principles of the reformation, he urged that it was impossible to devise any pretext for excluding one sister, without excluding both. The prince, enfeebled by disease, and surrounded by the creatures of Northumberland, was at length overcome by his arguments and importunities, and consented to fix the succession in the duchess of Suffolk, who was willing to wave her title in favour of her daughter, the lady Jane Grey. To complete this artful scheme, Northumberland now procured the lady Jane in marriage to his fourth son, lord Guilford Dudley, and enjoyed the prospect of continuing to manage the affairs of the kingdom at his pleasure, and of transmitting the kingdom to his posterity.
For this alteration in the succession to the throne, Northumberland obtained from the prince a patent, and required that it should be signed by all the members of the privy council; a concession which the dread of his vengeance extorted, even from those most averse to the transaction. Cecil, among the rest, affixed his name to the patent; but whether from inclination or compulsion has been disputed. While he is charged by some with having been very active in the enterprises of the duke, and with having assisted in drawing up the instrument for altering the succession*, he himself, in a memorial which he afterwards drew up in his justification, asserts that both threats and promises were employed in vain to extort his concurrence in the attempt; that he refused to subscribe the patent as a privy councillor; and that he was at length only prevailed on, by the king's earnest entreaty, to write his name as witness to the royal signature. The character of Cecil leaves us, indeed, no room
*Hayward, vol. ii. p. 237.
to suspect that he entered into the views of Northumberland farther than his own immediate safety required. He might have been sufficiently willing, had a fair opportunity offered, to set aside Mary, the next heiress, from whose bigoted attachment to popery he had nothing to hope, and every thing to apprehend. But the reasons which might have led him to oppose Mary would have induced him to support Elizabeth; and he knew that the objections against the title of lady Jane were too weighty to be removed by the patent of a minor on his death-bed. Although parliament, with whom the ultimate right of confirming or altering the order of succession was acknowledged to reside, had enabled Henry VIII. to dispose of the crown by will, yet, as it had not empowered Edward to alter this disposition, his patent could not confer a legal title till ratified by a new act of the legislature. But amidst the general indignation excited by the ambition and rapacity of Northumberland, was such a sanction likely to be obtained? or, if obtained, to ensure a general acquiescence? Influenced by such considerations, Cecil seems to have withdrawn himself, as far as personal safety would allow, from an enterprise originating in extravagant ambition, and likely to terminate in the ruin of its abettors. It is said, that when he found the project in agitation, he made such a disposition of his effects as might give them the best chance of security, in the event of his being imprisoned, or obliged to quit the kingdom.*
On the death of Edward, Cecil found himself, along with the rest of the privy council, in the power of Northumberland; but perceiving that total failure was soon to overtake the illegal measures of that infatuated nobleman, he resolutely refused to draw up the proclamation declaring the title of lady Jane, or to write in its vindication; and the duke was not then in a situation to punish his disobedience. Soon afterwards he found means, along with the other privy councillors, to escape, and join Mary, who had already been proclaimed queen, and who was pleased to receive him very graciously. As he knew that, among her partisans, he had many enemies, and that they had already made some unsuccessful attempts to prejudice her against him, he took advantage of her present favourable disposition, to obtain a general pardon for whatever might have been culpable in his past conduct; and, with this indemnity, he determined for the present to retire from public affairs. Mary, acquainted with his sagacity and great talents for business, was desirous to retain him in her service, and tendered to him the appointment which he had hitherto held; but, as the change of his religion was an indispensable condition, he could not be prevailed on to accept these offers. He was attached firmly and conscientiously to the reformed church; but had his religious principles been less sincere, prudence might have withheld him from
Burnet's Hist. of Reform. vol. ii. p. 233. † Life of William Lord Burghley, p. 11.
embarking in the new government. The bigotry of Mary, and the violence of her prime minister, bishop Gardiner, made it easy to foresee that the restoration of the catholic religion would be attempted by fire and sword; and in the conflict between the zeal of the court, and the resistance of the great majority of the nation, it was impossible not to anticipate sanguinary executions and dangerous convulsions. Cecil appears to have adopted the resolution of keeping aloof from the cabals of either party, and of cultivating the private friendship of some of the new ministers, without giving any sanction to their public measures. By this means he both provided for his own safety, and was enabled to give occasional support to the cause which he favoured, without exciting the jealousy and resentment of the government.
The court soon became divided into two factions, of which the one urged the extirpation of heretics by fire and sword, while the other, confiding in the ultimate success of what they deemed the true religion, were of opinion that these violent methods would only harden the minds of men against it. Of these parties, the former was ruled by bishop Gardiner, a man very indifferent about religion, but naturally of a severe and violent temper, and exasperated, by some injuries, against the protestants: while the moderate party was headed by cardinal Pole, a man extremely devoted to his religious tenets, but too politic, if not too humane, to attempt their propagation by violence. Expecting the safety of the protestants chiefly from the ascendancy of the cardinal's counsels, Cecil attached himself warmly to his interests. He had procured himself to be nominated one of the honorary mission which had been sent by the court to invite over this prelate, who resided in Italy at the time of Mary's accession; and he appears to have exerted himself successfully in acquiring his confidence, since we find him, in the following year, attending Pole on an embassy to the continent.
It soon, however, became necessary for Cecil to take a more open part in defence of the protestants. The parliament having been induced, by the intrigues of Gardiner, and the bribes which he scattered among the members, to revive the old sanguinary laws against heretics, the court proceeded to carry them into execution with the most unrelenting cruelty. Bishops, venerable for age and virtue, were burnt in their own dioceses, and women are said to have been thrown, in the agonies of childbirth, into the midst of the flames.t Nothing could exceed the horror of the cruelties perpetrated, or the frivolity of the accusations on which the sufferers were condemned. Arrested on mere suspicion, and without having made any open profession of their creed, they were allowed only the alternative of signing a list of religious
*Life of William Lord Burghley, p. 11.
Burnet, vol. iii. p. 264, from an account of these transactions written or corrected by Cecil.