• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Was Somerset a humanitarian reformer or power-grabbing opportunist?

Extracts from this document...


Was Somerset a humanitarian reformer or power-grabbing opportunist? I will argue that Somerset demonstrated in his policy nothing that could be considered indicative of a humanitarian reformer. Some historians have argued that he did have a genuine concern for the poor but, given the circumstances of his rule, was unable to realise this aim. However, there is very little evidence to support this claim; furthermore, the extremes to which his control measures extended suggest a ruler almost totally devoid of compassion for the poor. However, neither was he a power-grabbing opportunist, which seems an excessive description of Somerset. Rather, if we take the two descriptions as the ends of a spectrum, Somerset was undoubtedly closer to a power-grabbing opportunist, who was motivated throughout his short time in power largely by a need for control and support to secure his position. Indeed, had he had a more reforming attitude he may have lasted for longer. There is very little evidence to suggest he was a humanitarian reformer. Firstly we could look to the fact that he led the reform faction of the council before Henry's death. Although seemingly relevant, this is discredited by his record in power in which the system of government remained similar to Henry's reign. ...read more.


That is not to say that his attempt to restrict enclosure does not point to a concern for the poor. However this is a dim light among the host of heavy handed measures of control in addition to poor management of economic problems, both of which hit those most in need the hardest. What seems to have been Somerset's main motivation was a need for control and support, which drove most of his actions and led to his neglecting of the real economic problems and his paranoid measures leading up to his fall. As mentioned previously, his removal of unpopular legislation from Henry's reign was motivated more by a need to establish support. Most important, however, was the repealing of the Proclamations Act, which allowed Somerset to issue proclamations without even the consent of the Privy Council. Indeed, Smith argues that during Somerset's rule "proclamations posed their greatest threat to the supremacy of parliamentary statutes." 1 Alan Smith paints a picture of a government in which Somerset ruled by his own prerogative through the use of proclamation (the average per year went from six to nineteen), refusing to take advice and seen by his council as arrogant. ...read more.


However, we should not extend this point too far, many of the acts, such as the Vagrancy Act and repealing of proclamations, were not at a time when Somerset was in a state of desperation. Moreover, the discontent was to a large extent Somerset's own doing. This and his failure to deal with it in a measured way serve as further evidence to support the arguments made here. Therefore, it is a criticism that should be considered but which does not damage the main substance of the argument, rather, forces us to make a more measured assessment of Somerset's character in light of his situation. Therefore, Somerset, although there is a little evidence to suggest he was concerned for the poor, was not a humanitarian reformer. He was motivated throughout his rule by a need to secure his position seen principally by his use of his new powers of proclamation and later acts. He did not recognise the problems people faced; rather, he used harsh methods to attempt to control the people. Given the state of desperation he was in, Somerset's character should not be seen as power grabbing, which implies a despotic rule, instead he merely saw that securing his position and controlling dissent was essential in his rule. 1 Smith, A.G.R., The Emergence of a Nation State, p.68 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level British History: Monarchy & Politics section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level British History: Monarchy & Politics essays

  1. An unmitigated disaster. How valid is this assessment of Oliver Cromwells experiment with the ...

    authority and whose main preoccupation during their brief period of power was the vindictive persecution of their social betters. In 1694, royalist writer, Roger Coke, labelled the Major Generals as an 'obscure company of mean fellows', and who he claimed had 'Lorded it over the nobility as well as gentry and clergy with an unheard of insolency'.

  2. Resistance to slavery.

    The National Assembly issued the Declaration of Rights of Man that stated that 'men are born free and equal in rights'. The watchwords of France's new revolutionary leaders were 'Liberty! Equality! And Fraternity! These words and the French revolution in general had a profound effect on the Haitian Revolution.

  1. How far do you agree with Elton's interpretation of the roles of Somerset and ...

    the conservative and reform factions of the court, but also the fact the Henry had never been totally converted to Protestantism. Nevertheless, since he followed a monarch who had implemented perhaps the largest religious reform in the history of the church, Somerset had to deal with a situation of religious insecurity.

  2. How do the poets in 'Charlotte O'Neils song' and 'Nothing Changed' show their feelings ...

    Young girls could leave service in England to go to Australia. In Australia the girls found that they were in demand both as servants and as wives. Many of them found it very easy to marry and improve their lot.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work