The Earl of Hertford, the head of the " new men," and known as a patron of the Protestants, came to the front, and was appointed one of the Council of Regency which Henry nominated at his death.
Catharine Howard atoned like Anne Boleyn for her unchastity by a traitor's death; her successor on the throne, Catharine Parr, had the luck to outlive the King. But of Henry's numerous marriages only three children survived; Mary and Elizabeth, the daughters of Catharine of Aragon and of Anne Boleyn; and Edward, the boy who now ascended the throne as Edward the Sixth, his son by Jane Seymour. As Edward was but nine years old, Henry had appointed a carefully balanced Council of Regency; but the will fell into the keeping of Jane's brother, whom he had raised to the peerage as Lord Hertford, and who at a later time assumed the title of Duke of Somerset.
When the list of regents was at last disclosed Gardiner, who had till now been the leading minister, was declared to have been excluded from it; and Hertford seized the whole royal power with the title of Protector. His personal weakness forced him at once to seek for popular support by measures which marked the first retreat of the Monarchy from the position of pure absolutism which it had reached under Henry. The Statute which had given to royal proclamations the force of law was repealed, and several of the new felonies and treasons which Cromwell had created and used with so terrible an effect were erased from the Statute Book. The hope of support from the Protestants united with Hertford's personal predilections in his patronage of the innovations against which Henry had battled to the last. Cranmer had now drifted into a purely Protestant position; and his open break with the older system followed quickly on Hertford's rise to power. "This year," says a contemporary, "the Archbishop of Canterbury did eat meat openly in Lent in the Hall of Lambeth, the like of which was never seen since England was a Christian country." This significant act was followed by a rapid succession of sweeping changes.
The legal prohibitions of Lollardry were removed; the Six Articles were repealed; a royal injunction removed all pictures and images from the churches; priests were permitted to marry; the new Communion which had taken the place of the Mass was ordered to be administered in both kinds, and in the English tongue; an English book of Common Prayer, the Liturgy which with slight alterations is still used in the Church of England, replaced the Missal and Breviary from which its contents are mainly drawn. These sweeping religious changes were carried through with the despotism, if not with the vigour, of Cromwell. Gardiner, who in his acceptance of the personal supremacy of the sovereign denounced all ecclesiastical changes made during the King's minority as illegal and invalid, was sent to the Tower. The power of preaching was restricted by the issue of licences only to the friends of the Primate. While all counter arguments were rigidly suppressed, a crowd of Protestant pamphleteers flooded the country with vehement invectives against the Mass and its superstitious accompaniments.
The assent of noble and landowner was won by the suppression of chauntries and religious gilds, and by glutting their greed with the last spoils of the Church. German and Italian mercenaries were introduced to stamp out the wider popular discontent which broke out in the east, in the west, and in the midland counties. The Cornishmen refused to receive the new service "because it is like a Christmas game." Devonshire demanded in open revolt the restoration of the Mass and the Six Articles. The agrarian discontent, now heightened by economic changes, woke again in the general disorder. Twenty thousand men gathered round the " oak of Reformation" near Norwich, and repulsing the royal troops in a desperate engagement renewed the old cries for the removal of evil counsellors, a prohibition of enclosures, and redress for the grievances of the poor.
Revolt was stamped out in blood; but the weakness which the Protector had shown in presence of the danger, his tampering with popular demands, and the anger of the nobles at his resolve to enforce the laws against enclosures and evictions, ended in his fall. He was forced by the Council to resign, and his power passed to the Earl of Warwick, to whose ruthless severity the suppression of the revolt was mainly due. But the change of governors brought about no change of system.^The rule of the upstart nobles who formed the Council of Regency became simply a rule of terror. "The greater part of the people," one of their creatures, Cecil, avowed, "is not in favour of defending this cause, but of aiding its adversaries; on that side are the greater part of the nobles, who absent themselves from Court, all the bishops save three or four, almost all the judges and lawyers, almost all the justices of the peace, the priests who can move their flocks any way, for the whole of the commonalty is in such a state of irritation that it will easily follow any stir towards change." But, heedless of danger from without or from within, Cranmer and his colleagues advanced yet more boldly in the career of innovation.
Four prelates who adhered to the older system were deprived of their sees and committed on frivolous pretexts to the Tower. A new Catechism embodied the doctrines of the reformers; and a Book of Homilies, which enforced the chief Protestant tenets, was appointed to be read in churches. A crowning defiance was given to the doctrine of the Mass by an order to demolish the stone altars and replace them by wooden tables, which were stationed for the most part in the middle of the church. A revised Prayer-book was issued, and every change made in it leaned directly towards the extreme Protestantism which was at this time finding a home at Geneva. Forty-two Articles of Religion were introduced; and though since reduced by omissions to thirty-nine, these have remained to this day the formal standard of doctrine in the English Church. The sufferings of the Protestants had failed to teach them the worth of religious liberty; and a new code of ecclesiastical laws, which was ordered to be drawn up by a board of Commissioners as a substitute for the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, although it shrank from the penalty of death, attached that of perpetual imprisonment or exile to the crimes of heresy, blasphemy, and adultery, and declared excommunication to involve a severance of the offender from the mercy of God, and his deliverance into the tyranny of the devil.