In nearly every particular the council of executors failed to carry out the wishes of the late king. The Earl of Hertford, created later on Duke of Somerset, became Protector with almost royal powers, and instead of defending the religious settlement the majority of the council set themselves from the very beginning to initiate a more advanced policy. Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury could be relied upon to support such a course of action, while, of the principal men who might be expected to oppose it, the Duke of Norfolk was a prisoner in the Tower and the Lord Chancellor Wriothesley was dismissed to make way for a more pliable successor. The bishops, who were regarded merely as state officials, were commanded to take out new commissions. Cranmer obeyed without protest, as did all the others except Gardiner, who questioned the authority of the council to issue such a command at least until the supreme head of the Church should have reached his majority.
Those who had been held in check by the repressive legislation of Henry VIII. felt themselves free to renew the attacks on the practices and doctrines of the Church. The royal preachers who had been appointed for the Lenten sermons, Dr. Barlow, Bishop of St. David's, Ridley one of Cranmer's chaplains, and others, not content with abusing the Bishop of Rome, declared war on images, relics, and even on the Lenten fasts and abstinences. Against such novelties Gardiner addressed an indignant protest to the Protector and council, warning them that during the minority of the king there was no power in England competent to change the religious settlement that had been accomplished by Henry VIII. But his protest fell on deaf ears. The war against images was carried on vigorously, though legally only those images that had been abused were forbidden, and even in Bishop Gardiner's own diocese he was powerless to resist those who knew they could count on the support of the Protector.
In July 1547 two important publications were issued, one, /The Injunctions of Edward VI./, the other, /The Book of Homilies/, composed by Cranmer, and issued by the authority of the council. The former of these commanded that sermons should be delivered at fixed intervals against the Bishop of Rome, that images which had been abused, shrines, pictures, and other monuments of superstition should be destroyed, that the Gospels and Epistles should be read in English, that alms boxes should be set up in all churches, and that the clergy should inform their people that the money spent on pardons, pilgrimages, candles, and other blind devotions should now be devoted to the support of the poor. The /Book of Homilies/ was to serve as a guide for preachers in their public services. A royal commission was appointed to insist upon the observance of these Injunctions, but in London Bishop Bonner refused at first to accept the commands of the visitors, and though later on he weakened in his resistance, he was committed to prison as a warning to others. Gardiner boldly denounced the visitation as illegal and unwarrantable, but the council instead of meeting his arguments and remonstrances ordered his arrest (September 1547). In many places the proclamation for the removal of images led to violent disturbances, and free fights within the churches were not uncommon. To put an end to any misunderstanding on this subject for the future the council ordered the removal of all images from the churches (Feb. 1548).
For various reasons the Protector and council delayed assembling Parliament as long as possible, but at last it was convoked to meet in November 1547. As happened in the case of all the Parliaments in the Tudor period, careful steps were taken to ensure that only men who could be relied upon were returned by the sheriffs. Neither from the lay members in the House of Lords, many of whom had been enriched by the plunder of the monasteries, nor from the spiritual peers lately appointed, could any effective resistance be expected, while the bishops who were still strongly Catholic in tone were deprived of a capable leader by the imprisonment of Gardiner. It was significant that in the Mass celebrated at the opening of Parliament the /Gloria/, Creed, and /Agnus Dei/ were sung in English. The bishops had been taught a lesson already by being forced to take out new commissions like other officers of the crown, by having their jurisdiction suspended during the progress of the royal visitation, and by being prohibited from preaching outside their own cathedrals. But, lest they might have any lingering doubts about the source or extent of their jurisdiction, Parliament enacted that for the future bishops should be appointed not by election but by royal letters patent, and that all their official documents should be issued in the king's name and under his seal or some other seal authorised by him. All the Acts against heresy that had been passed since the days of Richard II., including the Statute of Six Articles, were repealed; most of the new treason-felonies created during the previous reign were abolished; and, though denial of royal supremacy was accounted still as treason, it was enacted that by merely speaking against it one did not merit the punishment of death unless for the third offence.
The question of the Blessed Eucharist had come to the front rapidly owing to the violent and abusive sermons of some of the new preachers, and the irreverent and sacrilegious conduct of those who accepted their teaching. The bishops of the old school demanded that measures should be taken to prevent such attacks on the very centre point of Christian worship, while Cranmer and his supporters were determined to insist upon Communion under both kinds. Apparently two different measures were introduced, which were merged ultimately into one Act, whereby it was decreed that all who spoke irreverently against the Blessed Eucharist should be punished by fines and imprisonment, and that Communion should be administered under both kinds except necessity otherwise required. The linking together of these two Acts was a clever move to ensure the support of the bishops who desired to put down irreverence against the Eucharist, and it is noteworthy that out of the eleven bishops present five voted against the measure even in its improved form.
Already an Act had been passed in the previous reign against colleges, chantries, guilds, etc., but since most of these remained as yet undisturbed, it was determined to replenish the royal treasury by decreeing their immediate dissolution, and by vesting their property in the king. This was done with the avowed object of diverting the funds from superstitious uses to the erection of grammar schools, the maintenance of students at the universities, and the relief of the poor; but in reality the property of the guilds, and of the free schools and chantry schools, was confiscated, and little if anything was done for the improvement of education or for the relief of the poor. Edward VI. is represented generally as the founder of the English grammar schools and colleges, but it would be much more correct to say that through his greedy ministers he was their destroyer. True, indeed, he established a few colleges and hospitals, but such beneficence was only a poor return for the wholesale overthrow of more than four hundred flourishing educational establishments, and for the confiscation of thousands of pounds bequeathed by generous benefactors for the education of the poor.
Convocation had met on the day after the assembly of Parliament. The lower house presented four petitions to the bishops, the most important of which was that the proctors of the clergy should be admitted to Parliament, or at least that ecclesiastical legislation should not pass until the clergy had been consulted, but the bishops were too conscious of their helplessness to support such an appeal. It is doubtful if the bill regarding Communion under both kinds was ever submitted regularly to Convocation, though later on a proposal to abolish the canons enforcing clerical celibacy was carried by a majority. It is asserted, and apparently on good authority, that the higher and more learned of the clergy consented to this proposal only under pressure.
The year 1548 opened ominously for the Catholic party. Preachers, licensed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and protected openly by the court, delivered wild harangues against Catholic doctrines and practices. Pamphlets, for the most part translations of heretical works published in Germany or Switzerland attacking the Mass, Transubstantiation, and the Real Presence, were sold publicly in the market places without any interference from the authorities. In January a royal proclamation was issued enjoining the observance of the Lenten fasts, but ten days later an order was made forbidding the use of candles on Candlemas Day, of ashes on Ash Wednesday, or of palms on Palm Sunday. This was followed quickly by a command for the removal of all statues, images, pictures, etc. from the churches. The use of Communion under both kinds was to come into force at Easter 1548, and to prepare for this a royal proclamation was set forth making obligatory the English /Order for Communion/. As the new rite regarded only the Communion of the laity, the Latin Mass was to remain in use as heretofore "without any varying of any rite or ceremony." The clergy were commanded to announce the Sunday on which they proposed to distribute Communion to their flocks. After the priest had himself communicated, the communicants, who did not wish to go to confession, should make a general confession, and should receive Communion under both kinds, the whole service being completed by the usual blessing. This was a clever trick to prepare the way for still greater changes. Owing to the retention of the Latin Mass it was expected that the new Communion service would not lead to serious trouble, while at the same time it would accustom the people to portions of the Mass being read in English, and would imply both that auricular confession was unnecessary and that Mass without Communion of the laity was of no particular importance. The council anticipated that the Communion service would prove unacceptable to many of the clergy, and their anticipations were fulfilled, though, as shall be seen, they adopted a novel method of allaying the trouble.