After the defeat of their attempted pre-emptive strike at the Battle of Fenny Bridges, the rebels led by Sir Humphrey Arundel fell back on their camp outside the city of Exeter. They had lost about 500 men in the battle and the returning remnants of the defeated detachment rejoined their comrades who had been left to continue the blockade of the city. Despite the losses the rebels still had over 9,000 men in all.
Arundel must have guessed that he had little time to prepare for the royalist onslaught, but in fact he had rather longer than he imagined. Although Lord Russell had convincingly defeated the rebel force at Fenny Bridges he was painfully aware that this had been only a part of their total force. He was still outnumbered by about 3:2 and the dogged resistance of the rebels convinced him that he would be hard pushed to defeat their main force in open battle. Accordingly he fell back to Honiton and sent Sir Peter Carew riding hard to London to ask for reinforcements.
Reaching London, Carew was ushered into the presence of the 12 year old King Edward VI, his regent the Duke of Somerset and the Royal Council. Carew made his report, then passed on Lord Russell’s request for reinforcements. Somerset was in a delicate position at this moment. The new Prayer Book had largely been his work and was causing trouble not only in Devon but also in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and East Anglia. The disturbances in these areas were not so serious as in Devon, but the rioting and street fights were real enough to pose a threat to law and order.
Moreover his younger brother Thomas had recently been arrested on charges of treason for attempting to marry forcibly the Princess Elizabeth, then sixteen years old. Many suspected that Somerset had been involved in the plot to secure his family’s grip on power should the increasingly frail King Edward die. Somerset was in no mood to hear that the rising in Devon was anything more than an easily dealt with local difficulty.
As Carew stopped speaking, Somerset turned on him. The Carews were a famously Catholic Cornish family and Somerset denounced Carew and his like as being behind the trouble in the first place. What followed was one of the most dramatic scenes in Tudor history. Carew lost his temper, hurled accusations of maladministration and cowardice at Somerset, and ended up challenging him to a fight. The men were kept apart only by members of the Council who grabbed the hot-headed Cornishman and pushed him into his seat. In the tense silence that followed King Edward ordered that reinforcements be sent to Russell at Honiton. It was the beginning of the end for Somerset as regent and within a year he had been stripped of his offices.
from Battlefield Walks in Devon by Rupert Matthews.
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