Prince Edward in 1539, by Hans Holbein the Younger.
Prince Edward in 1539, by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Nine-year-old Edward VI introduced the Reformation, established the English Church, understood international affairs and showed a keen interest in reforming the currency.

Henry VIII’s lengthy wait for a male heir ended when Edward was finally born on 12 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace. However, Henry’s joy was short-lived as his third wife, Jane Seymour, never recovered and she died twelve days later from puerperal fever.

Childhood

Edward was a healthy baby but he did not inherit his father’s athleticism and robust health. Henry took precautions to protect his son’s health with a team of “watchful nurses and the everpresent doctors” to prevent infection.

Jane Seymour

Family life was non-existent until Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, bought Edward and his half-sisters to court. Edward was genuinely fond of Catherine, as she took a motherly interest. Catherine entrusted Edward’s education to Protestant humanists including Richard Cox, Sir John Cheke and Sir Anthony Cooke. Edward also enjoyed music, sporting activities and games.

He was initially fond of his sister Mary, but they eventually clashed over religious issues once Edward became King.

Elizabeth became close to Edward, as they shared the same tutors. She also sewed shirts and wrote touching letters in Latin.

Edward finally received word in January of his father’s death.

King of England

Henry VIII’s will included a regency, consisting of sixteen peers, to rule during his son’s minority. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, seized control ignoring Henry’s wishes.

Portrait of Cranmer painted after Henry VIII's death.
Portrait of Cranmer painted after Henry VIII’s death.

Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour failed to force Edward to make him Lord Protector so he made a bungled attempt to kidnap the king. He was executed for alleged high treason.

The new Reformation enforced by an Act of Uniformity of 1549 for public worship. Catholic masses were banned. The Bible was translated into English so it was available for everyone to read. A new prayer book written in English, instead, was also introduced in 1549.

Thomas Cramner, Archbishop of Canterbury, drew up the Forty-Two Articles of Religion in 1552—a seminal document on matters of faith in the reformed Church of England.

Catholics in Devon and Cornwall rebelled as they preferred the old Latin Mass.

Kett’s Rebellion, a peasant rising in Norfolk, arose from the enclosure of common land by wealthy landowners. Poor people were prevented from grazing their livestock.

Northumberland

Somerset’s rival, the Machiavellian John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, deposed and replaced him in a coup d’état in 1549. Somerset was falsely accused of several crimes. He was executed in January 1552 at the Tower of London.

Portrait of Henry VIII
Portrait of Henry VIII

Northumberland subdued Kett’s Rebellion, restored peace, kept potential rebels under control, ended foreign wars and stabilised English currency.

However, Northumberland’s reforming policies were motivated by his desire to obtain the Church’s wealth, rather than theological issues.

Edward contracted both measles and small pox in 1552. He recovered, only to develop a “tough, strong, straining cough”. By May, he was coughing up black phlegm and fading fast. He was kept alive with opiates and dosed with a remedy which made his body swell, and he omitted such a putrefying smell that his attendants were reluctant to come near him.

Henry VIII decreed in his Act of Succession if Edward died without issue, the succession was to go to his Catholic daughter Mary. Edward wrote his “Devise” for the succession of the Crown. Many believed Northumberland was responsible. Edward disinherited both his sisters and named Lady Jane Grey as his heir if he died childless.

Edward finally died from pulmonary tuberculosis on 6 July 1553 and Lady Jane Grey was declared Queen four days later.

The people rejected his Protestant heir in favour of Mary whose faith Edward held in such abhorrence.

Edward VI, c 1550
Edward VI, c 1550

Sources

Crofton, Ian, The Kings and Queens of England, Quercus, London, 2006

Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003

Fraser, Antonia [Editor], The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, (reprinted 2005)Fraser, Antonia [Editor], The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, (reprinted 2005)

Ross, Josephine, The Tudors, Artus Publishing Company Ltd, London, 1979

Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: At The Edge of the World 3000BC-AD1603, Volume 1, BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2000

Skidmore, Chris, Edward VI: The Lost King of England, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2007

Starkey, David, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages To Modernity, HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2006

Williamson, David, Debrett’s Kings and Queens of Britain, Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited, London, 1986

© 2009 Carolyn Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 4 June 2009.

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