As a blogger for Royal Central I seem to have got in to a habit of blogging about the more well known Monarchs in British history, from the two Elizabeths to the great Victoria and all of the Monarchs of the House of Windsor. So to break from tradition, for my next few blogs I will be (hopefully) briefly informing readers about Britian’s forgotten monarchs, not forgotten because they were not worth remembering, forgotten because their predecessors’ and successors’ reigns are remembered for the events that have shaped this country.
I begin this series of blogs with the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty, King Edward VI.
Edward VI was born on 12th October 1537 as the son of the reigning King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. Edward’s sisters Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth were both fond of their little brother and visited him often. Edward was even fond of his father’s last wife Catherine Parr and called her his “most dear mother”.
On 1st July 1543 Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich with the Scots. This ensured peace by betrothing Edward to the newly born Mary, Queen of Scots. The King was hoping to unite the two realms and stipulated that Mary be handed over and brought up in England. It was this stipulation that made the Scots retract their alliance with the King in December 1543, the deal was off and a war ensued, a war which continued well in to Edward’s reign, a war which became known as “The Rough Wooing”.
It was the 28th January 1547 when King Henry VIII died and his nine year old son became King. The announcement to Edward was delayed until he and Princess Elizabeth were together. The new King was taken to the Tower of London where the nobles of the realm pledged their allegiance to Edward and Edward Seymour was announced as Protector. King Edward VI was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 20th February 1547, the first coronation in Britain for nearly forty years. The ceremonies were shortened due to the King being at such a tender age and because the reformation had rendered some of them inappropriate. Henry VIII’s will had named sixteen executors who were to act as Edward’s council until he reached the age of 18.
It was the Protector Edward Seymour and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer who really took power throughout Edward’s Regency. Both were intent on making England a truly Protestant state. 1549 saw the introduction of a new English Prayer book and in the summer of that year peasants in the West Country revolted in protest against the new prayer book.
It does seem that the young King’s reign was overshadowed by war and rebellion throughout the realm and beyond. Ketts rebellion in the Summer of 1549 was an upheaval in Norfolk which was focused on economic and social injustices, at the same time the French had declared war on England. It was John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who suppressed the Norfolk rebellion so he took it upon himself to bring about the downfall of Edward Seymour, who was consequently arrested and executed. Although Dudley never took the title of Protector, this was a role he now assumed. Under Dudley, Protestant reform stepped up and another new prayer book issued in 1552, this one undoubtedly Protestant. This was all under the watchful eye of Edward who was growing up and shaping up to be a King whose reign could be just as memorable as his father’s.
King Edward became ill in January 1553 with a fever and cough which gradually became worse; his condition did however improve as the spring months approached and the death of such a young King was not even considered. It was not until the 6th July 1553 did King Edward VI die, age 15 at Greenwich Palace. The cause of death is uncertain but more popular beliefs are that Edward contracted a severe form of tuberculosis.
As for the issue of the succession, it is common knowledge that when Edward was ill, he had composed a document himself entitled “My devise for the Succession”, in which he undertook the change of who succeeded him. In the document he totally wiped out his two half sisters Mary and Elizabeth from the Succession (the two sisters who he had once doted on) and instead settled the crown on his first cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey, who was reliably Protestant and the daughter of John Dudley. Lady Jane Grey became known as the ‘Nine Days Queen’ due to her extremely short reign. Eventually the rightful heir took the throne and became Queen Mary I.
King Edward VI was buried in Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey on 8th August 1553 with reformed rites performed by Thomas Cranmer. The King’s procession was watched by Londoners who wept and lamented at the sight of the cortege. At the same time as the procession passed, Queen Mary attended a mass for her half brother’s soul at the Tower of London (where Lady Jane Grey was now a prisoner).
It does seem that that the young King Edward VI’s reign was more than overshadowed by war, rebellion and national unrest and by so called Protectors who sought not to help the young King but to further enhance their own power. This was also a King who, we must not forget, never reached the age of maturity so he could rule as a King in his own right.
If there is anything you can add about the reign of King Edward VI, please comment below.
photo credit: lisby1 via photopin cc
Great idea to focus on some of the other very intersting, but lesser known monarchs. Very interesting blog on Edward VI. He was the subject for Mark Twain’s popular tale of the “Prince & the Pauper”.
It just seemed like out of all the tudor monarchs, King Edward VI is the one who is talked about less. Glad you liked the blog!
Having written a piece on the Tudors and how each contributed to the success of the dynasty, it is safe to say that Edward’s rule, or perhaps more rightly, his ministers’ rule defined England, paving the way for Elizabeth’s Via Media religious settlement. The Prayer Book moved the country towards traditional Anglicanism as we now know it and Lady Grey was part of this plan. For Dudley and Edward, her succession suited on religious grounds and to help retain power from one monarch to the next, no mean feat (consider how many achieved this – Buckingham with James I and Charles I is the only one I can think of)
It is not the settled view of historians that the the document changing the succession that was signed by Edward VI near the end of his life was entirely his idea. The machinations underlying the document are a matter of historical debate. What is settled is that the Duke of Northumberland and the council were in a panic as it became clear that Edward was dying and Parliament’s Act of Succession would put Mary on the throne. She would certainly undo the Reformation and restore the Roman Catholic faith. The religion, positions and power at court of Edward’s Protestant ministers and councilors were at stake under Mary’s reign, possibly even their lives if convicted of heresy under the new regime. In fact, Cranmer and others were executed by Mary.
The effort to change the succession, which really needed the endorsement of Parliament, is seen by many historians as the work of Duke of Northumberland and the council. Wikipedia is the first source I’ve seen that attributes the change solely to Edward. In January 1553 Edward drafted a will that did not anticipate his immediate death. In May 1553, Northumberland married his younger son to Lady Jane Grey (she had been seen as a potential wife for Edward). In June 1553 final changes were made to the document regarding the succession of the Greys and their issue. In July 1553 Edward died without Parliament having ratified the change to the succession, but with a number of ministers, councilors and others having signed an endorsement of it.
The document is viewed as contradictory. Without Parliamentary action, the document was more than legally questionable. One can view Elizabeth as collateral damage in the effort to exclude Mary. Elizabeth was reliably Protestant, having been educated with Edward and Lady Jane Grey. But the exclusion of the Protestant Elizabeth for the equally Protestant and female Lady Jane Grey looks more like a Northumberland power grab because Jane was now his daughter-in-law, firmly under the duke’s control. And his son was her consort, meaning the duke’s grandchildren would be heirs to the throne.
In any event, while the author of this posting puts forth a narrative of settled fact, it should be noted that at many points there are issues of historical debate and many more nuances to events of Edward’s reign. What is undisputed was the move to a clearly Protestant Church of England under Edward.
But surely the act of succession would have also needed Edward to give the go ahead, he was King after all. Do you not think Edward had any say at all?
It’s interesting that in the 16th century Catholic Mary was considered the ‘rightful’ heir over Protestant Jane Grey and yet 100 years later James II couldn’t get the same consideration for his Catholic son over his Protestant daughter despite the Law of Primogeniture. I guess the further entrenched the country became in the entanglement of church and state, the less they were willing to sacrifice bigotry for their own laws.
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