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Monarchy Rules: a look at 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 1 July 1543 Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich with the Scots. The treaty ensured peace by betrothing Edward to the newly born Mary, Queen of Scots. The King was hoping to unite the two realms and stipulated 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 that continued well intoEdward’s reign, a war that 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 took power throughout Edward’s Regency. Both were intent on making England a real 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. All of this transpired 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.

King Edward became ill in January 1553 with fever and cough that 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 widely known 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 enhance further their power. Sadly Edward never reached the age of maturity so he could rule as a King in his right.


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