Edward VI: the Boy King

Born on 12 Oct 1537, crowned on 19 Feb 1547, and dying on 6 July 1553, son of Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, Edward lived only fifteen years and eight months. He never ruled in his own right, but his godfather Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, did push through religious reforms with the boy-king’s approval.

Let’s begin with a Genealogical table from a Tudor specialist:

The dynastic storyline is simple enough. The Tudor dynasty did not last long because Henry VIII’s three surviving children who became sovereigns did not have children.

If you would like to see more tables on how the Tudors connect to the Welsh Tudors and the Plantagenets, please click on Edward’s grandfather’s post:

Henry VII.

The word Biblia on the top page edge means “Bible,” indicating he was pious and biblical.

BASIC FACTS AND STORIES

  1. Edward was born at Hampton Court Palace on Friday 12 Oct 1537, the eve of the feast of the translation of Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king and saint. Edward was named after him. He was baptized on 15 Oct by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the chapel of Hampton Court Palace.
  2. Mary was his godmother and twenty-one years old. Elizabeth, only four years old, carried the chrism (anointing oil). His uncle Sir Thomas Seymour held the canopy over his royal nephew. Edward was proclaimed Duke of Cornwall.
  3. It was a difficult birth that took two days and three nights and left Jane exhausted. When the birth was successful, great bonfires were lit throughout the whole realm, and thanks were given to Almighty God.
  4. Jane did not survive. On 18 Oct she was very ill. On the 23rd she was delirious, and on the 24th she was dead of puerile fever.
  5. Sometimes Henry took him with him. In May 1538, for example, He took him to his hunting lodge at Royston in Hertfordshire where he cradled him with great mirth and joy for a long time. He even held the baby up in the window to the gratified crowd assembled outside.
  6. When Edward was nine or ten years young, his tutors told him to keep a Chronicle. Of his own birth, he wrote objectively, in the third person: “The year of our Lord 1537 was a prince born to king Henry the Eight, by Jane Seymour, then queen; within few days after her birth of her son [she] died and was buried at the castle of Windsor. This child was christened by the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Suffolk, and the archbishop of Canterbury. Afterward [he] was brought up till he came to six years old among women” qtd. in Alford).
  7. Edward was only the second boy-king who did not grow to manhood. The first was Edward V, who was king for eleven weeks in 1483, until he was sent to the Tower of London and never seen again. These kings started out as boys, and grew into full manhood: Henry III (ascended the throne in 1216); Edward III (1327); Richard II (1377); and Henry VI (1422).
  8. Edward was the only sovereign of the five Tudors who was expected to be king. His grandfather Henry VII had to defeat Richard III, and Henry might have lost. His son Arthur died, and Henry became king (the Eighth). Mary took over when Edward died young. Then Elizabeth took over when Mary died youngish, without providing an heir.
  9. Margaret, Lady Bryan, was in charge of the infant’s household, just as she was over Mary’s and Elizabeth’s household, and probably over Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry, Duke of Richmond. He was moved to Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, a resident built in the fifteenth century, but expanded by Henry VIII.
  10. Henry appointed some victorious warriors to teach the boy how to ride and fight.
  11. At this tender age, Edward was never allowed into disease-ridden London, and no one was allowed to visit without the permission of Henry’s faithful and competent servant Thomas Cromwell, the king’s Vicar-General or Vice-Regent over Spirituals, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries.
  12. Lady Bryan purchased clothes for the young prince that suited his status as the king’s son.
  13. At this point Hans Holbein the Younger painted a portrait of the boy in late 1558. Henry tanked the painter with a gold cup.
  14. The courtier and diplomat Sir Richard Morison wrote the Latin text. Translation: “Little one, emulate your father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of his father. Only equal the deeds of your parent, and men can wish for no more. Surpass him and you have surpassed all the kings the world ever revered, and none will surpass you” (qtd. in Alford 12).
  15. Henry appointed scholars Richard Cox and John Cheke to be his tutors in the letters. Cox used to brag about taming “Mr. Will,” that is, the strong and stubborn will in children. He even used the rod. But it is not likely that he used one against the son of Henry VIII. Cheke was a first-rate scholar in the Classics (the study of ancient Greece and Rome) and ancient Greek and Latin. Apparently Edward took to Latin easily enough. He learned from the textbook of Latin grammar by William Lily, which even Shakespeare would use decades later, while he was in school.
  16. Edward’s copy of the Latin grammar is decorated with the feather and the motto of the Prince of Wales, Hic Den for Ich Dien, German for “I serve.”
  17. He wrote short letters to his stepmother Queen Catherine Parr, to his sisters Mary and Elizabeth, and to Thomas Cranmer.
  18. The prince’s favorite companion was Barnaby Fitzpatrick, who became a “whipping boy,” that is someone who stood in for the prince when he was supposed to be whipped. Instead, the “whipping boy” got the punishment.
  19. In July 1546, Edward visited his father and loved it. Henry gave him gifts of costly chains, rings, jeweled button and necklaces.
  20. The prince developed his love for jewels and luxurious clothes from his father. His prized possession was a gold dagger with a large green stone embedded in the hilt. It was attached with a rope of pearls and its sheath was covered with diamonds.
  21. Then in August of that year, the Admiral of France Claude d’Annebaut visited the King. Edward wanted to know whether the Admiral knew Latin, so he could speak to him.
  22. Edward met the Admiral on horseback at the Tower. Cannons fired along the waterfront at Bankside. Edward and the Admiral rode to Hampton Court. He was accompanied by the Archbishop of York, his uncle the earl of Hertford, the earl of Huntingdon, and 2,000 horsemen.
  23. After the successful visit, Edward learned French from Jean Belmaine, a Protestant refugee who had taught Princess Elizabeth. Edward began his first lesson on 12 Oct. Now he was mainly at Hatfield.
  24. His father Henry VIII died on 28 Jan 1547. The prince was now king (after Lady Jane Grey!).
  25. The councilors met and read Henry’s will from beginning to end. His uncle Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, was elected Protector and Governor. Cranmer, his godfather, guided him spiritually. Everyone bowed and kissed his hand. He had to moderate his grief and not show it. However, Broman said that he rushed into his sister’s arms and they wept together for several hours (22).
  26. Jennifer Loach writes of his clothing for his procession from the tower to Westminster: “Before the coronation, there was a procession from the Tower of London to Westminster. It left the Tower about one o’clock in the afternoon on 19 February. The king was on horseback and was dressed in a gown of cloth of gold and a cape furred with sable. Underneath, he wore a jerkin and cape of white velvet, embroidered with ‘Venice silver’ and garnished with rubies, diamonds, and pearls arranged in lovers’ knots. His horse was trapped in crimson satin, embroidered with gold and pearls” (31-32). He had to pass by various pageants that acted out virtues. Pressed by time, he did not stop to watch. It took four hours without pausing, though he watched a tightrope walker outside of St. Paul’s, who made him laugh.
  27. At his coronation on 19 Feb. 1547, in Westminster Abbey, Archbishop Cranmer showed the people their new sovereign, declaring, “Sirs, here I present King Edward, rightful and undoubted inheritor by the laws of God and man to the royal dignity and crown of imperial state” (qtd. in Alford 26). Edward took his coronation oath. He was anointed with holy oils on his shoulders, both arms, palms, and his head.
  28. On 14 Feb Princess Elizabeth clarified her loyalty: “May God long keep your majesty safe and further advance … your growing virtues the utmost” (ibid).
  29. After the festivities, the hard work of schooling began. Edward continued in his outdoors training with aristocratic companions of his age. He went on studying his letters. Servants dressed him and John Cheke instructed him in Greek and Latin and Belmaine in French.
  30. He had something close to a photographic memory. He could recite the names of all the ports, havens, creeks in England, Scotland, and France, and the names of all the justices, magistrates and gentlemen who had any authority.
  31. In late 1547 Parliament convened and repealed Henry’s ferocious laws against Protestantism, like the Six Articles and the Act for Advancement of True Religion. Protestants surrounding Edward intended to promote it and had to clear the legal path.
  32. Acts were passed that permitted more confiscations of chantries (places where prayers for the dead were offered).
  33. The king had a fool named Will Somers, and he was appointed to the new king. He owned a pet monkey.
  34. The new king also owned accoutrements for fishing and hawking. He kept greyhounds and fighting bears. He also had a penchant for gambling and once ran up the huge sum of £143 17d to Sir Thomas Wroth. All this as a boy.
  35. From 1547 to 1548, his uncle Thomas Seymour, younger brother of Edward Seymour, Lord Protector and Governor, wanted a greater influence at court, even to replace his brother as Governor.
  36. He befriended one of the king’s groomsman, John Fowler, who served as the go-between the king and Seymour. In one of the conversations Seymour noticed many people in the palace, and Fowler said it was a good thing England was honest, for anyone could do “foul work” here.
  37. Seymour added, “A man might steal away the king now, for there came with me than all the house besides.” In other words, the men Seymour brought with him outnumbered the household staff.
  38. Athletic and younger than his brother, Thomas Seymour observed that Catherine Parr had a generous settlement from Henry’s will and was the stepmother of Princess Elizabeth.
  39. Seymour asked permission from Edward to marry the queen. Sometime in the conversation, Edward wished, “I would he married my sister [Princess] Mary to turn her [Catholic] opinions.” In other words, he did not Catholicism very much at all.
  40. Thomas and Dowager Queen Catherine got married in mid-April, 1547, this time to Catherine’s pleasure, for he was nice looking. She had been interested in him before Henry swept her up.
  41. Thomas became Elizabeth’s stepfather. He took the key to Elizabeth’s bedchamber. He used to come into her bedroom early in the morning. If she was up, he swatted her on the back or backside, familiarly. If she was still in bed, he sat on it aggressively, while she scooted to the far side.
  42. So Seymour was a bad character all around, though Edward knew nothing of Seymour’s predatory side with his half-sister.
  43. During the investigations into Thomas’s and Elizabeth’s possible dalliances or playfulness, Elizabeth insisted on an announcement from parliament that she never went too far with Thomas.
  44. Parliament found that he had been intriguing against his brother Edward. Thomas was beheaded the Tower Hill on 20 Mar 1549. It took two strokes of the axe to sever his head.
  45. In May 1549 the Prayer Book Rebellion broke out, protesting Edward’s prayer book. The protesters wanted these things to be restored: Henry’s Six Articles, images, and at least two abbeys in every parish.
  46. Archbishop Cranmer was contemptuous. The rebels seized the city of Exeter, but the royal troops crushed them in lopsided battles.
  47. Kett’s rebellion also broke out in 1549, in protest of the new religion, the Reformation. Robert Kett demanded the end of enclosures so people could farm, reduction in rents, freedom for “serfs,” punishment of corrupt officials, and replacing superstitious priests. Over-zealous reformers broke statues, stained glass windows, and altars, and Catholics fought back. The rebels took Norwich, second largest city in England at the time, but John Dudley led thousands of troops to drive them out. Then Dudley rode forward and face-to-face promised the rebels pardons.
  48. They decided to believe him, and he was good on his word, except he executed the leader Robert Kett and ten others. Nothing changed.
  49. England was weak, economically. The French coastal town of Boulogne, occupied by England, was threatened. A Treaty was signed in May 1550, and Boulogne was lost. Ignominiously lost.
  50. Sensing the troubles, Seymour miscalculated and took Edward from Hampton Court to Windsor Castle. Sir William Paget, a wise counselor, and Thomas Cranmer was with the boy-king, so he was reassured.
  51. But the council saw the move as a kidnapping and coup d’état. Not surprisingly, under the influence of Seymour, Edward wrote a letter urging the council to show leniency to Seymour. “… For he is our uncle whom you know we love.” (qtd. in Alford 49). The council would not budge, however.
  52. Cranmer and Paget saw the tide was against Seymour, so they counseled reconciliation. After the crisis died down, Seymour was shoved aside. Some in the parliament accused him of fratricide. He was acquitted of treason, but executed in Jan 1552 for bringing together men for the purpose of riot.
  53. Edward wrote in his Chronicle: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning” (qtd. in Loach 102).
  54. In 1552 Edward recorded in his journal that he was “sick of the measles and smallpox” (qtd. in Borman 240). These diseases degrade the immune system. They surely made him vulnerable to tuberculosis.
  55. Hieronymous Cardano, Italian physician and astrologer, observed that the king had a somewhat projecting shoulder blade, though he was not deformed. He also recorded that the king was a little deaf and had poor eyesight. He wore spectacles and also had to read with a glass, presumably a magnifying glass
  56. Into the vacuum slipped John Dudley, a Protestant magnate (large landowner) who later was made Duke of Northumberland. He was a stronger Protestant.
  57. Dudley arranged his son Guildford Dudley to marry Lady Jane Grey, which happened on 25 May 1553.
  58. She was a very strong Protestant. In one case, she challenged one of Princess Mary’s ladies-in-waiting, who curtsied before the host (bread). “I curtsied to Him that made me.” “Nay, but did not the baker make him?” meaning the bread.
  59. She told her tutor that she thought it was a shame to follow Mary instead of God’s Word.
  60. When her family was out hunting a stag, her tutor saw her reading Plato’s Phaedo. Why wasn’t she out hunting? “I think all their sport in the park is but a shade to the pleasure I find in Plato.” From a Protestant point of view, she would have made a great monarch.
  61. In 1549 a Reformed Prayer Book in English was introduced, guided by Archbishop Cranmer. Parliament said it was not Dudley’s alone, but the Parliament’s and council’s too. It was very Protestant, but not as strong as the one that will appear in 1552 (see below).
  62. Lord Clinton became the Admiral, and at Deptford he put on a mock battle for the boy-king in June 1550. Edward loved it and wrote about it in his Chronicle.
  63. Life was good for Edward at court. He offered all sorts of rich gifts to those who performed a valuable service. Someone who brought hawks got £30, which works out to £6,000 in today’s currency. Dutch scholar Hadrianus Junius got £30 for presenting his written works to the scholar-king. Others got lesser amounts, but the generosity looked good for the future of his reign.
  64. At the age of thirteen, negotiations for marriage opened up. First was Princess Elizabeth, the six-year-old daughter of King Henri II of France. She was to bring 12,000 marks per year and a dowry of 800,000 French crowns—huge.
  65. A massive French embassy came to England, hundreds of horsemen.
  66. By negotiations, it was brought down to 200,000. Henri would be made knight of the garter, while Edward would be admitted into the corresponding elite Order of St. Michael. He was vested with the order on 15 July. Earlier Henri was invested with the English Order by proxy.
  67. The French ambassador St. Andre visited the king and spent private time with him. Edward wrote in his Chronicle: “He came to see mine arraying [dressing] and saw my bedchamber and went a-hunting with hounds and saw me shoot and saw all my guard shoot together. He dined with me, heard me play the lute, ride, came to me in my study, supped with me, and so departed to Richmond” (qtd in Alford 69).
  68. In 1552 Cranmer and introduced the Common Prayer Book and in 1553 the Forty-Two Articles, which codified Reformation doctrine. The articles affirmed justification by faith alone (Art. XI or 11) and predestination unto life (Art. XVII or 17).
  69. The Forty-Two Articles were never ratified by parliament, but they served as a foundation to the thirty-nine articles under Elizabeth.
  70. However, in Feb 1553 the king caught a feverish cold. He developed a nagging cough.
  71. But, as noted, on May 17 he was able to receive the French ambassador, who found the king weak and still troubled by a cough.
  72. He did a surprising thing. His father’s will said that if Mary or Elizabeth have no issue, then the descendants of Henry’s sister Mary should be monarch, in this case Lady Jane Grey. He wrote up a legal “Device” of dubious authority that skipped over Mary and Elizabeth and went to Jane Grey.
  73. Why? He was manipulated by John Dudley had arranged to get his son Lord Guildford Dudley married to Lady Jane. Or maybe Edward was prejudiced against his two sisters who had been declared bastards and legitimate in turns. Elizabeth was more Protestant than Catholic, but not firm. Better a firmly Protestant cousin (Jane) than a Catholic half-sister. In other words, Edward did not need to be manipulated by Dudley. Yet it is true that the Dudleys would see advancement too.
  74. Twelve times Edward wrote in his Device “heirs male.” Yet the Grey daughters did not have sons, and Mary and Elizabeth might have them. So why exclude them? As noted, they were tainted with illegitimacy.
  75. Also, Charles, the Duke of Suffolk, Jane’s grandfather, helped baptize Edward in 1537.
  76. Edward changed the wording from “to the Lady Jane’s heirs males” to “the Lady Jane and her heirs male.” So this new wording included Jane in the succession. But should she reign as queen?
  77. Rumors that Edward was dying filled London. One man had his ear nailed to the pillory, and two women were punished outside Whitehall Palace. They wore placards that read: “For most false and untrue reports touching the king’s majesty’s life.” (No word of an apology or restitutions to them, when he died soon afterwards.)
  78. On June 27 the king showed himself at a window, but the crowd saw him so wasted that they could not cheer.
  79. He died 6 July 1553, at Greenwich Palace in his private bedchamber, in the company of his most intimate courtiers and servants and medical doctors Owen and Wendy.
  80. His last words were reportedly these: “I am faint; Lord, have mercy on me, and take my spirit” (qtd. in Alford 81).
  81. Expanded last words he whispered to two chief gentlemen of the privy chamber, his groom and physicians: “Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life, and take me among thy chosen … O Lord God, save thy chosen people of England! O my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry and maintain thy true religion” (qtd. in Borman 243). The shorter version is probably the right one.
  82. Of Edward’s death historian Stephen Alford writes: “For Edward it was a horrible final illness. On 24 June he could barely breathe. His body was covered in scabs and his nails and hair were falling out. Whatever disease killed him attacked his lungs, taking hold of a young man whose immune system had probably been damaged by smallpox in April 1552. Tuberculosis, bronchopneumonia leading to pleural empymia, a suppurating pulmonary infection leading to generalized septicemia with renal failure: all of these diagnoses, variously suggested by modern doctors and historians, are plausible from the few observations that survive of the symptoms of Edward’s disease” (81).
  83. Political chaos did not permit Edward’s body to be soon buried, but it lay in state for a whole month. The funeral happened in Whitehall Palace. His coffin was placed on a wood structure was covered in black velvet.
  84. Queen Mary—or soon to be officially crowned—had to decide what kind of religious ceremony should be held for Edward’s burial. She could not have him buried like a dog (the Protestant way). She compromised and said he could be buried according to the religion he favored, but just to be safe, she ordered a Latin mass for the dead the night before his funeral and a solemn requiem for a few days afterwards
  85. When the progress to burial happened, Jane Grey’s government had collapsed. Now Edward’s courtier who walked or rode next to the coffin must have felt despair. On the coffin rested an effigy of the king with a gold crown and a great collar and a scepter in his hand, garter around his leg, and a gold embroidered coat.
  86. The old officers of Edward’s household broke their staffs and threw them into the vault, where Edward’s coffin was placed. This showed their service to him was over.
  87. Jane Grey ruled only nine days, Queen of Nine Days before being dethroned and later executed.
  88. It was time for Mary to restore Catholicism to England.
  89. Soon after she was crowned, what happened to some prominent servants and educators—to the Archbishop of Canterbury? John Cheke was hounded and humiliated, forced to recant his Protestantism and exiled. Bishop Hugh Latimer, a popular preacher, who preached even before Edward, attended Edward’s funeral, but he was later burned at the stake. Thomas Cranmer did not flee into exile, and he was compelled to recant his Protestantism. Then on a platform, just before his death, he recanted his recantations. He was dragged to a ditch and burned at the stake.
  90. But the data points are for the post: Mary I.

ARTICLES IN THE TUDORS SERIES

Henry VII

Henry VIII, Part 1: Divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII, Part 2: Marriages after His Divorce

Henry VIII, Part 3: Reformation and National Policies

Henry VIII, Part 4: International Policies

Henry VIII, Part 5: Personal Life, Death and Conclusions

Edward VI, the Boy King

Jane Grey, Queen of Nine Days

Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen

Elizabeth, Part 1: The Early Years

Elizabeth, Part 2: Sibling Rivalry with Queen Mary

Elizabeth I, Part 3: The Coronation

Elizabeth I, Part 4: Mary Queen of Scots

Elizabeth I, Part 5: Reformation and International Policies

Elizabeth I, Part 6: Personal Life

Elizabeth I, Part 7: Her Male Favorites

Elizabeth I, Part 8: Summary and Passing

RELATED

Glossary of Medieval Terms, A to J

Glossary of Medieval Terms K to Z

Outline of the Renaissance and Reformation

Timeline of the Renaissance and Reformation

Outline of the Early Modern World

Timeline of the Early Modern World

SOURCES

Peter Ackroyd, Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I (New York: Thomas Dunne / St. Martin’s, 2012).

Stephen Alford, Edward VI: The Last Boy King, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014).

Tracy Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secret’s of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty (New York: Grover P, 2016).

Gerald Bray, ed. Documents of the English Reformation, (Fortress, 1994)

Helen Castor, She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth (Harper Collins, 2011).

S.. B. Chrimes, Henry VII, new edition, Yale Monarch Series (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

J.. D. Douglas, “Elizabethan Settlement (1559,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

John Edwards, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (New Haven, Yale UP, 2011).

—, Mary I: The Daughter of Time, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2016).

John Guy, Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014).

Judith John, A Dark History: Tudors: Murder, Adultery, Incest, Witchcraft, Wars, Religious Persecution, Piracy (Metro, 2014).

Jennifer Loach, Edward VI, edited by George Bernard and Penry Williams, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999).

David Loades, Elizabeth I (New York: Hambledon, 2006).

—, ed. Chronicles of the Tudor Kings (Penguin Viking 1990).

G.. J. Meyer, The Tudors: The Most Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty (Bantam, 2011).

P.. W. Petty, “Elizabeth I (1533-1603),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

J.. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII, new edition, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1997).

Ian Sellers, “Uniformity, Acts of,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (New York: Harper Collins, 2001 [in England in 2000]).

John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James, Church History from Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: the Rise and the Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual and Political Context, vol. 2, (Zondervan, 2013).

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