Saturday 21 August 2021

Goodbye and thank you

Dear all,

As it's been four years since I last contributed to this blog, this might be a service preached over a filled-in grave, but I wanted to say that Confessions of a Ci-Devant can be considered closed. Good Lord, I hate the name so much. It's like the email you pick for yourself in high school that you're stuck with, and as grateful as I am for the support, criticism, and encouragement over the years, I still do not understand why I picked such a ridiculous title. Sometimes, when you're starting out, you try to over-egg the pudding, but anyway, there's no point in complaining in retrospect.  ... I hate it so much.

Part of the decision is pragmatic; there isn't time to do proper posts or articles anymore. A bigger reason, though, is that it feels like it's time to properly close a certain chapter. The truth, of course, is that our views shift as we research and as we grow up. I look back on some earlier posts and I think they were unduly harsh, or unwarrantedly sympathetic. 23-year-old me wouldn't believe I'm saying this, but one of the figures I've changed my mind most about is Queen Jane Seymour of England who, until a few years ago, I always assumed was a crashing bore. History is an ongoing process and this blog was with me while I was doing my masters on the royal household. It encouraged me to research and to think. Piece by piece, our views evolve. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este ranks with another figure who was so different to what I'd always been told. 

 This blog - as much as I would debate some of my earlier conclusions in it - kept me writing about history at a really difficult time in my life. I had graduated; I had decided to pursue writing, during which I was doing jobs I often hated to do so. Being able to write about history in that time was invaluable and, as much as I do not look back on that time in my life with complete fondness, I do look back on this blog with a deep well of gratitude. Perhaps more specifically, I think that of those who read it, commented on it, critiqued it, liked it, and disliked it. Thank you to everyone. 

 Take care, 


Wednesday 1 November 2017

Adrienne Dillard reviews a new biography of Charles I

Leanda de Lisle's first book, After Elizabeth, was a fascinating account of the dying days of the Tudor dynasty and the subsequent transfer of power to the Scottish ruling house. Now, after best-selling accounts of the Grey and Tudor families, de Lisle has returned to the Stuarts, with a biography of King Charles I, the autocratic monarch whose reign ended in civil war, his execution, and the temporary abolition of the British monarchy. With new research from previously unused private documents and a focus on Charles's marriage to the unpopular French princess, Henrietta Maria, this biography is already garnering interest and applause amongst fans of royal and political biographies. 

The White King is released today in the United States and it is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Its British release date is on 11th January. I am delighted to host this review of The White King by American novelist Adrienne Dillard, who is the author of two novels set at the Tudor court - Cor Rotto, inspired by the life of Elizabeth I's cousin, Katherine Carey, and The Raven's Widow, based on the life of Catherine Howard's confidante Jane, Lady Rochford. 

The Martyr King: Adrienne Dillard's review of Leanda de Lisle's "The White King"

As a Tudor historian, it is nearly impossible to review works set during the time period without seeing the content through the jaundiced lens of your own biases.  More often than not, there is room for multiple interpretations of the documented evidence, but it can be hard to overcome the instinctual gut-reaction humans experience when faced with an opinion that differs from one they wholeheartedly embrace about historical figures they have come to cherish.  That uncomfortableness is invaluable when we seek academic growth, but it makes reading for pleasure a challenge.  Thankfully, I had few preconceived notions about England’s first Caroline king, and when I was offered the opportunity to review the latest take on his life, I leapt at the chance.  Few things can compare to the joy I feel when introduced to a new historical subject and this beautifully crafted biography did not disappoint.

The subtitle of Leanda De Lisle’s The White King calls the monarch a traitor, murderer, and martyr, but upon completion of the book, I have come away with the impression that the only fitting descriptor used is martyr.  The other titles seem far too subjective for this oft-misunderstood king.

Though Charles’ reign came many years after the death of the ginger-haired tyrant at the head of the Tudor court, the spectre of Henry VIII looms large throughout this biography.  His reign and personality are held against those of Charles I to show how vastly different they were and just how much the world had changed in the intervening years.  The charges of tyranny lodged against the latter monarch pale in comparison to the actual tyranny perpetrated by Henry VIII and his children, yet none of their reigns ended with the humiliation of the scaffold, as Charles’ did.  Even more striking are the parallels De Lisle makes with our current political climate – where “populism meets religious justifications for violence” and “the rise of demagogues, who whip up mobs by feeding off ethnic and religious hatreds.”

De Lisle brings the figures surrounding Charles I to life with the strident confidence that accompanies the historian who fully understand their subject.  All of their graces and foibles are fully explored; their ever-changing allegiances reported without a hint of sentimentality.  If their motivations are not revealed in the primary sources, they are left unexplained here, preserving the jarring atmosphere Charles must have felt during his reign.  Even the most historically savvy reader is never quite certain where loyalties lie or how often the tides will turn.  In the hands of a less experienced historian these twists would be rendered into a confusing mess, but De Lisle deftly navigates the murky waters with expert precision.

My favorite part of The White King was the focus on Robert and Henry Rich and their cousin, Lady Lucy Carlisle. Having spent the better part of the last decade researching Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys, it was refreshing to see the role her descendants played during this tumultuous time in English history. The fealty they showed their monarch was far from the devotional loyalty Lady Knollys was known for in her lifetime, but the Puritan proclivities of their great-grandfather, Francis, remained un-diluted. I often found myself wondering what their grandmother, Lettice, would have thought of their intrigues. Lady Carlisle appears the most like her ancestor. Like Lettice, she even bore an uncanny resemblance to the queen she served.

I thoroughly enjoyed De Lisle’s inclusion of the correspondence between the king and his wife, Henrietta Maria, recently unearthed from the Belvoir archives.  Through their words, the unjust depictions of the queen fall apart at the seams, and Henrietta Maria is finally given the recognition she deserves.  The emphasis on Charles family life is most touching here.  The love and devotion they showed to him speaks volumes about his character.

A well-written and impeccably researched biography, The White King seeks not to revise the history of England’s Civil Wars, but uncover the truth hidden beneath the grime of centuries of propaganda and myth.

Friday 22 September 2017

"Something Like Summer": Movie review

In 2011, American author Jay Bell released the first novel in what subsequently became a self-published phenomenon, winning fans across the world. Something Like Summer, covering twelve years in the life of Texan high school student Benjamin Bentley, has to date spawned seven sequels and two collections of short stories. (An eighth and final instalment is due later this year.) The latter five novels cover other characters who emerged in the course of Bell’s narrative, while the first three books in the Something Like series focus on Benjamin and the two men in his life – his high school sweetheart, Tim Wyman, and his adult boyfriend, Jace Holden – with Benjamin dodging making a decision like it’s his national sport.

This love triangle resulted in a Twilight-esque division of Team Jace versus Team Tim among book readers, with the notable exception of Jay Bell himself, who has maintained an admirable neutrality in the ensuing Twitter fracas. At this point, for full disclosure, it is incumbent upon me to confess that I chose a team faster than anyone since Marie-Antoinette was asked which side she was rooting for during the French Revolution. Picking Jace is, for me, the kind of spiritual seppuku comparable to saying you’d actually want to be sorted into Hufflepuff. Even as Tim (Ravenclaw, with the occasional errant Slytherin oopsy) merrily tobogganed down the morality slopes in his pursuit to win Benjamin, I continued to cheer him on.

Page-bound civil wars aside, Something Like Summer has now been turned into a movie, adapted by one of its producers, Carlos Pedraza, and currently gathering momentum and garnering applause on the festival circuit in the US. Last week, I had the joy of attending its New England premier at the gorgeous Hanover Theatre in Worcester, Massachusetts. 

One of the great strengths of Bell’s writing is his ability to convey both what we intend through the minutiae of our mannerisms and how that can be misinterpreted. This is particularly obvious in a game of comparisons between Something Like Summer and Something Like Winter, which respectively cover some of the same events from Benjamin’s point of view and Tim’s. Capturing those nuances and the twists within turns of a decade-long love affair were always going to be easier on page than screen. So, it says much for Pedraza’s acumen that he uses musical bridges to convey some of the long-term developments, while also retaining the most memorable moments from the book. (One scene, in which Tim watches Benjamin perform on stage, was like being hit in the gut by the pain all-but bleeding out of Tim’s eyes.) To slim-line the narrative, Pedraza also merges several characters and alters others. In the books, Tim’s girlfriend Krista (played here by Madisyn Lane) is a bob-cut-sporting blonde with the charisma of a cactus. Simpering and irredeemably stupid, Krista is firmly under the thumb of the school’s queen bee and resident fascist with a flip-phone, Stacey Shelley. (Who I thoroughly enjoyed, but that's probably something to bring up with a therapist.) In the movie, Stacey is missing and some of her cutting cruelty is given to Krista. It works, as does the rolling of three characters into the form of the broken yet cruel Bryce (Tristan Decker).

Tim (Davi Santos), Krista (Madisyn Lane) and Bryce (Tristan Decker)

Something also has to be said, in general, for this movie’s casting. Bell’s stories, and his fans, pay a great deal of attention to the physical appearance of the characters. And, here, the three principals are eerily similar to their descriptions in the book. Newcomer Grant Davis as Benjamin nailed the aesthetic, presence, and mannerisms of the lead, particularly in the first half of the movie and it was admirably clear that he had made full use of Bell’s canon in his research. For me personally, some of the later scenes – particularly one in the hospital – perhaps lacked the full emotional punch they had in the books, but you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sleeve-grabbing of a magnificent Ben Baur as Jace. I know, I know. I’m aware Team Jace will land on me for implying elsewhere that their hero is the personality equivalent of an Advil PM, but even I have to bend the knee to Baur’s superb performance. For one brief and all-too-horrible moment, I wobbled in my entrenched views on Jace the Sky High Snoozefest - and that is a tribute to Baur’s thoughtful, elegant presence.

The supporting cast are generally a treat – Will Shepherd has a great cameo as a student teacher, and Jana Lee Hamblin, Riley Stewart, and Ron Boyd are great as Benjamin’s on-screen family. Pride of place has to go to Ajiona Alexus (right) as his best friend, Allison. Alexus, who has appeared in Empire and as Sheri Holland in the Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why, captures all of Allison’s ferocious intelligence and tenacious loyalty. Allison’s Khaleesi-is-coming-to-Westeros approach to solving Benjamin’s problems was a personal favourite trait of any character in the book and Alexus captures them exquisitely.

At the premier, I met producer Carlos Pedraza and actor Davi Santos, who plays Tim. I felt the need to point this out as a pre-emptive mea culpa because I am so inherently British that even if Santos had displayed the acting ability of a petri dish and Pedraza went rogue at the Q&A by setting fire to the screen and head-butting an audience member, I would have been so shackled to compulsive manners that at the after-party I would simply have smiled politely and thanked them for a wonderful evening. Mercifully, no such subterfuge was required. As you may have deduced from the subtle hints I have peppered throughout this article like a mine-laying U-boat, I prefer Tim to Jace. As Tim, Santos delivers a truly knock-out performance. It looks effortless and that's no small task, given that many of Tim’s actions are, to put it mildly, questionable. At the Q&A afterwards, Santos explained his character as someone who is “a person totally and completely in love” and that’s what drives him. There’s a moment where Tim’s hand reaches up to Benjamin’s shoulder; between them, it is worth more than a monologue.

With its bright, pop dream-coloured cinematography, tight script, beautiful performances and lovely music, Something Like Summer is a wonderful love story and a joyful movie that I will return to again and again. It also drew tears from my friend Ashley, the Lady Stoneheart or Allison Cross of the circle.

Friday 21 April 2017

My new book: a biography of Queen Catherine Howard

As readers of this blog will know, for the last few years I have been working on a biography of Henry VIII's fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard. I am so very happy that 2017 is the year of its publication, with Simon & Schuster publishing Young and Damned and Fair in its US and Canadian edition, and HarperCollins publishing it for the UK and most of the Commonwealth. Young and Damned and Fair is also available in audio book, narrated by the wonderful Jenny Funnell.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank any readers of Confessions of a Ci-Devant who took the time to encourage me to write a full-length biography of a Tudor queen. It was a thrillingly exhausting process and I left Catherine's company with reluctance, after so long spent studying the story of her life.

More information is below, with links to the different editions.

Young and Damned and Fair by Gareth Russell

About the book
Written with an exciting combination of narrative flair and historical authority, this interpretation of the tragic life of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, breaks new ground in our understanding of the very young woman who became queen at a time of unprecedented social and political tension and whose terrible errors in judgment quickly led her to the executioner’s block. 
Including a forgotten text of Catherine’s confession in her own words, color illustrations, family tree, map, and extensive notes, Young and Damned and Fair changes our understanding of one of history’s most famous women while telling the compelling and very human story of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous age.

Praise for Young and Damned and Fair

“If you’re going to take these sorts of risks, you need some serious historical heft. This Russell has, and in abundance. To the vivid phrasing of a novelist, he adds a forensic eye for fact and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the personalities of the late Henrician court … Russell is a formidable new talent from whom big things can be expected”. – Sarah Gristwood, author of Game of Queens: The Women who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe, in BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE

“Scholarly yet highly readable...fresh and compelling...a stunning achievement...Catherine is given a makeover so complete that she is virtually unrecognizeable from the hopelessly naive girl of traditional history books.” – Tracy Borman, author of Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII's most faithful servant, in THE SUNDAY TIMES

“Bold...assured...A novelist turned historian, he veers with laudable theatricality between the claustrophobic and the panoramic, from intimate, febrile exchanges in noble and royal households to the public spectacle of courtly high diplomacy...Let us hope he fixes his sharp eye on the further, more opaque past--here is a historian unafraid of the dark, whether of depravity or documentation.” – Minoo Dinshaw, author of Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman, in THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

“Russell expertly tells a tale of jewels and dancing and thrilling trysts that sees Catherine move dizzily towards the block.” – Jessie Childs, author of Henry VIII's Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, in LITERARY REVIEW 

“Russell's is an excellent account, putting the oft-ignored Catherine in her proper historical context....he is a scrupulous historian.” – THE DAILY MAIL

“Russell's portrait effectively underscores the machinations of this volatile court, the treachery of sycophants, and the importance of the all-seeing servants. Dense with material and flavor of the epoch.” – KIRKUS REVIEWS

“The tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth queen has been covered before but never quite like this. Young and Damned and Fair digs deep into dark and twisted underworld of Tudor nobility” - HISTORY OF ROYALS magazine

“Highly readable and peppered with engrossing stories, this book is also fascinating for its details about what was considered sexually moral in 16-century England. Biography lovers and those intrigued by the lives of the royals will welcome this tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth wife.” – LIBRARY JOURNAL

"Best Historical Biography Ever ... 
I can't recall loving a non-fictional book so much. The attention to detail, combined with Gareth Russell's exquisite writing, make this biography the dream for history buffs, and an excellent start for people who don't usually give a chance to this genre. Absolutely loved it!" - Waterstones Bookseller Review

"This fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking account of Henry VIII's doomed fifth wife brings to life the cruel, gossip-fueled, backstabbing world of the court in which Catherine Howard rose and fell. The uncommonly talented Gareth Russell has produced a masterly work of Tudor history that is engrossing, sympathetic, suspenseful, and illuminating." - Charlotte Gordon, author of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

“Young and Damned and Fair is a gripping account of a young woman’s future destroyed by forces beyond her control. Gareth Russell moves effortlessly between Catherine Howard's private, inner world and the public life of the Henrician court, providing an unparalleled view into this tragic chapter of Tudor history. This is an important and timely book.” - Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
“Securely rooted in the sources and mercifully devoid of sentiment, this is the most fully rounded, best written biography of Catherine Howard we have so far.” – Julia Fox, author of Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford

“In Young and Damned and Fair Gareth Russell marries slick storytelling with a great wealth of learning about sixteenth-century personalities and politics. The result is a book that leads us deep into the nightmarish final years of Henry VIII’s reign, wrenching open the intrigues of a poisonous court in a realm seething with discontent. At the heart of it all is the fragile, tragic figure of Catherine Howard, whose awful fate is almost unbearable to watch as it unfolds. This is authoritative Tudor history written with a novelist’s lightness of touch. A terrific achievement.” – Dan Jones, author of The Plantagenets and The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors

“This is a timely and powerful re-examination of Henry's fifth queen … The author has done some beautiful new research to indicate that Catherine was not as foolish as some historians have suggested, and that her death was managed and manipulated by her offended husband, purely for his own revenge. It's particularly strong on the detail of Catherine’s short reign and the reaction of those who tried to defend her. I love it when historians take the women who have been neglected by history seriously and study their lives rather than accepting stereotypes.” – Philippa Gregory, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A magnificent account of the rise and fall of Henry VIII's tragic fifth queen - compelling, thought-provoking and above all real. In Russell’s meticulously researched narrative Catherine Howard and her household are brought to life as never before.” – Adrian Tinniswood, author of The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars

“This is now my go-to book on Catherine Howard.” – Claire Ridgway, author of The Fall of Anne Boleyn

“Russell breathes new life into the Tudor world as we know it and I found myself eagerly devouring every delectable morsel, only becoming aware at the end of the page that I had just learned at least five new things without even realizing it. Russell's take on Henry VIII's fifth queen is nothing short of brilliant.” – Adrienne Dillard, author of The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn

“Like Eric Ives with Anne Boleyn, Anne Somerset with Elizabeth I and Antonia Fraser on Marie Antoinette, Gareth Russell has written the definitive book on Catherine Howard and deserves to be seen as the authority on this subject.” – James Peacock, President of The Anne Boleyn Society

“A tremendous read … This book is also about human judgement, about fecklessness, about cruelty, about luck, and about a destructive love affair. Gareth Russell's elegant prose has an effortless touch.” - Dominic Pearce, author of Henrietta Maria

"This book deserves to be seen as the bible on Catherine Howard and her life. It is superbly well researched and excellently written." - Samantha Morris, author of Cesare Borgia

Young and Damned and Fair is everything a historical biography should be. Highly recommended.” – Kathryn Warner, author of Edward II: The Unconventional King


Young and Damned and Fair is available through most independent bookstores. It is also stocked in the US by Barnes & Noble and Amazon. And in the UK, by chain bookstores, like Waterstones, and online, by Amazon UK.

You can also find the audio book version here (for UK listeners) and here (for US).

Thursday 8 December 2016

"The Shadow of the Cross" by Dmitry Yakhovsky

I am delighted to host new author Dmitry Yakhovsky on his book tour to promote his debut book, The Shadow of the Cross: Imprisonment. Along with penning the novel, Dmitry is also a very talented artist and I will premiering a piece of art that Dmitry thoughtfully created especially for Confessions of a Ci-Devant, this weekend. That second post will also offer a reader a chance to win a copy of Dmitry's book.

About the Author

Dmitry Yakhovsky is an extremely talented artist who has been working with MadeGlobal Publishing to create some of our stunning cover artwork. However, he has now taken the step to publish his graphic novel with MadeGlobal, and this is only the start of a very exciting future…

He is studying for an art degree in Belarus, and has an insatiable need to draw everything he sees. His graphic novel series The Shadow of the Cross is stunning to look at. Through his artwork he brings situations and stories to life.

About The Shadow of the Cross: Part One, Imprisonment
– 1243, near Carcassonne, France –
Shrouded in darkness is the history of a time of terror. A time when people lived in fear, were divided, conquered and enslaved. The state was the church, and the church was the law; when justice was the tool of the self-seeking, and when imprisonment and poverty weren’t enough to satisfy the enemy’s appetites…
Featuring the stunning artwork of Dmitry Yakhovsky, this debut graphic novel is a bold undertaking. The novel is a complex and visually inspiring epic based in history, and will thrill with its masterful depth of imagery. 
The Shadow of the Cross: Imprisonment

You can follow the rest of Dmitry's tour on other blogs!

Saturday 19 November 2016

Kyra Kramer discusses Tudor England's "boy king"

As part of MadeGlobal's series of book tours, I have the pleasure of hosting a stop and guest post from medical anthropologist and author, Kyra Kramer. Her first book, Blood Will Tell, examined the torturous health of an ailing Henry VIII. Now, as part of Made Global's In a Nutshell series, Kramer has a new theory about the Tudor dynasty's medical issues, which she explores in her book on Henry VIII's legitimate son and heir, Edward VI, who died at the age of fifteen in 1553. A devout, even zealous, Protestant, Edward VI was eulogised as a lost and godly innocent by subsequent generations of his co-religionists, but in her book, Kyra Kramer not only offers an introduction to those interested in Edward's life and reign, but tries to answer why "that noble imp" died at such a young age.

In this guest post from Kyra, she argues that despite his youth, Edward was a precocious and involved sovereign. 

There's also a giveaway for a reader, with a chance to win a copy of Kyra's new book, after her guest article.

About the Author

Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an author and researcher with undergraduate degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a masters degree in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. Her work is published in several peer-reviewed journals, including The Historical JournalStudies in Gothic Fiction, and Journal of Popular Romance Studies and she regularly writes for The Tudor Society. Her books include Blood Will Tell: A medical explanation for the tyranny of Henry VIIIThe Jezebel Effect: Why the slut shaming of famous queens still mattersHenry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell and Edward VI in a Nutshell.

Edward VI: A True KingBy Kyra Kramer

Most people assume that King Edward VI, who inherited his crown at age nine and died before he was sixteen, spent his reign as a puppet dancing on strings pulled by powerful dukes. Most people are wrong about that. In my latest book, Edward VI in a Nutshell, I explain how the young king had learned early that he could be used by power-hungry adults, and show the evidence which demonstrates his mastery of his privy councilors by the time he reached his teens:

Edward’s journal, letters, and participation in government paint an undeniable picture of a monarch who was completely aware of the intricacies of ruling and his responsibilities as sovereign. When he felt his councillors weren’t taking his orders seriously, he rebuked them sharply; When someone on the Privy Council failed to rubber-stamp one of Edward’s letters, he “marveled” angrily that anyone would “refuse to signe that bill, or deliver that letter, that I had willed any one about me to write … it should be a great impediment for me to send to al my councell, and I shuld seme to be in bondage” (Nichols, 1857:347-348). Moreover, letters written to Edward from Northumberland and other councilmen are couched in the terms of fulfilling the king’s will, making it clear that Edward had the last word on the matter. Edward was blessed with the same implacable commitment to his sovereign rights as any monarch, Tudor or otherwise, who had come before him.

One the first areas in which Edward started exerting his control was in regards to his eldest sister, Mary:

On 9 August 1551, the king and his council met, where it was resolved that they do something about the recalcitrant former princess allowing her entire household to heat mass against Edward’s dictates and wishes. Ergo, three of Mary’s most important household officers – Sir Robert Rochester, Sir Francis Englefield, and Sir Edward Waldegrave – were arrested and summoned before the council … the three men were incarcerated in the Tower on 23 August. A few days later, on 28 August, Mary received a formal visit from lord chancellor Richard Rich, vice-chamberlain Sir Anthony Wingfield, and secretary of state William Petre. They were there to place Wingfield in Copped Hall as her new comptroller, and to let her know in no uncertain terms that her chaplains were absolutely forbidden to say mass for anyone but herself.

When they appeared before her, they began by going fully into the “dissatisfaction and resentment felt by their master when he saw how firm and pertinacious she remained in the religion that she had observed up to the present. They assured her that the natural affection felt for her by the king had moved him to long-suffering, hoping that one day divine inspiration would show her the better course. Now, however, the prick of conscience and solicitude for his kingdom's welfare, which depended upon implicit obedience of all his subjects, none excepted, to the laws and statutes of the realm, forbade him to put up with her behaviour any longer. Though she had given him so many reasons for ceasing to love her, the king still desired to show her all possible kindness; and with this they brought out all the exhortations and persuasions they could think of to induce her to adopt the religion and ceremonies of England … the king would no longer permit her, or any member of her household, to observe the old religion but that he wished the decrees and laws of the realm to be obeyed inviolably and without exception of persons” (CPS Spain, 12 September 1551).

When she was shown letters from the king commanding her to submit to the law of the realm like every other subject, she “excused herself from making any reply … on account of her indisposition” (CPS Spain, 12 September 1551). She insisted she was of delicate health and that they were literally killing her with their cruelty, saying “if I shall chance to die, I will protest openly that you of the Council to be the causes of my death”.

Mary quickly reported her dilemma to the imperial ambassador, Scheyfve, in the hopes he could sway the king or privy council. He went before the privy council and pleaded with them, and reported that, “they had listened attentively to my words, the Earl of Warwick spoke, and said that my proposal was so important that they must report it to the King and consult his Majesty; and to this he limited himself. I rejoined that my lords were sufficiently informed of the King's intentions, and it was not necessary to consult him further. The Earl replied that the King was now so old that he wished to concern himself with all the public affairs of the kingdom; and at this they rose to go to his Majesty” (CPS Spain, 12 September 1551).

Scheyfve tried using flattery to convince the councillors that they, not the king, were the ones in charge of the kingdom and they could let Mary have her mass without having to bother Edward with this little trifle. At this, the “Marquis of Northampton then retorted that I had requested them to allow the Princess to remain in the old religion until the King came of age, and it appeared from my words that I considered he had already done so. The Earl interrupted here and said he held the King to be as much of age as if he were forty” (CPS Spain, 12 September 1551).

When Scheyfve finally met the king in person to discuss the matter, Edward was “unmoved by any suggestion that letting Mary have mass in her household would make the Emperor Charles V very happy. The emperor could deal with his disappointment. Scheyfve also tried to get Mary’s comptroller and officers released from the Tower, on the excuse that they were simply being imprisoned to hurt Mary, but the ambassador got the same negative results from the king. Edward let it be known that far from being unfair or cruel to Mary by taking away her loyal servants, he “had done nothing but according to a king’s office herein, in observing the laws that were so godly and in punishing the offenders” (Pollnitz, 2015:185). The king remained firm and, as she had done for their father, Mary eventually capitulated.

Edward’s journals made it clear that the king was appalled by the lack of law and order in his kingdom, and was determined to do something to remedy this. Thus, the king crafted an eight-point plan to fix his realm. He wrote:

“Thies sores must be curid with these medecins or plastres: 1. Good education; 2. Devising of good lawes; 3. Executing the lawes justly, without respect of persons; 4. Example of rulers; 5. Punishing of vagaboundis and idel persons; 6. Encouraging the good; 7. Ordering wel the customers; 8. Engendering friendship in al the parts of the commonwealth.”
Edward’s eight-point plan was a splendid idea, based in the hopeful idealism of youth, but with an obvious and present grasp of the realities of kingship and statecraft. Warwick was right; Edward was as much of an age as if he were forty.
The young king was also greatly concerned with the English currency, which had been watered down and debased by his royal father to the point where it was worth only a fraction of what it had been a decade ago before …  Edward educated himself regarding the matter and had a better awareness of the economic influence of the coinage than most of his councillors. What was needed was to align pre-existing money with the value of its precious metal content and to mint new, more trustworthy coins. Edward understood both why this was necessary, and how it could be used for to the crown’s advantage. On 10 April 1551, the king wrote in his journal that “it was appointed to make twenty thousand pound weight for necessity somewhat baser, [in order] to get gains [of] £160,000 clear, by which the debt of the realm might be paid, the country defended from any sudden attempt, and the coin amended”. What this meant was that Edward knew the cost of coin production was defrayed by the relative worth of the coinage minted, and his plans “were both logical and correct … historians should see them as yet another proof of his penetrating grasp of the intricate policies with which his government wrestled”. King Edward, as intelligent as Henry VIII and as savvy as Henry VII, was no ordinary thirteen- year- old boy.
Edward was more of a responsible adult at the age of fifteen than his father had been at fifty, and was also more of a forward long-term thinker. The young king had given due thought of how to improve English trade, and thus English revenue. The king became determined to make London a great “mart”, a centre of commerce to rival Antwerp. He noted that: “The Fleminges have allured men to make a mart there … having but very little commodites. Much easier shal we do it, having clothe, tinne, seacole, lead, belmetal, and such other commodites, such as few realmes christian have the like … First, our marchauntes ar to be staid from a mart … Then proclamation myst be made in divers places of the realme where merchauntes resort, that their shal be a free mart kept at Southampton, with theis liberties and costoms … If this prove wel, then may another be made at Hull”.
Although becoming a massive trade centre was a good plan for the future, Edward also wanted to help his subjects in the short-term as well. For this end, the king encouraged Parliament to pass several Acts aimed at alleviating the suffering of the poor.
Finally, King Edward VI and no one else was responsible for naming Lady Jane Grey his heir.
Edward's chosen heiress - the young and tragic Lady Jane Grey
Edward, always perspicacious, knew he was dying by the late spring of 1553. He needed to choose an heir. A devout and committed Protestant, he did not want his half-sister Mary to reign after him … The king wrote, in his own hand, the first draft of what he called “My Devuise for the Succession”, which named Jane Grey as next in line for the throne. The exact date he started this remarkable document is unknown, but it was possible he was working on it as early as February of 1553 and it had certainly been written by April.

It has been common to assume that Jane’s nomination was a ploy by Northumberland to put his son, Jane’s husband Guilford Dudley, on the throne, but there is no evidence that Northumberland had anything to do with it, let alone having been the one to convince Edward to choose Jane. Jane and Guilford were probably not even engaged to each other at the time; that seems to have occurred after Edward had the idea of naming Jane as his heir. Just as the devuise was Edward’s baby, the decision to wed Jane to Northumberland’s son appears to have been the king’s brainchild as well. Northumberland was the man Edward thought would be the best person to assist Jane in keeping England on the path to pure Protestantism, and Edward wanted Northumberland to be the queen’s father-in-law … 
In the last week in May of 1553, Lady Jane Grey married Lord Guilford Dudley. The king had previously sent the bride “presents of rich ornaments and jewels” to convey his blessing on the match. With his cousin married to Guilford Dudley, Edward’s next step was to make his deuise as legally watertight as possible, which he endeavored to do throughout June of 1553. The young king was badly ailing and in a lot of pain, but his first and foremost concern was making sure Mary did not succeed the throne after him. He summoned more than a dozen of the country’s leading lawyers to draft the best version of his deuise possible.
What it boiled down to was whether or not Edward could make a will that supplanted that of his late father’s. To be succinct, yes he could. Edward VI was old enough to name his successor. He was the king and no longer a child. During Edward’s lifetime the church considered childhood to end at six and you could assume adult responsibilities as young as twelve years old.   While the ‘official’ age of majority to write a will in the sixteenth century was twenty-one, the concept of legal adulthood was a bit different for kings. Henry VIII was only seventeen when he became king and there was no attempt to assign him a regent; he was old enough to make adult decisions. Likewise, it was Edward’s decision as to who should rule after him. It did not matter that Mary had been reinstated in Henry VIII’s will because Henry VIII’s will did not matter so much as a gnat’s tiny poo after Edward was a de facto adult with the ability to rationally choose an heir.
One of the lawyers, Edward Montagu, would later try to keep his head on his shoulders by telling the newly crowned Mary I that the lawyers didn’t want to write the document making Jane the queen, what with them being such big fans of Mary and all, but Edward made them do it. According to Montagu, the king used “sharp words an angry countenance” on the balking lawyers and “seeing the king so earnest and sharp” that they had no choice but to write up the document and sign it. Apparently the king’s sharpness was so wickedly sharp that Montagu and all but one of the senior lawyers returned ten days later to sign it again for the benefit of king and privy council.
Edward was deeply committed to Jane’s ascendancy, and was determined to make everyone acquiesce to it. This wasn’t always easy. He had to go above and beyond to get Archbishop Cranmer on board the Queen Jane train. Cranmer was a good friend of Somerset’s and blamed Northumberland for the duke’s death. He was incredibly reluctant to endorse Edward’s deuise and set Northumberland up as father-in-law to the queen. Cranmer was also genuinely troubled by conscience; he had promised to obey Henry VIII’s will and Mary was next in line by the terms of that document. Was it legal or ethical to set the old king’s will aside? First, the privy council talked to Cranmer and assured him that “the king was fully entitled to override his father’s settlement”.
Not quite easy in his mind, the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to talk to his godson about it personally. The king, who had less than three weeks to live, met with Cranmer and promised him face- to- face that “the judges and his learned council said, that the act of entailing the crown, made by his father, could not be prejudicial to him, but that he, being in possession of the crown, might make his will thereof”. Still uncertain, Cranmer begged the king to be allowed to talk to the judges and the attorney general, just to make sure. The king consented, and when Cranmer spoke with them they all confirmed “that he might lawfully subscribe to the king’s will by the laws of the realm”.
King Edward VI had chosen his successor fair and square and in a legally binding manner. The final draft of the document was signed by the king, signed and witnessed by 102 people (including the members of the privy council), and the great seal was applied to it. It was as official as official could ever be. Jane was to be queen. Jane would be the lawful queen. Anyone who disputed that and tried to take the crown from her would be traitors and usurpers.

Rather than being a mere show-king signing off on the decisions of shadowy power players behind the throne, Edward VI was a true king. He was as much a sovereign as any longer-reigning Tudor and his tenure as the crowned head of England deserves more academic study and historical respect that it has been traditionally given. If he would have lived longer, I believe he would have stood out as one of the nation’s greatest kings, and perhaps have even eclipsed the stellar reputation of his sister, Good Queen Bess, as the ultimate Tudor monarch.
About the book
MadeGlobal's History in a Nutshell Series aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and easily accessible way.
Born twenty-seven years into his father's reign, Henry VIII's son, Edward VI, was the answer to a whole country's prayers. Precocious and well-loved, his life should have been idyllic and his own reign long and powerful. Unfortunately for him and for England, that was not to be the case. Crowned King of England at nine years old, Edward was thrust into a world of power players, some who were content to remain behind the throne, and some who would do anything to control it completely. Devoutly Protestant and in possession of an uncanny understanding of his realm, Edward's actions had lasting effects on the religious nature of the kingdom and would surely have triggered even more drastic changes if he hadn't tragically and unexpectedly died at the age of fifteen.
Physicians of the day wrote reams of descriptions of the disease that killed him, but in Edward VI in a Nutshell, medical anthropologist Kyra Kramer (author of Henry VIII's Health in a Nutshell) proposes a new theory of what, exactly, caused his death.
Straightforward and informative, Edward VI in a Nutshell will give readers a better understanding than they've ever had of the life, reign, and death, of England's last child monarch. 
To win a copy of Kyra Kramer's new book, answer the following question in our comment section, leaving your e-mail address. The responses will not be published and the winner will be announced, after a random selection, next Saturday.

Q: What was the name of Edward VI's first stepmother?
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