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 Journal, Studies 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 VIII, The Jezebel Effect: Why the slut shaming of famous queens still matters, Henry 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?
Q: What was the name of Edward VI's first stepmother?