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
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|
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
About the book
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.
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.
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.
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?