King Edward VI (born October 12th 1537; reigned January 1547 till death July 1553)
Born in Hampton Court Palace after a difficult labour which resulted in the death of his mother, Jane Seymour, Edward was everything his father wanted – a legitimate male heir to continue the Tudor line as sovereigns of England and to stave off the intentions of France, Spain and the Pope in Rome. Although his mother must have been ill, she was present at his christening in the Hampton Court chapel on October 15th, where his half-sisters attended, the 4 year old Elizabeth carried by his uncle, Edward Seymour, and Mary as godmother. Mary’s feelings about the baby boy taking her place in the line of succession to the throne must have been well hidden. Three days later Edward was declared Prince of Wales, the traditional title since the time of Edward I for the male heir to the English throne. His mother died October 24th.
Following the customs of the time, despite the fact Henry was delighted to have a legitimate son, Edward was brought up “among the women.” No doubt they were caring women, no doubt they were competent women, but it was not until Edward and his sisters were united in the household of Catherine Parr that he experienced maternal care for the first time, became devoted to Catherine, and called her “Mother.” He alone among Henry’s three legitimate children, potential heirs to the throne, wished her well when she wanted to remarry after Henry’s death.
At the age of six, Edward was switched from the care of women to the care of men and started on his education to become a king. His first tutor, chosen by his father, had the concept, bizarre for the era, that learning should be a pleasure and not at the end of the cane. There was in fact a royal whipping boy, corporal punishment could not be imposed on the heir to the throne. So, Edward did enjoy learning and was a natural scholar, as in fact his father had been, though Henry VIII gets little credit in that in history. Fourteen fortunate and carefully chosen boys of his own age, all with impeccable aristocratic lineage, were his companions in school and play. He was also educated in riding and the martial arts, but it is recorded his books interested him more. The description, “one shoulder higher than the other” suggests a scoliosis, some must have equated this to Richard III’s deformity; although Edward died of tuberculosis it is not probable this would have been the same disease in the spine.
The political issues Edward faced on ascending the throne were based on his father’s separation of England from the pope. Mistakenly it is often supposed Henry VIII was a Protestant – he was not. He founded the Church of England, but continued with the beliefs of the Catholic church and continued to execute those who disagreed. It was Edward VI who developed, doubtless by cautious indoctrination on the part of his tutors, strong Protestant views and created the Protestant aspects of the Church of England.
It was extraordinarily naive of Henry to suppose he could appoint 16 men as effectively co-equal regents of England, and that they would all accept this egalitarian status, “with like and equal charge,” and put the interests of the country ahead of themselves. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t. Edward’s mother’s relations, the Seymours, attempted to take over the country, and it is reported even to seduce the young Elizabeth. Of these, Edward Seymour, later Duke of Somerset, was the most dominating. To assert his power in 1549 Seymour took the young king to Windsor Castle, where Edward wrote, “methinks I am in prison.” But he had the last word on the issue when he recorded, in 1552, “ the Duke of Somerset had his head cut off.” The last was part of the continuing unrest in the kingdom as a result of the “co-equal” aristocrats trying to take the country, each for themselves.
Edward’s health and strength faded rapidly in 1553, it has been supposed he died of tuberculosis, common enough in those days, and the supposed cause of Henry VII’s death.
There was great concern that the next sovereign would be the devout Roman Catholic Princess Mary, who would undo all that had changed in the Protestant reformation, Undoubtedly Edward was party to this concern when he designated his 16 year old cousin to be his heir. Lady Jane Grey had been married to the son of the very ambitious Duke of Northumberland, and represented just one more use for a daughter by scheming and ambitious men. The thoroughly decent and devout child was executed on the signature of Queen Mary.