Edward VI (1537–1553), king of England and Ireland, was born at Hampton Court Palace on 12 October 1537, the eve of the feast of the translation of St Edward the Confessor—he was named after the royal saint—the first and only legitimate son of Henry VIII (1491–1547). His mother, Jane Seymour [see Jane (1508/–1537)], was Henry's third wife.
Jane's rapid ascent to queenship in 1535–6, usually seen as part of the intrigues against Anne Boleyn, was assisted by her own family background and station at court. Her father, Sir John Seymour (1474–1536) of Wolf Hall, Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, was a knight of the body who stood high in royal favour; his connections and experience enabled him to place Jane as maid of honour to both Katherine of Aragon (from 1529) and Anne Boleyn (1532). Her mother Margery, the daughter of Sir Henry Wentworth of Nettlestead, Suffolk, carried the blood royal, by virtue of her descent from Edward III's third son, Lionel, duke of Clarence. This meant that Jane Seymour and Henry VIII were related as fifth cousins, and so to enable their marriage on 19 May 1536 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued a dispensation ‘in the third and third degrees of affinity’ (Fraser, 257). Such a degree of affinity normally described not fifth but second cousins or those so related through a sexual liaison. Had one of Jane's second cousins been Henry's mistress? Henry was taking no chances. The announcement of Edward's birth reflected the same concern for legality: it was a circular letter made to look as if Jane herself had written it within hours of delivering ‘a Prince conceived in moost Laufull Matrimony betwene my lord the Kinges Maiestie and us’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.xxiii). After more than thirty years of what Henry had thought was mostly unlawful matrimony, the king had his heir, and he wept with joy when he first held the boy.
The prince whom the people called England's treasure was baptized by Cranmer on 15 October in Henry's newly redecorated chapel at Hampton Court. It was a ceremony accorded the utmost importance; a contemporary drawing, probably by a herald, preserves a unique visual record of the magnificence of the specially staged setting (College of Arms, London, MS M6, fol. 82, v). Despite plague-induced restrictions, those who made their way to the sound of trumpets in torchlit procession at midnight from the queen's bedchamber to the chapel and back probably numbered between three and four hundred—courtiers, clerics, officers of state, and foreign envoys. In train came the godfathers, Cranmer and the third duke of Norfolk; the godmother, Princess Mary [see Mary I (1516–1558)]; Gertrude Courtenay, marchioness of Exeter, who cradled Edward; and among others, the queen's brothers, who were to play prominent roles in the next reign: Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, who carried Princess Elizabeth [see Elizabeth I (1533–1603)] (who bore the chrism); and Hertford's brother Sir Thomas Seymour, who held the canopy over the baby's head. At the baptism Edward was proclaimed duke of Cornwall, a dignity to which he was entitled at birth; he was never formally proclaimed prince of Wales.
On 24 October the queen died, probably not of a puerperal infection, as is commonly supposed, but of a massive ‘naturall laxe’, or haemorrhage, most likely caused by the retention of parts of the placenta in her womb—an oversight of the royal physicians who had banned experienced midwives from the delivery. Henry's son, however, was flourishing. The news that ‘Our Prince … is in good health, and sucketh like a child of his puissance’ was so important that Thomas Wriothesley, mindful of the political implications of his master's virility, conveyed it immediately to Henry's ambassadors at Paris where the king had secretly begun looking for a new consort (Edward VI, Remains, 1.xxv). Holbein's portrait of Edward of December 1538 or January 1539 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the preparatory drawing, Royal Collection) was intended to project a picture of the same princely vitality to a German audience at Cleves, where by that time Henry was negotiating for the hand of Anne, the duke's sister. Edward at fourteen months is shown brilliantly attired in red velvet and gold brocade holding a golden rattle, a lively, beautiful child whose ‘maturity … has quite naturally been overstated’ (Rowlands, 147).
The same image also bears a Latin inscription composed by Sir Richard Morrison, special envoy to Cleves: ‘Little one, imitate your father and be the heir of his virtue, the world contains nothing greater … Surpass him … and none will ever surpass you’ (Chapman, 44–5), words doubtless expressing, beneath the bombast, what Henry expected of Edward. Of those first charged officially with his upbringing, Edward later remembered that until he was six he ‘was brought up … among the women’ (Edward VI, Chronicle, 3). They included Margaret Bryan, Sir Francis Bryan's mother, who became ‘lady mistress’ of Edward's nursery in May 1538 (the post she had held in Princess Elizabeth's household); Sybil Penne, the wife of David Penne, who became Edward's principal dry nurse in October 1538; and various ‘rockers’, two of whom, Jane Russell and Bridgett Forster, were receiving pensions as late as 1552. The royal nursery was peripatetic, moving to Greenwich with the court for Christmas 1537; to the king's hunting-lodge at Royston in the spring of 1538, where the townsfolk, according to an eyewitness, watched Henry ‘with much mirth and joy, dallying with the Prince in his arms a long space, and so holding him in a window to the sight and comfort of all’ (Chapman, 40); then on to Havering in Essex, where the air was thought healthier; thence to Waltham, Ashridge, and Enfield or Richmond in turn. Concerns in March 1539 for the security of Edward's person and the hygienic conditions of his residences prompted Henry personally to issue obsessively detailed instructions for the care of his ‘moost precyous joyelle’ to newly named officers of the boy's household: Sir William Sidney, chamberlain; Sir John Cornwallis, steward; a vice-chamberlain, possibly Sir Edward Baynton; and John Ryther, cofferer (Edward VI, Remains, 1.xxviii). Lady Bryan and Mrs Penne (whose sister was Sidney's wife) were reappointed, as were four female ‘rockers’; other personnel included a physician, Dr George Owen, who also attended Edward on his deathbed in 1553, and a dean of the chapel, Dr Richard Cox, headmaster of Eton and canon of Westminster, who doubled as the prince's tutor from 1540. For the prince's amusement there was also a company of players.
Edward's first lessons with Cox were interrupted in October and November 1541 when he caught malaria at Hampton Court. According to the French ambassador, Henry hurriedly summoned ‘all the doctors in the country’ (Loach, 11), including his own physician, Dr William Butts, who asked the four-year-old patient if he ‘felt any disposition to vomit’. Edward's answer—‘Go away, fool’—signalled a youthful stubbornness that would later become ferocious (Chapman, 52). In fact, as Lady Bryan had observed, Edward was generally ‘mery’ and ‘marvelowss plesantly desposed’. One night at Hunsdon, she said, ‘The mensterels played, and hes Grace dawansed and playd so wantownly that he cowld not stend stel, and was as fol of prety toyes as ever I saw chyld in my leyf’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.xxxvii–xxxviii). Apart from his sisters, who generally shared his company—he is said to have favoured Mary, twenty years his senior, to Elizabeth, who was four years older—his dearest companion then was Jane Dormer, Sidney's granddaughter, ‘my Jane’, as Edward called her. In her adulthood Jane fondly remembered the day she spent with Edward at Ashridge in 1544, reading and dancing and playing at games; when she lost to him at cards, he consoled her with the reply: ‘Now, Jane, your King is gone, I shall be good enough for you’ (ibid., 1.xl). At Ashridge Edward also met Sidney's fourteen-year-old son, Henry, who later became one of his closest friends. By the early 1540s Edward's importance as royal heir found expression in the grandiose language of Tudor diplomacy: his suitability for marriage had already made him ‘the greatest person in Christendom’ (Fraser, 384). By the treaty of Greenwich of July 1543 he was betrothed to Mary, queen of Scots, then seven months old, but this diplomatic endeavour failed, and the consequences—war with Scotland and France—burnt themselves into his memory, as his later letters testify.
Henry VIII's marriage to Katherine Parr in July 1543 decisively affected Edward's life, both emotionally and educationally. Queen Katherine brought Edward and his sisters into the royal household as members of an intimate family, providing Edward especially with an affection and attention that found endearing reflection in his frequent letters to her. This correspondence revealed ‘a warmth and liveliness not elsewhere displayed’: he addressed her familiarly as ‘Mater Charissima’, ‘my dearest mother’, for she held ‘the chief place in my heart’ (Fraser, 385). Katherine's deep, supportive interest in Edward's schooling struck a grateful, responsive chord. In 1546, at the age of eight, he thanked her for directing ‘unto me your loving and tender letters which do give me much comfort and encouragement to go forward in such things wherein your grace beareth me on hand that I am already entered’ (James, 141).
The ‘things’ referred to were the formal lessons that began on the eve of Henry VIII's invasion of France. Before his departure in July 1544 Henry named Katherine regent-general of England and gave her charge of Edward's household, which he now put on a wholly new footing by disbanding the nursery and naming new officers. Sir Richard Page, a former sheriff of Surrey who had been vice-chamberlain to Henry Fitzroy and had married Hertford's mother-in-law, became Edward's chamberlain in place of Sidney. Sidney replaced Cornwallis as steward, and Sir Jasper Horsey, Anne of Cleves's former steward, became chief gentleman of Edward's newly formed privy chamber. Henry also named John Cheke, regius professor of Greek in Cambridge, to be ‘a suppliment to mr. Cox’ for Edward's ‘bettere instruccion’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.xxxix). In practice Cheke became Edward's chief preceptor, Cox remaining as tutor and almoner. Joining Cheke was Roger Ascham, Princess Elizabeth's tutor, and Anthony Cooke, a learned courtier, who continued to assist Cheke upon Cox's retirement in 1550.
Cox, Cheke, Ascham, and Cooke were Cambridge-educated humanists zealously committed to evangelical reform, and under their influence Edward was brought up a protestant. Cheke, the key appointee, learned of his preferment on 10 June 1544; according to Strype, Henry entrusted to him the supervision of Edward's education and religious instruction on the recommendation of Dr William Butts, an evangelical whom Cheke likened to both a ‘patron’ and father. Cheke had also been the pupil and protégé of George Day, bishop of Chichester, Queen Katherine's religious mentor, friend, and almoner. Katherine showed Cheke special favour; the two are said to have been ‘on particularly close terms’, so much so that Ascham once confided to Cheke, ‘I do not believe [the queen] will do anything without consulting you’ (James, 138–9). Katherine later implied that God had made her Henry's queen in order that she might help further the evangelical cause. In the light of what was to follow, the importance of Katherine's support of Cheke's efforts as royal tutor can hardly be overstated.
Cheke's responsibilities also included ‘the diligent teaching of such children as be appointed to attend’ upon Edward (Edward VI, Remains, 1.lvi). Joining Edward in the royal classroom at various times while he was prince and king were some specially selected schoolfellows, including: his cousins Edward and Henry Seymour (Hertford's sons); Henry Sidney, whose father, William, was successively chamberlain and steward of the prince's household; John, Lord Lumley; Henry, Lord Strange, son and heir of the third earl of Derby; Henry, Lord Hastings, afterwards third earl of Huntingdon; James Butler, tenth earl of Ormond; Henry and Charles Brandon, the duke of Suffolk's sons (whose deaths in an epidemic in 1551 are said to have affected Edward greatly); and the prince's favourite, Barnaby Fitzpatrick, eldest son of the baron of Upper Ossory, with whom Edward shared an affectionate correspondence in his last years.
Between 1544 and 1547 Edward acquired under Cheke's tutelage the foundations of the sort of humanist education that Vives and Erasmus had prescribed for the ideally trained Christian prince. In December 1544 he began reading Erasmus's Latin editions of Aesop and Cato; by January 1546, according to Cox, he had memorized almost four books of Cato, Aesop's fables, ‘things of the Bible’, and Vives's Satellitium, originally written for Princess Mary. (He also owned copies of Vives's De officio marito and De institutione faeminae Christianae.) Using Erasmus's textbook, De conscribendus epistolis, he learned to compose formal letters in Latin by writing to Cranmer, Cox, the queen, Henry VIII, and his sisters. Copies of forty-three of these, possibly in Ascham's hand, survive from the period between 4 March 1545 and 19 September 1547 (BL, Harley MS 5087, fols. 1–18), and reveal a precocious young student's self-conscious exhibition of new learning: quotations from Vives, the classics, and scripture embellish his schoolboy salutations. He exhibited, said Cox, an extraordinary ‘towardness in learning’; at Hatfield on 12 October 1546 when he began ‘to learne Frenche’ with Jean Belmain, a Calvinist refugee (and Cheke's nephew by marriage), it was ‘with a great facilité even at hys first entre’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.lxxviii). He grasped ‘the thinge taught hym by his schoolemasters’ with ‘such a spirit of capacitye’, said another observer, that it was a ‘wonder’ to behold (ibid., 1.lxxxi).
When Henry VIII died at 2 a.m. on 28 January 1547 Hertford removed Edward from Ashridge to Enfield where Princess Elizabeth was living, and there on the 29th informed him that he was king. Edward and his sister clung to each other, sobbing. His reception into London on the 31st, however, enthralled him; ‘hys grace hadde greate felycyte’, said an eyewitness, at the roaring salute of ‘a greate shotte’ of guns from ships in the Thames (S. Antiquaries, Lond., MS 123, fol. 1r). Following tradition, he resided at the Tower until his coronation, which was fixed for Sunday 20 February. Meanwhile, on 31 January, Edward's councillors recognized Hertford as lord protector of the realm and governor of the king's person, ‘because he was the King's uncle on his mother's side’, as Edward later wrote (Edward VI, Chronicle, 4). On 6 February Hertford knighted Edward, and the king in turn knighted the lord mayor. On 16 February at the Tower, Edward bestowed new titles on several key councillors: Hertford became duke of Somerset, John Dudley, earl of Warwick, and Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley. On the 19th, with hundreds of horsemen he rode for five hours in a grand procession to Westminster Palace, showing himself to his people, as protocol demanded, in a brilliant attire of white velvet and cloth of silver and gold, the whole thick-set with patterned knots of diamonds and pearls. A large drawing of 1785 (now at the Society of Antiquaries in London) based on a mural of 1547–8 commissioned by Edward's master of the horse, Sir Anthony Browne, provides a unique record of this procession winding its way through the streets of London; it shows the king on horseback beneath a fringed canopy, flanked by the protector and Browne. The pageants devised for the procession, described as ‘perhaps the most tawdry on record’ (Anglo, 294), recycled those written in 1432 by John Lydgate for another boy-king, Henry VI, with the difference that Edward's extolled Henry VIII's reform of religious ‘abuses’, a reformation which had freed God's ‘Trewth’ from heathen ‘idolatrye’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.ccxci). Iconographically, Edward's tableaux also projected the crown's ‘imperial’ status, soon to be invoked by reformists; Edward himself preferred the airborne antics of a professional tumbler, laughing ‘right hartely’ when the acrobat ‘fell uppon a fetherbed and a mattrasse’ after sliding headfirst down a cable from the top of St Paul's (S. Antiquaries, Lond., MS 123, fol. 24r). At Westminster Abbey on the 20th, ‘with the orgayns goinge, the quere singinge & the trumpettes’ blaring in the battlements, Somerset and Cranmer together placed three crowns successively on Edward's head: St Edward's crown, the imperial crown of England, and a third made especially for him (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 105, p. 238). Walking beneath a canopy of crimson silk and cloth of gold topped by silver bells, the boy-king wore a crimson satin robe trimmed with gold silk lace costing £118 16s. 8d. and a pair of ‘Sabatons’ of cloth of gold. The service itself followed the Latin ordo, but in view of its length it was modified to accommodate Edward's age; the changes allowed Edward an occasional rest, and for his presentation to the people, he was carried about the stage in a ‘litill cheyre’ of crimson velvet (BL, Add. MS 9069, fol. 34v).
Of greater moment were Cranmer's and Somerset's revisions of the coronation oath, which, contrary to what has hitherto been believed, is shown by contemporary sources to have been changed in ways advertising how its amenders expected to use the crown's imperial jurisdiction over the church—the royal supremacy—to advance religious reform. The principle underlying the changes was set out in a proclamation of 31 January 1547 announcing Edward's accession, the first known proclamation in England to deal with the royal succession. As Edward had come to the throne ‘fully invested … in the crown imperial of this realm’, nothing was needed to confirm his authority. He was supreme head of the church by divine, not human, agency, or as Cranmer expressed it to Edward in an unprecedented coronation speech, ‘Your Majesty is God's Vicegerent, and Christ's Vicar within your own Dominions’ (Strype, Cranmer, 2.144–5). The new oath thus became a bulwark of the supremacy, not terms to which Edward VI could be held accountable. Gone were the historic promises by which kings protected the clergy and upheld law and liberty; it was for the crown to decide what in future constituted law and liberty, and for church, parliament, and people to give their consent. The oath thus gave the evangelicals the legal opening they needed to launch their reformation. Like Cranmer's speech, the coronation masques that followed were shot through with anti-papal invective: the war with Antichrist had begun.
Full power and authority during Edward VI's minority—that is until his eighteenth birthday—supposedly fell to a council composed of the sixteen executors of his father's will, but even before Henry VIII's death, Somerset and the king's secretary, Sir William Paget, had decided to ignore the will, which Paget himself had helped Henry compose, and arrange for Somerset's preferment as protector of the realm and governor of Edward's person. The executors agreed to the move on 31 January 1547, their support secured by a shower of titles, offices, and rewards. Royal letters patent of 12 March 1547 confirmed Somerset in the offices of protector and governor, empowering him to direct the government and name a new, expanded board to accommodate those who, like his brother, had been left off the council of executors. But Sudeley envied his brother his position as Edward's governor, an office which Warwick duplicitously encouraged Sudeley to seek, saying the council would support his bid for it. Somerset rebuffed this request, angering Sudeley even more by appointing his own wife's stepbrother, Sir Michael Stanhope, to be chief gentleman, or head officer, of Edward's privy chamber (by 18 August 1548). As such, Stanhope became the king's de factogovernor, for he controlled access to Edward's apartments and his privy purse. Assisting Stanhope in the privy chamber was Sir Richard Page, the duchess's stepfather. Sudeley, himself a gentleman of the privy chamber and lord high admiral, so resented Stanhope's and Page's authority that he refused to join Somerset's invasion of Scotland in September 1547. Somerset appeased him by appointing him one of Edward's custodians in his absence, an opportunity Sudeley used to curry favour with others close to the king, including Cheke and Sir Thomas Wroth (a gentleman usher), whom Somerset on his return temporarily suspended from office, suspecting, wrongly, that they had plotted to make Sudeley the boy's governor. Furious that Somerset had not appointed him to have ‘the gou[ver]nament of the king his maiestie before so dronken a sole as Master Page’ (Hatfield House, Cecil papers, 150, fol. 104), on 24 December 1547 Sudeley forced Somerset to secure additional letters patent limiting his tenure as governor to the king's pleasure, not (as in the earlier patent) to Edward's minority. Sixty-two peers signed the new instrument.
In 1548 Sudeley sought to win Edward's affection and gain acceptance as his intimate adviser, not an implausible outcome, given the admiral's charm and bonhomie, so unlike Somerset's dour reserve. With ‘a pryvye key’, Sudeley gained access to the king's private apartments from the privy garden at Westminster, and with the help of John Fowler, a groom, and others whom he had bribed, he slipped into the ‘ynner gallery’ next to Edward's bedchamber at night and from there passed notes and pocket money to the boy. Edward denied Sudeley's claim that Somerset kept him a ‘beggarly’ king; ‘he [Sudeley] said that I was toe bashful in my maters and that I wold not speake for my right. I said I was wel enoughe’ (Bodl. Oxf., MS Ashmole 1729, fol. 9). Sudeley's nocturnal appearances backstairs—he would enter the ‘privie buttrey & drynke there alone’ or hang about, ‘the king being at stoole’, as Fowler remembered (BL, Harley MS 249, fol. 29ff.)—prompted Stanhope by August 1548 to put a special watch on all doors leading into the king's privy chamber in order to prevent Sudeley's clandestine entry. One night Sudeley found the door to Edward's bedchamber bolted; enraged, he shot dead the king's barking dog. The object of this reckless game, as Sudeley himself said, was to persuade Edward to bear ‘the honor & rule of his oun doinges’ (TNA: PRO, SP 10/6, fol. 33) by terminating Somerset's governorship in a writing under the king's own signature. Controlling the production of letters in Edward's hand was one of the cornerstones of Somerset's authority. Somerset discovered how close he had come to losing that control when Fowler revealed that in response to a letter he had carried from Sudeley to the king, Edward had commanded him to ‘go into the litle house within where he dyned & to take the writing that lay underneth the carpet in the window there’ and deliver it secretly to the admiral (BL, Harley MS 249, fol. 29ff.). Although the ‘writing’ was innocent enough, Somerset found such correspondence intolerable. Two of the three judges whose opinion he sought in the matter ‘saied that his [Sudeley's] falte was not treason’ (BL, Add. MS 48023, fol. 35); seeking to avoid a trial, Somerset none the less arranged for Sudeley's attainder in parliament and execution (20 March 1549) on fabricated charges of treason.
Somerset coldly termed his brother's beheading a matter of ‘indifferent justice’; others said it foreshadowed the protector's own fall. Paget thought Somerset's decision to invade Scotland in September 1547 marked the beginning of his ruin. Though cloaked at first in the rhetoric of godly union, advancing a vision of ‘thempire of greate Briteigne’, Somerset's strategy sprang from proposals to garrison Scotland first advanced in 1543 and 1545; Edward's accession gave him the chance to implement his plan. But victory at Pinkie (10 September 1547) triggered war with France, and Somerset's desperate measures to pay for garrisons in both Scotland and Boulogne—debasement, sale of the chantries, and a tax on sheep—fell so far short of what was needed, that by September 1549 he had nearly bankrupted the king.
Hailing Edward at his coronation as ‘a second Josias’, Cranmer had urged the king ‘to see Idolatry destroyed’ and ‘Images removed’ (Strype, Cranmer, 2.145). In July 1547 the council banned candles and shrines, and on 28 February 1548, images in stained-glass, wood, and stone. Within two years the rich pictorial heritage of medieval Christianity had largely disappeared, as windows were reglazed and church walls limed, and along with it such aspects of popular culture, civic and religious, as processions, mystery plays, pageants on holy days, maypoles, and church-ales. The chantries went dark, and with them the schools they had supported. Although this did not constitute the educational disaster once thought, neither was Edward VI a great patron or founder of new schools. Against a background of discontent Archbishop Cranmer produced a uniform vernacular service of worship in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), whose enforced use sparked armed resistance in the west country in June, followed by numerous other revolts elsewhere. These uprisings signalled a breakdown of trust between Somerset and the local gentry on whom law and order depended. The protector's initial attempts to appease the commons backfired; to his colleagues, the royal pardons he issued smacked of an intolerable ‘leniency’. In fact Somerset did not baulk at using force against Edward's subjects; the protestant myth of the ‘good duke’ was invented by William Harrison only in 1587. Somerset's problem was that the rebellions drew off soldiers he had intended for Scotland, and the cost of suppressing the revolts, when added to the charges in the north, finally outstripped his ability to pay his cash-hungry armies. When the French declared war the game was up: Somerset lacked men and money enough to foot operations on three fronts at once.
The rebellions of 1549, arguably sixteenth-century England's greatest crisis, dealt the country a staggering demographic blow, a loss of life proportionally the equivalent of about 200,000 deaths today. John Cheke's reaction to these ‘tumults’, his Hurt of Sedicion (1549), has been described as an ‘odd combination of ferocity and fatherliness’ (Chapman, 158); as such it stands in striking contrast to the king's own, coolly factual account of events in his ‘Chronicle’. The dry, objective tone of Edward's version of the coup d'état of October 1549, penned in 1550, is even more remarkable, as he participated in some of the events described. Edward was in Somerset's custody at Hampton Court with Cranmer, Paget, Smith, and Cecil on 5 October when the protector heard that the:
Council, about nineteen of them, were gathered in London, thinking to meet with [him] and to make him amend some of his disorders. He, fearing his state, … commanded the armor to be brought down out of the armory of Hampton Court, about 500 harnesses, to arm both his and my men withal, the gates of the house to be rempared, [and] people to be raised.
Although, as Edward recorded it, ‘people came abundantly to the house’ (Edward VI, Chronicle, 17), at 9 or 10 that night the protector suddenly decided to convey him to Windsor Castle, on the pretext, quite false, that the lords in London were plotting his death. One of those present later explained why Somerset's stand at Windsor collapsed so quickly: there were but ‘iiij. tune of wynne and no great quantetie of Beare for suche a company’ (Malkiewicz, 607), and when Edward, who had caught a cold, likened the castle to a ‘prison’ (‘here be no galleries nor no gardens to walke in’), Paget and Cranmer persuaded the duke to negotiate a surrender (Edward VI, Remains, 1.cxxxi). On 11 October Somerset was arrested, and his adherents and servants removed from the king's household; two days later his offices were abolished.
Somerset's transparent use of Edward as a means of self-protection brought immediate changes in procedures for the king's ‘suertie’. The first occurred officially on 15 October when Warwick ‘procuered by the meanes of the Archebusshoppe of Canterbury great frendes abowte the king’ (BL, Add. MS 48126, fol. 15v): the marquess of Northampton, the earl of Arundel, and lords St John, Russell, and Wentworth, all councillors who with Warwick collectively replaced Somerset as governor. Additionally, four knights replaced Stanhope as ‘principal’ gentlemen in the privy chamber: Sir Andrew Dudley (Warwick's brother), Sir Edward Rogers, Sir Thomas Darcy, and Sir Thomas Wroth. As Edward's bodyguards, they slept armed, in rotation, on pallets outside the king's bedchamber. All had been Warwick's allies against Somerset, but in January 1550 Arundel and Rogers were dismissed for what Edward called ‘crimes of suspicion’: ‘plucking down … bolts and locks at Westminster’ and giving ‘my stuff away’ (Edward VI, Chronicle, 19). In fact Arundel had joined a plot aimed at Warwick's destruction; the conspirators included Thomas Wriothesley, the earl of Southampton, and other conservatives in religion. When Warwick heard of these intrigues he moved swiftly to augment his own and Edward's security. The result was the virtual militarization of Edward's court. Northampton was given command of sixty horse and men-of-arms, a newly created contingent of guardsmen attached to the privy chamber. Darcy became vice-chamberlain and captain of the pike-bearing yeomen of the guard whose numbers were doubled to 200. Edward, Baron Clinton, a professional soldier, was made a councillor and gentleman of the privy chamber at the head of a new force of 600 handpicked ‘footmen’ from the Boulogne garrison, 200 of whom were to ‘attende on the Kinges person’ as specially armed yeomen ‘extraordinary’ (Hoak, ‘Privy chamber’, 93). Finally, to protect Warwick and the king from a counter-coup, an élite (if short-lived) force of 850 mounted ‘gendarmes’ was created in February 1551, the nucleus of England's first standing army.
King Edward's powers of observation and acuteness of mind, so evident in his account of the coup, revealed themselves most fully in his schooling as king. Building on the foundation of his earlier lessons, Cheke developed for him a curriculum in the classics based, according to Cecil, on the one Cheke had designed for St John's College, Cambridge, where Cheke had been Cecil's tutor. The core of this curriculum has been reconstructed for the period January 1548 to June 1552 from Edward's four surviving notebooks (BL, Add. MS 4724 and Arundel MS 510; Bodl. Oxf., MS Autogr. e.2 and MS Bodley 899); together they have been described as constituting ‘the most complete record extant of a sixteenth-century humanist education’ (Needham, 1.176). Edward began in early 1547 with Cicero's Epistolae familiares and Justin's Latin summary of Greek history, for which he had chorographical indices given to him at new year 1547 by Peter Olivarius, a Spanish humanist. During 1548 he copied phrases and sentences from Cicero's Offices, De amicitia, Paradoxa Stoicorum, and theTusculan Disputations, all the while practising his italic penmanship under Ascham's instruction. For this Edward had the 1548 edition of Giovanni Battista Palatino's guide to italic, the earliest known use of such a writing book in England. In April 1548 he began composing moral essays based on aphorisms, ‘one of the many preliminary exercises, orprogymnasmata, taught in the ancient Greek schools of rhetoric’ (ibid., 1.187). By 1549 Cheke had also introduced him to the dialectic, for by then Edward was turning his notes on Cicero's Catlinarian orations, for example, into his own inventive arguments in Latin. In these original disputations ‘the language of the young logician is everywhere apparent’: here, obviously, was a ‘serious and intelligent mind at work’ (ibid., 1.195–6).
Cheke had introduced Edward to Greek by mid-1549, for by then Edward possessed David Tavelegus's unique Greek grammar (1547) and Adrianus Junius's ‘greke dictionarie’ for which Edward paid the author £40 from his privy purse ‘for dedicatinge’ it to him (TNA: PRO, E 351/2932). Edward converted his newly learned Greek vocabulary into Latin, and vice versa. Recent events provided him with material for this exercise. Thus when he quoted Euripides in Greek on the evils of war, he cited examples in Latin from Henry VIII's wars in France and Scotland. At Christmas 1549 his Greek text was Aristotle's Ethics (the Rhetoric came later), and in January 1550 he was giving the Greek equivalents for words gleaned from Cicero's De finibus. As he followed a systematic course of reading in ever-more challenging texts—what Cheke (as quoted by Ascham) called the ‘journey’ through classical authors—he used his Greek–Latin word lists to compose original declamations in both languages. These declamations he delivered orally on Sundays, keeping to a rigorous, alternating schedule of ‘Greek weeks’ and ‘Latin weeks’ from January 1550 to 12 June 1552, according to which language he was using. In 1551–2 his reading in Plato's Republic and Cicero's Philippics inspired more than fifty orationes, or essays, in Greek alone on problems in political theory and moral philosophy. The extant texts of these and fifty-five in Latin (BL, Harley MS 5807, fols. 78–89 and Add. MS 4724) provide rare evidence of ‘how a de luxe education’ was then conducted (MacCulloch, Tudor Church, 20).
Edward read Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, and Pliny the Younger; copies of their works and Erasmus's Colloquies are among his school books in the British Library. For training in kingship, Cheke considered Aristotle's Politics to have been Edward's most important text, as it tested his ability to ground historical reasoning on moralistic precepts. Edward excelled at rhetorical argument. Since, in the humanists' ideal prescription, such reasoning best served statecraft, Cheke balanced Edward's theoretical instruction with the study of real politics. Responding to opposing classical proverbs, Edward argued, in two strikingly original essays of July 1549, both for and against the necessity of war. In one he deplored the damage wreaked by English armies overseas; in the other he glorified fighting in defence of religion, citing the evidence of what he called ‘contemporary wars’ (MacCulloch, Tudor Church, 21). Some of the later orations similarly show the topicality of Cheke's method: when Edward considered rulers whom men feared and therefore hated, he cited Henry VII and Richard III. Edward's notes of 1552 on the English occupation of France in the 1420s (BL, Cotton MS Nero C.x, fols. 94–7) may also have been a by-product of his reading in history.
Edward's laconic, self-styled ‘Chronicle’ of foreign and domestic events, a book of eighty-four leaves composed in English in his italic hand between March 1550 and November 1552 (BL, Cotton MS Nero C.x), was not a formal part of his schoolwork. Cheke recommended that he keep it as a practical means of acquainting himself with the affairs of the world. As such it is a unique royal document, apparently without precedent in English and European letters, and for some events, especially those at court, it is the only extant source. Although most of the information recorded—news of Kett's ‘stir’ in Norfolk, the landing of the Turkish navy near Naples (August 1552)—was supplied by his secretaries and clerks from the reports of others or by foreign ambassadors, the vocabulary, phrasing, and choice of subject matter is Edward's own. A few usages (for instance ‘booted and spurred’: Edward VI,Chronicle, 67) are among the first recorded in English. If the tone reveals nothing conclusive about Edward's inner life, the frequent mention of horsemen and footmen and military manoeuvres in France and the empire clearly bears witness to a Renaissance king's chief preoccupation. Substantively, his discussions of state policy are wholly derivative; the section on reform of the coinage in September 1551, for example, reflects the thinking of William Thomas, clerk of the council from April 1550, who had given him a paper on the topic at the time the council was considering the same issue. The boy's understanding of such a technical subject is nevertheless remarkable. Thomas also wrote secretly to Edward, counselling him about kingly behaviour and quoting Machiavelli to the effect that a prince must strive always to maintain a free hand. Edward's response to this advice remains unknown.
Edward's religious training was rigorous and relentless, his grasp of scripture, sure. Martin Bucer said that Edward listened with great attention while ten chapters of the Bible were read to him daily in May 1550. Edward began his own systematic, if soon abandoned, study of the Bible in 1550, blocking out twenty-seven issues for special enquiry: ‘De Antichristo’, ‘De primatu papae’, ‘De idololatria’, et cetera (Needham, 1.200–01). His lessons in rhetoric comprehended the same issues, as evidenced by his annotations to De sacramento eucharistiae, the published version of Pietro Martire Vermigli's disputation at Oxford in 1549. At twelve Edward ‘was quite capable of following the theological controversies that were raging around him’ (Birrell, 15–16). Reformist divines like Bucer, Thomas Becon, Hugh Latimer, and John Ponet preached weekly before him—from April 1550 they did so in the new privy garden pulpit at Westminster—expounding ‘True Religion’: here was the anti-papal protestant agenda, and, according to an eye-witness Edward absorbed it all, jotting down in now-lost ledgers ‘every notable sentence, and specially if it touched a king’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.cvi). Edward's lessons with Belmain show how closely his tutorials in French served the ends of protestant pedagogy. The king's treatise in French on the papal supremacy (BL, Add. MS 5464) was inspired by John Ponet's translation of Bernardino Ochino's anti-papal Dialogue; Cranmer, knowing of Edward's project, may have added to the translation his own anti-papal vitriol. Composed at the age of eleven (December 1548–August 1549), Edward's treatise exhibited startling ‘originality’, as those around him acknowledged. His vehement denunciation of the pope (‘the true son of the devil, a bad man, an Antichrist and abominable tyrant’) matched the fervency of his youthful expressions of faith (MacCulloch, Tudor Church, 26–7). He adhered fully to the doctrine of salvation by faith, confessing elsewhere on 12 December 1548 ‘que chacu[n] qui croit en Iesuscrist, et a mis toute sa fiancé en luy, sera sauvé: et que foy est la principale et plus notable chose qui soit en la religion chrestienne’ (‘that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, and has put all his faith in him, will be saved: and that faith is the principal and most important thing there is in the Christian religion’; BL, Add. MS 9000, fols. 34v–35r). In his orationes of January and February 1552 Edward also defended predestination, urging that it be preached from every pulpit.
Edward's French progressed rapidly in 1550–51. His collection of French works—Louis le Roy's translations of Isocrates and Xenophon, Louis Megreit's Grammaire française (1550), Grafton's 1551 edition of the French–English dialogues of Pierre du Ploiche—confirm le Roy's eyewitness testimony of 1551, that he could read the language easily. Another visitor at court, François de Scèpeaux, said in 1550 that Edward could speak French well; his report that Edward also spoke Spanish and Italian cannot be confirmed. It is known only that Edward owned Pedro Mexia's Sylva de varia lecion (1550), ‘a very popular Spanish bedside book’ (Birrell, 14). His much-used copy of Robert Record's Pathway to Knowledge, a popular text on geometry, and an edition of Euclid (1510) clearly point towards instruction in mathematics and astronomy; one of the teachers was probably William Buckley of King's College, Cambridge, whom Cheke patronized. Edward's astronomical brass quadrant, engraved with Cheke's and Buckley's initials, was designed by Cheke and intended for use with Record's book.
It is also thought that Cheke introduced Dr John Dee to court circles, and that Dee taught Edward the mathematics of oceanic navigation. Ottuel Holinshed, a fellow of Trinity, presented Edward with a tract on the construction and use of the dial-ring, and the engraver Thomas Gemini, who made the quadrant, also made for him an astrolabe bearing the arms of Edward himself, Cheke, and the duke of Northumberland. Both the astrolabe and quadrant survive in the British Museum. Edward grew up with his father's many maps and globes. His own desks and coffers were chock-full of ‘plattes’ and charts, suggesting a real interest in cartography and geography. In 1549 he acquired Sebastian Cabot's new world map showing the north-west passage, and ordered that it be hung at Whitehall. Music, too, absorbed him: John Ashley taught him ‘to play on the virginalles’ and Philip van Wilder, the Netherlandish ‘Master of His Singinge Children’, the lute (Loach, 14–15). Whether Edward played the two viols that were given him is unknown.
Somerset's fall in October 1549 and the subsequent coup against the conservatives at the end of the year had left a number of offices vacant; in February 1550 Warwick secured Edward's approval for his own appointment to the offices of great master and lord president. The former gave him control of the king's household, including, crucially, the privy chamber, while the latter enabled him to supervise the council's business and membership. Though he lacked a protector's formal authority, he could now govern England as Somerset had done. Meanwhile, in November 1549, at Cranmer's bidding, Edward had approved the first of a string of new appointments to the board, all of them Warwick's men, and all of evangelical leaning. Somerset was readmitted to the council on 10 April 1550, but he resented Warwick's supremacy, and began mounting a campaign to unseat him. When Warwick (who had become duke of Northumberland on 11 October 1551) discovered the conspiracy he ruthlessly arranged for Somerset's execution, on 22 January 1552, on trumped-up charges. This and the later conspiracy to make Jane Grey queen have given Northumberland the reputation of an English ‘Machiavel’. A full understanding of his aims in office, however, must also credit his considerable achievements as Edward's lord president. He abandoned Somerset's military preoccupations, ending the war in Scotland and concluding peace with France. He rescued England from financial ruin by curtailing debasement and government spending, adopting a deflationary monetary policy and liquidating the whole of Edward's overseas debt. Working hand in glove with Cecil, he rationalized the procedures of government by council, which became central to the conduct of affairs in a way that it had not been under Somerset, and in the process created the ‘system’ which Cecil reinstituted under Elizabeth I.
Although Cranmer remained personally cool towards Warwick, the threat posed by conservative councillors in the last months of 1549 pushed him over to the earl's side by early 1550. Cranmer's influence with Edward may help to explain Warwick's growing enthusiasm for the evangelical cause. Some radical protestants came to have doubts about the earl's religious sincerity. According to the French ambassador, who knew him well, Warwick was greedy for gain and ‘avide de gloire’—‘desirous of glory’ (Vertot and Villaret, 158). The French also spoke of his ‘liberality’, or noble courtesy, his grace and affability, his ‘great presence’ (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Ancien Saint-Germain Français 15888, fols. 214–15). But whether or not such attributes could justly be squared with religious devotion, there is no doubt that Warwick, who was a fearless and accomplished soldier, radiated an unusual force of character, or charisma. He quickly won Edward VI's admiration, trust, and affection, and this helped defend him from the suspicion of others.
The secret of Warwick's power was that he took Edward seriously. He knew that he must accommodate the boy's keen intelligence and also his sovereign will, which first manifested itself in July 1550, when at the confirmation of the bishop of Gloucester (John Hooper), Edward with his own pen angrily deleted from the oath of supremacy all reference to saints. ‘This was a Henry VIII in the making’ (MacCulloch, Cranmer, 472). By October 1551 the king clearly possessed a powerful sense that he and not his council embodied royal authority: ‘the number of councillors does not make our authority’, he curtly reminded his lord chancellor (TNA: PRO, SP 10/13, no. 55). Various holograph ‘state papers’, memoranda for council business, and eyewitness accounts of the boy's speeches ‘in council’ seem to furnish evidence that in 1551–2 Edward stood on the threshold of power. But though the speeches were real enough, they were delivered before specially staged meetings not of the council but of a committee of councillors and others—what Edward termed his council ‘for the state’ (BL, Cotton MS Nero C.x, fol. 85r)—the matters propounded having already been concluded in regular meetings. The memoranda, like the speeches, were based on notes given to him by his secretaries and clerks. William Thomas confessed that he secretly passed to the king the topics in question, ‘to this end, that your majesty may utter these matters as of your own study, whereby it shall have greater credit with your council’ (Loades, 201). Warwick himself occasionally primed Edward for his speeches, as a French eyewitness discovered:
he visited the King secretly at night in the King's Chamber, unseen by anyone, after all were asleep. The next day the young Prince came to his council and proposed matters as if they were his own; consequently, everyone was amazed, thinking that they proceeded from his mind and by his invention. (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Ancien Saint-Germain Français 15888, fols. 214v–215v)
Warwick was skilfully guiding the king for his own purposes by exploiting the boy's precocious capacity for understanding the business of government. He did this with the help of his clients and confidants in the privy chamber, ‘my speciall frendes’, as he termed them (TNA: PRO, SP 15/4, fol. 14)—Darcy, who worked closely with Cecil as his liaison to the council; Sir John Gates, who in January 1550 took Rogers's place as one of the four ‘principal’ gentlemen and who succeeded Darcy as vice-chamberlain in April 1551; and the man who should perhaps be considered as in psychological terms the king's older brother, Sir Henry Sidney, one of Edward's closest boyhood friends and also Warwick's son-in-law. A gentleman of the privy chamber from April 1550, and from July 1551 one of the ‘principal’ gentlemen there, it was said in France that Sidney had ‘acquired so great an influence near the King, that he was able to make all of his notions conform’ to Warwick's. But Gates, the Frenchman averred, was the ‘principal instrument which he [Warwick] used to induce the King to [do] something when he did not want it to be known that it had proceeded from himself’. Gates ‘was to report back to him everything said to the King, for this Gates was continually in the [king's privy] Chamber’ (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Ancien Saint-Germain Français 15888, fols. 214v–215v).
It has been argued that Edward's signature on a series of signet warrants in 1552–3 constitutes hard evidence of the king's personal involvement in governmental affairs. In fact, the example cited, that of 14 May 1553, bears the inked impression of the wooden stamp of Edward's hand, a stamp wielded by Gates at a time when the king was dying. Such warrants form part of a ‘file’ of disbursements from a secret treasury that Warwick had set up in Edward's privy chamber, a cash reserve which allowed him to fund £40,000 in ‘special’ expenses, including pay-offs and loans to Sidney and Gates and the councillors who captained the gendarmes. Not only had Warwick restored the earlier system of rule by a privy council, he had also recognized the privy chamber as the real focus of power, even under a boy-king.
In religious affairs the king's refusal to tolerate Princess Mary's mass so enraged the emperor Charles V that it threatened to cause war with the Habsburgs; Edward's advisers urged caution. But in two remarkable confrontations in March 1551, first with Mary and then, privately, with his bishops and councillors, Edward's uncompromisingly hard line stiffened official resolve: there was to be no backing down. The episode underscored Edward's growing independence, his wilful insistence on his supremacy in the church, and, in the meeting with his clerics, his exceptional rhetorical skills. His support of Cranmer's projected Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum, an abortive attempt to overhaul the canon law, supplies further evidence of this. Warwick certainly lost nothing by respecting Edward's reforming zeal; the Reformation went forward at a quickening pace. Cranmer's Ordinal of February 1550, which defined a protestant minister's calling, signalled a turning point in the government's relations with conservative clerics: those who refused the Ordinal were ousted. Within the next two years Northumberland had gutted the ranks of Catholic bishops, depriving seven who had opposed the 1549 prayer book. The forced surrenders of episcopal estates, some of which were parcelled out to the duke's cronies, eventually prompted the reformers to denounce him, some (like John Knox) in sermons at court. In fact the crown was the main beneficiary of such spoliation. Only Edward's premature death prevented further confiscations. Doctrinally, the last year of Edward's reign marked the laying of foundations for the future: Cranmer's revised, unequivocally protestant prayer book of 1552; the forty-two articles of June 1553; and John Ponet's A Short Catechism (1553), which adapted the articles for use by schoolmasters.
The cold that Edward caught in February 1553 was said by contemporaries to have degenerated into the ‘consumption’, or tuberculosis, that killed him. A plausible alternative interpretation, that he died of ‘a supporating pulmonary infection’ which ‘led to generalized septicaemia with renal failure’ (Loach, 162), is challenged by a closer reading of his medical history. Edward's descent towards death arguably began on 2 April 1552, when he fell ill with what he described as measles and smallpox. Measles, it is known, suppresses immunity to tuberculosis. The surgeon who later opened the boy's chest found that ‘the disease whereof his majesty died was the disease of lungs, which had in them two great ulcers, and were putrified’ (Lodge, 10–11). Such cavities in the lungs ‘are typical of reactivation of tuberculosis, which may be seen in adolescents’; in other words, ‘Edward was obviously in close contact with at least one person who had tuberculosis, more likely before he contracted measles than after’ (Holmes, Holmes, and McMurrough, 60–62). The first signs of the disease appeared at Christmas 1552; in March 1553 the Venetian envoy saw him and said that although still quite handsome, Edward was clearly dying.
It was probably about this time that Edward drafted his ‘Devise’ for the succession (Inner Temple, London, Petyt MS 538, vol. 47, fol. 317). Sir Edward Montague, chief justice of the common pleas, testified that ‘the king by his own mouth said’ that he was prepared to alter the succession because the marriage of either Princess Mary or Princess Elizabeth to a foreigner might undermine both ‘the laws of this realm’ and ‘his proceedings in religion’ (Fuller, 4.138–9). According to Montague, Edward also thought his sisters bore the ‘shame’ of illegitimacy. As first conceived, the ‘Devise’ envisioned the crown passing in succession to protestant males or, in their absence, to one of their would-be mothers who would rule not as a queen but as a ‘governess’ advised by an unnamed council of twenty. As governess, Edward nominated in succession Frances, duchess of Suffolk; her daughters, Jane, Katherine, and Mary Grey; and Margaret Clifford, the daughter of Frances's younger sister. As death approached, he altered this bizarre, convoluted scheme in such a way as to favour Jane exclusively: the words ‘Jane's heirs masles’ became ‘Jane and her heirs male’. Close chronological analysis of the successive stages by which the ‘Devise’ was amended suggests that the original scheme was exclusively Edward's—Northumberland initially may have been unaware of its existence—but that Edward changed the words in question at the prompting of the duke or one of his men, possibly Gates. The decision to make the change was probably taken soon after the duke's son Guildford married Jane on 21 May, and certainly not later than 10 June 1553, when the doctors, following a secret consultation, gave Edward three days to live. Two unimpeachable eyewitnesses confirmed Northumberland's role, Montague and Sir John Gosnold, solicitor-general of the court of augmentations, both of whom examined the holograph ‘Devise’ and were personally charged by Edward on his deathbed to authenticate it under letters patent on 21 June.
Nevertheless the king's role is undeniable. When Montague on 14 June informed Edward that ‘the execution of this device after the king's decease’ would be treasonable, the dying king ‘with sharp words and angry countenance’ commanded him and all the judges to accept it. Montague complied, but only after getting the king's pardon, for he knew that as a minor, Edward could not make out a valid will and that only parliament could overturn the act of 1544 governing the succession. ‘Whereunto the king said he would have this done, and after ratify it by parliament’ (Fuller, 4.138–40), and on 19 June chancery began preparing writs for a new parliament to meet on 18 September. Edward regarded Jane as his spiritual sister, his only acceptable successor. Like himself, she had absorbed the ‘godly learning’ of the Cambridge-trained evangelical reformers, and more than his sisters in blood, she could be trusted to carry forward his Reformation. Facing what he believed would be Mary's destruction of true religion, he let death steel his conviction. Thomas Goodrich, bishop of Ely, heard his last confession. On the evening of 6 July, reportedly praying that England be defended against papistry, he died at Greenwich in the arms of Sidney and Wroth, attended by his doctors and Christopher Salmon, a groom. Nicholas Bellin of Modena made his (now-lost) funeral effigy in wax and wood in the style of Pietro Torrigiani's royal effigies. On 8 August he was buried in Westminster Abbey in a white marble vault in an unmarked grave beneath Torrigiani's altar for Henry VII's tomb. Cornelius Cure's coloured drawing ofc.1573 for a tomb for Edward is evidence of Cecil's never-realized dream to build at Windsor next to Henry VIII's tomb a bronze and marble monument to England's first protestant king (Bodl. Oxf., Gough maps 45, no. 63).
At his accession Edward VI came into an enormous and splendid inheritance—his father's ships, tapestries, jewels, manors, and plate, as well as fifty-five palaces, more than any prince in Christendom. Arguably England's best-educated king, he held the potential of becoming in maturity the embodiment of the ideal Renaissance prince: learned, pious, chivalrous, decorous. He might have been a renowned scholar; the sweep of his intellectual interests was apparently without bounds. On a visit to court in autumn 1552 the Italian physician and philosopher Girolamo Cardano thought Edward had ‘uttered his minde no lesse readely and eloquently than I could do my selfe’ in a discourse in Latin on ‘the uniform course and motion … [of] starres and planets’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.ccix). It is possible that his memory was nearly photographic; it was said that he could rattle off the name of every creek, bay, and rivulet not only in England but also in Scotland and France. Such reports had given Edward at fifteen a Europe-wide reputation for brilliance and learning. A godly saintliness was also attributed to him by his evangelical admirers at court, a reputation that transformed him even in death: rumours that he had not died circulated in Mary's reign and after. For John Foxe, Richard Grafton, and Raphael Holinshed, Edward's reputed godliness was central to their accounts of his Reformation.
Protestant hagiography was first undermined in John Hayward's The Life, and Raigne of King Edward the Sixt (1630), which presented Edward as the prisoner of duplicitous councillors, and his Reformation as born of factiousness and greed. Despite Hayward's distortions—he modelled his Life on Tacitus—later seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers carried forward his story of factious division. Then in the late Victorian era this tradition was broken in its turn by James Anthony Froude and A. F. Pollard, who argued that even avaricious councillors might do good: Protector Somerset saved Edward's Reformation in the unlikely guise of a liberal hero. Froude and Pollard fundamentally redirected all later enquiry through their emphasis on the institutions of central government, the council and parliament; by the mid-twentieth century a personally attractive, godly king had virtually disappeared from the screen. In G. R. Elton's influential text England under the Tudors (1955) Edward was little more than an inconsequential pawn.
However, institutional histories beg the crucial question of how much and what sort of agency should be ascribed to Edward. A systematic analysis of the genesis of his ‘state papers’ shows him to have been at fifteen an exceptionally capable student who was following, not directing royal affairs. Had he lived, his capacity for public affairs might well have been matchless. The relative paucity of references to religion in his Chronicle enabled W. K. Jordan to ascribe to him the ‘cool and secular spirit’ of one primarily interested in the administrative aspects of the royal supremacy (Edward VI, Chronicle, xxii). But the supremacy for Edward was itself ‘a profoundly religious concern’ (MacCulloch, Tudor Church, 30). Jennifer Loach's view, that there cannot be ascribed to Edward ‘any deep or informed interest in Protestant theology’ (Loach, 158), largely reflects the disappearance of his notes on court sermons, and is in any case clearly contradicted by the zeal of his surviving writings on religion: in his treatise of 1549 against the papal supremacy he identified himself personally with those who had renounced idolatry, and in his proposals for remodelling the Order of the Garter of 1550–51 (BL, Harley MS 394) he rejected the mass as so much superstition, instead describing the Lord's supper as an act of remembrance.
However, it is to protestant hagiographers like John Foxe, and to Foxe's illustrator John Day, that the picture of Edward as an English Josiah, pious to the exclusion of all else, is derived: the woodcut in Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1563) of the young king listening attentively to Latimer's Lenten sermon of 1549 represents only a partial truth. The corrective is the extensive record of his participation in the lavish rituals of a very cosmopolitan court. His music-making, revels, jousts, and entertainments advertised publicly what the private, official record of his expenses confirms, that his were the interests of a prince given to magnificence and self-conscious display. The French in particular admired the elegance and taste of his courtly spectacle. He sometimes directed the masques in which he also acted a part, in costume: the Revels accounts show that at Christmas 1551 the ‘plaies and pastimes’ were altered ‘to serve his maiesties plasure and determinacion’ (Loach, 153). The extravagance of his dress and the jewels he bought for himself and others as gifts were stunning by any standard; from Flemish dealers he acquired some of the costliest gems on the European market. His patronage of art, however, was limited; he paid Bellin to work on Henry VIII's tomb then under construction at Westminster Abbey.
Edward's portraits show a grey-eyed lad of pale complexion and slight stature; he had a high shoulder blade and (according to Cardano) may have suffered weak eyesight and occasional deafness (Edward VI, Remains, 1.ccxv). What some thought a noticeably grave aspect made him seem older than he was. Myth makers like Foxe rendered him ‘meek’. In his robust passion for the hunt and the martial games of the court, however, he was very much in the mould of Henry VIII. When left to himself, he matched the swordplay, jousting, and riding with long hours in self-absorbed study of fortifications and war. After critically surveying the defences at Portsmouth in person in 1552, he designed two new ‘strong castellis on either side of the Haven there’ (ibid., 1.81). His full-length portraits—one of c.1547 in the National Portrait Gallery by an unknown artist, and another in the Musée du Louvre attributed to Guillim Scrots, his court painter—show him striking ‘unconvincing imitations’ of his father's bold-legged stance. The pose was deliberate, and mirrored what Petruccio Ubaldini, an Italian humanist in Edward's employ, described as the ‘contrived adulation’ for the king and the rigid etiquette of his court, part of the ‘theatre’ of Tudor majesty (Loades, 202). All the same, his personal letters hint at a pronounced bossiness. In December 1551 he admonished his friend Barnaby Fitzpatrick to shun Catholic practices in Paris (‘being brought up with me and bounden to obey my lawes’), avoid the company of women, and if he were not riding, shooting, or playing tennis (all ‘honest games’), he was to give over his time to reading scripture. ‘This I write’, said Edward, ‘to spurre yow [on]’ (Edward VI, Remains, 1.69–70). Although his contemporaries attributed to him a sense of justice and mercy—court preachers cited scripture to remind him of a godly king's duty—he left no programme of socially minded reform. The story of his allegedly spontaneous gift of the royal palace of Bridewell to house the London poor was first told by Grafton in 1568 and ignored the fact that the city of London had been planning just such a scheme from about 1544.
Edward's youth and unfulfilled promise have given rise to a number of misconceptions. But in one respect, at least, image and achievement have been found to coincide, in the perception of his reign as having seen the foundations laid, with his encouragement, of one of the great transformations of English society and English-speaking culture, namely the protestant Reformation.
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