King Edward VI


Edward VI (12 October 1537–6 July 1553) was King of England and King of Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death. Edward, the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty, was England's first Protestant ruler.

Although his father and predecessor, Henry VIII, had broken the link between English Catholicism and Roman Catholicism, it was during Edward's reign that the decisive move was made from Catholicism to a form of Protestantism which came to be known as Anglicanism.

Edward was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich. He was the son of Henry VIII by his wife, Jane Seymour, who died twelve days afterwards from puerperal fever. It is sometimes asserted that Jane sacrificed her life by the performance of a Caesarean section, but such assertions are without basis. Edward automatically became Duke of Cornwall upon his birth; he was, however, never created Prince of Wales, as was (and still is) customary for the heir-apparent to the throne.

Henry VIII was extremely pleased by the birth of a male heir. He had left his two previous wives, Catherine of Aragon (mother of Mary) and Anne Boleyn (mother of Elizabeth), because of their failure to produce male heirs. Both marriages had been annulled, and Anne Boleyn was also executed; Mary and Elizabeth were deemed illegitimate. Despite their illegitimacy, however, they were reinserted into the line of succession after Edward in 1544.

Edward was an extremely sickly child. It has been theorised that he suffered from congenital syphilis or from tuberculosis. His frailty led Henry VIII to quickly seek to remarry; the king's last three marriages, however, did not produce any children.

Edward's physical difficulties did not impede his education; on the contrary, the young prince was a very bright child, already able to speak Latin at the age of seven. He later learned to speak French and Greek; by the age of thirteen, he found himself translating books into the latter language. His principal tutors were Sir John Cheke, Leonard Cox, and Jean Belmain.

The fragile health of Edward VI did not abate as his reign progressed. During his father's reign, Edward had effectively been mollycoddled and kept in seclusion. Edward desperately wanted his own freedom, and indulged in the early years of his reign with other children of his age. He became extremely fond of sports such as tennis.

During the winter of 1552–1553, Edward, strained by physical activities in the bitter weather, contracted a cold, which was made more serious as it was compounded by other illnesses (tuberculosis, and according to some, syphilis). Doctors tried to help by administering various medicines, but their efforts were in vain, leaving Edward in perpetual agony. Edward, who was by now dying in early 1553, was enough the master of his own destiny to have concerns about the succession. Having been brought up a Protestant, he had no desire to be succeeded by his older half-sister, Mary.

At the same time, the Duke of Northumberland was eager to retain his own power. He did not find the next two individuals in the line of succession, Mary and Elizabeth, conducive to his aims. The third individual in the line of succession under Henry VIII's will was Lady Frances Brandon (the daughter of Henry's younger sister Mary by Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk); she, too, was not to Northumberland's liking. Northumberland feared that Frances' husband, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, would claim the Crown as his own.

The Duke of Northumberland then foolishly attempted to rule through the Duchess of Suffolk's daughter, the Lady Jane Grey. Jane was married off to the Duke of Northumberland's younger son, Guilford Dudley. On 11 June 1553, Northumberland commanded senior judges to draw up a draft will for Edward.

The plan was illegal for many reasons; firstly, a minor did not have the authority to make a will. Furthermore, Edward's will had not been authorized by any act of Parliament, while Henry's will (which Northumberland sought to abrogate), had been specifically authorized by an act passed in 1544. The judges at first resisted giving in to the Duke of Northumberland's demands, as it was treason to attempt to vary the laws of succession established in 1544. Edward, however, ensured their cooperation by promising a pardon under the Great Seal.

The first draft of the will excluded Mary, Elizabeth, the Duchess of Suffolk, and the Lady Jane from the line of succession on the theory that no woman could rule England. The Crown was to be left to the Lady Jane's male heirs. This plan, however, was not to Northumberland's liking; the draft was changed to leave the Crown to Jane and her male heirs. Mary and Elizabeth were excluded because they were officially illegitimate; the Duchess of Suffolk agreed to renounce her own claims.

Edward died in Greenwich on July 6, 1553, either of tuberculosis, arsenic poisoning, or syphilis. He would later be buried in Westminster Abbey. As Edward lay dying, the Duke of Northumberland (according to legend) symbolically snatched the crown from him and gave it to his daughter-in-law, the Lady Jane.

Edward VI's death was kept a secret for a few days so that preparations could be made for Jane's accession. High civic authorities privately swore their allegiance to the new queen, who was not publicly proclaimed until July 10. But the people were much more supportive of the rightful heir under the Act of Succession, Mary. On July 19, Mary triumphantly rode into London, and Jane was forced to give up the crown. Jane's proclamation was revoked as an act done under coercion; her succession was correctly deemed unlawful. Thus, Edward's de jure successor was Mary I, but his de facto successor was Jane.

The Duke of Northumberland was executed, but Lady Jane and her father were originally spared. In 1554, when Mary faced Wyatt's Rebellion, the Duke of Suffolk once again attempted to put his daughter on the throne. For this crime, both Jane and the Duke of Suffolk were executed.

After Edward's death at the age of fifteen, rumours of his survival persisted. To take advantage of the people's delusions, several imposters were put forward as rightful kings. These impersonations continued throughout Mary I's reign, and even far into Elizabeth I's reign. Mistaken identities also feature in the American author Mark Twain's novel, "The Prince and the Pauper," in which the young Edward VI and a pauper boy of identical appearance accidentally replace each other.

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