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 the Lady Mary) and Anne Boleyn (mother of the Lady Elizabeth), because of their failure to produce male heirs. Both marriages had been annulled (and Anne Boleyn was also executed); the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth were deemed illegitimate. Despite their illegitimacy, however, they were reinserted into the line of succession after the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall in 1544.
The Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall was an extremely sickly child; it has been theorised that he suffered from congenital syphilis. The Duke of Cornwall's frailty led Henry VIII to quickly seek to remarry; the King's last three marriages, however, did not produce any children. The Duke of Cornwall's physical difficulties did not impede his education; at the age of seven, he was already able to speak Latin. He later learnt to speak French and Greek; by the age of thirteen, he found himself translating books into the latter language.
Henry died on 28 January 1547. His will named sixteen executors, who were to act as a Council of Regency until Edward achieved the age of eighteen. These executors were to be supplemented by twelve assistants, who would only participate when the others deemed it fit. The executors were all inclined towards religious reformation, whose most prominent opponents—Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner (the Bishop of Winchester) and Thomas Thirlby (the Bishop of Westminster)—were excluded. Henry also appointed Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford to serve as Lord Protector of the Realm and Governor of the King's Person during Edward's minority. Lord Hertford, who was Edward's uncle, was only supposed to act on the advice of the other executors. A few days after Henry's death, Lord Hertford was created Duke of Somerset and appointed to the influential positions of Lord High Treasurer and Earl Marshal.
To allay all doubts regarding the validity of Henry VIII's will, all the executors sought reappointment from Edward. On 13 March 1547, Edward created a new Council of twenty-six members. The Council consisted of all the executors and assistants, except for Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton (who, whilst serving as Lord Chancellor, had illegally delegated some of his powers to other officials) and Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. The Duke of Somerset was no longer merely a "first among equals"; instead, he was allowed to act without the consent of the Council, the composition of which he was permitted to change at his whim. The Lord Protector, then, became the real ruler of England; Edward VI was demoted to a ceremonial role.
Another powerful influence on Edward VI was Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both Cranmer and the Duke of Somerset began the process of creating a Protestant England. Various Catholic rites were replaced with Protestant ones. The Duke of Somerset, however, did not encourage persecution; rather, he refrained from it, as he feared the wrath of Europe's powerful Catholic monarchs, especially Edward's half-cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
One of the Duke of Somerset's primary aims was to achieve a union between England and Scotland. In late 1547, an English army marched into Scotland and took control of the Lowlands. In 1548, however, Mary, the daughter of the Scottish King James V, married the Dauphin Francis, the heir-apparent to the French Throne, thereby strengthening the alliance between France and Scotland.
The Duke of Somerset was hardly in a position to oppose both France and Scotland, as his own position was insecure. His brother, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, the Lord High Admiral, had hatched a plot to depose him. Lord Seymour's conspiracy, however, was exposed in 1549. A bill of attainder was introduced and passed almost unanimously by Parliament; Lord Seymour was executed on 20 March.
Later in 1549, there was another uprising, this time by poor peasants. On 8 August, taking advantage of internal strife, the French formally declared war on England. The Duke of Somerset became extremely unpopular, and was deposed by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick. Lord Warwick did not make himself Lord Protector, instead goading Edward into declaring his majority, though not yet of the age of eighteen. Lord Warwick nevertheless retained considerable power; he was appointed Lord President of the Council. In 1550, Lord Warwick conciliated the peasent rebels and made peace with France, giving up all of England's possessions in Scotland without compensation.
The rise of Lord Warwick was accompanied by the fall of Catholicism in England. Thomas Cranmer introduced the Book of Common Prayer for use in all Church services. All official editions of the Bible were accompanied by anti-Catholic annotations. Catholic symbols in churches were desecrated by mobs. Religious dissenters, moreover, were often persecuted and burnt at the stake. In 1550 and 1551, the most powerful Roman Catholic Bishops—Edmund Bonner (the Bishop of London), Stephen Gardiner (the Bishop of Winchester) and Nicholas Heath (the Bishop of Worcester) included—were deposed, and their places taken by Protestant reformers such as Nicholas Ridley.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Somerset, who agreed to submit to Lord Warwick, was released from prison and readmitted to the Privy Council. Within a few months, he found himself powerful enough to demand the release of other political and religious prisoners. He opposed the Council's attempt to curtail the religious liberty of Edward's sister, the Lady Mary. The Duke of Somerset's opposition to the religious Reformation irked Lord Warwick.
Lord Warwick attempted to increase his own prestige; on his advice, Edward created him Duke of Northumberland and bestowed honours on his numerous supporters. The Duke of Northumberland began a campaign to discredit the Duke of Somerset. The people of London were informed that the Duke of Somerset would destroy their city; Edward was told that the Duke would depose and imprison him and seize his Crown. It was also suggested that the Duke of Somerset had plotted to murder the Duke of Northumberland. In December of 1551, the Duke of Somerset was tried for treason on the grounds that he had attempted to imprison a member of the King's Council. The treason charge, however, could not be proven; instead, Somerset was found guilty of participating in unlawful assemblies, but was still sentenced to death. The Duke of Somerset was subsequently executed in January 1552.
On the day after the Duke of Somerset's execution, a new session of Parliament began. It passed the Act of Uniformity 1552, under which a second Book of Common Prayer was required for church services. Unauthorised worship was punishable by up to life imprisonment.
Edward, who was dying in 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 half-sister, the Lady 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—the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth—conducive to his aims. The third individual in the line of succession under Henry VIII's will was Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk (the daughter of Henry's younger sister Mary); she, too, was not to Northumberland's liking. Northumberland feared that the Duchess of Suffolk's 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. The Lady 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 authorised by any Act of Parliament, whilst Henry's will (which Northumberland sought to abrogate), had been specifically authorised 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 co-operation by promising a pardon under the Great Seal.
The first draft of the will excluded the Lady Mary, the Lady 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 heirs-male. This plan, however, was not to Northumberland's liking; the draft was changed to leave the Crown to the Lady Jane and her heirs-male. The Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth were excluded because they were officially illegitimate; the Duchess of Suffolk agreed to renounce her own claims.
Edward died in Greenwich on 6 July 1553, either of tuberculosis or of arsenic poisoning or of syphilis. He would later be buried in Westminster Abbey.
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 10 July. But the people were much more supportive of the rightful heir under the Act of Succession, Mary. On 19 July, 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 the Lady Jane and her father 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 the Lady 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 accidentally and a pauper boy of identical appearance accidentally replace each other.
Style and arms
Like his father, Edward VI was referred to with the styles "Majesty," "Highness" and "Grace." His official style was of the same form as his father: "Edward the Sixth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head."
Edward VI's arms were the same as those used by his predecessors since Henry IV: Quarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England).