Edward VI (England) (1537–1553; Ruled 1547–1553)

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EDWARD VI (ENGLAND) (15371553; ruled 15471553)

EDWARD VI (ENGLAND) (15371553; ruled 15471553), king of England. Edward was nine years old when he inherited the English throne in 1547. Though troubled by factional politics and provincial rebellion, his brief reign did much to determine England's future history as a Protestant nation. Edward was born on 12 October 1537, the only child of Henry VIII (ruled 15091547) and his third queen, Jane Seymour (c. 15091537), who died twelve days later. Catholic propagandists claimed, probably falsely, that he was cut out of his mother's womb. Here was the male heir for whom his father had yearned, and bells rang all over England in celebration. Far from the sickly boy of popular memory, Edward was robust and merry, delighting in music and archery. He was tutored in Latin, Greek, and Scripture by the Cambridge humanists Richard Cox and John Cheke. But his upbringing was that of an aristocrat, not the Protestant saint of later legend. He studied French and geography and military engineering in company with other young nobles. From early 1547 he kept a chronicle of the political and military events of his reign, evidence of his academic ability and ordered thinking.


Edward became king on 28 January 1547, on the death of his father. There was no regency; he ruled in person, at least in theory. But considerable power rested in the Privy Council, which swiftly contravened Henry VIII's wishes by electing Edward's maternal uncle, Edward Seymour (c. 15001552), to be lord protector during the king's minority. As duke of Somerset, Seymour effectively governed England until his downfall as the result of a coup in October 1549. Seymour's military priorities matched the young king's enthusiasm for fortifications and naval battles. In summer 1547 an army was sent into Scotland to enforce a marriage treaty between Edward and Mary, Queen of Scots (15421587); England won the Battle of Pinkie, but lost the war when Mary was conveyed to France to wed the dauphin, who became Francis II. In Edward's other kingdom of Ireland, garrisons were established in Leix and Offaly in an attempt to enforce English rule. Following Seymour's ejection from power, Edward's closest adviser was another soldier, John Dudley, duke of Northumberland and lord president of the council. By filling the privy chamber with his own adherents, Dudley achieved a powerful hold over the king, greater even than Seymour had enjoyed. A peace treaty in March 1550 restored Anglo-French relations, and in April 1551 Edward was elected to the French chivalric order of St. Michael, to his tremendous gratification. But the festivities could not conceal a growing crisis in the royal finances, aggravated by coinage debasement and embezzlement by crown officials.

Nothing is more controversial about Edward VI than the Protestant reforms carried forward in his name by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury (14891556). In 1549 the Latin mass was replaced by matins, evensong, and Holy Communion in English. Confession was abandoned, purgatory denied, and chantries shut down. Priests were permitted to marry. The Catholic devotional world of the English parishes was fatally damaged as sacred images, wall paintings, and stained glass were defaced or destroyed; in their place came pulpits and preaching. Edward's own role in all this is not clear, but judging from a French treatise in which he denounced papal supremacy and from his avid patronage of sermons, he was a fervent Protestant. The alteration in religion sparked a major rebellion in Devon and Cornwall in summer 1549, which called for the restoration of the mass and traditional parish culture. The crown suppressed it with uncommon brutality by means of mercenaries. But Edward's reforms also laid the foundations for the 1559 church settlement of his sister Queen Elizabeth (ruled 15581603). The 1549 Book of Common Prayer, drawn up by Cranmer and authorized by the Act of Uniformity, has influenced centuries of English poetry and prose and remains the finest achievement of Edward's reign.


Edward's youth was offset by the splendor of his court ceremonial. The king ranged between Whitehall, Greenwich, and Hampton Court, according to the season. He was a keen hunter and frequently played his part in masques and tilts. In 1552 Edward made a grand summer progress of England's southern counties. In the Chapel Royal, meanwhile, Thomas Tallis (c. 15051585) set the new English liturgy to music. Magnificence had strategic value, and foreign ambassadors were deeply impressed. Yet Edward also had a social conscience, pricked by the harvest failures and economic slump that afflicted his reign from 1549. Pressure on land provoked rural riots and, in July 1549, a popular uprising in East Anglia under Robert Kett. Though achievements lagged behind the rhetoric, Edward's concern for the commonwealth was a marked feature of his kingship. Enclosure commissions and grain surveys were supplemented by weekly church collections for the poor from 1552. Edward himself wrote a detailed memorandum to the council, advocating an English cloth "mart" to rival Antwerp. The king was drawing close to assuming independent rule of his dominions.

In February 1553 Edward caught a feverish cold that progressed into a pulmonary infection. Realizing that he was dying, he began his last great initiative, to deny the throne to his Catholic sister Mary. His "devise for the succession" declared his heir to be Jane Grey (15371554), the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary and a Protestant. John Dudley, whose son Guildford had recently married Jane, was a prime mover in this dubious scheme, but Edward also backed it with the last of his strength. When Edward died on 6 July 1553, Jane was duly proclaimed queen, although a pro-Mary uprising meant that she ruled for only nine days before being imprisoned and then executed for high treason.

Several outstanding portraits of Edward VI survive. The earliest, painted by Hans Holbein around 1538 (Mellon Collection, Washington, D.C.), portrays a sturdy and imperious young prince, sporting a scarlet hat; his golden rattle is held like a royal scepter. Surely the strangest is the 1546 painting by William Scrots, in which Edward appears in distorted perspective (anamorphosis) that is resolved only with the aid of a special viewing device. The Elizabethan picture known as King Edward VI and the Pope (c. 1570, National Portrait Gallery, London), in which the dying Henry VIII hands power to his son and the pope is crushed by "The Worde of the Lord," illustrates how Edward became a prized asset in Protestant propaganda after his death.

See also Church of England ; Elizabeth I (England) ; England ; Henry VIII (England) ; Mary I (England) ; Tudor Dynasty (England) .


Primary Source

Edward VI, King of England. Chronicle and Political Papers of King Edward VI. Edited by W. K. Jordan. Ithaca, N.Y., 1966.

Secondary Sources

Jordan, W. K. Edward VI: The Threshold of Power, The Dominance of the Duke of Northumberland. London, 1970.

. Edward VI: The Young King, The Protectorship of the Duke of Somerset. London, 1968.

Loach, Jennifer. Edward VI. Edited by George Bernard and Penry Williams. New Haven and London, 1999.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Tudor Church Militant: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation. London, 1999.

J. P. D. Cooper

Edward VI

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Edward VI (1537–53), king of England (1547–53). Since Edward was 9 years old when he succeeded Henry VIII in 1547, he was in tutelage for the greater part of his reign, with Somerset as his governor until 1549 and Northumberland thereafter. His mother Jane Seymour died when he was born, his half-sister Mary was 21 years his senior, Elizabeth four years. Edward's chronicle or journal, which he kept from the age of 12, is largely factual and reveals little of character, save perhaps reserve and caution. His main interest was in the sham fights put on to entertain him, the poor state of the currency, and the obstinacy of his sister Mary in refusing to change her religion. From the age of 6 he had learned protestant tutors— Richard Cox, Sir John Cheke the distinguished humanist, and Sir Anthony Cooke. Contemporaries saw much in him to admire. The Venetian ambassador in 1551 thought him ‘handsome, affable, of becoming stature’, and in 1552 the imperial ambassador, after a difficult conversation about Mary's religion, reported him ‘a likely lad, of quick, ready and well-developed mind’. Less sentimentally, G. R. Elton summed up: ‘Edward was naturally haughty and arrogant … he had a marked intellectual ability, which an appalling schooling had turned into a precocious passion for protestant theology—a cold-hearted prig.’

The religious policy, the central theme of his reign, must have been that of his two chief ministers, though with Edward's growing approval. The position at Henry's death was an uneasy stalemate: the king's quarrel had been with papal authority rather than the rites and doctrines of the catholic church. But a series of measures during Edward's reign pushed England into the protestant camp. Catholic bishops were replaced by reformers. Persecution of protestants ceased and a number of continental reformers made their way across the Channel. The Act of Six Articles, which had represented a shift back towards catholicism, was repealed. The chantries followed the monasteries into dissolution, thus putting even more property into the hands of the gentry and aristocracy. The new Prayer Book of 1549, though not going far enough for many protestants, shocked Devon and Cornwall catholics into revolt. The revised prayer book of 1552 and Cranmer's Forty-Two Articles of 1553 moved the Church of England nearer to calvinism.

Another preoccupation of the reign was the future marriage of the young king. Most promising seemed the suggestion that he should marry Mary, queen of Scots, five years his junior, with the prospect of uniting the two kingdoms. In 1543 the treaty of Greenwich arranged for the marriage but the Scots were extremely reluctant to endorse it. Henry's savage reprisals in 1544 and 1545 (‘the rough wooing’) alienated what support the English had in Scotland and in 1548 Mary was betrothed to the dauphin and sent to France. In 1551 there were negotiations for the hand of Elizabeth, daughter of Henri II of France, but she was even younger than Mary and, in the end, became the third wife of Philip of Spain. In April 1553 the imperial ambassador reported rumours that Edward was to marry Joanna, a daughter of Ferdinand, king of the Romans and brother of the Emperor Charles V.

Further negotiations were not needed. In 1552 the young king had measles and smallpox, from which he seemed to have recovered, but by the beginning of 1553 signs of pulmonary tuberculosis were evident. Edward's last significant action was an attempt to head off any catholic revival by a ‘devise of the crown’, switching the succession from Mary. The plan to bring in Lady Jane Grey, of the blood royal, hastily married to Northumberland's son, was not as hare-brained as the ultimate fiasco made it seem. But the puzzle is why Edward did not try to bring in Elizabeth, popular and protestant. She may have been far too prudent to involve herself in so risky a business or Northumberland might well have thought that she would not prove docile. The last weeks of Edward's life were grim as the illness took hold and diplomats speculated on his survival in terms of days, then hours. He died at Greenwich palace on 6 July. The settlement of the succession, which had meant so much to him, lasted barely a fortnight.

J. A. Cannon


Jordan, W. K. (ed.), The Chronicle and Political Papers of King Edward VI (1966);
Edward VI: The Young King (1968);
Edward VI: The Threshold of Power (1970).

Edward VI

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Edward VI

Edward VI (1537-1553) was king of England and Ireland from 1547 to 1553. His short reign witnessed the introduction of the English Prayer Book and the Forty-two Articles, and thus this period was important in the development of English Protestantism.

The son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour, Edward VI was born on Oct. 12, 1537. His mother died 12 days after his birth. Edward spent most of his childhood at Hampton Court, where he pursued a rigorous educational regimen. He learned Latin, Greek, and French and studied the Bible and the works of Cato, Aesop, Cicero, Aristotle, Thucydides, and the Church Fathers. Roger Ascham, the author of The Schoolmaster, was a sometime tutor of his penmanship, and Sir John Cheke of Cambridge instructed him in classical subjects. Philip van Wilder taught him the lute. Edward knew a little astronomy and occasionally jousted. When lost in his studies, he was cheerful.

Since Edward was only 9 years old when he became king in 1547 on the death of his father, a group of councilors stipulated in Henry VIII's will ruled the kingdom in his name. His council elected his uncle Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, as lord protector, and Hertford soon was created Duke of Somerset.

Somerset's Protestantism and his interest in solving the government's financial difficulties set England on a course of religious and economic change. Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, given liberty to indulge his Protestant tendencies, pushed through the repeal of Henry VIII's six Articles (1547), dissolved the chantries (1547), and through the Act of Uniformity (1549) endorsed an English Prayer Book that prescribed a new religious service. This Prayer Book was subsequently revised in 1553 (Second Act of Uniformity). All Englishmen were forced to use it and to adopt the Protestant form of worship. Reaction to the first Prayer Book stimulated an uprising, the Western Rebellion in Cornwall in 1549, which was quelled at Exeter. The Forty-two Articles of religious belief adopted by Parliament in 1551 demonstrated further movement toward Protestant doctrine and were eventually made the basis of Elizabeth's Thirty-nine Articles.

Edward had a consuming interest in religion. No study delighted him more than that of the Holy Scriptures. He daily read 12 biblical chapters, and he encouraged preachers with strong Protestant views. For example, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, both later executed for their beliefs by Queen Mary I, were regular preachers. Even the Scottish reformer John Knox delivered a few sermons. John Calvin, the Geneva reformer, wrote to him.

Resistance to a new tax on sheep (1548) and an inquiry into enclosure led to a Norfolk rising called Ket's Rebellion (1549), which was instrumental in precipitating Somerset's fall. The rebellion fueled the antagonism of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who thought Somerset too lenient in dealing with the rebels. Warwick became Edward's chief minister and was created Duke of Northumberland. He had, however, little time in which to practice his authority. Edward contracted measles and smallpox in April 1552 and was never well thereafter. He was still too young for marriage. A contract made in 1543 for his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots, had been abandoned in 1550. In 1551 a contract had been drawn for the hand of Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry II of France. But on July 6, 1553, Edward died of tuberculosis.

A priggish, austere boy, Edward had little sympathy for his uncle Somerset and almost no friends. He was short for his age and fair-complected and had weak eyes. His death at 15 left the English Protestant cause without its principal defender and caused Northumberland hastily and unlawfully to place his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. Though Edward's reign was brief, it marks an important milestone in the development of English Protestantism.

Further Reading

The best biography of Edward VI is Hester W. Chapman's scholarly and well-written The Last Tudor King (1958), which underscores personal detail. See also the older, less objective study by Sir Clements R. Markham, King Edward VI: An Appreciation (1907). For background on the religious change consult Jasper Ridley, Thomas Cranmer (1962), and A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (1964; rev. ed. 1967).

Additional Sources

Hayward, John, Sir, The life and raigne of King Edward the Sixth, Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1993 (originally published in 1630). □

Edward VI (1537–1553)

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Edward VI (15371553)

King of England from 1547 until his death of pneumonia at the age fifteen in 1553. Edward was the son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, but at the time the throne passed to him he was only nine years old. England was ruled by regents, at first the Duke of Somerset and then, from 1549, the Duke of Northumberland. During his brief reign, the Protestant Church of England prevailed over the Catholic Church, expelled from England by Henry VIII. At the time of his death, the Duke of Northumberland promoted the accession of Lady Jane Grey, who was soon deposed from the throne and replaced by the Catholic queen Mary.

Edward VI

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Edward VI (1537–53) King of England (1547–53), only legitimate son of Henry VIII. Edward reigned under two regents, the Dukes of Somerset (1547–49) and Northumberland (1549–53). During his reign, the introduction of Protestant liturgy consolidated the Reformation. Clever, highly educated, but frail, Edward died at 16 after willing the crown to Northumberland's daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, in an attempt to exclude his Catholic sister, Mary I.

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