The english boy king Edward VI.
Edward Tudor; 1537-1553, was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty from 1547 to 1553 King of England and Ireland. He was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII. (With his third wife Jane Seymour) and ascended after his death the age of nine to the English throne.
Surely there are few royal personages whose history is alike as brief and as painful as that of the son of the Great Harry. Even when we have been accustomed to regard with admiration the religious character and the royal charity of the young King Edward VI., we lament his restricted, almost joyless childhood, his sickness, and early death. But when we estimate the conditions of his mental training and disposition, and note the results in a character which could apparently regard with something like apathy the execution of both the uncles who had striven to become his guardians, we are compelled to the conclusion that, even though the crown passed from the pious boy king to his half sister, the dark and fanatic Mary, his early death was better for the nation than that it should have had a ruler with such a character, hardened, and narrowed, and self-concentrated.
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It must not be forgotten, however, that the shadows of the axe and the block, which had so long rested on the state during the latter part of Henry’s reign, still loomed darkly over the land. He had made them the instruments for the gratification of revenge or the removal of those who stood between him and arbitrary rule; they were now adopted as the means of enabling successive parties to rise to power by the destruction of their opponents, while the stake seldom lacked victims who were to be burned in the interest of religion. Edward VI. seems to have given the whole force of his character to sustain his religious convictions. We look almost in vain for any youthful warmth of affection, and even what may be regarded as natural tenderness of sentiment had been little developed in his disposition.
Who can wonder at this when it is remembered that he had lived a childhood of seclusion, during which his studies had been of a formal nature, only occasionally relieved by recreations which were permitted by his tutors or governesses. Just as Henry VIII. was a man with the ill-regulated and turbulent passions and vagaries of a boy, Edward, while a mere infant, was exhibiting the demure precision and self-consciousness of a narrow character. Of course he was little more than a royal puppet in the hands of his uncle Somerset, who had become king in all except the name. At the same time Cranmer was ever ready to induce him to give royal authority to the severities which had been ordained for the promotion of the Protestant cause; and Thomas Seymour, by his bold intrigues, was endeavoring at once to ingratiate himself with his nephew, and to gain such a position as would make him the arbiter of the crown in case of that early death of Edward of which warnings had not been wanting.
For the physical constitution of Edward VI. was not such as to bear the educational forcing process to which he had been subjected. The Milanese physician, Cardano, who visited England in the last year of the reign, fancied he saw a look in Edward’s face which foretold an early death. From him we learn that the young king in stature was said Edward; “and sorry for the danger that will come of it. I shall hope and pray for something better, but the evil thing I will not allow.” The council, however, seem to have persuaded him to content himself for the present with punishing all who attended the princess’ mass, except herself, and meanwhile delayed a positive answer to the emperor till they had secured an alliance with France, which enabled them to set him at defiance.
It seems possible that the morbid condition of the mind of Henry VIII., and even some of the mental tendencies of Henry VII., were shown in the character of Edward. What was probably a strict conscientiousness took the form of an intellectual or logical process, and led him to false conclusions, first, because he was too young to grasp many of the subjects to which his attention had been strained; and secondly, because his disposition, aided by the system of his instructors, had led him to disregard the teachings of the heart, and indeed all personal considerations, for the sake of what he deemed to be consistent logical conclusions.
When to this characteristic was added the formal etiquette with which his governors caused him to be treated, and the self-consequence which was the substitute they offered him in place of authority, we may wonder that he exhibited even such amiable traits as he really possessed. No one was permitted to address him, not even his sisters, without kneeling to him. “I have seen,” says Ubaldini,” the Princess Elizabeth drop on one knee five times before her brother ere she took her place.” At dinner, if either of his sisters were permitted to eat with him, she sat on a stool and cushion at a distance beyond the limits of the royal dais. Even the lords and gentlemen who brought in the dishes before dinner knelt down before they placed them on the table a custom which shocked the French ambassador and his suite, for in France the office was confined to pages, who bowed only, and did riot kneel.
Fuller tells us how the young king, speaking of his tutors, used to say that “Randolph, the German, spoke honestly, Sir John Cheke talked seriously, Dr. Coxe solidly, and Sir Anthony Cooke weighingly” — an estimate which gives us a rather melancholy impression of a boy’s mind, and is wonderfully in accordance with the subjects and treatment of those literary essays, which, like the ” Discourse on the Reformation of Abuses,” display a gravity and an impersonal quality of temperament remarkable in a boy of fourteen, especially when that boy was a son of Henry VIII., and only waiting till he became of age to be actual king of England. To us, at the present day, it is sufficiently remarkable that a lad who became nominally king at ten years old, and died when he was sixteen, should actually have left, not only a diary which is a remarkable indication of his disposition, but several works showing what was his mental character (The Literary Remains of King Edward VI., by Mr. John Cough Nichols, in two volumes, printed for the Roxburgh Club in 1857, is perhaps the best edition of his works.).
In those five years the royal boy was to see the overthrow of both the uncles who had striven, one to retain and the other to acquire the governorship of the realm; and it is scarcely too much to say that he appears to have been little affected by the fate of either. When the Protector Somerset returned from Scotland, his brother, Thomas Seymour, was using every effort to wrest from him one, if not both, his high offices, and them marriage of this man with the queen-dowager had apparently given him great influence. But Somerset was the quieter and the more powerful intriguer; and when Catherine died, shortly afterwards, though there was an appearance of reconciliation, and Thomas Seymour was presented with fresh honors and emoluments,it became evident that one or the other must be removed. The younger brother was charged with treason, and without any proper formal trial was condemned to death. The warrant for his execution was signed by his brother and by Cranmer,and acquiesced in by Edward, apparently with a calm indifference that is almost amazing. We must remember, however, that Edward was entirely under the control of the council, of which Somerset was the head while Cranmer was its most active member. When the day of adversity came to the protector, and he himself was superseded by the Earl of Warwick, who was made Duke of Northumberland, and took his place as regent, there ensued not only a reaction on the part of the Romanists,which it required all the ability of Cranmer and a strict enforcement of existing laws to resist, but also a reaction against Somerset as the to oarbitrary ruler who had exercised more than royal authority.
He was first disgraced, then partially restored to favor, apparently by the desire of his nephew, who showed him as much kindness as it was in his nature to show, or as he was permitted by his new rulers to exercise. Probably Warwick intended to make use of the influence of the late protector to his own advantage, for he agreed to a reconciliation, and soon afterwards his eldest son, the Lord Lisle, married the Lady Ann, one of Somerset’s daughters, and the wedding was celebrated by a feast and various entertainments, at which the king was present, for in his journal he says, “there were certain gentlemen who did strive who should first take away a goose’s head which was hanged alive on two cross posts.” But Somerset began to take secret measures to restore his fallen fortunes. It was said that he intrigued to bring about a marriage between the king and his daughter Jane; but this at all events was frustrated by a proposal on behalf of the boy king for the hand of Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry of France, a request that was immediately accepted. It was agreed that on her attaining a certain age the alliance should be ratified, and that with a dower of 200,000 crowns (about a tenth part of the sum first asked for) she should be sent to England, as Edward notes in his journal, “at her father’s charge, three months before she was twelve, sufficiently jewelled and stuffed.”
This was in May, 1551, and in the following September Warwick was made Warden of the Scottish Marches. This enabled him to take measures for cutting off the retreat of Somerset should he take to open revolt and add to the insurrections which were now appearing in various parts of the country the horrors of a civil war. In the beginning of October Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland, his friends and dependents being also promoted to new titles. Five days afterwards Somerset was arrested on a charge of conspiracy and high treason, and committed to the Tower. He was condemned, not for treason,but for conspiring to compass the death of the leading members of the government, and was executed on the 22d of January, 1552, a day or two after the festivities of Christmas, in which Edward seems to have taken a more than usually gay part, especially in the masques and entertainments given under the direction of the Lord of Misrule. It is said that “he seemed to take the trouble of his uncle somewhat heavily;” but the note in his journal merely records the tragic event thus: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”
His own end was near. A year or so afterwards he was attacked by measles and small-pox, from which he appeared to have recovered, though probably his constitution was weakened by their effects. Later in the year, when heated by a game at tennis, he is said to have drunk too freely of some cold liquid, and was soon after seized with a consumptive cough. It was evident that the young king was dying. Northumberland induced him to execute a will which excluded Mary from the throne on the plea that she had been so excluded by the edict of Henry, but really because of her anti-Protestant religion. This determined the succession in favor of Lady Jane Grey, who as daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk, the eldest of the surviving daughters of Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VII., was after her mother and the two princesses the next in succession. She had been espoused to Northumberland’s son, the Lord Guildford Dudley, and the alliance might thus be made of the utmost importance. Edward, anxious to prevent Mary from restoring the Romish faith, at once consented to the required instrument.
The judges and councillors hesitated to draw up a document which altered the succession without the authority of Parliament; but Edward strongly rebuked them, while Northumberland was furious. At last they consented, as they were supported by the friends of the regent and by Cranmer, who was at the head of the clergy. Between the discussion and his death, which occurred on the 15th July, 1553, Edward was committed to the care of a nurse who professed to be skilled in the cure of his complaint. It was afterwards declared that she hastened his death, and that the Duke of Northumberland was not dissatisfied with the result; but this suspicion was probably only the expression of a feeling which, having already gained ground, was afterwards emphasised by one of the most tragical events of English history.
Source: Pictures and Royal Portraits illustrative of English and Scottish History by Thomas Archer. London 1878.