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Edward VI of England

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Edward VI of England

What's the average nine-year-old doing right now? Probably not ruling a country but this is exactly what Edward VI was doing in 1547! Acceding to the throne after his father Henry VIII died, Edward VI ruled until his death in 1553 aged just 15 years old.

The death of Henry VIII and the accession of Edward VI comprise two key factors of the Mid-Tudor Crisis. Naturally, Edward VI could not rule alone at this young age, so we'll find out who helped him rule England and what was achieved during his reign.

Edward VI of England: Biography and Facts

Edward was born on 12 October 1537 to Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. Henry had waited 20 years for a healthy son and heir to the throne. Edward’s birth was marked by 2000 cannon shots fired from the Tower of London. A lavish christening was held three days later in the chapel at Hampton Court Palace. His mother, Jane Seymour, was there as well, albeit on a portable bed, as she was extremely ill. Jane died 12 days after Edward’s birth from childbed fever.

Childbed fever

Fever due to an infection after childbirth, usually in the uterus

The Tudors Edward VI Portrait StudySmarterEdward VI by Hans Holbein the Younger, circa 1538, Wikimedia Commons

Did you know? Edward was gifted with the distinctive Tudor red hair, which he inherited from his father.

Edward VI’s Early Years

Edward spent most of his early years at Hampton Court. As was common practice for royal children, Edward was raised in an all-female household for the first few years. His governess was Margaret Bryan, who had also cared for Henry VIII’s other children. Despite popular belief, his governess reported that Edward was a healthy and happy child. Henry put in place a strict regime of care, hygiene, and security to make sure that Edward stayed this way.

While growing up, Edward became very close to the following people:

  • Catherine Parr: Catherine was Edward's stepmother and Henry VIII's sixth and final wife - they married in 1543. Edward referred to her as ‘most dear mother’.

  • Mary: Mary was Edward's half-sister from Henry VIII's first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. She was 21 years older but they were close before their differences in religion ruined their relationship. In a few letters to Mary, Edward wrote: ‘I love you most.’

  • Elizabeth: Elizabeth was also Edward's half-sister but from Henry VIII's second marriage to Anne Boleyn. They were closer in age, only four years apart, and Elizabeth also shared Edward’s Protestant views.

  • Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer: Cranmer became a fatherly figure to Edward.

Edward VI’s education

When Edward turned six, his female attendants were all replaced by male attendants. Edward was appointed several tutors and was taught philosophy, liberal sciences, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Latin. He was also educated in horseback riding and fencing, and he learned to play several musical instruments.

Edward was trained in critical thinking and clear writing and by the age of 14, he was encouraged to take an active interest in government. He attended occasional privy council meetings, examined council documents, and sometimes added his own comments. He soon began to write papers, agendas, and records of matters for the council to consider.

Edward VI's Accession

Although Edward was only nine years old, there was never a question about whether he would be King or not when Henry VIII died. This is because he was the heir apparent.

His sisters Mary and Elizabeth had previously both been heir presumptive, meaning that they would inherit the throne if someone with a greater claim was not born. Edward had a greater claim because he was male. Additionally, by this time Mary and Elizabeth were both illegitimate as Henry VIII had annulled the marriage to Mary's mother and had Elizabeth's mother beheaded.

Heir apparent

An heir (someone legally entitled to inherit a position, in this case, the throne) whose right could not be defeated by another heir.

Heir presumptive

An heir whose right could be defeated.

On 28 January 1547, Henry VIII died. Edward was crowned on 20 February 1547 at Westminster Abbey and was henceforth known as King Edward VI of England and Ireland. Since Edward was only nine years old when his father died, he was too young to rule. Before his death, Henry named 16 executors who were to act as Edward’s council until he reached the age of 18.

Executors

People who are responsible for carrying out an assigned task or duty.

Did you know? A special crown was made for Edward’s coronation. The official St Edward’s crown and the Imperial crown were both too large and heavy, so a smaller crown was made to fit him. He was crowned with heavy crowns first, then Edward continued to wear the smaller crown for the rest of the ceremony.

Edward VI’s Regency Council

During his government, Edward was surrounded by a council of advisors who governed on his behalf and advised him on political matters: the regency council.

Edward Seymour

Edward Seymour was the eldest brother of Queen Jane Seymour, Edward's mother. He became Duke Of Somerset on 16 February 1547 and from this moment onwards, he was mostly referred to simply as Somerset. He was also Lord Protector of England, also known as Protector of the Realm, from 1547 to 1549. For the next two and a half years, he ruled as King of England in all but name.

Lord Protector

Someone who rules instead of the monarch when they are too young. The Lord Protector would make all the decisions for the country.

Notably, he tried to persuade the Scots to join a voluntary union with England, but they rejected the appeal. Any hope for reconciliation between England and Scotland was destroyed right after when England invaded Scotland and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh.

A sequence of events led to Somerset’s removal from power and a united council published details of his supposed government mismanagement. Edward VI had summarised the charges against Somerset in his Chronicle:

ambition, vainglory, entering into rash wars in mine youth, negligent looking on Newhaven, enriching himself of my treasure, following his own opinion, and doing all by his own authority, etc.

In February 1550, John Dudley emerged as the leader of the council and became Somerset’s successor. Somerset was imprisoned in the Tower of London for supposed mismanagement of government. In early 1550, he was released and restored back into the council. However, in 1551, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London once more, this time on exaggerated charges of treason. He was executed on 22 January 1552.

The Tudors Edward Seymour StudySmarterEdward Seymour, Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Seymour

Thomas was the brother of Edward and Jane Seymour. Upon Henry VIII’s death, Thomas Seymour married Catherine Parr, Henry’s last wife, who was now a very wealthy widower.

When Thomas became part of the regency council he gained the title of First Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Thomas became jealous of the power that his brother Edward held and he wanted this power for himself. When Somerset was away from court, Thomas began planning a rebellion. On the night of 16 January 1549, for reasons unknown, Thomas was caught trying to break into the King’s apartments at Hampton Court. He was arrested the next day. Eventually, on 22 February 1549, the council officially accused Thomas of 33 charges of treason. He was convicted and executed on 20 March 1549.

The Tudors Thomas Seymour StudySmarterThomas Seymour by Nicolas Denisot, 1547–49, Wikimedia Commons.

John Dudley

John Dudley was an English general, admiral, and politician. He gained the title Earl of Warwick in 1547. Alongside Somerset, he distinguished himself at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh and the Kett’s Rebellion. Dudley became Duke of Northumberland on 11 October 1551 and was henceforth often referred to simply as Northumberland.

After Somerset fell out of grace, Northumberland took his place, albeit under the title primus inter pares and not Lord Protector. Dudley introduced Edward VI into business. The administration he took over was largely bankrupt due to the costly wars with France and Scotland, but his management led to some economic recovery. Northumberland was adamant to prevent further uprisings and introduced countrywide policing.

Primus inter pares

Translates to ‘a first among equals’. An honorary title for a person who is formally equal but is afforded higher respect.

Northumberland’s religious policies were the same as Edward VI’s; he too was Protestant, and when Edward became ill, he pushed forward his own daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, as Edward’s successor.

After Edward’s death, there was a clash between Northumberland and Mary, Henry VIII's eldest daughter. Mary wanted to succeed Edward as monarch but Northumberland obviously did not agree with Mary taking the throne from his daughter-in-law. He was unable to prevent this, however, and Mary I became queen. Northumberland was ultimately executed on 22 August 1553.

The Tudors John Dudley StudySmarterJohn Dudley, around 1605, Wikimedia Commons.

Edward VI and the English Reformation

The English Reformation began in 1534 and saw the country's religion transition from Catholicism to Protestantism. It was motivated by Henry VIII's quest for a male heir - he wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who he thought was incapable of giving him a son. The Pope refused to annul the marriage and Henry VIII broke with Rome and made himself Head of the Church of England.

The Reformation continued throughout the rest of the sixteenth century, including under Edward VI. What happened in his reign regarding religion?

The Role of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and, for a short time, Mary I. Cranmer was instrumental in building the case for the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and supported the principle of royal rather than papal supremacy. During Henry’s reign, he refrained from making radical changes in the Church but when Edward became King, Cranmer introduced a series of religious reforms that revolutionised the English Church - one that was Protestant rather than Catholic.

Cranmer wrote and compiled the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer. Moreover, Cranmer and Somerset planned to further the reformation of religion and so in July 1547, they published a Book of Homilies, which was explicitly Protestant. It condemned relics, images, rosary beads, holy water, palms, and everything else that was considered Catholic. Also, masses were to be in English and not in Latin.

Book of Homilies

Two books of 33 sermons developing the reformed doctrines of the Church of England in greater depth than the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

By mid-July 1553, there were revolts in favour of Mary and when she was proclaimed queen. Soon, Cranmer was imprisoned for encouraging heresy and after much delay, his execution date was set for 7 March 1556. However, just two days after the setting of his date, Cranmer returned to the Catholic faith. This did not matter to Mary as she wanted to make an example of Cranmer. He was burned at the stake on 21 March 1556.

The Tudors Thomas Cranmer StudySmarterThomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke, 1545, Wikimedia Commons.

The Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer, published on 15 January 1549, was a product of the English Reformation and it provided Protestants with a service that was free from what they considered superstition, while still maintaining the traditional structure of the Mass. It was viewed as a compromise between old and new ideas.

The Book of Common Prayer was radically revised in 1552 and had minor revisions in 1559, 1604, and 1662. The prayer book of 1662, with some minor changes, has continued as the standard liturgy for most Anglican churches worldwide.

Liturgy

In Christianity, it is a pattern for worship used by a congregation.

Battles and Rebellions during Edward VI’s Reign

We have already mentioned some battles and rebellions of note that happened during Edward VI's reign. Let's look at these in more detail and some others below.

Prayer Book Rebellion

The introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 was widely unpopular, but nowhere more so than among the people of Devon and Cornwall. Many Cornish people did not speak English at the time.

Following the enforced change from 1549 that made the old prayer book illegal, parishioners from Cornwall convinced the priests to revert back. Enforcers arrived and an altercation took place.

The parishioners gathered by the thousands and joined others in Cornwall, and together they marched east to lay siege to Exeter.

King Edward VI ordered Sir Gawain Carew, a member of his Privy Council, to pacify the rebels. At the same time, Lord John Russel was ordered to take an army of mercenaries to impose a military solution. The rebels, who were mainly farmers, did not stand a chance against the mercenaries and around 4000 people lost their lives.

Kett’s Rebellion

The Kett’s Rebellion was a peasant revolt in Norfolk, largely in response to barons who stole their land and left many peasants to starve. It began on 8 July 1549 when a group of rebels destroyed fences that were put up by wealthy landowners. Robert Kett was their target. However, instead of resisting, he agreed to lead the rebellion.

They marched 10 miles into Norwich and gathered on Mousehold Heath where they attracted the support of the poorer people of Norwich. Eventually, around 16,000 rebels battled against the government forces on the streets of Norwich on 27 August 1549. The government forces, led by the Earl of Warwick managed to drive the rebels back to Mousehold Heath. The rebels retreated further but eventually, thousands of peasants were killed and about 300 were captured and executed at Norwich. Kett himself was captured the night after the battle and executed on 7 December 1549.

Battle of Pinkie Cleugh

This battle took place on 10 September 1547, on the banks of the River Esk, near Musselburgh, Scotland. This was the last battle between England and Scotland before the Union of the Crowns and it was part of the Rough Wooing conflict.

When Henry VIII died and Somerset was now effectively ruling England, he tried to form an alliance between England and Scotland. Scotland, however, rejected it as the alliance would mean that they would have to adopt the Reformation thus breaking their links with the Papacy.

Union of the Crowns

The Union of the Crowns followed the death of Elizabeth I. Her cousin James VI of Scotland united both realms under a single monarchy on 24 March 1603. He then also became James I of England.

Somerset retaliated and gathered an English army of around 18,000 people and a fleet of around 30 warships and set off to Scotland. The Earl of Arran organised the Scottish defences and managed to muster up an army of over 20,0000 people.

Ultimately, the Scottish were unable to fight off the English. The Scottish resistance eventually crumbled, and Scotland’s epic defeat became known as ‘Black Saturday’.

Soon after, Mary Queen of Scots was smuggled out of Scotland to France.

Edward VI of England: Death and Successor

In 1552, Edward’s health began to fail. In April of that year, he had contracted measles, and even though he recovered from it, his immune system was fatally weakened. Due to his weakened immune system, he contracted tuberculosis. Royal doctors reported his symptoms as:

The matter he ejects from his mouth is sometimes coloured a greenish-yellow and black, sometimes pink, like the colour of blood.

On 6 July 1553, Edward VI died, aged 15. His last words were:

I am faint, Lord, have mercy upon me, take my spirit.

He was buried in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey on 8 August 1553. His funeral service received Protestant rites.

Who would succeed Edward VI?

Since Edward was only 15 when he died, he had never married nor had any children. When he knew that he was going to die, he needed to appoint a successor. Henry VIII had drafted the Third Succession act of 1543, restoring Mary and Elizabeth to the throne after Edward, should he die childless. Edward, however, excluded them both and designed a will where he named Lady Jane Grey as his successor.

Her reign, however, lasted for only nine days, which gave her the nickname of the ‘Nine Days Queen’. She was asked to relinquish the throne in favour of Mary, which she did. On 19 July 1553, Mary was proclaimed Queen of England and Ireland and she wasted no time in restoring Catholicism - this is what Edward had feared.

In the meantime, on 12 February 1554, Lady Jane Grey was executed, aged just 16. Mary’s reign lasted only five years, and when Elizabeth became Queen, she revived the Protestant faith and religion, continuing Edward’s work.

Edward VI of England: Achievements and Legacy

Just because Edward VI reigned for only a few short years, that does not mean that he left nothing behind.

Was Edward VI the best monarch?

Edward’s reign was short: it only lasted six and a half years, and he did not rule England himself. However, notably, his reign saw the full-scale introduction of Protestantism. Edward, alongside Archbishop Cranmer, would lay the foundations of the modern Church of England.

Edward may generally not be considered to be the best Tudor monarch because that title usually goes to his half-sister Elizabeth. However, it is difficult to compare Edward’s short reign to Elizabeth’s 44-year reign. In his few short years, he made a lasting contribution to the English Reformation and the structure of the Church of England, a Church that today represents 85 million people in more than 165 countries.

Edward VI’s Private Diary

One big legacy that Edward left behind was his private diary. When Edward became King, he started this diary, which is an account of key events of his reign. Not only does this diary give us an insight into the events that happened during his reign, but it also gives us an idea of his personality.

The diary portrays him as cold, unfeeling, and uncompromising - dangerous traits that could very well have hardened into tyranny if he had lived. An example is a blasé entry about Somerset’s demise. He had been very close to his uncle. However, Somerset’s demise got nothing more than a short mention:

The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.

Was this simply due to his youth or was this but a glance of what Edward may have become? Someone with strong opinions, ideas of his own, and all the makings of a tyrant? We will never know.

Edward VI of England - Key Takeaways

  • Edward became Edward VI King of England and Ireland on 28 January 1547, when his father died.
  • Edward VI was too young to rule as King. Therefore, his father, Henry VIII, set up a regency council made up of 16 executors, who would act as regents until Edward would become of age, at 18.
  • There were three major players in the regency council:1. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset2. Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley3. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
  • Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was influential in the English Reformation, which continued throughout Edward VI's reign.
  • Under Edward’s Protestant reign the Book of Common Prayer was published on 15 January 1549.
  • There were three major battles and rebellions during Edward’s reign:1. Prayer Book Rebellion2. Kett’s Rebellion3. Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
  • Edward VI died on 6 July 1553 with no heirs. Just before he died, he named Lady Jane Grey as his successor.
  • Lady Jane Grey was queen for a mere nine days before she relinquished the throne in favour of Mary.

Frequently Asked Questions about Edward VI of England

On 28 January 1547, upon the death of his father, Henry VIII.

Edward VI’s reign saw a full-scale introduction of Protestantism. Edward, alongside Archbishop Cranmer, laid the foundations of the modern Church of England.

He had a weakened immune system from contracting measles, which led to him contracting tuberculosis.

None. He was never married, as he was only 15 years old when he died.

It is difficult to say if Edward VI was the best monarch. His reign was short and he didn't rule himself. However, he made the biggest lasting contribution to the English Reformation, laying the foundation of the modern Church of England.

Final Edward VI of England Quiz

Question

When was Edward VI born?

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Answer

On 12 October 1537

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Who were Edward VI’s parents?

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Answer

Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour

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While growing up, who was Edward VI close to?

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Answer

  1. Catherine Parr, his stepmother

  2. Mary, his half-sister

  3. Elizabeth, his half-sister

  4. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

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Question

When did Edward VI become King?

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Answer

On 28 January 1547, upon the death of his father Henry VIII

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How old was Edward VI when he became King?

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Answer

He was just nine years old

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What was special about Edward VI’s ascension to the throne?

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Answer

Edward was too young to rule, so Henry VIII had put in place a council of 16 executors who would act as regents.

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When was the Rough Wooing?

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Answer

From December 1543 until March 1551

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Besides Edward VI, who else was involved in the Rough Wooing?

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Answer

Mary, Queen of Scots

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Who were the three major players in Edward’s Regency Council?

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Answer

  1. Edward Seymour

  2. Thomas Seymour

  3. John Dudley

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What became Edward Seymour’s title which led to his nickname?

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Answer

Duke of Somerset, leading to him simply being called Somerset

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What was Somerset’s official title in the Regency Council?

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Answer

Lord Protector of England, or Lord Protector of the Realm

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Why did the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh happen?

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Because Somerset tried to have the Scots voluntarily join a union with England but they refused. Somerset then invaded Scotland and defeated the Scots.

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When was Somerset executed?

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Answer

On 22 January 1552

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Which three battles and rebellions happened during Edward VI’s reign?

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Answer

  1. Prayer Book Rebellion

  2. Kett’s Rebellion

  3. Battle of Pinkie Cleugh

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Who helped Edward VI lay the foundation of the modern Church of England?

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Answer

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

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What was the name of the book that was a product of the English Reformation and when was it published?

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Answer

The Book of Common Prayer. It was published on 15 January 1549

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When was Thomas Cranmer executed?

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On 21 March 1556

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When did Edward VI die and how old was he?

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He died on 6 July 1553. He was 15 years old.

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What were the causes of Edward VI's death?

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He had a weakened immune system from catching measles. He was then susceptible to catching tuberculosis, which ultimately killed him.

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Who was initially named Edward VI's successor and what was special about their reign?

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Answer

Lady Jane Grey, daughter-in-law of John Dudley. What was special about her reign is that she was queen for a mere nine days.

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