Winchester
King Edward VI
1537-1553  
 
 
 
 
 
The Tudor dynasty produced some of Britain’s most famous monarchs. Many visitor sites ranging from palaces to parks have some connection with the Tudors.
 
Edward VI was the only legitimate male child of King Henry VIII. As we all know, Henry was responsible for separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and papal authority. It was his son who implemented the Protestant reforms.
 
Henry was overjoyed when his third wife, Jane Seymour delivered a healthy boy on 12th October 1537. He was born in Hampton Court Palace and christened three days later in the presence of his two half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Unfortunately his mother died, probably of septicaemia, a day later.
 
Edward rapidly grew into a tall, active, happy child with a lively interest in his studies. It was not until six months before he died at the age of 15 that he became sick. It is believed that he may have contracted measles or smallpox and become infected with tuberculosis while his immunity was low.
 
Henry adored his son and spent a lot of time with him. He ensured that he was well cared for by two ladies of the prince’s household and lavished with toys and comforts. He even had his own troupe of musicians.
 
At age six his formal education began. He studied a wide variety of subjects including French, Spanish, Italian, religion, philosophy, geometry, sciences, and geography. He learned to play the lute and virginals. He was highly intelligent and had a good grasp of monetary affairs. He collected globes and maps and was very interested in English military campaigns against Scotland and France.
 
His religious education was looked after by the Protestant reformer, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. In his early years many aspects of his religion were Catholic such as celebrating mass and revering relics and images of saints. As he matured he adopted the Protestant reforms and by the time he was 12 he had written an essay on the pope as Antichrist and was making informed notes on theological controversies.
 
We know a lot about Edward and his opinions because he kept a Chronicle (a diary). It records everything from his tender feelings for his step-mother Catherine Parr to being allowed to wear his crown at the Coronation Banquet in Westminster Hall. It is from his Chronicle that we know he liked his half-sister Mary best even though he disapproved of her liking for ‘foreign dances and merriments’.
 
Regency Council 
Before Henry VIII died he restored Mary and Elizabeth to their places in the line of succession and took the precaution of providing a regency council to oversee the government of the realm until his son ‘came of age’ at 18.
 
Henry’s will named sixteen executors who were to act as Edward’s Council, supplemented by twelve advisors who the executors could call on for assistance, if necessary.
 
The will did not provide for the appointment of a Protector. The Regency Council was to rule collectively by majority decision, with "like and equal charge".
 
Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Lord Protector
The will also contained an "unfulfilled gifts" clause, added at the last minute, which allowed Henry's executors to freely distribute lands and honours to themselves and the court, particularly to Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, who became the Lord Protector of the Realm, Governor of the King's Person, and the Duke of Somerset.
 
In the weeks prior to Henry’s death some changes occurred in the membership of the Privy Council. No-one knows if this occurred through Henry being influenced by reformist members of the Privy Council or not but it did result in two Catholic conservatives being removed from the centre of power and put in the Tower – the cleric Stephen Gardiner and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. The composition of the Council moved toward the reformist agenda.
 
Seymour made himself Duke of Somerset 
The day before Henry’s death Norfolk’s vast estates were seized, and made available for redistribution. Following the king’s death there was a grand hand-out of lands and honours to the new power group and Seymour made himself Duke of Somerset.
 
Despite the provisions of Henry’s will the executors chose to invest almost regal power in Somerset. Thirteen out of the sixteen (the others being absent) agreed to his appointment as Protector, which they justified as their joint decision "by virtue of the authority" of Henry's will.
 
Seymour may have done a deal with some of the executors, who almost all received the hand-outs; the stage was set for King Edward VI’s reign.
 
Somerset was a natural choice because he was the new King’s uncle, and a successful military campaigner, and much admired by his nephew. Edward was only 9 when he was crowned King.
 
Two months after Edward’s succession, Somerset secured letters patent from King Edward granting him the almost monarchical right to appoint members to the Privy Council himself and to consult them only when he wished.
 
From now on his autocratic system was complete. He ruled largely by proclamation calling on the Privy Council to do little more than rubber-stamp his decisions. For the first two years there was very little opposition to Somerset’s rule.
 
Thomas Seymour 
The main thorn in the Lord Protector’s side was his own brother, Thomas Seymour. Thomas demanded the governorship of the king's person and a greater share of power. Somerset unsuccessfully tried to buy him off with a barony and a place on the Privy Council.
 
Thomas spent his time trying to turn the young king against his uncle but Edward remained loyal. Eventually, Thomas moved himself closer to Edward by secretly marrying his step-mother, Catherine Parr and living in the same Protestant household as Lady Jane Grey and Princess Elizabeth.
 
When Catherine Parr died in childbirth, Thomas Seymour tried to marry Princess Elizabeth but she refused him. Thomas’s grab for power led to his expulsion from the Privy Council, arrest on embezzlement charges and eventually execution in 1549.
 
The first two years of the Lord Protector’s regency were a disaster. Although Edward Seymour was a good soldier, he was an arrogant and aloof ruler, lacking in political and administrative skills. His costly wars had lost momentum, the crown faced financial ruin, and riots and rebellions had broken out around the country.
 
Somerset and the Regency Council realised they had put King Edward’s reign in jeopardy. Edward was removed to the fortified Windsor Castle for safety although Edward wrote in his diary “Me thinks I am in prison”.
 
The Council took control and published details of Somerset's government mismanagement. They made it clear that the Protector's power came from them, not from Henry VIII's will and brought the king to Richmond. The Council arrested Somerset and confined him in the Tower of London.
 
In his diary, King Edward summarized the charges against Somerset as "…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…“
 
John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick 
John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, replaced Somerset as the leader of the Council. Somerset was released and returned to the council but schemed to overthrow Dudley’s regime. He was arrested on charges of felony and executed in 1552. King Edward noted his uncle's death in his diary: "…the duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o'clock in the morning".
 
Dudley continued the practice of enriching himself at the crown’s expense, making himself Duke of Northumberland. However, he did restore the authority of the Regency Council, improved the administrative and economic regimes and returned the government to an even keel.
 
He signed a treaty with France and cemented the alliance by betrothing the King to Henry II’s six year old daughter, Elizabeth of Valois. He withdrew the garrisons from Scotland and implemented measures to control political unrest.
 
Northumberland (Dudley) led the Protestant reform faction and removed the Catholic conservative faction from the council by buying support with titles and favours. The conservative faction had been keen to make the Catholic Princess Mary regent until Edward reached his majority. Northumberland prevailed and Protestant reforms went ahead.
 
The Duke of Northumberland was very clever; he had just as much influence and power as had Somerset but he was careful to ensure that the majority of the councillors assented to his decisions. He managed the bureaucracy on the pretence that Edward had assumed full sovereignty.
 
Nortumberland encouraged the young king to come to Council meetings, which enabled him to cite the king's authority for his decisions. Although Edward was precocious and able to understand much government business, his contributions during Northumberland's presidency probably amounted to no more than assent to decisions already taken. Edward’s greatest influence was in matters of religion, where the Council followed the strongly Protestant policy that he favoured and enshrined the reforms in legislation.
 
Extreme Protestantism  
Edward’s extreme Protestantism was fostered by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. The Council’s reformist faction ensured that the King’s wishes were carried out. During Edward’s reign the Anglican Church became recognizably Protestant; clerical celibacy and masses were abolished, services were held in English, and Cranmer’s new Book of Common Prayer was introduced.
 
Edward continued the confiscation of church property started by his father. His dissolution of the chantries with their saintly relics removed any remaining church wealth and placed it in the hands of the crown and the new lay owners of the properties.
 
Chantries had provided education to the poor and rural communities and one unintended consequence of the closure of the chantries was a reduction in the amount of education available to the Commoner. Some of the chantries were converted into grammar schools, for example King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon where William Shakespeare was later educated.
 
Everything was going along smoothly until Edward suddenly fell ill. The doctors confirmed that his illness was terminal. Edward and his Council drew up a "Devise for the Succession", attempting to prevent the country being returned to Catholicism.
 
Edward died, Mary proclaimed Queen 
Edward named his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his heir and excluded his half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. However, this was disputed following Edward's death on 6 July 1553 and Jane was only queen for nine days before Edward's half-sister, Mary, was proclaimed Queen.
 
Queen Mary I tried to return England to the Roman Catholic faith and papal authority by persecuting the Protestants. Her persecutions earned her the nickname of ‘Bloody Mary’.
 
Edward’s Protestant reforms were restored and made permanent by his other half-sister Queen Elizabeth I with the passing of two Acts in 1559.
 
The Act of Supremacy re-established the Church of England’s independence from Rome with Elizabeth as its Supreme Governor.
 
The Act of Uniformity set out the form the English church would take, including the establishment of the Book of Common Prayer.