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Six things you (probably) didn’t know about Edward VI


Considering his desperation for a male heir, it’s rather ironic that it’s Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, we know best. His only legitimate son to survive infancy, Edward VI, became king at nine years old and died when he was only 15. Here are six things you might not know about Henry’s short-lived heir…

Edward was the last Tudor baby

Amidst all the celebrations when Edward VI was born in 1537, no-one could know that he would be the last royal Tudor baby to be born. Throughout England there was great rejoicing that this young prince and his offspring would ensure the future of the Tudor dynasty. Yet even though Henry VIII and his three children remained on the throne of England for a further 65 years, there were no more Tudor babies. Edward died at the age of 15 without marrying. Mary twice believed she was pregnant, but she was mistaken, and Elizabeth chose not to marry.

Edward VI was the first English king to receive an intensive education to fit him for his future role as monarch

His tutors, Richard Cox and John Cheke, gave him a broad education that included Latin and Greek classics and training in how to think and write clearly. By the age of 14 Edward was being encouraged to take an interest in government and attend occasional privy council meetings. He examined council documents, sometimes adding his own comments, and he began to write papers, agenda and memoranda of matters for the council to consider.

Edward was betrothed to Mary, Queen of Scots

In 1543 Edward was betrothed to Mary, the young Queen of Scotland. Edward was nearly six-years old and Mary was seven-months old. It was to be a dynastic marriage. Henry VIII wanted to bring Scotland under English control and stop the age-old enmity between the two countries. However, although the lords in Scotland initially agreed to the match of the young couple within six months they had changed their minds. The agreement was annulled and Mary was later betrothed and married to Francis II of France. Eight years later Edward was again betrothed, this time to Elizabeth, daughter of Henry II of France but this, too, came to nothing when Edward died two years later.

A special crown was made for Edward’s coronation

Edward was to be crowned with St Edward’s crown and the Imperial crown but they were both large and heavy, so a smaller lighter crown was made to fit him. At the ceremony he was first crowned with the heavy crowns and then finally with the new crown which he continued to wear for the rest of the ceremony. There was concern that, being aged only nine, the young king would find the long ceremony especially tiring so the service was shortened to take account of this and when he was ceremonially dressed in his coronation gown, sandals and spurs the latter were immediately removed for fear that he might trip over them.

Edward kept a diary of events

Edward’s diary is unique in being written by a child king and records both political and personal events. The diary, which may have been started as an educational exercise, includes a resumé of his life to the beginning of 1550 and then for the next three years, until shortly after his fifteenth birthday, events were recorded as they happened. Many of the entries are observations on the political and ceremonial events of the time but some give a hint of Edward's own interests and involvement. In April 1552 he recorded that he had fallen sick with measles and smallpox. His lengthy entries regarding military events and his detailed description of an entertainment on the River Thames, where several boats held a mock battle with fireworks, demonstrate his interest in martial activities. Yet the bland entry recording the execution of his uncle – ‘The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill’ - demonstrates the self-discipline expected of a child king.

Edward VI allowed two of his uncles to be condemned to death

Although he did not make the decision to execute both men (that was done by the privy councillors who governed England on behalf of the king) Edward had sufficient authority to stop the executions if he had chosen to do so. The two men, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and his brother Thomas, Lord Seymour, were the relatives most closely involved in the young king’s life but despite their kinship to Edward they both failed to develop a close relationship with him. For nearly three years Somerset governed England in his capacity as Lord Protector on behalf of his nephew, but the relationship between the two remained distant. Although Thomas Seymour made efforts to develop a friendship with the king, Edward became wary of his uncle’s motives. Somerset and Seymour had powerful enemies amongst the privy councillors who influenced the king against his uncles and brought about their downfall.

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