The Life of Edward VI of England (Part Three)



Prince Edward was the long-awaited, and much celebrated, son of Henry VIII. He is arguably the least talked about of all the Tudor monarchs. We know him as King Edward VI. In case you missed the first two parts you can find them here.

Read Part One

Read Part Two

As we continue on our journey to tell the story of King Edward VI life, we will start at the time of the execution of his uncle, Sir Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral.

Thomas Seymour was placed in the Tower of London in January 1549 and was executed by Act of Attainder on the 20th of March of the same year. This meant that he had no trial and was condemned to death by Parliament.

As someone who has spent the last couple of years researching Thomas, I’m always torn at Edward’s response to his uncle’s death:

‘The Lord Sudeley, Admiral of England, was condemned to death and died the March ensuing.’

Once again, the young King reported the death of his uncle in such a cold fashion, as if it was someone he had not know at all. It is possible that Edward knew his writing would be viewed by others and wanted to sound ‘kingly’. I’m torn on this because the King’s uncle Thomas was the one who was helping him when he needed money. Where he always seemed annoyed with his uncle Ned, but in all fairness his uncle was also acting in the role as father as well.

What does this tell us about the young king, if anything at all?

After the execution of his uncle Thomas, the position of his surviving uncle Edward, Duke of Somerset was diminishing. It is now evident that allowing the execution of his brother also diminished his own power – makes you wonder how the young King saw it all unfolding…did he have any idea that his uncle Somerset would also fall due to the fact that the King allowed the execution of one uncle?

Downfall of Somerset

By the summer of 1549 Somerset had begun to lose favor with the English subjects as well as his council and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick saw it as an opportunity as Somerset’s behavior grew more and more erratic.

Book of Common Prayers/Kett’s Rebellion

The new Book of Common Prayer was first used in service on Whit Sunday at the parish church of Sampford Courtenay, which was on the northern edge of Dartmoor. There was little resistance to the new prayer book. But by the following day rebellions against Somerset, the Lord Protector had reached that town as well. It reached a fever pitch when a local gentleman attempted to resolve the situation. He was ‘seized and hacked into pieces, his remains being hastily buried in the churchyard’.

When news reached Tudor court, Somerset was ‘very much grieved and in great perplexity’. It appears that he was horribly out of touch with the English people and sent Lord John Russell to Sampford Courtenay to contain the rebellion.

The rebels carried the same banner as had been carried during the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Five Wounds of Christ. They gathered all the Prayer Books and burned them…probably a similar sight to book burnings by Thomas More a decade earlier.

Somerset’s guy, Paget warned him that he worried ‘that coming which i have now feared of good time, the destruction of that goodly young child, my sovereign Lord, the subversion of the noble realm of England, and the ruin of your Grace’. Paget told Somerset he worried about this happening and was concerned for the King.

Things were changing in England, in July 1547 the council banned candles and shrines, and on the 28th of February 1548, images in stained-glass, wood, and stone. This caused an uprise in the west.

Even with this all going on, Archbishop Cranmer produced a uniform vernacular service of worship in the Book of Common Prayer – and in June, because of this action it caused uprisings and revolts in the west country and elsewhere. These revolts signalled the beginning of the end for Somerset’s rule. He no longer had the people’s trust, as well as local gentry.

The English subjects now appeared to hold all the power and were making demands, Paget tried to convince Somerset to heed his advice and to not be so gentle with the rebels. But Somerset continued with leniency against the rebels.

In the meantime, the young King was not completely unaware of the events and the fact that there were rumors he had been deposed, which he had obviously not. Because of the rumors, ‘Edward rode through London in a procession on 23 July – removing his cap each time he passed by men in the crowds’. I am not sure who ordered the procession but assume it was Somerset.

By the end of July, Somerset had finally understood that his leniency was not working and that ‘Sharp justice must be executed upon those sundry traitors which will learn nothing but by the sword.’

Around the same time as all the uprisings against religion in the west country and elsewhere, Kett’s Rebellion began to unfold.

Did you know that Kett was a tenant of John Dudley? Interesting, right? Not only was Kett familiar with Dudley but so was Sir Richard Southwell, a friend who was accused (by Sir Edward Knyvett) ‘to have been one of the authors of this rebellion’. Is it possible that Dudley was behind the rebellion?

It was discovered that Dudley’s friend Southwell had be secretly funding the rebellion, but not with his money but with the King’s own coffers. You see, Southwell was treasurer for the king’s forces. And the plot thickens…

Most of the time, the Lady Mary is blamed to Kett’s Rebellion, but it is possible that it was Dudley and not Mary at all. For, in the end, it all benefited Dudley the most from it.

By August, Somerset named John Dudley, Earl of Warwick Lieutenant General, an error that he would soon regret. As I’ve suspected for quite some time, Dudley was willing to see the Seymour brothers fall in order to achieve his goals. Whether or not he intended it to turn out the way it all did we may never know.

During the uprising, Dudley claimed illness so he would not be involved, however, he eventually returned to London and court, that is, until the day before the Lieutenant General, Marquis of Northampton was defeated. At which point he departed with 500 men to an undisclosed location.

Eventually Dudley had built an army of 5000 men and offered the rebels a choice: They could continue in their ways and risk death, or they could be pardoned for their offenses. They appear to have chosen the first which angered Dudley and he no longer felt in a mood of compromise. Those who resisted were hanged, but even that did not stop the rebels.

He began to scheme and plot the overthrow of Somerset – just Somerset had whispered in the hallways with Paget during the dying hours of King Henry VIII, Dudley did the same to gain the agreement of the Council. They road to Hampton court to confront Somerset in person upon his return there.

When Somerset arrived, Council business continued as usual. But when Dudley refused to attend court, Somerset was sent into panic when he discovered men/troops were joining Dudley at Ely Place in Holborn.

In all the panic and confusion of the rebellion against Somerset, the King wrote in his diary: ‘That night, with all the people, at nine or ten o’clock at night, I went to Windsor, and there was watch and ward kept every night’. He believed his uncle’s worries and made his way on horseback, carrying a small sword, which was drawn, saying, “My vassals will you help me against those who want to kill me!”

Instead of fighting to the death for his position as Lord Protector, Somerset was urged to submit to Edward in front of council. In a last ditch effort Somerset asked his nephew, the King, to save him. That day Edward, the King wrote this:

“As far as our age can understand…we do lament our present estate being in such an imminent danger; and unless God do put it into the hearts of you there to be as careful to bring these uproars unto a quiet…we shall have cause to think you forget your duties towards us, and the great benefits which the King our lord, and father, of most noble memory, hath employed on every one of you. For, howsoever you charge our said uncle with wilfulness in your letter…we trust that both you and he may continue…without superstition, by a friendly determination and agreement among yourselves…Each man hath his faults; he his and you yours; and if we shall hereafter as rigorously weigh yours, as we hear that you intend with cruelty to purge his, which of you all shall be able to stand before us?” (page 144)

How insightful for the young king to say that.

Somersets loyal friends, Paget, Cranmer and Sir Thomas Smith begged the Lords to spare Somerset’s life saying, ‘Life is sweet, my Lords, and they say you seek his blood and his death…we beseech you again and again, if you have conceived any such determination, to put it out of your heads, and incline your hearts to kindness and humanity, remembering that he hath never been cruel to any of you; and why should you be cruelly minded to him?” (page 144)

On the 8th of October the Lords issues a proclamation without the royal authority denouncing Somerset as Protector. Three days later guards arrived at Windsor and removed Somerset from his lodging which was located next to the King’s and was then placed in Beauchamp Tower, he was under arrest and under close watch.

The guards then entered the King’s chamber to his horror. Somerset had previously warned his nephew that there were those who ‘minded to destroy the king’, and to ‘never to forget it, but to revenge it’. Edward was not in danger and was soon calmed once he understood he was safe.

When these men of the council tried to convince the young king that his uncle wish to kill him, Edward replied: ‘The Duke never did me any hard,’ ‘He went to the Tower of his own will, it is a sign that he be not guilty.’ (page 150) They continued to try and persuade the King of his uncle’s intentions to which the king insisted on seeing his uncle. The king then pardoned his uncle and all had to go along with it to achieve favor with the king. Somerset would live but would no longer be Lord Protector.

On the 2nd of February, Dudley was granted the office of Lord Great Master of the chamber and Lord President of the Council. These appointments allowed Dudley the authority he needed to become the head of the king’s government. Dudley was now in control.

Rule under Northumberland

Dudley, as Lord President of the Council, allowed Somerset to return to the council. He must have recognized that there were many sympathizers to his cause and that a place on the council might placate them. Little did Dudley understand but there was a growing resentment toward him that would eventually cause him to seek more power, by being created Duke of Northumberland in 1551. Surprisingly, the Duke of Somerset participated in the ceremony. But merely five days later Somerset was once again arrested on rumors of plots to have Dudley killed.

Somerset was convicted of raising any army without license and for plotting to kill Dudley, Northampton and others to a banquet at which they would be killed – allowing Somerset to gain control. In October Somerset was once again arrested and like his brother Thomas, an act of attainder was passed by parliament and he was executed on 22 January 1552.

King Edward document the execution by reporting, ‘the Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning’.

There is no record of the King attempting to pardon his uncle.

It does, however, appear to show that the young king blamed himself for not saving his uncle’s life – in John Hayward’s “Life and Raigne of King Edward Sixth”, it is reported that:

“Upon the death of the Duke albeit the King gave no token of any ill distempored passion, as taking it not agreeable to majesty openly to declare himself, and albeit the Lords had labored with much variety of sports, to dispell any dampy thought, which the remembrance of his uncle might raise, yet upon speech of him he would often sigh and let fall tears, sometimes holding opinion that his uncle had noe noting, or if he had it was very small and proceeded rather from his wife than from himself, and where then said he was the good nature of a nephew? Where was the clemency of a Prince? Ah how unfortunate have I been to those of my blood, y mother I lewe at my birth and since have made way two of her brother, and happily to make away for others against my self, was it ever known before that a king’s uncle, a lord protector one who fortunes had much advanced the honor of the realm, did lose his head for felony; for a felony neither clear in law, and in fact weakley proved. Alas so how falsely have I been abused? How weakly carried? How little was I master of mine own judgement, that bothhis death and the envy there of must be laid upon me.” (Loach, page 103-4)

Now, with that being said, I have to agree with author Jennifer Loach of Edward VI – that it is uncertain of the validity of the unpublished text in Hayward’s writing because it contradicts the normal impression of the lack of ‘personal warmth’ by the young king. Loach states that this was the only documentation that describes a confused young king who blames himself.

Moving on with the story of Edward we will talk about a possible marriage and the death of the last illness and death of the king.

Were you aware that Edward VI retained his father’s court jester, Will Somers after his death? Me either.

Were you also aware that Edward surrendered Boulogne to the French in 1551? Boulogne was the French city that was taken by his father a few years earlier.

In exchange for returning Boulogne to the French King Henri II, Edward received a ‘ransom’ and six hostages were exchanged, the Englishmen were mostly Edward’s school friends. Part of this agreement was that England would leave Scotland alone. This meant abandoning the marriage prospect of Edward with Mary, Queen of Scots but instead to look to a marriage alliance with France. The eldest daughter of the French king was available, her name was Elizabeth of Valois. After much negotiation over a dowry and push back from the Pope, it was agreed upon on 19 July 1551. By the following January, Edward had sent Elizabeth a ‘fair diamond’ from Kateryn Parr’s collection.

Sadly, the marriage would never happen because Edward would die before it could come to fruition.

Things began to look grim for the young king in February 1553 when he contracted a feverish cold. By the 1st of March he was forced to open the new parliament at his current residence of Whitehall instead of the normal Westminster.

By the middle of March he was reported as appearing ‘very weak and thin’. By the time Easter arrived Edward was still battling with excessive mucus and a bad cough. But by April he was well enough to move to Greenwich by boat, to the sound of gun salutes from the Tower of London. His health still remained poor and he only appeared in public only once for the remainder of April.

The young king’s health appears to have fluctuated and his during his sister Mary’s reign the Venetian ambassador stated that he had suffered from a malady called consumption. While there were many accounts of the description of the king’s sputum, there was no mention of blood that would have been coughed up if he suffered from the disease. On the 15th of June the imperial ambassador noted that Edward:

“Is never free from fever, but on the 11th…he was attacked by a violent hot fever, which lasted over 24 hours, and left him weak and still feverish, though not so much so as at first. On the 14th, the fever returned more violent than before…he is at present without the strength necessary to rid him of certain humours which, when he does succeed in ejecting them, give forth a stech. Since the 11th, he has been unable to keep anything in his stomach, so he lives entirely on restoratives and obtains hardly any repose. His legs are swelling, and he has to lie flat on his back. (spanish letters)

It was only a few days later that is was reported that the king had given up hope and that he believed he could not resist death any further.

The symptoms just described: fever and coughing up the smelly mucus suggest that Edward developed an infection which turned into acute bilateral bronchopneumonia and would have been nearly impossible to cure without modern antibiotics.

“The weakened bronchi dilate and fill with pus and secretions, giving rise to bronchiectasis. As the inflammation spreads into the lungs, abscesses develop, and from these, foul purulent sputum is coughed up.” The infection eventually grew so bad that his:

“Vital parts were mortaly stuffed, which brought him to a difficulty of speech and breath, his legs swelled, his pulsed failed, his skin changed color, and many other horrid symptoms appeared.” (Hayward)

Ultimately the young king succumbed to his illness on the 6 of July 1553 between eight and nine in the evening.

And there ended the life of the third Tudor monarch. I often wonder how things may have been had he lived a long life, if he had married Elizabeth of Valois – how would England, and the world, for that matter have changed?

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