Edward VI - King of England

Edward VI - King of England
Edward VI - King of England
Edward VI was the only son of Henry VIII, king of England, born from his marriage to his third wife, Jane Seymour, on January 28, 1537. He succeeded to the English throne at age nine by his father’s last will and by the parliamentary statute of 1543, and died unmarried at the age of 16 on July 6, 1553.

The young king inherited from his father a constitution, under which he was not only the secular king but also the supreme head of the Church of England. However, the kingdom was deeply divided among factions of great nobles in the court, and, in the countryside, the people were unsettled by the direction of the religious policy under the new king.

In spite of his lovable personality, good education, and well-respected intellectual capacity, the young king could hardly design and dictate policies on his own. Edward Seymour, the duke of Somerset and the king’s maternal uncle, ran the kingdom as lord protector in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) for the first three years.

After his dismissal from the court in 1549, John Dudley, the earl of Warwick, who became duke of Northumberland in 1551, ruled the nation as the chief minister under the pretense that the king had assumed full royal authority.

The two chief ministers shared similar interest in moving the Church of England toward Protestantism. In 1547, Parliament repealed the Six Articles, enacted in 1534 by the Reformation Parliament, to keep Catholic doctrines and practices in the Church of England. In 1549, the publication of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and the adoption of his 42 Articles by Parliament pushed the Anglican Church closer to Calvinism.

In 1552, Parliament enacted the Act of Uniformity, requiring all Englishmen to attend Calvinist-styled Anglican Church services. Moreover, Parliament stopped enforcing laws against heresy, permitted priests to get married, and even confiscated the property of Catholic chantries, where for centuries, local priests had been praying for souls wandering in purgatory.

To the Protestants in the Continent, these policy changes made England a safe haven and an escape from persecution by the Catholic Church. In England, the Protestants welcomed the reforms, although they felt that the policies did not satisfy their Calvinist needs. The Catholics, however, were shocked by their loss of properties, privileges, and powers and were provoked into rebellions in 1549.

Edward VI coat of arms
Edward VI coat of arms
Neither of the two chief ministers was a master of statesmanship. They failed to curb runaway inflation and continuous devaluations of English currency. They lacked competence in pacifying domestic unrests caused by enclosure of land and worsening living conditions of the rural poor.

They appeared shortsighted and clumsy in maneuvering diplomacy to meet increasingly complicated challenges from other European nations. Most of all, they mismanaged the young king’s marriage, the great affair of the state.

The duke of Somerset invaded Scotland in 1547, intending to conclude the negotiation, which had begun under Henry VIII, for the marriage of Edward VI to Mary of Stuart, the four-year-old daughter of King James V.

Although the duke defeated the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie, the Scots betrothed the princess to Francis, the dauphin of the French throne, in 1548. After the fall of Somerset, the duke of Northumberland appeared to be actively negotiating a marriage of Edward to Elizabeth, the daughter of French king Henry II, in 1551.

The marriage never materialized. In 1553, rumors spread around the diplomatic circle in Paris that the duke was going to manage a marriage between Edward VI and Joanna, a daughter of Ferdinand, the brother of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Despite his apparent busy diplomacy, the duke was secretly carrying out a plan of his own, probably with the king’s knowledge, that would enable Lady Jane Grey, his daughter-in-law and the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, to succeed Edward and thus disinherit Mary I, the Catholic sister of the king, who had been bastardized by her father but later placed to succeed her brother in his last will.

Following the death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen with the military support of her father-in-law. However, much of the nation, though favoring a Protestant ruler, rallied against the conspiracy of the duke of Northumberland. The “reign” of Lady Jane Grey lasted only nine days, and Mary I eventually succeeded to the throne in 1553.

The dramatic turn toward Protestantism under Edward VI and the even more dramatic restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary have been viewed as the major aspects of the so-called mid-Tudor crisis by many historians.

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