Edward VI - 1547-1553
The son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour seems to have been a precocious and strong-willed child who might have been a powerful monarch had he not died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. Family life cannot have been easy for Edward.
His mother, Jane Seymour, died a fortnight after his birth; his first stepmother, Anne of Cleves, was divorced from his father before he was three; his second stepmother, Catherine Howard, was beheaded for adultery when he was four; and finally his syphilitic father died when he was only nine.
After his accession at the age of nine, the kingdom was administered by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, the Protector of England and Warwick, Duke of Northumberland. Somerset tried to arrange a marriage with Mary Queen of Scots but this was forcibly rejected at the Battle of Pinkie.
Mary was a Catholic and in England Protestantism was being established firmly by the abolition of the Catholic mass, and the amendment of the book of Common Prayer, which was printed in English.
Northumberland, who disagreed with the idea of marriage to a Catholic, now ousted Somerset and put forward the suggestion that Edward should declare the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as his heir. Edward, who was an opinionated young man, agreed to this and when he died in 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen.
Her reign was short-lived, however, for when Mary, daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, heard about it, she and her supporters gathered an army and marched on London. Lady Jane Grey was arrested and executed soon after. She had been queen of England for only nine days.
Edward was a highly intellectual and pious boy who fell prey to the conspiracies of his powerful Council of Regency. His frailty led to an early death. He caught consumption and spent many months dying. Plans to marry him off to all sorts of people had to be abandoned.
His 'Protector', the wicked Duke of Northumberland, did not publicly declare his death for several days, so that he could make schemes for the succession. There were even rumours of poison. Had he lived into manhood, he potentially could have become one of England's greatest kings.
Jane Austen wrote of him, 'This Man was on the whole of a very amiable character . . .' to which Beckett added, 'as docile as a lamb, if indeed his gentleness did not amount to absolute sheepishness.'
Key Events during the Reign of Edward VI
1547 - Edward VI accedes to the throne after the death of his father Henry VIII. Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, is invested as Duke of Somerset and Protector of England. The English army defeats the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie as part of an attempt to force a marriage between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Edward VI.
1548 - The heresy laws in England are abolished. All craft guilds are abolished except for the London Guilds.
1549 - The First Book of Common Prayer is issued, which changes the Church service from Latin to English.
1550 - The Duke of Somerset is deposed as Protector of England and replaced by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who creates himself Duke of Northumberland.
1552 - Somerset is executed. Christ's Hospital in London is founded by Edward VI.
1553 - Thomas Cromwell becomes Lord Chancellor. The Duke of Northumberland persuades Edward to nominate Lady Jane Grey as his heir in an attempt to secure the Protestant succession. Edward VI dies at Greenwich Palace.