As only the second Tudor king, Henry VIII was troubled through most of his reign by the lack of a male heir. He had sons but they never survived infancy that is until the birth of his son Edward, Prince of Wales.
It took three marriages and countless pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths and deaths before the King got what he so desired. A son. Jane Seymour was the mother of Prince Edward but sadly lost her life after a long and arduous labor. There are debates on whether she died from puerperal fever or food poisoning since the release of Alison Weir’s novel, ‘Jane Seymour – the Haunted Queen’ which came out earlier this year.
King Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon had been married to the king for over two decades, with many pregnancies and only one surviving child, a daughter, name Mary. While Mary was not the son that Henry so desired she was still ‘The King’s Pearl’.
King Henry’s mistress, Bessie Blount provided the king with an illegitimate a few years after the birth of his daughter Mary. Surprising many at court, probably including his queen consort, Henry recognized the child as his and gave him the surname, Fitzroy, which translates to son of the king. Surely, if it came to it, Fitzroy could be his heir, but it was not ideal. In history it was never ideal to have a bastard named heir to throne. The king was grasping, he was desperate. Enter, Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn had arrived at Tudor court at a time when Henry VIII was restless in his marriage. One could probably say that he was in panic mode. He desperately wanted a male heir and Anne Boleyn gave him the possibility of the son that he so desired. Unfortunately for King Henry his first wife would not accommodate his need for a son by granting him a divorce. The battle lasted seven long years and culminated in the King becoming the Head of the Church of England and marrying Anne near the end of 1532. The following September Anne gave birth to a daughter, called Elizabeth. While both Henry and Anne were disappointed they both believed that sons would follow.
Some have claimed that the King had syphilis, that this may have been the reason behind so many miscarriages and stillbirths, but that could not be further from the truth. In 1888, a Victorian doctor claimed the King had syphilis and this claim continued until it was debunked in 1931 by Frederik Chamberlin, but even Chamberlin could not stop the spread of the rumor. To this day, there are still those who believe the King and his Queens suffered from the disease. If the king HAD suffered from syphilis, not only would there be documentation of mercury treatment for the disease but he would have had ‘gaping sores in the lymph node areas, potentially the destruction of the nasal cavity, loss of front teeth and palate erosion and lesions on the scalp and tibia’.¹ None of which had been reported.
Author Kyra Kramer, and others, believe that the King had a Kell positive blood type and that he developed McLeod syndrome as a result.²
The Kell positive blood type would help to explain why his partners suffered miscarriages and losses. While McLeod syndrome explains the physical decline and outbursts by the king in his later years.
Unfortunately for Anne Boleyn she would not provide the King with the son she had promised and Henry in turn moved on to another – Jane Seymour.
In October 1537, Jane Seymour gave birth to a healthy son, Edward, Prince of Wales. Twelve days later she was dead, but Henry had his son.
Around midnight on the 28th of January 1547, King Henry VIII took his final breath. He had denied for days that he was to die and had been ‘loth to hear any mention of death’ until Sir Anthony Denny insisted that last rites be given by Archbishop Cranmer. When Cranmer arrived, the King was no longer speaking and could on ‘press’ Cranmer’s hand to acknowledge his presence.
At 3am, just hours after King Henry had died, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Sir Anthony Browne rode to secure Edward, now King of England.
After retrieving Edward he was brought to Enfield where his sister Elizabeth had been staying, it was there that the two were informed of their father’s death. Edward was just nine years old and Elizabeth thirteen. At nine, Edward was too young to rule outright and his father had desired a regency council of 16 men to govern the country.
A conversation later mentioned by Sir William Paget with Edward Seymour, then Earl of Hertford tells us that Hertford began plotting for the Protectorship prior to the King’s last breath while pacing outside his room at Westminster. And so began the reign of King Edward VI, but before I get into that, let’s go back to the beginning and learn a bit about the young Prince Edward.
Prince Edward of England
In March 1538, when Edward was almost six months a formal household was setup up for him. This was not uncommon. From birth, Prince Edward was handed over to the care of a separate household from the hectic nature of Tudor court.
Lady Margaret Bryan led Edward’s household just as she had with his sisters Mary and Elizabeth as Mistress of the Household. Bryan would write regular letters to inform both the King and Cromwell of the Prince’s progress.
Tudor England, as we know, was strife with superstitions and prophecies – and a series of circumstances struck fear for the safety of the Prince, such as voodoo dolls which portrayed young Edward were found with pins pushed into it. In most cases, a piece of something belonging to the victim is attached to the doll – this makes one wonder how they would be able to obtain a piece of hair or what not to create the dolls.
There were also rumors spreading that Edward ‘should be as great a murderer as his father’³ since he had murdered his mother in her womb. These rumors were apparently started by a royal herald called Robert Fayery.
With all this happening in England, security was stepped up around the young prince who was already be protected from disease. Every day his residence would be cleaned to protect the young prince from infant mortality.
“Nothing must escape the closest of scrutiny. All foods for Edward’s consumption – bread, meat, milk, eggs and butter – were to be first eaten in large quantity; his clothes thoroughly washed, dried, brushed and stored safely, to be tested and worn before Edward put them on.”4
Edward appeared by all to be a happy and healthy child. Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys reported that Edward was ‘the prettiest child you ever saw’. (LP, XIII, ii, 232) But, in the Fall of 1541 he contracted a ‘quartan fever’. (LP, XVI, 1297), a form of malaria and for ten days the prince’s life appeared in danger. King Henry so feared the death of his heir that he summoned all the doctors in England, said French Ambassador Marillac – and one of those doctors informed him: (translated from French) “that without this accident, the said Prince seems to him to be of a composition so large, so dear, and so unhealthy, that he can not believe, by what he now sees, that he is to live long.” (Kaulek, Correspondance politique, 350-4). The Prince, of course, recovered with the help of his father’s physician, Sir William Butts. Butts had fussed so much about the prince that Edward, feeling better, began to call him a fool and a knave and instructed the doctor to leave him.
By the time Prince Edward had recovered his second stepmother, Katheryn Howard was on her way to the scaffold and his father still had but one male heir.
After his recovery Edward returned to his normal daily life at the palaces of Hunsdon, Havering and Ashridge.
For a majority of his young life, Edward was surrounded by women. Until the age of six when he was ‘handed over’ to Richard Cox and John Cheke – both young humanists from Cambridge. Roger Ascham, a tutor of the Lady Elizabeth also became involved in educating the future heir.
By all accounts, Edward was a quick learner. By late 1546, Richard Cox began to teach the prince French, which by December of that year he had so excelled that he wrote letters to his sister Elizabeth in the language.
Only the best of the best were brought in to teach the future king. Like his elder sisters, Edward was also taught music. He could play the lute, and perhaps other instruments as well. Author and Edward VI biographer Jennifer Loach believes that Edward was probably taught by one of King Henry’s most favored musicians by the name of Philip van der Wilder. Wilder was a member of Edward’s privy chamber.
Just a month after he wrote a letter in French to his sister his father had died and he was now King Edward VI of England.
Just three days after the death of his father, Edward travelled to London by horse where the news of King Henry’s death had just been made public.
“Hear ye, hear ye, King Henry is dead, long live the king!”
He was escorted to the Tower of London where cannons saluted the new king’s arrival. He would stay there until his coronation.l on the 20th of February.
The last coronation took place in England was in 1533 when Anne Boleyn was crowned queen consort. It had been 14 years and one can imagine the uncertainty that came with a minor on the throne.
King Henry VI had been a minor when he came to throne as well and it was during his reign that the Wars of the Roses occurred, it would have seemed imperative to secure Edward’s throne immediately and his eldest uncle believed that he was the best option to lead the country and guide his nephew. An act that would later destroy the Seymour brothers and leave the King without his uncles to protect him.
For two days following the coronation, Royal jousts were held while King Edward looked on. The king’s uncle, Thomas Seymour was one of the six challengers who competed and ran six courses against twelve defenders.
The celebration continued with banquets and plays but the Imperial ambassador, Van der Delft was reportedly unimpressed calling the festivities ‘unremarkable’.
As is usual with Edward’s diary little is written about the festivities except that he sat next to his uncle Edward and Archbishop Cranmer ‘with the crown on his head’.
It did not take long into the young king’s reign before there were issues with council members not agreeing. Ambassador Van der Delft had predicted some envy between the Lord Protector and John Dudley. ‘Although they both belong to the same sect they are nevertheless widely different in character; Dudley being of high courage will not willingly submit to his colleague. He is also higher in favor with the people than Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector.’ Van der Delft also said that Somerset was ‘indeed looked down upon by everybody as a dry, sour, opinionated man.’5
The young king spent most of his time isolated and without money to pay his servants, musicians and tutors, so when his uncle Thomas was made aware the King needed money he sent messages and coins to his nephew through the king’s servant, John Fowler. Through Fowler Thomas Seymour now Lord Admiral was able to receive consent to marry the dowager queen, Kateryn Parr. By the way, he has already secretly married her without consent.
The Lord Admiral continued sending the king money and at one point Edward was reported as saying that he wished his uncle Edward were dead. During all of this the Admiral was pressing for the title, Governor of the King’s Person, a title Somerset also held. Thomas Seymour hired lawyers and suggested that their nephew’s reign was similar to that of the minor king, Henry VI.
A visit to the king brought forward Thomas Seymour’s path to the governorship; asking the King to give his Royal signature to the bill. Edward was not used to making decisions as such on his own and was uncertain what to do. Thomas continued to try to convince his nephew but the King only resisted harder, and at one point asked him to ‘leave him alone’. Afterward the young king spoke to his tutor Cheke and asked if it would be wise to sign the bill. Cheke made it clear that it was a risky idea and recommended he did not.
Thomas did not give up on his nephew – he continued pushing his cause and told his nephew that he would soon be able to rule alone, but not with Somerset managing his affairs. Eventually King Edward agreed to sign the bill, but unfortunately for Thomas it was only a verbal agreement. He asked his uncle to leave the bill with Cheke for him to sign later.
Seymour handed Cheke a paper which had this written on it: “My Lords, I pray you to favor my Lord Admiral my uncle’s suit.” It was in Cheke’s hands now to agree to bring the bill to the king to sign. He would not. Seymour was furious and Cheke informed his student that he was playing with fire and by no means was he supposed to sign anything without the guidance of the Lord Protector.
Meanwhile Somerset had raged yet another battle in the war best known as the Rough Wooing – an ongoing war with the hopes of a treaty between England and Scotland over the marriage between their Queen (Mary Stuart, or queen of Scots) and the King of England, Edward VI. The battle of Pinkie was considered a success and the King commended his uncle for ‘striving that his kingdom be quiet and replenished with true religion’. When Edward was informed from his uncle that Catholic priests were some of the first to be hacked down in battle he was ecstatic. While the battle was a victory for the English, the Scots would not relent and their Queen Mary was smuggled out of Scotland and raised in France- that’s how much the Scots did not want the reformed religion in their country. She would later marry the Dauphin of France who later became King Francois II making Mary also queen consort if France.
Religious reform during the reign of Edward VI was in full swing with the guidance of Somerset, the King and a slightly reluctant Cranmer. The repeal of King Henry VIII’s Act of Six Articles allowed for unrestricted reading of the Bible. This also resulted in books that had been previously banned being printed once again. Most were Protestant books.
King Edward’s sister Mary was a staunch Catholic and the reformation went completely against her beliefs making her an obvious figurehead for the opposition. Mary became a vocal critic of her brother’s government and their religious policies. This became a sore spot between the two for Edward’s entire life. Even so, Edward still cared for his sister and was a bit sympathetic to her cause – he allowed her to she could practice her faith privately and to “Have patience till I have more years, then I will remedy all”. That statement suggests that even the King had believed his uncle Somerset had take the reform too far. He was not alone, Archbishop Cranmer felt the same.
¹ Kyra Kramer – Henry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell
² CATRINA BANKS WHITLEY and KYRA KRAMER. A NEW EXPLANATION FOR THE REPRODUCTIVE WOES AND MIDLIFE DECLINE OF HENRY VIII
³ Skidmore, Chris. Edward VI. Page 23
5 Ibid. Page 24
6 Ibid. Page 64
Loach, Jennifer. Edward VI
Kramer, Kyra. Henry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell
Skidmore, Chris. Edward VI