1902 Encyclopedia > Edward VI, King of England

Edward VI
King of England

EDWARD VI. (1537-1553), king of England, was the son of Henry VIII. and of Jane Seymour, and was born at Hampton Court, 12th October 1537. "Till he came to six years old," he says in his journal, "he was brought up among the women." He was then transferred to the direction of several masters, who instructed him in Latin, Greek, French, philosophy, and divinity. In his tenth year he was created prince of Wales and duke of Cornwall, and very shortly afterwards he succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, 28th January 1547. The will of Henry, for the protection of the young king, had named merely a council of regency, but that council immediately chose Edward, earl of Hertford, as protector, and on the 16 th February ordered that he should be created duke of Somerset. The leanings of the protector were strongly Protestant, and he inaugurated his protectorate by the repeal of various Acts whose tendency was to support the waning influence of the Church of Rome, and by additional legislation in favour of Reformation principles. Though England was in a somewhat unsettled state, this did not prevent him from planning an expedition against Scotland, on account of that power refusing to fulfil a former treaty by which a marriage had been agreed upon between Mary Queen of Scots and Edward. He defeated the Scots at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, September 10, 1547, and next year captured Haddington; but, on account of growing dissensions at home, he was compelled to give up all further attempts against Scottish independence. His brother, who had been created Lord Seymour of Sudeley and made lord admiral of England, was suspected of being at the head of a plot to overturn his authority, and with something of bravado admitted as much as was sufficient to criminate himself, although he refused to answer in regard to the more serious charges. In the House of Lords a bill was framed against him which passed the House of Commons almost unanimously, and, it being assented to by the king shortly afterwards, he was executed on Tower Hill, March 20, 1549. In the following summer the distress consequent on the depreciation of the currency and the wasteful expenditure of the court awakened a general discontent, which in different parts of the kingdom broke out into open insurrection. The protector, instead of repressing the rebellion by vigorous measures, gave considerable concessions to the demands of the populace, his sympathy with whom he openly admitted. By such an avowal he necessarily alienated the nobility, and they speedily planned his overthrow. The council, headed by Dudley, earl of Warwick, declared against him, deposed him, and imprisoned him in the Tower, October 14, 1549. He regained his freedom shortly afterwards, but a plot which he was concocting for the overthrow of Warwick having prematurely come to light, he was again arrested in 1551, and being convicted of high treason, he was executed on Tower Hill, January 22, 1552. The king, who, except where his religious convictions were concerned, was a mere puppet in the hands of the faction which at any time was paramount, yielded his assent to the execution, apparently without any feelings of compunction. Warwick, some time before this created duke of Northumberland, now exercised absolute sway over the affairs of the kingdom, but he was hated by the populace, and distrusted even by the friends who had raised him to power. He found it necessary, therefore, to take further steps to guarantee the stability of his authority. The king was dying rapidly of consumption, and his sister Mary being heir to the throne, Northumberland could not hide from himself the probability that his own overthrow would follow her accession. He therefore took advantage of the king's strong religious prejudices to persuade him to make a will, excluding Mary and Elizabeth from the succession to the throne on the ground of their illegitimacy, and nominating as his successor Lady Jane Grey, who was married to the duke's eldest son. The arbitrary urgency of Northumberland and the religious obstinacy of Edward prevailed over the strong objections of the judges, and letters patent being drawn out in accordance with the king's wishes, passed under the Great Seal, and were signed by the chief nobles, including, although only after repeated endeavours to alter Edward's determination, Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury. Edward died July 4, 1553. There were some suspicions that his death had been hastened by Northumberland, but although his malady showed at last some symptoms of poisoning, it is now believed that these were caused by accidental administrations of overdoses of mineral medicine. The early age at which Edward VI. died makes it impossible to form a confident estimate of his character and abilities. The exceptional talent which he manifested in certain respects may have been due largely to the precocity caused by disease. He was undoubtedly highly accomplished, but there is some reason for suspecting that he was defective in force of character, and that he was too much of a recluse to have become a successful ruler. His own writings show that he was fully aware of the abuses which had crept into the administration of affairs, and that he was conscientiously desirous that they should be remedied; but they leave it uncertain whether he had the practical sagacity to discern the true causes of these evils, and whether he had sufficient energy to remedy them even had he known the proper remedies.

The Writings of Edward VI. (including his Journal), edited with Historical Notes and a Biographical Memoir by John Gough Nichols, have been printed in two vols, by the Roxburgh Club (London, 1857). See also Hayward's Life of Edward VI. and Froude's History of England, vols. iv. and v.

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