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The Middle Tudor Monarchs
Edward VI, the Boy King
Edward VI was born on October 12, 1537. His parents were England's King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife. For more than a quarter century Henry had desperately wanted a son, and Edward's birth caused great rejoicing. But Queen Jane soon fell ill with childbed fever, and on October 24 she died.
Until the age of six Edward was raised by his nurse, Mother Jack, and other servants. During that time Henry took two wives in quick succession, but both marriages ended badly; Anne of Cleves was discarded because the king found her ugly, and Katherine Howard was executed for adultery. In 1543 Henry married Katherine Parr, who became a loving stepmother to Edward and his older half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. She was a highly learned woman who personally oversaw Prince Edward's education.
Edward's tutors taught him geography, government, history, French, German, Greek, and Latin. He was also given lessons in etiquette, fencing, horseback riding, music and other gentlemanly pursuits. Perhaps most important to Edward was his study of the Scriptures. He became a devout Protestant even though his father, who had severed England's connection to the Roman Catholic Church, remained conservative and mostly Catholic in his beliefs.
Although Edward was serious and studious, at times he displayed a savage temper. According to one account, he once tore a living falcon into four pieces.
Henry VIII died in 1547 and his nine-year-old son became King Edward VI. A council was appointed to rule during Edward's minority, with Edward's uncle, the duke of Somerset (Jane Seymour's brother), as Protector of the country and the king.
Somerset's brother, Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour, was jealous of Somerset and schemed to put himself in power. The admiral was arrested and charged with treason. Somerset hesitated to sign his brother's death warrant, so Edward gave the council permission to have his uncle beheaded. Somerset himself later fell from the king's favor and lost his role as Protector. The duke of Northumberland took control of the king and council, and eventually Somerset, like his brother, was arrested and charged with treason. Under pressure from Northumberland, fourteen-year-old Edward signed Somerset's death warrant. Somerset was executed in 1552.
By this time Edward had completed his education and was participating in council meetings. It was decided that the king would take charge of the country at age sixteen. This was bad news for his sister Mary, an ardent Catholic who refused to cooperate with Edward's religious reforms. However, Edward got along well with his other sister, Elizabeth, a moderate Protestant.
Edward suffered a bout of smallpox in April 1552, and from that time his health declined. By the next spring it was obvious that the king was dying of consumption (tuberculosis). His father's will had specified that Mary should become queen if Edward died without children, but Northumberland had different ideas. He persuaded Edward to name the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Lady Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary; she was also Northumberland's daughter-in-law, and through her Northumberland hoped to rule England.
On July 6, 1553 Edward whispered his last prayer and died. He was fifteen years old.
Jane Grey, Queen for Nine Days
Lady Jane Grey was born just two days before Edward VI, and may have been his friend in childhood. Her father was Henry Grey, the marquis of Dorset (later the duke of Suffolk). Her mother was Frances Brandon, a niece of Henry VIII who was third in the royal line of succession. Jane had two younger sisters, Katherine and Mary.
Jane's parents were, in her words, "sharp and severe" to her. She once told a visitor to her family home, Bradgate Manor, that her mother and father expected to do everything "as perfectly as God made the world, or else I am sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened . . . that I think myself in hell." She said that her parents pinched her and abused her in other ways she would not name out of respect for them.
She found refuge in her studies, which she enjoyed so much that she cried when her lessons were over for the day. "Whatsoever I do else, but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking," she said.
Jane's parents had big dreams for their intellectual eldest daughter. They hoped she would marry her cousin Edward and thus become queen of England. When Jane was nine, her parents sent her to live with Henry VIII's widow, Katherine Parr, and Katherine's new husband, Thomas Seymour. Jane was happy with the Seymours, but Katherine soon died died and Thomas Seymour was arrested, forcing Jane to return to her parents.
Once, on a visit to Henry VIII's daughter Mary, Jane openly disparaged Mary's Catholic beliefs. Although Mary was hurt, she later sent Jane a pretty velvet dress to wear to court. Jane, who thought fine clothes were sinful, tried to refuse the gift, saying it would be "a shame to follow my Lady Mary against God's word," but her parents insisted she wear it in the hope that it would impress the king. Many people expected Edward to marry Jane, but he wanted to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, or some other foreign princess.
By the time Jane was fifteen, her parents had abandoned their dream of marrying her to King Edward. Jane now believed that she was betrothed to the duke of Somerset's son, Lord Hertford. She was stunned when her parents informed her that she was instead to marry Guildford Dudley, the youngest son of the duke of Northumberland. Guildford was a handsome young man, one year Jane's senior, but it seems Jane didn't like him very much. She refused to marry him, and went on refusing until her mother literally beat her into submission.
Jane married Guildford Dudley in May of 1553. The marriage was consummated the following month at Northumberland's command, but the couple continued to live apart. Jane's new mother-in-law visited her on July 3 and told her, "His Majesty hath made you heir to his realm." Jane said later that this unexpected news "greatly disturbed" her.
Three days later the king died. Northumberland kept the death secret for several days to prevent Edward's sister Mary from claiming the crown. But on July 9 Mary, who was in Norfolk, heard the news and proclaimed herself queen. On the same day Jane was taken to Northumberland's house and led to a throne. Everyone bowed or curtsied to her. Realizing what was happening, Jane began to shake. Northumberland made a speech announcing that Jane was the new queen, at which Jane fell on the floor in a brief faint. No one came to her assistance and she remained on the floor, sobbing.
Finally she got to her feet and announced, "The crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir."
When her parents, husband, and father-in-law remonstrated with her, Jane dropped to her knees and prayed for guidance. She asked God to give her "such spirit and grace that I may govern to Thy glory and service, and to the advantage of the realm." Then she took her seat on the throne and allowed those present to kiss her hand and swear their allegiance to her.
The next day Jane made her state entry into London. Most people felt that Mary was the rightful heir to the throne, and very few cheers greeted Jane. She was taken to the Tower of London, as was traditional. She protested when the Lord High Treasurer brought her the crown, but after a while she agreed to wear it. When the treasurer said that another crown would be made for her husband, Jane was displeased. Despite Guildford's rage and tears, she insisted that she would not permit him to be king.
For a few days Northumberland stayed close to Jane, bringing her documents to sign and generally telling her what to do. Despite Jane's objection to making Guildford king, Northumberland announced that both she and her husband would be crowned in two weeks. Then Northumberland left with an army to capture Mary, who was marching toward London with an army of her own. While he was gone the nervous royal council decided to proclaim Mary the rightful queen. The proclamation was made on July 19. The people of London were jubilant. Determined to save himself, Jane's father signed the proclamation making Mary queen, then went to his daughter's apartments and tore down her canopy of estate, telling her she was no longer queen.
"Out of obedience to you and my mother I have grievously sinned," Jane said quietly. "Now I willingly relinquish the crown. May I not go home?"
Her father left without answering her. Jane remained in the Tower, where she and Guildford soon became prisoners. Her father and Northumberland were also arrested and brought back to the tower. Henry Grey was released after a few days. He and Frances did not write to Jane or try to save her life. Although Northumberland hastily converted to Catholicism and spoke of his desire to live and kiss Mary's feet, he was executed in August.
On November 13 Jane and Guildford were tried and sentenced to death. Jane wasn't worried, however, because she had been told that the queen would pardon her. Then, in February of 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt raised a revolt against Mary. He was quickly arrested, but his rebellion hardened Mary's heart against her enemies. She signed Jane and Guildford's death warrants. When Jane heard the news she said, "I am ready and glad to end my woeful days." The queen offered to reprieve Jane if she would convert to the Catholic faith, but Jane refused.