Edward VI 28 January 1547 – 6 July 1553

Although, today is officially the anniversary of the coronation of King Edward VI, I am honoring the brief but important fifteen year life of the only son of Henry VIII and his third wife Queen Jane Seymour.

Jane's pregnancy was made known in February 1537, and in September she officially withdrew to her chamber at Hampton Court to await the birth of her child. After a long labour of two days and three nights, she gave birth to a healthy son at about 2am on 12 October 1537.
Jane appeared to make a good recovery following the birth of Edward and was well enough to receive guests at Edward's christening on 15 October. The following day, however, her condition suddenly worsened. In a letter to Cromwell, her physicians, including the King's favourite, William Butt (1485-1545), report that 'all this night she hath bene very syck and doth rather appare (worsen) then amend'. The Queen's confessor, the Bishop of Carlisle, the letter continued, had been with her since dawn and 'even now is preparing to minister to her grace the sacrament of (extreme)unction'. Twelve days after the birth of her son, at 8pm on 24 October, Jane Seymour died, probably from puerperal fever caused by unhygienic obstetric practices. That same day, responding to Francis I's message of congratulations on the birth of Edward, Henry told him, 'Divine Providence has mingled me joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness'. She was buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor on 13 November. The court went into mourning; Henry ordered that hundreds of masses be recited for Jane's soul and wore black until 2 February 1538.

Edward,Prince of Wales (1537-1553) depicted in this portrait of Henry's long-awaited male heir, is about fourteen months old and shown as a miniature version of his father in a hat and costume similar to those worn by the King. Even the toy rattle is a composite of an orb and sceptre that is raised in a gesture of authority. The image illustrates the inscription. Written by the humanist Richard Morrison (c. 1510-56), whom Thomas Cromwell had promoted from his own service to that of the King, it exhorts the son to emulate his father and was designed to flatter Henry by maintaining that his achievements could never be surpassed. Almost certainly, the original painting was a New Year's gift to Henry in 1539 from the painter Hans Holbein the Younger, who had just returned to England after a short stay in Basel. Holbein received a silver cup in return.

At the base of the painting is a Latin inscription:

The English Translation reads:
Little one, emulate your father and be the
heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven
and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass
that of such a father. Only equal the deeds of your parent and men
can wish for no more. Surpass him and you have surpassed all the
kings the world ever revered and none will surpass you.

The Coronation of King Edward VI
Edward VI was crowned at Westminster Abbey four days after the burial of Henry VIII next to Jane Seymour, on Sunday 20 February the first coronation in England for almost 40 years took place. The ceremonies were shortened, because of the "tedious length of the same which should weary and be hurtsome peradventure to the King's majesty, being yet of tender age", and also because the Reformation had rendered some of them inappropriate. On the eve of the coronation, Edward progressed on horseback from the Tower to the Palace of Westminster through thronging crowds and pageants, many based on the pageants for a previous boy king, Henry VI. He laughed at a Spanish tightrope walker who "tumbled and played many pretty toys" outside St Paul's Cathedral. At the coronation service, Cranmer affirmed the royal supremacy and called Edward a second Josiah, urging him to continue the reformation of the Church of England, "the tyranny of the Bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed". After the service, Edward presided at a banquet in Westminster Hall, where, he recalled in his diary, he dined with his crown on his head.

Illness and Death of Edward VI
Edward became ill in January 1553 with a fever and cough that gradually worsened. The imperial ambassador, Scheyfve, reported that "he suffers a good deal when the fever is upon him, especially from a difficulty in drawing his breath, which is due to the compression of the organs on the right side ... I opine that this is a visitation and sign from God".
Edward felt well enough in early April to take the air in the park at Westminster and to move to Greenwich, but by the end of the month he had weakened again. By 7 May 1553 he was "much amended" and the royal doctors had no doubt of his recovery. A few days later the king was watching the ships on the Thames, sitting at his window. However, he relapsed, and on 11 June 1553,Scheyfve, who had an informant in the king's household, reported that "the matter he ejects from his mouth is sometimes coloured a greenish yellow and black, sometimes pink, like the colour of blood". Now his doctors believed he was suffering from "a suppurating tumour" of the lung and admitted that Edward's life was beyond recovery. Soon, his legs became so swollen that he had to lie on his back, and he lost the strength to resist the disease. To his tutor John Cheke, he whispered "I am glad to die".

Edward made his final appearance in public on 1 July 1553, when he showed himself at his window in Greenwich Palace, horrifying those who saw him by his "thin and wasted" condition. During the next two days, large crowds arrived hoping to see the king again, but on the 3rd, they were told that the weather was too chilly for him to appear. Edward died at the age of 15 at Greenwich Palace on 6 July 1553. According to John Foxe's legendary account of his death, his last words were: "I am faint; Lord have mercy upon me, and take my spirit". He was buried in Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey on 8 August 1553, with reformed rites performed by Thomas Cranmer. The procession was led by "a grett company of chylderyn in ther surples" and watched by Londoners "wepyng and lamenting"; the funeral chariot, draped in cloth of gold, was topped by an effigy of Edward, with crown, sceptre, and garter. At the same time, Queen Mary attended a mass for his soul in the Tower, where Jane Grey was by then a prisoner.

The cause of Edward VI's death is not certain. As with many royal deaths in the 16th century, rumours of poisoning abounded, but no evidence has been found to support these. The Duke of Northumberland, whose unpopularity was underlined by the events that followed Edward's death, was widely believed to have ordered the imagined poisoning. Another theory held that Edward had been poisoned by Catholics seeking to bring Mary to the throne. The surgeon who opened Edward's chest after his death found that "the disease whereof his majesty died was the disease of the lungs". The Venetian ambassador reported that Edward had died of consumption—in other words, tuberculosis—a diagnosis accepted by many historians. Skidmore believes that Edward contracted the tuberculosis after a bout of measles and smallpox in 1552 that suppressed his natural immunity to the disease. It is believed instead that his symptoms were typical of acute bronchopneumonia, leading to a "suppurating pulmonary infection", septicaemia, and kidney failure.

Thank you for stopping by. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments.


Anonymous said…
very interesting and a good recap of the facts. gigigirl
Kimberly Eve said…
I'm glad you enjoyed it. I wanted to give a thorough recap of his life. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

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