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This lesson explores the life and death of King Edward VI. Sadly, Edward’s short life has been largely overshadowed by his famous family members. In this lesson we will examine his brief reign and the role it played in setting the stage for the monarchs who succeeded him.

A Famous Family

Edward VI was born into one of the most notorious royal families in England’s history. The story of his father, King Henry VIII, and his many wives is still well known to this day and has been the subject of countless books, movies, and plays. Edward’s half-sister would become Queen Elizabeth I, one of England’s most successful and famous monarchs.

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Despite his family’s popularity that has lasted over 500 years, little is remembered of Edward VI and his short reign.

Childhood

Edward was born on October 12, 1537 at Hampton Court Palace. He was the son of King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. The entire nation rejoiced at the birth of a prince, and no one was happier than his father, who had divorced his first wife and killed his second wife for not producing a male heir.Tragedy struck Edward’s life when his mother died a few days after his birth. Edward had two older half-sisters: Mary, the daughter of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn.

Edward was a healthy baby and enjoyed a happy childhood. His father delighted in him, saying that Edward was ‘this whole realm’s most precious jewel.’ His sisters were very attentive and often visited him, and he was also close to his father’s sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr.At the age of six, Edward began his formal education.

He learned French, Spanish and Italian. In addition, he studied geometry and learned to play musical instruments. Edward was devoted to his schoolwork and was motivated by his sister Elizabeth’s high academic achievements.

Portrait of Edward VI
King Edward VI

Reign

Edward became King at the age of nine when his father Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey four days later.

A Regency was created until Edward reached the age of 18, with his uncle Thomas Seymour becoming Lord Protector of the Realm.During Edward’s reign, the recently instated Church of England became more Protestant. He instituted many reforms, including the Book of Common Prayer. Aspects of Roman Catholic practices (including statues and stained glass) were done away with, and the marriage of clergy allowed. The imposition of the Prayer Book (which replaced Latin services with English) led to rebellions in some parts of the country.

As a result of the riots and unrest, Seymour lost support, and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, overthrew him. Seymour was executed in 1552. The Duke of Northumberland’s mode of operation was very different from Seymour’s. He encouraged a working Council and used it to legitimatize his authority. Lacking Seymour’s blood-relationship with the King, he added members to the Council from his own faction in order to control it. In the matter of religion he followed the same policy as that of Seymour, supporting an increasingly vigorous program of reform.

Church reform became as much a political as a religious policy under Edward, and by the end of his reign the church had been financially ruined, with much of the property of the bishops transferred to the Crown.

Death

In February 1553, Edward VI became ill, and by June he was in serious condition. If the King died, his Catholic half-sister Mary would take the throne. Edward and his Council greatly feared this because it would jeopardize their Protestant reforms.

He changed the succession from his half-sisters to his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey.Edward died of an unknown illness on July 6, 1553. He was 15 years old. Upon Edward’s death, Lady Jane Grey was quickly crowned Queen, but was overthrown by Mary’s supporters nine days later and was executed. Mary ascended the throne and reinstated Catholicism to England. However, she died childless five years later and her sister Elizabeth took the throne.Unfortunately, Edward VI died before he was able to rule or make decisions for himself.

His short reign was controlled by members of the Council, all scheming to gain power and forward their own agenda. However, his brief life set the stage for the reigns of his older siblings and made a lasting contribution to the English Reformation and the structure of the Church of England.

Lesson Summary

Edward VI was the only son of King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. He became King at the age of nine and only reigned six years before his sudden death at 15 years old.

Despite losing both of his parents at a young age, Edward had a happy childhood and was close to his two older half-sisters throughout his life. As a result of his young age, a Regent ruled in his name; first his Uncle Thomas Seymour and then the Duke of Northumberland. Edward’s short rule was largely known for the Protestant reforms made to the Church of England. His brief reign also set in motion the political and religious backdrop to the reigns of his older sisters who succeeded him: Mary and then his sister Elizabeth, who would become England’s legendary Queen Elizabeth I.

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