This Week in History: Edward VI and the Nine Day Queen

Yesterday in history, Edward VI of England died at the age of 16 in 1553 after a rule of 6 years.  Child kings rarely leave much of a mark on history, but Edward happened to rule at a pivotal time in English history.  Still, most of his impacts were more about him than actively by him.

Henry VIII, His Children and First Three Wives

Henry VIII’s desperation for a male heir shaped 16th century English history.  Here’s the brief version:

  • Henry’s older brother, Arthur, marries Catherine of Aragon.
  • Arthur dies
  • Catherine swears she’s still a virgin
  • Pope annuls marriage
  • Catherine marries Henry
  • Catherine gives birth to Mary, future queen of England.
  • Catherine has no more children.
  • Henry decides God didn’t like him marrying his brother’s wife.
  • Pope won’t annul marriage.
  • Mistress Anne Boleyn gets pregnant.
  • Henry convinced baby is boy.
  • Henry creates his own church and annuls his own marriage.
  • Anne gives birth to Elizabeth.
  • Elizabeth is not a boy.  She is, however, another future queen of England.
  • Anne has no more children
  • Henry decides God didn’t like him annulling his marriage to Catherine, who is helpfully dead now.
  • Edward VI portrait

    Edward VI, king of England (and France, sort of. See below)

    Mistress Jane Seymour gets pregnant.

  • Henry overreacts, accusing Anne of hundreds of affairs
  • Anne and five men, including her brother, are executed for treason
  • Jane actually has a boy, Edward.
  • Jane dies of complications of childbirth.  Henry will eventually be buried with her.

Protestantism

Henry VIII had broken with the Catholic Church largely on political grounds: a king should be completely sovereign in his own kingdom and, thus, not need the pope’s permission to, say, annul a marriage.  The Seymours, however, were much more religiously Protestant, and Edward followed their examples.

Edward made many changes to the Anglican Church to bring it in line with other Protestant movements.  Had he lived longer, the Church of England might well have been much more conservatively Protestant, rather than the very moderate church it is today (thanks in no small part to Elizabeth, who was tired of “making windows into men’s souls” and wished everyone would stop arguing about religion).

Edward VI Defeating the Pope, 16th century painting

On left, the dying Henry VIII indicates Edward as his heir (although, as his only son,that would have been presumed). Beneath his feet, the pope is crushed as a superstitious idolater (he’s helpfully labeled such). Outside the window, church images are being destroyed. Above Edward’s head, his coat of arms bears the symbols of France and England, as the English are still claiming they are the rightful rulers of France, which they have done since the Hundred Years’ War.  This practice continues until 1801.

Succession

Henry VIII’s marriages to Catherine and Anne were both annulled, making their children, Mary and Elizabeth, officially bastards.  Despite this, Henry’s last will named Mary and Elizabeth as Edward’s heirs should Edward not have children.

Edward was sickly, and in his last months it became obvious he would not survive.  Mary was a Catholic, and Edward was terrified of England reverting to Catholicism.  So he changed the order of succession, kicking both of his half-sisters off due to their illegitimacy.  Instead, he named the male heirs of his Grey cousins, all of which were women and none of which had children.

At some point, the language was changed so that the women themselves could inherit.  There is logic to this, as none of the women were going to bear children before Edward died.  But it also happened that the Duke of Northumberland, who had a great amount of influence over Edward, had just married his son to the eldest cousin, Jane Grey.

The Nine Day Queen

On July 10, Jane was proclaimed queen.  Her reign lasted all of nine days as the country rallied behind Princess Mary, soon to be Queen Mary I.  The fact that she was Catholic didn’t dissuade a great many people.  Neither did the fact that she was a woman nor that she was still a bastard.

Jane, also 16 years old, was executed along with her husband and father-in-law. The first two had very little say in all of this, hapless teenagers overwhelmed by their incredibly powerful families.  Today, she and her husband are respectfully buried at a chapel at the Tower of London.

This is no agreed upon contemporary portrait of Jane, although a couple images have been put forth as possibly being her.  The top image here is a 19th century work.

 

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