Friday, 3 August 2012

Guest Blog by Matthias Hans: Edward VI, the Boy King


My name is Matthias Hans and I am a history student from Bonn University in Germany.  I am on a five-week work experience placement at Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive.  I am interested in the late medieval and early modern periods, especially the history of religion.  During my time here I have already translated a German tour, catalogued books and correspondence, and done some research using original documents from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  This blog post makes use of the work I have done so far.

Matthias Hans: Doing work experience at the Cathedral Library and Archive

When King Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547 he had ruled for more than 38 years; his reign had brought immense changes in government, society and the Church. In ecclesiastical matters, the greatest change made by Henry was splitting from Rome in January 1531, following Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  At the time of Henry’s death his son, Edward the Prince of Wales (whom he had with his third wife Jane Seymour), was only nine years old. Because of his age he was unable to reign on his own.  This meant that others ruled for him, exerting their influence on him and pursuing their own agenda, especially in relation to religion.  They followed the strict reformed Protestant teachings of the Swiss reformer Jean Calvin, who made rigorous changes to liturgy, e.g. banning music from the church.

It was decided to keep Henry’s death a secret for three days.  Duke of Somerset Edward Seymour, the young Edward VI’s uncle, was made Lord Protector. Somerset kept the young prince isolated to ensure that he had the greatest influence over him. Edward was the first monarch declared in his coronation oath as the supreme head of the church by divine, not human, agency. The coronation oath was changed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, with the assent of the Duke of Somerset.   Cranmer said in his sermon delivered at the Coronation of Edward VI:

Therefore not from the Bishop of Rome, but as a Messenger from my Saviour Jesus Christ, I shall most humbly admonish your Royal Majesty what things your Highness is to perform.  Your Majesty is God’s Vicegerent, and Christ’s Vicar your own Dominions and to see, with your Predecessor Josias [sic], God truly worshipped, and Idolatry destroyed; the Tyranny of the Bishops of Rome banished from your Subjects and Images removed. These Acts be Signs of a second Josias, who reformed the Church of God in his Days.”

Shortly after Edward’s coronation Cranmer’s ideas for reform were put into practice. In July 1547 the Privy Council forbade candles and shrines, while in February the following year images in stained glass, wood and stone were regarded as idolatrous. The old and traditional social and religious customs of English Medieval Christianity vanished within just two years. Religious rites were reformed and unified, with Thomas Cranmer’s First Book of Common Prayer being published in 1549.

However the deep impact of these reforms was not welcomed by all the people. This led to a series of uprisings taking place, especially in the west of England, in 1549. With the uprisings, the bond of trust was broken between Somerset and the local gentry, who believed the Protector had taken his policies too far. In October of the same year Somerset’s offices were abolished and a coup d’├ętat against him took place, but the evangelical religious policy was carried on.  Meanwhile conservative, traditional bishops were removed from their office and some of their lands were seized for the government. In February 1550 Lord Warwick was appointed Lord Protector. Under the regime of Warwick, who was made Duke of Northumberland in 1551, Edward’s religious views became even more evangelical. In 1550 the Ordinals for Clerics, which set out new rules for the clergy were published.  All in all Edward became more independent from the church and his advisors, more rigorous and intolerant toward the old, traditional more Catholic minded forces. His refusal to accept the saying of the Mass for his sister Princess Mary almost caused a war with Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1552 Archbishop Cranmer’s Second Book of Common Prayer was published. It was a more overtly Protestant revision of the First Book of Common Prayer of 1549.  In June 1553 the 42 articles of Faith were published.  Doctrinally, these two publications were the climax of the ecclesiastical changes of Edwards’s reign, influenced by French/Calvinistic Protestantism. Edward saw the Eucharist as an act of remembrance rather than the real presence, like his mentor the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer.

King Edward VI
© The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

Scholars argue about Edward’s health during the last two years of his reign but it is certain that his health was poor during that time. He might have contracted tuberculosis, to which he finally succumbed on 6 July 1553. It is uncertain how the reformation would have progressed if the king had lived longer. Edward did not want either of his sisters, Mary or Elizabeth, to be his successor, as he regarded them both as illegitimate. He was especially afraid that the Catholic Mary would destroy his work of “true religion”. His wish was that the daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk, whom he regarded as his spiritual sister, should be his successor was not fulfilled. Instead England was to experience further turbulence in the following decades.

By Matthias Hans, Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive