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Edward VI, First Protestant King: Amazing Life Of A Gifted Boy

First Protestant King: Amazing Life Of A Gifted Boy

The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 in Germany, led by Martin Luther* (1483-1546). It marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era. Luther defied the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church condemned him. Soon all of Europe was divided into two camps, the Protestant and the Catholic. Often the division was sharp, fierce, and violent. Nowhere was this so visible as in the England of Henry VIII* (1491-1547).

* indicates there is a short biography of the person in SPIRITUAL LIVES

Henry was a committed Catholic. He was not brought up to be king but prepared for a life in the Church to be Archbishop of Canterbury. When he heard about Luther he wrote a powerful denunciation of him and Protestant ideas, with the help of Thomas Moore (1478-1535). As a reward, the Pope granted Henry the title Defender of the FaithFidei Defensor in Latin – in 1521 -- a title English monarchs retain today.

Henry remained a staunch Catholic the rest of his life, but as his wife turned 40 without giving him a son, he became convinced he would have to look elsewhere. He had a son from a mistress in 1519, but Henry wanted a legitimate son who would be universally recognized as his heir and began working to replace his aging Queen Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) with a younger Anne Boleyn (1501 or 1507-1536).

When the Pope would not allow him a divorce, Henry broke with Rome and made himself head of the Church of England. He had his Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer* (1489-1556), who had been chaplain to Anne Boleyn’s father, install him as head of the Church and grant him a divorce from Catherine. Henry’s marriage to Anne gave him a daughter, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) but not the son he was looking for. Anne’s successor, Jane Seymour (1508-1537) did.

This long-sought-for son was Edward VI (1537-1553). Henry called him "this whole realm's most precious jewel".

Throughout the realm, the people greeted the birth of a male heir, "whom we hungered for so long",with joy and relief. Te Deums were sung in churches, bonfires lit, and "their was shott at the Tower that night above two thousand gonnes".

Edward VI as an infant.

Edward's birth at once solved the issue of succession, which had long divided the country. Henry had two daughters in line to succeed him, Mary (1516-1558) born to Catherine of Aragon and Elizabeth (1533-1603) born to Anne Boleyn. although each was born when her mother was reigning as queen, Henry had declared both illegitimate so their claim to the throne was in question. There was no question about Edward's status, and he was universally recognized as Henry's unquestionable successor and heir.

However, the ongoing strife between Catholics and Protestants would last the rest of Henry's life. Mary was fanatically committed to the Pope and the church of Rome. Elizabeth followed her mother's Protestant views. Jane Seymour (1509-1537), Edward's mother, was Catholic but died before she had much influence on her son. Protestant Archbishop Thomas Cranmer christened the infant and stood as godfather while 21-year-old Catholic half-sister Mary stood as godmother and 4-year-old Protestant half-sister Elizabeth carried the chrisom (face cloth) used to cover her brothers' head.

These three people all played key roles in Edward's life and education as he made the decision on religion for himself and England. But the most important figure in his first ten years was his father, King Henry VIII. Young Edward addressed him very formally, "O King most illustrious and most noble father!"

The Latin text at the bottom of his portrait above gave him the expectations made about him:

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 with for no more. Surpass him and you have surpassed all the kings the world ever revered and none will surpass you.

Edward learned much from his father about royalty and being a king, but he was entirely in his shadow. All that changed when Henry died in 1537. Edward's coronation was a joyous affair. Archbishop Cranmer presided proclaiming the boy-king a second Josiah and urging him to continue to reform the Church of England. He urged him to throw off "the tyranny of the Bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed."

This was a process Henry had been working through the last ten years of his life. After the Pope excommunicated him in 1538, Henry published the Great Bible in English and had one placed in every church in England in 1539. this was a sharp turn from his opposition to Tyndale's Bible, 14 years before and a sharply Protestant move. In the same year, he also published the Six Articles, a Roman Catholic document affirming the doctrine of transubstantiation and making denial of it heresy, punishable by death!

Henry's quarrel with Rome was not about doctrine or church practice but about power and control. His Church of England was Catholic in doctrine, liturgy, and practice but reformed only in its instillation of the English Bible in every church. It was the Pope and Rome he was at odds with not the practice of Catholicism

All of this took place while Edward was a toddler, but he learned from it and studied its results. A precocious boy who loved learning, he began writing letters in Latin at age 5 and recorded events in a life-long chronicle be started at age 9 or 10.

At six, Edward began his formal education under the best tutors Henry could get, focusing on "learning of tongues, of the scripture, of philosophy, and all liberal sciences". Although these tutors were Catholic, and he took part in the mass and revered images and relics, by the time he was twelve he had written a treatise on the Pope as Antichrist. He read twelve chapters from the Bible daily and was making serious notes on theological issues. The driving force in his religion was Archbishop Cranmer, one of the leaders of the reformers along with Thomas Cromwell and the Seymour brothers.

The interests of Cromwell and the Seymours were primarily political and economic. Cromwell used Protestantism to justify closing the monasteries and seizing church land to make the crown enormously wealthy. The Seymours parlayed their relationship with the king's mother into seats on the ruling Council and hoped for royal marriages.

Edward navigated all of this calmly and wisely, dispassionately overseeing cabals and plots and signing death warrants for treacherous uncles. All this he recorded in his chronicle faithfully.

There was considerable drama during his reign and even rebellion and conflict. The Catholics were dismayed at the implementation of reforms such as communion in both forms, bread and wine, for everyone and the replacement of priests offering sacrifices with ministers appointed to preach the gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper and baptism, the two replacing the seven sacraments of Rome

Cranmer was the driving force behind all of this, working to arrive at a new prayer book that would blend the language of the old Catholic missals with the doctrines of the new Reformed Protestant doctrines of John Knox. The most dramatic change was the replacement of Henry VIII’s Six Articles with the Thirty-Nine Articles which defined Reformed teaching completely and remain in the Prayer Book to this day.

Cranmer’s first Prayer Book was produced in 1549, but in 1551 Edward began to exert more influence as head of the Church. He accepted John Knox’s (1514-1572) practice of refusing to kneel at Holy Communion, a step toward removing any trace of transubstantiation and the real presence of Christ’s body in the bread and wine, making the communion service a memorial of Jesus’ death and effectively abolishing the mass.

With these reforms, Cranmer’s revised prayer book in 1552, and the Act of Uniformity The Church of England was established as Protestant. That prayerbook and those 39 articles remain the foundation of the Church’s services to this day.

Before these changes could be made permanent, King Edward became suddenly sick and died in 1553. Three queens followed him in the next 50 years but at the end of that time. Edward’s reforms had survived and grown stronger, and England had become united and Protestant.

Poet William Wordsworth commemorated King Edward VI in this poem:

Edward VI -

Sweet is the holiness of Youth’—so felt

Time-honoured Chaucer speaking through that Lay

By which the Prioress beguiled the way,

And many a Pilgrim's rugged heart did melt.

Hadst thou, loved Bard! whose spirit often dwelt

In the clear land of vision, but foreseen

King, child, and seraph, blended in the mien

Of pious Edward kneeling as he knelt

In meek and simple infancy, what joy

For universal Christendom had thrilled

Thy heart! what hopes inspired thy genius, skilled

(O great Precursor, genuine morning Star)

The lucid shafts of reason to employ,

Piercing the Papal darkness from afar!

Henry VIII designating his son Edward VI as his successor and enemy of the Pope.

Thanks to Wikipedia for these images posted in its article on Edward VI. Public domain information is cited below:

is is a faithful photo anonymous: King Edward VI and the Pope

This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer.

Edward in his early teens

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer.

Public Domain

  • File:Hans Holbein the Younger - Edward VI as a Child - Google Art Project.jpg

  • Created: 1 January 1538

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