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EDWARD VI (Chapter 1)Marriages, Birth and Death
Henry VIII never underestimated the importance of a male heir. It was a lesson he had learnt at an early age. The turn of Fortune's wheel could be cruel, as it had been when he was just ten years old. Then the sudden death of his elder brother Arthur in April 1502 propelled him into the limelight as heir to the throne; overnight, Henry's life changed drastically. He was never meant to be king, nor had he even been prepared for such a task. For the sensitive and mild-mannered young child, a career in the Church had possibly beckoned; now, as Prince of Wales and sole male heir of the Tudor dynasty, he was kept so closely guarded that a Spanish envoy remarked how he might have been a girl, locked away in his chamber and only allowed to speak when answering his father.
Arthur's death was a devastating blow for his father, Henry VII. His victory against Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 had seemed unequivocal, ending over half a century of civil war between the rival houses of Lancaster and York, later better known as the Wars of the Roses. Yet new claimants to the throne had sprung up, challenging his legitimacy to rule. For the next fifteen years, Henry battled for his new dynasty to be recognized by the ruling empires of Europe, marrying his eldest son Arthur off to Katherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain. Nevertheless, Henry had always struggled to fit in amongst his own subjects and in particular his nobility--the ruling families, around fifty in number, upon whose support the monarch was largely dependent. Raised in Brittany and France, Henry was an outsider who brought with him a new style of government from overseas, scrutinizing every payment issued from his chamber with his own hand. For all it was worth, Henry's penny-pinching ways earned him little respect and fewer friends.
With only one male heir to fall back on--and a child at that--Henry knew that the Tudor name was seriously under threat. Yet worse still was to come the following year, when his wife Queen Elizabeth died in childbirth, attempting to deliver him another precious son. The Tudor dynasty hung dangerously by the thread of his son's life: with no other male heirs, extinction of the royal line loomed close.
The effects of all this upon the forming mind of the young Henry VIII cannot possibly be overestimated, for when he came to the throne six years later, aged almost eighteen, he was determined not to make his father's mistakes. In the years leading up to his death, Henry VII had placed his nobility under heavy financial penalties and bonds for the slightest misdemeanour, much to their chagrin. Now, in an inspired move designed to bolster his own reputation, Henry agreed to have his father's chief ministers, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, made scapegoats, ordering that they be thrown into the Tower and executed upon dubious charges of treason. Henry came as an immediate breath of fresh air; he soon ingratiated himself with the ruling elite, sharing their passions for hawking and hunting, and recklessly joining them in dangerous jousting competitions--the sight of which would have had his father turning in his grave. But he realized that for his reign to be fully secure and his mind set at rest, a male heir was vital. Fortunately for Henry, his brother's death had resulted in him gaining a wife--Arthur's widow, Katherine of Aragon. As to her womanly duties of providing the realm's heir, she did not disappoint. On New Year's Day 1511, Queen Katherine was delivered of a boy. As the style of his newborn son and heir, also named Henry, was proclaimed, the news was welcomed with bells, bonfires and the endless salute of guns shot from the Tower.
Henry celebrated with a pilgrimage to Walsingham, before returning to Westminster for a tournament and pageant. It was the most splendid of his reign. There he was mobbed by the crowd, who for souvenirs ripped off the golden 'Hs' and 'Ks' sewn on to his doublet. In his joy, Henry did not care. Yet the celebrations proved premature: seven weeks later, the baby was dead.
In February 1516, Katherine was again delivered of a healthy child. This time the baby lived--the only problem being that the child was a girl, Mary. Though naturally disappointed, Henry remained optimistic. 'We are both young,' he told the Venetian ambassador. 'If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow.' Yet they did not, and his subjects' anxiety over the succession began to reflect Henry's own: 'I pray God heartily to send us a Prince,' one courtier wrote, 'for the surety of this realm.' But it was not to be, for Katherine was destined to fail in her duties. After three miscarriages (two of them male) and two infants who had died within weeks of the birth (one male), by the end of the 1520s Henry had to face up to the inevitable. Katherine was now approaching her forties and surely reaching an age when conception was an unlikely and dangerous possibility--she would have to go. For Henry had a new lover--Katherine's maid-of-honour, Anne Boleyn--who would accept nothing less than to take her mistress's place as queen. Allure had turned to infatuation as Anne promised to provide Henry with the one thing Katherine had not: a son. But once she had replaced Katherine in Henry's affections--though not in his subjects'--she fared little better as queen, and the birth of their daughter Elizabeth, together with two miscarriages, convinced Henry that 'God did not wish to give him male children'.1
Besides, Anne made as many enemies as she had friends. She made the mistake of crossing Thomas Cromwell, Henry's first minister--a mistake for which she would pay heavily. As loyalties divided, splintering the court, with factions competing for the king's favour, it soon became clear to Cromwell that Anne was a more dangerous prospect than he had feared. At first, she had been the reason behind his meteoric rise at court; her thinly veiled hatred of Henry's former favourite, Cardinal Wolsey, allowing Cromwell to take Wolsey's place once he fell from grace. But Cromwell knew if he was to save his own head from eventually reaching the block, he had to seek Anne's first. After her third miscarriage, he engineered a plot to bring down the queen, accusing her of adultery with her musician, Mark Smeaton. Henry believed every charge levelled against Anne: whether there was any truth behind them, Henry probably did not care; he wanted her gone. Eleven days after Anne's execution, he had married once again.
His choice of the plain Jane Seymour as bride was in stark contrast to Anne. 'She is of middle height, and nobody thinks she is of much beauty,' the Imperial ambassador confided.2 Quiet and obedient, she came as a refreshing change: 'She is as gentle a lady as ever I knew,' one courtier wrote. 'The King hath come out of hell into heaven.'3
Jane's motto, 'Bound to obey and serve', reflected her own understanding of what needed to be done. She would be Henry's dutiful wife and subject, yet she aimed not just to be Henry's loyal queen, but to give him exactly what he wanted: a son. It was through her, she intended, that the Tudor dynasty would be reborn. Although in no doubt as to what needed to be achieved, however, Jane struggled to conceive. Henry soon grew restless. His eyes began to wander once more; meeting two young ladies, he admitted with a sigh he was 'sorry that he had not seen them before they were married'.4
Yet in early spring 1537 Jane knew she was pregnant. Shortly afterwards, she travelled with a no doubt overjoyed Henry, making a pilgrimage at Canterbury. Here they gave thanks to God and laid their offerings at the shrine of the English saint Thomas Becket. It was the last time Henry would make such a gesture. As the dissolution of the monasteries continued apace, such devotions were ordered to be abandoned. Within a year Becket's memory would be denounced, his shrine broken up and his bones scattered.
By April Jane's pregnancy was considered advanced enough for the news to be announced at a meeting of the Privy Council, where the need was felt to record their congratulations in the minutes. Soon the good news had spread across the country; in late May it was announced that the child had 'quickened'--kicked--sparking off further cause for celebration. Mass was celebrated in St Paul's with a thanksgiving, and the Te Deum was ordered to be sung in churches across the country. 'God send her good deliverance of a prince,' wrote one courtier expectantly, 'to the joy of all faithful subjects.'5
Henry marked his own expectation of fathering an heir by commissioning the court painter Hans Holbein the Younger to prepare a fresco for the walls of the Privy Chamber, depicting himself, Jane, his father Henry VII and his mother Elizabeth of York. The symbolism was telling, for Henry stands dominant in heroic pose, towering in front of his age-weary father. Beside them a monumental inscription set into a plinth proudly read:
If you rejoice to see the likeness of glorious heroes, look on these, for no painting ever boasted greater. How difficult the debate, the issue, the question whether the father or son be the superior. Each of them has triumphed. The first got the better of his enemies, bore up his so-often ruined land and gave lasting peace to his people. The son, born to still greater things, turned away from the altars of that unworthy man and brings in men of integrity. The presumptuousness of popes has yielded to unerring virtue, and with Henry VIII bearing the sceptre in his hand, religion has been restored, and with him on the throne the truths of God have begun to be held in due reverence.6
On the other side of the monument, it was easy not to notice Jane, both diminutive and submissive. This was hardly surprising, for Henry expected his queen and soon-to-be mother to his heir to act the obedient subject. Jane played the role to perfection. She was, Henry wrote in September 1537, 'of that loving inclination and reverend conformity'. He could not leave her side since Jane, 'being a woman', might take fright in his absence, risking miscarriage.7
With her pregnancy in its final stage, Jane took to her chamber on 16 September. Her confinement lasted three weeks, culminating in a difficult and painful labour lasting over thirty hours.8 Meanwhile the plague had been raging around Hampton Court, and Henry was forced to move to Esher for four days. Everybody waited anxiously 'We look daily for a Prince,' one courtier wrote to another. 'God send what shall please him.' On Thursday 11 October a solemn procession took place at St Paul's to pray for Jane.9
At two o'clock in the morning of St Edward's Day, Friday 12 October, Jane gave birth to a healthy child. By eight o'clock the news had leaked out of the court. It was a son. The church bells of London began a fanatical peal that lasted throughout the day, whilst in celebration the Te Deum was again sung in every parish church. At St Paul's there was a solemn procession. Bonfires were lit in streets; garlands were hung from balconies, whilst fruit and wine were handed out as presents by city merchants. Eager to impress, German merchants at the Steel Yard distributed a hogshead of wine and two barrels of beer to the poor.10 The celebrations continued well into the night as the Lord Mayor rode through the crowds, thanking the people for their rejoicing and calling on them to give thanks to God. To finish, the guards at the Tower of London fired off over two thousand rounds into the night sky.
Messengers were dispatched across the country with letters from the queen proudly announcing the news.11 Jane urged her subjects to give thanks to God, 'but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life...and tranquillity of this whole realm'. Indeed, it could be said that the baby's life and the future prospects of the kingdom were one and the same.
Letters were soon shuttling across Europe, their contents running along a similar vein. 'Here be no news,' Thomas Cromwell wrote, 'but very good news...I have received this morning...it hath pleased Almighty God of his goodness, to send unto the Queen's Grace deliverance of a goodly Prince.' The announcement of the birth, another letter read, 'hath more rejoiced this realm and all true hearts...more than anything hath done this 40 years'.12
Henry was at his hunting lodge in Esher when he heard. After the long wait of twenty-seven years, he finally had his heir. No record survives of the moment he first found out the news, though one suspects that musing upon the sacrifices he had made--divorce, Reformation, execution--a sense of vindication pulsed through him. Overcome with joy, he sped back to Hampton Court to choose the baby's name: Edward, after his distant royal ancestor, Edward the Confessor, whose memory happened to be celebrated that day--his saint's day.
Like an over-protective father, Henry took immediate control of the situation, commanding that every room and hall in the nursery recently built for the prince be swept and soaped down, ready for its royal occupant. The baby was then taken from Jane's arms and placed in the care of a wet nurse and other nursemaids; Jane did not make a fuss about suckling her child--for now she took her rest after an exhausting labour.
On Monday 15 October, Edward was christened in the royal chapel at Hampton Court. Preparations had begun almost immediately after the baby was born, but now Henry began to grow nervous for the child's safety. The plague had been rife in areas outside London for the past few months, centred about Croydon. Now a proclamation was hastily dispatched forbidding anyone residing in affected areas to come to court at all. This would mean that the king's own niece, Gertrude Courtenay, the Marchioness of Exeter, who had been appointed to carry the prince himself, would have been barred from the ceremony, had it not been for her own pleading.
Writing to Henry the day before, she waxed on unashamedly: Edward's birth was 'the most joyful news, and glad tidings, that came to England these many years; for which we, all your Grace's poor subjects are most bounden to give thanks to Almighty God that it hath pleased him of his great mercy so to remember Your Grace with a Prince, and us all, your poor subjects, to the great comfort, universal weal, and quietness of this your whole realm; beseeching Almighty God to send His Grace life and long...' And so it continues, Gertrude giving her thanks to Henry, 'as my poor heart can think', for granting her the honour of carrying Edward during the ceremony, she being 'so poor a woman to so high a room': 'Which service...I should have been as glad to have done as any poor woman living. And much it grieveth me, that my fortune is so evil, by reason of sickness here, in Croydon, to be banished.'13
As Gertrude well knew, with Henry flattery got you everywhere; needless to say, she got her way. Henry had made a rare exception, but the nobility scattered across the country on their estates had already taken to their saddles to arrive at the most eagerly expected event of the decade, to glimpse a sight of the new heir to the throne. Their retinues were ordered to be scaled down to reduce the risk of infection: dukes, usually accustomed to travelling with their entourage numbering into hundreds, were allowed no more than six gentlemen, marquesses no more than five. Nevertheless, the audience that gathered in the state rooms that led from the bedchamber to the Royal Chapel was still expected to number around four hundred.
The ceremonies for the christening followed the carefully planned ordinances set down by Henry's grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. These were intended to place the aura of the royal majesty on display at its most spectacular, but on this occasion they would also create exactly the right atmosphere to introduce not only the new royal family to the court, but to the nobility of the country their future king.14
First, at around six o'clock, the guests filed past the king and queen in the bedchamber, who sat in silence on a state pallet lifted from the floor and decorated with the royal arms, Henry in full regalia and Jane swaddled in fur and velvet. Custom, or at least Margaret, had dictated that neither would take part in the ceremony, nor be present to watch the christening. They would wait until the baby was returned to them, when they would then bless their child.
The godparents had been decided even before Edward's birth. The Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Suffolk and Archbishop Cranmer were to stand as his godfathers, whilst his elder stepsister, the Princess Mary, was godmother.
It was not until nearly midnight that all the guests had been greeted and the procession--suitably arranged according to every varying degree of status--stood ready to depart. Headed by Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber carrying torches, the choir and the Dean began their slow walk in front of pairs of chaplains, bishops, Privy Councillors, and noblemen. Next went the great officers of state paired with foreign ambassadors. Norfolk, Suffolk and Cranmer came next, followed by various earls carrying water basins, wax tapers and a gold salt cellar, all ceremonial gifts for the prince.
There was even a part to play for the four-year-old Princess Elizabeth who, coming behind them, held a jewelled baptismal chrism. It was a heavy, somewhat cumbersome object, and as she could hardly have been expected to bear its weight alone, she herself was carried in the arms of Edward Seymour, Jane's brother.
Next Edward appeared, clothed in a delicate white gown, placed gently upon a cushion held in the arms of the beaming Gertrude, who walked beneath a canopy of a fine cloth of gold. It seems that she performed her duties well enough, albeit for one nervous moment when the Duke of Norfolk stepped in to support Edward's head, she being either unable to control the squirming child or bear his weight.
The final part of the procession was formed by the wet nurse and midwife, shielded under a canopy held up by six gentlemen. As godmother, Princess Mary brought up the end of the procession, surrounded by ladies of her chamber carrying lighted wax tapers. Snaking through passages lined with spectators and guards, and taking precaution to avoid the draughtiest areas of the palace, the party eventually reached the Royal Chapel.
Henry had renovated Wolsey's old chapel two years before, so that it now shone with the full splendour of the Renaissance. A magnificent oak hammer-beam roof had been installed, painted blue and inlaid with stars of gold-leaf to create the effect that heaven itself, complete with trumpeting angels, was present above. The royal motto Dieu et mon Droit had been carved across its arches, and the arms of Henry and Jane set in plaques on either side of the door, where they can still be seen today.
For this occasion, however, a specially designed octagonal screen had been constructed around the brand new font made from silver gilt, with guards armed with spears posted over its doors; all this was deliberate, for such secrecy had been devised to enhance the sacred nature of the rite, raising the spectacle of majesty and awe of the occasion. Inside, its walls were hung with arras, cloth of gold and rich tapestries. A space had been curtained off containing a fire pan of coals, perfume and silver basins of water 'to wash the prince if need be'.
Hidden from the audience, Cranmer, cradling the baby in his arms, began the ceremony at midnight. Those sitting in the pews could see nothing, hearing only the litany of the blessing echo through the chapel until the sound of the twenty-four trumpeters heralded the Garter King-of-Arms' announcement, proclaiming the prince's new style: 'God of His Almighty and infinite grace give and grant good life and long to the right high, right excellent and noble Prince, Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester, most dear and most entirely beloved son to our most dread and gracious Lord, King Henry VIII.'
After a final chorus of the Te Deum, the procession re-formed to return the prince to his waiting parents in the state bedchamber. Though it was now well into the early hours of the morning, the blazing torches were 'so many that it seemed like day'. The king and queen gave their formal blessing; as Henry took his son in his arms tears ran down his face. No description survives of Jane's appearance. Perhaps amidst the celebrations, her quiet demeanour easily went unnoticed.'15
As the nobles and dignitaries departed, content at the sight of the nation's new heir, elsewhere across the country the news of Edward's birth was welcomed with no less rejoicing.16 Above all, it is the sense of relief that one detects most strongly in the celebrations. Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, gave his 'due thanks to our Lord God, God of England; for verily he hath showed himself God of England, or rather an English God'. It was the first expression of a sentiment that was to dominate Edward's life. The boy not only embodied the hopes of a nation, he was part of their salvation: since Henry had ordered the break with the Catholic Church, it was the king, Defender of the Faith, who was to bear the moral responsibility for the care of his subjects' souls. Edward's birth was a clear sign of God's favour in the new Church of England and Henry's personal reward for his decision to break with Rome. As Latimer commented, 'He hath overcome all our illness with his exceeding goodness; so that we are now more than compelled to serve him, seek his glory, promote his word.' Edward, put simply, was God's gift to the nation. This little baby, barely days old, was already being marked out for great things.17
Celebrations at court continued throughout the week. In his prolonged state of euphoria, Henry created six new knights and raised Jane's brother, Edward Seymour, to Earl of Hertford.18 Yet two days after the christening, Jane fell suddenly ill. Rejoicing now turned to prayer. On Friday 19 October there was a general procession at St Paul's for 'the health of the Queen'. The Royal Chapel now filled with sorrowful courtiers praying for Jane's safety. 'If good prayers can save her,' wrote one, 'she is not like to die, for never [a] lady was so much plained with every man, rich and poor.'19
Henry postponed a hunting trip he had planned to mark the start of the season, but only temporarily. If Jane's condition did not improve, he remarked, he 'could not find it in his heart to tarry'. This need not be taken as a mark of insensitivity or callousness on Henry's part, who probably had no need to be reminded of the painful memories of his own mother's death in childbirth.20 Nevertheless the doctors seemed hopeful for Jane's recovery--if she survived the night, they believed, she would be 'past danger'.
But the prognosis had come too soon. On Wednesday 23 October Jane suffered 'a natural laxe'--most likely heavy bleeding. Throughout the night and into Thursday morning, her condition worsened drastically.21 She spent the morning with her confessor, who now prepared to give her the last rites. At eight o'clock that same evening, in a sudden change of mind Henry rushed back to her chamber. The Duke of Norfolk wrote hurriedly to Thomas Cromwell, demanding he repair to Hampton Court as fast as possible 'to comfort our good master, for as our mistress, there is no likelihood of her life, the more pity, and I fear she shall not be alive at the time ye shall read this'. That night, at around midnight, Jane died.22
Puerperal fever, a form of blood poisoning resulting from infection contracted by poor hygiene, has been suggested as the cause of her death, though it is more probable that Jane suffered from a massive haemorrhage as a result of parts of the torn placenta remaining in her womb.23 Experienced midwives were trained as a matter of routine to examine the afterbirth to check that it had been completely discharged, but Jane had the misfortune to be attended by the best doctors of her age that money could buy. Yet they were academics, experts in medicine but without any practical experience of delivering a child: Cromwell later laid the blame on those about her, 'which suffered her to take great cold and to eat much things that her fantasy in sickness called for'. Jane's tragedy is that any lesser woman than a queen would probably have received better treatment.24
Soon rumours began to circulate of a very different story, that Jane had died as the result of a caesarean operation performed at Henry's instigation. According to one story in circulation by November 1538, Henry was present at the labour when he was told by a gentlewoman 'that one of the two must die'. Choosing his heir to be saved, he ordered the baby to be 'cut out of his mother's womb'. This prophecy was repeated elsewhere and became the subject of numerous ballads.25 In the Vatican library, there exists a contemporary document concerning the birth that goes even further, damning Henry for having Jane's limbs purposely stretched 'for the purpose of making passage for the child' before having her womb sliced open, 'so that the child ready to be born, might be taken out...'26 Determined to blacken Henry's name, these charges were later repeated by the Catholic writers Nicholas Harpsfield and Nicholas Sanders. Sanders wrote in 1581 that Henry, on being asked the question by doctors whether to save the mother or child, answered that it should be the boy, 'because he could easily provide himself with other wives'. How Henry already knew the sex of the child, Sanders did not explain. Harpsfield, in his unpublished 'Treatise of Marriage', c. 1558, merely noted that Jane died 'for the safeguard of the child', but claimed somewhat incredibly that Edward was born 'as some say that adders are, by gnawing out of the mother's womb'.27
Is there any truth to be found in these stories? The answer, most likely, is no. The primitive nature of Tudor surgery meant that a caesarean operation would result normally in immediate death--it was not usually performed until the mother was already dead or beyond survival. But Jane had lived for another twelve days and her health initially seemed good, and she had sat patiently at her son's christening, composed and regal, for over six hours. Some commentators even looked forward to the cementing of the dynasty with a second child.28 The rumour, however, remained compelling, a convenient accusation for Catholics to smear the dynasty with. In any case, the distinction between fact and fiction was never a priority in the curious and superstitious mind of Tudor man, where rumour could easily seem very real indeed. Henry, and in turn Edward, would never be free of its taint.
For the moment, Henry took no notice of any rumours that had begun to circulate around the court and beyond; perhaps he was unaware of them, for his grief seems to have been nothing less than genuine. Distraught, he fled to Windsor, leaving the funeral arrangements to others. There he went into seclusion, refusing to see anyone. Writing alone at his desk, he numbed the pain of loss by throwing himself into his work, replying to those who had sent their congratulations on Edward's birth. He wrote tersely to Francis I: 'Divine Providence...hath mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness.'29
News of the queen's death provoked a sense of national mourning on a scale not previously witnessed in Tudor England. Richard Morison, pamphleteer with responsibility for government propaganda, attempted to alleviate the sorrow of his fellow Englishmen by composing a 'Comfortable Consolation, wherein the People may see how far greater causes, they have to be glad for the joyful Birth of Prince Edward, than sorry for the death of Queen Jane'. This contained a fictitious seven-page speech from the queen, 'if she could speak to us', including Jane's supposedly dying wish to the nation: 'I have left you me babe...in his nonage, I shall think your love implied to the profit of mine heir, if you give it all to his father.' For Morison, even in death there was advantage to be had-no opportunity to pull heart strings and press obedience to the regime was to be wasted.30
After her body had been embalmed and her entrails removed and buried at the Royal Chapel, Jane lay in state, crowned and bejewelled and wearing a robe of gold tissue, for three weeks. On 8 November her coffin, surrounded by four white silk banners depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, left Hampton Court for Windsor. Princess Mary was again to play a central role in the ceremony, this time as chief mourner. Behind her the court followed in much the same fashion as they had paraded through Hampton Court during the joyous celebration of Edward's christening, though now they all wore black-the new fashion-rather than the traditional purple mourning garments. One extra touch was the white headdress that the ladies of her chamber wore, signifying that the queen had died in childbed. Jane was buried on 12 November 1537, with a requiem mass at Windsor and a dirge sung at St Paul's. No monument was ever erected in her memory, but a brass plaque was set above the vault. Its Latin inscription played upon the tragic irony of her emblem the Phoenix, the mythical bird whose death brought life:
Here lieth a Phoenix, by whose death
Another Phoenix life gave breath:
It is to be lamented much
The world at once never knew two such.31
In London, the church bells continued to ring from midday until six in the evening, though this time at a low funereal toll. Twelve hundred masses were ordered to be sung in the City by the Lord Mayor; privately, Henry requested twelve. Custom precluded the presence of husbands at their wives' funerals, though Henry may not have been in any state to attend. Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of Durham, attempted to alleviate his sorrow-though God had taken his queen, Henry should not forget 'our most noble Prince, to whom God hath ordained your Majesty to be mother as well as father'.32 The Duke of Norfolk in person urged him to think about taking a new wife, but Cromwell was already one step ahead, hot on his heels for another queen and another son to fully secure the dynasty. Within days he had sent Henry a list of suitable candidates, but was clearly taken aback with the king's less than enthusiastic response, noting that 'He has framed his mind to be indifferent to the thing'.33
Of all this, of course, Edward knew nothing. Later he would come to lament 'how unfortunate have I been to those of my blood, my mother I slew at my birth'; but for now, hidden away in his nursery, he was oblivious to the commotion that his entrance into the world had caused. The first few weeks of his life had been as momentous as any; for the moment, a courtier reported, he 'sucketh like a child of his puissance'.34
For the first six years of his life Edward, as he later mentioned in his diary, was brought up 'among the women'.35 From birth, the Tudors handed their children over to the care of a separate household of servants, far removed from the bustle of the royal court. At its head was Margaret, Lady Bryan, the mistress of the household, but who acted more like the family nanny, a role she had performed for Edward's two elder sisters, and by now had considerable experience in the needs of royal children.
She probably liked to think that she knew what was best for them. An early surviving letter of hers to Cromwell in 1538 gives an impression of bossiness. Edward's nursery, she believed, was 'very bare for such a time...he hath never a good jewel to set on his cape'. This was no obstacle for a woman who knew how to get her way: 'Howbeit I shall order all things for my Lord's honour the best I can,' she continued, 'so as I trust the King's grace shall be contented with all.'36
Reading her report, the colour must have drained from Cromwell's face. No doubt terrified that the news might find its way to Henry, he promptly transferred £5,000 (£1.5 million in today's money) into Edward's household funds. With her nursery now fully stocked, Lady Bryan happily relayed Edward's progress back to the court: he was healthy and merry, she noted, and had grown his first few teeth; three had come through whilst the fourth was just appearing. It was undoubtedly a relief to the wet nurse when, in October 1538, Sibyl Penne was appointed as his dry nurse, later becoming a favourite of Edward's, who affectionately named her 'Mother Jak'. Four 'rockers' were also employed to attend to the prince's cradle, one of whom was still receiving a pension of £10 (£2,000) fourteen years later.37
Far removed from the comforts of the court, and in a world where superstition and prophecies were held to be real in the minds of many, a series of alarming and unexplained incidents seemed to strike right at the heart of Edward's safety. Voodoo dolls representing Edward had been found with pins driven through their bodies, whilst rumours concerning Edward began to surface in taverns, fuelled by a strong belief in prophecy.38 Cromwell ordered his network of spies to keep their ears to the ground. It was not long before a tinker in his pay reported a conversation that carried past the sound of clinking tankards at the Bell Inn on Tower Hill, where one John Ryan told of a prophecy that the prince 'should be as great a murderer as his father' since 'he must be a murderer by kind for he murdered his mother in his birth'.39 When pressed to explain what he meant, Ryan stated that he had heard a prophecy from 'the best Chronicler in England' that the 'child that murdered thy mother in her womb...shalt have so much treason wrought in thy time more than ever thy father had'.40 Who was the chronicler? Further examinations revealed the suspect to be Robert Fayery, a royal herald. A direct link had been traced back to the court, but further leads came to nothing.41 Was this malicious gossip, or did Fayery know more than he was meant to have let on--perhaps the real truth behind Edward's own controversial birth? Again the evidence is tantalizing, but leads nowhere. For Henry, however, all this was alarming in the extreme: the line between rumour and magic, treason and plot, was a fine one.
Security measures were stepped up with the creation of a formal household especially for the prince. Henry personally dictated new regulations for the conduct of Edward's household.42 The introduction to his text highlights his anxiety over the health and safety of his son for whom he considered 'there is nothing in the world so noble, just and perfect'.
The rest of the document reads much like a sermon, dictated by a king still enthralled by the thought of his own supremacy upon earth, seeking to fashion his own apostolic succession. Edward was a gift from God 'for his consolation and comfort of the whole realm' and a demonstration of 'his bottomless divine providence'. He was, as Henry affectionately termed it, 'this whole realm's most precious jewel'.
It was all the more necessary, then, that the utmost care be taken to protect the child from harm. The prince's household, sworn under oath, was to be strictly confined. A detailed check roll of every servant present, outlining their age and estate, was to be presented to Henry. Nobody under the degree of a knight was to be allowed in Edward's presence. And regardless of title, no one was to touch the prince unless they had been commanded by the king to do so. If permission was granted, any bodily contact was strictly limited to a kiss on the hand. Even then, one of the heads of the household had to be in constant attendance, watching hawkishly over the child, and before Edward offered his hand the well-wisher's kiss was to be tested with a 'reverent assay'.
Nothing must escape the closest of scrutiny. All foods for Edward's consumption--bread, meat, milk, eggs and butter--were to be first eaten in large quantity; his clothes thoroughly washed, dried, brushed and stored safely, to be tested and worn before Edward put them on. New clothes were to be washed before being aired beside the fireplace and scented with perfume, 'so that the same way his grace may have no harm or displeasure'. The improvements were soon in place, with an extra washing house and kitchen quickly built at Hampton Court to cope with the new demands.43
The risk of infection and disease was always a threat against which constant vigilance and protection were needed. Those bringing in wood for fires should be clean and disease-free; once finished with their task they were to depart immediately, whilst servant boys and pages were forbidden from even stepping foot into the household, since they 'without any respect go to and fro and be not wary of the dangers of infection and do often times resort into suspect places'.44
Despite Henry's concern, he remained an all too absent parent in Edward's life, though occasionally he paid him the odd visit, such as in May 1538 when he spent the day with Edward, 'dallying with him in his arms a long space and so holding him in a window to the sight and great comfort of all the people'. But these rare glimpses into Henry's relationship with Edward are precisely that, for seldom would the austere and stuffy atmosphere of the royal court allow for any semblance of parental responsibility.45
Rather it was his elder sister Mary who took it upon herself, as godmother, to visit her royal brother. Aged twenty-two, portraits show her to be a genteel young lady with fair skin and auburn hair, if not quite as attractive as her younger sister. Living in residence at Hampton Court, she was only a barge journey across the river to the prince's nursery at Richmond. Mary showed genuine interest in her little brother, paying him visits in November 1537, and again the next March, April and May. In March she had journeyed by horse, riding to Richmond on the late Queen Jane's own little saddle horse--perhaps on that occasion more than any other she realized the need for her sisterly affection to be lavished upon her motherless brother. Visits would be spent being entertained by minstrels, to whom her accounts show she gave ten shillings. Not even Edward's nannies were to be spared from her generosity. Later, in 1539 she gave his nurse five yards of yellow satin amounting to 37s 6d, and a gilt spoon to each rocker, costing 44s od.46
Contemporaries seem to have been genuinely struck by Edward's beauty, with ambassadors and courtiers queuing up to meet the young prince in the flesh. When the Spanish ambassadors were finally granted permission to visit Edward they considered him 'the prettiest child we ever saw'. A month later the Chancellor Thomas Audley thought him, 'so goodly a child of his age, so merry, so pleasant, so good and loving countenance' (although one wonders what Henry would have said if they had dared to think otherwise).47
Edward's was a beauty that perhaps would not appeal today. The first surviving portrait from which Edward's grey eyes stare out at us was painted by Hans Holbein when the prince was fourteen months old. White-faced with fair skin, almost to the point of transparency, Edward sits attired in clothes suited to a Tudor gentleman--a doublet of vivid red and yellow, designed to contrast with his delicate, somewhat podgy, skin beneath. But what might seem pallid or even insipid to us was the admiration of the Renaissance courtier: as a young man, Henry VIII's lily-white skin and light auburn beard drew praise from ambassadors across Europe.
Here in the painting, a few locks of Edward's fine blond hair protrude from his feathered cap held on by a ribbon tied beneath his neck. His cheeks are those of a well-fed infant, but the painting gives little sense of any childish temperament behind his stern features--instead, Edward sits oddly poised with a rattle in his left hand. Yet the rattle symbolizes more than a plaything, being held in the fashion of a sceptre. Holbein's point is clear: Edward, though barely a toddler, was heir to the throne and was expected to bear rule. He held majesty.
The recipient of the painting no doubt got the message: it was given to Henry by the painter as his New Year's Day gift in 1539.48 But in case the point needed pressing, Richard Morison added a few lines of text beneath:
Little one, emulate thy 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 a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou has outstript all, nor shall any surpass thee in ages to come.
When the painting was unveiled to the court, it was an instant success. The effect was obvious: this little prince would one day be king. John Leland, later immortalized in his famous 'itinerary' describing his travels across the country, even felt inspired to write a poem, 'On the Image of the Incomparable Prince Edward', describing how the more he looked at the painting and 'your [Edward's] delightful face and appearance, so I seem to see the form of your magnanimous father shining forth in your face'.49
That New Year, Edward, too, was showered with gifts. The child probably took little interest in the expensive items of gold and silver plate, such as his father's gift of a gilt standing cup with 'antique works with a man on the top', preferring instead the Earl of Essex's gift of a bell of gold with a whistle. His sisters sent more personal gifts: Mary, a coat of crimson satin embroidered with gold and pearls and with sleeves of tinsel, whilst Elizabeth went even further, sending a shirt 'of her own working'.50
As heir to the throne, Edward naturally attracted much attention from ambassadors, already angling for a possible marriage alliance. Generally they were pleased with what they saw.51 But Edward did not always act the obedient child. By the beginning of 1539, Cromwell finally got his way and negotiations for Henry's fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleves, had begun. When Anne's brother, the Duke of Cleves, sent his ambassadors from Germany on a state visit, they were happily received by the king at Hampton Court. Yet what happened next was the cause of considerable embarrassment--and, at least for some, amusement.
Having been led on a guided tour of the building, the ambassadors were treated to a visit to Edward's nursery. The royal prince was brought forward in the arms of Sibyl Penne, with Lady Bryan hovering not far away. As the Germans, bearded and strangely attired, approached to get a closer look at the child, Sibyl attempted to free Edward's hand so that it might receive a kiss from the eminent dignitaries. But Edward would have none of it, and buried his face into Sibyl's shoulder, refusing to even look at his guests. Lady Bryan intervened. Attempting to coax the child out of what was becoming a difficult diplomatic situation, she used the best tactics that her long experience had taught her, 'cheering, dandeling and flattering' the little prince. It was to little avail. Edward burst into tears, and was only consoled when the Earl of Essex thrust his own bearded face into the child and played with him until Edward laughed. But as soon as the Germans approached once more, Edward dived back into the folds of Sibyl's arms, and the ambassadors, obtaining 'none other sight of my Lord Prince, for all the labour taken', withdrew disappointed.
For Essex, still a staunch Catholic, Edward's evident distaste for these Protestant foreigners was cause for celebration. 'Now, full well knowest thou,' he cried out to the prince after they had departed, 'that I am thy father's true man and thine, and these others be false knaves!'52
Edward was fast becoming a toddler. Paying a visit to his country nursery, the Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley reported back to Cromwell that the Hertfordshire air was doing him much good. He had grown, losing his baby fat, 'and waxeth firm and stiff'. Edward could now stand unaided and would probably be able to walk 'if they would suffer him'. Nevertheless, Audley approved of his care: 'They do yet best, considering his Grace is yet tender, that he should not strain himself, as his own courage would serve him, till he come above a year of age.' The prince was to be moved from his current residence before the winter set in, to which Audley fully agreed: 'It will be a cold house in winter, though in summer it is a good air.'53
For the next few years, Edward's household led an itinerant journey through some of the many smaller royal palaces and hunting lodges that Henry possessed on the outskirts of London. It was a life devoted to leisure and enjoyment. On his removal to Hunsdon around Easter 1540, Lady Bryan wrote to Cromwell informing him, as she was accustomed to, of Edward's progress: 'My Lord Prince's grace is in good health and merry...his grace danced and played so wantonly that he could not stand still, and was as full of pretty toys as ever I saw child in my life.54 Mary continued her visits, spoiling her brother with presents. Elizabeth was less generous, demonstrating a early habit for thrift for which she would become readily noted, but her gifts were no less thoughtful, for each year she sent her brother a cambric shirt that she had made herself.
Edward's health was the subject of close scrutiny; every waking hour of his life he was carefully monitored by doctors who swarmed around him, constantly checking his temperature and fussing over what he might or might not eat. The prince's health seemed good, with the French ambassador reporting in October 1541 that Edward was 'handsome, well-fed and remarkably tall for his age'. But that same month Edward came down with quartan fever, a form of malaria.55
Henry was so distraught that even his appetite suffered--he was said to be 'sad, and disinclined for feasting'. In fear that he might lose his only son, he anxiously summoned the best doctors from across the country to discover a cure. For ten days it was uncertain whether Edward would survive. His rich and luxurious diet had not helped matters. One of the doctors who had been summoned to the royal court and had examined the prince for the first time told the French ambassador that Edward was 'so gross and unhealthy that he could not believe, judging from what he could see now, that he would live long'. Despite this prediction, however, Edward threw off the illness, even though, in April 1542, doctors were still predicting him a short life.56
Desperate to aid his son's recovery, Henry dispatched his own personal doctor, Dr William Butts, to Edward's side. Butts visited frequently, and it was not long before his fastidious manner began to annoy the petulant prince who--confined to broths and soups--had developed a craving for meat. Edward's spirits, however, were fast picking up, and Butts finally allowed Edward to eat his coveted dish, observing diligently that though the prince had brought up one piece of 'corrupt matter', he had felt 'no disposition to vomit'. By now, fed up with Butts fussing around him, Edward had become impatient, telling the doctor--whom he had begun to call a fool and a knave--to go away. It was a clear and reassuring sign, Butts concluded, that the Prince's strengths were fully recovered and that his work there was done.'57
Edward was allowed to return to his carefree lifestyle, residing at the royal palaces of Hunsdon, Havering and Ashridge where his household soon began to expand. There he often divided his time between visits from his sisters and playing with a select band of friends. One of these was a girl named Jane, the granddaughter of his chamberlain, Sir William Sidney; later she became Duchess of Feria, and her memoirs give us an insight into Edward's early life. She was six, younger than Edward by three months, and Edward took a shine to her; we might even describe them as childhood sweethearts. They talked, the prince 'taking particular pleasure in her conversation', read together, danced, played, 'and such like pastimes, answerable to their spirits and innocency of years'. When they played cards together and Jane lost, Edward consoled her saying, 'Now, Jane, your King is gone, I shall be good enough for you'. She remembered how the prince would call her 'my Jane'; in her adult life as duchess, looking back through the years, she never quite lost her early childhood affection for Edward: 'His inclination and natural disposition,' she recalled, 'was of great towardness to all virtuous parts and princely qualities; a marvellous sweet child, of very mild and generous condition...'58
Edward was also given the chance to spend more time with his father, and in the autumn of 1543 his household was moved next to Henry's own in a neighbouring house. In December, Henry invited all three of his children to spend Christmas with him at court. The occasion marked the formal reconciliation of the king to his previously disinherited daughters, the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, which was made official in the Act of Succession passed in Parliament the following spring, when they were both restored to their places in the succession behind Edward.
In celebration Henry dined with all three of his children at Whitehall, taking the opportunity to introduce them to the court at a reception afterwards.59 The occasion was commemorated in the painting The Family of Henry VIII. Painted by an unknown artist, Henry sits on his throne beneath the royal canopy and marbled columns of Whitehall Palace. Edward stands to his right and to his left kneels his wife--not his latest, Katherine Parr, whom he had married two years before, but Jane, here resurrected as his true queen, the mother of his heir and matriarch of the dynasty.
What we are seeing here is very much history as Henry, never one to make too much of a distinction between image and reality, believed it should be portrayed. He had always been keen to express his true feelings in art, like the lovers' knots with 'H' and 'A' he had ordered to be carved at St James's in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, only to be hastily gouged out three years later upon Anne's execution.
Now Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, not to mention Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, were to be literally painted out of memory. There, upon the richly tapestried rug, was the nuclear family--Henry, Jane, and Edward--that the king had longed for.
But it is the relationship between Henry and Edward that is of greatest importance here, for they look almost identical; Edward a miniature Henry. Unlike the women of the picture, whose averted eyes gaze vacantly away, both Henry and his heir stare directly at the viewer. Its effect is one of both power and solidarity, a reinforcement of the bond between father and son. Moreover, Henry's affection for Edward is clear, his right arm placed protectively around the boy's shoulder, a pose echoed in a remarkable cameo of the king doting upon his beloved son. Edward was very much his father's favourite child.60
Henry already had great plans in mind for Edward. With the death of the Scottish king James V in December 1542, three weeks after his crushing defeat by the English at Solway Moss, the crown of Scotland had passed to his baby daughter, Mary, barely a week old. Looking to unite the realms of England and Scotland, Henry sought her betrothal to Edward. The English diplomat, Sir Ralph Sadler, had seen the child in March 1543: 'It is as goodly a child as I have seen of her age', and in turn, Mary's ambassadors visited Edward at Enfield, 'greatly rejoicing to behold so goodly and towardly an imp'.61
Henry was assisted in his ambition by the pro-English party led by the Protestant Earl of Arran, Mary's governor. But Henry's terms were harsh. Mary was to be handed over to him within two years to learn 'the fashion and nurture of English ways': 'I look on her as my own daughter,' he added. When the ambassadors hesitated, he grew angry: 'Such a marriage is to be desired for the daughter of any king in Christendom!'62 Despite the Scottish Parliament's instance that such a demand would be 'a right high and right great inconvenience', negotiations continued, culminating in a treaty signed at Greenwich on 1 July 1543, agreeing to both peace and marriage.
By December, however, the Scottish parliament had declared it void, renewing their traditional 'Auld alliance' with France. Henry was enraged. On 10 April 1544 he gave orders for Hertford to 'put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh town, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon [them] for their falsehood and disloyalty'.63 Determined to secure Mary's person as Edward's bride, Henry refused to countenance anything but success; the 'Rough wooing', as it was to be termed, had begun.
By summer 1544 Henry had also turned his interests to France, arriving in person at Calais to march upon Boulogne. In his absence, Henry had installed Katherine Parr as regent and Edward's uncle Edward Seymour as Lieutenant of the Kingdom. It was at this time that Henry also decided that Edward's household should be remodelled. Edward was moved to Hampton Court, where an official court was to be established around him. It was a sign that Edward, now six years old, was entering the first stage of manhood.
The event was a seminal moment in the young prince's life, and one that he did not forget to include in his diary when writing up the events of his early life. The ladies and gentlewomen of his chamber, the 'women' Edward remembered being brought up with, were discharged, and in their place an all-male establishment was formed around the prince. The establishment of Edward's household also marked the beginning of Edward's formal education; as Edward himself noted, by 'well-learned men, who sought to bring him up in learning of tongues, of the scripture, of philosophy, and all liberal sciences'. Richard Cox was appointed his almoner and tutor, with John Cheke acting as his deputy, 'for the better instruction of a Prince, and the diligent teaching of such children as be appointed to attend upon him'.64
Between them, Cox and Cheke made a formidable team. Roger Ascham, Edward's calligraphy teacher, called Cox 'the best schoolmaster of our time', a feat equalled only by his reputation for discipline, for he was also considered 'the greatest beater'.65 John Cheke was only thirty years old, but his academic record was on a par to none. Already Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, his fellow dons regretted having to let him go. Cheke's mission was clear--to give Edward the finest education befitting a Christian prince. He faced a heady task: 'To be masters of princes on earth,' wrote one contemporary, 'is to have the office of gods that be in heaven...because they have, among their hands, him that afterwards ought to govern all the world.' Edward would not merely be born to rule: he was to be trained for greatness. In Henry's eyes, Edward was already the 'greatest person in Christendom', yet he had every intention that his son was to become the greatest king that walked the earth since biblical times.66 From henceforth, Edward would be given the best education a prince could receive. At the time, Henry could hardly have realized that in setting Edward upon such a path, he would install in his son beliefs and intentions starkly different from his own, and even with the benefits of hindsight, there is little reason to suspect that this would be the outcome. Katherine Parr may have regarded Cox and Cheke as 'Christ's special advocates', but Cox had assisted in writing the King's Book, a conservative statement of doctrine, whilst for the time being Cheke was more preoccupied in reforming the pronunciation of Greek letters than in the reformation of the Church. In these perilous times, he commented, he could be 'merry on the bank's side without dangering himself on the sea'.67
Edward was not brought up alone, but educated amongst the sons of the nobility--the 'primroses of nobility'--of roughly his own age. The purpose of this miniature court formed around the prince was not merely to keep Edward company, but to foster the relationship between the royal heir and a nobility that would one day be expected to serve him.
Some became Edward's close friends, including Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his brother Henry, whose doodles can still be found on Edward's school work. But Edward's closest companion and best friend was Barnaby Fitzpatrick, the son of Lord Upper Ossory, whom he later wrote to fondly and rewarded with generous gifts of money A century later, the historian Thomas Fuller asserted that Barnaby had even acted as Edward's 'proxy for correction' and was whipped in place of Edward when the prince misbehaved by tutors not willing to incur Henry's wrath.68
This was a likely invention. We know from a report of Edward's progress, written by his tutor Cox in December 1544, that not even the nation's heir was able to avoid the cane. The report is also a unique insight into the methods of a royal tutor in the sixteenth century. Whilst Edward was preoccupied with his father's expedition to Boulogne, Cox decided to tailor his lessons to fit a martial theme. Learning was to be treated like a siege, with Edward set the task of conquering 'the captains of ignorance'. It was an inspired teaching method; Edward soon took to the challenge with relish and was soon able to decline nouns and verbs in Latin with ease.
Despite Fuller's assertions to the contrary, it seems that Edward had become a bit of a brat, confident that not even Cox could lay a hand on him. The tutor had other ideas. Carrying on with his metaphor, he described how there remained one captain of ignorance-Edward's stubbornness--that he named 'Captain Will' ('an ungracious fellow'). Cox tried everything, but it was of little use for Edward paid no notice. Cox despaired, until eventually his temper boiled over and he gave Edward 'such a wound that he wist [knew] not what to do'. Edward was stunned--'Captain Will' had been vanquished; 'I never heard from him since,' Cox reported. He was sure Edward had learnt his lesson, and that no further similar punishments would be necessary.69
With his studies back on track, Edward's Latin grammar was improving at such a speed that he was now ready to turn his studies to the classical texts of Cato, Aesop's Fables, 'and other wholesome and godly lessons that shall be devised for him'. Reading practice took place at mass, where Edward read a passage from the proverbs of Solomon each day, learning 'to beware of strange and wanton women, to be obedient to father and mother, to be thankful to them that telleth him of his faults...' And despite the earlier hiccup, Edward's behaviour was impeccable, Cox considering the prince 'a vessel most apt to receive all goodness and learning, witty, sharp and pleasant'.
Edward's lessons with John Cheke were more captivating, often involving visits from eminent scholars and the best minds of the day to share their experiences with the prince. Cheke encouraged the poet Walter Haddon to visit Edward and in 1545 summoned the topographer John Leland to tell the prince about his constant journeying across the country, later made famous in his Itinerary.70
There was no shortage of materials to draw upon to assist Edward's learning, for the Royal Library was stocked with maps detailing cities and sieges from across the world and even a model of the port at Dover 'made of earth set in a box of wood'. A 'great globe of the description of the world' stood in the centre of the room, whilst other curiosities brought back by travellers and ambassadors as novelty gifts for the king--an elephant's 'tooth' and 'a gripe's egg' for instance--could be found littered around Hampton Court.71
An inventory cataloguing the entire contents of Henry's royal palaces reveals that Edward was probably given his own study to work in; his own personal writing desk was covered in black velvet and embroidered with the letter 'E', whilst near by a cabinet filled with papers contained knives, a wooden compass, scales and weights, and a little black coffer filled with chessmen. Another desk, covered with green velvet, was filled with writing tools and instruments. Around the room--no doubt also for Edward's use--were two tables of slate framed in wood for writing upon, a two-foot rule of metal, hawk's bells, two spectacle cases (one observer later remarked how it seemed Edward suffered from poor eyesight) and an hourglass of white bone, whilst five astronomical instruments hung on the wall.
The inventory gives us a rare insight into the world of Edward's childhood, and of the toys and playthings with which the prince surrounded himself. On a set of shelves in another private study next to Edward's bedchamber, for instance, lay documents concerning his mother Jane--perhaps mementos--beside a comb case fashioned in the shape of a horse with a rider upon its back, a red box filled with 'small tools of sorcery', books and a puppet; other boxes contained chessmen, hawk's head caps and a horseman's mace of steel gilt. And hidden out of the way on the highest shelf was an enamelled glass table depicting Christ's passion, next to a spear of fine morisco work and a javelin. Beside lay a staff 'of unicorns' horns garnished with silver gilt' and two 'instruments of sorcery of silver white called spattelles'. Near by, perhaps on the floor, another box covered with embroidered crimson satin contained shirts and 'other things for young children' and, next to it, a painted box contained 'a dried dragon'--probably a type of herb--together with five song books.
Edward enjoyed music and listening to singing, particularly to metrical psalms that his groom, Thomas Sternhold, later remembered the prince ordered him to sing.72 Edward was also taught how to play the lute by Henry's favourite musician, Philip van Wilder, with Edward writing to his father thanking him for sending 'him to me, that I may be more expert in striking the lute; herein your love appeareth to be very great'.73 Other activities are less well documented, but entries within the inventory--gloves for hawking, a fishing rod, fencing swords, greyhounds' collars--and a portrait of Edward playing with a pet monkey, suggest that Edward enjoyed his leisure just as much as his work.
Edward's learning was greatly encouraged by his stepmother, Katherine Parr, whom Henry had married in July 1543. Katherine was an impressive and well-educated woman. She had fashioned her household into something of a humanist circle; in her widowhood, she invited reformers into her home, and her influence may be detected in the appointments of several royal tutors for Edward and the princesses. To Edward, she was his 'most dear mother' and the two corresponded frequently, Edward writing in September 1546 that 'I received so many benefits from you that my mind can hardly grasp them'.74
Katherine herself was a latecomer to learning, and found common cause with Edward as they both sought to improve their calligraphic hand. Here Edward considered he had the advantage. On one occasion he wrote rather priggishly to the queen:
I perceive that you have given your attention to the Roman characters, so that my Praeceptor [Cox] could not be persuaded but that your secretary wrote them, till he observed your name written equally well. I also was much surprised. I hear too, that your highness is progressing in the Latin tongue...Wherefore I feel no little joy, for letters are lasting; but other things that seem so perish. Literature also conduces to virtuous conduct, but ignorance thereof leads to vice. And, just as the sun is the light of the world, so is learning the light of the mind.75
Nevertheless, Edward could be modest when modesty was required, especially to those whose prodigious learning and capabilities he genuinely respected and admired. He wrote to his godfather, Archbishop Cranmer, that his Latin was 'more barbarous than barbarism itself' and told the Bishop of Chichester that 'if you compare my Latinity with yours, it were as if you compared clay with jewels'.76
But it was the ever-dominant figure of his father who left him truly awestruck. Whilst Henry had been absent on campaign in France, Edward worried whether to write, lest he disturb him with his 'boyish letters'. Eventually he summoned the courage, writing how he hoped his letter would bring Henry refreshment after his weary campaign, 'For, seeing you are a loving and kind father to me...I hope I shall prove to you a most dutiful son.' A week later he wrote again, this time wishing peace, 'because I should hope to visit you sooner, and because you would have rest and recreation'.
All these were no doubt genuine expressions of a son's love starved of affection by his absent father. He was anxious, he told Henry, 'to be assured that you are safe and well; for, though I have some reliance on the hearing of the ear, yet I have more confidence in my own eyes'. Henry did not reply, but wrote to Katherine instead to relay the news of his successful siege at Boulogne, adding, 'I am too busy to write more but send blessings to all my children'.77
When Henry finally returned from France, Edward wrote to his father overjoyed: 'I have heard that I am to visit your majesty...I now obtain my second wish. My first wish was, that you and your kingdom might have peace; and secondly, that I might see you. These done, I shall be happy' There is no evidence that Henry ever bothered to reply, but in the only expression of affection he knew, he continued to lavish his son with expensive presents, which Edward gratefully acknowledged, writing: 'You have treated me so kindly, like a most loving father, and one who would wish me always to act rightly. I also thank you that you have given me great and costly gifts, as chains, rings, jewelled buttons, neck-chains, and breast-pins, and necklaces, garments, and very many other things; in which things and gifts is conspicuous your fatherly affection towards me; for, if you did not love me, you would not give me these fine gifts of jewellery.'78
Henry's magnificent tastes were fashioning Edward's own lifestyle. The prince had grown up surrounded by splendour and beauty; the walls of his rooms were hung with Flemish tapestries depicting classical and biblical scenes that Henry had confiscated from Cardinal Wolsey; he ate only from the finest quality cutlery, set with precious stones--even his napkins were garnished with gold and silver--whilst his books were decorated with covers of enamelled gold clasped with a ruby, and crosses and fleurs-de-lis set with diamonds and rubies, pendants of white sapphires.79 His clothes were fashioned only from the best materials--delicate cloths of gold embroidered with silver that sparkled with pearls, emeralds, diamonds and rubies, so much so that one French observer later recalled how when Edward moved through the court, entire rooms sparkled. Even the buttons of his clothes were made from solid gold and his caps were garnished with diamonds and sapphires, but perhaps his most prized possession was a dagger of gold that he wore hung from a rope of pearls, its sheath garnished with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, with a large speckled green stone embedded in the hilt.80
It is probably this dagger that Edward holds in a portrait painted at Ashridge around 1546. Standing between a windowsill and an ornate classical styled column, Edward's puffed up poise is as entirely contrived as that of his father's. One can almost imagine the artist directing the prince to hold his shoulders high and breathe deeply, staring straight at the easel. To create the effect, the many layers of Edward's clothes seem too large for him, heavy and burdensome. But the symbolism of the picture rides above the implausibility of the situation, for its message is that Edward will inherit Henry's mantle as king to continue the Tudor dynasty. No more clearly is this highlighted than in the position of Edward's left hand, directing the viewer's attention to his modest but nevertheless prominent codpiece, a symbol of his increasing virility and power as he approached adolescence and adulthood. In fact, few could have realized then that within a year Edward would have taken his father's place as king.
By 1546, Edward had matured into a diligent student. Writing to Cranmer, his tutor Cox found him 'merry and in health, and of such towardness in learning, godliness, gentleness, and all honest qualities, that both you and I and all this realm ought to think him and take him for a singular gift sent of God': above all, he was 'an imp worthy of such a father'.81 Edward even seems to have begun to enjoy his studies, writing to Cox that 'Letters are better than treasures of gold and silver'. He had learned four books of Cato by heart, and was making good use of the Bible, Aesop's Fables and the Satellitium of Ludovico Vives, the Tudor textbook that had formed the basis of his sisters' education and induction into courtly manners.
Edward's own letters to his tutor Cox reveal a mind obsessed with self-improvement. 'If I have not studied elegant words and phrases,' he wrote, 'I hope my negligence in this point will find excuse: for I have done my best.' Edward seems to have excelled over his peers, who perhaps felt less pressure than the prince to succeed: 'Negligent they may have been,' Edward felt the need to explain, 'I have only done my duty.'82 This sense of duty was extreme, driven entirely by the desire--perhaps fear--not to disappoint his father whom he had promised that he should 'be tortured with stripes of ignominy if, through negligence, I should omit even the smallest particle of my duty'. Everything was done for a singular purpose: to prepare himself for the duties of kingship.
It remains difficult to get under the skin of Edward's early writings, for there is little of the personal to be found within them. Peppered with classical and biblical quotations, they were clearly intended as exercises in composition rather than expressions of personal feeling: as Edward himself told Cox, he wrote 'because it exercises my hand...trims up my Latin style'. The letters survive mainly as copies in a presentation work in the hand of the Cambridge scholar Roger Ascham, himself a royal tutor who assisted both Edward and Elizabeth with their penmanship, and who was probably eager to present the prince as a model of humanist scholarship.83 Neither can one be sure where Edward's words begin and those of his tutors'--eager to impress Henry with the fruits of their labours--end. In particular, it is not difficult to believe that behind Edward's urging for peace, coupled with such assertions that 'Noise and riot is an evil; therefore war is an evil. Rest is a blessing; therefore peace is a blessing', might be his tutor's voice, echoing the concerns of the council and court who had become increasingly nervous about the spiralling costs of Henry's expedition to France.
Away from his studies, Edward maintained a good relationship with both his sisters. Elizabeth may have shared some of his early lessons at Ashridge, though this is unlikely to have continued after the formal establishment of Edward's household. It was Mary's company, however, in which he 'took special content', when apart sending her presents--including a basket of artichokes--together with the occasional letter. In May 1546, hearing that she had been taken ill, he wrote to her:
Although I do not frequently write to you, my dearest sister, yet I would not have you suppose me to be ungrateful and forgetful of you. For I love you quite as well as if I had sent letters to you more frequently, and I like you even as a brother ought to like a very dear sister, who hath within herself all the embellishments of virtue and honourable station. For, in the same manner as I put on my best garments very seldom, yet these I like better than others; even so I write to you very rarely, yet I love you most.84
Despite being twenty years younger than Mary, Edward was determined to act the protective brother to his elder sister. Four days later he wrote to his stepmother, Queen Katherine, asking her to keep a careful eye on the princess. Worried that she needed protecting 'from all the wiles and enchantments of the evil one', he beseeched the queen to persuade her 'to attend no longer to foreign dances and merriments which do not become a most Christian princess'. How Katherine responded the records do not reveal, though the letter is a telling insight into a relationship that would become fraught in later years, when both siblings chose to place their religious belief before family loyalty, resulting in a stand-off when Mary refused to give up hearing mass despite Edward's repeated insistence. Edward's relationship with Elizabeth seems to have been less strained, with the prince determined to emulate his sister's capable learning and writings 'to my utmost power, if not to surpass, at least to equal you in...zeal'.85
Other glimpses of Edward remain as anecdote, yet they reveal the innocence of an unassuming child, unaware of the momentous changes that had taken place during his father's reign. As he passed the ruins of a monastery on a journey, he enquired what buildings had stood there. 'Religious houses, dissolved and demolished by the order of the King your Grace's father, for abuses,' came the reply. Perplexed, Edward replied: 'Could not the King my father punish the offenders and suffer so goodly buildings to stand? And put in better men, that might have inhabited and governed them!'86 Edward's strong Protestant opinions had yet to form, and his beliefs still revolved around the Catholic religion; he attended mass, worked in rooms adorned with images of saints and even had among his possessions 'a piece of the holy cross enclosed in gold'.87
In August 1546 Henry decided that Edward, not quite nine years old, should perform his first official duty, receiving the French Admiral on his arrival for a state visit at Hampton Court. It was to be his first royal rite of passage and Edward's induction into the ceremonial life at court. He prepared assiduously, nervously writing to Katherine--did the Admiral understand Latin? 'For, if he does, I should wish to learn further what I may say to him.'88 Above all, he did not want to let his father down. He had prayed to God, he told Katherine, that he would be able to satisfy his expectations.
Riding out three miles from the palace gates accompanied by two thousand horse, he dismounted at the riverside. The French Admiral, disembarking from his ship, then kissed Edward's hand before the prince returned the compliment upon both cheeks. Edward made a short speech of welcome, his first public speech. It was a success: according to the chronicler Edward Hall, Edward's 'lowly and honourable manner' impressed everyone, who 'greatly rejoiced, and much marvelled at his wit and audacity'.89
Edward's studies entered a new stage when he began to learn to write French in October 1546, apparently with ease, and two months later he was able to write a short letter to Elizabeth in French. But he struggled to speak the language, and when he met the French ambassador the following February, it was noticeable that Edward could speak only in Latin 'since he does not understand French yet and is only just beginning to learn it'.90 Yet as the year came to its end, no one could doubt that the prince was excelling. For Cox, the early years of Edward's schooling had left the prince equipped with the basics to learn the tools of kingship. 'I trust the Prince's Grace will content his father's expectations hereafter,' he wrote to Henry's private secretary, William Paget. 'We suffered him hitherto to grow up according to his own wish.'91
EDWARD VI Copyright © 2007 by Chris Skidmore.