Born in 1537, the son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward was only nine years old when his father died in 1547.
Effective power was exercised firstly by Edward’s maternal uncle Edward Seymour, Earl of Somerset, and then by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
Edward was studious (he was learning Latin and Greek at the age of five) and unemotional, and far more fervently Protestant than his father, although the influence of Protector Somerset in this regard cannot be ignored.
He endorsed the Church of England prayer books written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and 1552 and took steps to remove signs of Roman Catholic influence from English churches.Somerset’s other main aim was to continue the wars against France and Scotland that had been instigated by King Henry VIII. One of Somerset’s objectives was to force a marriage between Edward and Mary Queen of Scots, who was five years younger than Edward. However, Somerset’s policy only served to strengthen the alliance between Scotland and France, as a result of which Mary married the heir to the French throne.
When Somerset was overthrown in 1549 he was succeeded by the Earl of Warwick who was later declared Duke of Northumberland. He was able to extricate England from the French and Scottish wars and then turned his attention to the question of who would reign after Edward.
When Edward fell ill with tuberculosis in February 1553 it soon became clear that his illness was terminal and there was clearly no prospect of him producing an heir. Northumberland was determined that Edward’s Catholic sister Mary should not become Queen and so hatched a plot to make Lady Jane Grey (a great-niece of Henry VIII and Edward’s cousin) the next monarch. Northumberland sought to advance his own position by marrying his son Guildford Dudley to Lady Jane, much to the latter’s disgust.
However, after Edward’s death in July 1553 (aged 15) the plot fell apart and Mary did indeed become Queen and tried her hardest to undo Edward’s work in promoting Protestantism in England. Among the many victims of her reign were 17-year-old Lady Jane and her husband and father-in-law.© John Welford