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05.12.2013, 20:40

The King’s son

Edward VI was born on October 12, 1537. His parents were England's King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife. For more than a quarter century Henry had desperately wanted a son, and Edward's birth caused great rejoicing. But Queen Jane soon fell ill with childbed fever, and on October 24 she died.

Until the age of six Edward was raised by his nurse, Mother Jack, and other servants. During that time Henry took two wives in quick succession, but both marriages ended badly; Anne of Cleves was discarded because the king found her ugly, and Katherine Howard was executed for adultery. In 1543 Henry married Katherine Parr, who became a loving stepmother to Edward and his older half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. She was a highly learned woman who personally oversaw Prince Edward's education.

Edward's tutors taught him geography, government, history, French, German, Greek, and Latin. He was also given lessons in etiquette, fencing, horseback riding, music and other gentlemanly pursuits. Perhaps most important to Edward was his study of the Scriptures. He became a devout Protestant even though his father, who had severed England's connection to the Roman Catholic Church, remained conservative and mostly Catholic in his beliefs.

Although Edward was serious and studious, at times he displayed a savage temper. According to one account, he once tore a living falcon into four pieces.

The Boy King

Somerset's brother, Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour, was jealous of Somerset and schemed to put himself in power. The admiral was arrested and charged with treason. Somerset hesitated to sign his brother's death warrant, so Edward gave the council permission to have his uncle beheaded. Somerset himself later fell from the king's favour and lost his role as Protector. The duke of Northumberland took control of the king and council, and eventually Somerset, like his brother, was arrested and charged with treason. Under pressure from Northumberland, fourteen-year-old Edward signed Somerset's death warrant. Somerset was executed in 1552.

By this time Edward had completed his education and was participating in council meetings. It was decided that the king would take charge of the country at age sixteen. This was bad news for his sister Mary an ardent Catholic who refused to cooperate with Edward's religious reforms. However, Edward got along well with his other sister, Elizabeth, a moderate Protestant.

Edward suffered bouts of measles and smallpox in April 1552, and from that time his health declined. By the next spring it was obvious that the king was dying of consumption (tuberculosis). His father's will had specified that Mary should become queen if Edward died without children, but Northumberland had different ideas. He persuaded Edward to name the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Lady Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary; she was also Northumberland's daughter-in-law, and through her Northumberland hoped to rule England.

On July 6, 1553 Edward whispered his last prayer and died. He was fifteen years old. He would be succeeded -- briefly -- by the unfortunate Lady Jane.

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