Per Scriptum E. Wesley - Mackinac Center Intern
In many ways the forgotten king of England, King Edward VI rolled back the tyranny of Henry VIII and was like a second King Arthur to England. Edward, with his round table of council advisors, managed to free economic activity, promote great geographical expeditions, and most importantly aid the Protestant Reformation in sweeping away the old superstitions of the Medieval world. He was the good king Josiah of his people as is evident in his last prayers, and he died at the age of fifteen, drawing the curtain on an age of freedom before the monstrous Roman Catholic persecutions of "bloody" Mary Tudor. Queen Elizabeth would pick up where Edward left off.
King Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, and left a nation in shambles. He destroyed almost everything he set his hands to. He ruthlessly killed the dependents of the old royal family, tortured his own wife Anne Askew, signed treason laws that made words heard by one witness capital crimes, and called Parliaments who were not accountable to the people and passed Acts of Attainer that condemned many to death without trials (Markham 19, 25, 20). His finances were extravagant and poorly spent (21). Although he separated politically and religiously from the Pope, Henry made it almost legally impossible to hold Protestant beliefs (26). Such was the inheritance of Edward on that cold January morning. Would there ever be a spring warmer and more fragrant?
Crowned at the age of nine on February 20, 1547, some of Henry's old Council created a "protectorate," which encouraged some squabbling but more importantly relaxed restrictions on printing the Bible (54, 72). As the King grew, his presence could not be ignored, and the "protectorate" resumed its place as the King's Council (106). From 1550-1553, Edward proceeded with his Council to introduce good economic policy, pioneer exploration (of all importance in the fourteenth-century), and reform the Church of England.
King Henry VIII had reduced the gold and silver in English coins to 20 carats by 1545 from its original 23 carats (113). Prices rose. The Council stooped the processes and resumed legitimate coinage. Edward took great interest in the subject as is evidenced from one of his documents entitled "A discourse touching the reformation of coin" (114, 143).
Taking a profound interest in geography, Edward was blessed with some of the finest instruments and teachers available (152-156). Edward lent the Primrose, one of his own ships, for the risky Guinea voyage (157). This would be like the US President lending Air Force One to weather scientists who intended to fly it into a tornado. With the help of Henry Sydney, Edward planned an Arctic expedition to Cathay, the economic result of which was the establishment of trade relations with Russia (158). Edward's dreams for England were fully realized during Elizabeth's reign with the circumnavigation of Sir Francis Drake.
Liberty and order in the Church of England flourished during Edward's reign, which was sandwiched between two eras of persecution. Henry VIII's suppression of Protestantism was insupportable, and soon the English Reformation bloomed under the direction of Thomas Cranmer. From 1548-1552, Parliament ratified two versions of Cranmer's Prayer Book of King Edward (128-129). Given the fact the the government's intervention in the Church of England was a given, the fact that Cranmer was respected is astounding. In essence, the Church, not the state, was making its own decisions, and Edward was allowing this to happen. After Edward's death, Queen Mary forced Catholicism back into the Church, and killed those who opposed it, including even Cranmer himself (God bless the old martyr's earthly efforts, for they would not be in vain). The burnings and torturing were so extreme that many case studies are preserved in John Fox's Book of Martyrs. Mary's reign did not last long (thank God), and Queen Elizabeth restored much of Edward's efforts. Consequently, she takes most of the credit in history, but the real beginnings of the English Reformation were made possible through Edward's Protestantism.
Edward's early death is attributed to rapid "consumption" (193). He died at the age of fifteen on July 6, 1553, and had accomplished much for his country. Clements Robert Markham in his 1907 book King Edward VI: An Appreciation gives the King's last words:
Sir John Cheke, Sydney, Wroth, Throgmorton, and Barnaby were always with their dying master. They raised him up in their arms to make his breathing easier, and ministered to him continually. On July 6 Edward was sinking fast. He was raised up by one or other of his loving friends, and towards evening he gasped out his last prayer in broken sentences:
'Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life.'
'Take me among thy chosen.'
'Howbeit not my will but thy will be done.'
'Lord, I commit my spirit to thee.'
'O Lord, thou knowest how happy it were for me to be with thee.'
'Yet for thy chosen's sake, send me life and health that I may truly serve thee.'
'O my God! bless thy people, and save thine inheritance.'
'O Lord God, save thy chosen people of England.'
'O my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry,'
'That I and my people may praise thy holy name'
'For Jesus Christ's sake.'
A little later the dying boy said something in so low a voice that it was not understood. Dr. Owen told him that he was heard to speak,' but what you said we know not.' The King smiled, and said that he was praying to God. After an interval of silence, he said 'I am faint. Lord, have mercy upon me, and take my spirit.' These were his last words. Towards nine in the evening the dearly loved King breathed his last, in the arms of one of these faithful friends—Henry Sydney, it is said" (193-195).
So ended the most Christian reign of England's greatest king; their forgotten, beloved King Edward VI. He lived his title "defender of the faith" as far as human frailty can permit. To my British readers, please read Markham's book (link below). Your history is being forgotten, and if you do not remember it, no one will.
Image of Edward VI of England c. 1546 from Wikipedia
Markham, Clements Robert. King Edward VI: An Appreciation. London: Smith, Elder, & co., 1907. web. http://www.archive.org/details/kingedwardvi01markgoog