Posted By Claire on January 2, 2012
Thank you so much to Niki Incorvia M.A. for taking the time to review Chris Skidmore’s book on Edward VI for us…
This book immediately struck my interest. As someone who wishes to specialize in rebellions during the Sixteenth Century, I left a huge void in my research by not studying Henry VIII’s youngest son Edward VI’s short reign on the throne. Apparently, I am not the only one who thought Edward needed some credit where credit was due. British historian and author Chris Skidmore does an excellent job of uncovering the falsities, betrayals, and the ultimate struggle for power amongst the men leading the country [England] while Edward was still a minor. Unfortunately, Edward never made it to his majority, but during his years as England’s boy-king he showed the world his capabilities and shrewd intellect that would perhaps one day rule one of the greatest kingdoms in early modern Europe.
As many Tudor fans know there is little written about Edward’s short stint on the English throne. Most historians seem to jump from Henry VIII’s death to the tumultuous and mostly misunderstood reign of Mary I and then to the second most infamous Tudor, Elizabeth I. Skidmore (2011) writes enthusiastically, “Edward’s was a reign of supreme importance, not only for understanding the progress of the English Reformation, but also the essential politics of the age” (n.p.). The author could not be more accurate in the last part of that sentence “the essential politics of the age.” To read about the downfall of two of Edward’s beloved maternal uncles, either by their own doing (Thomas) or by their enemies (Edward), was dramatic and unyielding.
When reading this book I kept thinking this must be the end for Edward Seymour; he is finally going to be brought to trial and executed at the hands of those who wish to see his demise. However, Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, always seemed to make a comeback which really gave the reader a great insight into how slippery and dangerous the world of politics was at that time.
Unlike his sisters, Edward was educated in the matters of state and politics. Skidmore (2011) goes as far to say that Edward was the most gifted out of all the Henry’s children. That could be much debated, especially due to the fact that Edward was never able to rule in his own right. He was a minor during his reign and was afforded a group of councilors who made decisions if not always with him, then for him, as he was still learning the ways of the world and educating himself in state affairs.
Another interesting fact that I was unaware before, is that according to Henry VIII’s will no changes in religion were to be made until Edward reached the age of maturity (eighteen) and could make those decisions for himself. This was clearly not upheld because vast changes to religion, in addition to radical movements in the English Reformation, took place during Edward’s short time on the throne. This issue particularly came into question when Edward’s sister, Mary was ridiculed and questioned for her continuing to hear mass and practice the “old religion” in her household. She argued that according to her father’s devise, no changes were to be made until Edward was old enough to make those decisions for himself. At the same time, Edward was devoutly reading about the new Protestant faith and viewed the Protestant faith as the future of England. Throughout his reign Edward continued his studies vigorously while being England’s cherished boy-king. He enjoyed learning and took further pleasure in receiving new literature on religion and languages. Edward shared this passion with his sister, Elizabeth, who once shared a tutor with Edward when they were younger and in the same household.
Edward’s relationship with his sisters seemed to wax and wane during the period between 1547 and 1553. In the case of Elizabeth, she was brought in for questioning for her alleged affair or dealings with Edward’s uncle, and her step-father, Thomas Seymour. It appears after the interrogation was over and Thomas was eventually executed for his own self-serving plots to seize the throne, Elizabeth and Edward’s relationship was mended and she was invited to a number of court functions and even sat with him side by side, almost as a consort rather than a sibling (Skidmore, 2011).
For Mary, there was a much more serious divide between her and her younger brother, the issue of religion. Not only were they twenty years apart in age, but Mary had been brought up in the Catholic faith and would not abandon it for anything. Edward repeatedly asked her to stop hearing mass in her household and allowing others to practice the old religion as well. Mary was quick to remind her brother of his young age and urged him to wait until he was older in order to make such important and serious decisions on the issue of religion. Naturally, Edward saw this as a challenge to his authority which he would not permit from anybody, including his eldest sister. Edward’s relationship with Mary appeared strained throughout the duration of his reign as king, although he did reach out to invite her to Christmas, she declined knowing that she would not be permitted to hear the Catholic mass as was her Christmas tradition.
While reading this book I wondered at what point the author would end Edward’s story. Would he get as far as the beginning of Mary’s reign? Or perhaps he would stop the book at the Lady Jane Grey’s execution. In fact, I was wrong about both. Skidmore eloquently ended the book with the executions of John Dudley the Duke of Northumberland, Sir John Gates, and finally Thomas Palmer for their part in placing Jane Grey on Mary’s rightful throne. Skidmore (2011) ends the book by saying they were then to be buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula along with the bodies of the Duke of Somerset, Thomas Seymour, Katherine Howard, and Anne Boleyn. Naturally, Skidmore left out a few who were also buried there, such as Lady Jane Rochford and her husband, George Boleyn. At this point, Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley had not yet been executed.
Skidmore did an excellent job of giving the young king, Edward, a voice and personality which he so often lacks in the shadows of his father and two sisters. The book was well written and easy to follow. I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about Edward VI, the English Reformation, and how dangerous court politics were in Sixteenth Century England.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: In the US St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition edition (April 14, 2009), in the UK Phoenix (24 Jan 2008)
ISBN-10: 0312538936, UK 0753823519
ISBN-13: 978-0312538934, UK 978-0753823514
Available from Amazon.com – click here – or from Amazon UK – click here
Kindle versions: Click here for US and here for the UK.