Edward VI: A New Look at the King and his Reign

Jennifer Loach (whose work has been edited by George Bernard and Penry Williams) goes back to the original sources to show that, despite his image as a pious sickly child, Edward VI was very much his father's son.

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, leaving his kingdom in the hands of his nine-year-old son, Edward. Able and intelligent though the boy was, his accession posed two problems. First, the young king obviously could not exercise authority himself, and the executors of his father's will therefore chose his maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, as protector. This was a sensible and entirely traditional move. Sixteenth-century government was only with difficulty run by committees, and the conduct of warfare, in particular, was extremely cumbersome without a sole directing band. A regency, in some shape or form, was a well-established solution to the accession of a minor. The obvious person to be regent was the monarch's mother or his paternal uncle. But Edward's mother had died soon after giving birth to him, and he had no paternal uncles. The choice therefore, logically enough, fell upon his maternal uncle. Indeed, Henry may have had some such idea in his mind: according to a secretary, William Clerk, on 30 December 1546 it was to Hertford that Henry gave the document in a token of assent and in the presence of witnesses.

Secondly, the accession of so young a child was a potential cause of instability. Everyone knew the verse of the Old Testament: 'Woe unto Thee, O land, when Thy king is a child' (Ecclesiastes, 10.16). Edward's advisers had, therefore, to counteract this anxiety, and to construct for him a more positive image. There were two main elements in this image: first, the notion of Edward as Solomon san of David, and secondly, the identification of him with Josiah. The propaganda effect began with the tableaux that greeted Edward on his way to his coronation: these emphasised the idea that the young king was especially protected by Regality, Justice, Truth and Mercy. They also introduced the concept of Edward as Solomon, for Truth declared:

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