England Under the Tudors: Would King Edward VI Have Been a Good King?

by AlexandriaIngham

Edward VI reigned between 1547 and 1553 when he was just a boy. It's hard to know the type of king he would have been but here are some thoughts on the matter.

Edward VI died when he was just 16 years old. While his exact cause of death is unknown, many have put it down to tuberculosis. However, that isn’t the main question here. I often wonder whether he would have been a good king. Since he was so young, he was advised by a number of people and decisions were often made for him. He was only starting to make decisions himself by the last year of his reign.

I saw this question asked on Facebook and it got me thinking about him. Would the world be very different had Edward VI lived and had sons or daughters of his own? Would he have made a good King of England—would he have been as good as his half-sister, Elizabeth?

Edward VI: The Protestant King

Katherine Parr ensured that Edward was raised with reformist tutors. This led to his very strict reformist views.

King Edward VI as a babyDespite his mother, Jane Seymour, likely being a Catholic, Edward was raised as a protestant. His tutors were all reformists and his advisors, particularly Edward Seymour and John Dudley, were Protestants. Most wanted to see the religion to reform more than it had under Henry VIII. Elizabeth I was also raised as a Protestant and helped to further the reforms but I doubt Edward would have been as diplomatic about it as her.

Edward VI hadn’t lived through five years of horror as Protestants were burned at the stake. He had likely heard of Catholics being burned for heresy and reformers burned before that but, unlike Elizabeth, he hadn’t lived through it and witnessed the horror with his own eyes. He wouldn’t have assumed the dangers of reforming religion in the country quickly or had the fear of rebellions as much as Elizabeth did.

The reformation would have been quick. It was under Edward Seymour’s orders and it made many people resent the fact. People started to hate Edward Seymour. Had it been Edward VI, they may have started to hate and resent their own king!

Edward VI clearly wanted the religion to reform. He worked with John Dudley to remove his half-sister, Mary, from the line of succession. While John Dudley likely had something to do it, Edward was old enough by this point to know what he wanted and would not have allowed it to happen had he not have the opinions himself.

Edward VI was Very Much Like Henry VIII

When it came to ruling style, Edward VI would have probably taken after his ideological view of Henry VIII.

Edward VI took after his father more than some people would like to admit. Unlike Mary and Elizabeth, Edward had always had an excellent relationship with his father. He saw him as an effective and good ruler and would have wanted to be just like him.

It is clear when looking at his heir presumptive that Edward VI was very much like his father. He had made the decision, at just the age of 15, that women couldn’t rule in their own right. This was only based on the short reign of Matilda centuries before. There had been no female in power since then, except the odd queen regent while the king was fighting battles overseas.

Edward VI needed to pass the throne onto a male but there wasn’t one. The next two in line were Mary and Elizabeth. After that, it was Frances Brandon and then her daughters, Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey. Frances was skipped over due to the fear that her husband would take the throne for himself. Katherine and Mary were also excluded from the throne. Edward made it clear that only Jane could be the next monarch. After her, it would go to her sons—if she had none, the next male in the line of succession.

Edward wasn’t even willing to see whether his half-sister, Elizabeth, would make a good queen. She was very much like Henry VIII and Edward VI, but also had Anne Boleyn’s stubbornness and quick wit.

However, there was never a bill passed by parliament. Henry VIII’s was still legally binding. Edward VI believed that he had the divine right and power to change Henry’s Act of Succession; just another bit of evidence that he was so similar to his father.

Edward VI’s Treatment of Lady Mary Tudor

If Edward's treatment of his half-sister is anything to go by, he may have not been the best king for England.

Mary I kept her Cathollic views despite threats from Edward VIEdward was not someone to treat Catholics with mercy. It is clear by the way he treated his own half-sister, Mary. He would often belittle her about her faith and made her cry on at least one occasion. He threatened her with her life; although, presumably did nothing in fear of a rebellion or due to the advisement of his council.

However, those who he did respect, he showered them with love and attention. One of those is the love he had for his step-mother, Katherine Parr. He never wrote to her while she was married to Henry VIII. However, when Edward became king, he wrote to her to show how much he loved and cared for her.

He was very much like Henry VIII in the way he could like or dislike someone. He likely loved his uncle, Edward Seymour, until just before the execution in 1552.

Would Edward VI Have Been a Good King?

It is very hard to determine the type of king Edward would have been considering he made very few decisions.

Would Edward VI have been a good king?It is very hard to answer when he was so young at the time of his death. The decisions made while he was king cannot be used for evidence, except those in the last year of his life. Most decisions were made by his council and Lord Protectors.

However, looking at his personality, he was very much like Henry VIII. This could have gone one of two ways. Unfortunately, his strict reformist believes and lack of experience in sudden drastic changes could have led to him being a poor king. Despite Elizabeth having the same reformist views, she had seen how change had destroyed her country. She made smaller changes and tried to mix the two religions; something that Edward VI would never have been able to do.

Updated: 10/26/2013, AlexandriaIngham
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