Thursday, 20 November 2014

Edward VI and Mary

Edward VI (1547-53)

Henry VIII's death and the accession of his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, ushered in some of the most momentous changes in English history. Power now lay firmly with the religious reformers (‘evangelicals’), who, through Parliament ushered in a religious revolution.  
"Portrait of Edward VI of England"
by Circle of William Scrots (fl. 1537–1554) -
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 

The coming of the Protectorate

On 31 January the Regency Council heard Henry VIII’s will read, naming the king’s uncle, the earl of Hertford Protector and governor of Edward’s person, who a few days later became duke of Somerset.  On 16 February Henry was buried at Windsor in the same tomb as Jane Seymour. On 20 February Edward was crowned. The coronation sermon was preached by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, now free to declare his religious sympathies, who told the king that if he wished to be the second King Josiah, he must destroy the pope’s tyranny and remove images. 

On 12 March Somerset broke his promise to the Council that he would do nothing without their advice and gained letters patent granting him near-sovereign powers as Protector, enabling him to appoint anyone he chose to the Council. He initiated a style of government so personal that the Council’s role was steadily undermined. Although his behaviour was not illegal, his arrogance and incivility aroused resentment. Councillors claimed that there had not been such a princely subject since Wolsey’s time.

Somerset kept a ‘dry stamp’  of Edward’s signature - this enabled him to warrant financial business and raise troops. With the king’s signature at his disposal, he became quasi-king. This autocracy eventually brought about his downfall.

Religious policy

The Somerset protectorate saw decisive change in favour of Protestantism.  Following his ‘Injunctions’ processions were forbidden, and the destruction was ordered not only of statues and shrines but even of images in windows.  On 4 November 1547 when Parliament met, the Six Articles Act was repealed. By the end of 1549 all images had been cleared from churches. 
On 21 January 1549, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity abolishing the Latin mass and substituting an English Prayer Book that became compulsory from Whitsunday (9 June). On Christmas Day 1549 orders came for the destruction of all Catholic service books and for the enforcement of the Book of Common Prayer. The king's sister, the Lady Mary, alarmed by the Council’s moves to force her to abandon her religion, tried unsuccessfully to flee abroad. 

The fall of Somerset

In the autumn of 1551 John Dudley, earl of Warwick, an ambitious member of the Council, planned a coup against Somerset. He created himself duke of Northumberland and secured the arrest of Somerset. He was tried by his peers in December, acquitted of treason but found guilty of felony. He was beheaded on 22 January 1552.

More religious change

Northumberland’s policy was to promote undiluted Protestantism, though his motives are unclear.  His major innovation was the Second Act of Uniformity (April 1552), which made compulsory the use of a second (much more Protestant) prayer book. The new services gradually accustomed the people to the idea of Protestant worship. Those who benefited from the sale of monastic lands were joined by priests now free to marry. A new culture was being created, though the nation was by no means committed to Protestantism by the end of the reign. 

1553: the year of two queens

In the spring of 1553 Edward’s health collapsed with incurable pulmonary tuberculosis and he was given nine months to live. Northumberland’s position, always precarious, now became dangerous - the Lady Mary, his heir according to Henry VIII’s will, was his deadly enemy. 

Edward drew up in his own hand ‘My Device for the Succession’ by which he sought to disinherit his sisters in favour of his cousin, the sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey. He transferred the line of succession to ‘Lady Jane’s heirs male’. He clearly believed that women were unfit to rule in their own right. On 21 May Jane married Northumberland’s son, Guildford Dudley. Within days, however, his health deteriorated. There would be no time for Jane to become pregnant. Edward therefore altered the text and changed it to ‘Lady Jane and her heirs male’.

"Edward VI's 'devise for the succession'" by Edward VI of England -
Source of image: Jennifer Loach, Edward VI, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999,
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons 

The testament seemed to establish two principles:

  1. that the king could alter the succession without parliamentary statute or even parliamentary consultation.
  2. that as a last resort a woman could succeed to the throne.

On 6 July Edward died before Northumberland’s plans were fully formed. On 9 May he proclaimed Queen Jane, but meanwhile Mary fled to Norfolk and mustered her forces at Framlingham in Suffolk, playing successfully on the popular feeling that she was the legitimate heir to the throne. At first Northumberland remained in London rather than challenging Mary in the field. He finally set out on 14 July. Meanwhile news poured in of support for Mary and the resolution of the councillors in London began to crack.

On 19 July Mary was proclaimed in London. Northumberland surrendered peacefully. On 3 August Mary entered London. Northumberland and his followers were by this time in the Tower.  He was executed, but for a while Jane was kept alive. Recognising that she had been used as a political pawn, Mary was reluctant to execute her.

Mary I (1553-58)

Mary’s claim rested on the fact that she was Henry VIII’s elder surviving child and that she had support from the mass of Londoners, and most leading nobles and gentry. As there was no significant male claimant, she was accepted in spite of her gender and the fact that she was still legally a bastard.

Mary’s reign is remarkable in two respects. She was England’s first reigning queen, and she presided over a period of religious persecution that saw nearly 300 Protestants, including the former Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, burnt at the stake. Because of this, she has been given the title ‘Bloody Mary’.

Her coronation on 1 October 1553 was the first of a reigning queen. It combined elements of both tradition and novelty.  She dressed as a male monarch in traditional state robes of crimson velvet, walking beneath a canopy borne by the barons of the Cinque Ports. She took the traditional oath to keep the laws of the kingdom and the liberties of the realm. For her anointing she wore a simple petticoat of purple velvet. After her anointing she was dressed in robes of state. She received the traditional symbols of power, the sword, sceptre and orb, and was crowned with the crown of Edward the Confessor. There were two changes because of her gender: her sceptre was surmounted by doves; she touched the ceremonial spurs rather than putting them on. 


Mary was thirty-seven at her accession and if she wished to produce an heir to the throne, time was not on her side. If she died childless, her heir was her half-sister Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn’s daughter. Her marriage was therefore inevitable, but it highlighted the problem of a woman ruler. If she married a subject, he became too powerful and his family too overbearing. If she married a foreigner she brought her kingdom into subjection to his. 

Ignoring this potential problem, Mary resolved to marry her cousin,
"Philip II" by Titian -
Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons - 
Philip, the heir of the Emperor Charles V.  Because Charles was King of Spain as well as Holy Roman Emperor, this marriage would make England an ally of Spain and set her on a course of hostility to France. On 16 November 1553 she faced a deputation of some twenty members of the Commons seeking to dissuade her from marrying Philip because, as the Speaker told her, it would displease the people to have a foreigner as consort’.   In response she declared she had the right as a ‘free woman’ to make her choice and repeated her determination to marry Philip. No previous Tudor ruler had flaunted public opinion as expressed in Parliament so openly. 

In the short term, Mary enhanced her authority. In the long term, her choice was a disaster.  The prospect of the marriage provoked the Kentish rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt in January 1554. The rebellion was put down and Wyatt was executed. This was followed by the executions of Lady Jane Grey and her husband and the arrest of Elizabeth, Mary’s heir.

In January 1554 Parliament passed an Act ratifying the marriage treaty. As there were no precedents for the marriage of a reigning queen, the Act was careful to assert that Mary should 
‘enjoy the Crown and Sovereignty of, and over your Realms, Dominions, and Subjects…in such sole and only estate, and in as large and ample manner and form…after the hitheration of the said marriage, and at all times during the same’. 
In July 1554 Mary married Philip at Winchester cathedral, the first marriage of a reigning queen. Philip and Mary were then proclaimed king and queen and subsequent coins bore the inscription ‘Philip and Mary’.  But though Philip had the title of king, he had no power. England’s laws were to be preserved in every respect, and no alien was to hold English office. If there were no heirs, he could make no claim to the throne in his own right.
"Maria Tudor1" by Antonis Mor -
Museo del Prado Catalog no. P02108 [1].
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Catholic restoration

As a devout Catholic, Mary was determined to reverse the religious policy of her brother’s reign.  However, the constitutional revolution brought about by her father, meant that she could only achieve this through parliament.

Her first Parliament, held in the autumn of 1553, passed an act restoring her legitimacy. It also repealed the Edwardian religious legislation, thus restoring Catholic worship, though it refused to repeal the Act of Supremacy.  Acting on her own initiative, Mary renounced the title of ‘Supreme Head of the English Church' in December. In March 1554 she issued a set of Royal Injunctions repudiating the royal supremacy, commanding the suppression of heresy and the deprivation of married priests, and restoring the Latin liturgy and the use of ‘the laudable and honest ceremonies which were wont to be used, frequented and observed in the Church’. 

On 12 November 1554 the second Parliament of her reign was
"Cardinal Reginald Pole".
Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons - 
convened. On 30 November her new Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole, welcomed, in the pope’s name, ‘the return of the lost sheep’ and granted absolution to the whole realm. Within days however, protracted negotiations for the return of church lands began, and Pole was reluctantly forced to concede that those who had bought monastic lands were not going to hand them back. Parliament was prepared to be obedient, but there were limits! Having compromised here, Pole then set out on a full-scale programme of church reform, which, had he and Mary lived, might well have provided the firm basis for a restored Catholicism. Mary's religious policy failed, but the failure was not inevitable.

The end of Mary’s reign

Restored Catholicism was denied the time to re-establish itself. For most of 1555 Mary was convinced that she was pregnant and it was a cruel blow when she was forced to recognise that her symptoms were those of a phantom pregnancy or a serious illness. Meanwhile Elizabeth remained the heir to the throne, and it was unlikely that any Parliament would agree to disinherit her.

Realising that he was unlikely to father a child by Mary, Philip was absent for most of the reign, carrying out his duties as ruler of Spain and the Netherlands, territories he inherited following his father's abdication in 1556. By the end of 1556 he was at war with France, and England was dragged into the war. On 7 January 1558 the duke of Guise captured Calais, England’s last remaining territory in France.

In the summer of 1558 Mary was dangerously ill. Eventually on 9 November she was forced to acknowledge Elizabeth as her successor. Already, an alternative government was forming around Elizabeth at Hatfield, largely through the efforts of William Cecil, secretary in Edward’s reign. On the morning of 17 November Mary died.  Pole died twelve hours later. For the second time in the century (if one counts the accession of Jane Grey), a queen had succeeded a queen.


  1. Henry VIII was succeeded by a young boy and then a woman. When she died another woman came to the throne.
  2. These accidental factors embedded the constitutional revolution begun by Thomas Cromwell. 
  3. Parliament had been given new powers, and when not faced with an adult male ruler, it was prepared to assert them.

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