The three conference papers below are excerpted from the chapter, "Have Not Wee a Noble
Kynge?  The Minority of Edward VI" from my edited volume,
The Royal Minorities of
Medieval and Early Modern England

Presented at the Henry VIII and the Tudor Court 1509-2009 Conference, July 2009, at Hampton
Court Palace, Hampshire, U.K.

During the sixteenth century in England, three monarchs enjoyed the most certain and
undoubted title, Supreme Head of the Church in England.  The last of these heads, Queen
Mary I (1553-1558), allowed her royal supremacy to lapse into abeyance before it was formally
extinguished by Parliament.  But the first two, Henry VIII (1509-1547) and his son and heir
Edward VI (1547-1553) represent two different approaches for deploying an authority that had
collapsed England’s medieval ecclesiastical polity into the structures of the secular state.  
While the 1534 Act of Supremacy recognized that the headship of the Church was vested in
the king, there was no consensus concerning how the supremacy was to be implemented, or
what the scope of its powers and prerogatives were.  While theorists such as Christopher St.
German and administrators such as Thomas Cromwell advocated limiting its exercise to the
king-in-parliament, Henry VIII pursued a more unitary and proprietary exercise of the royal
These competing theories acquired additional complexity following the accession of nine
year old Edward VI in 1547, in which the supremacy of an underage king became the most
hotly contested aspect of Edward’s minority prerogative.  Ultimately, the minority regimes of
Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, took
advantage of the king’s youth to implement and enforce radical chances in doctrine, yet,
paradoxically, were constrained to justify and legitimize Edward’s personal exercise of the
royal supremacy in order to enact and enforce their respective policies of religious change.
This process became even more complicated as Edward himself emerged, in the last two years
of his reign, as an increasingly active historical agent with a vested interest in the
implementation of his royal supremacy.
In political theory, the royal supremacy was not created by parliamentary statute.  Instead, the
Reformation Parliament (1529-36) enacted a series of statutes, culminating in the 1534 Act of
Supremacy, which recognized that such a position already existed in law and fact.  It was
statute law then, that codified an ecclesiastical authority that Henry VIII’s very distant
predecessor, the second century A.D. British King Lucius I, had enjoyed when Christianity
had first been brought to the Roman province of Britannia, a century and a half before the
Emperor Constantine emerged as the CEO of Roman Christianity, or the bishops of Rome had
begun to assert a dominance over the church based upon the theory of the Petrine
Succession.  However, Lucius’s historical shade only existed in the histories of the Venerable
Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, works that blended
history, myth, and propaganda into a seamless narrative whole.  Nevertheless, this was more
than enough validation for Thomas Cranmer and Edward Foxe, the compilers of the
Collectanea Satis Copiosa, a document presented to the king in 1530, which bolstered the
theory of an historical supremacy of the church.   However, what Lucius and his late classical
and early medieval successors did not have to deal with was something known as parliament,
which, since 1529, had already been demonstrating its ability to legislate on matters
pertaining not only to the English church but, by implication, to the universal Christian
church, actions that drove Lord Chancellor Thomas More to distraction.   Not one to trouble
himself about the subtleties or intricacies of legal theory, Henry VIII was on the same page
with parliament ratifying statutes that slowly but surely disentangled the English Church
from its jurisdictional relationship with Rome.
But Henry was not all that comfortable with giving parliament its head in terms of debating
or defining doctrine.  If Constantine had allowed his bishops to express themselves freely at
the Council of Nicaea, Henry kept doctrine in his tight little fists, as virulent factionalism
swirled around his royal court during the last seven years of his reign, following the fall and
execution in mid 1540 of Thomas Cromwell, the principal architect of the Henrician royal
supremacy.  Cromwell had done what he could to encourage the evolution of a doctrinal
Reformation, notably in the introduction and dispersal of the English Bible, and the use of
proclamations and injunctions as the media for royal propaganda and the means to execute
ecclesiastical policy.  Cromwell, echoing Christopher St. German, had envisioned a royal
supremacy exercised by the king-in-parliament, but Cromwell’s Lutheran leanings, and his
negotiations for Henry’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves, allowed the conservative
faction at court, led by the Howard clan and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, a
temporary ascendancy.  
The short lived conservative ascendancy was roughly contemporaneous with Henry’s
attempts at settling on some kind of doctrine, as defined by the Act of the Six Articles,
enacted in 1539, and the Kings book, issued in 1543, which replaced the earlier Bishop’s book
compiled by Cromwell, that fully articulated a sort of home grown version of Pope-less
Catholicism.  While Henry flirted diplomatically with continental Protestants in his final
years, and, inadvertently or not, allowed Edward to be schooled in reformist approaches to
religion, he maintained his unilateral hold over doctrine until his dying day.   
As G.W. Bernard tells us, it was “The King’s Reformation” and not anybody else’s.   
For traditionalists, the thought that the king might use the supremacy to create a reformed
Protestant doctrine was a disturbing possibility, even more so when Henry was succeeded by
his underage son.  For reform minded individuals, however, the death of Henry VIII (28
January 1547) was their winter of discontent turned glorious summer.  If the English Solomon
had built the temple of a sovereign English church, he nevertheless had moved back in most
of the old furniture of Catholic belief and practice- it was up to the English Josiah to clean
out this temple, and refurbish it with doctrines consistent with the true worship of the Lord.  
Under Edward VI it was not initially the “King’s Reformation,” but it needed to be perceived
as such.  While the exercise of the temporal aspects of the king’s prerogative had the benefit
of five previous minority reigns as precedents, there was no precedent for a minority
supremacy of the church.  The basic outlines of the form and function of Edward’s minority
government were outlined in Henry VIII’s will, which was given statutory force by the Third
Act of Succession (1544).  The will mandated a corporate form of minority government, but
the executors immediately chose Edward’s maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, the soon to be
created duke of Somerset, as Lord Protector.  
As Henry had made parliament his great partner in the jurisdictional phase of the
Reformation, so Somerset made it his for the purpose of creating and enforcing doctrinal
uniformity.  Somerset’s path towards constructing an English Protestant church was
deliberately cautious, and invoked Edward’s full possession of kingly prerogative as its
justification.  This was, of course, a tried and true formula for formulating policy during a
king’s period of minority. Indeed, some of the most momentous and durable of medieval
political precedents had been created during minority reigns.  At the beginning of the 13th
century, at the behest of his barons and prelates who controlled his government, the youthful
Henry III reconfirmed Magna Carta, the cornerstone of the English constitution, three times,
after Pope Innocent III had absolved Henry’s father, King John, from observing its tenets.  
During the fourteenth century, the minority kings Edward III and Richard II enjoyed the
political fiction of ruling as adults during their youths, while parliament gained increased
legitimacy as a legislative and consultative force during their minority reigns.   Maintaining
the fiction of adult rule became untenable with the accession of nine month old Henry VI in
1422, when the Lords governed consensually and corporately over the course of Henry’s 16
year minority, as they refused to allow the king’s uncle, Humphrey duke of Gloucester, to
enjoy the powerful regency outlined in Henry V’s will, because it had not received the assent
of parliament.  At the same time, the Lords emphatically recognized that the “body politic” of
kingship was vested in Henry VI regardless of his age, even before his coronation, which
allowed the king to consent to and legitimize the policies enacted on his behalf. The next
minority king, twelve year old Edward V, whose brief tragic reign comprised just a few
months in 1483, was not nearly as lucky as Henry VI, as the lack of aristocratic consensus
ultimately cost him his throne.  
As I have argued elsewhere, Henry VIII was acutely aware of this body of precedent relating
to previous minority kings as he made the necessary arrangements for his son’s minority.  
While the will itself was silent upon the issue of the royal supremacy, it was to perhaps
restrain its exercise that the will contained a clause allowing Edward to nullify the
enactments of his minority government when he reached his majority age of 18, a clause that
Somerset later had repealed.  Indeed, Edward’s authority as supreme head was paramount
and indispensable to the processes of religious reform.  Exercising the supremacy of the
church was perhaps the most slippery of slopes for Somerset to climb; reforming efforts
needed to have the personal sanction of a quasi- sacred king.   But how to cast Edward in the
role of a bona fide supreme head, when it was clear to his contemporaries that he did not
personally exercise the more temporal aspects of his royal prerogative?  Indeed, Edward’s
minority supremacy was the chink in the government’s armor that Princess Mary, Edward’s
heir, and bishop Gardiner of Winchester, both opponents of religious change, sought to
exploit.  In the early 1530s, Gardiner had lent his rhetorical powers to championing the
Henrician supremacy, but under Edward VI he basically argued that the supremacy should be
kept in a state of suspended animation during the king’s underage, a position Mary also
adhered to.   
In response, Edward was aggressively marketed as a king capable of collaborating with the
exercise of the royal supremacy of the Church.  Indeed, the Old Testament provided the best
“how to” instruction manual for representing Edward as an active historical agent.  The
valedictorian of biblical boy-kings was undoubtedly Josiah, of the kingdom of Judah, who
banished idolatry as he reestablished the observance of Deuteronomic law.  References to
Josiah were made explicit at Edward’s coronation in Cranmer’s address.   Indeed, historical
comparisons to Josiah (or Josias) proved very useful in constructing an image of Edward as a
king capable of collaborating in the further reform of the English church, and offering his
assent as supreme head.    Two and a half years later, in 1549, Somerset wrote to the Catholic
renegade exile Reginald Pole, defending his collaboration with the king in the exercise of
the royal supremacy,
You fear because the king is a child.  But, with the help of God and faithful

councilors and subjects, he has defended his own as none of any age has done

before.  Josias and Solomon at his best were not old.

The same year, reformed preacher Hugh Latimer put the best possible face on Edward’s
capacity to wield his royal supremacy, in the second of his Lenten sermons of 1549, wagging
his finger at the “nay-sayers” as he recounted the progress of Edward’s kingly tutelage:
What people are they that saye, the kynge is but a childe?

Have not wee a noble kynge?  Was there ever kynge so noble?

So Godleye?  Broughte up with so noble counsaylours?

So excellent and well learned Scholemaisters?  I wyll tell

you thys, and I speake it even as I thynke.  Hys majesty

hath more godlie wytte and understanding, more lernynge,

and knowledge at thys age, then xx. of his progenitors . . . .  

John Foxe later carved this image of providential power into historical orthodoxy, writing
how Edward “removed and purged the true temple of the lord, [as] Josias restored the true
service and worship of God . . .   Ultimately, the image of Josiah, perceived as an active
historical agent even as a child, was grafted onto Edward’s public image as a king capable of
divinely inspired religious reform, in collaboration with his council and his parliaments,
within the structures of an essentially corporate royal supremacy.  
If Henry VIII was squashing Jane Seymour as he rolled around in his grave at the Chapel of
St. George, the shades of Cromwell and St. German perhaps smiled from their repose in their
proto-protestant purgatory.  This corporate form of supremacy, in which king, council, and
parliament all played a decisive role, continued following Somerset’s fall from power in
October 1549, as the minority government outwardly returned to the form outlined in Henry
VIII’s will.  During this time, John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, dominated the
government, employing Edward’s growing maturity as the legitimizing agent of his own de
facto regency as his government moved unequivocally towards a Calvinist Protestant Church.
These developments were pleasing to the teenaged king.  By the fall of 1552, when he turned
fifteen, Edward was indisputably a Calvinist Protestant, fully intent on using his royal
supremacy to enforce his own religious predilections.  While Henry VIII earlier in his career
had written a defense of papal authority in his book, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (1521),
Edward demolished it in his own treatise on the topic, written at the age of twelve, and
dedicated to Somerset before his fall.  Over the course of his political tutelage with Council
secretaries William Petrie and William Cecil, and clerk William Thomas, Edward had
developed an expansive grasp of the possibilities that the royal supremacy afforded him, yet
the evidence suggests that Edward favored a continuation of the corporate style supremacy
that would formulate and execute policy with the advice of the Privy Council, and the assent
of Parliament.  
During this time, Edward’s view of the nature of his kingship was constantly evolving,
reaching a critical threshold in October 1552, when he composed in his own rough hand in
English a list, titled “a summary of matters to be concluded,” just after he returned from his
“coming out” summer progress designed to present the king to his subjects as a quasi-
majority king.   The “summary” revealed Edward as writing and thinking at the same time,
characteristic of many of his treatises, including his political chronicle.  In several places in
this document, Edward crossed out the word “my” in front of passages such as “bringing in
the remnant of my debts” and substituted “the,” while six lines down, Edward crossed out
“my” in front of “defense.”  What these corrections seem to indicate is Edward’s greater
understanding of himself as a “first among equals” in the processes of further Reformation of
the English Church that he would pursue when he achieved is majority.   
In his literary remains, Edward also recognized the connections between religious uniformity
and social and political stability, as he clearly identified the relationship between the royal
supremacy and the more temporal aspects of his kingly prerogative; his papers are filled with
ideas on educating the clergy, overhauling the Canon law, and implementing state imposed
religious uniformity.   Edward reportedly took copious notes during the sermons given at his
court; as Diarmaid Macculloch has remarked, Edward’s notebooks, the religious counterpart
of his political chronicle, are no longer extant, which has perhaps obscured our
understanding of the depth of Edward’s religiosity.  It is perhaps worth noting that the few
reported episodes when Edward lost control of an otherwise kingly gravitas concerned
religious issues; such as a possibly apocryphal tearful confrontation with Cranmer over the
burning of Joan Boucher in 1550, and an emotional defense of his theological convictions in
spring 1551 with his bishops, over whether Mary’s household should continue to celebrate
mass, in which all parties later dissolved into tears.   As he transitioned to majority rule,
Edward participated in visual representations that broadcast to his subjects his possession of
the royal supremacy of the church, as he publicly demonstrated his high esteem for the major
clerics of his reign (and future Marian martyrs), such as Hugh Latimer, and bishops Cranmer,
Ridley, and Hooper, who constituted the ultimate “think tank’’ for the continuing
development of a Protestant Edwardian church.  
The relationship between the exhortations of Edward’s favored clerics, such as Nicholas
Ridley, bishop of London, and Edward’s own thoughts on the utility of education and the
necessity of public charity, dove-tailed in a striking fashion in March 1553.  Historian and
printer Richard Grafton wrote that following Ridley’s sermon, which chastised the wealthy
for their lack of charity, Edward requested an immediate interview with the startled bishop,
indicating his desire to hand over certain properties in his gift to the city of London,
resulting in the establishment of hospitals (Christ’s, St. Thomas’s, Bridewell) and the Savoy,
reconstituted as a “lodging for vagabonds, loiterers, and strumpets.”   The entire episode,
during which Edward may have been aware of the onset of his fatal illness, was in fact a
sophisticated display of good old fashioned Tudor royal theatre; images of this scene of a
beneficent young king, surrounded by grateful city officials and other notables, was
reproduced continuously through the early modern period in Britain.   It should also be
remembered that neither Northumberland nor the Privy Council had any hand in these gifts,
nor did they reap any political capital, which accrued entirely to the king alone.   In these
facets of his kingship, Edward’s signaled the onset of his majority reign with this innovative
deployment of the royal supremacy that suggests a more caring, pastoral style headship that
that of Edward’s father, who had failed to adequately rebuild the infrastructure of social
services that had disappeared along with the monastic lands.
The full implications of Edward’s collaborative supremacy became evident during the reigns
of his successors, the regnant queens Mary I and Elizabeth I, both of whom were constrained
to call parliaments to make changes in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy for the English
church.  Mary I, never comfortable with the title supreme head, nevertheless used its powers
to effect her own short lived Catholic Counter-Reformation, which dispensed with a title that
had allowed her to recreate the jurisdictional relationship with Rome.  While Elizabeth
settled for the lesser title of “supreme governor” as her first parliament reestablished an
autonomous English Church, she had little choice but to follow the Erastian path forged
during the reigns of her siblings, in her own configuration of the Church of England

Presented at the annual meeting of the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, October 2007,
in Minneapolis, Minn.
On 31 January 1547, nine year old Edward VI entered the city of London as king of England,
three days after the death of his father, Henry VIII, ushering in what turned out to be the
sixth and last English royal minority.  The dead king’s will, empowered by statute, and
reflective of positive historical precedent, prescribed a conciliar regime for Edward’s minority.  
However, the will’s executors unanimously created Edward’s uterine uncle, Edward
Seymour, the soon to be duke of Somerset, as Lord Protector of both king and kingdom.  In
this position, Somerset guided the destiny of the reign as a powerful
de jure regent.  
Somerset, however, lacked the basic social skills to maintain his position of vice-regal
authority (it
was more complicated than this, but I needed to dispose of Somerset quickly!).  
Following his disastrous handling of the 1549 summer revolts, a cabal of privy councilors led
by John Dudley, earl of Warwick, removed Somerset from office.  Once the protectorate was
abolished (13 October 1549), Edward’s minority government returned to the conciliar regime
outlined in Henry VIII’s will, and remained that way for the rest of the reign.  
Dudley, whom Edward created duke of Northumberland late in 1551, soon emerged as a
regent.  Northumberland’s ascendancy coincided with the onset of Edward’s
adolescence, as it witnessed the young king’s integration into the further working processes
of kingship.  Northumberland is traditionally much maligned; engineering Somerset’s trial
and execution (Jan. 1552), and expediting the king’s desire to disinherit Mary and Elizabeth,
Edward’s half-sisters and statutory heirs.  Later twentieth century studies have sought to
rehabilitate his career, demonstrating Northumberland’s ability to cope with the wide
ranging and chronic administrative problems of Edward’s minority government.   Unlike
Somerset, Northumberland was much better able to successfully exploit Edward’s gradual
assumption of his royal prerogative as the legitimizing agent of his own de facto regency.  
Northumberland certainly appeared much more concerned about Edward’s personal well-
being and happiness than Somerset, and cautiously allowed him the opportunity to engage
in the martial activities that had been denied him under Somerset’s tenure as royal guardian.  
Indeed, Northumberland wrapped himself around every aspect of Edward’s life; controlling
the household appointments, most importantly the privy chamber.    Northumberland
realized that the surest path to control over Edward’s minority government was the king’s
good will, exercised through the legitimate auspices of the Privy Council, which he
dominated as lord president.  Northumberland’s consolidation of power in early 1550
followed what Dale Hoak considered “the fiercest struggle for the powers of the crown since
the Wars of the Roses” as he moved unequivocally “left” towards a radical Calvinist
Reformation.   For the remainder of the minority, Northumberland continuously weeded and
replenished both privy chamber and the Privy Council with his own trusted colleagues,
including Somerset’s former secretary William Cecil, creating the illusion that the council
was governing corporately according to the terms of Henry VIII’ will.  During the years 1151
and 1552, Northumberland also attempted to create the perception that Edward was
beginning to rule in his own right.
The relationship between Edward’s sophisticated literary remains and the workings of
Northumberland’s government has always proved an inexact science.  Nevertheless, Stephen
Alford has suggested that Edward experienced a gradual and piecemeal integration into the
functions of his government under Northumberland’s ascendancy.  This constituted a
significant qualification to Dale Hoak’s persuasive interpretation that Edward had little
influence upon the policies formulated and implemented by Northumberland’s regime, itself
a major revision of W.K. Jordan’s interpretation of the teenaged Edward as on “the threshold
of power.”
By the fall of 1551, when Edward VI was fourteen, he began to take possession of certain
aspects of his royal prerogative.  By this time, he had already mastered every other aspect of
kingship; appearing in public, receiving ambassadors and other distinguished foreign guests,
and exhibiting a kingly persona that kept his emotions definitely in check.  Edward’s state of
the art Renaissance Humanist education, which rendered him the best educated English
monarch ever, continued for the remainder of his reign.  He was, undeniably, a prodigy; his
knowledge of English geography was unparalleled, and his grasp of the religious, economic,
and political issues his government was concerned with was exceptional.  Given this, by the
spring of 1551, Edward was well prepared to begin the process of learning the substantive
work of a chief executive.  Under the tutelage of William Petre and William Cecil, council
secretaries, and William Thomas, council clerk, Edward produced a significant body of
administrative memoranda.
This body of work was created simultaneously with the actual working of the Privy Council.  
Dale Hoak has viewed the Privy Council and the “counsel for the [e]state,” which, starting in
March 1552, sat weekly with Edward to debate important affairs, as separate entities, one
reflecting the substantive work of government, the other, “conferences staged for the king’s
benefit . . . .”   Alford has offered an alternative interpretation; viewing the “counsel for the
estate” as an outgrowth of Edward’s own efforts to streamline the efficiency of the privy
council, “for the quicker, better and more orderlie dispatch of causes,” and to make the
council aware of Edward’s own administrative and fiscal priorities.   It seems reasonable to
assume that the members of the Privy Council and the other men called to the “counsel for
the estate,” were experiencing a dress rehearsal for what council meetings might be like when
Edward achieved his majority, as they became acquainted with Edward’s rather long laundry
lists of matters he considered important.  
As W.K. Jordan has suggested, Northumberland recognized the inevitability of Edward’s
achievement of his majority, which, had he not died, could have occurred much sooner than
his eighteenth birthday, as was the case with the fifteenth century minority king Henry VI.   
While we know from hindsight that Edward died in July 1553, Northumberland and Edward’
s councilors did not; contemporaries recognized that Edward’s political apprenticeship was a
serious step towards his full majority rule.  Indeed, in the last two years of his life, Edward
received a state of the art education in political theory and practice.  If knowledge is power,
Edward was a highly informed “insider” within his own minority government, with more
command over what policies his government was pursuing at the age of fifteen than most of
his adult predecessors upon their accessions
By the fall of 1552, when he turned fifteen, Edward had developed a rather sophisticated
conception of his role as king.  His view of the nature of kingship was constantly evolving,
but reflected the highest human achievements as recounted in his thoroughly humanist
educational regimen; charity, maintenance of religious and social hierarchies, education,
religious conformity, defence, and domestic and foreign commerce and trade.  The evolution
of Edward’s theories concerning the nature of his kingship reached a critical threshold in
October 1552, when he composed in his own rough hand in English a list, titled “a summary
of matters to be concluded,” just after he returned from his “coming out” summer progress
designed to present the king to his subjects as a quasi-majority king.   The “summary”
revealed Edward as writing and thinking at the same time, which is characteristic of many of
Edward’s treatises, including his political chronicle.  In several places in this document,
Edward crossed out the word “my” in front of passages such as “bringing in the remnant of
my debts” and substituted “the,” while six lines down, Edward crossed out “my” in front of
“defense.”  What these corrections seem to indicate is Edward’s greater understanding of his
relationship to both the estate and the office of kingship, as he conceptualized the corporate
nature of Tudor kingship.”   
As Edward reached these conclusions, Northumberland continued to maintain the impression
that Edward was an integral part of government, betraying to Cecil his impatience with
Edward’s progress, writing that, “I am glad that the king, on the council’s advice, cut his
superfluous progress, whereby the council may better attend to his affairs . . . .   Like his half-
sister Elizabeth, Edward VI inherited the Tudor genes for grasping economics that had by-
passed Henry VIII.  His “summary” paid much attention to matters of economy and commerce,
of calling in his debts, and the credit of his regime.  He was also concerned with education
and religion.  
While Edward was decidedly serious about his religious beliefs and his royal supremacy,
recent historiography has emphasized his more secular interests; a number of scholars have
focused attention on Edward’s delight in the martial aspects of kingship.   As Edward may
have fully realized the political advantages of a widely advertised kingly religiosity, he also
grasped that successful performances of pseudo- military exploits displaying kingly
leadership also buttressed his developing royal authority.  Edward’s court hosted numerous
tournaments and mock battles, which Edward himself participated in, few to his personal
advantage, quite unlike his father, who ruled the lists well into his thirties.  Yet Edward
made the effort, perhaps in possession of the historical knowledge that both Richard II and
Henry VI, minority kings who ultimately lost their thrones, never developed the military
dimensions of successful kingship.
Edward also enjoyed sophisticated forms of entertainment, especially at Christmas time.  The
Christmas celebrations of 1551/52 featured a gentleman described as “master of the king’s
pastimes,” and “lord of misrule,” one George Ferrers, appointed to entertain the court, and
creating what was, by all accounts, a particularly festive and decidedly entertaining
Christmas court.   Edward was an active participant in the final two Christmas court revels of
his reign, and clearly enjoyed the theatrical side of kingship.   It has been frequently been
explained that the 1551/52 celebrations were Northumberland’s means of diverting Edward
prior to Somerset’s execution (23 Jan. 1552).   However, writing to Thomas Cawarden, master
of the revels on 24 Nov, 1551, Northumberland indicated it was “the Kinges majesties plesser
ys for his highness better recreation the tym of thies hollydayes to have a lord of misrule.”   If
the motivation was Northumberland’s, the plan worked admirably, as Ferrers returned as
“lord of misrule” next year also.  
It was entirely possible, however, that Northumberland simply expedited the wishes of the
king.  Sydney Anglo pondered the incongruity of Ferrers, a previously close adherent of
Somerset’s, as “lord of misrule” at the very moment Northumberland was supposedly bent on
Somerset’s destruction.   Edward, however, was already acquainted with Ferrers, a lawyer,
soldier, poet, and historian, to whom he had previously presented an autographed copy of a
history of Somerset’s 1547 Scottish invasion.   The answer may very well have been that it
was Edward’s idea to appoint Ferrers, which Northumberland’s constantly advertised sense of
obedience and duty towards the king did not challenge.   
Northumberland’s sense of obedience towards his king can also explain his support of the
radical Protestantism that the government enshrined into statutory form in the third session
of Edward’s first parliament (Jan- April 1552), with a second Act of Uniformity, and a second
Prayer Book penned by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury.  Dale Hoak has argued
that Northumberland’s beliefs, as a loyal and obedient subject, demanded that he follow
those of his supreme head.   Once Mary’s accession was an accomplished fact, he immediately
switched back to the old religion.  Under Edward, of course, Northumberland followed the
religious predilections of his supreme head, who took his supremacy every bit as seriously as
his father did.  While Northumberland claimed to have followed Protestant beliefs back to
the 1530s, it is worth remembering that he never openly challenged any of his supreme heads,
from Henry VIII to Mary I.
During the final two years of his reign, in his work with William Cecil and William Thomas,
Edward was well informed about the complexity of problems Northumberland’s government
faced.  This leads us to a chicken or egg scenario, one that can never be resolved.  On the one
hand, was Edward force-fed policy initiatives, so he could walk into council and announce
these policy initiatives as his own?  This was the interpretation fashioned by A.F. Pollard a
century ago, based on a French manuscript, and updated by Dale Hoak, which described
Edward as “well-informed of current affairs, but persuaded . . . of the wisdom of decisions
taken, as if these were recommendations the king himself should propose to council.”   
But if Edward was not yet fully integrated into the policy making of the Privy Council, or
able to get his government to support his own favored parliamentary bills, other aspects of
Edward’s minority kingship reflect a more expansive grasp of his royal prerogative.  By the
end of 1552, in a number of letters from Northumberland to Cecil are numerous references to
wishing to defer to the king’s will, as if Edward’s assent was not necessarily assured.  In an
apparent row over a property exchange with princess Elizabeth, Northumberland commented,
“I must appeal to the king and you whether I ever sued for it.”   In a postscript to the same
letter, Northumberland also wrote, “it is time the king’s pleasure were known for the speaker
of the house, that he might have secret warning as usual, the better to prepare for his
preposition.”   Later in January 1553, Northumberland wrote Cecil again with obvious
concern for his standing with the king:

I perceive by your letter that the king has been moved concerning
the bishop of London . . . if he [Edward] knew my care for the south
as for other parts, and the hearts of us all in care for his surety and that
of all his dominions, he would soon know whose care was the greatest.

Perhaps at the beginning of his ascendancy, Northumberland was able to monitor and control
Edward, but by the fall of 1552, as W.K. Jordan has argued, Edward had begun to develop a
mind and a will of his own.  There is no evidence to suggest Northumberland did anything
to impede this process.  Half a century ago, F.G. Emmison argued that Edward had played a
crucial role in drafting memoranda relating to the reorganization of the Privy Council’s work
in January 1553, the result of which, had it been implemented, was to place much more direct
power in the king’s hands.   Edward also closely monitored in his chronicle, over the course
of 1552, the progress made by the Revenue Commission appointed in December 1551 for the
“calling in of my debts.”   Edward was, in fact, more than a little obsessed with fiscal
solvency, a predilection echoed by both of his sisters  
Edward’s grants of patronage also indicate a new phase of his kingship.  Beginning about
Oct. 1551, grants reflecting Edward’s personal wishes begin to appear in the Acts of the Privy
Council.  Not surprisingly, both Richard II and Henry VI had already begun to do exactly the
same thing at that age.  Small grants in the king’s direct gift, generally starting around age 14
for child monarchs, was often the primary means of a king’s first use of his royal prerogative,
and Edward VI probably took as much personal pleasure in authorizing his initial grants as
did Richard II and Henry VI.  Even Edward V, early in his brief reign, made a grant that was
expedited by the authority of protector Gloucester, possibly as a means for Gloucester to build
up political capital with his probably antagonistic nephew.    
What was probably most pleasing to Edward VI was the knowledge that he now personally
possessed the authority to wield his prerogative apart from the Privy Council.  This was
accomplished in a stinging letter to Lord Chancellor Rich in November 1551, who had
hesitated to authenticate a letter lacking the requisite conciliar signatures.  Edward informed
Rich, “you are not ignorant that the number of councilors does not make our authority.”   The
Privy Council itself followed up with a letter of its own to Rich, commanding him to treat
the king’s signature as sufficient warrant, “as was accustomed in the kinges majesties tyme
last deceased.”   Northumberland and the council’s recognition of Edward’s increased
personal prerogative constituted a significant signpost on Edward’s road to his full majority.  
Now in command of at least one aspect of his prerogative, Edward’s initial grants were
initially modest; £10 to Richard Coxe, Aug. 1551, 100 marks for Barnaby Fitzpatrick’s apparel,
and the same amount for Polydore Vergil, “in way of the kinges majesties rewarde,” both in
November 1551.”   Later on, grants became more lavish; for Henry Sidney a £21 annuity,
while the perennial favorite Fitzpatrick gained a £150 one, both in February 1553.   The
question of whether Edward’s grants of land were the permanent acts of a majority king was
seemingly resolved during Elizabeth’s reign with the ruling on the “Case of the Duchy of
Lancaster” (1561), which employed the theory of the king’s two bodies to rule that Edward,
even as a minor, fully embodied the “corporation sole” of the “body politic” of kingship, to
make permanent grants of patronage under his own authority.   
Edward’s patronage directed towards his subjects at large was meant to be permanent.  The
England of today boasts of approximately a dozen Edward VI grammar schools, established in
the final years of the reign, most of which simply breathed new life into schools previously
attached to chantries, which had been dissolved in Edward’s first parliament.   
Augmentations commissioners such as Walter Mildmay preserved portions of this royal
bounty for educational re-endowment, a policy that Edward himself greatly favored in his
final years.   Several letters from the Privy Council in June 1552 were directed towards this
purpose; one to the court of augmentations asking for certification of recently erected schools,
and others to various locations appointing individual boys to various schools.   Nearly a year
later, John Day, the future printer of John Foxe, was authorized to publish a “cathechisme” in
English, a move directly related to Edward’s continuing concern with education and
religious conformity.
The relationship between the exhortations of Edward’s favored clerics, such as Nicholas
Ridley, bishop of London, and Edward’s own thoughts on the utility of education and the
necessity of public charity, dove-tailed in a striking fashion in March 1553.  Grafton wrote
that following Ridley’s sermon, which chastised the wealthy for their lack of charity, Edward
requested an immediate interview with the startled bishop, indicating his desire to hand
over certain properties in his gift to the city of London, resulting in the establishment of
hospitals (Christ’s, St. Thomas’s, Bridewell) and the Savoy, reconstituted as a “lodging for
vagabonds, loiterers, and strumpets.”   The entire episode, during which Edward may have
been aware of the onset of his own fatal illness, was in fact a sophisticated display of good
old fashioned Tudor royal theatre; images of this scene of a beneficent young king,
surrounded by grateful city officials and other notables, was reproduced continuously
through the early modern period in Britain.   It should also be remembered that neither
Northumberland nor the Privy Council had any hand in these gifts, nor did they reap any
political capital, which accrued entirely to the king alone.   In some elements of his kingship,
Edward’s majority reign had in fact already begun by the time his fatal illness set in during
the spring of 1553.

Presented at the annual meeting of the NACBS, November 2006, in Boston, Mass.
As they considered the historical experience of Edward V, whose failed minority occurred
between those of Henry VI and Edward VI, the first two Tudor kings had every right to feel
apprehensive about the prospect of a royal minority.  As Charles Ross observed, Edward IV,
“remains the only king in English history since 1066 in active possession of the throne who
failed to secure the safe succession of his son.  His lack of political foresight is largely to
blame for the unhappy aftermath of his early death.”   Both Henry VII (1485-1509) and Henry
VIII (1509-1547) faced the prospect of a minority succession in the final years of their reigns.  
In the case of the latter this became an eventuality.  Prior to his own death, and in marked
contrast to his Yorkist grandfather, Henry VIII exercised a considerable amount of political
foresight concerning the inevitability of his son’s minority reign.
While the continuities of the medieval past were considerable, the sixteenth century Tudor
state significantly altered both the rational and the means by which a minority government
was constructed.  Between the Battle of Bosworth, which placed the parvenu Tudor dynasty
on the throne, and the moment Henry VIII drew his final breath sixty-three years later,
monarchical government in England had increased in sophistication and scope, in its
executive and administrative functions, its relationship with parliament, in the formation
and implementation of religious policy, and the means by which royal power was represented
to the kingdom.   If the five previous minorities were located historically in the high and
later “middle ages,” Edward VI’s was “early modern,” a reign, according to G.R. Elton,
somewhat at odds with the supposed political realities of the mid- sixteenth century Tudor
state.  As critics of the Eltonian “Tudor revolution” stress the continuities with medieval
practices and precedents, such as the role of the court, Henry VIII’s preparations for his son’s
inevitable reign represents the blending of centuries old responses to a royal minority
coupled with the modernizing trends of the Tudor state.   
During the first half of the sixteenth century in England, the prospect of a minority reign was
a reoccurring possibility.  The rise of the Tudor dynasty itself was only made possible by the
disappearance and probable death of Edward V and his younger brother.  While Henry VII
and his queen Elizabeth of York symbolically united Lancaster and York, and worked hard to
provide for the Tudor succession, the prospect of a minority reign materialized with the death
of their fifteen-year-old eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1502.  This situation left the
Tudor dynasty hanging by the thread of Henry’s second, and only other surviving son, ten-
year old Henry, duke of York.  It did not occur to Henry VII to ask his later parliaments for
any form of statutory protections for his underage heir, nor did he compose a formal council
of regency for the possibility of a minority succession.  Henry VII’s first parliament had
recognized Henry’s heirs, male and female, capable of inheriting at any age, while Henry also
sought a papal bull confirming his kingship and the rights of his heirs to inherit.   His final
will contained no clauses whatsoever relating to his heir’s future government, which made
his death in April 1509, just a few months shy of his heir’s eighteenth birthday, his final
dynastic victory.   
Henry VIII also went fast to work to propagate the Tudor dynasty in the male line, marrying
his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, soon after his accession.  Catherine’s inability to
bear sons, and the resulting divorce case, initiated in 1527, brought Henry’s chief minister
Cardinal Wolsey’s career to an ignominious end, as his departure paved the way for the
brilliant career of his secretary, Thomas Cromwell, whose vision and talents transformed the
divorce into the English Reformation.  Henry did have a daughter with Catherine, Mary,
born 1516, but he was resistant to a female succession, and set his mind to obtaining an
annulment from his first marriage so he could marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.  
Anne Boleyn also suffered from the same dynastic failure as Catherine, only wife number
three, Jane Seymour, provided Henry with the male heir he most desperately wanted,
Edward, born October 1537.  Unfortunately, Jane died of complications shortly after giving
birth, while Henry’s three subsequent wives failed to produce heirs.  It is more than ironic
that the king who was the father to England’s first regnant queens was decidedly ambivalent
to the concept of female succession.  For the first six years of his life, prince Edward was his
father’s only recognized legitimate heir.  From the moment of his birth, Edward’s survival
was of singular dynastic importance; his health, upbringing, and education were top
priorities for Henry’s government.  So was planning for the possibility of a royal minority.  
Henry probably had no illusions of a repeat of 1422, in which the lords temporal and spiritual
came together both spontaneously and corporately to guide the government and protect the
young king’s interests.  The element of spontaneity present in the events of 1483, however,
which eventually resulted in Edward V’s deposition, was an element Henry was keen to
Even before Edward was born, Henry VIII and Cromwell had already decided that a conciliar
regime was the best bet for a royal minority government.  This form of minority government
had worked well enough during the early years of Richard II’s minority, which provided the
historical models for the continual councils of Henry VI’s long minority reign.  Reflective of
these positive historical precedents, the 1536 parliament enacted the Second Act of
Succession.   This statute, which modified the first act, empowered the king to compose a
council of regency to rule for a minor king or queen, which also left open the possibility of
the king’s (or queen’s) mother having a role in the education and guardianship of the minor
Parliamentary planning for the form and function of a minority regime in advance was
unprecedented.  Henry, in close cooperation with Cromwell, had used parliamentary statutes
as the means to separate the English Church from Rome, make the king supreme head of the
church, settle (and resettle) the succession, and take possession of England’s monastic
wealth.  It was a small stretch to use statutory authority to devise in advance the formation of
a regime that strongly mirrored the most successful of previous minority regimes.  The Second
Act of Succession greatly increased Henry’s prerogative concerning the succession and a
possible royal minority as it granted the king the ability to devise in his will further heirs
and construct future governments.  
The Second Act in turn served as the model for the Third, passed in 1544, which restored the
king’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth as statutory heirs, with qualifications, after Edward,
while the king was empowered to provide for further heirs, and compose a minority
government in his final will.  Henry’s will, or wills, rather, have been the subject of much
discussion and debate.   If we accept the Dec. 30, 1546 document as a valid and legal
reflection of what turned out to be Henry’s last wishes, the will designated a body of sixteen
executors who would function as a privy council during Edward’s minority, assisted by
another group of men termed “assistant executors.”  The will stipulated that Edward would
achieve his full majority at age eighteen, and allowed him to annul any statutes or acts taken
by his government during his minority following the achievement of his majority.
By the time he began composing his last will in December 1546, Henry VIII had already put
much effort into paving the road to his son’s eventual succession.  The outlines of Edward’s
life prior to his accession betray an enormous amount of attention paid to the upbringing and
lifestyle of a future minority king.  A number of these policies strongly resemble efforts to
minimize mistakes made in previous royal minorities.  Most importantly, Henry VIII
prevented any faction present at his court from establishing a personal relationship with
Edward.  Until his accession, Edward remained mostly out of London and away from court,
with visitation rights jealously handed out only to the most important personages.  While
Edward’s health was a major factor in this decision, Henry also kept Edward completely away
from the factional strife that dominated his court in the period 1540-47.  
This proved to be a judicious policy.  When he became king, Edward VI was completely
above the fray of politics; his sympathies and affections belonged symbolically to everyone in
his kingdom.  This was in marked contrast to Edward V, whose sympathies were perceived to
lay with the Wydedville faction.  Was this close planning on Henry’s part?  Edward VI’s
closest male relative on his mother’s side, Edward Seymour, created earl of Hertford in 1536,
had risen steadily in the ranks of Henry VIII’s service in the final decade of his reign.  In
Henry VIII’s final weeks of life, Hertford stood in effective control of the government and the
court, as Henry handed over physical custody of his will directly to his brother-in-law.  
Yet Hertford had been kept completely away from Edward’s tutelage, quite unlike Anthony
Wydedville in the previous minority.  Keeping Edward away from the possibility of factional
affinities may also have been behind Henry’s decision to create Edward Prince of Wales
literally on the brink of his death.  Again, Edward V provides the salient contrast.  Created
prince of Wales at the age of six months, a year later Edward went to Wales at the head of his
household and council, with Anthony Woodville, earl Rivers, as governor and ruler, and
John Alcock, bishop of Rochester, as president of the council.  Inevitably, Edward’s whole
life was spent in the bosom of the Woodville family.  How close Edward V and Rivers were is
impossible to determine, but the appearance and belief of factional affinity between them
proved fatal to both.  
Henry VIII also managed to avoid other problems of earlier minorities.  The future Edward VI
never became a “spoiled” child, in the manner of historical descriptions of the youthful
Richard II, fawned over by his father’s household men.   If Henry VIII was aware of the
furious war between Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester and cardinal, and Humphrey,
duke of Gloucester for Henry VI’s affections, Henry made sure that the current bishop of
Winchester would be unable to play a similar role.   
Henry’s policies towards Edward’s upbringing and the construction of a minority regime
reflect a thorough tutelage in the history of previous minority regimes.  A true Renaissance
prince, Henry VIII had direct access to a large body of historical works to guide him.  Henry,
in fact, used history, as it was understood in the sixteenth century, as a means to help solve a
number of his own contemporary problems.  In the early 1530s, the compilation of the
Collectanea satis copiosa, a composite of historical sources of varying accuracy, lent scholarly
legitimacy to the concept of a historical royal supremacy of the Church. While we cannot say
conclusively that Henry actually read any of this historical literature that was readily
available to him, it is much more probable that Cromwell did.  After his fall and execution in
1540, some of Cromwell’s policies did live on, including the desirability and feasibility of a
minority conciliar regime.  
After Cromwell’s fall, Henry VIII remained keen on obtaining works of history.  In the early
1540s, Henry commissioned one scholar, John Leyland, to look far and wide in the former
monastic lands and gather together as many literary works, including histories, for his royal
library.   Leyland’s dedication of his efforts in 1545 “prescribed the acts of your most noble
predecessors, and the fortunes of this your realm,” with one obvious historical purpose, to
help the process of guaranteeing the “succession in kingly estate, of your dere and worthily
beloved son prynce Edward . . . “
Henry would have also obtained knowledge of previous minorities from literate popular
culture. Histories such as Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia (1534), dedicated to Henry VIII,
and Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III, composed between 1513 and 1518, were
boiled down for popular consumption in works such as Edward Hall’s The Union of the
Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York (1542), which provided a “politically
correct” version of Henry VI’s and Edward V’s royal minorities for the consumption of a
highly literate Tudor political society.   While Hall’s narrative was unabashedly pro-Tudor,
the successes and failures of the three previous minorities were duly recounted; the spoiled
and undisciplined Richard II, or good duke Humphrey, who later battled for control of Henry
VI’s minority with his archenemy and uncle, Cardinal Beaufort.  Hall also did a superlative
job of blackening Richard III’s historical reputation to Shakespearean proportions, as a
warning against unbridled aristocratic desires to take advantage of the uncertainties of a
royal minority.
The specter of the unstable fifteenth century, as recounted in Hall’s chronicle, filled with
unscrupulous over mighty subjects, haunted Henry VIII, who seemed to perceive a potential
Richard III in virtually every nobleman with Plantagenet blood in his veins.  At the end of
Henry’s reign, Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, became embroiled in the activities of his
heir, the earl of Surrey, who had quartered the royal arms with his own, and was reported to
think that the Howard’s aristocratic stature made them the natural, and historical, protectors
of prince Edward.  
Surrey’s folly signaled the final purge of executors included in the working version of Henry’
s final will.  If the Howards were eliminated for summoning the ghost of Richard III, bishop
Stephen Gardiner of Winchester’s ouster was due to Henry’s probably correct assumption that
he would not prove to be a team player in a minority regime.  While Norfolk and Gardiner
were religious “conservatives,” who had opposed any moves towards Protestantism since
Cromwell’s fall, it is unlikely that their ouster from the list of executors was due to their
religious predilections.   As far as Henry was concerned, everyone in his court was a good
Henrician Catholic, dutifully obeying the injunctions set out in the Act of Six Articles and
the King’s Book of 1543. No member of the court or the government had the temerity to offer
the king unsolicited advice on doctrinal matters, not even Cranmer, as Henry’s final queen
Katherine Parr learned to her cost.  Henry kept his royal supremacy tightly in his fists; what
form Edward’s minority supremacy would take was not described in the will.
It was equally unlikely that Edward’s tutors were chosen for their proto-Protestant beliefs
also.  Just prior to his final continental escapade in 1544, Henry VIII reorganized Edward’s
household, and appointed former Eton headmaster Richard Coxe, already Edward’s tutor, as
his almoner, probably through the influence of his good friend Cranmer, who probably
advised him to keep his own beliefs out of Edward’s classroom.  The brilliant scholar John
Cheke, regius professor of Greek at Cambridge, who had the majority of personal instruction
time with Edward, assisted Coxe.  These men, along with Roger Ascham and the French
Huguenot John Belmaine, all emerged as Protestants during Edward’s reign.  But during
Henry’s reign they were highly regarded as humanist scholars of the first rank.  Henry
wanted state of the art Renaissance educations for all his children; the fact that Edward and
Elizabeth’s schoolmasters later revealed pronounced reformist views had little to do with
their intellectual credentials, the best money could buy.  Not all early sixteenth century
English humanists crossed the bridge to Protestantism, notably Thomas More.  Had Coxe,
Cheke, Belmain, or Ascham revealed their Protestant beliefs to Henry while he still lived,
they would have been out of a job, at the very least.  Edward’s own path to Protestant beliefs
may have predated his accession, but only through his thoroughly humanist education,
which was the logical threshold to his conversion to Protestantism.  
As he contemplated the possibility of his own death, Henry VIII was not necessarily looking
forward to a Protestant England.   What he was definitely looking forward to was a kingdom
fully united behind and devoted to his heir.    By the time he died, Henry VIII had
formulated and implemented a number of strategies and policies concerning Edward’s
eventual minority reign.  A furious educational regimen, conducted outside the influence of
the royal court, rendered Edward VI, on the eve of his accession, an ideal figurehead whom
all his subjects could offer their allegiance to.  The conciliar regime, modeled on those of
previous minorities, and filled with men whom the king “trusted and loved above all other
specially,” was the most feasible solution to a minority that Henry could devise.   Whether
Henry VIII knew he was going to die or not, or whether his will was a work in progress or a
final testament, he had seemingly taken every possible precaution for the smooth and
uncontested accession of his heir.
William Cecil
John Dudley, Duke of
King Edward VI of
Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of
"The habit of King Edward VI worn
in England in 1550":  A fine
engraving from
A Collection of the
Dresses of Different Nations, Antient
and Modern . . .
 by Thomas Jeffries
(London:  1757), courtesy of Carole
King Henry VIII 1509-1547
Edward VI by Hans Holbein
Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset
Thomas Cromwell