Edward VI.—The Story of a Boy King
H ENRY VIII. had three children. They were called Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward.
Edward was the son of Lady Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife, and was the youngest of the three. But for several reasons he was made King.
Edward was only nine years old and his uncle, Lord Somerset, was made Regent or Protector. Lord Somerset was not a strong man and did not rule well. He wished to be powerful and tried to make himself King in all but name. His brother, Thomas Seymour, also wanted to rule, so there were plots and quarrels between them and between the other great nobles.
Although Henry VIII. had quarrelled with the Pope he never became a Protestant, nor did he wish the religion of the country to be changed. But Lady Jane Seymour had been a Protestant and so was her brother who was now Protector. Edward VI. had been brought up in the new religion and although he had very little power, he wanted the country to become Protestant.
But this was not the wish of the whole people. Many of them did not like the new English service which the King ordered to be used in the churches. It was like a Christmas game, they said, and they asked for the old Latin service called the Mass to which they were accustomed.
When Henry VIII. shut up the monasteries he brought great distress on the poor in many ways. He gave some of the monastery land to his friends, and these gentlemen, growing greedy, began now to add to their possessions by enclosing with fences the common lands, which before had been free to every one. The poor had been allowed to feed their cows and sheep on these common lands but now that they were enclosed by fences, the sheep and cows died from hunger, and the poor people were worse off than ever.
Those who had been turned out of the monasteries were all Roman Catholics. They were now homeless and went among the people telling them that all their sorrows were because of the change of religion. At last the people rose in rebellion, many of them hardly knowing why, but only feeling that they were very unhappy. But the rebellion was soon crushed and the ringleaders put to death.
It is told how the Provost Marshal wrote to one man, the Mayor of Bodmin, who was known to have been one of the leaders, saying that he was coming to dinner. The mayor was very glad, thinking that he was not to be punished for his share in the riots. He made ready a splendid dinner and received the provost and his friends with great politeness.
"Mr. Mayor," said the provost, "I have to hang a man in the town after dinner. Will you have a gallows set up?"
The mayor gave the order to the hangman and then they sat down to dinner. They were all very gay and merry and, when the meal was over, the provost took the mayor by the arm, saying cheerfully, "Come now, let me see these gallows."
The mayor led him to where they were set up.
"Do you think they are strong enough?" said the provost.
"Oh yes," replied the mayor, "I can assure your lordship they are quite strong enough."
"Very well," said the provost, "you shall go up and try, for you are the man that is to be hanged."
"You do not mean that, my lord, you are joking," said the mayor.
"Nay, but I do mean it," said the provost. "Up you get, you have been a busy rebel and now here is your reward."
And in spite of all he could say the poor mayor was hanged upon his own gallows.
But the people rose again and again. One of the chief rebellions was under a man called Ket. He was a tanner. A great many people gathered round him, and they camped near Norwich on a plain, in the centre of which stood a great oak tree. This tree they called the Oak of Reformation, and under its branches Ket held his Parliament and Court, deciding quarrels, making laws, and punishing wrong-doers.
Ket encouraged his followers to pull up the hedges, throw down the fences, and fill up the ditches with which the common lands had been surrounded. Otherwise they behaved in a wonderfully orderly manner. They did indeed steal sheep and cattle from the rich gentlemen round so that they might have plenty to eat in the camp. But Ket ordered his men not to hurt any honest or poor people. He called himself the King's friend, and said he fought only against the wicked lords who gave him bad advice.
For some time the Protector did nothing and Ket's army grew larger and larger. Lord Somerset was sorry for the people. He knew that they were very poor, and felt that they were badly treated. Yet he knew, too, that he ought to do something to put down the rebellion.
At last a royal herald came. Dressed in his coat embroidered with the arms of England, he stood under the Oak of Reformation and blew his trumpet, and, while the people gathered round to listen, he cried, "All ye good subjects of King Edward VI. by the grace of God, Defender of the Faith, King of England, attend." Then he told them that he had been sent to say that King Edward would pardon them all, if they would go quietly back to their homes.
Many of them would have done this but Ket said, "No. Pardon is for rebels. We are no rebels. We are the true subjects of the King and only wish to prevent him from being evilly advised." So he would not go home.
The Protector had gathered an army, intending to make war on Scotland, and this army he now sent against Ket and his men. There was a good deal of fighting. Many people on both sides were killed, the town of Norwich was taken and retaken, but in the end Ket was defeated. He and his brother were made prisoners with many of their followers. They were put to death, and nine of the chief rebels were hanged upon the branches of the Oak of Reformation.
As time went on, the quarrelling among the nobles grew worse. The office of Protector was first taken from Somerset, and he was then beheaded. Many of the common people were sorry for this, because they believed that Somerset had really been their friend, and they loved him although the nobles hated him.
Lord Somerset was succeeded by the Duke of Northumberland. The Duke of Northumberland was also a Protestant, and he was quite as fond of power as Somerset had been, and began to make plans to get the crown of England into his hands.
Edward had never been strong, and Northumberland knew that he was not likely to live long. The next heir to the throne was Mary, Edward's elder sister. She was the daughter of Katherine of Arragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. Princess Mary was a Roman Catholic. She hated the Protestant religion as much as Edward loved it. It made Edward sad to think that, when he was dead, Mary would undo all that he had done and that England would again become Roman Catholic.
Northumberland knew this, and he persuaded Edward to make a will leaving the throne to his cousin, Lady Jane Grey. Of course Edward had no right to do this, but he did do it.
Lady Jane Grey was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII., and she was married to the Duke of Northumberland's son. She was very young, being only about sixteen, and the duke thought that if she were Queen, he would be able to do just as he liked. He tried to keep his plan secret, for he knew that many of the people wished Mary to be Queen. He succeeded so well that even Lady Jane herself did not know what he intended to do.
In 1553 A.D., soon after Edward had made his will, leaving the crown to his cousin, he died. He was a good and gentle boy, fond of books and learning. During his short reign many schools were founded. They still exist and are called King Edward Schools.
Edward was very anxious to do what was right, but like his father Henry VIII., he was also fond of his own way. Had he lived to be old enough really to reign, he might have proved to be a good King. But it is hard to tell, for while he lived he had little real power.