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Edward VI

Edward VI, 1537–53, king of England (1547–53), son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Edward succeeded his father to the throne at the age of nine. Henry had made arrangements for a council of regents, but the council immediately appointed Edward's uncle, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford (later duke of Somerset), as lord protector. Henry's absolutism was relaxed by a liberalization of the treason and heresy laws. Tempering the reforming zeal of Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, the government moved slowly toward Protestantism. The Act of Uniformity (1549), which required use of the first Book of Common Prayer, increased contention between Roman Catholics and reformers, and an unsuccessful rebellion occurred in the west. The dissolution of chantries and the destruction of relics, both begun under Henry, proceeded apace. Somerset won a victory over the Scots at Pinkie (1547) but failed to persuade them to agree to a marriage between Edward and Mary Queen of Scots. The Scots instead strengthened their alliance with France, the power that increasingly threatened England's safety. War between France and England broke out in 1549 over the possession of Boulogne. Meanwhile there had arisen at home the pressing agrarian problem of inclosure of common lands. By espousing the cause of the disgruntled peasantry, even after the rebellion of Robert Kett, Somerset aroused the opposition of the gentry and the council, thus affording his rival, John Dudley, earl of Warwick (later duke of Northumberland), an opportunity to secure his overthrow (1549). Dudley, after confining Somerset in the Tower of London, won complete ascendancy over Edward. With the prorogation (1550) of Parliament and the expulsion of Catholics from the council, the reformers triumphed, and Dudley gained control of the government. He secured peace with France by an ignominious treaty. The confiscation of chantry lands and church treasures brought needed revenue. A second Act of Uniformity and a second Book of Common Prayer, both more strongly Protestant, were adopted. After Somerset's execution (1552), Northumberland's government became increasingly unpopular. Fearing the accession of the Catholic princess, Mary (later Mary I), the duke inveigled Edward into settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister and wife of Northumberland's son, to follow him in succession. The young king died of tuberculosis at age 15.

See A. F. Pollard, England under Protector Somerset (1900) and Political History of England, 1547–1603 (1910); H. W. Chapman, The Last Tudor King (1958); J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, 1485–1558 (1952, 2d ed. 1959); studies by W. K. Jordan (1968 and 1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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