28. Edward VI, A.D. 1547—1553
The little son of Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour of course reigned after him as Edward VI. He was a quiet, gentle boy exceedingly fond of learning and study, and there were great expectations of him; but, as he was only nine years old, the affairs of state were managed by his council.
The chief of the council were his two uncles—his mother's brothers, Edward and Thomas Seymour, the elder of whom had been made Duke of Somerset—together with Archbishop Cranmer; but it was not long before the duke quarreled with his brother Thomas, put him into the Tower, and cut off his head, so that it seemed as if the days of Henry VIII. were not yet over.
The Duke of Somerset and Archbishop Cranmer wanted to make many more changes in the Church of England than Henry VIII. had ever allowed. They had all the Prayer-book Services translated into English, leaving out such parts as they did not approve; The Lessons were read from the English Bible, and people were greatly delighted at being able to worship and to listen to God's Word in their own tongue. The first day on which the English Prayer-book was used was the Whitsunday of 1548. The Bibles were chained to the desks as being so precious and valuable; and crowds would stand, or sit, and listen for hours together to any one who would read to them, without caring if he were a clergyman or not; and men who tried to explain, without being properly taught, often made great mistakes.
Indeed, in Germany and France a great deal of the same kind had been going on for some time past, though not with any sort of leave from the kings or bishops, as there was in England, and thus the reformers there broke quite off from the Church, and fancied they could do without bishops. This great break was called the Reformation, because it professed to set matters of religion to rights; and in Germany the reformers called themselves Protestants, because they protested some of the teachings of the Church of Rome.
Cranmer had at one time been in Germany, and had made friends with some of these German and Swiss Protestants, and he invited them to England to consult and help him and his friends. Several of them came, and they found fault with our old English Prayer-book—though it had never been the same as the Roman one—and it was altered again to please them and their friends, and brought out as King Edward's second book. Indeed, they tried to persuade the English to be like themselves—with very few services, no ornaments in the churches, and no bishops; and things seemed to be tending more and more to what they desired, for the king was too young not to do what his tutors and governors wished, and his uncle and Cranmer were all on their side.
However, there was another great nobleman, the Duke of Northumberland, who wanted to be as powerful as the Duke of Somerset. He was the son of Dudley, the wicked judge under Henry VII., who had made himself so rich, and he managed to take advantage of the people being discontented with Somerset to get the king into his own hands, accuse Somerset of treason, send him to the Tower, and cut off his head.
The king at this time was sixteen. He had never been strong, and he had learnt and worked much more than was good for him. He wrote a journal, and though he never says he grieved for his uncles, most likely he did, for he had few near him who really loved or cared for him, and he was fast falling into decline, so that it became quite plain that he was not likely ever to be a grown-up king. There was a great difficulty as to who was to reign after him. The natural person would have been his eldest sister, Mary, but King Henry had forbidden her and Elizabeth to be spoken of as princesses or heiresses of the crown; and, besides, Mary held so firmly to the Church, as she had learnt to believe in it in her youth, that the reformers knew she would undo all their work.
There was a little Scottish girl, also named Mary—the grand-daughter of Margaret, eldest daughter of Henry VII. Poor child, she had been a queen from babyhood, for her father had died of grief when she was but a week old; and there had been some notion of marrying her to King Edward, and so ending the wars, but the Scots did not like this, and sent her away to be married to the Dauphin, Francois, eldest son of the king of France. If Edward's sisters were not to reign, she came next; but the English would not have borne to be joined on to the French; and there were the grand-daughters of Mary, that other sister of Henry VIII., who were thorough Englishwomen. Lady Jane Grey, the eldest of them, was a good, sweet, pious, and diligent girl of fifteen, wonderfully learned. But it was not for that reason, only for the sake of the royal blood, that the Duke of Northumberland asked her in marriage for his son, Guildford Dudley. When they were married, the duke and Cranmer began to persuade the poor, sick, young king that it was his duty to leave his crown away from his sister Mary to Lady Jane, who would go on with the Reformation, while Mary would try to overthrow it. In truth, young Edward had not right to will away the crown; but he was only sixteen, and could only trust to what the archbishop and his council told him. So he signed the parchment they brought him, and after that he quickly grew worse.
The people grew afraid that Northumberland was shutting him up and misusing him, and once he came to the window of his palace and looked out at them, to show he was alive; but he died only a fortnight later, and we cannot guess what he would have been when he was grown up.