boys clothing: British royalty -- Edward VI

Edward VI (1547-1553)

Figure 1.--This modern work is probably Edward VI. I think it may have been based on a contemporary portrait, but do not have details at this time. Click on the image for an enlargement of the collar styles and neck adornents.

Edward the boy king was perhaps more responsible than any one for making England a Protestant country. Edward VI was the only surviving son of Henry VIII. His mother was Jane Seymour. Edward was born in 1537. He ascended the throne on the death of his larger than life father when he was only 9 years old. He was betrothed to his cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, but deteriorating relations with Scotland prevented their marriage. The frail, Protestant boy died of consumption at age 16 having never married. His efforts to prevent the accession of his Catholic half sister, Mary Tudor failed disasterously for his friend Lady Jane Grey. Edward was a rather intellectual and very pious boy. He was badly served by the powerful Council of Regency which ruled in his name. His frail health led to an early death. If nothing else, Edward's reign gave England 7 more years of protestantism. But profound changes ocuured in the English church which moved England down the path to be a Protestant country. If Mary has succed her father in 1547, she would have had a much better chance of turning England back to Catholocism. Edward's reign made this an increasingly difficult proposition.



Edward VI was the only son of Henry VIII. Henry was of course famous for his six wives and even more for his penchant for disposing them. His first wife Catherine of Aragon produced a daughter, Mary, but not a son. Henry was adament about having a son. The attractive courtesan, Anne Boylen, also appealed to him. Henry decided to divorce Catherine and in the process, broke away from the Catholic Church and created the Church of England. (The Pope, who had to saction any divorce, was controlled by the King of Spain, Catherine's brother. Edward's mother was Jane Seymour, his father's third wife.) While King Henry only divorced Mary's mother, he had Elizabeth's mother beheaded. Edward's mother having produced a would have been safer. Unfortunately she died in 1537, 2 weeks after giving birth to him.


Edward was his father's only son. Edward did have, however, two older sisters. The oldest was the Princess Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon. The other was Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boylen. Both would succeed their brother as queens of England.


Our information is still limited about Edward's boyhood. Edward was born in 1537. As his mother died only 2 weeks after his birth, his early care became the responsibility of his step-mother, Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth and surviving queen. Edward was precocious beyond his years and extremely pious. He became close to both Mary and Elizabeth. Mary in particular was much older. Edward as a boy played sports and developing athletic and hunting skills were consdered part of his learning to be a king and succeded his father. Edward suceeded his father why still a boy of about 10 years in 1547.

Boyhood Clothing

As portrait of Edward by an unknown artist represents Edward at about the age of 12 years. In the portrait young King Edward is dressed in a child's scaled-down version of adult male aristocratic costume of the mid-16th century. He wears an embroidered white doublet with belt, white trunk hose, and long white silk stockings and shoes with open-work that resemble sandals in some respects. Over the doublet he wears a rich surcoat of scarlet velvet with borders of elaborately worked gold thread and edged with ermine. He carries a ceremonial dagger and wears a gold collar of office around his neck. His cap is a sort of embroidered tam decorated with a white feather. The stance of the boy is conventional. Holbein painted his father Henry VIII in the same defiant attitude. Such portraits are called "swagger portraits".


We all know how important education is to an individual. The education of Prince Edward was critical to the nation. Arguably no other person's education was more critical to the future of the British nation. Prince Edward's education was entrusted to the greatest scholars of the land, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Edward was schooled in Latin and Greek as well as the Reformation theology of the time. Edward did not attend school, but he did a lot of school work under the watchful eyes of carefully selected tutors. He noted that his lessons included "... learning of tounges (foreign languages), od Scriptures, of philosophy, and the liberal sciences." He studied both Latin and Greek and as part of his studies he translated books from Greek to Latin. Curiously King Henry does not appear to have taken a great interest in Edward's religious instruction. Many historians suggest that theological issues were of concern to Henry. The King's lack of concern with Prince Edward's religiouous education suggest that Henry's interest in theology was only to the extent that it affected him personally and not the nation. Edward became a fervent protestant in a way his farther never was. Henry's objection was with the power of the pope and access to the wealth of the monestaries, not with the theology of the Catholic chufrch. While Henry VIII broke with the Pope and disolved the monestaries, but relgious ritual was still essentially Catholic until Edward became King.


Edward was a rather intellectual and very pious boy. Some have criticized him for allowing the execution of two uncles. Others report that he was unkind to his older sister Mary because she wa Catholic.


Henry VIII died in 1547. Edward ascended the throne on the death of his larger than life father when he was only 9 years old. While his sisters were older, the malw heir have priority in terms of succession. The young king was crowned in Westminster Abbey on February 20, 1547.


Edward was betrothed to his cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, but deteriorating relations with Scotland prevented their marriage.


Edward was badly served by the powerful Council of Regency which ruled in he upper hand. The Council offered Edward Seymour the Protectorship of the realm and the Dukedom Somerset. Edward's maternal uncle, Lord Hertford, became Protector of the Realm and was created Duke of Somerset. Seymour truely cared for both the boy and England as well, but used the Protectorship, as well as Edward's own religious radicalism, to further Protestant interests. The somewhat rabid Protestant, John Knox (a Calvinist) became one of his chaplains along with Latimer and Ridley, who were later burned at the stake for heresy after Edward's Catholic half sister Mary had succeeded him on the throne. Edward was forced to agree to the execution of his favorite uncle, Thomas Seymour, Catherine Parr's widower, who had been convicted of high treason. This embittered Edward against his other uncle, the Protector Somerset, whose later fall and execution Edward regarded with indifference. After Somerset's death, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, became Protector and was created Duke of Northumberland.

Religious Developments under Edward

The Book of Common Prayer, the eloquent work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was instituted in 1549 as a handbook to the new style of protestant worship in England. Cranmer avoided controversial issues in an effort to pacify Catholics. Treason and heresy laws insituted by Henry VIII were repealed by Edward. This made England a haven for all manner of Protestant heretics on the Continent. In turn they helped spread a more radical protesant faith in England and the foundation of Potestant sects other than the Church of England. Catholics were pleased with Edward's milder version of Protestantism, but radical Protestants demanded more radical reforms. It should be remembered that today the Church of England or Anglican Church in America is the protestant church closest to the Catholic Church. Growing protestant militancy caused increasing fractional discord. Edward Seymour's brother, Thomas, was made Lord Admiral. Thomas was an important influence on Edward's sister, Princess Elizabeth. Edward Seymoir was eventually overthrown by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who then became Edward VI's chief advisor.

Support of Education

Edward's love of learning moved him to found numerous grammar schools which bore his name. The famous "Bluecoat Boys" still wear the uniform of a school Edward founded in London.


Edward's frail health led to an early death. He may have had congenital syphilis, possibly an inheritance from his father. Some historians think that he contracted both measles and smallpox, but these diagnoses are in doubt. The frail Protestant boy king died of consumption (tuberculosus) at age 16 having never married. He died at Greenwich Palace on July 6, 1553 after much suffering. He is buried in Westminster Abbey near the tomb of his grandfather, Henry VII.


English Protestants were pleased with Edward's reign, but feared what might happen if he died. They knew that Princess Mary, Henry's eldest daughter and heir after Edward, would attempt to return England to Roman Catholicism. Several of the nobles plotted to bring another succesor to the throne in her place. Some rallied behind the other heir of Henry VIII: Elizabeth. Elizabeth did not publically back these efforts, but even so nearly lost her life because of them. Others looked to the descendants of Henry VIII's sister Mary. The eldest of these descendants was the Lady Jane Grey. Edward VI backed their efforts and attempted to change the succesion. His efforts to prevent the accession of his Catholic half sister Mary failed disasterously for his friend Lady Jane Grey.


Although a boy king, Edward's short rule was very significant. If nothing else, Edward's reign gave England 7 more years of Protestantism after the death of his larger than life father. If his Catholic sister Mary had become queen in 1547 she would have had a much better chance of returning England to Catholocism. She might have also veen able to have married earlier and have a child an heir--a Catholic heir. (Mary's marriage required approval of the king and neither her father or brother's Protestant regents would give permission.) Major changes were made in the English Church during Edward's reign. Itwas at this time that major changes were mad in church ritual, especialy the demorcratization of the mass. It was at this time that England truly becan to become Protestant. If Mary has succeeded her father in 1547, she would have had a much better chance of bearing a Catholic heir and turning England back to Catholocism. During Edward's reign he commissioned a new prayer book and stripped many Catholic churches of their statutes and works of art. He also founded many elementary schools. Many of these schools, now mostly private institutions, still operate in England. It was in Edward's reign that Archbishop Cranmer put together the enormously influential Book of Common Prayer, like the King James Bible, one of the glories of English prose style. Its Anglican liturgy was a translation into English of the Roman Catholic Mass with other ceremonies and rites but altered to reflect Protestant (mainly Lutheran and Calvinist) theological ideas.


A HBC reader has found a portrait that could well be Edward VI. The artist, however, is unknown and we have no confirmation that this in fact Edward. We do note that there is considerable similarity between the collar Edward wears in figure 2 here, suggesting that the clothing is indeed 16th centuries styles.

The Prince and the Pauper

Any page on Edward VI would be incomplete without at least mentioning that he was the subject of popular Mark Twain book, the Prince and the Pauper. It was of course entirely fictional. There is no indication that any such event actually happened. This of course did not stop Twain nor does it stop modern film makers from rewriting history. Twain's book has been made into several Hollywood films and TV productions. The pre-World War II Hollywood movie was made before the days of video trickery. Rather than achieving two lookalikes with one actor, the producers cast the ready-made twin brothers in the two roles of prince and pauper--the Mauch brothers. The 2000? BBC TV version uses only one brother. producers


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Created: March 4, 2002
Last updated: 9:12 PM 1/26/2005