The Boy King

King Edward VI

by Jessica Brain

One of the most famous Kings of England, perhaps one that epitomises the Tudor period the most, was Henry VIII. His reign was dominated by the Reformation which shared the spotlight with his tumultuous and well-documented private life.

His son and heir, young Edward, son of Jane Seymour looked set to be inheriting a disjointed and divided legacy from his father. King Henry VIII knew that before his death he needed to unite the different factions that were jostling for power, so that Edward’s inheritance would not be the continued infighting and factionalism that had dominated his reign.

King Henry VIII

Unfortunately, his pleas for unity were too late and on 28th January 1547 he passed away.

With Henry VIII’s infamous reign now over, Edward at the age of nine was now the new king.

Whilst Henry VIII was laid to rest at Windsor alongside Edward’s long since deceased mother, Jane Seymour, four days later Edward became Edward VI in a coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

The Archbishop Thomas Cranmer presided over the ceremony declaring Edward the leader of the Church of England, destined to continue the difficult and complex process of the Reformation.

With Edward now formally king however, his youth would mean that power would reside in a council that would, until he came of age, make the decisions.

Edward VI

Only a few months earlier, whilst Henry VIII was on his deathbed, a new will and testament had been produced, however such a document resulted in controversy and speculation as Henry’s signature was the work of a scribe rather than his own.

In this context the will would be easy to contest and remain under scrutiny as the men gathering around Henry saw fit to control the new young monarch Edward.

One of the principal characters who would rise to the occasion was Edward’s own uncle, Edward Seymour, the self-styled Duke of Somerset who would also serve as the Lord Protector until Edward was older.

Such an arrangement however, had not been agreed by Henry, who believed that a Protector held too much power and instead arranged for a “Council of Regency” to be appointed. Nevertheless, only days after Henry’s death, Edward Seymour was able to seize power, with thirteen out of the sixteen executors agreeing to his role as Protector for Edward VI.

Edward Seymour’s power grab was successful, his popularity and previous military successes held him in good stead and by March 1547, he had obtained letters patent from Edward VI giving him the right to appoint members to the Privy Council, a monarchical right which essentially gave him power.

With the power behind the throne held by Edward Seymour, what could be said of the figurehead, nine year old Edward?

Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (posthumous) and Edward

Born on 12th October 1537, he was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII, born to his third wife, Jane Seymour who sadly died only a few days after his birth.

Without his mother, he was placed in the care of Lady Margaret Bryan, whilst Henry doted on and invested in securing the future of his son and heir.

Edward was given comfort, a good education and luxury, trained in typical medieval kingship skills such as riding and fencing. He was also given a well-rounded education, learning both Latin and Greek by the age of five.

In terms of his personal relationships, Edward had become close to Henry VIII’s wife Catherine Parr and was influenced by her Protestant ideals. Meanwhile, he had grown close to his sisters, both Elizabeth and Mary, although Mary’s Catholicism would bring distance to their relationship later.

King Henry VIII, his children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and his jester Will Somers

The religious divide between Catholicism and Protestantism would permeate Edward’s short six year reign as despite his father’s break from Rome residual elements of Catholic worship still existed whilst the new Protestant doctrine was introduced.

Nevertheless, Edward was a devout Protestant and embraced it wholeheartedly.

Aside from the Reformation, Edward found his reign marred by continued conflict with both Scotland and France as well as economic issues.

Under the Lord Protector, the war which had pervaded Henry VIII’s reign would look set to continue, with the principal aim of implementing the Treaty of Greenwich which had been signed in 1543 with two main goals, establishing peace between Scotland and England as well as securing the marriage of Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.

At the Battle of Pinkie in September 1547, held on the banks of the River Esk, the English forces would secure a blinding victory against the Scottish. It would be the last pitched battle between the two before the Union and became well-known thanks to an eyewitness account that was published.

Edward Seymour, Lord Protector

The defeat for the Scots became known as “Black Saturday” and resulted in the young Queen Mary being smuggled out of the country. She would be betrothed to the Dauphin of France. Edward Seymour saw fit to occupy large parts of Scotland.

His choices however would prove to be detrimental to the cause, as such an occupation weighed heavily on the Treasury finances. Moreover, such a victory ultimately drove the Scottish closer to England’s other enemy, France, and the next summer the French king, in support of Scotland sent around 6,000 troops and declared war on England.

Seymour’s foreign policy was close to collapsing, bringing unity and a sense of purpose to England’s enemies as well as draining the Treasury.

Meanwhile, another central goal during Edward VI’s time as monarch was the establishment and implementation of the Protestant church. This was pursued with a rigour and voracity by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.

Cranmer’s Protestant ambitions were really beginning to take shape and by July 1547, established forms of Catholic worship were banned.

The enforced iconoclasm of the period resulted in a sweeping prohibition of typical Catholic idolatry such as bell ringing, stained glass windows, painting and decoration. Under the Act of Uniformity, these measures were legally enforceable and marked a swift and decisive move towards Protestantism.

Thomas Cranmer

Whilst England remained in a state of religious transition, social unrest began to breed, particularly with the publication of Cranmer’s ‘Book of Common Prayer’ which resulted in an uprising in the West Country. The Catholic defence even led to the city of Exeter being besieged whilst across the country in East Anglia, more social drama was unfolding in the form of land enclosures.

This was the beginning of the end for Edward Seymour, with peasants rising up in defiance of their landowners, resulting in the Kett’s Rebellion of 1549, whereby a group of rebels amounting to almost 20,000 stormed the city of Norwich.

Later that year, Somerset was visibly losing support from the council. Religious controversy, economic weakness and social discontent would ultimately bring an end to Edward Seymour’s autocratic governance.

In October 1549 a coup was initiated by John Dudley, the 2nd Earl of Warwick which resulted in the successful expulsion of Seymour from office.

With Seymour out of the way, Dudley now declared himself the Lord President of the Council and by the beginning of 1550 was the new man in central authority. Dudley, with a new title of the Duke of Northumberland dealt with the grievances spilling over from Seymour’s time, dealing with the conflicts with Scotland and France.

Edward VI

Meanwhile, what could be said of young King Edward VI?

By this point he was now fourteen years of age and showing clear signs of rapidly declining health. With no heirs and no prospect of him being able to produce heirs, his successor was destined to be his sister Mary.

There of course was only one slight problem with such a prospect: she was a devout Catholic.

Suddenly, a chaotic scene presented itself at the prospect of newly reformed England having all of its policies reversed by a Catholic Queen.

Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland realised that simply disinheriting her on the grounds of illegitimacy would also result in Elizabeth facing the same fate although she was Protestant.

Instead Dudley made alternative arrangements in the form of Lady Jane Grey, the 15-year-old granddaughter of Henry VII’s daughter Mary. In a move of ever-increasing political ambition, he made sure to arrange an advantageous marriage for his son, Guildford Dudley who was to be married to Lady Jane, the future queen.

Lady Jane Grey

Edward VI was thus consulted on this new plan which he agreed to, naming Lady Jane Grey as his successor in a document called “My devise for the Succession”.

After some initial controversy, the document was signed by several members and passed on to parliament.

Edward in the meantime was deteriorating rapidly, summoning his sister Mary before he died. Nevertheless, Mary, sensing that this was a trap, chose to travel to her estates in East Anglia.

On 6th July 1553, at the age of fifteen King Edward VI died, leaving Lady Jane as his successor, a fate that would see her reign last for just nine days.

Edward VI, the boy king, a monarch with a famous and imposing father, was never able to attain real power as king. His reign was dominated by others, symptomatic of the power-plays and infighting dominating the court. Edward VI was a figurehead, nothing more, in a time of great change.

Published courtesy of Historic UK. Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

Sir Francis Bryan

Image courtesy of The Tudors

Sir Francis Bryan (or Bryant), an English poet and warrior, was born of a genteel family, educated at Oxford, and afterwards spent some time in travelling abroad.

Thus begins the entry for Sir Francis Bryan, a lifelong friend and companion to King Henry VIII, in General Biographical Dictionary, by Alexander Chalmers, 1812–1817.

Why is there a cloak of mystery around one of the most visual companions to King Henry VIII?

“No portrait survives so we know nothing of his appearance. Bryan was a typical Renaissance courtier, a poet and man of letters who was also to distinguish himself as a soldier, sailor and diplomat. His irresistible charm disguised an incorrigible intriguer who was two-faced, manipulative and promiscuous; once, on a trip to Calais, he demanded “a soft bed then a hard harlot”. He was full of pent-up energy; highly articulate and viciously witty. Observers were astonished at the familiarity he used towards the King, both in speaking his mind and telling jokes. Bryan was no creature of principle; by altering his loyalties and opinions to conform to the King’s changes of policy, he managed to remain in favour throughout the reign”

We have an equal supply of myths and documented information.

He was the son of Sir Thomas Bryan and Margaret Bourchier. Through his mother, he was a descendant of King Edward III, therefore giving him a royal Plantagenet pedigree.

We know he lost an eye in a joust. From that day he wore an eye patch. Did you know it is rumored that Alexander Dumas based the villain in The Three Musketeers on Sir Francis Bryan?

Sir Francis was a legendary carouser; known as one of the King’s minions. His behavior led Cardinal Wolsey to banish him from the Privy chamber. King Henry and Queen Anne saw to it that he was received back by 1528.

Oxford Historian, Susan Bridgen, writes of how he bedded a courtesan at the papal court to gain intelligence for King Henry VIII during the Great Matter of his divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon.

His nickname, “the Vicar of Hell”, was given to him by Thomas Cromwell, due to the vindictiveness he displayed during the downfall of his own relative, Queen Anne Boleyn.

Sir Francis was a relative of both Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Jane Seymour. As commanded by King Henry, he delivered a message to Jane Seymour when Queen Anne was sentenced, and he told Jane once the execution was completed.

A celebrated poet during his lifetime, the only documented copy which has survived until today is “The proverbes of Salmon do playnly declare” found in “The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature: 1485-1603”.

He was questioned but not arrested during the Boleyn investigations.

It is rumored that the last words of King Henry VIII were, “Bryan all is lost.” This is based on family stories and I cannot find it documented.

At the time of his death, he was Lord Chief Justice of Ireland due to his marriage to Lady Joan Fitzgerald, widow of James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormond. Their son, Francis Bryan II, served Queen Elizabeth I.

This is where the American legacy enters the picture. According to various family histories and the Register of Kentucky State Historical Society (4), the grandson of Sir Francis Bryan, William Smith Bryan, attempted to gain the throne of Ireland. Due to this, Oliver Cromwell deported him in 1650 as a troublesome subject. “He landed at Gloucester Beach, Virginia, and his twenty-one sons and grandsons settled Gloucester County.” An article in “The Thoroughbred Record” credits him with being among the first to bring thoroughbred horses to America.

It gets really interesting when the son of William Smith Bryan returned to Ireland in an attempt to regain the family estates. Long story short, it didn’t work. His two sons, William and Morgan, returned to Virginia.

This is where we will leave the details of this family story for another day. It should be noted that the daughter of Morgan Bryan, Rebecca, married an American frontiersman. That frontiersman is none other than the legendary, Daniel Boone.

So, we see how information may be lacking for the works and details of the life of Sir Francis Bryan. Would we be safe to assert that he had an eye for opportunity? (Pun intended.) He was known for his ability to survive, at a time when others could not be as adaptable. Now we see how his legacy lived on in the New World and played a part in shaping the character of a new country.

SOURCES:

Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia, 1598.

Henry VIII: The King and His Court, Ballantine Books, 2001.

J. le Grand, Histoire du Divorce de Henri VIII, 1688.

Michael Drayton, Heroicall Epistle of the Earl of Surrey to the Lady Geraldine, 1629.

Sidney L. Lee. “Sir Francis Bryan”. Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. VII. Leslie Stephen, ed. New York: Macmillan and Co., 1886. 150-52.

The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature: 1485-1603.

1812 Chalmers’ Biography / B / Sir Francis Bryan (?–1550) [vol. 7, p. 203]

Alison Weir, Henry VIII and his Court, 2001.

Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 40, No. 132, pp. 318-322. C1974 KY State Historical Society, Frankfort, KY.

*Portions originally published via Tudor Times

The First Rockstar?

Who knows?

With the 2015 U.S. release of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Americans were re-introduced to the lure of England’s King Henry VIII. Many of us have shared a passion for this era in history for a while, yet others learned of the intrigue and drama of this era for the first time. In Wolf Hall, Mantel paints a literary portrait of a very human Thomas Cromwell, a man who has been viewed by centuries of historians and authors as the henchman of King Henry. Cromwell was a common man who rose to prominence based on his own merits, unlike most of the courtiers at the Henrician Court whose power was a consequence of birth.

Seeing Cromwell from a more humanist point of view made me curious about what history hides from us and what is revealed. I am impressed by blogs which tout Cromwell as being very American in his ambitions. We look at a pivotal piece of the Tudor puzzle, Queen Anne Boleyn, and know so little about her. Today, she is loved by many because of what has survived over the centuries. Her legacy of independence and her fiery nature invoke a camaraderie of spirit in a segment of contemporary females. But what of other members of the court? What do we really know about a few who were favourites of the King? If Cromwell is viewed across the centuries by our standards, how will we view others?

History tells us stories of Sir Francis Bryan, the ‘Vicar of Hell,’ as he was nicknamed by Cromwell, due to Bryan’s machinations in the downfall of Queen Anne Boleyn. Bryan played a role in the rise of Queen Jane Seymour – both of these women were his relatives. Stories of his loyalty to King Henry survive. Maintaining a friendship with this volatile ruler was no small feat in an era when many lost their lives due to his whims. Tales of Bryan’s life as a libertine and seducer of women still prevail.

Yet, this is the man King Henry VIII trusted to tell Katherine of Aragon that she was summoned to divorce court. He was sent to let Lady Jane Seymour know of the conviction of Queen Anne Boleyn and to tell her of the execution. Sir Francis Bryan was the man dispatched to bring Anne of Cleves to court. Would you send a known libertine and womanizer to attend your wives and girlfriends?

We will address this matter on another day.

During research, I found this notation to be amusing. J. le Grand, in his Histoire du Divorce de Henri VIII, 1688, writes of Sir Francis Bryan: “Neveu de Norfolc, et cousin germain d’Anne Boulen. On crût qu’avec cet apuy, il ne manqueroit pas de s’élever, et on le considera pendant quelque tems comme un favory naissant, mais il ne put se soutenir. Il aimoit boire et etoit fort sujet a mentir.”

This translates loosely as: “Nephew of Norfolk, first cousin of Anne Boleyn. One would think that with this background, he could not fail to advance, and for a time, he was considered the emerging favourite, but he could not support his position. He loved drinking and had a talent for mistruth.”

(And, to think Sir Francis favoured the French over the Spanish during his day. Little thanks he received, right?)

What I have found most intriguing about this man is his poetry. During the Tudor Era, he was known as a great poet and translator. Like many English Renaissance courtiers, he immersed himself in literary studies. According to scholars, he may be ‘Brian’ whom Erasmus mentions in his writings. He was a close friend of the poets Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Like them, he wrote poetry and was held in high regard for his literary achievements during his lifetime and into the 1600s. There is little to be found of his work today. What we do know is that Wyatt dedicated a satire to Sir Francis Bryan on the complexities of life of a courtier, and notes Bryan’s literary acumen.

Francis Meres describes Sir Francis Bryan as ‘the most passionate among us to bewail and bemoan the complexities of love.’ ‘Us’ being the great English poets of the day. The Stewart era poet, Michael Drayton, wrote…

sacred Bryan

whom the Muses kept,

And in his cradle

rockt him while he slept

Drayton also names Bryan as “honouring Surrey ‘in sacred verses most divinely pen’d.’”

The only surviving poem of Sir Francis Bryan is “The proverbes of Salmon do playnly declare.” The proverbes, as the basis for Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Third Satire, has been a fascination for historians and literati during the 20th century and continues today. I’ve found myself ensnared in this search for any of Sir Francis Bryan’s works. How could someone so prolific and renowned during their lifetime disappear from history with only one existing work surviving to the modern day?

Contemporary musician Sir Mick Jagger is quoted as saying, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Modern historians and authors have labelled Bryan with statements such as “an irresistible charm disguised an incorrigible intriguer.”

By the standards of his time, Sir Francis Bryan was considered the ideal courtier and poet. He remained loyal to King Henry VIII until his untimely demise, at which time it is believed he was poisoned by his wife. By our standards, if Cromwell is to be judged as American due to his ability to seize opportunities, then possibly, Sir Francis Bryan is the first rock star.

February 2, 1550 Sir Francis Bryan, controversial courtier, diplomat and poet died in Clonmel in Ireland.

A Day at Hampton Court Palace

Today we had the honor of taking a private tour of Hampton Court Palace. My husband & I have been before but this was our first trip together. It’s been a magical day. Here are a few highlights.

Entry to the Tudor kitchens via the Grace & Favour apartments
Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, Tudor brickwork & ceiling
I’m so in love with this clock! ❤️
The color, symbolism & pageantry of Henry VIII
Ceiling medallions of the Tudor Rose & Royal insignias from the Henrican Court
Jane Seymour’s Phoenix Rising crest
Victorian reproductions of Tudor stained glass
The Tudor’s Great Hall & tapestries
Henry & Anne inscription
Commerative memorial to Anne Boleyn outside the Queen’s Quarters
The turret room in the Anne Boleyn quarters where she prayed for days knowing that Henry had grown tired of her.
Jane Seymour gave birth to Edward VI in the rooms on the top floor.
Selfie in the William & Mary wing of the palace.
The immortal Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I
Close-up of the Bacton Altar Cloth. The fabric appears to be similar, possibly the same, as the bodice of the dress worn in the Rainbow Portrait.
Henry VIII’s apartments

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