10 things you might not know about Edward VI

by Kyra Kramer

Chapter 6 : Inherited Traits

Fact 6: Edward was very similar to his grandfather, Henry VII, in personality and temperament

Henry VII has long been an underappreciated and underrated king, in my opinion. He’s been typecast as a heartless, cold-blooded, miser but that is not the truth revealed in historical records. He was indeed frugal and determined to restore the wealth and economy of England, but I hardly find that to be to his detriment. People disliked his tax system and sneered at his lack of pageantry, but the taxes were necessary to rebuild the nation and his lack of frivolity was a sign of his maturity rather than ill-humor. Moreover, all evidence indicates that Henry VII was sincerely devoted and in love with wife Elizabeth of York and deeply concerned about the upbringing of his children. He nearly lost his mind from grief when Prince Arthur died and his reputation for being dour is based on his profound unhappiness after the loss of his wife in childbirth.

Edward VI was much like his grandfather in his tendency to keep his emotions private and his spending reduced. As with Henry VII, these traits should not be seen as evidence that the king was unfeeling or stingy. I detail in my book how:

Edward’s reactions to the people and events surrounding his future marriage give us a nice summation of the king’s personality, which seems to have been reserved and cautious, while simultaneously caring and good-humoured once some level of intimacy was established.  

As an example of Edward’s reserve, the council told Northampton to make sure Henri II knew how much Edward appreciated the Order of Saint-Michel (and the upcoming marriage to Elizabeth), asking him to “explain to the French King the high gratification of their master, which was perhaps not so apparent to the Ambassador” (CSP Foreign, 16 June 1551). The council wanted to make ensure that Henri was told, "The King's Majesty's young nature being of such modesty that in his most gladness hath not much outward show thereof, and besides that his Majesty's French speech being not natural to him, cannot so abundantly express the joy of his heart as if he should have answered in his natural speech as the French King did in his” (CSP Foreign, 16 June 1551). Clearly, Edward was not one for broadcasting his excitement, and his council worried his lack of enthusiasm might offend the French king.

In contrast to the slight chill in Edward’s demeanour at the outset of the treaty, when the French ambassador was leaving Richmond the king spontaneously and affectionately gave him a diamond ring “for my memory”. He had obviously come to like the ambassador as an individual, and wanted him to have a token of the king’s friendship. We can see this as genuine, because the use of tokens to manipulate others’ emotions appears to have been foreign to the king. It was Warwick who thought to make sure Edward had a miniature portrait of his bride-to-be to hand, to show the ambassador, “an incident that might be reported in France as a token of the King’s gallantry”. It seems that Edward had to get to know someone in person to warm up to them, and that overt displays of emotion or the deliberate misdirection of feelings were not his forte.

Further proof that Edward did not wear his heart on his sleeve -- regardless of how deeply he felt about something on a personal level -- is found in his behaviour upon learning of the death of two of his closest friends, Henry and Charles Brandon. The sons of the 1st Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, Henry and Charles were the king’s first cousins. Inasmuch as the boys were close to him in age and considered fitting associates for the king since Edward’s infancy, they had grown up together. Edward appears to have sincerely loved them as both kinsmen and companions. Heartbreakingly, Charles and Henry died within hours of each other on 14 July 1551 … the same day the French ambassadors arrived on Edward’s doorstep with a marriage treaty and the Order of Saint-Michel.

Edward took the loss of his friends hard, but he couldn’t spend his time grieving. It was his duty as king to entertain and fete the French representatives. For the next three weeks, that’s what he did. He attended pageants with them, welcomed them at court, gave large feasts in their honour, gifted them with expensive presents, gambled with them, played music for them, went hunting and shooting with them, and even joked with them about the “miserable state of English food”.. He was the perfect host, and impressed the ambassadors so much that they described him as “an angel in human form”. To those who did not know him well, he appeared unperturbed and utterly charming.

When the French envoys left, Edward could finally take the time to mourn his loss. The king enclosed himself away at Hampton Court, “where he is surrounded by seven or eight gentlemen of his chamber only. He remains almost in hiding … The reason seems to be the shock and surprise he received at the news of the Duke of Suffolk's death; for the King loved him dearly” (CSP Spain, 5 August 1551). Edward, in spite of his terse statements in his journal regarding the deaths of his Seymour uncles, was far from cold-hearted or unloving. He was instead a stoic, and the veiling of his emotions should not be conflated with the absence of them.

Here was a grandson whom Henry VII could have been both sympathetic to and justifiably proud of.