Edward VI was the last Tudor King and the first true Protestant King of England. On the eve of his coronation, Edward made his procession from the Tower of London to Westminster. There were many pageants that greeted the boy-king as he rode horseback dressed in a jerkin of white velvet decorated with diamonds, rubies and pearls.
“His gown was a fine mesh of gold with a cape of sable, whilst the horse he rode upon was draped in crimson satin beaded with pearls.” (Skidmore)
The Imperial Ambassador Francois Van der Defelt was not impressed and when he met the king, he spoke to him in French to which his uncle, the Lord Protector and now Duke of Somerset, reproached him and told him he should speak in Latin instead because the king “understood better than French.” Defelt had no more good things to say about the King or the Archbishop of Canterbury who refused to speak to him because of his Catholic beliefs.
As for the pageantry itself, it was nothing short of glorious. Everything went according to plan. Protocol was followed. The Marquis of Dorset [Henry Grey, husband to Frances Brandon and father to Jane Grey] carried the sword of justice in his role as Constable of England and Edward was flanked by John Dudley and his uncle [Somerset]. Next came the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, the pensioners and the other guard.
Pageants greeted the young king. These were not rehearsed and many had to be improvised. Of these was one of children who each represented one of the four virtues: Grace, Fortune, Nature and Charity.
Another had a huge fountain topped with a “crown of imperial gold” garnished with pearls and other precious stones and sprayed jets of wine through pipes into the street. And there was one which had a stage where a scaffold had been erected. Beneath its roof was brilliant iconography with the sun, stars and clouds. On one of these clouds was none other than the image of a phoenix descending on to a mount, covered in red and white roses and hawthorn bushes.
Like with his first Tudor ancestors, Edward VI’s procession on the eve of his coronation served to leave its mark on history. The Tudors knew the importance of imagery and how powerful it was to manipulate or rewrite history. At the same time, it evoked the tales they themselves kept perpetuating of their legitimacy. For example the phoenix was his mother’s badge, standing on a golden tower with its wings spread up and nature flourishing as a result. Edward was making a powerful statement, and his uncle helped too perhaps, about his parents’ marriage as lawful and true. And also establishing his legitimacy. His sisters would do the same for their coronations [especially Elizabeth whose glorious pageantries marked the contrast between her future reign and her sister’s]; emphasizing on their legitimacy and lineage through their parents. The female consort played an important role here. Although she was not physically present, she could still be seen [and remembered] through her insignia. Secondly, the red and white roses were powerful symbols and reminders of the legitimacy of the Tudor line, or what they called their right to inherit the throne. It reminded everyone of the wars fought between brothers and cousins, that ended with the destruction of Houses Lancaster and York (represented by the red and white rose) and the ascension of the Tudors who brought about peace when their first monarch, Henry VII (considered the heir to the Lancastrians) married the beautiful Elizabeth, Princess of York.
The truth we now know is very different but it was a tale that worked very well for the Tudors and it simplified the conflict, and it gave their line legitimacy.
Along the road he encountered more pageants, one which glorified his namesake and one of England’s most celebrated Kings: Edward the Confessor and another his country’s patron saint, Saint George. After he passed these, he encountered other ones that probably made a greater impression for the boy who was a committed Reformer. On Fleet Street a child representing ‘Truth’ epitomized the cause of the English Reformation and he said a few lines:
“Then Shall England, Committed To Your Guard, Rejoice in God, Which Hath Given Her Nation, After an Old David, A young King Salomon.”
David as everyone remembers was the legendary biblical King, father of the wise Solomon who succeeded him after his death. This told Edward that although his father started the break from Rome, it would be up to Edward like a new Solomon, to follow his work and improve it by carrying on with Reforms to ‘purify’ the church.
The procession had lasted nearly five hours and ended at six o’ clock.
The following day, the real show began when Edward was taken by barge to Whitehall where he was received by the guard and pensioners. Passing them into the chamber of Court of Augmentations, he donned the Parliamentary robes he was wearing and put on a robe of crimson velvet ‘furred with powdered ermines’. From there he went to Westminster Abbey under a canopy borne by the barons of the Cinque Ports. At his right and left was the Earl of Shrewsbury and Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham. John Dudley, the Marquis of Northampton –Catherine Parr’s brother, William Parr- and his other uncle, Thomas Seymour bore his train.
At his entrance into the Abbey, Cranmer began the address, asking the congregation “Will ye sirs at this time, and give your wills and assents to the same consecration, enunction, and coronation?” To which they responded “Yes, ye, ye, God save King Edward!”
In spite of the great response it received, the coronation had been altered significantly from the precepts set in the Liber Regalis (c.1375) and certain ceremony and addresses cut down not to wear the King, but more than that, because it was against the new tradition that Cranmer and the Reformers wanted to impose for their “new era”. The crowd who was aware of the changes, was explained by Cranmer the reason for this changes in a sermon to the King. He said that the alteration was due to the fact that before, Kings had atone for their actions to the clergy or somebody else, including their people. This time Kings were infallible. They were demi-gods of a sort. Edward as the Reformist king would account to no one and the clergy had no right “to hit Your Majesty in the teeth”. Nevertheless, he reminded that as God’s anointed sovereign he still had to have certain virtues for he was a messenger of Jesus and his representative on Earth.
“Your Majesty is God’s vice-regent and Christ’s vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshiped, and idolatry destroyed, the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts be signs of a second virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms. For precedents, on those kings who performed not these things, the old law shows how the Lord revenged his quarrel; and on those kings who fulfilled these things, he poured forth his blessings in abundance. For example, it is written of Josiah in the book of Kings thus: Like unto him there was no King before him that turned to the Lord with all his heart, according to the Law of Moses, neither after him arose there any like him.
This was to the prince a perpetual fame of dignity, to remain to the end of days.”
After the Mass was finished, Edward took his place on the throne and was first crowned with the St. Edward’s crown then the Imperial crown and finally his own which was made for the occasion and was lighter than the previous two. Then he was given the orb and scepter to hold on each hand. His most prominent uncle [Somerset] knelt before him and swore an oath of loyalty. He was followed by Cranmer and the rest of the nobility.
With this done, they followed their newly anointed King to the Great Hall of Westminster to take part in a sumptuous feast. The reign of Edward VI had begun.
- Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
- Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
- Tudor by Leanda de Lisle