“Truly, sister, I will see my laws strictly obeyed, and those who break them shall be watched and denounced.”
Edward VI was nine years old when he became king. He was pale with red hair and a delicate, proportioned body. He was intelligent and admired as a good looking child who enjoyed riding and fencing and hunting. By the time he became king he knew Latin, Greek and French. In religion he was brought up with the services in English and he had no nostalgia for the old ways. There is some evidence that Edward and Mary were close. She assumed the role of a maiden aunt and Edward, as a child, was known to follow her about asking many questions. They did not discuss religion. Mary continuously sent him gifts. When he learned how to write he sent her letters when she was ill and assuring her that he would keep secret anything she wished to confide in him. At times he did worry for her reputation and warned her, when he was eight, about her love of dancing and entertainments. “Foreign dances and merriments do not become a most Christian princess!” Mary may have laughed at this but other times she must also have seen how much Edward tried to imitate their father.
When Edward became king his relationship to his sisters changed dramatically. When they ate with him they had to sit on low benches, not chairs and placed far down the table so that the cloth of state which hung above the king did not cover them. Protocol also dictated that they must kneel several times when entering his presence. At the beginning of the reign Mary was on good terms with her brother and with the Protector, Edward Seymour, but the new Protestant reforms and government policies made it hard for her to remain at Court. She left to settle on her country estates. At the time there were four: Kenninghall in Norfolk, Newhall and Copthall in Essex, and Hunsdon in Hertfordshire. She came to Court for Christmas in 1547 but did not come after that, preferring to stay at Kenninghall which was the furthest from Court. In the next five years she saw her brother only a few times.
Twice she was called to court and berated by her little brother that she was breaking the law by holding mass in her house. Upon hearing her brother repeating the words of the council she said, “When I perceive how the King, whom I love and honor above all other beings, as by nature and duty bound, had been counseled against me, I could not contain myself and exhibited my interior grief.” In short, she started to cry. Edward quickly fell apart and started to cry as well assuring her, “he thought no harm of her.” It was only when the ambassador of the Emperor Charles V threatened with embargoes to England did the council back down and agree to look the other way – for the time being. It was not lost on Mary the preferred treatment that Edward was giving their sister Elizabeth. The council went out of their way to receive her with honor and she enjoyed the privilege of a royal escort of a hundred horsemen when she entered London, “in order to show the people how much glory belongs to her who has embraced the new religion and is become a very great lady.”
By 1551 three officials of Mary’s household were summoned to appear before the council and were ordered to prevent mass from being celebrated. They told the council that Mary would not permit them to enforce this and they, and some of her Chaplains, were arrested and sent to the Tower. A letter written by the king and drafted by William Cecil was delivered to Mary at Copthall, on August 28, by Lord Rich and two other members of the Privy Council. Mary was defiant and not even courteous. She refused to invite them into the house and instead met them in the courtyard. She read the letter and said that she would obey the King in all things except on religion because of his youth, “in these years, although he, good sweet King, have more knowledge than any other of his years, yet it is not possible that he that he can be a judge in these things.” Her servants remained in the Tower for a few months but the king and council weary of Mary and with new issues to attend to once again looked the other way at Mary’s private mass.
It is crucial to the understanding of Mary that she was quite willing to be a martyr for her religion. She held on to the old beliefs as the only way she could hold on to the world that had contained the best years of her life. It represented her mother and her father and she would never give it up. She said she had never read a Protestant book and would never do so. She did not see that by the end of Edward’s reign the hold that Protestantism had on England could not be easily uprooted. She always believed that things could return to the way they were when she was a child.
The rebellions of 1549, and the failure to bring Mary, Queen of Scots to England as Edward’s bride, brought Edward Seymour to the Tower and his ultimate execution. In his place the power hungry John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, became the King’s Protector. This was a man that Mary rightly feared. He alone completely controlled the king. Edward became ill with either smallpox or measles in 1552 and after a short recovery he set off on a grueling tour of England. By 1553 he was showing signs of tuberculosis. Mary came to see him in February and was kept waiting three days before being allowed in. She must have realized the severity of his illness as she began to fear that if he died she would be killed quickly before a rising on her behalf could take place. Northumberland’s greatest fear was that Mary would become queen and remove all of his Protestant reforms and, more importantly, remove him from power. He convinced Edward to change his will with the threat that the country would revert back to Catholicism if he let Mary succeed. Edward’s new Device for the Succession bypassed both Mary and Elizabeth, on the condition that their legitimacy was never formally settled, and settled the crown to the Brandon line descended from Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary. Young Lady Jane Grey was named heir to the throne, followed by her heirs male and then her sisters and their heirs male.
After an agonizing illness, which was probably tuberculosis compounded by arsenic poisoning, the young king died on the sixth of July, 1553. He was fifteen.