Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The death of King Edward VI

Today is the 460th anniversary of the death at Greenwich Palace of the fifteen year old King Edward VI in 1553.

Despite attempts by the government to keep the news of the King's failing health quiet rumours had clearly got out, and those with aninterst in what was to happen were ready to make the moves they had anticipated. In his last months the King, a convinced reformed protestant thanks to his spiritual formation even before his father's death, appears to have taken the lead in the moves to side-step the 1544 Act of Succession which settled the Crown on his two half-sisters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth, and then reverted to male succession with the heirs male of his father's younger sister the Duchess of Suffolk through her daughters. This excluded the otherwise superior claim of Queen Mary of Scots, and her Lennox cousins.

The King, anxious to prevent the accession of the Lady Mary, a devout Catholic, profoundly attached to the Catholic Mass, though she may well have kept quiet about her attachment to the Papacy, now sought to leave the Crown by his will, as though it were his private property - a power conferred on his father, but not on him. By his new declaration the Crown was to pass to Lady Jane Grey, excluding both the daughters of King Henry VIII and Lady Jane's mother, Frances Duchess of Suffolk. For this reason the future Queen Elizabeth I appears as monarch never to have trusted the two surviving Grey sisters, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary, and watched their matrimonial misadventures with a beady royal eye and vigilance. For this see Leanda de Lisle's joint biography of the Greys The Sisters who would be Queen

Having got many of the Council on side the young King may have believed it would all go as he wished. His chief minister, the Duke of Northumberland, who on this analysis emerges less as a die-hard Protestant than as a politique par excellence in all things - hence perhaps his last minute return to Catholicism in the last days of his life and his question even on the scaffold as to whether or not he could still serve Queen Mary - the offer was declined and the axe fell - had made his own moves. His son Lord Guildford Dudley had been married to Lady Jane that spring and Northumberland and the Council moved to proclaim her as Queen. So began the tragi-farce of the reign of Queen Jane.

Meanwhile from her estates in Essex the Lady Mary, apprised of what was happening by those contacts at Court sympathetic to her claims, moved north into Suffolk to Framlingham castle, gathered support, and in what has been described as the one successful rebellion against a Tudor government saw off the challenge to her rights and became Queen Mary I, and, as her half-brother had feared, set about restoring Catholicism. The difficulties she faced included the amount of physical and spiritual damage wrought in the reign of King Edward - whatever she might have achieved had she been spared to pursue her policy of restoration for longer, she found she faced a determined protestant minority willing to die for their beliefs; that would not have been the same six years earlier when their father died.

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