The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation. By Diarmid MacCulloch. New York: Palgrave for St. Martin's Press, 1999. 285 pp. $27.95.
Diarmid MacCulloch has crafted a thoroughly absorbing study of the most Protestant monarch England ever produced; and, significantly, he brings all the essential qualifications to do so. His academics were directed by Sir Geoffrey Elton at Cambridge, who was the most acclaimed scholar of the Tudor dynasty and the English Reformation for more than a generation. MacCulloch now teaches at St. Cross College, Oxford. Moreover, his publications in this field have been impressive. They include Suffolk and the Tudors (Whitfield Prize winner, 1986), The Later Refornwtion in England 1547-1603, and Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and Piety. However, his most acclaimed volume is surely the magisterial biography of Heniy VIII's Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer: A Life. It was awarded the Whitbread Biography Prize, the coveted James Tait Black Prize, as well as the Duff Cooper Prize.
No monument has ever been erected for Edward VI. His tomb in Westminster Abbey is designated only by a cold unadorned slab located in the Henry VII Chapel. The author makes it clear that such neglect is highly questionable, if not unjust. Granted that the boy king was only sixteen years old when he died, his influence went well beyond his years. Indeed his attempted reforms were remembered as late as the unfortunate English Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century.
Immediately MacCulloch is forced to take notice of the awesome reputation of the late W.K. Jordan, who skillfully edited the Chronicle and Political Papers of Edward VI in 1966. Afterwards, he capped that accomplishment by publishing what many consider the definitive biography of Edward VI in two compelling volumes in 1968 and 1970. Jordan argued that the youthful monarch was not fundamentally committed to religious affairs unless and until they might challenge his supremacy or sovereignty.
It is universally acknowledged that Edward was a precocious and devoted student. His demanding royal tutors, Richard Coxe, who did not hesitate to chastise his Highness even physically, and the remarkable Sir John Cheke, instilled a fine humanist education. They drove their pupil to the limit of his exceptional talent. MacCulloch illustrates Edward's aptitude by dredging up a series of essays worthy of a young renaissance scholar-fifty-five of these in Latin and another fifty in Greek. They are tightly reasoned and presented with rhetorical prowess. The humanist influence shines through. This is true not only in the linguistic dexterity but also in their emphasis upon using one's education to engage in practical statecraft.
Challenging Jordan's charge that Edward was not much wedded to issues of spiritual concerns, MacCulloch tellingly remonstrates. Because Jordan had edited the boy king's own chronicle in which little of a religious …