The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation

By Daly, Christopher | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2002 | Go to article overview
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The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation


Daly, Christopher, Anglican and Episcopal History


DIARMAID MACCULLOCH. The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation. New York: Palgrave, 1999. Pp. xviii + 283, bibliography, index. $27.95.

The brevity of King Edward VTs reign notwithstanding, his life and times have provided historians with a wealth of rich material used for historical analysis-and sometimes lor biographical psychoanalysis. This is not altogether surprising: the boy-king stands as the King Tutankhamon of early-modern English history. He took the throne at the age of nine, and died before reaching his sixteenth birthday, yet his reign was no mere period ol transition between the excesses of Henry VIII and the political misadventures of Queen Mary I. His mystique and allure as a figure of history is only compounded by the contradictions of his court: he was perceived by members of the reformed faith as one who would purify the realm and establish a Christian commonwealth, yet the two administrations that ruled in his name were both unhappy admixtures of idealism, zeal, tawdry personal ambitions, blurred policies, and reckless adventurism exceeding anything found in the reigns of Edward's father or sisters. Of course, more than any other Tudor, Edward remains alluringly enigmatic, but by his last year he was developing his own voice politically, beginning to set his own agenda, and evincing the potential to become something of the "young Josiah" that court preachers had for years urged him to emulate. And the passion that he so clearly felt for religious reform and renewal certainly emboldened some of his ministers to pursue innovative policies, the ramifications of which would be felt into the seventeenth century.

Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation is a magnificent addition to the scholarly endeavors previously undertaken by W. K. Jordan, Dale Hoak, Felicity Heal, and Jennifer Loach, to name four especially worthy predecessors. MacCulloch's gift for biographic studies, so evident in his earlier monumental life of Thomas Cranmer (1996), brilliantly sets his subject within the broader context of a deepening revolution of religious change initiated in the generation after the break with Rome. While the focus of the study is placed on the Edwardian regime's attempts to achieve a redefinition of English Protestantism by means of government policies, reinvigorated preaching, new liturgical norms, and the disbursal of theological tracts by favored evangelical churchmen, the work is enlivened by MacCulloch' s penchant for vividly-drawn characterizations.

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