The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558

By J. D. Mackie | Go to book overview
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XIV
THE YOUNG JOSIAH

TO historians the reign of Edward VI has always seemed of great consequence because of its place in the development of the English church. The 'political' reformation of Henry VIII was succeeded by a 'doctrinal' reformation. The compromise made by the father was abandoned by the son, and England passed to a complete protestantism.

That so great a change should take place when the royal supremacy was vested in a little boy is a remarkable phenomenon which has justly been regarded as the central theme of the period. Yet, while all historians unite in recognizing its importance, they differ much in estimating its significance. It has been regarded as the victory of truth over error, and as the victory of error over truth; as the inevitable consequence of the march of events, and as the chance fruit of ambitious enterprise; as the outcome of a great spiritual impulse, and as a side-issue of a far-reaching economic development. Each of these explanations has something of truth; none contains all the truth. Before the significance of the doctrinal reformation can be apprehended the background of attendant circumstances must be examined.

Henry's design of prolonging his authority into the new reign by the instrument of a will came to naught; the royal power passed to his young son and in his name it was exercised. 'Ve tibi O terra ubi puer est Rex'; Hugh Latimer used this text in his second Lenten sermon of the year 1549. He discounted it by another 'place'. 'Beata terra ubi Rex nobilis'; but in the new monarchy the prince was the mainspring of the state, and it was a serious thing for England that the successor of a powerful and resolute man should be a boy of nine years. Certainly the boy was of more than usual ability; he had been trained to his office; he was already aware of his royalty; but he was only a child.

From the moment of his birth, at Hampton Court, on 12 October 1537, he had been surrounded with all the attention due to the long-expected heir to the English Crown. The utmost care was taken to keep his food free from pollution and

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