On 6th July 1553 the 15 year old King Edward VI died at Greenwich Palace. Edward had fallen ill at the beginning of 1553 from a fever and cough. The Imperial Ambassador, Jehan Scheyfve, wrote about Edward’s early illness in a letter to the the Bishop of Arras;
“the King of England is still confined to his chamber, and seems to be sensitive to the slightest indisposition or change, partly at any rate because his right shoulder is lower than his left and he suffers a good deal when the fever is upon him, especially from a difficulty in drawing his breath, which is due to the compression of the organs on the right side. It is an important matter for consideration, especially as the illness is increasing from day to day, and the doctors have now openly declared to the Council, for their own discharge of responsibility, that the King’s life is threatened, and if any serious malady were to supervene he would not be able to hold out long against it. Some make light of the imperfection, saying that the depression in the right shoulder is hereditary in the house of Seymour, and that the late Duke of Somerset had his good share of it among the rest. But he only suffered inconvenience as far as it affected his appearance and his shoulder never troubled him in any other way. It is said that about a year ago the King overstrained himself while hunting, and that the defect was increased. No good will he ever do with the lance. I opine that this is a visitiation and sign from God. “
This illness came just months after he had suffered from measles and smallpox so his immune system was already in a weakened condition. Edward had improved slightly but by June it was looking likely that the young King would not survive.
King Edward VI, aged 9.
On 30th May Scheyfve wrote again regarding Edward’s condition;
“The King of England is wasting away daily, and there is no sign or likelihood of any improvement. Some are of opinion that he may last two months more, but he cannot possibly live beyond that time. He cannot rest except by means of medicines and external applications; and his body has begun to swell, especially his head and feet. His hair is to be shaved off and plasters are going to be put on his head. The illness is judged to be the same as that which killed the late Earl of Richmond.”
King Edward’s illness would come in stages and in April, Edward was seen walking through the park at Westminster before moving to his palace at Greenwich but by the end of April he was again weak and suffering. However, just days later on 7th May his doctors were expecting a recovery and Edward sat in a window overlooking the Thames watching the ships sail past the palace. Edward’s recovery was not long lived and on 11th June 1533 Edward relapsed.
With this the seriousness of Edward’s condition had become apparent and the likelihood of him surviving his illness was slim. Edward was soon bedbound after his legs began swelling and he was unable to stand up any longer.
With this news his council sought to change his father, King Henry VIII, will so that Mary would not inherit the throne and return England to Catholicism. Edward did not want to see the country returned to the old religion but also he felt that Mary and Elizabeth were both illegitimate and therefore illegible to take the throne. A document was drawn up entitled ‘My devise for the succession’ in which Edward overruled his father’s wishes in the Third Act of Succession and named Lady Jane Grey, Edward’s cousin, as his successor.
On 15th June Edward summoned his high rank judges to his sickbed and demanded their allegiance. He then called upon his lawyers and councillors to sign a bond that would ask them to perform his will faithfully. This would also see that Lady Jane Grey was placed upon the throne even if they believed the throne should pass to Mary. On 21st June the ‘Devise for Succession’ was passed to and signed by hundreds of councillors, peers, sheriffs, bishops and archbishops who all agreed to follow Edward’s wishes. Many would later claim that they had been bullied by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and father in law to Lady Jane.
King Edward VI’s final appearance to his subjects was on 1st July 1533 when he appeared at a window at Greenwich Palace and it was noted how thin he looked. Crowds continued to gather in hope of seeing their king but after two days the crowds were told that the weather was too cold for Edward to appear.
On 6th July at 8pm King Edward VI died, the cause of Edward’s death has been debated ever since with suggestions of tuberculosis, bronchopneumonia and even poisoning. However, it is likely that tuberculosis was the most likely cause of death for the 15 year old King.
Historian Chris Skidmore documents that Edward prayers included;
“Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life, and take me among thy chosen: howbeit not my will, but thy will be done. Lord I commit my spirit to thee. O Lord! Thou knowest how happy it were for me to be with thee: yet, for thy chosen’s sake, send me life and health, that I may truly serve thee. O my Lord God, bless thy people, and save thine inheritance! O Lord God save thy chosen people of England! O my Lord God. defend this realm from papistry, and maintain thy true religion; that I and my people may praise thy holy name, for thy Son Jesus Christ’s sake!”
Edward was buried at Westminster Abbey in the Henry VII Lady Chapel on 8th August with the ceremony presided over by Archbishop Cranmer.
Edward’s death would send England into division over the new rightful monarch.
King Edward VI tomb at Westminster Abbey