The First Prayer Book Royal Funeral:
King Edward VI
“Edward the sixth by the Grace of God
King of England, France and Ireland,
Defender of the Faith
and on earth under Christ
supreme head of the Churches of England and Ireland
and he migrated from this life on the 6th day of July
in the evening at the 8th hour in the year of our Lord 1553
and in the 7th year of his reign
and in the 16th year of his age”.
So reads the inscription on Edward’s coffin as transcribed and translated from the original Latin by Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey in the 19th century, which was the last time it would seem that the vault in which the King’s body lies was opened. It is a poignant tribute to a sadly short reign which nonetheless had lasting impact on the life of the English church.
Yet his death posed a unique conundrum for his successor, his half sister Queen Mary: what was she to do, as a zealous Roman Catholic, about his funeral?
The circumstances following the death of Edward were illustrative of the fragility and complexities of the new Queen’s position. His death had been kept secret for three whole days while leading nobles and Privy councillors had attempted to elevate Lady Jane Grey to the throne, a prima facie remote contingency only made possible by the complex handling of the succession by Henry VIII that had been necessitated by his successive marriages together with a very late and indeed final action by Edward VI.
Edward had acceded to the throne at the age of only nine, when his father Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. In provision for the possibility of this circumstance Henry had decreed that, during Edward’s minority, the government was to be run by a council of regency. Yet in fact Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, soon came to exercise the real power, with the title of Protector. Factions soon arose however, that led to his overthrow in the form of what would now be called a coup by the ruthless John Dudley, earl of Warwick, who himself was soon elevated to the rank of Duke of Northumberland.
It was he who proposed that Edward enter upon the full exercise of his Royal powers at the age of 14, while as a practical reality it was he who actually continued to run the government. Nonetheless, Edward had been well educated and was certainly able, though still very young. He was also, in matters of religion a Protestant of strong convictions. So the policies and measures of Somerset and Northumberland, designed to consolidate the English Reformation, were very much in accord with his wishes.
(On the matter of his education it is interesting to note that from the age of six onwards Edward had been tutored by Richard Cox and John Cheke, who were both of an Erasmian disposition and thus reformed Roman Catholics, who later became Marian exiles. In addition, he also received tuition from Elizabeth’s tutor, Roger Ascham, and Jean Belmain, learning French, Spanish and Italian as well Latin and Greek and “scripture, of philosophy, and all liberal sciences” geometry not to mention lessons upon the lute and the virginals. The clear direction of his sentiments is evidenced by his having written by 1549, a treatise on The Pope as Antichrist and there is other evidence of his informed engagement upon theological controversies.)
Engraving of the Coronation Procession of King Edward VI
The historic transition made
during the reign of King Edward:
While very short, the changes introduced during his reign moved the English church from one that remained essentially Catholic in its practice, while simply rejecting the Papal supremacy, to one that was institutionally Protestant.
The confiscation of church property which had begun under Henry VIII resumed under Edward with a particular focus on such things as chantries, so that by the end of his reign, the church had been financially massively diminished with much of its property transferred into lay hands and a great deal of revenue to the Crown.
While, in his earliest years, he had upheld the traditional Catholic practices of piety, with a daily attendance at mass, it was clear over time that Archbishop Cranmer, together with the pro-Reform sentiment among his tutors and courtiers, had led to a firm conviction that “true” religion should be further advanced and imposed.
Reformed doctrines such as justification by faith were affirmed and communion for the laity as well as clergy under both kinds. The Ordinal of 1550 redefined the understanding of the role of those ordained with a particular emphasis now upon being able to preach the gospel as well as upon being able to administer the sacraments, rather than “to offer sacrifice and celebrate mass both for the living and the dead”.
Most profound and enduring of all in its impact, however, was the Book of Common Prayer itself and the conclusive move to a liturgy in English rather than latin.
Cranmer had undertaken to translate and forge a liturgy in English which was richly imbued with the prior liturgical heritage (as the history behind the collects and many of the key texts illustrate) but was shorn of earlier accretions and non-scriptural sources. It also provided for a uniform practice of the Daily Office and extensive and methodical Scripture reading through its new Lectionary and Calendar. All of this reform was made compulsory in the first Act of Uniformity of 1549.
The Book of Common Prayer of 1549, was attacked by traditionalists for dispensing with many previously observed rituals of the liturgy, such as the elevation of the host and the chalice during the Prayer of Thanksgiving (consecration). While, on the other side, some Reformers felt it still permitted too many “popish” elements, as they claimed to discern in such vestigial language of sacrifice as remained in the rite of Holy Communion.
The new book was also fiercely opposed by many senior clerics of a more Roman persuasion, including Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, who along with others, ended up imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually deprived of their sees.
After 1551, with Edward’s rising level of active engagement in government, further changes in a Protestant direction were made with the encouragement of such reformers as John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, and the John Knox, who was at that point a minister in Newcastle upon Tyne under the Duke of Northumberland (and whose preaching at court is said to have prompted the king at one point to oppose kneeling at Communion, to which later Anglicans have remained however firmly inclined).
Archbishop Cranmer himself had been further influenced by the views of the continental reformer Martin Bucer, (who died in England in 1551), as well as Peter Martyr, who was teaching at Oxford, and by a large influx of other foreign theologians, who came in increasing numbers. Indeed recent research has disclosed that they actively encouraged to do so by Cranmer who established an organised process for this and had most of them pass through Lambeth Palace as they arrived. The practical implementation of the changes was further hastened by the cumulative consecration of more reformers as bishops. The further labours of Cranmer between 1551–52, led to a revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer (with changes largely made in a yet more expressly Reformed direction), as well as a revised canon law, and a new doctrinal statement, known as the Forty-two Articles. In the words of the historian Geoffrey Elton, the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and the second Act of Uniformity, “marked the arrival of the English Church at Protestantism”.
Yet just as all this was taking root, by the spring of 1553, it began to become clear that the monarch – upon whom all this change depended– was probably dying, from a severe respiratory illness that was very likely Tuberculosis.
In the context of all this, it had from the beginning of his reign been a source of anxiety that in the event of his death before being married and having an heir, the next in line to the throne would be his half-sister Mary, who was a zealous Roman Catholic.
Indeed, the history of how the legal situation regarding the line of succession was handled under and after Henry VIII is deeply revealing of the concerns at work in regard to the religious future of the nation.
The Prior History
and Context of the Succession
King Henry VIII had used a succession of statutes to make the adjustments appropriate to the complex evolution of his matrimonial status.
The first Act of Succession of 1534 declared his daughter Mary illegitimate as a consequence of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the consequence that in the light of this her parents had not in the eyes of the law actually been married.
The second Act, of 1536, promulgated after Anne Boleyn’s execution, declared both Mary and Elizabeth Anne’s daughter) illegitimate and vested the succession in any future children of Henry’s new wife, Jane Seymour.
The Third Succession Act, of 1544, restored Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession (although they were still regarded as illegitimate) and then made further and enabling provision for Henry VIII to alter the succession subsequently merely by means of his own last Will and Testament.
Accordingly, it was of great importance that in his Will, made in December 1546, Henry had restated, and thus reinforced, the line of succession of his three children, but then declared further, that in the event that none of them should leave descendants, the throne would pass to the heirs and successors of his younger sister, Mary, which was to say through the Suffolk line. This meant that the alternative Stuart line, comprising the descendants of his elder sister Margaret, were intentionally excluded, (It was a great irony of history ultimately that this very line was eventually to come back in the persons of Charles I and II)
Such repeated changes in the law with regard to the succession, even though intended establish a clear succession, inevitably ran in fact the risk of doing the opposite and of “muddying the waters”. This was likely to have been behind the express provisions made in Henry’s Will for whom should be on the Council that it put in place to rule during the possible time of Edward’s minority.
As one historian writes:
An hypothesis is offered as to the king’s motives. The prominence given to reformers is explained as projecting forward a movement from (Roman) orthodoxy to reform which was inherent in the (Royal) Supremacy. The conciliar provisions for Edward’s reign are argued to be an attempt to create a closed regency council which would prevent both faction and individual bids for supremacy. The fact that Edward Seymour could become de facto regent only by a coup which jettisoned the will, is a vindication of Henry’s provisions. (Ives, E.W. (1992) ‘Henry VIII’s will – a forensic conundrum’, The Historical Journal, 35(4), pp. 779-804, Though see also Houlbrooke, R.A. (1994) ‘Henry VIII’s wills: a comment’, The Historical Journal, 37(4), pp. 891-899.) Which brings the story to the awkward transition between Edward and Mary
King Edward’s Devise
Sadly conscious of his own decline as his illness took its progressive but slow and grim course, Edward remained determined to preserve the Protestant reforms against the Roman Catholicism of his half-sister Mary. To this end, King Edward himself composed a document draft he entitled “My devise for the succession”.
In this document, written no doubt with the precedent created by his father Henry VIII very much in mind, the King sought to change the succession by his personal fiat and thus to have it pass over the claims of both his half-sisters in order to bequeath the Crown to his first cousin once removed, namely the 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey, (who on 25 May 1553 had married Lord Guilford Dudley, the younger son of none other than his preferred and foremost Minister, the Duke of Northumberland). It should be added that she did have a real claim to the throne even if it was somewhat remote, resting as it did, upon her being the great-granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter Mary.
The full text that King Edward wrote is available below in Appendix I
In his document, Edward had initially it seems, in the case of “lack of issue of my body”, first restricted the succession to (non-existent) male descendants of Frances Brandon (the Duchess of Suffolk (née Lady Frances Brandon the second child and eldest daughter of King Henry VIII and her daughters), before he changed this and named his Protestant cousin “Lady Jane and her heirs male” only, that is, Jane Grey’s mother’s male heirs, Jane’s, or her sisters’. However, as his death drew nearer and possibly persuaded by Northumberland, and Sir John Gates and others, he altered the wording so that Jane and her sisters themselves should be able to succeed. Yet Edward conceded Jane’s right only as an exception to male rule, demanded by reality, (and as such not an example to be followed generally) if Jane or her sisters had only daughters. (Edward’s autograph shows his alteration of his text, from “L Janes heires masles” to “L Jane and her heires masles”. (Inner Temple Library, London.)
In the final document, as can be seen, both Mary and Elizabeth were excluded on the basis that both had been declared bastards under Henry VIII (as referenced above in the first and second Succession acts) and never made legitimate again, but this last point ignored and contravened Henry VIII’s Third Succession Act of 1543 which is illogical given that the consequences of the first two were accepted.
In any event, in early June, Edward personally supervised the drafting of a final version of his devise by lawyers, to which he lent his signature and on 15th June he summoned eminent judges to his sickbed, and commanded them on their allegiance “with sharp words and angry countenance” to prepare his devise as letters patent and he declared that he would have these passed in Parliament.
He next had his leading councillors and lawyers sign a bond in his presence, under the terms of which they agreed faithfully to perform Edward’s Will after his death.
And so indeed, on 21st June, the devise was issued as Letters Patent and signed by over a hundred notables, including councillors, peers, archbishops, bishops, and sheriffs; (many of whom later claimed that they had been forced into doing so by Northumberland, even if they did not evidence this at the time). The dying King had made clear that he was to have his “declaration” passed in parliament in September, and the necessary writs were prepared to summon its members, but before that could actually happen, the King died on 6 July 1553, almost certainly convinced at the last, that his word was law and that he had succeeded in fully disinheriting his half-sisters from all possibility of succession.
The Illness and Death of Edward
and the nine day reign of Lady Jane Grey
The scene above shows how public the death of a Tudor monarch could be
(in this case of Henry VII in 1500) as there were so many at Court who needed to be sure of what had happened.
King Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, but news of his death was kept secret by Northumberland until four days later, mainly in the hope it seems that Mary could be secured and prevented from advancing her own claim to the throne
On 9 July, Lady Jane was informed that she was now queen, but, according to her own later claims, she accepted the crown only with reluctance. On 10 July, her accession was officially proclaimed as Queen of England, France and Ireland after she had taken up secure residence in the Tower of London, where English monarchs had by custom resided from the time of accession until their coronation. In an interesting detail, Jane refused to name her husband Dudley as king, because that would have required an Act of Parliament and she therefore simply elevated him to the rank of Duke of Clarence.
There were a fair number of things needful if Northumberland was to consolidate his power after Edward’s death, besides securing the person of Mary Tudor to prevent her from gathering support, but he failed at this critical first hurdle. As it turned out, as soon as Mary was sure that King Edward had indeed died, she left her residence at Hunsdon and set out to East Anglia, where she immediately began to rally her supporters.
The Duke of Northumberland set out from London with troops on 14 July to capture Mary. But at that point, the Privy Council upon his leaving promptly changed sides and had Mary proclaimed queen in London, on 19 July.
While it has often been stated that this course of events was in consequence of popular sentiment in favour of Mary, there is in fact little evidence for this outside Norfolk and Suffolk, (where Northumberland had put down Kett’s Rebellion which made him unpopular there and in turn made it the obvious place for Mary to find initial refuge). It is an interesting instance of his ruthless past catching up with Northumberland that it was Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel who engineered what was effectively a coup d’état in the Privy Council, while Northumberland was away— since it was Northumberland who had arrested and detained him twice as an ally of Somerset when Northumberland set about securing his fall from power
Meanwhile, Mary, after declaring herself queen and raising an army headed to her capital, although in the end she entered London with no bloodshed and was proclaimed queen formally on July 19 –while Jane Grey languished in the Tower of London where eventually she faced the axe, together with her husband on the 12th February 1554.
Despite the air of inevitability that history and time have lent to this transition it was in fact quite amazing as Mary was on the surface in a rather week position at the outset. But modern researches have shown that it was her household that had over time, before the death of King Edward, slowly but surely, built up a network of connections which they were able to mobilise fast when the opportunity came –with astonishing success. In essence, Mary and her household managed to put in train a complete counter coup against Northumberland – who at the outset held nearly all the levers of power which was a remarkable achievement.
But once that happened Northumberland’s fall was rapid so, despite being her father-in-law, the Duke was promptly accused of treason and executed within a month of Queen Mary’s accession. Lady Jane was duly convicted later of high treason as well, in November 1553, but Mary initially spared her life on account of her youth. However, she was soon seen to be a threat to the Crown after her father, Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, became involved with the Wyatt’s rebellion against Queen Mary, that had been occasioned when Mary announced her intention to marry King Philip II of Spain.
However, having secured the crown, Queen Mary was faced with an immediate problem: according to what rite should the funeral for King Edward be conducted ?
Queen Mary’s Problem
with the Funeral of King Edward VI
As queen, she was the head of the church in England but the only legal form of worship was that of the Book of Common Prayer of 1552.
Queen Mary, as a devout Roman Catholic wished to return England to the Church of Rome and might therefore have been expected to have Edward’s service conducted according to the traditional Catholic liturgy, despite the fact that Edward was, from her perspective, a manifest heretic and schismatic from the Catholic Church.
Yet, while all that might have suggested she would think it not inappropriate to bury him with the old liturgy, this was clearly understood to be problematic in fact. Indeed, it was soon realised that the whole question of the funeral was a complicated matter with many aspects to it, with the result that the funeral ended up delayed by about a month while the options were debated.
Despite their conceptual devotion to the Roman cause, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was Mary’s cousin, and the Imperial ambassadors at the English court, were all very concerned that if Edward was buried with a Roman Catholic service, his subjects, now of the reformed English church’s persuasion, could be dangerously angered. In particular, they thought that there could even be a violent reaction, in London which occasioned the fear that this would spread and end up endangering Mary’s still very new hold upon the crown.
In the end, it would seem that it was the Imperial ambassador, one Simon Renard who came up with a compromise. On the one hand this provided that Edward would be buried according to the Book of Common Prayer, but, since protocol did not actually require the dead monarch’s successor to attend the funeral, Mary did not have to do so. This was evidently a point important to her as she saw herself as being at risk of damnation were she to attend and thus somehow aid in the conduct of a heterodox service. By means of the diplomatic compromise however, Mary was able to organize a Roman Catholic service for her brother elsewhere at the same time as the funeral took place according to the Prayer Book rites, — which is exactly what she did.
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the Book of Common Prayer thus officiated at the funeral service itself. Beyond the actual liturgy all the larger state ceremonial could be done in the traditional style without change. Thus the procession could be styled on that of the funeral for King Henry VIII. Accordingly that is how everything proceeded.
Edward’s body was taken by barge to Whitehall. The night before the funeral he was transferred to Westminster Abbey accompanied by a traditional procession including a large gathering of choirboys in surplices, singing clerks and twelve of King Henry VIII’s beadsmen (who say prayers for another; a humble servant) from the former Observant Franciscan (Greyfriars) church at Greenwich. Nine members of Edward’s retinue followed. They were all dressed in black and carried banners with the heraldic emblems of his ancestry which included the red Welsh dragon of Cadwallader and Owen Tudor, the Lancastrian greyhound and the lion of King Henry VIII. Three heralds carried in procession Edward’s helmet and crest, shield and sword and his Garter decorations and armour.
Behind all these figures, came the coffin itself, draped in blue velvet on a cloth of gold covered chariot, pulled by seven horses draped in black velvet down to the ground and decorated with escutcheons.
A canopy of blue velvet was carried above the coffin, on top of which was a life-size effigy of Edward (carved by the Italian sculpture Niccoló Bellini). The effigy held a scepter and wore a crown, the collar of the Order of the Garter and a Garter ribbon on the leg.
Surrounding the coffin, were the standards of the Tudors, the Seymours and the Order of the Garter. The chief mourner was the Lord Treasurer, Sir William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester, who rode behind the coffin on a horse draped on black velvet followed by the Master of the Horse who rode on a horse draped in cloth of gold.
He was followed in turn by another man in a suit of armour riding a horse and both the armor and the horse were later given to the church.
After this, there followed nine hooded henchmen on horses draped in black velvet.
In accord with tradition, as the coffin passed by in the procession, the people observing moaned and cried with lamentations as was expected.
Once the body was in the Abbey, it was placed on a hearse draped in seventy two yards of black velvet, surrounded by tapers on thirteen branched stone pillars, representing the traditional burning chapel of medieval and early modern Catholic royal obsequies. (In comparison, King Henry VIII had only had nine pillars.) while the walls and aisles of the Abbey were covered completely in black cloth.
There is a first hand account of rthe funeral that has survived written by one Henry Machyn:
“The viij day of August was bered the nobull kyng Edward the vj, and vij yere of ys rayne; and at ys bere[ing was] the grettest mone mad for hym of ys deth [as ever] was hard or sene, boyth of all sorts of pepull, wepyng and lamentyng; and furst of alle whent a grett company of chylderyn in ther surples, and clarkes syngyng, and then ys father(‘s) bedmen, and then ij harolds, and then a standard with a dragon, and then a grett nombur of ys servants in blake, and then anodur standard with a whyt greyhond, and then after a grett nombur of ys of[ficers,] and after them comys mo harolds, and then a standard with the hed offesars of ys howse; and then harolds, Norey bare the elmett and the crest on horsbake, and then ys grett baner of armes in-brobery, and with dyvers odur baners, and then cam rydyng maister Clarensshuws with ys target, with ys garter, and ys sword, gorgyusly and ryche, and after Garter with ys cotte armur in brodery, and then mor [harolds] of armes; and then cam the charett with grett horsses trapyd with velvet to the grond, and hevere horse havyng [a man] on ys bake in blake, and ever on beyryng a banar-roll [of] dyvers kynges armes, and with schochyon(s) on ther horses, and then the charett kovered with cloth of gold, and on the [charett] lay on a pycture lyeng recheussly with a crown of gold, and a grett coler, and ys septur in ys hand, lyheng in ys robes [and the garter about his leg, and a coat in embroidery of gold; about the corps were borne four banners, a banner of the order, another of the red rose, another of queen Jane (Seymour), another of the queen’s mother. After him went a goodly horse, covered with cloth of gold unto the ground, and the master of the horse, with a man of arms in armour, which] was offered, boyth the man and the horsse. [There was set up a go]odly hersse in Westmynster abbay with banar [-rolls] and pensells, and honge with velvet a-bowt.”
(See J. G. Nichols (Ed.) The Diary of Henry Machyn: Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London (1550-1563), p 34-50, (1848) which can be read online at www.britishhistory.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45512
(See also , “Edward VI: The Lost King of England” by Chris Skidmore, “Edward VI” by Jennifer Loach and “Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen” by John Edwards)
Queen Mary did not attend as has been explained but instead, had requiem masses sung in the Chapel of the Tower of London for three days, beginning on 8th August at Vespers (See The Ambassadors in England to the Emperor, 2nd August 1553, Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11: 1553, p127-150 and again on 8th August 1553, p150-162.)
One important detail to note about the actual service in Westminster Abbey, presided over by Archbishop Cranmer, was that while it proceeded as written in his prayer book burial office, a celebration of Holy Communion did also take place.
On the night before the funeral , Queen Mary had commanded that the Officium pro Defunctis (service for the dead) be performed in her chapel in Latin, in the Roman manner then concurrently with Cranmer’s service at the Abbey, A Requiem Mass was celebrated in the Tower of London for the repose of the King’s soul by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Mary was present for this service. Further Masses were then said, in accord with her instructions, over two more days in the Tower (which evidently caused some surprise to Londoners).
Edward’s body was finally lowered into a white marble vault in front of the altar made by Pietro Torrigiano for Edward’s grandfather King Henry VII’s tomb.
Sadly, while plans were put forward in 1573 for a tomb for Edward next to King Henry VIII’s place of burial in St. George’s chapel at Windsor. (and it seems that the designs by William Cure of Amsterdam proposed a Franco-Italianate style of monument made of marble and bronze decorated with crowns imperial, Tudor roses and fleur-de-lis) they were never acted upon.
In Westminster Abbey, the altar of King Henry VII’s Lady Chapel was destroyed by the Puritans in 1644. And it was only when workmen were investigating a place to bury King Charles II in 1685, that they found Edward’s marble vault and despite the discovery of the site again by Dean Stanley – who transcribed the text on the coffin that opens the present article—no specific marker stone was put in place until the 20th Century.
A new stone was finally placed over the vault in 1966 with the inscription:
“In memory of King Edward VI buried in this chapel
this stone was placed here by the Christ’s Hospital
in thanksgiving for their founder 7 October 1966”.
King Edward VI’s Devise
My devise for the Succession
- For lakke of issu [masle inserted above the line, but afterwards crossed out] of my body [to the issu (masle above the line) cumming of thissu femal, as i have after declared inserted, but crossed out]. To the L Franceses heires masles, [For lakke of erased] [if she have any inserted] such issu [befor my death inserted] to the L’ Janes [and her inserted] heires masles, To the L Katerins heires masles, To the L Maries heires masles, To the heires masles of the daughters wich she shal haue hereafter. Then to the L Margets heires masles. For lakke of such issu, To th’eires masles of the L Janes daughters. To th’eires masles of the L Katerins daughters, and so forth til yow come to the L Margets [daughters inserted] heires masles.
- If after my death theire masle be entred into 18 yere old, then he to have the hole rule and gouernauce therof.
- But if he be under 18, then his mother to be gouuernres til he entre 18 yere old, But to doe nothing w’out th’auise (and agremet inserted) of 6 parcel of a counsel to be pointed by my last will to the nombre of 20.
- If the mother die befor th’eire entre into 18 the realme to be gouuerned by the cousel Prouided that after he be 14 yere al great matters of importaunce be opened to him.
- If i died w’out issu, and there were none heire masle, then the L Fraunces to be (reget altered to) gouuernres. For lakke of her, the her eldest daughters,4 and for lakke of them the L Marget to be gouuernres after as is aforsaid, til sume heire masle be borne, and then the mother of that child to be gouuernres.
- And if during the rule of the gouuernres ther die 4 of the counsel, then shal she by her letters cal an asseble of the counsel w’in on month folowing and chose 4 more, wherin she shal haue thre uoices. But after her death the 16 shal chose emong themselfes til th’eire come to (18 erased) 14 yeare olde, and then he by ther aduice shal chose them” (1553).
— Edward VI, Devise for the Succession
The Last Will & Testament
Of King Henry VIII
(30 December 1546)
Remembering the great benefits given him by Almighty God, and trusting that every Christian who dies in steadfast faith and endeavours, if he have leisure, to do such good deeds and charitable works as Scripture commands, is ordained, by Christ’s Passion, to eternal life, Henry VIII. makes such a Will as he trusts shall be acceptable to God, Christ, and the whole company of Heaven, and satisfactory to all godly brethren in Earth. Repenting his old life, and resolved never to return to the like, he humbly bequeaths his soul to God, who in the person of His son redeemed it and for our better remembrance thereof “left here with us in his Church Militant the consecration and administration of his precious Body and Blood”; and he desires the Blessed Virgin and holy company of Heaven to pray for and with him, while he lives and in the time of his passing hence, that he may after this “the sooner attain everlasting life.” For himself he would be content that his body should be buried in any place accustomed for Christian folks, but, for the reputation of the dignity to which he has been called, he directs that it shall be laid in the choir of his college of Windesour, midway between the stalls and the high altar, in a tomb now almost finished in which he will also have the bones of his wife, Queen Jane. And there an altar shall be furnished for the saying of daily masses while the world shall endure. The tombs of Henry VI. and Edward IV. are to be embellished. Upon his death, his executors shall, as soon as possible, cause the service for dead folk to be celebrated at the nearest suitable place, convey his body to Windsor to be buried with ceremonies (described), and distribute 1,000 mks. In alms to the poor “(common beggars, as much as may be, avoided)” with injunctions to pray for his soul. St. George’s College in Windsor Castle shall be endowed (if he shall not have already done it) with lands to the yearly value of 600l., and the dean and canons shall, by indenture, undertake:–(1) to find two priests to say mass at the aforesaid altar; (2) to keep yearly four solemn obits at which 10l. shall be distributed in alms; (3) to give thirteen poor men, to be called Poor Knights, each 12d. a day, and yearly a long gown of white cloth &c. (described), one of the thirteen being their governor and having, in addition, 3l. 6s. 8d. yearly; and (4) to cause a sermon to be made every Sunday at Windsor….
The section of the Will dealing with the Succession:
As to the succession of the Crown, it shall go to Prince Edward and the heirs of his body. In default, to Henry’s children by his present wife, Queen Catharine, or any future wife. In default, to his daughter Mary and the heirs of her body, upon condition that she shall not marry without the written and sealed consent of a majority of the surviving members of the Privy Council appointed by him to his son Prince Edward. In default, to his daughter Elizabeth upon like condition. In default, to the heirs of the body of Lady Frances, eldest daughter of his late sister the French Queen. In default, to those of Lady Elyanore, second daughter of the said French Queen. And in default, to his right heirs. Either Mary or Elizabeth, failing to observe the conditions aforesaid, shall forfeit all right to the succession.
Appointment of Executors
…Appoints as executors of this will the Abp. of Canterbury, the Lord Wriothesley, Chancellor of England, the Lord St. John, Great Master of our House, the Earl of Hertford, Great Chamberlain of England, the Lord Russell, Lord Privy Seal, the Viscount Lisle, High Admiral of England, the bishop Tunstall of Duresme, Sir Anthony Broun, Master of our Horse. Sir Edward Montagu, chief judge of the “Commyn Place,” Justice Bromley. Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Augmentations, Sir William Paget, our chief Secretary, Sir Anthony Denny and Sir William Harbard, chief gentlemen of our Privy Chamber, Sir Edward Wootton and Dr. Wootton his brother. All these shall also be Councillors of the Privy Council with Prince Edward; and none of them shall do anything appointed by this Will alone, but only with the written consent of the majority. Sir Edmond Peckham, cofferer of our House, shall be treasurer of all moneys defrayed in performance of this Will. Debts, with redress of injuries (if any such can be proved, although he knows of none) shall be their first care after his burial. All grants and recompenses which he has made or promised but not perfected are to be performed.
To his son Edward he gives the succession of his realms of England and Ireland, the title of France and all his dominions, and also all his plate, household stuff, artillery, ordnance, ships, money and jewels, saving such portions as shall satisfy this Will; charging his said son to be ruled as regards marriage and all affairs by the aforesaid Councillors (names repeated) until he has completed his eighteenth year. And the following persons shall be of Council for the assistance of the foresaid Councillors when required, viz., the present earls of Arundel and Essex, Sir Thomas Cheney, treasurer of our Household, Sir John Gage, comptroller of our Household, Sir Anthony Wingfield, our vice-chamberlain, Sir William Petre, one of our two principal secretaries, Sir Richard Riche, Sir John Baker, Sir Ralph Sadleyr, Sir Thomas Seymour, Sir Richard Southwell, and Sir Edmond Peckham.