8 August 1553 – Edward VI’s funeral

King Edward VIOn this day in history, 8th August 1553, fifteen-year-old King Edward VI was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey.

The boy-king was buried in a white marble vault beneath the altar of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel and his grave was left unmarked until a memorial stone was placed in front of the altar in 1966. The stone reads:


Edward had died on 6th July 1553 but the struggle for the throne, between the heir he had appointed, Lady Jane Grey, and his half-sister, Mary, plus discussions between Mary I and her ministers over his funeral rites, had led to a delay in burial. It was finally decided that Edward would be buried with Protestant rites, the first use of the English Book of Common Prayer for the funeral of a monarch, and it was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who performed the service. The Catholic Queen Mary I held a private mass at the Tower of London, instead, and ordered three days of Catholic requiem masses for his soul.

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14 thoughts on “8 August 1553 – Edward VI’s funeral”
  1. Poor little King Edward Englands lost King, he could have contributed so much to our country had he lived longer, he had continued the reformation which had begun with his father, being fiercely Protestant he abhorred those whom he believed were idolatrous – papists, he argued with his sister Mary over her desire to hear mass in her own apartments reducing her to tears, he was committed to stamping Catholism out and we can see something in his character reminiscent of Henry V111, Henry V111 once made up his mind about something went for it full tilt, regardless of whom it hurt and the wreckage it caused, Edward V1 was the same, this unusual young lad was said to be deeply serious and was heard to only laugh once in his lifetime, he was studious and seemed old before his time, he appears unemotional and cold, hence his rather oblique entry in his diary regarding the execution of his once favoured uncle Thomas Seymour, but we have to remember Seymour’s botched kidnap attempt on the young kings person which led to his beloved dog being shot, even so he showed a chilling disregard for his death, he had a portrait painted in which he adopted the same pose as his auguste father, but he appears but a pale shadow against him, but it is not presence that is important but the mind, gifted with an academic brain and strength of purpose his death was a dreadful waste I feel as he could have been a great King, his long drawn out death was dreadful, it is debated what he actually died from but the old view was TB then called consumption, he was exhausted had fever and suffered a violent hacking cough from which he brought up green pleghm, towards the end ulcers broke out over his body which must have caused him much misery as he already had bed sores due to spending so much time in bed, certainly modern doctors agree it was a condition of the lungs he had and sadly there was little his own physicians could do to help him, he himself wrote ‘God please take me out of this miserable life’…, it was a sad end to a young life that had begun in a blaze of glory amidst fanfares and bonfires and the ringing of church bells throughout the land, the adored longed for prince whom his father had waited for nearly thirty years for, the son who would protect England from invasion and claimants to the throne, who would prolong the Tudor dynasty and sire his own race of kings, the little baby prince was born healthy although his birth cost his mother her life and he was brought up amongst his nurses and governess and his mothers two ambitious brothers, who both eagerly awaited the day when he would ascend the throne, for then they both had the chance or believed they did, of ruling through him, Edward was buried a month after he died because of haggling over his funeral rites but surely there should not have been any? He died in the Protestant faith he was a Protestant therefore it was only right he should be buried as such, to give a Protestant King a catholic burial would have made him turn in his grave, the dead should be honoured with their last wishes, Mary herself was an ardent Catholic which had led to their enmity in the past but she herself would want a catholic burial, the nation was deeply divided as Edward was determined to make England Protestant, but as we have discussed in an earlier post, you believe in the faith you have been brought up in and you cannot just switch and change because the current monarch tells you to, his service was beautiful and he was buried with his grandparents but I find it odd he had no inscription, the longed for prince of Henry V111 and there was nothing to show he had even existed, in her candle lit vigil in the tower Mary said masses for his soul which was her way of honouring her dead brother, Catholic or Protestant what did it matter how you pray if you love the same God? Thus was laid to rest Englands lost King and he left his realm deeply divided, like many monarchs before him who had founded colleges and hospitals and monasteries, he founded Christs Hospital and it was not until over four hundred years later in 1966 that hospital remembering the generosity of their founder, bequeathed a memorial stone in his honour, may you rest in peace for eternity King Edward V1 Englands lost King.

    1. According to ‘Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey’, (Volume 3), 1887, by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (pg. 269), the original leaden coffin-plate was found by Edward VI’s coffin when it was uncovered in the 19th century. It read: ‘On earth under Christ of the Church of England and Ireland Supreme Head’.

      Also, a remnant of Edward VI’s monument, later destroyed, was found containing this original tomb inscription (pg. 270):

      ‘Edwardus Sextus Dei gratia Angliae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex Fidei Defensor et in terra sub Christo Ecclesiae Anglicanae et Hibernicae Supremum Caput migravit ex hac vita sexto die Julii vesperi ad horam octavum anno domini MDLIII et regni sui septimo aetatis suae decimo sexto’

      This book can be found at ‘Google Books’, or
      at: https://archive.org/details/historicalmemor12stangoog

  2. I’m glad they settled on a Protestant service for Edward. It only makes sense as that was how he practiced his faith. The procession to the chapel sounds very fitting for a king but over a month to inter his remains? And does anyone know why it took almost 400 yrs to mark the site of his remains?
    I know the Westminster site says possibly due to lack of space but it does not seem right to bury a monarch without some kind of plaque etc.

    1. I agree Michael, Edwards embalmed body was lying in the chapel for a whole month whilst they haggled over the last rites, but we have to remember he had left the country in turmoil over his devise for the succession and the country was divided, with most of the council swearing fealty to Jane Grey and Mary in the country mustering followers to march on London and claim the crown and the Tower as her own, the young king who had brought this about was blissfully unaware of the trouble he had caused which was to lead to the bloody death of his appointed heir – Lady Jane Grey, he had left his realm to her seeking only to preserve the reform in England but it was to lead to nearly civil war and the deaths of several people, I believe it was naivety which made him overrule his father’s will, he also underestimated Marys strength of character to raise arms against his appointed heir, he believed no doubt that Janes accession to the throne would be a peaceful one, though academically bright Edward was not old or mature enough to realise he was storing up a whole load of trouble, but it was done in good faith he believed Jane would keep his kingdom secure in the faith which he believed was the true one.

  3. ‘Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey’, (Volume 3), 1887, by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley contains a fascinating account of the discovery of Edward VI’s remains in the Victorian era. The coffins of Elizabeth I , Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots were among the others also uncovered.

    On pg. 270 – ‘it may be noted that when the stone covering was removed at the back of the coffin, the skull of the King’ (that is Edward VI) ‘became visible. The cerecloth had fallen away, and showed that no hair was attached to the skull.’

    You can find this book online at ‘Google Books’.

  4. According to ‘Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey’, (Volume 3), 1887, by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (p. 269), the original leaden coffin plate was found by Edward VI’s coffin when it was uncovered in the 19th century. It read: ‘On earth under Christ of the Church of England and Ireland Supreme Head’.

    Also, a remnant of Edward VI’s monument, later destroyed, was found containing this original tomb inscription:

    ‘Edwardus Sextus Dei gratia Angliae Franciae et Hiberniae Rex Fidei Defensor et in terra sub Christo Ecclesiae Anglicanae et Hibernicae Supremum Caput migravit ex hac vita sexto die Julii vesperi ad horam octavum anno domini MDLIII et regni sui septimo aetatis suae decimo sexto’

    This book can be found at Google Books, or at: https://archive.org/details/historicalmemor12stangoog

  5. I am wondering why he had no memorial until 1966. If Mary agreed to a Protestant funeral, which was very sensitive and sensible of her, it is a wonder nothing was commissioned to mark the vault, not even a memorial stone. I know money was an issue at this time, which is partly why Mary herself had no tomb and ended up being stuck in with her sister, whose effigy is on top for all to see, but even Protestant Tudors went wild when it came to important memorials. They may have no longer honoured the saints or had statues but they had even more fancy memorial tombs than their ancestors. Some of them must have cost an absolute fortune. It cost £4 millions to place Richard iii under a plain slab of Northern stone, so goodness knows how much a painted effigy with weeping angels and family members as mourners would have been. When you think that William Cecil for example has a huge memorial, complete with black and gold and surrounded by many colourful arms and decorations and his effigy along with other pictures, and, poor Edward VI had nothing. The vault alone would have been expensive, but a memorial stone could have been put there. I am amazed that nothing was put even by the Victorians or William iv who mapped the Royal tombs in Britain.

    This shows a good start to the reign of Mary, even though she probably had more reason to dislike her brother even than her half sister. While alive Edward, a determined and active Protestant had marginalised her and tried to force her to stop hearing Mass even in her own home. He had her ladies arrested and he had more recently, shortly before his death cut her from the lawful and natural order of succession and placed the young Lady Jane Dudley in her place. He had his own mind and the role he played is controversial because he was very ill, but more recently historians believe that Edward drew up the Devise from his own free will.

    The ironic part of this ceremony is that it was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury who was given permission to conduct the service. In fact he was free for several more weeks before his arrest. This was his opportunity to make his peace, but he was still publishing material against the Mass and the new reign and he drew attention to himself as the author of the national reforms. Mary had her own commemoration of her brother, but she honoured his wishes and ironically allowed the man who had made the ceremony that she disliked to perform that ceremony a last time. Her own form of Catholic worship was more like that of her father’s later reign and had ideals of reform and evangelism as part of it’s centre. A letter to Katherine Parr found in a prayer book that she gave to Cranmer, was etched inside by Mary and this was found in his private papers. Things are not so black and white when it comes to the personal belief of Queen Mary and this reflects how changes in England were fluid at this time. The Protestant Faith forced on England under Edward and his Council wasn’t merely a straight forward version of the German Reformation, it was much more local and it was evolving over time. It wasn’t even known as the Protestant Church in England and many various reformist groups were represented here. In England it was a minority faith and Mary was expected to restore the Catholic Church and return to Rome by almost everyone. For now it was a time of transition and education would follow ahead of any lawful unification of religious practice. For now conciliation was the order of the day.

    1. King James after ascending the English throne had his mothers body transferred from Peterborough Cathedral to Westminster Abbey and she was interred in a magnificent tomb with a life size effigy on top, he also honoured Elizabeth by giving her a white marble tomb and she was buried on top of her sister Queen Mary, she has a wonderful inscription on her tomb, it makes one wonder, why then did he not honour the grave of another Tudor cousin – Edward V1, we can only assume that he was not that bothered about a long dead relative he had never met, and decided had the English wished him to have a proper memorial they would have done so themselves, he had been dead many years when he came to the throne in 1603, I have seen a photo of Cecil’s tomb and yes it is very ornate, most noble families had very elaborate tombs guarded by angels and cherubs showing their coats of arms and other sundries, some of them look more magnificent than the royal tombs in Westminster, maybe it was another sign of their wealth which of course meant power, to give a family member a wonderful tomb? I think it was shocking that Edward who after all was King of England and who tragically died so young did not have a real memorial stone till 1966, it’s true about the belief in religion at the time was not so black and white, Henry V111 himself was interested in the new teachings but remained at heart a Catholic and died in the Catholic faith.

      1. Here, here, yes, indeed. The political situation in England was a delicate one and the religious settlement changed in a major way four times in 20 years. Add to that the swinging to and fro of Henry Viii between traditional Catholic minus the Vatican and reform and back again and his wives, the confusion over which of his first two were his lawful wife from one week to the next and everything was very mixed with variations and even dangerous. These were very uncertain times.

        I have seen the Cecil tomb in Stamford, close to , his home for several years and that of his son. It was so huge that it wasn’t possible to fit on one photograph. Well, I suppose when you practically rule England, bar the Queen and you keep her safe, I guess you deserve a big memorial. James vi did indeed ensure his mother had a beautiful new tomb and magnificent effigy, which is even better than that of Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey. The plinth on which her original tomb is still there in Peterborough, which also has the burial of Queen Katherine of Aragon. I wonder what her tomb looked like? In contrast is the new but probably a close replica, simple white tomb of Queen Katherine Parr in Sudeley Castle, with the lovely effigy above it. James obviously didn’t want to bother with the young boy cousin of so long ago and it is a shame nobody else put a mark there until 1966.

        Edward vi is very much the underestimated and underappreciated lost Tudor King. David Starkey to some extent retrieved his reputation and that of Mary in his documentary on them called Edward and Mary the Unknown Tudors and Chris Skidmore wrote an excellent biography of Edward in the last decade. His diary is a personal glimpse into the mind and soul of the young man, although it does make him into a bit of a cold fish. He went through some dramatic stuff, however, in his short reign and he wrote his own outline for the Reformation. There were rebellions in the South and South West in protest at the introduction of the new prayer book and economic hardship, in which thousands died. There was a plot by his Uncle, the Lord Protector to kidnap him, his Uncle Tom also plotting to marry his half sister and the death of his stepmother soon after the birth of her daughter, Mary Seymour and he played host to Queen Marie of Guise from Scotland. His reign saw two distinct religious revolutions, two distinct prayer books, the second the most radical, as Archbishop Cranmer had been somewhat more Conservative in 1549 because Edward Seymour, Lord Protector and President of the Council had persuaded him to proceed with caution. His second effort in 1552_was more radical and more effective. Unfortunately, Edward would never see the fruits of his labours and his death was horrible and tragic. He had been his father’s only hope and Henry had struggled bitterly and long to father him and left England in the fragile hands of a nine year old boy. Edward was healthy but sheltered, overly protected but he was well educated and had the finest tutors. His potential had not been realised although he would have been somewhat like his father. He did have some foresight, however, when it came to the succession because, advise by the Duke of Northumberland and faced with an all female succession that he should at least guarantee the country remained officially under the Reformed Church of England. Thus, with time running out he signed his Devise for the Succession to his cousin, Lady Jane Dudley (Grey) and her future male heirs. He did, however, exclude both Mary (female, Catholic and legally illegitimate) and to Elizabeth (female, quasi Protestant and legally illegitimate) but made sure he issued Letters Patent and it was backed by the Judges. His move, however, remained illegal because it was not yet confirmed by Act of Parliament. As it also upset the natural order of succession, the Third Act of Succession of 1544 and overlooked the fact that Princess Mary and the rest of the country believed that she was the legitimate daughter of Henry Viii and Katherine of Aragon and thus true Queen, Queen Jane was considered a usurper, albeit a planted one and thus Mary should be Queen.

        This oversight of course partly delayed Edward’s funeral because of course the Government was unable to proceed as it was engaged in trying to stop Mary gathering her troops to march and claim her crown. No doubt Jane had she been successful would have seen to his funeral and eventually a memorial. Two weeks of disputed succession put his funeral on hold. Mary then for almost four weeks didn’t make his funeral her priority, which is not a surprise as it took time to come to the capital and then to organise the peaceful settlement of her new Government and Kingdom. I agree, though, six weeks is a bit over the top, even allowing for the elaborate ceremonies required to bury a King. People would need to be invited and black cloth provided, usually by the new Monarch, they needed time to gather the great and the good, both for a Royal funeral and an upcoming Coronation and the religious situation was quite sensitive. It was always going to be an Anglican service, but who was going to be the chief Celebrant? Mary was in a quandary because of whom the Archbishop of Canterbury was and because normally she wouldn’t necessarily have recognised his authority. It is a wild guess but I am thinking that was part of the debate regarding Edward’s funeral. What might seem like an obvious decision to us, certainly was not that simple to the devout traditional Catholic of the sixteenth century. I would assume that Mary and her Bishops made the compromise decision out of practical compassion. No new religious laws had changed the faith of the country and the official service was still the Prayer Book Service and Mary respected that her brother was an ardent Protestant and therefore legally he had a Protestant funeral (I say Protestant, but there was no such thing in England in 1553 and the service would have been more Anglican) and the funeral he wished. Mary, unable to attend, bound by the restrictions of her age, said Mass for her late brother and committed his soul to God in her own way. Mary’s regime appears to have had fiscal problems which she overcame, but the money clearly didn’t stretch to a grand memorial over Edward’s vaulted tomb. The most curious thing is that Elizabeth didn’t put one up either and she kept Mary from having the tomb that she deserved. How ironic that they both share a tomb, although it is only Elizabeth who has a memorial, thanks to James I.

        A bit of trivia on the effigy of Elizabeth I. A few years ago the golden bejewelled crown on her marble head was replaced with a modern new crown, based on the original. However, no sooner had Elizabeth been given her crown back, after years without one, which was revealed to enormous numbers of visitors, somebody stole it. Given that it was covered in gems of a good value, the crown is worth a fortune. Thankfully the crown was recovered and an electronic barrier protects it. Some people really do have no respect and thieves really do lurk around looking for every opportunity they get. You can’t make anything nice anymore.

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