October 12 – The birth of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII

Posted By on October 12, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 12th October 1537, on the eve of the Feast of St Edward the Confessor, King Edward VI was born at Hampton Court Palace.

Edward VI was the son of King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.

London celebrated the birth of England’s new prince, but, of course, happiness would soon turn to grief as Jane died on 24th October 1537.

Jane Seymour experienced a long and difficult labour but the idea that Edward VI was born by c-section is a myth. I talk about that, along with sharing contemporary sources of Edward’s birth and the subsequent celebrations, in the video below. Scroll down for a transcript.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 12th October 1537, the eve of the Feast of St Edward the Confessor, an exhausted Queen Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, gave birth to a little boy in her chamber at Hampton Court Palace.

For the queen, the arrival of a healthy son after a long labour must have been an immense relief.

Chronicler Edward Hall recorded:
“In October on saint Edward’s even was borne at Hampton Court the noble Impe prince Edward […]”

Charles Wriothesley wrote:
“And the morrow after, being Friday and the even of Saint Edward, sometime King of England, at two of the clock in the morning, the Queene [was] delivered of a man child at Hampton Court beside Kingston.”

Wriothesley goes on to say that a Te Deum was sung in every parish church in London, church bells rang throughout the city, bonfires were lit in every street, the city merchants gave out fruit and wine, German merchants gave wine and beer to the poor, and “a great peal of guns was shot at the Tower of London”. It was a day of celebrations for the King and his people.

Letters announcing the birth had been prepared in the queen’s name and under her signet, and were then sent to the Privy Council.
“Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. And forasmuch as, by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in child-bed of a Prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my Lord the King’s majesty, and us; – doubting not, but that for the love and affection you bear unto us, and to the commonwealth of this realm, this knowledge shall be joyous, and glad tidings unto you, we have thought good to certify you of this same: to the intent ye might not only render unto God condign thanks and praise for so great a benefit, but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life, to the honour of God, joy and pleasure of my Lord the King and us, and the universal weal, quiet, and tranquillity of this whole realm.
Given under our signet, at my Lord’s manor of Hampton Court, the twelfth day of October.”

The new prince was christened three days later in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. He was baptised “Edward”. Jane was well enough to receive visitors after the christening, but by 18th October she was seriously ill. Jane died on 24th October 1537.

Contrary to myth, Jane Seymour did not die as the result of a caesarean (C-section). The main source for this story is Catholic recusant Nicholas Sander, who, in his Rise and Growth of Anglican Schism wrote:
“On the l0th day of October [1537], Jane Seymour gave birth to a son, who was named Edward. But the travail of the queen being very difficult, the king was asked which of the two lives was to be spared; he answered, the boy’s, because he could easily provide himself with other wives. Jane accordingly died soon after of the pains of childbirth, and was buried at Windsor.”

The original Latin (Sander wrote his book in Latin) is more precise and mentions the physicians asking the King to choose between mother and son, and after he’d chosen a son (because he could easily find more wives) they used their surgical skills to free the baby.

Now Sander was writing while in exile in Elizabeth I’s reign in 1585, so nearly fifty years later, and he was only about seven years old when Edward was born. He is not a contemporary source and he also had an agenda, wanting to paint a very black picture of a man who he held responsible for the Reformation in England. Sander seemed to be following Nicholas Harpsfield, the Catholic apologist, who also had an agenda regarding Henry VIII, and who wrote in his “Treatise on the Pretended Divorce Between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon” in Queen Mary I’s reign:
“Albeit, that mischance also might be accounted among the other great discomforts and misfortunes of his marriage that she should also die, though for the safeguard of the child, in such a manner as she did; yea, the child to be born, as some say the adders are, by gnawing out the mother’s womb […]”

The only contemporary source to mention it is The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England, which was “written in Spanish by an unknown hand” and is commonly known as The Spanish Chronicle. The chronicler wrote:
“In due time, when the Queen was about to be delivered, they sent to London for processions to be made to pray God for a happy result, and after three days illness the most beautiful boy that ever was seen was born. Very great rejoicings were held for his birth; but on the second day it was rumoured that the mother had died, which caused great sorrow. It was said that the mother had to be sacrificed for the child. I do not affirm this to be true, only that it was rumoured.”

This chronicle is known for its inaccuracies and was the tabloid newspaper of its day, so it has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the chronicler is clear that this story was only a rumour.

If a caesarean had been performed, Jane just would not have survived the birth, yet she was able to receive visitors following her baby son’s christening on 15th October. It really is just a myth that has grown from anti-Henry VIII, anti-Reformation propaganda.

Jane’s son, Edward, was Henry VIII’s third legitimate child, following on from Mary, who was born in 1516 to Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth who was born in 1533 to Anne Boleyn. A son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, had been born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon in 1511, but he had only survived 52 days. Edward’s illegitimate half-brother, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, whose mother was the king’s mistress, Elizabeth Blount, had died at the age of 17 in July 1536.

As a baby, Edward was cared for by Lady Margaret Bryan, who had also cared for his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and then Blanche Herbert, Lady Troy. When he reached the age of six, the young prince started his formal education and enjoyed the tutelage of scholars such as John Cheke, Richard Cox, Roger Ascham and Jean Belmain. It seems that he was an intelligent child, and by the age of twelve he was undertaking work on religious issues and controversies, and had written a treatise about the Pope being the Antichrist.

He became king at the age of nine on 28th January 1547, on the death of his father, but he never reached his majority, dying on 6th July 1553 at the age of 15.

1 thought on “October 12 – The birth of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII”

  1. Christine says:

    Little Edwards birth had been a very long exhausting and horrendous event for his mother, which probably gave rise to the myth that he was sickly, but in fact he was a healthy little boy and his enchanting portrait by Holbein the younger bears this out, he looks the epitome of health with his rosy chubby cheeks and happy grin, the story of the Spanish Chronicle and the Chronicle of Henry V111 by an unknown author, and the biased writing of Nicholas Sander can all be dismissed, the only contemporary sources from the age that are reliable are those by Ernest Chapyus the imperial ambassador and sir Charles Wriothesley, Edwards mother’s family were very ambitious they had literally dangled his mother in front of the king like a fish on a hook, he had taken it, but she had sacrificed her life wether the Seymours grieved for their sister is debatable, they had known that any queen of Henry V111’s were not fortunate, but had Jane Seymour lived, I believe her position would have been secure, the whole country hearing that they had a Prince at long last went wild with joy, there were bonfires and celebrations and jousting and banquets, wine flowed in the streets, for many days the country had prayed for the queen, she had been in labour for nearly three days, the king worried dismissed the midwife and sent his own physician’s in, but these men were not trained in midwifery it is believed contamination occurred which caused sepsis, certainly later the queen displayed all the symptoms which was delirium a fever and ultimately death, there is a theory also that part of the placenta was still in the queens body which is fatal and which have hastened her demise, personal hygiene was not considered normal then and the doctors would have had no idea what to do the help the poor queen, was the king asked to choose which life to be saved? If so I believe he would have chosen his son, Jane had been chosen to bear sons only, and wives were expendable as we have seen, on his further ventures into matrimony, it was his male heirs he needed, but caesarean operations were completely unknown then, they had no knowledge of the complex and truly wonderful biology of the female body, they had no knowledge of the circulation of the blood nor different blood groups, DNA was in the long distant future how on earth could they have managed to open up the poor woman’s body and safely deliver her babe? That is a myth surely, poor Jane she suffered truly for her families over weening ambition, the Boleyn faction had been ousted successfully but they had only served in bringing the grim reaper to their sisters door, on her death Henry V111’s joy mingled with sadness for his third queen, in later years he was to regard her as his one true love who had given him his hearts desire, and he was to immortalise her in his memory as the only wife and queen of his who was pure and honest perfect above all others, his tribute to her he paid on his own death when his coffin was slowly lowered into the vault at St George’s Chapel Windsor to rest beside hers, meanwhile his precocious little boy whom he called his jewel was thriving nicely in his ornate and scrupulously clean nursery, he had as his governess Lady Margaret Bryan who had taught both his half sisters, he was fond of his nurse Sybil Penn, as he grew older he was tutored by the foremost scholars of the day, he had an astounding intellect and was a keen reformist some would say he was a true Protestant, he was fluent in several languages and true to his welsh heritage a lover of music, he had a childhood friend Barnaby Fitzpatrick who was his whipping boy, a strange tradition! He was studious and serious and was not over given to laughter, he was what would be called an old soul, but he enjoyed falconry and masques sometimes appearing in them, he also had a dreadful temper the story of the poor falcon does not paint him in a very favourable light, he could well have had a streak of his fathers cruelty in him , in colouring he was similar to his father but his features were his mothers, it was England’s tragedy that she lost this remarkable boy so young for he could well have become an icon like his father, and sister who followed after, he had showed in his growing years a ruthlessness a desire to rule, this was evident in his determination to stamp out popery which he abhorred, this clashed with his elder sister Mary’s deep Catholic beliefs, he was a son for any parent to be proud of, the long life which was denied him caused civil unrest and led to the premature death of his innocent cousin Lady Jane Grey, looking at his young pale serious face in his full length portrait in which he had adopted his fathers famous pose, therein lies the making of a true autocratic, he appears haughty and rather chillingly remote, England never saw his true potential as a ruler which could have gone down in history as great and as unforgettable as his fathers.

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