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Jun 7, 2012

King Edward VI, Life and Times of Francophilia: Susan Higginbotham Her Highness the Traitor

Please warmly welcome Susan Higginbotham, (since she put up with a eye roll of a topic suggestion) during her blog tour for her new release,

Her Highness, The Traitor
For a Guest Post topic suggestion, I really put Susan to the test. Here was my post suggestion:

 I would love it if Susan could explore more about the character of Edward VI and the actual what-if he lived and was able to gain his majority and rule as King as his father did. Which families would still be in power if he was healthy enough to marry? Who would he have married? And if King Edward was able to live out to at least his thirties, and have his own heirs to the throne, what does Susan see becoming of his sisters Mary and Elizabeth?

And now, the test.. You are hereby ordered to keep a straight face, not even a grin is allowed, or off with your head!!

The Novel I Didn’t Write: A Brief History of Edwardian England
Susan Higginbotham

In Her Highness, the Traitor, I told the story of the events surrounding Jane Grey’s brief reign, including the tragic death of young Edward VI. But what if Edward—not a sickly youth until the last months of his life, when he contracted an illness that likely could have been easily cured by modern antibiotics—had not died in 1553? Let us sit back and visit the Edwardian England that never was.

In 1558, Edward married a French princess, Elisabeth of Valois, thereby ushering in a new era of Francophilia in England. Englishmen complained of all of the French terms invading the English language, but all were too busy enjoying French cuisine to complain all that loudly.

Mary, Edward’s oldest sister, was grudgingly allowed to continue her Catholic practices, known affectionately at court as “Mary’s little whims.” She died unmarried in 1558, at which time Edward allowed a priest, imported from Spain just for that purpose, to bury her with full Catholic rites. John Fox the martyrologist, bereft of Protestant martyrs to write about, wrote a book of riddles instead, which were vulgarized by English schoolboys and are remembered chiefly in that form today.

Elizabeth, Edward’s other sister, reluctantly married a French prince in order to please her brother Edward, but made him promise that her second marriage would be to a man of her own choosing. In 1562, the widowed Elizabeth married the widowed Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whose wife Amy had died after a fall down the stairs at Dudley’s great castle of Kenilworth. The five hundred guests who witnessed the fall were in no doubt that it was a tragic accident. The new Countess of Leicester moved the body of her mother, Anne Boleyn, from its resting place at the Chapel of Peter ad Vincula into a fine tomb at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth spent the rest of her life urging her brother to give Anne Boleyn a posthumous pardon, but Edward, out of loyalty to his own mother, Jane Seymour, refused. Only in the next century would his grandson declare Anne Boleyn to have been innocent, after which she would be the subject only of an occasional obscure historical novel.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, died in the late 1560’s of the stomach problems that had dogged his last years. Edward VI would give his mentor and trusted advisor a grand funeral and declare a day of public mourning. Historians in the twenty-first century continue to hotly debate whether Northumberland or Edward VI was more responsible for the economic prosperity that marked the latter half of the 1550’s and the 1560’s. Jane Dudley, Northumberland’s widow, devoted the remainder of her long widowhood to commissioning statues of her late husband. Many of these “Northumberland memorials” remain in larger English towns today.

Northumberland’s son Guildford, having married Jane Grey in 1553, was made Duke of Suffolk in right of his wife in 1554 when his father-in-law, Henry Grey, died without male heirs following a hunting accident. Jane, Duchess of Suffolk, composed a number of scholarly works in Greek and Latin, but is best known for the Bible translation she produced in 1611 for the king, known as King Edward’s Bible and still used in Protestant churches today.

Guildford, Duke of Suffolk, finding himself incompatible with his intellectual wife, took a number of mistresses, including his own sister-in-law, Katherine Grey. The romance of Guildford and Katherine has been the subject of many nonfiction books, novels, plays, and films. Although in 1585, Guildford was granted a charter by King Edward to colonize the area in North America now known as the state of Henrico, named after Edward’s father, he is remembered today chiefly for his involvement with Katherine.

Frances Grey, known as the dowager Duchess of Suffolk after the Suffolk title was bestowed upon her son-in-law Guildford, married her master of horse, Adrian Stokes, after Henry Grey’s death in 1554. After being besieged for advice by mothers eager to have their learned daughters follow in Jane’s footsteps, she finally wrote a book on child-rearing. The book, which advocated combining firmness with love, was enormously popular and was followed by an equally successful book by Adrian Stokes about training horses, based on many of the same principles.

Edward VI’s reign was not entirely peaceful. In 1564, his aunt Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, still bitter after the execution of her husband in 1552, plotted with her fellow prisoners in the Tower, Edward Courtenay and Bishop Stephen Gardiner, to murder Edward VI and his sons and put Courtenay on the throne instead. The rebellion failed when the duchess’s daughter Anne, Countess of Warwick, alerted her Dudley in-laws to her mother’s plans. The Duchess of Somerset, along with her co-conspirators, was executed in 1565 and buried beside her husband Edward Seymour in the Chapel of Peter ad Vincula. At her execution, the Duchess of Somerset broke with tradition and delivered a long harangue against King Edward, forcing the executioner to swing the axe prematurely in order to shut her up.

William Shakespeare wrote many plays during King Edward’s reign, including the famous Seymour trilogy, which chronicles the insatiable ambition of Thomas Seymour, Edward Seymour, and Anne Seymour and their attempts to remove Edward VI from the throne. For years, the test of any serious actress has been her ability to deliver Anne’s soliloquy in Act III of the play that bears her name, in which Anne from her Tower cell agonizes about whether to abandon her plan to murder Edward VI, as well as her dying speech upon the scaffold. A now-obscure play about the little-known King Richard III was once attributed to Shakespeare but is now thought to have been composed by one of his rivals in an effort to capitalize upon the popularity of the Seymour trilogy.

Elisabeth of Valois died in 1610, leaving Edward VI a grieving widower. He refused to marry again. Edward VI died in 1620 and was succeeded by his first surviving son, Henry IX. The golden Edwardian age had come to an end, but the Henrician age would be even greater. But that, my friends, is another story.

There you have it folks. Now please tell me you kept a straight face. By the time I got to the book of riddles a stupid grin was stuck on my face, but then I'll admit to something close to cackling when I read of Amy Robsart's death: "The five hundred guests who witnessed the fall were in no doubt that it was a tragic accident"..
And Frances Grey's book on child-rearing forced a strange sound.. and poor Anne Seymour...

Brava, Susan! Thanks for indulging us!

Review post for Her Highness, The Traitor