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King Edward VI of England: The King Who Glorified the King of Kings

5 min

The slender, young boy slipped out of his bed. It was January 1547, and he was eager to prepare himself for the biggest event of his life. Although he was small and sickly-looking, his eyes shone with a radiant luster that seemed to glow with an inner light. Some remarked that he was an “angel in the body of a boy.” But this boy, a humble Christian, would have been the last to call himself an angel.

Before getting dressed, he quietly knelt beside his bed to pray. This habit he carried throughout his life. That morning beside his bed, he prayed a prayer that his tutor had taught him: “Almighty and most merciful Father, I have erred and strayed from Thy ways like a lost sheep. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart. I have offended against Thy holy laws. I have left undone those things which I ought to have done; and I have done those things which I ought not to have done; and there is no health in me. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon me, a miserable offender. Spare Thou me, O God, which confess my faults, restore Thou me, that am penitent; according to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake, that I may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Thy holy name. Amen.”

The words of that prayer, now famous and part of the English Book of Common Prayer, were composed by a Godly preacher named Thomas Cranmer. The prayer was for the personal use of his young charge, a prince named Edward. The boy prayed this prayer not as liturgy, but as the fervent prayer of a humble heart.

Finishing his prayer, Edward allowed his servants to enter his private chamber in the Tower of London. They were already waiting to attend to him. For three full weeks, they had been preparing for this event. They dressed their young master in a long gown of crimson velvet. The outer garments were embroidered with silver and gold. His belt was set with rubies. Upon his head was placed a white cap, adorned with diamonds and pearls. As the royally attired boy emerged onto the street, assembled crowds greeted him with shouts of triumph: “God save the King!”

Edward was only nine years old but today — the long-awaited day that he eagerly rose early to greet — was the procession to his coronation ceremony as King Edward VI. He would be crowned ruler of one of the most mighty and respected kingdoms on the face of the earth. In spite of the warmth of his long velvet robe, he trembled at the weight of responsibility he now carried. A pang of sadness also passed over him as he thought upon the event that made this day so important. Only recently, he and his two sisters had wept together over the death of their father. The crown had passed by dynastic law to the head of Edward, the only son.

A magnificent horse was brought forward, and the young king had to be lifted high onto its back. Bishops, dukes, lords, and officers took their places in the royal train. The royal procession would progress through the streets of the city to Westminster Abbey, where the coronation ceremony would take place the next day.

Three swords were brought forward, emblematic of the three kingdoms under his dominion. These swords were to be carried in the procession. Edward now spoke up with a remark that surprised his attendants: “One sword is yet wanting.”

For a moment, the attendants thought they had omitted an important detail in the royal ceremony. Had a treaty been made or a kingdom added that they were unaware of? No. The youthful king had in mind a different sword. When the nobles and attendants inquired what the king meant, Edward replied, “The Bible. That book is the Sword of the Spirit, and to be preferred before these swords. That ought in all right to govern us, who use them for the people’s safety by God’s appointment. Without that sword we are nothing; we can do nothing; we have no power. From the Bible we are what we are this day. From it we receive whatsoever it is that we at present do assume. He that rules without it is not to be called God’s minister or king. Under the Bible, the word of God, we ought to live, to fight, to govern the people and to perform all our affairs. From it alone we obtain all power, virtue, grace, salvation, and whatsoever we have of divine strength.”

At these words, a Bible was brought forth and carried in the royal procession in front of young King Edward. At Westminster Abbey, the King of England lay prostrate before the Throne of God as Thomas Cranmer prayed for Divine blessing upon the new king. Edward was anointed with oil, and then the Imperial Crown was placed upon his head. The crown was actually a reproduction, specially made to fit his small head. Trumpets sounded in the hall as the people cried out: “God save the King!”

Thomas Cranmer, the minister of God, now gave a charge to the king. For the first time in many long years, a King of England was crowned, not by the authority of the Roman Pope, but by the authority of Jesus Christ. Cranmer announced, “Not from the bishop of Rome, but as a messenger from my Saviour Jesus Christ, I shall most humbly admonish your Royal Majesty what things your highness is to perform.”

The minister next charged the young king from God’s holy Word. He quoted the duties of a king from the Book of Deuteronomy. He admonished King Edward to see that Jehovah be worshipped in truth, to destroy idolatry, and to banish the tyranny of Roman bishops from his dominions. He commanded the newly-crowned king “to reward virtue, to avenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice” in his realm.

Cranmer then compared Edward to Josiah, the young king of Judah of whom it was written “while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (II Chronicles 34:3). In conclusion, Cranmer invoked the blessing of the God of David, Solomon, and Josiah upon the head of the new English monarch: “The Almighty God in His mercy let the light of His countenance shine upon your majesty, grant you a prosperous and happy reign, defend you, and save you; and let your subjects say, ‘Amen, God save the King.’”

King Edward VI reigned for only six short years. But his brief reign was a model of Godliness. Cranmer once said of the young king that he had “more divinity in his little finger than we have in our whole bodies.” Edward wrote a scholarly treatise “Against the Primacy of the Pope” when he was only twelve years old. He outlawed the idolatrous mass in England, enforcing the prohibition even against his own sister, Mary. His tender letters to his older sisters are a model of a gracious but firm Christian witness. He elevated Godly preachers such as Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to places of influence. He also secured the release of John Knox from the French galleys, paving the way for the Scottish Reformation.

On the practical side, Edward founded schools for the poor and hospitals for the needy. Under his reign, thirty-four editions of the English Bible were printed and distributed throughout the land. All these actions occurred less than a decade after William Tyndale, the translator, had been burned at the stake.

King Edward VI died at age fifteen. Bishop Hopper wrote of the young monarch’s life and death, “He died young but lived long, if life be action.” Edward VI was a king who glorified the King of Kings. His testimony continues to inspire young men of every generation to honor the Lord Jesus Christ as the King of Glory.

Sources and Further Reference:

Woychuk, N. A. The British Josiah. Saint Louis, MO: Scripture Memory Fellowship, 2001.

D’Aubigné, J. H. Merle. History of the Reformation. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2003.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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