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January 28, 1547 – The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Henry c.1544 by Corneille Metsys (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today marked the end of one era and the beginning of a new one: the passing of power from Henry VIII to Edward VI. That said, the new king didn’t know it yet – he was in Hertfordshire Castle and wouldn’t learn until the next day, when his uncle Edward Seymour came to tell him.

(The moment was actually a carefully tender one: Edward Seymour didn’t tell the Boy King right away; instead, he brought him to his sister Elizabeth at Hatfield and told both of them together so that they would not mourn alone. They then returned to Whitehall, where servants were still bringing in trays of food to Henry’s bedchamber to hide the news of his death until his heir was safely back in London. But I digress.)

It is a fascinating concept, the magic involved in this passing of power. If you will allow me a moment of self-indulgence, I would love to share a small excerpt from my upcoming The Path to Somerset that covers this shadowy, in-between moment – a time when power was not firmly settled, and a hint of the plans to protect it…

“He squeezed my hand at the end. He died in the faith of Christ.” Cranmer lowered his head onto the King’s body and they all closed their eyes and prayed tribute to the life that had passed. The force that had ruled their every deed and thought since they were lads. The dazzling flame extinguished.

The eyes had already started to film and Edward reached out and closed them. The touch of the clammy skin and the sight of the lifeless body created urgency. There was much to do before this news could be shared.

“We must bring the Prince – the King – to London to secure his person,” Edward said. “No one can know of this until we do that. No one.”

“We should have had him here already,” Tom said.

“And alert the rest of the court that the King might be so near to death?” Even to Edward’s ears Paget’s voice sounded condescending.

He is not far,” Edward said soothingly.

“What about the Council?” Paget asked.

“We make no announcement until they can kneel to the boy.”

That would be when power transferred, the magic moment. When people heard of the death of the King, they would immediately drop to one knee and cry their allegiance to the new one. The news would spread through the palace from knee to knee, room to room, then outside through the stables and the surrounding village and thence the countryside. They had to be ready for that moment, ready with the focus of that new loyalty. Or someone else might try to steal it.

“It will take three days to get the boy back here,” said Denny. “We cannot keep the secret for that long. The servants will know when he does not eat his food.”

Edward waved a hand. That was easy. “Keep having his food brought in every day. Just close the bedcurtains so no one can see.”

RIP Henry. Hail to the new Josiah.

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