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March 21, 1551 – Edward VI Tears Apart a Falcon

Brown falcon - gorgeous animal (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License)
Brown Falcon, photograph by Benjamint444 (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License)

I love Edward VI, don’t get me wrong, but this story shows that he had the potential to out-crazy his father, and that is no small feat because Henry VIII was terrifying.

Mind you, this wild story comes from Simon Renard, the Spanish Ambassador, and may not be true – but I believe it. The incident occurred two years before the boy king died, at a time when he was growing more and more frustrated with his Councilors, who were (understandably!) dragging their feet over implementing his reformist religious policies. Just the week before, Mary had been summoned to Court so that pressure could be put on her to convert, but she had let Edward know that she was prepared to die for her faith…and had ridden through London with more than a hundred attendants, drawing throngs of well-wishers who helped remind the Council that she had widespread support both in England and outside of it. This infuriated Edward, who would have been looking for a way to let his Councilors know exactly how angry he was – and how he intended to avenge himself when true power came into his hands. The story shows that he chose a far more visceral lesson than mere words: apparently, he plucked and tore apart a falcon in front of their very eyes (in my Boy King, I had him make small cuts beforehand to ensure he would be successful – it would not have been a good lesson if he had failed!).

Now, Simon Renard was not sure whether to believe the tale himself. While Renard assures his reader that it was verified by people who should know, he also notes that it was denied by Sir John Mason, the English Ambassador to France, who claimed that the story had been invented by Blaise de Monluc, a French military commander who was in England to negotiate a marriage between Edward and a French princess. For me, I don’t really see the benefit to Monluc of making such a story up. Also, just three weeks later, we have a letter from Edward himself to Charles V of Spain denying that any promise had ever been made to Mary that she might continue to practice her religion…which suggests a major about-face by his Council that would only be explained by his terrible threat!

Without further ado, Renard’s letter (well, the part with the story…):

Incidentally I will add the account of an act which is said to have been committed by the King of England. He is said to have plucked a falcon, which he kept in his private chamber, and torn it into four pieces, saying as he did so to his governors that he likened himself to the falcon, whom every one plucked; but that he would pluck them too, thereafter, and tear them in four parts. I have heard the truth of the story certified by people whose testimony should place it beyond doubt; but nevertheless Ambassador Mason denies it, and accuses President Monluc of having excogitated it entirely himself. . . .

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol10/pp248-250

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Published inOn This Day

2 Comments

  1. Maggie Scott Maggie Scott

    Loved the book, The Boy King, but absolutely despise E7 for his pigheaded and vicious treatment of Mary because of her faith. But deliberately killing a helpless creature like the falcon puts him well beyond the pale. Fortunately, he died before he could do further damage.

    • I always assumed the falcon was dead when he ripped it apart! But I got so many Facebook comments where people suggested the bird was alive…that makes it so much worse!!

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