A Godfather’s Solemn Charge — The Coronation of King Edward VI

By Beth von Staats

Edward VI granting the Royal Charter to Bridewell Hospital, 1553.
Edward VI granting the Royal Charter to Bridewell Hospital, 1553.

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Today marks the anniversary of the Coronation of Edward, Sixth of his name, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and of the Church of England and also of Ireland, on earth the supreme head. That is a very heavy load for a nine-year-old child, but with King Henry VIII dead, the weight of the crown — a smaller jeweled variation crafted for the occasion — fell to a brilliant and precocious boy, supported first by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector and later John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Lord President of the Council, along with an assortment of Privy Councillors jockeying for power and influence. The degree to which King Edward VI contributed to the management of his realm increased as he aged towards his majority, its depth a common debate among historians. One thing is certain, however. This genius intellect King, politically mentored by Somerset and far more pronouncedly by Northumberland, was not most influenced by either man — or even his father. Instead, King Edward’s moral center, religious faith, and understanding of his responsibilities of kingship were embedded through the mentoring and profound influence of his godfather, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Prince Edward Tudor (later King Edward VI) Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
Prince Edward Tudor (later King Edward VI)
Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger

Although many of us today outside the Roman Catholic Church view selection as godparent as an honorary title afforded to cherished family members and close friends upon the christening of a new baby, in the 16th-century, religion was serious business. The selection of godparents was an important undertaking, especially for a reigning monarch. After all, religious tenant and church doctrine prescribed the role of godparentship as a solemn charge. First, godparents professed the faith of an infant at baptism. Thereafter, godparents were to show a living example of faith, providing spiritual guardianship for the child throughout their lives. The most serious responsibility of godparents was to make sure that the baptized infant was thereafter given proper instruction in the faith, particularly when the parents neglected this duty or are otherwise were unable to do so. If the parents died or became unable to teach their child the faith, it was the responsibility of the godparent to ensure that the child learned and loved the faith.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, by Gerlach Flicke
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, by Gerlach Flicke

With this all in mind, King Henry VIII carefully considered just whom he would trust with the solemn charge of godparentship of his long prayed for heir to the throne. His choices — Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk; Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; and the Lady Mary Tudor — were striking for their diverging religious beliefs. This stated, despite any varying opinions of church theology, at the time King Edward VI was born, these were the people King Henry VIII most trusted with his heir’s religious mentorship. Also godfather of the Lady Elizabeth Tudor, Henry VIII’s trust in ‘mine chaplain’ Thomas Cranmer was especially profound and was proven to be well grounded. As Archbishop of Canterbury, religious theologian, and scholar, Thomas Cranmer took on his solemn charge of godparentship seriously indeed, especially in preparing Edward Tudor first as Prince and ultimately as “King …, Defender of the Faith, and of the Church of England and… on earth the supreme head.”

Latimer preaches before Edward VI at St Paul's Cross.
Latimer preaches before Edward VI at St Paul’s Cross.

In World History’s most magnificent public display of the devotion and duty of a godparent towards his godchild, the coronation of King Edward VI on 20 February 1547 would set the tone of a truly Protestant England, and it did not disappoint. The ceremony shortened to avoid the “tedious length of the same which should wear and be hurtsome peradventure to the King’s majesty, being yet of tender age” and also to eliminate all trappings of previous Roman Catholic coronations, as Archbishop of Canterbury, and more profoundly as the King’s dutiful godfather, Thomas Cranmer counseled the child as to his role as monarch of England:

Most dread and royal sovereign; the promises your highness hath made here, at your coronation, to forsake the devil and all his works, are not to be taken in the bishop of Rome’s sense; when you commit anything distasteful to that see, to hit your majesty in the teeth, as pope Paul the third, late bishop of Rome, sent to your royal father, saying, ‘Didst thou not promise, at our permission of thy coronation, to forsake the devil and all his works, and dost thou run to heresy? For the breach of this thy promise, knowest thou not, that it is in our power to dispose of thy sword and sceptre to whom we please?’ We, your majesty’s clergy, do humbly conceive, that this promise reacheth not at your highness’s sword, spiritual or temporal, or in the least at your highness swaying the sceptre of this your dominion, as you and your predecessors have had them from God. Neither could your ancestors lawfully resign up their crowns to the bishop of Rome or his legates, according to their ancient oaths then taken upon that ceremony.

Cranmer for EHFW

The bishops of Canterbury, for the most part, have crowned your predecessors, and anointed them kings of this land; yet it was not in their power to receive or reject them; neither did it give them authority to prescribe them conditions to take or leave their crowns, although the bishops of Rome would encroach upon your predecessors, by their act and oil, that in the end, they might possess those bishops with an interest to dispose of their crowns at their pleasure. But the wiser sort will look to their claws and clip them.

The solemn rites of coronation have their ends and utility; yet neither direct force or necessity: they are good admonitions to put kings in mind of their duty to God, but no increasement of their dignity; for they are God’s anointed; not in respect of the oil which the bishop useth, but in consideration of their power, which is ordained; of the sword, which is authorized; of their persons, which are elected of God, and endued with the gifts of his Spirit, for the better ruling and guiding of his people.

The oil, if added, is but a ceremony: if it be wanting, that king is yet a perfect monarch notwithstanding, and God’s anointed, as well as if he was inoiled. Now for the person or bishop that doth anoint a king, it is proper to be done by the chiefest. But if they cannot, or will not, any bishop may perform this ceremony.

To condition with monarchs upon these ceremonies, the bishop of Rome (or other bishops owning his supremacy) hath no authority; but he may faithfully declare what God requires at the hands of kings and rulers, that is, religion and virtue. Therefore, 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.

Your majesty is God’s vicegerent, and Christ’s vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshiped, and idolatry destroyed; the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts are signs of a second Josiah, who reformed the church of God in his days. You are to reward virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms. For precedents on those kings who performed not these things, the old law shows how the Lord revenged his quarrel; and on those kings who fulfilled these things, he poured forth his blessings in abundance. For example, it is written of Josiah, in the book of the Kings, thus: ‘Like unto him there was no king, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.’ This was to that prince a perpetual fame of dignity, to remain to the end of days.

Being bound by my function to lay these things before your royal highness; the one, as a reward if you fulfil; the other, as a judgment from God if you neglect them; yet I openly declare, before the living God, and before these nobles of the land, that I have no commission to denounce your majesty deprived, if your highness miss in part, or in whole, of these performances: much less to draw up indentures between God and your majesty; or to say you forfeit your crown, with a clause for the bishop of Rome, as have been done by your majesty’s predecessors, king John and his son Henry of this land. The Almighty God of 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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth von Staats
Beth von Staats

Beth von Staats is a history writer of both fiction and non-fiction short works. A life-long history enthusiast, Beth holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She is the owner and administrator of Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers website, QueenAnneBoleyn.com.

Beth’s interest in British History grew through the profound influence of her Welsh grandparents, both of whom desired she learn of her family cultural heritage. Her most pronounced interest lies with the men and women who drove the course of events and/or who were most poignantly impacted by the English Henrician and Protestant Reformations, as well as the Tudor Dynasty of English and Welsh History in general.

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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