Why Didn’t Cranmer See Edward VI Alone Before the King’s Death?

I am a defender of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. He is often – even usually – accused of being King Edward VI’s puppet master and for setting up Lady Jane Grey to marry his son Guilford so he could continue to rule through them after Edward’s death. In my book, Edward VI in a Nutshell, I explain that these accusations are spurious and do not fit the known facts.

It was Edward who was the driving force behind naming Jane Grey as his heir:

The king wrote, in his own hand, the first draft of what he called “My Deuise for the Succession”, which named Jane Grey as next in line for the throne. The exact date he started this remarkable document is unknown, but it was possible he was working on it as early as February of 1553 and it had certainly been written by April, (Ives, 2012:121). It has been common to assume that Jane’s nomination was a ploy by Northumberland to put his son, Jane’s husband Guilford Dudley, on the throne, but there is no evidence that Northumberland had anything to do with it, let alone having been the one to convince Edward to choose Jane. Jane and Guilford were probably not even engaged to each other at the time; that seems to have occurred after Edward had the idea of naming Jane as his heir. Just as the deuise was Edward’s baby, the decision to wed Jane to Northumberland’s son appears to have been the king’s brainchild as well. Northumberland was the man Edward thought would be the best person to assist Jane in keeping England on the path to pure Protestantism, and Edward wanted Northumberland to be the queen’s father-in-law.

Moreover, Northumberland did everything he could to weaken his own power:

Northumberland knew what kind of ruckus it would cause. He was already accused of being a shadow king; what would people say when they knew his son was married to Edward’s heir? Northumberland had been trying, by word and deed, to show he didn’t want the crown, but it was no use; people were determined to see him as a spider in the middle of an evil web. The best way to show he wasn’t power-mad was to arrange a marriage that actually put his potential power in jeopardy by presenting a rival heir, and that is exactly what he did. The next in line to the throne after Jane would be her sister, Katherine Grey, and Northumberland’s rival for top dog in the Council (and thus one of the men who trusted him the least) was the Earl of Pembroke. In complete contradiction of his own best interest, Northumberland “personally brokered the negotiation between Pembroke and the bride’s father … and one only has to look at the threat Katherine would pose to Queen Elizabeth in the 1560s to realize the danger she would have posed to Jane and Guilford” (Ives, 2012:133).

However, my friend and fellow author, Beth Von Staats, wanted to know why – if Northumberland wasn’t trying to pull a fast one – was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer not allowed to meet King Edward VI alone? After all, the young monarch was his godson and Cranmer could be trusted implicitly. Was Northumberland trying to prevent the king from asking Cranmer to intervene? Was Northumberland afraid to Cranmer would talk Edward out of naming Jane his heir?

I have pondered this for a few weeks, and I have a theory as to why Cranmer was not given a private audience with no one else in attendance. I think it was because Edward was peeved at his godfather’s questioning of the king’s decisions, and wanted Northumberland there as backup in case Cranmer began vexing him with too many quibbles. Edward’s early experiences with his Seymour uncles had left him intolerant of others trying to gainsay royal decree, and the king had a normal teenager’s petulance about being corrected or advised. He loved the Archbishop, but the king was sickly and in no mood to put up with anything other than perfect obedience. Northumberland had always allowed Edward the final say, even though the king was still technically young enough that the privy council could have overruled him. It was Northumberland’s deference that endeared him to Edward, as much as anything else. Certainly the duke was not the fiery Protestant that Edward was, and did not have the childhood links with the boy that Cranmer had, so there must have been some reason Northumberland was so trusted and beloved. Perhaps Northumberland’s subordination to his monarch was his charm?

Cranmer, who was conscientious to a fault, argued with the king over matters. No matter how respectfully or sincerely it was done, it was still back-chat to a youngster who was rapidly gaining an understanding of his own power. Edward was not his father, to let an advisor rule the kingdom while he played. Edward was more like his grandfather Henry VII – born to rule and serious about it. Cranmer’s disputation of the king’s choices might have be the reason Edward would not see him alone, where Cranmer could prolong a discussion or perhaps edge a little too closely to trying to tell Edward what to do.

This cannot be proven, of course … but I hope it is food for thought.


5 thoughts on “Why Didn’t Cranmer See Edward VI Alone Before the King’s Death?

  1. This is a great theory, Kyra. Now, here is additional food for thought. Cranmer was a great believer in the monarch’s supremacy, so much so that this great angst created in him pervasive and profound internal conflict of conscience after the rise of Mary Tudor. In fact, it was Cranmer through his research and theology that empowered Edward VI far greater than any monarch before or since. So, it is my opinion that all Cranmer wanted was reassurance from his godson that the decision was his and his alone. That wasn’t allowed to happen, the motivation and rational lost to history.

    There are many ways to manipulate an agenda, the most effective most likely allowing those manipulated into the belief they hold the cards. Was this in play or not with Edward VI? We will never know with certainty, but I believe that Edward and Northumberland were of like mind, the King’s wishes of his own will driven by religious beliefs. What we do know, however, is those closest to the King, blood family for reasons obvious, his godfather for reasons unknown (beyond the fact Cranmer and Dudley were at complete odds with one another), were refused access to the monarch when he was near death. Thus, he died supported by Sir Henry Sidney — how very sad.

    1. I think Cranmer also had a near-religious devotion to Henry VIII — and thus to Henry’s will. And that is AFTER Cranmer heard Anne Boleyn’s confession of innocence. I wonder how Cranmer rationalized it all to himself, because he did TRY to be a man of reason as well as faith. Of all the things Mary I did that I disagree with, her murder of Cranmer is one of the worst because he so sincerely wanted to be a good subject to both monarch and God.

      1. Cranmer’s #1 devotion was to his belief — one that seems so absurd to our modern sensibilities — that scripture defined a monarch as having absolute authority, anointed by God. He deferred to Henry in all matters, and thus was allowed to have publicly expressed differences of opinion with the King. Regarding the fall of Anne Boleyn, my sense is the decision to condemn irreversible and inevitable, Cranmer’s self-preservation (and thus preservation of his loved ones — wife, daughter, and siblings) played a hand in his deference to the King’s commands related to the annulment of the marriage. What would be the point of Cranmer fighting this beyond his own destruction?

        1. I agree. I also think he would have assumed Henry’s irrationality was part of God’s divine plan and beyond the ken of mortals like himself.

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