An impressive debut chronicling the brief life of the young man dubbed “the forgotten prince.”
Edward VI was the long-awaited heir of Henry VIII and his third wife, the dutiful Jane Seymour. Only nine when his father died, the boy could have been swamped in the complex postmortem court intrigues, lucidly delineated by Oxford-educated Skidmore. Instead, Edward carried the day against those who sought to proscribe his powers, and even the most casual gossipmongers were punished swiftly and decisively during his short era of primacy. The author sorts through the many attempts at sedition, treachery and treasonous activities (some real, some imagined) that characterized this period of English history, collecting disparate accounts and correspondences (some carried on in secret) to form a slow accretion of detail that provides a highly entertaining read. Skidmore is faithful to the mood of the day, careful to recreate the atmosphere of a society in which only the sovereign’s life had much value. “One man,” he notes, “had his ear nailed to the pillory for [erroneously] declaring Edward dead,” while another citizen had both ears cut off before being forced to wear a paper hat decrying his crimes: “LEWD AND SEDITIOUS WORDS TOUCHING THE KING’S MAJESTY AND THE STATE.” Gravely ill with consumption and cognizant that his own death was close at hand, young Edward made a series of decisions that would have lasting ramifications for the monarchs who followed in his wake. He nearly provoked civil war with his attempt to defy Henry’s will and pass the throne to another committed Protestant rather than his Catholic sister Mary. Skidmore occasionally lapses into lamentably stilted prose: “gone to victual” is employed with nary a trace of irony, and “whilst” is almost comically overused throughout. Still, the author’s access to a wide collection of royal papers and period sources ultimately renders this biography of an underexamined and important link in the Tudor dynasty an unqualified success.
Sure-footed and evenhanded.