Edward VI and his Playfellows

Megan McManus


While much emphasis has been placed upon the events of the reign of Edward VI in terms of religious reform, court politics and the regency council, the question of the humanity and reality of the boy-king as an individual is all too often overlooked. Traditional views of Edward’s personality point to him as being a rather cold, aloof child, with an innate reserve and superiority. Whilst he may have possessed these characteristics in some ways, Edward is arguably a far more complex and substantial character than has been previously made out. As the saying goes: ‘if you know his friends you know the man’, and it is in examining Edward’s relationships with his youthful companions or ‘playfellows’ that much of his authentic character is revealed. Perhaps Edward’s closest ‘friend’ in his early childhood was his sister, Elizabeth. In his letters to her, Edward frequently referred to Elizabeth as his ‘Sweet Sister Temperance’ and in one particular letter in return she signed herself off as ‘I, who from your tender infancy have ever been your fondest sister’. Edward wrote to request his sister’s portrait in late 1549 and Elizabeth journeyed to meet Edward the following March. Although their public relationship necessarily became more formal upon Edward’s accession, the two had forged a strong bond in childhood. Perhaps most significantly, it was Elizabeth who Edward wept with upon being told of the death of their father.
<strong>Edward VI and his Playfellows</strong>
Elizabeth I, Edward's sister

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<strong>Edward VI and his Playfellows</strong>
Edward VI, Aged 6

Jane Dormer

Another playfellow of Edward’s was Jane Dormer, who would later be a lady-in-waiting for his sister Mary. Edward was just 3 months older than Jane, and the pair apparently got on well. In her memoirs, Jane wrote of playing cards with Edward, after beating her, he reportedly told her: ‘Now your king is gone Jane, I shall be good enough for you.’ Not only does this instance demonstrate a rather sweet exchange between children, it also shows an element of humour coupled with Edward’s much commented on intelligence and sharpness of wit. It also counters the traditional view of Edward as a lonely child, isolating himself with his books; here we see him as a playful and sociable boy, enjoying the company of children his own age. This is further supported in a diary entry by Edward in April 1550, in which he recorded his recreation time: ‘lost the challenge of shooting at rounds, and won at rovers’.
Ancestry UK

Barnaby Fitzpatrick

Barnaby Fitzpatrick was another close childhood friend of Edward’s. Whilst a letter from Edward to Barnaby, in which he stridently exhorted his friend to behave with circumspection when abroad, has traditionally been viewed as evidence for the young King’s priggishness, the well-intentioned care and concern it belies is often overlooked. The presence of Barnaby throughout Edward’s life also speaks to his ability to make and maintain close friendships and relationships, despite what some historians have suggested. Edward’s close friendship with Henry Sidney, who was with him during his final illness, and who tenderly took his friend the king into his arms before he died, also attests to this. Rather than having the exclusively severe, aloof personality that history has often ascribed to him, Edward VI was in fact a far more rich, complicated character. He was a human being under immense pressure from the day of his birth, his conception even. In his short life, he was bereft of a mother, orphaned at the age of 9, and crowned king at the same time. He lived through the execution of his uncle the Admiral and later his uncle Somerset, and arguably abduction attempts by both, at different times, as well as Ket’s Rebellion. Any one of these factors could more than account for a level of behavioural distancing, or withdrawal into oneself. Contrary to being an unfeeling, harsh person, the evidence points towards Edward as quite the opposite: a human being, with the capacity to feel greatly, forced to withdraw to some extent in order to cope with the catastrophic events of his young life. Instead of labelling Edward as a strange, cold character, we should perhaps extend some sympathy in our judgement of someone who showed great capacity for feeling and was under extreme stress for much of his short life.
<strong>Edward VI and his Playfellows</strong>
Edward VI
<strong>Edward VI and his Playfellows</strong>

Megan McManus

Megan McManus is a literature graduate and heritage worker with a particular interest in early modern history and women’s social history. In her free time she runs a history Instagram account: @historywithmegs where she documents her travels to historic places and writes about interesting historical figures.
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